Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 15, Paul's Advice About Marriage, Sex In Marriage, And About Separation Or Divorce

For the past several days the apostle has been speaking about sexual immorality in the church. Today he moves on to the subject of marriage. He talks about the marriage partners being faithful to each other and about the importance of maintaining sexual relations in marriage so that neither partner will look elsewhere. He also talks about what to do if one marriage partner has become a Christian and the other partner has not. We will look at whether it is permissable to separate or divorce.

The Corinthian church has been maintaining correspondence with the Apostle Paul and he addresses questions they have asked him regarding sex and marriage. "Now for the matters you wrote about: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:1-2) He appears to be quoting a statement made to him in a letter from the Corinthian church. Perhaps now that they were Christians they considered sex, even between a husband and wife, a carnal thing. But there is nothing unholy about sexual relations between a husband and wife; God has sanctified the marriage relationship.

In Paul's opinion, and in the Lord's opinion, relations between husband and wife are a good thing. "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." (1 Corinthians 7:3-7) The Lord does not command a husband and wife to "fast" from sex as a person might fast from food during an extended period of time (several days or a week) as they pray together over important matters. But since fasting implies denying the flesh, Paul thinks focusing on the Lord and not thinking about physical matters is beneficial for a limited time as long as both partners are in agreement about it.

Paul is single and does not struggle with sexual temptations. He considers it a gift because it allows him to focus on his work for the kingdom of Christ. He could not risk his life for the gospel the way he does if he had a wife and children to support. It is unknown whether he was ever married, but many scholars think it's likely that he was. Before his conversion he held a high rank among the Pharisees and was a member of the Sanhedrin, and an unmarried man could not be a member of the Sanhedrin. If a man were married when he became a member, and his wife died, I assume his widowed state would not affect his standing in the Sanhedrin. So Paul may have been married at one time and his wife died young. He never mentions having any biological children, and I think if he ever was married either he or his wife was sterile or she died so soon after their marriage that they never got a chance to have children.

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) As we get further into Chapter 7 this week we will see why Paul feels it is better to stay unmarried during the time in which they were living. The Christians were already dealing with persecution. Worse persecution was coming soon under Emperor Nero who developed a hatred for Christians that could be compared to Adolf Hitler's hatred for Jews. A person who was working for Christ was risking his or her life, and that person could work better for Christ if he or she was not worried about the safety of a spouse and children.

"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) We must keep in mind that Paul is writing to believers. He is not saying that a wife who is being abused by her husband shouldn't flee the house for her own safety. He is not saying that a husband whose wife is being unfaithful to him can't separate from her. He is speaking to Christians who, hopefully, are not doing such things. If a marriage partner has already left the household for some reason, he urges them to work things out. He says he is speaking on the authority of the Lord by giving this advice.

Now he gives advice on his own authority, but it's sound advice. The Corinthian church members are wondering what they should do if one partner in the marriage has accepted Christ and the other partner has not. They want to know whether the marriage is still valid. They want to know whether one partner has the right to leave the other over their differences. This is Paul's opinion on the subject, "To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he is not to divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." (1 Corinthians 7:12-14) The believer is a sanctifying presence in the household. The believer brings the grace of God into the household by his or her devotion to the Lord and by his or her prayers. The unbelieving spouse may end up accepting the Lord through the godly influence of the believing spouse. The children can be brought up in the faith by the believing spouse. It is better for the believer to remain in the household so that he or she can display, by both words and actions, the love of Christ to the other household members.

There are cases in which the unbeliever does not want to live with a spouse who has become a Christian. This person may have no interest in the Lord and may not care for the ways in which his or her marriage partner has changed. "But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:15-16) Another thing we must keep in mind is that Paul is not saying it's okay for a believer to marry an unbeliever. We are not to be unequally yoked together. (2 Corinthians 6:14) He is speaking to couples in a Gentile city where neither partner was a believer until they heard the gospel, and then one partner believed and the other partner did not believe.

Does this mean that if the unbeliever leaves the believer can file for divorce? Does this mean the believer can then remarry? Many scholars and various Christian denominations believe this is the case. When Paul says "the brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances", it does sound as if it is allowable to dissolve the marriage. It is not clear whether Paul feels the believer is free to remarry. I think the believer in such circumstances should make any decisions regarding divorce or remarriage prayerfully and with the guidance of the Lord. But if the believer does remarry it should only be to another believer.

This is my own advice, but I think it's sound advice: if you are a believer and have never been married and you are seeking a spouse, or if you are a believer who is divorced for Biblical reasons and you are seeking a spouse, don't settle for anyone who doesn't love Jesus as much or more than you do.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 14, What Is Legal In Society Is Not Necessarily Beneficial For Christians

Paul now returns to the subject of sexual immorality in the church. He has already dealt with the matter of the man involved in an incestuous affair; he has told the church how to handle the situation. Now he moves on to warning the entire church not to engage in forms of sexual immorality that are legal in Roman society, and he reminds them that now that they are in Christ their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

He begins with a list of behaviors that were rampant in cities like Corinth. Some who were in the church were still caught up in their old behaviors. "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

In Roman culture prostitution was legal, and there were both male and female prostitutes. It was even common for a Roman soldier to have a wife and children at home and to also have a male servant who traveled with him on army business---a male servant who was also his lover. Romans took a casual attitude toward adultery and divorce, so much so that divorce was a quick and easy process without either party having to prove any wrongdoing by the other. The word of God says what it says about sex and marriage, and the fact is that God has only put His stamp of approval on sex when it occurs between a husband and wife.

"'I have the right to do anything,' you say---but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'---but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Corinthians 6:12) The apostle is evidently quoting directly from things the Corinthians are saying. They are abusing the gift of grace by believing that now that they are in Christ they can still participate in anything the legal system says is permitted. So Paul says, "It may be legal in your culture to visit houses of prostitution, but that doesn't mean it's right in the eyes of God. You are playing with fire. You think you can engage in such activities without being soiled by them, but that isn't true. You will soon be so caught up in sin that your relationship with the Lord suffers. You will become hardened against the voice of the Holy Spirit who is telling you to repent. And if you do not repent, remember that God the Father disciplines His children."

Our society is making more and more things legal, but that doesn't mean those things are best for Christians. Alcohol has been legal for a long time, but many a person's life has been ruined by it. Marijuana for recreational use will probably soon be legal in all fifty states, but that doesn't mean a person who is in Christ ought to use it to get high. (I am not speaking of cases where medical marijuana or CBD oils may be the only substance that controls a person's seizures or a person's severe pain or a person's terminal illness symptoms. As someone who has recently suffered such severe pain that I was rushed to the emergency room, I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who is in constant pain. And now that the laws about opiods and narcotics are becoming so strict, legal medical marijuana may be the only alternative that some people have to control their pain so that they can have any quality of life.)

But the point Paul is making is that just because our legal system says something is okay doesn't mean the word of God says it's okay. Paul is going to remind us that, now that the Holy Spirit indwells us, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Would we go into a church and get drunk or smoke marijuana or have sexual relations with a prostitute? Of course not! Paul wants us to regard our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit because that is what they are.

"You say, 'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.' The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. 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! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.' But whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit." (1 Corinthians 6:13-17) The Corinthians had the attitude that anything they did with their bodies was immaterial since the body was going to die. They viewed all their bodily urges in the same way and felt that satisfying their sexual urges was no more sinful than satisfying the rumbling of an empty stomach. But this is not so. We were created with a variety of bodily needs and desires, but sexual desire was intended only to be satisfied within the bonds of marriage. We all have to eat and drink in order to keep our bodies alive, but we won't die without sex. And we especially won't die without illicit sex.

"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18) Pretty much any sin we commit affects someone else. If we cheat somebody in business, we have sinned against that person. If we lie to someone, we have deceived that person. If we commit adultery, we have sinned against our marriage partner but we have also sinned against our own body. We have betrayed not only our spouse but ourselves. If we are not married and are engaging in sex we are sinning against our own body. The Corinthian believers needed to understand that they could not live this way now that they belong to Christ. They were brought up in a culture where most forms of sex were acceptable, but they belong to a new culture now: the culture of those who have been saved by Christ. They must live in ways that honor Christ.

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) We who are in Christ were bought with a price, a very high price. Whenever we are tempted to sin it would benefit us to stop and consider all that Christ suffered in order to redeem us from slavery to sin.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 13, Trivial Lawsuits Among Believers

The Apostle Paul scolds the Corinthian church for being unable to judge small legal cases between church members. He also makes a profound statement about us being in on the judgment of the world and the judgment of fallen angels.

"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people?" (1 Corinthians 6:1) Paul feels that problems between church members should be handled by the church so that the problems can be settled according to what God's word says. I would also like to add that whenever we who are Christians go for counseling we should go to a Christian counselor. I've been to Christian counseling myself and the advice I was given came straight from the Scriptures, so it had the authority of God's word in it and the love of God in it. My counselor was a lady who loved the Lord and who prayed with me at every session, which allowed me to feel that her counsel was trustworthy and based on what God says in the Bible.

"Or do you not know that God's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3) This statement has been debated over by scholars and theologians for centuries. They have not come to an agreement over what it means. In yesterday's passage Paul said it was not his business to judge those who don't belong to Christ, that God would judge them. He said he was concerned only with recognizing sin within the church, a thing he feels any Christian who studies the Scriptures should be competent to do. So we can safely assume he does not mean we will be judging the world or angels during our lifetime on earth. We can also safely assume when he refers to angels he means the fallen angels.

So if God is the one who will judge those who have rejected His offer of salvation, and if God is the one who is going to judge the fallen angels, how then are we involved in this judgment? If scholars and theologians can't figure this out, I certainly can't, but I lean toward the idea that on the day of judgment we will witness and give our "amen" to the judgment the Lord passes on those persons and angels who have rebelled against Him. In our culture we are allowed to go to the courtroom or watch televised trials in order to witness the judge handing down the sentence on the person who has been convicted. If we feel the person is guilty and deserves his sentence we tend to feel satisfied with the proceedings and we may even nod our heads in agreement that justice has been carried out. As children of the living God I believe we will have the right to sit in God's courtroom while He hands down the verdict on ungodly persons and on fallen angels and I think we will be able to nod our heads and say "amen" in agreement that justice has been carried out.

"Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court---and this in front of unbelievers!" (1 Corinthians 6:4-6) It is generally accepted by scholars that Paul is not speaking about criminal matters, since in verse 2 he calls them "trivial cases". These are simple civil cases that in today's world we might take to small claims court. Serious matters would need to be handled by the proper authorities because they would involve jail sentences, even death sentences in cases of capital crimes. So Paul is saying something like, "Why are you airing out your dirty laundry in front of unbelievers? Many of you have been Christians long enough to know the Scriptures quite well. You should be able to decide these small cases according to the laws of God. When you angrily argue with each other in public courtrooms you behave just like unbelievers. The unbelievers sitting in the audience won't find anything attractive about your attitude and that may cause them not to ever be interested in learning about Christ."

"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? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters." (1 Corinthians 6:7-8) I don't think Paul is telling us to allow people to walk all over us. We have to keep in mind he is talking about small legal matters. Has someone who claims to be a Christian ever cheated you or overcharged you? I think most or all of us have had this happen. It's a lot more hurtful when a Christian cheats us than when a lost person cheats us because we expect better behavior from our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it does happen sometimes. When it happens, and if we can't resolve the issue, Paul feels we should let the matter go and just give it to God. God will likely ensure that the person who cheated us will get cheated himself somewhere down the line. It is not our place to take vengeance or to sit in church and glare at the person who cheated us and feel unforgiving toward him. That's not going to accomplish anything except keep us from enjoying the fullness of the joy we should have in Christ. So when small legal matters come up between believers, and if we arrive at no resolution, Paul thinks it would be better to let it go than to go to court and allow unbelievers to settle our case. He feels we should be mature enough in Christ to let it go and leave it up to God.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 12, Advice Regarding Associating With Christians Who Live An Immoral Lifestyle

Paul has been dealing with the problem of sexual immorality in the church. In today's passage he refers to an earlier letter he wrote to the Corinthians but that letter has been lost in antiquity. In that letter he gave some advice regarding associating with immoral people and he speaks of it again today, reminding them that if someone claims to be a Christian but doesn't live as if he is, they should have no dealings with him.

When we become Christians we still have to fight against our carnal natures. The man Paul has been talking about either didn't fight very hard or he tried to fight and lost. We are all going to make mistakes, but the issue Paul addresses today has to do with a Christian who falls into sin and happily remains there. The church member who is having an affair with his step-mother is apparently enjoying his sinful lifestyle and is not interested at this time in changing his lifestyle. The apostle is concerned about how such behavior can affect other church members, so he advises the church not to associate with Christians who are living in unrepentant immorality.

He begins by reminding them again not to be prideful. "Your boasting is not good." (1 Corinthians 5:6a) The Corinthian church has what we might call "the big head" about themselves. They pride themselves on their spirituality and are unwilling to deal with embarrassing matters. They would rather sweep problems under the rug than have the public know there is immorality among their members.

"Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch---as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:6b-7) Paul asks, "Don't you remember you are new creatures now in Christ? You must do away with your old ways of living. Christ didn't save you so that you could go on living in sin; He saved you so you could have something better." As Passover approached, the Jews had to search their houses for any sources of yeast so they could expel it from the home. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they must search their houses (the church) for any sources of yeast (sin) so that it can be expelled.

They are not only to expel sin from their lives as much as possible but they are to expel (excommunicate) the man involved in the affair. As we discussed yesterday and the day before, the excommunication is intended to bring about sorrow and repentance in the man's heart. In the meantime, his sin can't be allowed to pollute the whole congregation. Other members might start falling into sexual immorality if they see the church leaders simply shrugging their shoulders over this man's incestuous affair.

"Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:8) Passover may have been coming up soon when Paul wrote this letter. In the Bible we find yeast/leaven used as a symbol for sin and, just as unleavened bread had to be eaten at Passover, Paul wants the problem taken care of by Passover. The leaven needs to be removed from the house of God so that the church members can be of good conscience.

Now the apostle mentions a previous letter. "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people---not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world." (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) The Corinthians may have misunderstood what Paul said in his previous letter, so he makes his point clear, "I told you not to associate with immoral people, but I didn't mean people outside the church. You would have to leave this world altogether in order to keep from ever associating with anyone immoral. You are going to encounter immoral people all the time as you go about your daily lives, plus you are going to encounter immoral people as you take the gospel to those who don't know Christ." Remember how Jesus was spitefully accused of being a "friend of sinners"? He had to associate with immoral people who didn't know God so He could bring the truth to them. He went to dinner with people who were considered outcasts by the religious elite. He healed lepers and forgave repentant tax collectors and prostitutes. But in the Bible do we find Jesus being friends with those who know God but who are living immorally? No, and the Pharisees are a good example of this. They claimed to be right with God and to know His laws inside and out, but they had a lot of self-righteousness and pride in their lives and they had very little compassion for their fellow man. Those things are immoral and in the Bible we don't find Jesus maintaining friendships with the Pharisees.

"But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people." (1 Corinthians 5:11) When Paul says "a brother or sister" he means anyone who claims to belong to Christ. Just as a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough, one immoral person in the church can be a bad influence on the whole church. This doesn't mean the church can't still love and pray for the man who is to be excommunicated; in fact loving and praying for him is what they should do. But if they don't discipline him for his unrepentant attitude, the attitudes of other church members may become casual toward sexual immorality. Then the problem will just continue to grow until the church looks just like the world.

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.'" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) Paul quotes a verse that can be found a number of places in the book of Deuteronomy. He asks, "It is my business to judge the actions of people who don't know the Lord? That's the Lord's business. Neither I nor the church is responsible for judging the world. But we are responsible for the purity of the church and we do have the authority to judge matters that involve church members. So I am advising you to put this man out of your assembly. If you don't, eventually your congregation will become indistinguishable from a gathering of people anywhere else."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 11, What Does Paul Mean By Delivering The Immoral Church Member To Satan?

In yesterday's study Paul was shocked that the Corinthian church was not dealing with a matter of incest by one of their members. A member of the congregation was having an affair with his step-mother. Today Paul talks about nipping immorality in the bud before it has a chance to be a bad influence on the whole church. He makes a puzzling statement that we will look at in-depth as best we can.

"For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this." (1 Corinthians 5:3) Jesus never told us not to recognize sin and to judge it as sin. When Jesus spoke of not judging others (Matthew 7:1-5) He was speaking to hypocrites who were judging others for committing the same or lesser sins than they themselves were committing. They were judging others in a spirit of condemnation while failing to consider that they were sinners themselves. They should have recognized sin as sin but should have treated the sinner with compassion in an effort to bring about repentance by lovingly confronting the sinner with his sin. If their compassion did not bring about repentance, there were other methods they could use to help the sinner, but at the same time they should be examining their own lives for sin and should be repenting of any sin they become aware of.

Paul is saying today that he has already judged the sin as a sin. As an apostle he has the authority to judge sin as sin, and as one who is not committing incest himself he has the authority to judge that such a thing is wrong. After all, in yesterday's study he pointed out that even pagan cultures consider incest a sin.

Now he makes a puzzling statement. "So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) In yesterday's study we found Paul advising them to put the man out of the church, so we can assume that excommunication is what is intended by Paul's statement. This man, who apparently is not repentant at all, is to be told to leave the church so that he might suffer the effects of losing the fellowship and the protection of the church. Hopefully such a situation will make him long for the wonderful friendships he enjoyed in the church and will make him confront the fact of his sin head-on. It seems clear from Paul's words "that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord" that the excommunication is intended to bring about repentance so the man can obtain forgiveness from the Lord and not have to give an account of his sin on the day of judgment.

Some scholars believe that while the man is excommunicated the Lord may take a measure of His protective hand off him and allow Satan to afflict him physically for a season. They believe this because of Paul's words "for the destruction of the flesh". Sometimes the Lord takes a measure of protection off of believers for one purpose or another. Job is an example of this. The Lord allowed Satan to afflict Job. In Job's case the purpose may have been for spiritual growth, although even the best Bible scholars can't give us a precise explanation for Job's suffering. In the case of the man involved in incest, the affliction would be intended to bring about repentance.

We will all encounter afflictions in life. Sometimes afflictions come simply because the world we live in is fallen and things go wrong in in and lost people treat us poorly in it. Sometimes the Lord allows affliction because He intends to bring about great spiritual growth through it so that after the period of affliction is over we will abound in faith and will be able to do more things for His kingdom. Sometimes He allows affliction because we are not dealing with sin in our lives.

I don't know for sure whether the Lord allowed physical affliction in my life during the past couple of months because of sin, but I can definitely say it caused me to think about and repent of some attitudes that were wrong. I needed to repent of a spirit of unforgiveness, bitterness, and contempt toward some people regarding something that happened in the past. The Lord also used my affliction to answer a prayer I have been praying about my marriage, for He certainly brought me and my husband closer during my time of affliction. Being sick in body is not the method I would have chosen to have this prayer answered, but His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) My affliction made many of my friendships stronger, because I am blessed to have some wonderful and true and faithful friends who have really been there for me during my time of trouble. Another thing the Lord brought to my attention is that I need to pray for others who are sick in the way I'd want others to pray for me. I would often pray for a sick person a time or two and then get caught up in my own busy life or in my own personal problems and forget to keep praying for them. My affliction has enhanced my prayer life, which is always a good thing for anyone. It looks like right now that my physical affliction is going to go away, and I certainly hope so, but I believe I will always be able to look back on these problems and say that the Lord did good things for me through them.

Have you ever looked back and thanked God for a time of trouble in your life because He did such awesome things through it? There have been several seasons in my life that I wouldn't want to endure again for anything in this world, but God did some awesome things for me in those seasons. This is what Paul wants for the man in the Corinthian church who is living in sin. Because this man is in an unrepentant frame of mind, Paul wants him to go through a season of trouble (which could be mental, or physical or emotional or all three put together) so that spiritually he can be healed. Paul wants him to make things right with the Lord and to turn away from his sin so he can rejoin the congregation at Corinth and sing songs of praise to the Lord in a spirit of thankfulness.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 10, Sexual Immorality In The Church

In today's passage Paul addresses the case of a man in the congregation at Corinth who is caught up in a sexually immoral lifestyle. He is disturbed by how this man is living, but far more than that he is disturbed about the Corinthian's casual attitude about it.

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife." (1 Corinthians 5:1) We know this man is a Christian, because Paul says to them that he is "among you". Instead of some of the church leaders going to this man in love and trying to bring him to repentance, the Corinthians have shrugged their shoulders and said, "Oh well." They have not tried to deal with this situation, and they are harming the entire congregation by turning a blind eye to such blatant sin. This could cause other church members to feel it's okay to live however they please.

It is generally understood that this man is sleeping with his step-mother. Paul doesn't call the woman his mother, but refers to her as "his father's wife". Although these things did occasionally happen among the pagans, even the pagans considered it immoral and shocking. So Paul is saying, "This man is behaving worse than a heathen who doesn't know the Lord! And the rest of you are behaving worse than pagans because even pagans don't tolerate this type of behavior in their society! They would shun a person who did such things."

We don't know the exact circumstances of how this situation came about. It could be that an older man married a younger woman who was close to his son's age, and then the woman left him for the son. Or it could be that the father died and his wife took up with his son. She does not appear to be married to the son, for Paul only says that they are sleeping together, but even if she had married the son after his father's death this still would have been considered an incestuous relationship by both Jews and Gentiles.

"And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?" (1 Corinthians 5:2) The church members are not proud of what the man has done, but they are prideful about themselves in general, as we have already seen in Paul's letter to them. They are perhaps too prideful to admit such things are going on in the church, so they have swept this situation under the rug.

The Lord Jesus gave instructions about how to deal with sin in the church. "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)

When the man's sin first became known, one of his friends in the church should have gone to him privately in love and said, "I'm worried about you. You are caught up in an immoral lifestyle. This is not who you are in Christ. This is not what Christ wants for you. He wouldn't give you someone else's wife, so let Him choose a good Christian wife for you. I love you and I don't want anything to hinder your relationship with the Lord. Please repent and turn away from this sin. I'm happy to kneel down right here and now and pray with you." If someone had done this, and if the man had listened and repented, it would have helped both the man and the church as a whole.

If he had not listened, the friend should have come back with one or two other friends from the church, and they could have talked privately with him in his own home. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 19:15 when He stresses the importance of witnesses. There needs to be two or three witnesses to the man's refusal to repent, for if he still does not repent the matter is to be brought before the church, and the word of more than just one person will be needed to make a case against him.

If two or three people talked privately with this man and he remained stubborn and refused to turn away from his sin, the matter should have been brought up before the church. This may mean the entire church or it may mean the leaders of the church. If the man refused to listen to the church leadership, a decision should have been made that the man be banned from the assembly until such time as he repents. This form of shunning is not intended to be cruel to him, but to lead him to repentance. The church members are still to love him and pray for him, but they have to think of the good of the church as a whole. Allowing the man to continue to participate in church activities gives the impression that sexual immorality does not matter. This would lead to more and more sin in the church. Meanwhile, the man would be missing the wonderful fellowship he enjoyed in the church. He would be thinking about the consequences of his sin. Hopefully this would lead him to repentance so he could come back to the church and be welcomed with open arms.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 9, Paul The Father Of The Corinthians Through The Gospel

In Tuesday's study Paul reminded the believers at Corinth that it wasn't so long ago that they were lost without Christ. He preached the gospel to them and they believed, then other apostles and teachers came along to help them understand the Scriptures and to help them with their daily Christian living. Some of the Corinthians have become prideful about their own faith and gifts and are not regarding the apostles as having spiritual authority over them, but this authority was given to the apostles by God Himself. Today Paul reminds them that, spiritually speaking, he has been a father to them. Under his preaching they were born again by believing in Christ. Therefore they should respect his authority just as they would respect a father's authority. He needs to establish this fact today because tomorrow he is going to deal with the serious matter of sexual immorality in the church.

"I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children." (1 Corinthians 4:14) He says, "I haven't been scolding you because I want to put you down or make you feel bad about yourselves. I've been scolding you for your own good, as a father scolds his children."

"Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15) The word translated "guardians" is the Greek "paidagogos" which means a servant who escorts his master's children to and from school each day. Paul is comparing himself to the father of the children and he is comparing the teachers who came after him to the one who escorts his children to and from school. Because Paul is the first person who preached the gospel to the people of Corinth, he feels fatherly toward them. Other teachers who are working with them now are helpful for their education in the Scriptures, but they are not the father of the Corinthian believers. Paul, as their father through the gospel, loves them in a way no other person can. And as their father in the gospel, he has the authority to chasten them when they need it.

"Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church." (1 Corinthians 4:16-17) Paul is setting an example for Christian living. Because he is now working at Ephesus he is going to send Timothy (who is not his biological son but who accepted Christ under Paul's teaching at Lystra) because Timothy knows exactly how Paul lives his life and can demonstrate that to the people of Corinth. 

"Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you." (1 Corinthians 4:18) Some of them are saying, "Paul writes tough letters to us but is afraid to come in person. He's going to send someone else to scold us to our faces instead of doing it himself."

"But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how those arrogant people are talking, but what power they have." (1 Corinthians 4:19) He intends to return if it is the Lord's will, but at the present time he is working to lead the people of Ephesus to the Lord. 

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." (1 Corinthians 4:20) Paul is especially gifted by God as an apostle to perform signs and wonders. Just as the believers at Pentecost spoke in languages that they had not learned, Paul will say later in this letter that he speaks in other tongues more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 14:18) Some of those at Corinth are big talkers and they are prideful about their own spiritual gifts, but if and when Paul returns he says they will understand his apostolic authority when they see the power of God displayed through him.

It is up to them to follow the instructions of this letter and have themselves straightened out before he returns. "What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?" (1 Corinthians 4:21) He asks them, "When I return would you rather I take you to the woodshed or would you rather I praise you for your obedience?" When we were children, what would we rather have had our fathers do? Give us a spanking or commend us for doing what is right? My father was a patient man and it took a lot to make him angry, but I was a stubborn child and there would usually come a point where I had pushed him too far and I always regretted it. Paul is asking the Corinthian believers not to push him to the point where, as their father in the gospel, he will have to discipline them. He would rather be able to commend them for their obedience. 

God the Father would rather commend us for our obedience too. He has had to take me to the woodshed a number of times. I am often thick-headed, stubborn, or self-centered enough that I don't catch on to what He is trying to tell me in time to avoid discipline. I wish that wasn't the case. I pray I am more sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit from now on so that I can obey faster and avoid the woodshed altogether. This is what Paul is urging the people of Corinth to do. He wants them to go ahead and be obedient now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 8, Apostles Treated Poorly By The World

In yesterday's study Paul made it clear that the believers are not to think of the apostles on a level near the level of Christ, but they are not to disregard the authority that has been given to the apostles by God. The Corinthian people are becoming prideful about themselves and today Paul has to remind them how hard the apostles have worked for them.

The believers have been boasting about which apostle they follow and arguing about which apostle has been most gifted by God. The Corinthians were even boasting about themselves and about their own talents, due to the way this next verse is worded. Paul puts an end to such arguments by pointing out that God is the one who gives gifts to men and women and therefore they should be boasting in God, not in themselves or in anyone else. "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)

"Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign---and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!" (1 Corinthians 4:8) The Corinthians are becoming prideful, as if they have forgotten that they were pagan heathens before Paul preached the gospel to them. They have begun to think of themselves as big deals, as if a short time ago they were not completely lost. So Paul says, "You behave as though the world is at your feet. You are acting like kings. I wish you really were kings so that we apostles could reign like kings along with you."

Those who are worldly have little respect for the apostles, so Paul reminds his readers how much the apostles are suffering for the gospel. "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings." (1 Corinthians 4:9) The Corinthian believers, so puffed up in their pride, could not claim to be suffering like the apostles who were taking the gospel to the world. Paul says the apostles are like captives at the end of a procession led by a conquering Roman general, captives fated to die in the arena. Did he already know he would be martyred for his faith? I don't know whether the Holy Spirit had yet revealed this to him, but he lived with the knowledge that his life was always at risk in this hostile world. Sometimes it was at risk from the Gentiles, at other times at risk from the Jews. I think Paul knew that he and the other apostles were very likely to die for the sake the of the gospel.

I believe this next passage is intended to be ironic. It's intended to take the Corinthians down a notch for their own good. I don't believe Paul speaks these words in a spiteful way but in the same way the prophet Nathan spoke to King David when he had to confront David with his sin. Paul compares the way the world views apostles with the way the Corinthians view themselves. "We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!" (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Some of the believers at Corinth were so prideful about their own gifts and talents that they were beginning to think apostles like Paul were not authority figures. They were beginning to feel like the ministry of the apostles was no longer needed in their territory, that they could take care of themselves. Paul calls their attention to how much it is costing the apostles to minister to them and to others. "To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world---right up to this moment." (1 Corinthians 4:11-12)

There are people the Lord calls to preach the gospel and we must hold them in esteem. God has chosen them for our good, to instruct and guide us. No matter how gifted we may be, we are not to look down on our brothers and sisters who are also serving Christ, and we are especially not to look down on those who are called to preach the gospel of Christ.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 7, How To Choose A Church Or A Teacher To Follow

Paul has been warning his readers not to elevate the apostles to too high of a status. The Corinthians were arguing about which apostle they followed and it was causing division in the church. But at the same time they should respect the apostles and their ministries, for they are working under the direction of God. God has sent them to preach the gospel, build churches, and give instructions for Christian living.

"This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed." (1 Corinthians 4:1) They are not to think of apostles in a lowly way either, for the apostles have authority given to them by God. In the same way today we regard our church pastors as people of authority who have been called by God to lead the church.

"Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God." (1 Corinthians 4:2-5) The judgment of others can't be depended on to be accurate. Even when our consciences feel clear, our own judgment of ourselves can't be depended on to be accurate. God is aware of things about us that we aren't even aware of, which is why David prayed to the Lord, "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults." (Psalm 19:12) Some of the people at Corinth had judged Paul and found him lacking somehow in their own opinions, so they chose to follow Apollos or Peter or some other apostle or teacher. Paul is saying something like, "Some of you have not judged me very highly. I am not aware of anything I have done wrong among you. I have examined my conscience and I believe I have behaved as honorably as humanly possible. But what is the point of us judging each other? God knows the truth about each one of us and He is the only righteous judge."

"Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the saying, 'Do not go beyond what is written.'" (1 Corinthians 4:6a) This must have been a creed of the early church, and it is a good one, for all things must be judged by the Scriptures. Perhaps some of the people at Corinth preferred Apollos over Paul because he had more impressive oratory skills. Perhaps some of them preferred Peter over Paul because he had a fiery and dramatic personality. Perhaps some of them preferred Paul over the other apostles because he was highly educated like many of their own philosophers. The true test of an apostle, or of any preacher or teacher, is whether they stick to the word of God. If their teaching does not hold up to scrutiny by the word of God, then they shouldn't be followed at all.

Paul says if they will remember this creed, "Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other."(1 Corinthians 4:6b) We mentioned previously in our study that Corinth was a sophisticated city. It was common for a person there to say that he followed this or that philosopher or this or that particular school of teaching. Each one thought his philosopher was the best or that his way of thinking was the best. They were trying to apply this same mindset to the apostles and this mindset is worldly and not godly.

There are people whose personalities we like better than the personalities of others. God has made each one of us unique and there are naturally some people we will "click" with more than others. I suppose that is what was going on in the church at Corinth. Some of them preferred Paul's personality and wanted to study his teachings. Others preferred the personality of Apollos and preferred to study under him. Yet others preferred Peter, or some other apostle or teacher. But the fact is that each of these men was faithfully teaching the people from the word of God. Each of them held equal status as servants of God. So there was no point in bragging about which teacher anyone followed. The main thing was to make sure that whoever they followed was teaching them the truth of God. The rest was just a matter of personal preferences.

We have to be careful in our own times not to choose a church simply because we really like the personality of the pastor. We must examine the Scriptures and make sure the pastor is teaching us according to the word of God. If he is not, it doesn't matter how likable he is. The same can be said for any teacher we follow on the TV or radio. If his or her teachings don't hold up when compared to the word of God, we need to change the channel. This is why it is so important to study the Scriptures daily so we can recognize false teaching. And suppose we have several pastors or teachers to choose from who are faithfully teaching the word of God? At that stage it might become a matter of personality preference, but in all things we should obey the leading of God. He is able to lead us to the church congregation where He feels we belong.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 6, Teaching False Doctrine Is Like Destroying The Temple

Paul has been cautioning his readers not to think of apostles or teachers in the wrong kind of way. They are not to be elevated to a status equal to or close to that of the status of Christ. All the apostles and teachers are human beings, just like everyone else. All the apostles and teachers once were lost sinners but now are saved by the grace of God and are working to help build up the church of Christ. Paul is worried because the young church at Corinth still seems worldly, plus he is worried that more worldly things will creep in.

"For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building." (1 Corinthians 3:9) Paul is saying, "We apostles are servants of the Lord, doing what He has told us to do. He has told us to work on your behalf, to bring you to Christ and to make you fruitful."

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) Any builder with wisdom knows a foundation must be laid first. The structure will not stand unless it is set on a good foundation. Paul is the apostle who laid the foundation in Corinth. He taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the foundation upon which the church stands, and this is the foundation upon which our faith stands. But since Paul departed from Corinth, he knows other teachers have taken up the work, so he cautions everyone who works for the Lord to be careful what he or she is adding to the structure.

"If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work." (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) It's important to remember Paul is talking about the work that has been done by believers. He's not making threats about the fires of hell, but is using fire as a metaphor for the testing of each person's work. Fire doesn't destroy gold or silver or costly stones, but it does destroy wood or hay or straw.

"If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved---even though only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Corinthians 3:14-15) The judgment of believers has to do with rewards. If a person has built wisely on the foundation, he or she will be rewarded for it. If a person has not built wisely on the foundation---or if a person has not built anything at all---he or she receives no reward. I feel that Bible scholar Adam Clarke explains this concept very well by saying, "The apostle obviously refers to the case of a man, who, having builded a house, and begun to dwell in it, the house happens to be set on fire, and he has warning of it just in time to escape with his life, losing at the same time his house, his goods, his labor, and almost his own life. So he who, while he holds the doctrine of Christ crucified as the only foundation on which a soul can rest its hopes of salvation, builds at the same time, on that foundation, antimonianism (legalism, teaching salvation by keeping the law), or any other erroneous or destructive doctrine, he shall lose all his labor, and his own soul scarcely escape everlasting perdition." In other words, the person is still saved because he does believe in Christ, but he is saved only by the skin of his teeth. He receives no reward for the work he has done on the building, for his work was inferior. Or if he has done no work at all---if he is saved but has done nothing to advance the gospel of Christ---he receives no reward.

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) The Holy Spirit dwells within each believer, so in that sense each person's body is the temple of God and also the church as a whole is the temple of God. Just as God's glory came down in the physical temple at Jerusalem, God's glory has come down to each of us who trusts in Christ. Defiling or destroying the temple was an act worthy of death, and Paul equates the teaching of false doctrine to believers with defiling or destroying the temple. No one should teach anything that frustrates the message of grace. This could cause believers to fall away from the faith, and anyone who causes a person to do that is subject to the harshest penalties.

Paul now circles back around to the current problem at Corinth, which is that the church members are arguing about which apostle or teacher they are disciples of. "Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.' So then, no more boasting about human leaders!" (1 Corinthians 3:18-21a) In yesterday's passage Paul told the Corinthian believers that they were still worldly. Here he quotes Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to make his point. The church isn't to be worldly. What the world considers "wisdom" is foolishness to God, and what the world considers "foolishness" (the gospel message) is the wise plan of God by which He extends the offer of salvation to mankind. Gentiles in sophisticated cities like Corinth were used to saying they followed the teachings of this or that philosopher. They spent a great deal of time debating over the teachings of philosophers. But now that they are in Christ they are not to behave the same way in regard to apostles and teachers.

"All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter) or the world or life or death or the present or the future---all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God." (1 Corinthians 3:21b-23) In saying "all things are yours", Paul tells the church, "We are all the same family. We are all God's temple. We should be unified, not divided. Together we are the church and everything belongs to the church because everything belongs to Christ and to those who are His."

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 5, Worldly Christians

The apostle tells the church that they are still behaving like the world because they are quarreling with each other.

"Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly---mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) While Paul was in Corinth he taught the citizens there the gospel and the basic principles of the faith. Since then he has moved on to Ephesus but some of the church members at Corinth have not grown in the faith. They are still like infants, not like mature Christians. They are saved but they have not really progressed beyond that.

"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere human beings?" (1 Corinthians 3:3-4) Earlier in our study of this letter we found that there were divisions in the church because its members disagreed about whose teachings to follow. They had lost sight of the fact that they were following Christ. So now Paul says, "You are behaving like people who have not been regenerated by the power of Christ. You are no longer just human beings, but children of the living God. There should be unity among you, not division."

"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe---as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." (1 Corinthians 3:5-6) He reminds them, "I was the one who first told you the gospel. Then Apollos took up the work of teaching you how to live in Christ. But it all would have come to nothing if God had not been in it. He is the one who made His word prosper among you."

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1 Corinthians 3:7) All the glory goes to God. Paul, Apollos, Peter, and all the other apostles were God's servants, doing what He called them to do. Paul is trying to make them understand that arguing about which apostle to follow is pointless. None of the apostles died for them, none of the apostles rose from the dead for them, and none of the apostles saved them.

"The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor." (1 Corinthians 3:8) The Lord will reward each apostle for his work, but the church is to follow Christ, who is the head of the church. The apostles are not to be treated as if they are holy. They are human beings who have been saved by grace and who are being obedient to the Lord by preaching the gospel. But all the glory goes to the Lord.

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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 52, Paul's Intention To Visit Rome

Paul wrote his letter to the Christians at Rome before he ever went there. We don't know who took the gospel to Rome but there was a thriving Christian community in that area. Today Paul speaks of his intention to see the Roman believers in person. He will see them, but as we learned from the book of Acts, it will be as a prisoner.

He concluded yesterday by saying he had occupied himself with preaching the gospel where it had never before been preached, which is why he now says, "This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you." (Romans 15:22) Paul has not been able to visit these believers yet because he has been busy sharing the gospel in places where no one has ever shared it.

"But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while." (Romans 15:23-24) He feels his work is about finished in the regions where he has been preaching, so he plans to go to Spain next and to visit those at Rome on his way.

"Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord's people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessings of Christ." (Romans 15:25-29) In Acts we read about the offering that was collected for the people at Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Paul will be arrested and will eventually be sent to Rome to be held until his case comes up before Emperor Nero.

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord's people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God's will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen." (Romans 15:30-33) Paul knows there is danger at Jerusalem. He asks these believers to pray for his safety. And as we learned in the book of Acts, God did keep him safe from the plots against his life at Jerusalem, and God did deliver him safely to Rome where Paul disembarks a ship as a prisoner and the first thing he sees is a group of believers waiting to welcome him. "The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged." (Acts 28:15)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 51, Minister To The Gentiles

Paul rejoices in his ministry to the Gentiles and he gives glory to Christ for His saving work among the Gentiles.

"I myself am convinced, brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and and competent to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14) He doesn't want his readers to think he is writing to them because he thinks they are not able to tell good from evil. As Christians they are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who indwells Paul. He doesn't want them to feel he is talking down to them.

But as a man called by God to be a minister of the gospel, Paul wants to share his insight and experience with the believers at Rome. "Yet I have written to you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:15-16)

"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in My service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done---by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God." (Romans 15:17-19a) Paul can only speak of the things God has done through him; he knows he is not the only minister God has called to lead the Gentiles to Christ. But he can speak of the great things God has done in his ministry without bragging on himself. He gives all the glory to Jesus Christ. The signs and wonders were not performed through the power of Paul. The conversion of souls was not accomplished through the power of Paul. So in rejoicing over what God has done for the Gentiles, Paul is not giving glory and honor to himself. He's pointing all the glory and honor to the Lord.

The honor and glory for anything good we accomplish on this earth must go to Christ. If I have ever helped anyone in any way in the faith, Christ alone deserves the praise. Before Christ saved me I was not a very sympathetic or compassionate person. If a particular situation did not directly affect my own life, I didn't concern myself with it. I loved my family members and friends, but I can't honestly say I loved my fellow man in general. Saying, "I love you," even to those close to me was difficult. It just didn't come naturally. So, like Paul, I can't brag about myself, because I know what my carnal nature is like. I know who I was before Christ saved me. I know my human tendencies to be selfish and cold. But also like Paul, I can give honor and glory to Christ for the changes He has made in me. I still make mistakes. Paul did too. We all do. But thanks be to the Lord Jesus, we aren't who we used to be.

"So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation." (Romans 15:19b-20) Paul was not the only person preaching to the Gentiles. He didn't go barging into territories where other men were doing the gospel work, as if he had more authority than they did. Instead he focused on getting the gospel to people who had never heard it. His goal wasn't to "add to" anything other ministers were doing, but to make sure as many people as possible had access to the gospel.

"Rather, is it is written: 'Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.'" (Romans 15:21) This quote is from Isaiah 52:15. The prophet spoke these words right before penning his vision of the crucifixion in Isaiah 53. He said of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, "See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at Him---His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness---so He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.'" (Isaiah 52:13-15)

Paul is saying, "These Scriptures are being fulfilled before your very eyes. The gospel is going out to all the nations, just as God said it would. It has nothing to do with my talents or abilities, and it has nothing to do with the talents and abilities of other ministers of the gospel. It has to do with the will of God and the power of God. All the glory goes to Christ, the One who is saving souls and changing lives."