Friday, August 31, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 35, Speaking In Tongues, Part Three

This morning we conclude the section on tongues with Paul saying that this gift should not be displayed unless someone can interpret.

"For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say 'Amen' to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified." (1 Corinthians 14:13-17) It's understandable that the believers at Corinth would be amazed by the gift of tongues and that they would desire this gift for themselves. It must have appeared very spiritual to them. But Paul reminds them that the person speaking in a tongue is speaking directly to God and not to men. It would be far better for the Corinthian believers to work at developing other gifts that are capable of helping their fellow man.

"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:18-19) Paul appears to be extraordinarily gifted, but many scholars believe he only used the gift of tongues in private. We can't be certain about that, but he says five intelligible words spoken in church is better than ten thousand words spoken in tongues in the church. The gift of tongues is a sign, mainly for unbelievers. When in the church Paul is among believers, so it's far more beneficial for them if he says things they can understand.

"Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: 'With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to Me, says the Lord.'" (1 Corinthians 14:20-21) The apostle quotes Isaiah 28:11-12. The prophet Isaiah saw the "tongues" and "lips of foreigners" as a sign of judgment on Israel because they refused to heed to God's warnings and would soon be conquered and taken captive to foreign lands where they would be spoken to by foreign tongues. The ten northern tribes were taken to Assyria. Then two southern tribes were taken to Babylon. This was the judgment of God on them for their idolatry and unbelief. Paul feels the church members at Corinth are being childish by desiring the gift of tongues, for this gift is not really intended for believers but for unbelievers.

"Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (1 Corinthians 14:22-23) On the day of Pentecost, when the believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the word of God in other languages. Some of those who heard them scoffed and said, "They have had too much wine." (Acts 2:13) Suppose an unbeliever decides to visit church one day and comes through the door only to hear everyone babbling in words he can't understand. He will likely conclude the congregation is mentally ill, on drugs, or drunk. He will very quickly walk straight back out the door.

"But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) In hearing the truth of God spoken in words they can understand, the unbeliever is able to realize that he is living in sin. The word of God itself judges and convicts the sinner, so that in his heart he confronts the fact that he has alienated himself from the Lord. It is my opinion that when Paul says the unbeliever is "brought under judgment by all" that he doesn't mean people in the congregation confront the sinner with his sin, but that the sinner hears everyone in the congregation speaking the truth and has to admit to himself that he is living far from God. This is why it's so much better to speak plainly in the church in words everyone can understand. This is helpful for believers who are already in the church, and it's helpful for unbelievers who come into the church to learn about the Lord. As Paul asked in the book of Romans, "How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?" (Romans 10:14a) People have to hear about Christ in order to believe in Him, so it's far more valuable to share the gospel in a way people can understand than to display the gift of tongues.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 34, Speaking In Tongues, Part Two

We continue on in Chapter 14 today.

"Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" (1 Corinthians 14:6-8) Paul spoke several languages that he had been taught, but he also spoke by the Spirit in other languages, as he will say later on in verse 18. He had been given the gift of the Spirit to speak in other tongues. But many scholars believe he did not use this gift in public, or at least not around believers. He feels displaying this gift in the church will be of little use to his listeners, but he believes teaching them and advising them is far more beneficial. If he stands up in the assembly and speaks in a language no one is familiar with, they will not receive any instruction. They may be impressed and amazed, but they won't learn anything.

"So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air." (1 Corinthians 14:9) Paul is writing this letter from Ephesus. He's not present with the church. He plants churches and then expects them to conduct themselves as churches should, with encouragement and instruction from him and from the other apostles, and with the help of the Lord. This is why he gives them advice about how to conduct themselves, and today he advises them that gifts other than tongues are more important for helping those who are already believers. This means that the church members who have the gifts of preaching, teaching, and prophecy are more helpful to the church than a thousand members speaking in tongues. There are times when I'm overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I have never spoken in tongues. If I did, it would no doubt be an amazing experience for me. It would probably amaze those around me. But unless I could explain to them what I said, or unless someone was present who could interpret what I said, no one in the church would learn anything from it.

The gift of tongues is primarily a sign to unbelievers as they hear the word of God spoken in their own language by a person who has never learned that language. For an example of this, we have only to look at Acts 2. In Acts 2 the gospel of Jesus Christ had not yet been written down. There was no Holy Bible translated into various languages as we have today. The only way the foreign visitors to Jerusalem could understand the gospel was to hear it proclaimed in their own languages. They recognized that this was a miraculous thing, and therefore it was a sign to them that the gospel message was true.

"Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church." (1 Corinthians 14:10-12) Even if Paul were sitting in an assembly of his own countrymen, if one of them suddenly started speaking in a language Paul did not know, it would be the same as if he and his fellow countryman were foreigners to each other. The person speaking in tongues might be saying great things, but Paul would have no way of knowing that. He urges the believers to seek other types of gifts, saying something like, "I know all of you desire gifts of the Spirit. The gift of tongues seems very dramatic and exciting, but you should not focus on praying for this particular gift. You would be better off praying for gifts that will help to build up the church. You should pray for the ability to minister to the church in effective ways. Speaking in tongues does not instruct your brothers and sisters in Christ how to deal with hardships in their lives. Speaking in tongues does not help them to honor the Lord. Speaking in tongues does not offer them encouragement. So seek the gifts that are able to do these things."

We have permission to pray for gifts of the Spirit that we can use to build up the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. There's nothing wrong with asking the Lord to continually improve the talents we have, as long as we are asking Him to do it for His glory and for the benefit of others. The preacher can pray to be a better speaker. The teacher can pray for more insight into the lessons. The person who ministers to others can pray for more compassion and understanding. The person who likes to encourage others can ask the Lord for effective counseling skills. There are many more examples we could use, but the Lord gives all of us natural talents, and He is able to help us develop these talents more and more. I believe He will honor the prayer of the one who asks to become better at whatever the Lord has given him to do.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 33, Speaking In Tongues, Part One

We are beginning a chapter this morning that requires some clarification to be made right off the bat. This chapter deals with the subject of speaking in tongues and with the interpretation of tongues. First we are going to need to stop and consider what "speaking in tongues" actually means.

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 we found the believers gathered together, praying and waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised them. Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was given to indwell them. At Pentecost, when converts to Judaism from various nations were pouring into Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was poured onto the believers, and the visitors heard the believers speaking the gospel and praising the Lord in their own tongues. Unfortunately, some versions of the Bible translated Acts 2 into English by using the term "unknown tongues", leading many people over the centuries to believe that Luke was telling us that the believers spoke in tongues no person of their times had ever heard. This is simply not true. The believers were speaking in tongues they had not been taught. The believers who had grown up speaking and understanding nothing but Aramaic were proclaiming the gospel in the languages of the nations around them. A list of these nations is provided by Luke in Acts 2:9-11. If the believers had been speaking in ancient languages that no longer existed, how did the visitors to Jerusalem proclaim that they heard the Galileans speaking in their own tongues?

I personally have doubts that the gift of tongues still exists in our day, but I will not be dogmatic about that. I know not everyone agrees with me and I'm not going to be offended by anyone who disagrees. I hope no one who disagrees is offended with me either. I am open to the idea that the Lord may still use this method at times. But if He does, those who are speaking in tongues will be speaking genuine languages just as those at Pentecost spoke in genuine languages. I once heard someone lapse into tongues during a sermon. It did not have any of the characteristics of a genuine language (it sounded like he was saying "lalalalalala" over and over) and I did not feel, in my spirit, that he was exhibiting a true gift. Did he think he was speaking in the Spirit? Possibly so. Or possibly, because his followers hold anyone who can speak in tongues in very high esteem, he felt pressured to pretend to possess such a gift. Another big problem became evident immediately following his display: there was no one to interpret what he said. As we will learn as we go through Chapter 14, no one is to speak in another language unless someone is present who can interpret it. Those who spoke in other languages on Pentecost had interpreters available (the visitors to Jerusalem who overheard them), and we are to follow this same rule in our own times.

It is going to take us several days to go through Chapter 14, but Paul begins by saying, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy." (1 Corinthians 14:1) I think the believers at Corinth had come to value the gift of tongues above the gift of prophecy, but Paul is going to point out that prophecy is more beneficial to the church than tongues. We have already seen that all gifts of the Spirit are valuable, but they are used for different purposes. Being made able by the Spirit to speak in tongues one has not been taught is primarily for the benefit of the speaker and for the benefit of unbelievers, as Paul will say later in Chapter 14.

"For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified." (1 Corinthians 14:2-5) There were genuine gifts of tongues at Corinth, and I think because it was more dramatic to have someone stand up and speak in a tongue than to have someone stand up and give a word of prophecy, the church was granting far more esteem to those who spoke in tongues. But this no doubt caused a problem to arise: the problem of fakes. Some who did not possess the gift of tongues were probably pretending to have it so they could be admired by the church. This is why Paul cautions them that there must be someone present to interpret.

If someone who has never been taught Spanish stood up in my church and began talking to the Lord in Spanish, I would not be able to understand them because I can only speak English. But if there is someone else sitting in the congregation who speaks Spanish, he or she can interpret what was said. This is why Paul says that anyone who stands up in the Corinthian church, and speaks in a language the Corinthians can't understand (Aramaic for example), isn't going to impart any worthwhile knowledge to the congregation. That person may indeed be sincerely speaking to the Lord, but no one in the congregation will be able to tell for certain. But if there is a person present who speaks Aramaic, he or she can stand up and tell the congregation what was said. So Paul says that displaying the gift of prophecy in the church is better than displaying the gift of tongues, unless someone interprets. (verse 5) He's not saying that the gift of tongues isn't important, but that unless an interpreter is present, or unless the speaker himself understands what he has said, he should remain silent and speak in his heart to the Lord.

There could very well be genuine instances of speaking in tongues today. Just because I've never personally witnessed it doesn't mean it isn't happening. By by and large it is probably one of the gifts of the early church that we don't often see in modern times. The signs of the apostles and the gifts of the early church also included things like being able to raise the dead (as Paul did in Acts 20) and the performance of astonishing signs and wonders and the ability to perform healing miracles similar to those Jesus performed. I have never seen anyone raise the dead. I have never seen anyone lay hands on a person and lift them up healed from a bed of sickness. I've never seen anyone touch the eyes of the blind and make them see. I've never seen anyone command a crippled person to rise up and walk. These signs were given to the early church in order to convert unbelievers, so if any of the gifts of the early church still exist (tongues, miracles, etc.) they are for the purpose of converting unbelievers. This is why Paul tells us that prophecy is more valuable in the church than the display of signs and wonders, because prophecy helps the church (not unbelievers) and signs and wonders help unbelievers more than they help the church.

We will be taking an in-depth look at the subject of tongues and interpretation for the next several days as we continue on with Chapter 14.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 32, Love Never Fails

Today we move into what is probably going to be a familiar portion of Scripture to a lot of you. It is the chapter on love. Paul has spent a lot of time speaking about the gifts of the Spirit, but no amount of gifts matters if we don't love others. In our world today we are often taught that we are nothing if we are not loved by someone else. We've accepted the lie that we must be in a romantic relationship at all times in order to feel worthy. We've fallen for the fallacy that we are nobodies if we are not popular and admired. But our worth comes from being loved by Christ, and we honor Him by loving others in the way He loves us. Christ died for us while we were still "nobodies" in order to make us "somebodies". It's wonderful to be gifted and talented, but we can't honor the Lord or help anyone around us by using our gifts and talents without love in our hearts.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1) Paul states, "Words without love are just words. If I speak words without love, my words are no more helpful than if I were standing here beating a gong."

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2) He reminds his readers, "You have been bragging about your gifts. You have been valuing some gifts over others. But even if you could foretell every event of the future, and even if you understood everything that has happened since the beginning of time, and even if your faith was so great that you could simply speak the word and obtain the desires of your hearts---how do these things honor the Lord or help your fellow man if you don't have love?"

"If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3) There are a lot of reasons why a non-Christian might perform good deeds, or why a Christian who is not particularly loving might perform good deeds. Many people just naturally feel compassion for others, so they may simply feel compelled by their consciences to help those in need. Or they may do it because it makes them feel better about themselves. They may do it because they enjoy the attention and admiration it gains them. They may do it thinking they can offset the sin in their lives by trying to make their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds. There are dozens of motives a person may have for busying himself with good works, but Paul says unless the motive is love it does not count for anything.

Why is love so important? Let's look at what love is (and what love is not) to find out: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) There will come a day when the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be needed. For example, when a person dies he can no longer exercise his gifts. For another example, when we are in heaven with Christ we will not need to exercise our gifts, for there will be no lost people there who need to be brought to Christ. For yet another example, when at last Christ reigns as King of kings over the whole earth, there will be no more need for the gifts of prophecy (for all prophecy will have been fulfilled) or the gifts of healing (illness and death will no longer exist) or the gifts of preaching or teaching (because all the inhabitants of the earth will be those who already belong to Christ). But what does endure for eternity? Love!

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:8-12) When we were children we played with toys because they were important for our physical and mental development. But when we became adults we put our Barbies and GI Joes away and took on our adult duties. Right now the gifts of the Spirit are important in this world to bring lost people to Christ and to encourage those who are already in Christ. In that sense we are still in an infancy of sorts. But when we see Christ face to face we will no longer need to exercise these gifts, for we will be in the presence of the One who fulfills all things. In that sense we will be adults in the faith in a way we cannot now be. Someday we will be face to face with the Giver of gifts, and then we will no longer need to preach the gospel or prophesy about the future or lay hands on the sick to pray for their healing. We won't need the gifts of the Spirit to minister to others because no one will need to be ministered to. Love will outlast everything else because love is more important than everything else. Christ died for us because of love, and this one act of His matters more than all the sermons He preached and all the sicknesses He healed and all the resurrections He performed. Therefore our love for Christ and for our fellow man, and the good deeds we perform because of this love, means more than anything else we could ever do.

All of the gifts of the Spirit are good, but the gift of love outweighs them all. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13) It was love that led Christ to the cross and it was love that held Him there until our redemption was accomplished. Nothing else would have compelled Him to offer Himself in this way. We sacrifice in a lot of ways for those we love, don't we? This is why love is the most important gift. Without it we would have no desire to minister to others. Without it we could not win anyone to the One who demonstrated the greatest love of all.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 31, Every Member Is Vital To The Church

Paul concludes his advice regarding how we are to view the gifts of the Spirit. Just as every part of our human body is placed there by God for a purpose, every gift in the church body is placed there by God for a purpose. We aren't to think our gifts are better than those of others. We aren't to think the gifts of others are better than our own. God, in His wisdom, has chosen how to disperse spiritual gifts.

Just as he did in yesterday's passage, Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for the church body. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment" (1 Corinthians 12:21-24a)

There are church members who perform vital services behind the scenes. What about the prayer warriors who pray privately in their own homes? If they stopped praying, the church would soon know it. What about those who perform jobs at church we don't really think about, such as janitorial services or the typing and printing of bulletins or the maintenance of the landscaping? If these people abandoned their duties, the church would soon notice it. Just as we don't think much about our feet when they aren't bothering us, we may not think much about those who work behind the scenes. But just as we notice our feet in a big way when they start bothering us, we would notice in a big way if those who aren't "out front" at the church stopped doing what God has given them to do.

"But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in its body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." (1 Corinthians 12:24b-26) Yesterday I used the example of the time I broke my pinky toe by shutting it up in the car door. Though my pinky toe is a very small part of my body, my whole body knew it when I broke it. This is how we should react when one of the members of the body of Christ is hurt. Just as my whole body suffered along with my pinky toe, the whole body of Christ should suffer along with any member who is suffering. And the whole body of Christ should rejoice with any member who rejoices. We all rejoice when physical ailments go away, don't we? I was sick for almost all of June and July this year, but now that I'm well I keep rejoicing and delighting in how good I feel. So in the same way that we seek the health and wellbeing of our physical bodies, we should seek the health and wellbeing of church members and of the church as a whole.

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:27-28) This is the hierarchy of the church, for God does all things in an orderly way, but Paul doesn't feel any position in the church is unimportant. In his day the apostles were the leaders of the church. In our day we consider our pastors the leaders of the church. Someone has to be in charge, and church business has to be conducted in an orderly and proper way, but every member of the church adds a vital service to the body of Christ. Just because we are not all pastors doesn't mean our jobs aren't important. There are many many ways to minister to others besides being a church pastor. At my church there are ladies who knit and crochet lap robes for nursing home residents. There are cooking groups who minister to the sick and the bereaved. There are men who go out into the community and build wheelchair ramps or do repairs on the homes of the handicapped and the elderly. There are people who hardly ever speak a word at church but who are on their knees daily at home interceding with the Lord on behalf of the church. All these things, and many more, are vital to the body of Christ.

"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:29-31a) What does Paul mean by "the greater gifts"? He has already explained to us that we shouldn't value the gifts of one person over the gifts of another. I think he means the gifts we use with love, for he is about to guide us into a passage regarding love, and when he does we will see that the use of our gifts without love is meaningless. We might manage to bring some benefit to those around us by performing our duties even without love in our hearts, but God doesn't honor work done in His name if it is not done in the right spirit. So Paul concludes today's session with a remark that is intended to lead us into a chapter regarding love tomorrow, "And yet I will show you the most excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31b)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 30, One Church/Many Parts

I apologize for my absence from the blog for the past few days. My little dog has been really sick and while she was in the hospital I was having to get up very early in the morning to drive over and visit with her and talk to the doctor before I had to go to work. (I have to do my studying and writing in the mornings because I am a "morning person" and can't seem to do a good job with the blog at night.) She's home now, but in spite of her lab work looking much better she won't eat a bite and is losing weight rapidly. I'm having trouble concentrating on anything because I fear we are reaching the end of the road with my little fifteen-year-old pup, so forgive me if I seem scatterbrained. I am going to do my best to give God's word the attention it deserves this morning.

In our last study Paul cautioned his readers not to value some spiritual gifts over others. These gifts are granted by the same Lord and they all deserve the same respect. Today he reminds us that though there are many variations of gifts within the church, we are all one body. Our gifts should not divide us but instead should unify us as the body of Christ.

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body---whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free---and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many." (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) The physical body, though it has many parts. contains only one spirit The church, though it has many members, contains only one Spirit. We should not let things divide us in the church anymore than we should divide our physical bodies by chopping off an arm or leg.

"Now if the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason stop being part of the body." (1 Corinthians 12:15-16) God created all the parts of the physical body for a reason. We can live without some of our parts, but we will function better physically if we have all of them intact. If one little part of the body gets hurt, the whole body knows it immediately. A couple of summers ago I shut my right pinky toe up in the car door and broke it. A pinky toe doesn't seem all that important when it's just sitting there on the end of the foot doing its job. But believe me, when I absentmindedly slammed that door on my pinky toe and broke it, it took my breath away for a minute. My whole body felt it. Everything in me was aware that my pinky toe was in big trouble. In the same way, we should never think that the gifts of some church members are less important than others. If we hurt the person whose gifts we consider less important, in essence we are hurting the whole church, just as breaking my pinky toe made my whole body feel ill.

The Lord has distributed different types of gifts to us because all these gifts are needed. Could the church function without some of these gifts? Maybe, but the church will function at its best with all of them. "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." (1 Corinthians 12:17-20)

Paul asks, "What use would we be if we were nothing but one big eyeball rolling around? We'd have no hands and no feet. We'd have no mouths and no ears. What could we accomplish? And what use would the church be if we all had the same gift? If everyone were a singer, who would preach the gospel? If everyone preached the gospel, who would visit the sick? If everyone visited the sick, who would be prayer warriors? If everyone were prayer warriors, who would teach Sunday school?" Whatever gift the Lord has given you is just as important as whatever gift He's given anyone else. Don't ever value yourselves less just because you think someone else's gift is better than yours. Would God make a mistake? Would the One who knew you before you were ever born not choose the perfect gift for you? Use the gift God has given you to the best of your ability. Don't envy what someone else is doing. Do what the Lord has told you to do. He will abundantly bless you for it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 29, The Gifts The Holy Spirit Has Given Us

Today the apostle speaks about the spiritual gifts given to believers. In Paul's day many miraculous gifts were manifested among believers, such as the power to work signs and wonders or the ability to speak in languages the person had not been taught. He reminds the believers that they are to keep their focus on Christ and not on manifestations of spiritual gifts. It wasn't so long ago that they were idolaters, caught up in ignorant superstition and persuaded by the acts of the "magicians" of their day to bow down to false gods. They must be careful not to put too much emphasis on miracles, or else they will come care more about the gifts than about the Giver. There is also the danger that they will be deceived by those who pretend to be in the Spirit but whose agenda is to lead them astray.

"Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:1-3) This is the test they are to use when judging whether a teacher or a worker of signs and wonders really belongs to Christ. No one who belongs to Christ will blaspheme His name. If the person's attitude toward Christ is wrong, the believers shouldn't listen to a word he says. Does the person who displays mighty gifts honor the Lord with his manner of living? Does that person proclaim Jesus as Lord and submit to Him as Lord? Then that person is the real deal.

The church at Corinth appears to be placing more value on some spiritual gifts than on others, and because of this they are placing more value on persons who possess the gifts that are deemed more worthy. Paul reminds them that all spiritual gifts are bestowed by the same Spirit. How can they esteem one gift higher than another? How can they esteem one believer higher than another? They are all saved by the same Lord and they are all blessed by the same Spirit. "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

I would like to add that we shouldn't think of ourselves as less worthy than someone else simply because we have different gifts than someone else. The Spirit has distributed gifts to each of us according to our personalities, our backgrounds, and our sphere of influence. He has distributed to each of us the gifts by which we can best glorify the Lord. The gifts you have been given by the Spirit are exactly the right gifts for you. Don't envy the gifts of others. Don't look down on yourself because you possess different gifts than others. For instance, I would love to have a beautiful singing voice. I enjoy singing while I work around the house and I enjoy singing praises to the Lord while driving in the car. Unfortunately my voice is better suited for singing in private than for singing in public. The Lord honors the praises I sing to Him in private, but He did not instruct the Spirit to gift me with a voice that should be used for a solo in church. Does this mean that the gifts the Spirit has given me are of lesser value? Of course not! The Spirit may not have given you the gifts you would have chosen for yourself, but He has given you the gifts that are right for you.

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines." (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) Whatever spiritual gifts you have been given, use them with all your might for the glory of the Lord. Don't envy the gifts of others; your gifts are just as important. Don't think of yourselves as "less" than someone else; you are just as loved by Christ as they are. The Lord knows what He's doing and He knows you better than anyone else will ever know you. This makes Him the perfect one to choose the perfect gift for you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 28, Participating In The Lord's Supper In An Unholy Manner

Paul's first letter to the Corinthian believers contains mostly instructions and reprimands. His second letter will have a much more positive tone, but for now there are things that need to be straightened out. Today the apostle deals with the unholy way some of the believers are participating in the Lord's Supper. The section we will study today is very relevant to our own observation of the Lord's Supper, and at my church a portion of this section is read every time we participate in communion, which is what is meant by the term "the Lord's Supper".

"In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval." (1 Corinthians 11:17-19) We've already learned that the Corinthians are an argumentative bunch. Some of the believers are forming their own little cliques and factions within the church. They are doing their own thing and are excluding those who don't agree with them.

The little cliques and factions within the church are behaving in an unholy manner at the Lord's Supper and they are behaving in an unloving way toward their fellow believers. "So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!" (1 Corinthians 11:20-22) Instead of pooling their resources enough to ensure everyone is able to participate in communion, people are bringing picnic lunches. Those who are poor have little to bring---sometimes nothing to bring---and they are left out. Meanwhile those who are wealthy are feasting on large meals and drinking to excess in the Lord's house. Paul says, "Shame on you! If you want to feast or get drunk, do it at home, not in the Lord's house. The Lord's Supper is meant to be a time to reflect on the blood of our Lord and on the broken body of our Lord. Your minds are to be on Him. This is not an occasion for gluttony or drunkenness. This is an occasion to solemnly and reverently commemorate the sacrifice our Lord made for us."

Paul reminds them how the first Lord's Supper was conducted. "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) The Lord's Supper is a symbolic reenactment of what Jesus endured for our sake. It is a solemn occasion, not an occasion for revelry.

Paul warns the Corinthian church that judgment may fall on anyone who participates in the Lord's Supper in an unholy manner. Indeed, as we will soon see, judgment has already fallen on some of them. "So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:27) The apostle urges them, "Before partaking of the meal, think about whether you are doing it in the right spirit. It would be better for you not to attend at all than to sin against the Lord with your improper behavior."

"Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup." (1 Corinthians 11:28) This is the verse we read in my church before taking communion. We need to spend a few minutes in introspection before we participate. We need to fix our minds on Christ and solemnly consider all that the Lord suffered for our sake.

"For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:29-32) The Lord disciplines those who are His, and in the verses above we find Him doing just that. Paul attributes some of the sickness and death of church members to their disrespectful attitude toward the Lord's Supper. Being disrespectful toward the Lord's Supper is like trampling underfoot the great sacrifice He made. This is another section of 1 Corinthians where it is imperative to keep in mind that Paul is talking to Christians---to people who are genuinely saved by Christ. He's not saying that any of them has lost their salvation because of their conduct at the Lord's Supper; he's saying some of them have been disciplined because of their conduct at the Lord's Supper.

Not all of the sickness that comes upon us in this world is a result of the Lord's discipline, but there are definitely times when this is the case, such as in the church at Corinth. Paul warns them, "Some of you are afflicted in body because of your irreverent attitude toward the Lord. Some of your members have already passed on (fallen asleep) because they persisted in participating in the Lord's Supper in an unholy manner. If you would straighten this problem out you would not have to endure discipline for your wrongdoing. Because you belong to the Lord, He sometimes disciplines you with illness so that you will repent of your errors. Because some of your members have kept drifting from the Lord and have kept sinking further into sin, He took them on out of the world to prevent them from harming themselves spiritually to the point of becoming reprobates. He has done these things out of love and for your own good. But you can relieve a lot of your problems right now by correcting the things that are wrong in your behavior."

"So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further instructions." (1 Corinthians 11:33-34) Anyone who has ever participated in the Lord's Supper knows it does not contain enough bread (or crackers) and wine (or grape juice) to fill a hungry belly. The only communion I have ever taken consisted of one small unleavened wafer and one tiny cup of red grape juice. I don't know how they conducted the Lord's Supper in Paul's day, but it wasn't with feasting and drinking. It wasn't done for the purpose of satisfying hunger or thirst, so Paul instructs them to eat a meal at home before attending the supper. No one is to pack lavish picnic lunches. No one is to be left out. The church is to gather together as a whole and reverently partake in the bread and the cup, meditating on the sacrifice of our Lord, and worshiping Him in the right spirit.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 27, Covering The Head In Worship, Part Three

We will be finishing up this section today regarding the custom in Paul's day of women covering their heads in worship. We will look at why Paul says it is shameful for a man to have long hair, and we will also take a look at a puzzling statement Paul makes regarding the need for a woman to cover her head "because of the angels".

"A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." (1 Corinthians 11:7-8) The Apostle Paul has received a great deal of criticism over the centuries, with his detractors claiming he is a woman-hater. I don't believe that is the case at all. We took note in our study of his letter to the Romans how much he valued the work of women in the church. He took time to greet several females by name, some of which he referred to as a "deacon" or "apostle". Even in our current chapter we don't want to miss the fact that although he states a woman should cover her head in worship because she is under the authority of her husband, he also says her head is to be covered when she prophesies. (verse 5) This indicates that Paul recognizes and respects the prophetic office of women just as he recognizes and respects the prophetic office of men. The woman in the church is not pushed to the side or treated as if her service to the Lord is not valuable. She is simply advised to serve the Lord with modesty of dress, and modesty of dress in Paul's day included a veil over the hair.

God created the man before He created the woman. Adam lived in the Garden of Eden for an undisclosed amount of time before the Lord created Eve. Adam built a relationship with the Lord before he became a husband. Adam was instructed by the Lord before he became a husband. This is the example the Lord has set down for Christian marriage: a man should already have a relationship with the Lord prior to marriage; a man should be capable of setting a spiritual example for his wife and children; a man should be willing and committed to fulfilling the office of godly leadership in the home. Because God created Adam before He created Eve, Paul says God intended for the man to be the spiritual leader of the home. Adam had to instruct his wife in everything he had learned about the Lord before Eve was created. The husband ought to have such a close relationship with the Lord that he will be able to instruct his wife in godly living. If the wife needs advice about a decision or needs someone to pray with her, her husband ought to be the first person she can turn to for spiritual support. The best Christian partner a woman has should be her husband. I want to stop here and tell any Christian married man who might be reading this study today that if you are not the first person your wife thinks of when she needs spiritual support, you need to grow closer to the Lord. Your wife should not have to call up another family member, a friend, or the church pastor when she needs someone to pray with her or encourage her in the faith. She should come straight to you, because you are called by the Lord to be her partner in Christian living.

Now Paul makes a puzzling statement. "It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels." (1 Corinthians 11:10) Scholars have debated and disagreed on this verse for a very long time, so we are not going to be able to come to any definite conclusion about it. Many scholars believe Paul is referring to a portion of Scripture from Genesis, where some of the angels sinned against the Lord and mated with human women. (Genesis 6:1-4) The scholars who hold this opinion believe Paul is saying that women should veil their hair as a sign to the angels that they belong to the Lord. They are under the authority of their husbands and they are under the authority of Christ. This tells the angels they are off limits.

I am not sure I fully agree with this theory as I don't believe the Scriptures indicate we are in danger today of being seduced by angels. It does seem as if such a sin was committed by some of the fallen angels prior to the flood, but no mention is made in the Scriptures of a continuing problem of angels consorting with humans. I do think Paul could be using the angels as an example to remind the Christian women of Corinth that if even angels were tempted to sin because of female beauty, human men are going to be tempted to sin by female beauty. So I think he may be saying something like, "Keep in mind how powerful beauty is. Even some of the angels sinned against the Lord in order to possess beautiful women. As women who belong to Christ, you should dress in such a way that your virtue is evident to all. Men should not feel free to approach you and make indecent proposals. You should not dress in a way that dishonors the Lord or embarrasses your husband. You are the daughters of the Most High God; don't let anyone forget it!"

He does not want his readers to think men don't need women or that women don't need men. God created both sexes because both sexes are necessary. Both sexes are necessary for the continuation of the human race, and both sexes are necessary in the church because both sexes possess different gifts and abilities. "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God." (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

"Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice---nor do the churches of God." (1 Corinthians 11:13-16) It could be that Paul is cautioning the men not to appear effeminate. Just as many of the immoral pagan women of Corinth wore their hair uncovered and even shaved their heads, it could be that many of the immoral pagan men of Corinth wore long feminine hairstyles. In the Roman world, female prostitution and male prostitution was legal. In the Roman world, both men and women could visit either type of prostitute. Men could be married to a woman while openly keeping a male "mistress" on the side, and these male mistresses sometimes wore the hairstyles and the clothing styles of women. Even two of Emperor Nero's marriages were to men: in one wedding he married an effeminate eunuch who he referred to as his "wife"; in the other wedding Nero dressed as the bride. I think Paul is saying something like this to the Christian men of Corinth, "Just because the culture you live in allows men to look like women doesn't mean you should let your hair grow long. If you do you will look worldly and will be confused for pagan men. You are the sons of the living God; you should not be mistaken for idolaters. You should not be mistaken for men who engage in sexual immorality."

If we are to take anything away from our study of head coverings in the church, we are to keep in mind that even in our modern times we should observe modest and acceptable customs in the church. We should appear to the world as what we are: the children of God. We should not dress or behave in such a way as to confuse the world about our identity. We must in every way and in all things honor the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave His life to redeem us and make us holy.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 26, Covering The Head In Worship, Part Two

It's good to be home from vacation and to be back into the word of God with you. We ended up coming home a day later than we originally planned, and I have really missed studying the Bible with you.

We pick back up where we left off in Chapter 11 with Paul instructing the Christian women of Corinth to cover their heads in worship. In Paul's day and in his area of the world it was customary for respectable women to wear a veil over their hair. We discussed in our last study that the veil signified that the woman was under the protection of a man. In the case of a young single lady, she was under the protection of her father. In the case of a married woman, she was under the protection of her husband. Men who spotted a veil-wearing single woman in the marketplace knew they could not approach her and make a pass at her. Any man who wanted to court her would have to possess honorable intentions toward her and would have to be approved by her father. Men who spotted a veil-wearing married woman in public knew the woman was unavailable to them for courtship. Making a pass at her might earn him a bloody nose from her husband.

The veil also signified being under the authority of the man of the house. A daughter was under her father's authority as long as she lived in his household. A wife was under the authority of her husband. We discussed in our last study the need for us to remember that Paul is speaking to Christian households where a husband's authority does not mean he is free to mistreat his wife or to disregard her opinions or to treat her as if she is less important than he is. It is simply that God has chosen the husband to be the spiritual leader of the household: a very serious responsibility. In the Christian home the husband should be setting a wonderful godly example for his wife and children to follow. The Christian man ought to take time to consider whether he is fulfilling his God-given duties. If it is the wife who is setting the spiritual example for the household, the husband needs to repent of shirking his responsibilities. He needs to step up his game and work on his relationship with the Lord so that he can be the man his family needs him to be.

Since in Christian households the man is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the family, and since the woman is supposed to follow the spiritual example of the man, Paul says that (due to the customs of his day) the woman should wear a veil over her hair in church to demonstrate her willing submission to her husband's spiritual authority in the home. Paul feels that if the woman does not appear this way in church, it's as shameful as if she shaved off all her hair. Priestesses who served at various idolatrous temples in Corinth often shaved their heads. Many of these co-called priestesses were actually temple prostitutes. It was also the custom in various cultures for a woman caught in adultery to have her head shaved to mark her as an immoral woman. So Paul is saying that the Christian women of Corinth who don't cover their heads are bringing shame to their husbands. "But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head---it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head." (1 Corinthians 11:5-6)

My husband and I attend a Baptist church, and there is no custom there that a woman should cover her head. Because it is not our custom or part of our culture, it does not shame our husbands if we don't wear head coverings in church. So how can we apply Paul's instructions to our modern conduct? What would shame our husbands? What would make us look like women of the world instead of women of the Lord?

Dressing immodestly in church or in public would be a good example. We can still be stylish and up-to-date without displaying more of ourselves than is respectable. There are lots of cute outfits in the stores that won't make us look like we might be available for illicit relationships. Imagine how embarrassing it would be for a Christian man to have a wife who enjoys dressing in skimpy clothes so that other men will turn around to stare at her. This tells the husband that his love and attention is not enough for her; she has to also have the admiration of men she passes on the street.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to look our best. I color the gray in my hair and I wear an average amount of makeup and I like to shop for cute clothes. I bet most of my female readers like doing these same things. We want our husbands to think we look pretty. We want everyone we interact with to think we look pretty. Our husbands enjoy knowing we want to look our best for them, plus they enjoy having others think, "Wow, Joe sure found himself a pretty wife!" What they don't enjoy is having those around them think, "Joe's wife looks cheap. Have you seen how she dresses?", or, "Joe's wife sure dresses sexy. I think she might be interested in running around on him. Maybe I should find out."

What about women who are not married and who do not have to consider the opinion of a husband? Women who are in Christ should still dress like daughters of the living God. Skimpy clothes may attract the attention of a single man (even a single Christian man, because he has eyes in his head) but it's going to attract him for the wrong reasons. How can he be attracted to a woman's character and intelligence and talents if he doesn't even know she has them? He doesn't even know she has a pretty face if all he can look at is what is displayed by a low-cut top or mini skirt. It's natural for a man to be attracted to a pretty face, and there's nothing wrong with a woman enhancing the prettiness of her face, but after attracting his attention by lovely eyes or nice smile there needs to be something of substance to keep him interested. A man should stay interested because he realizes a woman is beautiful on the inside too. He should fascinated by intelligence and charmed by a sense of humor. He should admire a woman for her talents and for her love of the Lord. A man who is attracted by the "whole package" is a man worth going on a date with and even considering as marriage material. A man who is only attracted by the goods on display will soon wander off when the next skimpily clad woman walks by.

If we remember who we are in Christ, ladies, we will attract the right kind of admiration. We will be treated with respect. We will be valued for all the wonderful things we can contribute to the world. If God intended women only to be ornamental, or worse yet to be nothing but sex objects, He wouldn't have given us equal intelligence with men. He wouldn't have given us so many great talents. He wouldn't have gifted us with the ability to do amazing things in this world. So let's be who He created us to be. Let's be women of substance and character. Let's be women who understand that Christ values and respects us. And because Christ values and respects us, we should value and respect ourselves.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 25, Covering The Head In Worship, Part One

Today we are going to begin our look at a complicated and even controversial piece of advice that Paul gives to the church at Corinth. While reading it we need to remember that he is speaking of holding to traditions. In his day women wore head coverings. The head covering of Paul's day accomplished several purposes, one of the most important being that it marked the woman as a respectable woman. Prostitutes and women of loose morals usually did not wear a covering, so going without a covering might suggest to the public that the woman is not godly. Another purpose the covering served was to protect the modesty of the woman from the roving eyes of men on the street, for it marked her as a woman under the protection of a man. A young unmarried woman was protected by the authority of her father. A married woman was protected by the authority of her husband. And another purpose, as Paul will explain today, is to demonstrate the woman's willing submission to the authority of God and to the authority of her husband.

Our culture has drastically changed what is meant by the word "submission" in the Bible. It does not mean a person is inferior to another person. After all, Christ submitted Himself to the Father although He was equal to the Father. (Philippians 2:5-8) Christ was not inferior to the Father in any way, yet He placed Himself under the authority of the Father in order to accomplish redemption for mankind. We will see in Chapter 11 that everything God does is orderly, and because He is orderly there must be a hierarchy in place. God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of his household. The woman is not inferior to the man or something less than the man anymore than Christ is inferior to the Father or something less than the Father. The plan God chose for the family is that the man is the head of the household, which doesn't give the man the right to abuse his wife or disregard her opinion. Did God abuse Christ or disregard His opinion? No, and we have to keep in mind that Paul is talking to Christian men. He is not talking to men who don't love their wives.or to men who abuse their wives physically or emotionally. He is talking to men who want to treat their wives as Christ would have them treat them.

Paul begins by saying, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1) This verse actually belongs at the end of Chapter 10, for it has to do with respecting and honoring the consciences of others. In Chapter 10 he talked about not engaging in any behavior that offends a fellow believer. He said it is not showing love to them if we do things that trouble our fellow believer. Paul strives to treat others as Christ would treat them, so he advises us to follow this example.

"I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2) Most Christian denominations today don't have the tradition of women covering their heads with a veil in church. The advice Paul gives regarding these coverings applies to the time and place in which he lived. No one is going to think I'm a "loose woman" if I appear in my Baptist church without my head covered. No one is going to think I'm disrespecting the Lord or my husband if I go out in public without my head covered.

What we ought to still do in our modern times is dress modestly in public. I don't mean we have to put on a turtleneck with long sleeves and wear a skirt that goes to the floor, but I mean that we shouldn't wear low-necked tops or short skirts that invite men to stare at us and think lustful thoughts about us. Having our cleavage hanging out or wearing a skirt that barely covers our bottom conveys the message that we welcome the lustful attention of men. This is not the message we want to send. Young single women are not going to attract the right type of man by wearing provocative clothing because godly young men are not going to consider women like that "marriage material". When married women dress provocatively in public they are disrespecting their husbands by sending a message to other men that they might be available for illicit relationships. Despite what our culture tells us, we have much more to offer than sex appeal. God created women to be more than ornamental: He created us for a relationship with Him. He made us intelligent and creative and gifted. When choosing clothing, ladies, remember who you are. You are the daughters of the living God! You are princesses worthy of respect and honor, so respect and honor yourselves. If you respect and honor yourselves, men will treat you with respect and honor.

"But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3) Without order we would have chaos. There can only be one Lord and Leader of all creation. There can only be one leader of the household. This doesn't mean men aren't to listen to the opinions of their wives. I know we joke about "women's intuition", but scientific studies have shown that (generally speaking) women tend to be a bit better at judging character than men. Women often pick up on body language and other non-verbal cues to judge whether a person is sincere or not. Perhaps God gifted women with this extra perception because He created us physically smaller than men. He may have granted this extra perception for our own protection. But a godly man will respect and listen to his wife's opinions, and we have to remember that Paul is talking to men who are supposed to be godly. Paul is not telling women to submit to abuse. He's not telling women to allow themselves to be treated with disrespect as if they are the property of men. He's talking to Christian couples where the man and woman are supposed to be loving each other in a Christlike way.

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head." (1 Corinthians 11:4-5a) The man who covers his literal head dishonors his spiritual head (Christ). The man's uncovered head signifies that, although he is under the authority of Christ, he is the head of his home. His uncovered head demonstrates that he is accepting the responsibility of setting a Christian example in his home. When the woman does not cover her physical head in Paul's day she is disrespecting her spiritual head (her husband). She is demonstrating a rebellious personality that does not want to submit to God's structure for the Christian home. I want to point out that this whole structure breaks down in a home when one or both of the marriage partners is not a Christian. The man who is not a Christian cannot set a spiritual example because is living in disobedience to the Lord. The Christian woman who is married to an unbeliever has no example to follow. The Christian man who is married to an unbeliever will have difficulty getting his wife to follow the Christian principle of submitting to his spiritual authority because she will not care about spiritual matters. He can set the example but she may not follow it.

We are going to get deeper into the subject of head coverings, the headship of Christ, and the headship of the husband as we continue Chapter 11. My family and I are going out of state in the morning to visit my mother-in-law for several days. Our plans right now are to come home a week from today, so we should be picking back up with our study on August 18th. I will miss studying with you while I'm gone. I love you and wish you every blessing in our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 24, Do All Things For The Glory Of God

We've been studying a lengthy section regarding foods offered to idols. A person who brought an offering to a pagan god was allowed to take a third of the meat home. He could sell it if he didn't need it, he could enjoy it with his family, or he could invite friends into his home to share it. People living in Corinth saw this meat sold in the marketplace all the time, and it was usually offered at a bargain price. This made it financially tempting for the poor. It was financially tempting even for the wealthy, because who doesn't love a bargain? It would be rude when attending a dinner to ask the host about the source of the meat, so a person could consume meats that had been offered to idols without knowing it. Paul tells the believers at Corinth how to handle these situations.

"'I have the right to do anything,' you say---but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'---but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) In yesterday's study Paul warned the believers about associating too closely with idolatry. Some of them might be weak enough in the faith to turn back to idolatry. Even if they are too strong in the faith for this to happen to them, their behavior might affect those of weaker faith. Paul reminds them to always be aware of the influence their behavior has on those around them.

"Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, 'The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.'" (1 Corinthians 10:25-26) At the market they are to treat all meats the same. They can't assume that meats sold at a bargain price were sacrificed to idols. There are many other reasons why a merchant might put items on sale. They shouldn't even ask about the origin of the meat. If they know it was sacrificed to an idol, and they eat it anyway, they might become too casual in their attitude toward idolatry. Or if their fellow believer sees them purchasing the meat after asking about its origin, that person might be offended. Or the merchant himself or the unbelievers at the marketplace might think Christians are still engaged in idolatry, thus giving Christians a bad name.

"If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience." (1 Corinthians 10:27) We are allowed to eat meals with non-Christians. Jesus was accused of being a "friend of sinners" because He attended all the dinners He was invited to. He attended those dinners in order to show love toward unbelievers and to share the truth of God with them. We've all probably eaten meals with people who aren't Christians. So Paul says to the believers at Corinth that it's okay to go to dinner at the house of someone who isn't a Christian. I want to add that there could be exceptions when it's not okay to go. Some examples would be if you are invited to eat in a home where drunken debauchery or drug use is going to be occurring, or if you are invited to eat out at a place where a Christian shouldn't be seen, or if you are invited to eat with an unbeliever at a restaurant that uses sex appeal to entice patrons into the establishment. (Christians should not participate in the exploitation of women who are dressed in skimpy clothes or, God forbid, in no clothes.)

When a believer at Corinth sits down to eat at the house of an unbeliever they aren't to ask about the origin of the meat they are served. But if the host or someone else at the table offers the information that the meat was served to an idol, the believer isn't to partake of it. "But if someone says to you, 'This has been offered in sacrifice,' then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience." (1 Corinthians 10:28)

The believer is not to eat of the meat if someone informs him of its origin. To eat it is to risk offending another believer at the table. To eat it is to risk being accused of not being fully devoted to Christ. Paul doesn't advise the believer to get up and leave, so I'm making the assumption that the believer can stay and partake of items other than the meat. Another reason I'm making this assumption is that the "someone" who advised the believer that the meat was offered to an idol may be another believer who is at the table. I don't know how likely the pagan host or an unbelieving guest at the table would be to offer this information, but another believer seated at the table would be likely to offer it, and so it seems the other believer has not left the table after finding out about the origin of the meat. We could compare this situation to a diabetic person who has been invited to a meal. Eating items that contain a lot of sugar would be harmful to the diabetic, but he can remain at the dinner and eat the items that are not high in sugar. The believer in Corinth can avoid the meat he has been informed has been offered to idols, but he can probably remain at the dinner and eat from the other dishes.

Paul knows there will be objections to his advice. Those strong in their faith won't see why they have to adjust their behavior to suit those weak in the faith. They will want to know why they should worry about being judged by other believers if they eat meat that was offered to idols. They know that an idol is nothing because the god it represents doesn't exist, so they consider this meat the same as any other meat. And in essence, they are right. But they have to be aware of offending the conscience of other believers. If a believer is sitting at the table, and his fellow believer beside him informs him the meat that's going to be served was offered to an idol, he should abstain from the meat to avoid hurting his fellow believer. We don't live just for ourselves; we live for the Lord, and that means showing love to the Lord's people. "I am referring to the other person's conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom judged by another person's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced for something I thank God for?" (1 Corinthians 10:29-30) Paul says, "It's not a sin to eat meat that you know was previously offered to an idol, but it is a sin if eating it hurts someone else."

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God---even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) He cautions, "Don't do anything that will hinder the faith of your fellow believer, and don't do anything that might hinder unbelievers from coming to Christ."

There are things we feel we can do in good conscience. An example of this would have to do with alcohol. Some Christian denominations feel it's okay to have an occasional drink or to have a couple of glasses of wine or beer with dinner. Other denominations feel it's sinful to have any alcohol at all. It wouldn't glorify the Lord to imbibe alcohol while sitting with a believer who would never dream of taking a drink. It also wouldn't glorify the Lord to drink alcohol with unbelievers who drink alcohol themselves but who consider it a sin for a Christian to drink alcohol. Anything that hurts our testimony is something that fails to glorify the Lord and it's something that could hinder the faith of others. We must always be aware that both believers and unbelievers are watching how we live. Let's strive to live in a way that brings glory to our Savior. When we glorify Him by how we live, we draw others to Him.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 23, Demonic Forces Behind Idolatry

Paul has been telling his readers that idols are nothing, so if they partake of food from the marketplace that was formerly offered to an idol, they are not partaking of food that was offered to a real god. If they stop by one of the public festivals held in honor of pagan gods, and if they eat from the tables, they are not eating food that was offered to a real god. But they have to be very careful about how they use their freedom in Christ. Some of them may find themselves being pulled back into idolatry and into their old sins. They may start hanging out with the wrong crowd when eating at a festival or when purchasing food from sellers of "bargain meats" that were offered to idols. They need to keep in mind that Satan would love nothing more than to entice them away from Christ. Although idols themselves are nothing, and the gods they represent are nothing, there is a demonic force behind idolatry. If Satan can't persuade people to worship him as a god, he will try his best to prevent people from worshiping God as God, so he tempts people to worship something other than God.

Just because most of us have never bowed to an image doesn't mean we can't be pulled into forms of idolatry. The only thing the devil has done is change what idolatry looks like. In our day idolatry might mean we become a workaholic, obsessed with making money or with advancing in our careers. It might take the form of valuing a relationship with another human being more than we value our relationship with God. Idolatry might be addiction to drugs or alcohol or pornography. It might take the form of indulging in illicit pleasures. There are a lot of things in this world that we might be tempted to "worship" in the sense that they are what we care about most and think about most. Idolatry is still alive and well in 2018; it just looks different than it did in Paul's day.

"Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:14-17) Paul says, "When you participate in the Lord's Supper, you are demonstrating fellowship with Christ and fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are testifying to your relationship with the Lord and with His people." Paul does not consider food previously offered to idols as unclean in itself, but the eating of this food involves fellowship with idolaters. Eating the meat at a pagan festival or at the home of an idolater demonstrates a spirit of friendship and relationship with those who practice idolatry, in the same way that eating the Lord's Supper demonstrates a spirit of friendship and relationship with those who are in Christ." Paul will later say in 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'" He's warning the believers of Corinth to be careful about the company they keep. It wasn't that long ago that they were practicing idolatry themselves. The possibility exists that in keeping bad company they will be pulled back into their old ways.

"Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:18) With the exception of a whole burnt offering (an offering for atonement), as far as I know the people of Israel were allowed to take part of the sacrifice back home to eat it. When the person partook of the remainder of the sacrifice, it identified him with the Lord. It was like sharing a meal with the Lord. We who are Christians refer to the Lord's Supper as "communion" because when we participate in it we are observing it as a form of fellowship with our Lord. The pagan Gentiles had a similar practice. They were allowed to keep part of the meat, and they regarded the eating of the meat as if the god was sharing a meal with them. They believed the god was sitting at their table and participating in the meal. This made them feel as if they were enjoying communion and fellowship with their god.

"Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything?" (1 Corinthians 10:19) He says, "I'm not contradicting what I've said before. An idol is nothing." (1 Corinthians 8:4) Are the idols real? No. Are the gods real? No. There is only one God, the Maker of all things.

But there is something real behind idolatry. There is something very real that entices human beings to worship something other than the one true God. "No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons." (1 Corinthians 10:20) The pagan people aren't intentionally worshiping demons. They don't know that idols and so-called gods are just disguises that Satan and the fallen angels are hiding behind. When the pagans serve idols they are actually serving Satan. They would not likely bow down and worship Satan if he appeared to them. They would not willingly offer a sacrifice to an evil spirit. But in serving something other than the living God, they are doing Satan's bidding. They are pleasing Satan because they have fallen for his lies.

The Christians of Corinth are free to purchase any meat in the marketplace. They are free to eat anything they please. But they would be better off not to knowingly eat anything that has been offered to an idol. When they attend a pagan festival to eat of the food, or when they attend a dinner and are told that the meat was previously offered to an idol, they are participating in meals where the pagans believe their gods are sitting at the table. The gods don't actually exist, but since Satan is behind idolatry, there are demonic forces involved in the meals. The Christian is better off not participating in meals like this, for these meals put them in a position to be tempted by sin. The person who has been redeemed by Christ and who participates in the Lord's Supper should not also participate in suppers where evil lurks. "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" (1 Corinthians 10:21-22) Paul has been cautioning the people of Corinth not to trust in their own strength. They think they are too spiritual to fall back into their old ways, but why take a chance? Why hang around with the wrong crowd? Why go to places where they will be tempted to sin?

I don't know about you, but I've never been invited to a dinner that honors a pagan god. But I have been invited to places a Christian shouldn't go. I've been invited to meals where there will be drinking and carousing. I've been invited to parties where some of the guests will be indulging in drugs. In cases like that we have to ask ourselves, "Should I, a person who is redeemed by Christ and who participates in the Lord's Supper, also participate in these things? Is it unseemly for me, who goes to church regularly, to also go to these places? Does it dishonor my Lord? Does it contradict who I am in Christ?" I think we can plainly see that we should turn these invitations down. There's nothing to be gained by putting ourselves in a position to be tempted by sin. Even if we don't join in with drug use or drunkenness at these meals, we will harm our testimonies when people find out that we were there. Our Christian friends will doubt our devotion to Christ. Our non-Christian friends will lose interest in hearing the gospel from us when they learn we have been behaving like unbelievers. Let's not take part in things that are inappropriate for Christians. Let's not give Satan opportunities to tempt us more than he already does.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 22, Using History As A Warning

In today's passage Paul uses the example of Israel's history as a warning to his readers. The Gentile believers are free to eat and drink what they please, even food that was previously offered to idols, but they must not develop a casual attitude toward idolatry. Now that they are in Christ they know that idols are meaningless, and that the gods the idols represent do not exist, but there is always the danger of falling back into the wrong kind of thinking. It happened to Israel after they left Egypt, and it can happen to the believers of Corinth.

"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1 Corinthians 10:1-2) He warns his readers, "Don't be overconfident in yourselves. Remember that the nation of Israel was overshadowed by the glory of God in the cloud, yet they rebelled against Him. Remember that the nation of Israel followed Moses on dry land through the Red Sea, yet they doubted He would take care of them. Israel witnessed miracles and enjoyed a covenant relationship with God that no other nation had, but they still fell into idolatry. You have believed in Christ and have been baptized in His name, but this doesn't mean you don't need to be vigilant about sin creeping into your lives. Your city is filled with idols. You live among people who still bow down to idols. Be careful that you don't get seduced back into your old ways of living."

"They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness." (1 Corinthians 10:3-5) God provided manna and water in the wilderness to sustain the nation of Israel. Yet for all His goodness toward them, many grumbled against Him. Paul reminds the believers of Corinth that God has been good to them. God has ensured that the people of Corinth heard the gospel of His Son, who gave His life for them. They must be on guard for anything inside them that longs for the old days of sinful living. In Numbers 14 we find the people of Israel rebelling against the Lord and threatening to stone Moses to death so they can go back to Egypt. Because of their rebellion the Lord sentenced all of them who were over the age of twenty to die in the wilderness without ever reaching the promised land, all except the faithful Caleb and Joshua. Paul says, "Don't long for "Egypt", the old life of sin and idolatry you once had. The Lord has been faithful to you. Stay faithful to Him!"

"Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: 'The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.' We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did---and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did---and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did---and were killed by the destroying angel." (1 Corinthians 10:6-10) Paul quotes Exodus 32:6. The nation of Israel had already been delivered from bondage in Egypt and had already passed through the Red Sea which parted miraculously for them. Yet while Moses was on the mountain they cast an idol in the shape of a calf, held a festival for the idol, brought offerings to the idol, and indulged in drunkenness and sexual immorality. They gave credit to the calf for bringing them out of Egypt, when it was God who had displayed His awesome power to them in the land of Egypt, in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. Israel had just come out of bondage in a land filled with idols and they had trouble following a God whose face they could not see. The Gentiles at Corinth are in the same danger. There are idols and pagan temples everywhere they look. They must not fall back into their old ways or yearn for their old lives of immorality. The gods of the Gentiles did not require holy living, and it would be easy to for them to long for the days when they could indulge their carnal natures with drunkenness and orgies. But the one true God says, "Be holy, for I am holy."

Just as God judged the unfaithful ones in the wilderness, He has the right to judge the people of Corinth if they forsake Christ and slip back into idolatry. "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:11-12) This is a warning to us all. We can't trust ourselves to live holy lives; we have to depend on Christ to help us live holy lives. We have to remain closely connected to Him, for He is the source of our power. Just as my coffee pot this morning won't do what it's supposed to do unless I plug it in to a power source, we can't be who we are supposed to be unless we are plugged in to Christ. Overconfidence is our enemy. Pride is our enemy. Self-righteousness is our enemy. When we think we are too strong to fall for a particular temptation, we won't pray for strength against that particular temptation. Then Satan comes along and tempts us with the very sin we thought we'd never commit. We are not prepared to fight it. We are not "prayed up" against that particular sin, and the next thing you know we may find ourselves in the very act of committing it.

Believe me, I've fallen for some things I never thought I'd fall for. I had confidence in myself that certain things would never tempt me. I wasn't on guard against those things. I wasn't "prayed up" about those things. I have shocked myself several times by falling for lies of Satan that I never dreamed I'd fall for. So Paul says, "Be careful if you think you're strong! Watch out if you believe certain things will never look tempting to you! Pray for strength in all areas of your life, or else you will fall into shocking sins just as Israel did in the wilderness."

Lest anyone believe he is being tempted more than anyone else, and lest anyone think the temptation is more than he can take, Paul gives the following assurance, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) Paul exposes the lie of Satan that that a person can't help sinning because the temptation is greater than any human being can resist, "The things that tempt you are the things that tempt all people. You are not powerless to resist sin. Put your trust in the Lord and lean on Him and depend on Him for the strength to say 'no' to the temptation. He is faithful and will make a way for you to endure the situation without sinning against Him. If you let Him help you, you will make it through the period of temptation victoriously."

Monday, August 6, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 21, Running To Win

The apostle has been talking about the need for church members to agree to disagree on matters of food and customs. He warned them not to offend each other's sensibilities. Today he speaks about his own behavior in the church and how he tries not to offend the sensibilities of anyone so he may win them for Christ. He reminds us it's important to run this race to win it, so we mustn't do anything to sabotage the great commission we've been given.

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." (1 Corinthians 9:19) Paul has the freedom in Christ to eat and drink what he pleases, for he understands that salvation is by grace and not by works. But although he is free to eat and drink what he pleases, he doesn't do it in the company of anyone it might offend.

"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law." (1 Corinthians 9:20) Paul is a Jew by heritage, but now that he's in Christ he simply considers himself a Christian. He is living under grace instead of living under the law. But he doesn't use this liberty when eating with Jews. He observes the dietary laws when he is living and working among the Jews, so as not to offend anyone. He knows that if he offends them they may not want to hear anything he has to say about Christ. It would be hard for anyone to listen to what he's saying if he's forking food into his mouth that makes his audience queasy.

"To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law." (1 Corinthians 9:21) When ministering to the Gentiles he eats whatever is put on the table. If he were to push back from the table and say, 'This food is unclean! It was offered to idols before it was sold at the marketplace!", he would appear to consider himself superior to his hosts. He would drive a wedge between himself and the Gentiles. After hurting and offending them in this manner, they would feel resentful toward him and would not want to hear the gospel from him.

He points out that he is still under the Lord's law. He knows he has the freedom to eat and drink whatever his hosts put in front of him, but he won't join in with any sinful activities. In witnessing to sinners, he doesn't join in with their sin. He knows how to be a friend to everyone without getting pulled into anything immoral. We have to always be on guard whenever we are showing friendship to someone who lives immorally. In order to make them feel like we have something in common with them, there's a temptation to try and behave more like them, but this isn't going to get us anywhere in regard to telling them about Christ. We will lose all credibility. We will look just like them. It's important to take what Paul is saying in context. He has been warning the Corinthian believers not to offend each other in dietary practices and customs. These are things that are not immoral; it's just that there are differences of opinion about them in the church. So he's saying to treat one another with love and not eat or drink something in front of a person that will trouble them.

"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) He wants to be able to enjoy the blessings of the Lord with as many people as possible. He is careful and self-disciplined so that he offends no one who wants to hear the gospel.

In order to stress his point about self-discipline, Paul uses running a marathon as a metaphor for victorious living. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners win, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:24) He says, "Run to win! Don't live half-heartedly for Christ. Give it all you've got!"

We tend to think of the word "discipline" as punishment or correction. But Paul uses its other meaning. He uses the word "discipline" as training. No one can go from being a couch potato to being a marathon winner on the same day. It takes training to run a marathon. It takes willpower and self-discipline to run well enough to win a marathon. This is what the Christian life should be like. Our ability to control ourselves should be growing every day. Our faith in Christ and our strength in Him should be growing every day. I used to be the kind of person who wouldn't run unless something was chasing me, but about ten years ago I decided I wanted to train myself to run my daily two miles instead of walking my two miles. At first I had to alternate between walking a few minutes and running a few minutes. Gradually the segments of running grew longer and longer until I achieved my goal. It didn't happen overnight; it happened over a period of months. The Christian life should be a process of growing stronger every day, of running faster and farther every day, and of continual improvement. We aren't competing against other Christians but against ourselves, striving to be closer to Christ than we were yesterday and trying to honor Him more and more each day.

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:25-27) Paul isn't preaching salvation by works; he never preaches this doctrine because it is not possible for us to earn salvation. He also isn't talking about the possibility of losing his salvation if he fails to do a good job. He's talking about losing his reward. When we enter the gates of heaven we want Christ to be able to say, "Well done! You have served me faithfully and have been a good example of Christian living. I have a reward for you to honor your service." Paul is saying, "If I don't practice self-control after preaching about it to others, I'm nothing but a hypocrite. Christ is no fan of hypocrites. I will not be rewarded for setting a good example if I don't set one. I want to run this race victoriously. I want to win a prize that will last forever. I want to hear Christ say, 'Well done!'"

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Paul's First Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 20, The Rights Of The One Who Preaches The Gospel

Paul talks about the rights he has as an apostle. These rights apply to those who preach the gospel today. The pastor who preaches the gospel has a right to be supported by the church so he can devote all his time to serving the Lord and to serving the church members.

"Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 9:1-2) As we learned earlier in our study, the Corinthian believers were arguing over which apostle to follow. Some of them were so prideful that they felt they didn't have to respect the authority of any apostle. Others thought Paul wasn't a true apostle because he worked to provide for himself, not taking anything from the church. Gentiles in cities like Corinth were used to having to pay to hear speeches by great philosophers, so they thought that if Paul were really an apostle he would expect some form of payment or support.

Paul says, "I work for our Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to me and commissioned me to preach the gospel. He is the one who gave me the authority of an apostle. In other cities I can understand that some would doubt my calling, for they weren't saved under my preaching. But you were! I was the first to tell you the good news of the gospel. The fact that you are a vibrant and growing church is the proof that Christ called me to be an apostle. Since you were saved under my preaching, why do some of you doubt my calling? Why do some of you feel I have no authority to instruct you in Christian living?"

"This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don't we have the right to food and drink? Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right not to work for a living?" (1 Corinthians 9:3-6) He asks, "Why do you think I have no right to expect to have my basic needs supplied by the church I founded at Corinth? The other apostles are supported by the churches they founded. The married apostles take their wives along on missionary journeys, and the churches provide for the wives as well. Do you think Barnabas and I work for a living because we don't have the right to expect anything from you? Barnabas and I work, but not because we aren't true apostles." In a few minutes we will see why Paul and Barnabas work to support themselves, but first Paul uses an Old Testament example to prove his point that anyone who preaches the gospel has the right to be supported by believers.

"Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely He says this for us, doesn't He? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:7-12) Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians and in 1 Thessalonians about how he worked to supply his own needs so he wouldn't be a burden to anyone. He didn't have to do this, but he didn't want it to cost anyone to hear the gospel.

"Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14) This statement was true for both Jewish and Gentile priests. The Jewish priests made their living from their work, as did the pagan Gentile priests. The rule should be the same for those who preach the gospel. If at all possible, churches should pay their pastors a full time salary so the pastors can devote themselves to their work. The quickest way to cause burnout in a pastor is to expect him to work a full time job outside the church, to expect him to preach sermons on Sundays and Wednesdays, and to expect him to be on call the rest of the time to attend to the needs of the church members. A schedule like that is exhausting for the body, the mind, and the spirit. My church is quite large, so we pay two full time pastors. They maintain daily office hours for counseling, plus they visit the sick at home and at the hospital, plus they preach funerals, plus they perform weddings, plus they preach three sermons a week. They receive calls from church members at all hours of the day and night regarding sicknesses or deaths that have occurred. They are doing some form of church work every day of the week and they deserve to be well compensated for it.

"But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:15-18) He tells them, "I'm not writing these things so that you will support me. I'm writing these things to tell you why I have not asked you to support me. I have the right to expect your support, but I consider preaching the gospel such a privilege that I work with my own hands to support myself. I trust God to supply anything I need. There are many preachers who charge a fee to preach to an assembly. There are apostles who are being fully supported by the churches they founded. And they have the right to expect payment or other goods, but I am afraid someone will miss hearing the gospel because they think they have to pay me to share it with them. I am afraid an assembly won't ask me to speak to them because they can't afford a gift for me. So I'm preaching the gospel without expecting anything material in return."

Does this mean our pastors should preach solely for their love of the gospel? The priests in the Old Testament didn't serve at the temple solely for their love of God's word; they supported themselves and their wives and children from the living they made from serving at the temple. If a pastor wants to work with his own hands to support himself, he can do so. Paul did, and the pastor can too. But the pastor, just like the apostles, has the right to expect his church to support him, so there's nothing at all wrong with receiving a salary to work full time at the church. Pastors put in way more than an eight hour day. Pastors have to give up time with their families in order to minister to the church members because they are really on call twenty-four hours a day. It's only right that they should be able to take care of themselves and their families for their service.