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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Building Upon the Foundation Of…



1 Corinthians 14
Paul continues to speak to the Corinthians concerning being unified in one mind and not trying to “lord It over” the others. He speaks of spiritual gifts in this chapter and tells them they should seek to love. Without love, other actions are shallow. There becomes a mind-set of self-satisfying with our actions so we are seen instead of acting for the profit of the person receiving. The first brings glory to the actor, while, the latter brings glory to God.
Paul carries on with this thought of love moving from the gifts of the Spirit to the fruits of the Spirit. It appears obvious that self-serving people crave the “flashy” fruit, for example speaking in tongues or preaching. Paul speaks to the Corinthians in this book concerning being unified. A member being self-serving and self-focused brings disharmony into any group. The person takes a role that draws attention to him or herself instead of to the group. In the context of a church, this occurs when a person takes it upon him or herself to be at the center of attention. In consideration of the gifts of the Spirit, self-focused people consider the gift of tongues and speaking in groups as desirable because of this outcome. Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 14, speaks to just these people. He states in verse 1, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (New American Standard Bible).
Paul ties the spiritual gifts to the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. He states firstly that love should be the guide in using spiritual gifts. Paul’s wish is that they prophesy. Why is this his wish for them? Consider what he says in verse 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (NASB). This tells why Paul says for them to crave for and develop this spiritual gift. As readers in the 21st century, though, we need to understand what Paul meant by edification, exhortation, and consolation.
For the times in which Paul lived and in the century or two after, edification meant to build up or help another Christian grow in wisdom, piety, happiness, and holiness. Paul used this term in Romans 14:19 as well. He wrote, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (NASB). Things which brought righteousness, peace, and joy are ways to serve Christ acceptable by God and men (Romans 14:18, NASB). If our goal is to help others grow in their faith and wisdom, not only are we edifying them, but we are building up the body of Christ to which that believer belongs. Prophecy assists in growing the body of Christ. The goal of prophecy then is not self-serving, but submission and subservience to the Church and, as a result, to Christ. It is building upon the foundation laid by Christ with things that will make the members stronger in their faith, knowledge of God, wisdom, and happiness.
Paul considers the spiritual gift of prophecy as the highest because its attribute of exhortation. To us in the 21st century, this means telling others in a persuasive way of the validity of our cause/principles/vision. During the early Christian era, exhortation meant calling persons near/summoning them with entreaties and encouragement to follow the espoused path of the speaker. Paul uses this nineteen of the twenty-eight times the word occurs in the New Testament. Paul uses this word to describe Barnabas in Acts 4:36. Barnabas’ name means “Son of Encouragement.” For Paul, the exhortation he is speaking to the Corinthians is that which encourages others to continue in their walk with Christ. This encouraging gives believers courage to stand strong in the face of persecution. It keeps them strong everyday to walk in God’s way. This form of prophesying is to encourage a follower of Christ to stand strong everyday in usual business as well as when he or she faces trials for being His followers.
The final way in which Paul considers prophesying most important is because it brings consolation. Consolation in this context means to persuade continuance, arouse strong allegiance, and calm and comfort when encountering trials. Prophesying for this purpose is profitable for its soothing and driving to continue on the journey to which Christ calls each follower. In the New Testament, only 1 Corinthians speaks to this use of prophesying. Paul considers prophesying highly important since it helps others grow in their faith, encourages them to continue following during hard times, and calms and comforts as they are being battered by the spiritual conditions of the world.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14 by comparing the gifts of prophesy and tongues. Prophesying is for the building up of the church, the body of believers, and for convicting unbelievers of their sin. Tongues are desirable only when an interpreter is present, so mostly for the spiritual life of the believer in commune with God. Tongues do not build up the body of Christ unless there is an interpreter. Paul says in verse 2, “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries” (NASB). Paul continues in verse 4, “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church” (NASB). The church is a place for sinners, not just the current body of Christ. If a person enters the church and hears words spoken in another tongue, the outsider is not edified and considers the people in the church mad. If the person enters the church and prophecies are occurring, the believer and unbeliever grow, one to greater knowledge, wisdom, and piety, and the other in awareness of his sin and the love of Christ. Consider what Paul says,
Therefore, if the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter; will they not say that you are mad? However, if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. (1 Corinthians 14:23-25, NASB)
Paul does not say tongues are a gift to which you should not aspire or should not cultivate. Rather, he says tongues are only useful for the person speaking with God. For it to be beneficial to others, an interpreter needs to translate so that “Amens” can respond. (“If you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen " at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” vs.16) Paul’s statement most specific in regards to these two gifts is found in verse 12, “Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” Paul acknowledges their wish to be growing Christians useful to the Lord for His service. He says that the most important thing to consider is that the building up of the church and its members should be paramount. Whether we are visible working for the Lord and receive praise or are not visible and receive only the praise of our Father, what is of considerable worth is the building up of the body of Christ.
            Ultimately, love is the consideration, though. Paul’s first two words in this chapter speak to this, “Pursue love.” We want to have spiritual gifts with which to minister with God. The Spirit, by whom we are seen as Christians, gives us fruit. Paul, in considering both of these, states that love is the most important. Without love, we are a “noisy gong and a clanging symbol.” He says in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12-13,
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (NASB)
We each must come to the point where we are not striving for our own selves, but are choosing the greater. The challenge comes, are we living in love, seeking to serve others through the love of God? It gives us pause. Do we want to be the show or do we want to show Jesus’ love to others?


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Action/Reaction


Mark 7:15

There are days and weeks when it seems you can speak your testimony of God’s salvation for you and your changed life. Then after all those days of speaking, action must occur. I thought I spoke and acted out my faith regularly. A week then arrives on your doorstep that has you giving an active testimony to God in your life, but it did not come because of positive occurrences that happened to you. There are times when we believers in Christ must get down in the muck of living in this world. Some weeks it is physically getting into the muck and some weeks it is mentally and temperamentally. I believe it is the latter kind of week that shows our mettle and it takes Christ’s strength within us that enables us to be a light shining for Christ. It is when we begin running with our great plans and are knocked back from them that our reactions show to whom we really belong.
Consider this week. I had plans to meet with two of the teachers who substituted for me; do the normal mom things during the week for my boys; be the normal wife and prepare dinners, wash clothes, clean the house; then work on the Sunday School lesson I am to teach this week, as well as do a few in depth Bible studies for myself. What came at me with force was a week whose agenda was thrown in the air and flung back into my face. First, the meeting with the teachers occurred but required one to three more interactions. My plan was for one meeting each. I ended up with five meetings. My plan was to get my boys from school and take them to hockey practices and matches. What occurred was my car breaking down… twice, going to buy a new battery, rushing back to get boys, after getting said battery, calling for back up a second time in the week when said car broke down again (thank you God for tow truck drivers with battery chargers), taking and picking up said car from mechanic, scheduling to meet with a person, then rescheduling, then going to their business (not there because his car broke down), instead going to the class venue, going back to the person’s business (still not there, other tire on his car went flat on the same day!), contacting students to meet, rescheduling on the day because they told me they couldn’t come after all, then, hearing our internet protection was not protecting and spending 4+ hours trying to get that taken care of. Do not get me wrong, I thank God for having a car, for having friends who will substitute for me in my absence, for having computers and internets; however, there are just days when they all fail, and on the same day, and your tension level increases exponentially. That has been my week.
Now, the point to be made in all this is that these are the weeks that not only try us, but they also prove to those who are watching that what we say we are and who we actually are is the same. These are the days and weeks in the trenches. How did I react? The first time, I let it roll off my back. The second time, it also rolled off my back. The third and fourth incidents also rolled off my back. By the time I had arrived at the fifth and sixth bends in the road and in my schedule, my anxiety was increasing and I was not as jovial. By the end of the sixth incident and my knight on a white stallion arrived, I was not the most even-tempered person. My nerves were wearing and my cool reserve was frayed. Fortunately, only one person, other than my loving family, seemed to be aware of what was going on, the tow truck driver. By the time he had arrived on the scene in his shining armor, I had reached the end of my tether and God provided a way out before I said anything I would regret later. I am not saying that my temper was not showing. I was probably a bit “short” with my family and my frustration and anger was probably visible to their x-ray vision (that is the vision that only a family has because they have seen you most of their lives), but before I actually said anything that would make me sorry, God had opened a door of reprieve.
Looking back on this week, even though I did not “blow my top” and speak harshly to anyone, it was not the best week nor the worst week I have had; yet, I feel guilty because of where my attitude was. You see, Christ not only came to save me from my sins that are visible but also from my sins that are only visible to Him and me. When Christ comes into a life, His Holy Spirit comes into the person so that Christ’s person is available with which a person may face and confront life. Instead of being irrational, with Christ’s Spirit in us, we become calm and forgiving. Instead of being jealous of someone’s promotion, Christ’s Spirit within us makes us joyful for the recognition the person received in the form of a promotion. Christ’s life within the life of the believer provides the correct way in which to respond to what we encounter in this world. Jesus told the disciples and the Jews that it is not what is on the outside of a man that makes him holy or unholy but what is on the inside (Mark 7:15). It is the attitudes from which actions come that determine the whether the action/reaction was sinful or good. We, as believers, have access to Christ’s attitudes and way of approaching life. We have a choice of how we will face each day, or, in my case, this week. We can choose to act in the way of our old nature, in a sinful manner, or we can act the way the Lord would and allows us to act through His indwelling Holy Spirit.
To say this week was easy would be a gross misrepresentation. To say it was the hardest week of my life would also be a gross misrepresentation. To say that it was a trying week, a week of setbacks, is more accurate for me. I have not grown to be completely like Christ; none of us will reach that point until we are in Christ’s presence in His kingdom. I still have some growing to do is more accurate. Did I react as well as I could? No. Do I recognize my inadequacies? Yes. Have I been able to go back, see where God’s hand was in the week, and count the times He has blessed me during the week? Upon reflection, I have reached that point. I hope that I do not have to go through another week like this week. I also hope I have more control over my attitudes in the future. Though no one saw them, Christ knew them. If I am going to live as Paul states in Philippians 1:21a, “to live is Christ”, I must allow Christ to not only affect whether I act out incorrectly, but I must let Him take control of my attitudes and impulses. Through it all, I must remember: 1) I am loved by God, 2) I am forgiven by God, and 3) God is growing me to be more like Christ. He has not given up on me. I must keep growing and being willing to grow.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Knowledge, a Noisy Gong

1 Corinthians 8
Vs. 6-7: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge…”
Paul is confronting the Corinthian Christians about their disunity again. This time it seems the disunity arose because the Corinthians consider themselves more knowledgeable and wiser than they do other people. Paul has dealt with them about this issue before. The example Paul speaks to them about is the act of eating food offered to idols. Is it head knowledge that should lead when we interact with people or heart knowledge?
Knowledge, solely as knowledge for knowledge sake is worth nothing. Knowledge without the acknowledgement that all knowledge comes from God makes one boastful and proud, arrogant. This knowledge does nothing for others except possibly put others down, beneath one’s feet in the knowledge holders mind, actions, and attitude. Knowledge acknowledged as being from God carries with it the love by which God imparts/shares the knowledge. This is true knowledge, that which shares not only the head knowledge/information, but shares the love from which it was derived, for the purpose of sustaining and improving life and for showing God’s love and care of humanity. Knowledge without this love is, as Paul later says, “a noisy gong and a clanging symbol” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
This passage appears to be about food offered to idols, and for the moment in which Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, this was an issue. The underlying lesson though is the acquisition of knowledge, the holding of knowledge, and the implementing of knowledge upon our fellow human so that they know they are not as knowledgeable or so that they are caused to falter in what they believe. The attitude in which this is done is not love or care for our fellow humans. God’s knowledge, as we saw in chapters 1-3 of 1 Corinthians is wiser than that of humans. His strength is stronger that humans. His power is stronger than humans are. He exercises all of these in means of love toward us because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him. Since true knowledge comes from God, to withhold the love, which was also a part of true knowledge, when applying knowledge corrupts the knowledge and drops the value of it to the levels of humanity. It makes it not as pure and useful as God intentioned. The attitude of the human who uses knowledge without love affects/corrupts its use so that it becomes a prideful thing that reduces the value of the other human(s) to which it was aimed.
Paul uses the situation of a follower of Christ eating meat that was offered to idols. For Christians, we know there are no other gods; therefore, the meat is uncorrupted. However, for a person who is either not a Christian or is a new or weak Christian, eating meat they considered sacred puts a wedge or stumbling block between you and them, and you as the Christian, lose credibility so that they will listen hesitantly and with ambivalence anything you may say about the true God. Your knowledge, though the head knowledge is correct, has lost its heart value and has become only as great as the person revealing the knowledge. The love that the knowledge was originally imbued with was not shared because the person eating the sacred meat did not care to concern themselves with the god-believing person’s culture and ideas of faith.
As believers in Jesus Christ who have received His love, forgiveness, and salvation, we cannot allow ourselves to run over people with our newfound freedom from the constraints Satan put upon us while we walked with the world. We must recognize continually that Jesus came to us in love and we must meet the people of the world with love. Jesus imparted the knowledge of God’s plan for salvation for humankind by words and by the extreme action, giving up His life to die for us. We cannot ignore nor negate this when we live in the world. That would mean we are not living as Jesus lived here on earth. We must at all times live our freedom in and through the love that comes from the Jesus' sacrificial living and dying for our salvation. You see, if God had only “known” how to save us and had not acted upon it, He would have shown Himself to be without love. We know this is not true of God. One of the strongest characteristics we see in God is His love. It is through this love that so many people throughout history have been drawn to God. Because of His love, which is His character, He created us. Because of His love, He had mercy upon humanity many times over the millenniums. Because of His love, He provided a final way for all of us to come into a perfect, sinless relationship with Him. This Way was through the life, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ. God did not divorce love from plan/knowledge. His plan was made because of His love.
With this example, when we divorce love from knowledge, we are saying that our plan is better that God’s plan. We are saying that we know best. The result is that we alienate ourselves from other people with our arrogance. We alienate others from God with our flawed wisdom. What did Paul say? “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB). It is only when love is the reason that knowledge has power. It is only when love is the motivator that knowledge is true knowledge and wisdom. Love was the reason God created us. Love was the reason that God made another plan for humankind to be in a relationship with Him. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 1:27-30,
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD. (NASB)
When we interact with others and when we impart our knowledge, we have a question to ask ourselves first; am I speaking to be heard and thought to be knowledgeable? If our motivation is to build ourselves up in the eyes of others, love of humankind is not our goal. We have put love of our ourselves higher than our love for God or others. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us what true love is.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous ; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly ; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth ; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (vs. 4-8a, 13 NASB)
If we truly as living as Christians, we should be living with a heart knowledge. It should be evident in the way we interact with people. Our heart and God’s heart should be one and be visible as we speak and act in this world. If love is not in our knowledge as we act and speak, we are sinning against and harming others. We are also hindering their belief in God by providing a “stumbling block” (chapter 8:9). When we sin against another human, we are sinning against Christ, too (vs. chapter 8:12). We each must come to the point where we consider if what we say or do is imparting the love of God along with knowledge. If we are not considering the other person’s being and place in this world, we are not interacting with them in love. We could cause them to stumble in their search for God or in their growth as a Christian. The old saying carries some truth; it is more important to see and hear a person in their situation, since we have two eyes and two ears, than to speak, since we have only one mouth. The question then is am I relating with others just to be seen as more knowledgeable or as one who loves them and wants to impart true knowledge and wisdom, which comes with love from God?


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Word is Near You


Romans 10 (NASB)
In Romans 10, Paul is speaking to the Roman believers about Israel. His first statement in verse one of this chapter reflects his heart, “Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (NASB). Paul, though Christ called him to preach to the Gentiles had a heart for the Israelites. He loved them because he had been one of them. He even tells the Romans that the Jews have a zeal for God, a fervor of spirit for God, but it is with head knowledge. They still believed they must follow the Laws and so their fervor for God took place as a command of their religion to take these steps to be securely in God’s mercy and graces. Their knowledge of God was a works-based knowledge. They did not yet recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, nor did they realize that He was the fulfillment of the Law; they did not have to “keep” the Law requirements any more. They were seeking righteousness by actions/works and hoping to be in God’s graces through works. They did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (vs. 3). This is how Saul lived before Christ encountered him with a blinding light and audible voice. Paul knows first-hand the futility of a works based righteousness and salvation.
What is this righteousness of God about which Paul spoke to the Romans? Righteousness means that one is in a state of being with God where He approves of the person. This state of righteousness is seen by the fruits that a person displays such as integrity, purity of life, virtue, and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. It is a state of being in which one is so close to God and in such a relationship with Him, that God’s character is seen within the person and his or her actions and attitudes. In Romans 1:17, Paul states, “The righteous shall live by faith” (NASB). Habakkuk 2:4 also says this, "Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (NASB). This Old Testament belief and teaching from God is also seen in Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. This idea, teaching, and belief are not new to Paul or any of the Jews; therefore, they would not be rebelling against the idea of righteousness. What Paul and others find is that the Jews were being stubborn about believing in righteousness through faith alone, without works. They did not want to submit themselves to God by doing it His way provided through Jesus Christ, but chose to do it in the way they felt comfortable and were familiar with, through works. By doing a works based righteousness, they could choose which action to do and which attitude was right. From this, some people lorded over others because they felt they were doing more than others were and were, therefore, worthy of more praise and prominence within the community. This was self-centeredness, arrogance, and envy playing out, not true righteousness that only can be attained through God’s grace and mercy supplied by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Jews knew that when the Messiah did come, the Law would have no more power or sway over their lives. They knew the Messiah would be the fulfillment of the Law (vs. 4-5). Not only did they not want their own grandiose and public works of the Law to be taken away from them, they did not want a common man from Nazareth, a lowborn person, to be the awaited Messiah. That would allow another to be placed in a position higher than them. Works based righteousness was held on to for sheer human desire, not Godly salvation. They supported the works based righteousness upon what Moses spoke in Leviticus 18:5. This was a part of the religion of the Jews; works were required. We must remember though, God only gave Moses 10 laws/commandments; humans created the other 622 laws by which a Jew was supposed to live and become righteous. Through time, God saw that they were unable to keep even the laws they made for themselves. He knew from the beginning of time that humanity would be unable to be righteous without His intervention and plan to make all who believe in Him become righteous.
Paul makes it clear for all now when he says,
The righteousness based on faith speaks as follows…THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart "-that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:6-10)
The Word is near you” is not something Paul made up. It was also stated in Deuteronomy 30:14, "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Moses spoke these words to the Israelites. This teaching was common knowledge to any Jewish boy and man. This word of God is in the mouths and hearts of the children of God. He reiterated it in Jeremiah 31:33 when He said He would put His Law within them and write it upon their hearts. He said He would be their God and they would be His people. Having a believing faith that instilled righteousness is not new to the Jews during and after Jesus’ life on earth. God spoke of His faith being on their hearts and minds all the way back in Deuteronomy. Righteousness by faith in the Creator, Redeeming God has been God’s plan from the beginning of time. Paul goes on to make it plainly clear; the Word of God that they are preaching, that Word is near. The word that was placed in their hearts is near to them now, again as always. He is near now being preached to them so that they can believe and receive the righteousness that comes from belief. This belief is one that comes from absolute trust in Christ as the Savior and Redeemer come from God, Yahweh. Paul makes it perfectly clear all anyone must do to be saved, to have righteousness, which is what the Jews originally strived to do. In verses 9 and 10, Paul tells the readers and hearers of this letter to the Romans that if they confess that Jesus is Lord/Master (a hard thing to do when one is working to be the best they can be from their own strength) and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead (the only religious leader to ever come back to life after death), then they will be saved. This requires acquiescence by a person’s mind to use one’s mouth to declare someone else as Lord of their life and it requires absolute faith to believe that He is the Messiah and was resurrected by the Yahweh all Jews recognize as God. The heart belief brings righteousness and the mouth confession brings salvation into the human life. In verse 11 and in Isaiah 28:16, Paul and Isaiah both say that he who believes will not be disappointed/disturbed, will not be put to shame or disgraced. Are we ever put to shame by our inadequate acts to save our reputation, our wherewithal, and ourselves? We are inadequate to provide our own salvation because we are not perfect. Only One who has lived on earth, been tempted, remained sinless, and made to be our sacrifice, from which He was resurrected, is able to be the perfect sacrifice and means for our righteousness.
Paul continues from verse 12 and says for all Romans and people who hear or read this letter that this righteousness is for everyone; no one will be disappointed. It is for Jew and non-Jew, rich and poor, slave and free person. There is no one who is beyond righteousness that is provided by God through His Son, Jesus Christ. He says, “The same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Whoever will call upon Him will be saved” from their sin, themselves, and the resultant eternal separation from God. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord, will be saved” (Romans 10:13 NASB). It does not say, if you are a sinner that you cannot call upon the Lord. It does not say if you are rich or poor you cannot be saved. It says that everyone can be saved. The book of Joel in chapter 2 verses 32 says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be delivered.” Even back in the Old Testament times, God knew and spoke through His prophet Joel about His desire to have His people whom He created and into whom He blew His breath come back to Him and provided the way. No one is beyond righteousness; it is just not possible by our own human strength, ability, or actions. None of us has ever been perfect, so we cannot ever attain the righteousness that is necessary to be in God’s presence. God, though, because He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever in heaven made a plan, provided a way. He provided His Son to live upon the earth as a man and to be tempted and able to avoid sin. This Son is Jesus who is perfect and never sinned, Who died at the hands of sinful man. God, however, is greater than anything that we can ever do and brought His Son back from the dead to be alive again. Jesus walked upon the earth for 40 days after His resurrection. Many people saw Him, touched Him, and spoke to Him. He was real. He was alive. He is God.
Verses 14-16 offer up the challenge to God’s called men and women to go out and tell others about Him for people must hear to know and believe in Jesus Christ. IT is not that people do not know there is a God, for He can be seen in His handiwork, the skies, earth, and people. These are general revelations. God has a special revelation though that He wants proclaimed to all people, Jesus is the Savior, the Son of God. All people know there is a God out there but may not know specifically about Him. Therefore, people must hear for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (vs. 17). This faith comes by the hearing the word of faith and hearing by the word of God, which brings faith. These two are interwoven, hearing and faith. The beginning and progress of faith comes from hearing. All people must hear; therefore, he encourages people to tell other people. Paul goes on to say in verses 18-21 that Israel surely knows Yahweh and the Savior since they have been the chosen ones of God. He uses a question in the Greek manner when he asks have they never heard; it implies an affirmative answer. Paul is about to indict the Jews for their denial so that they will be encouraged to believe with their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. In verse 18, Paul says, “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; "THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD." Paul is saying without doubt that the Israelites have heard and known about the Father and the Savior, His Son, Jesus. They have experienced His protection and provision. David, from whom Paul quotes, said in Psalm 19:4, “Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun.” The story of them and their God, Yahweh, has spread throughout the nations so that all know of Yahweh, so how can they not know Him and His Son? Paul asks again in the Greek form in verses 19-21, “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, ‘I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER.’ And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.’ But as for Israel He says, ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.’" Paul uses this form of questioning well in indicting the Jews. He provides the answer to this question with quotes from two of their prominent leaders. Both Moses and Israel spoke in the past against Israel with God’s word. Moses said that because they had turned their backs on Yahweh, He would pass His grace onto a non-Hebrew nation and make them jealous (Deuteronomy 32:21). Isaiah spoke God’s word to the Jews and explained that He was accepted by those who did not seek Him; the non-Jews accepted him. God says, too, that He stretched out His hands for these obstinate Jews to provide for and protect them yet those chose to be disobedient to Yahweh even though they were receiving His grace. Paul is making the point in Romans 12 that He made Himself known to the Israelites and poured mercy and grace upon them yet they repeatedly chose their own way. This is seen by their obstinance in not accepting the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus Christ as Lord instead of their works based righteousness they have manufactured for themselves.
The lives of the Jews do not show that they are the sole rebellious people among God’s creation. All nations of people have been and are willful and fall short of God’s standard of righteousness. That is why Paul states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Roman 3:23 NASB). This is why we all must “call upon the name of the Lord” (vs. 13). We all must seek Him, individually, confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (vs.9). This belief is made possible as a gift from God received when we believe, which comes from hearing the Word of God. God gives us the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Getting ahead in this life really is not about doing the right thing or saying the right thing. It is about believing in the right Person, Jesus, the righteous Son of God. It is not about what I have done, but Who He is and what He has done. Just as the Israelites were chosen, God is choosing us. We can choose as the Israelites did to be rebellious and ignore God and His Son’s perfect righteousness bought for us with His death and resurrection. The Word is out there. Most of those who read this have heard of Jesus Christ and His Father. Since you know of Him, when you choose to go your own way, you are being rebellious and are not choosing righteousness, faith, and salvation. We each must come to the point of our own of choosing to hear the Word and believe the Word so that we can confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. It is our choice. God chose you, but you must choose Him to receive righteousness and a relationship with Him that leads to eternal life with Him. We can leave it with Joshua’s quote from Joshua 24:15b, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” You will not be disappointed. Jesus died for all people because He loves all; God is the maker of all and has a plan of salvation for all His beloved people. Will you be rebellious, too? Who will you choose?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

True Wisdom, Eternal Growth and God’s Glorification


1 Corinthians 3

In looking at 1 Corinthians 1-3 these last three days and skimming more chapters in the book to remember what Paul says to the people of Corinth, we can see over and over again that Paul is showing them God’s great wisdom, strength, and power. At this time in history, Corinth was a gateway for many cultures. Greek influence was strong there and they prided themselves in their philosophy and wisdom. Roman influence was very strong there as it was the time of the great Roman Empire; Corinth was in the middle of the empire, also, they had easy access to Rome via boats. Jewish influence was also strong in Corinth; the Jews from the Holy Land had been venturing beyond the Promised Land, being dispersed by persecution, a search for more religious freedom, and a desire for more wealth and power. Other smaller influences were known in Corinth, but these three were the cultures that most profoundly affected the Corinth at that time.
Paul addresses the people of Corinth, people from the surrounding countries and cultures and others as well. He addresses them about their envy, slander, hate, debauchery, and depravity. Corinth was known so much so for its debauchery that a term was coined, “Corinthianize,” which meant to make one or another so wanton in their morals. Paul was writing to the people to whom he had preached before about Jesus Christ and His salvation. He spoke mainly to the body of Christ, the church in Corinth. As an aside, he was also speaking generally to all others who were watching and knew that what was going on was wrong. He stood strong for God and proclaimed in this letter that this was not the way of God and they were not building upon the foundation Paul had laid before them on his previous visit to Corinth.
If you remember, in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, you read and hear Paul telling them that the wisdom of God came through the foolish things of the world. Even the most intelligent, learned, powerful, and strong were not as wise, powerful, and strong as God’s weakest vessel. God proved this by using the unwise, the weak, and the ignoble to show His wisdom, power, and might. If you read any of the Gospels, you will find that those who considered themselves learned, strong, and powerful were the ones who were most likely not able to believe and follow Jesus. Paul reiterates that here for the Corinthians. He adds a sting though. He tells them that whatever they have cherished and used to build upon the foundation of what he preached to them, the foundation of Jesus Christ being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, would be tested with fire. Each person’s reward from the God would be determined by how well upon the foundation of Christ each person built. Was what the person built on the foundation burned up in the fire of testing? Then the reward from God would not come because they had received their reward on earth, an earthly gratification. Was a person more inclined to seek glory for him or herself? That is usurping God’s glory in their own lives; their reward would not be as great as if they gave all the glory to God. Was a person more inclined to follow the desires of addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, and clothes? That person’s priorities would not survive a fire. Those are not more important than God and cannot get them into heaven. Was a person more inclined to seek education to be able to break down another in argument? That person’s reward is also only for this earthly life. The choice to be mightier with word or sword or power will not grow a person to be more Christ like. Each of these things, wealth, acquirements, education, power, prestige, and strength, remove the focus and glory from God and place the glory upon ourselves now in our mortal lives. We receive the reward we desire in this age and will lose reward when God judges us. Our reward from God will be less. When God is the one whom you are trying to imitate, into whose likeness you are striving to become more like, this growth will stand the trial of fire because it is God who is glorified in your body, actions, and spirit as you walk each day in life now. You will get your reward from God upon judgment, Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 3:14.
Paul speaks throughout this letter to the Corinthians reminding them of the wisdom of God as opposed to the smallness of the wisdom of man. Consider what Paul said in chapter 1:19-21, 25 (Amplified version),
19 For it is written, I will baffle and render useless and destroy the learning of the learned and the philosophy of the philosophers and the cleverness of the clever and the discernment of the discerning; I will frustrate and nullify them and bring them to nothing. 20 Where is the wise man (the philosopher)? Where is the scribe (the scholar)? Where is the investigator (the logician, the debater) of this present time and age? Has not God shown up the nonsense and the folly of this world’s wisdom?  21For when the world with all its earthly wisdom failed to perceive and recognize and know God by means of its own philosophy, God in His wisdom was pleased through the foolishness of preaching salvation, procured by Christ and to be had through Him, to save those who believed..25 This is because the foolish thing that has its source in God is wiser than men, and the weak thing that springs from God is stronger than men.
You will notice that Paul captures each of the main cultures of people in Corinth at the time within this chapter, the philosophical and learned, the powerful and strong. He addresses the Greeks and Jewish scribes who are proud of their education. Later in verses 27-28, Paul also includes the Jews who think they are wise in their faith and culture, but who are blinded by their pride so they cannot see that God’s wisdom surpasses all understanding. In verse 28 Paul addresses the noble Romans and the Jews in power within the circles of the children of Israel. He tells them that God chose the lowly, the insignificant, and those treated with contempt as well as those things and people considered as nothing to “depose and bring to nothing the things that are” or consider themselves/are considered great. God did this so that “no mortal man should have any reason to take the glory for himself or boast about what he has done, but so that God may receive all the glory” (vs. 29). Paul speaks directly to those who consider themselves too highly, be they ones who accepted Christ’s salvation offered to them previously or not. He is showing them that even in the greatest of the clever, strong, and mighty of humans, they are not so wise, strong, or mighty after all when compared to the surpassing greatness of God or of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord (Philippians 3:8).
One of Paul’s themes in 1 Corinthians is the greatness of God, even compared to the greatest of the most wise, strong, and powerful man. In chapter three, Paul begins to get down to “brass tacks” unlike in chapters 1 and 2. He chastises them while at the same time reminding them in love that the foundation that was laid down in these baby Christians’ lives was based on the preaching of Christ crucified for all people. He tells them clearly that by now they should be partaking of heartier food than the milk of babes. Their growth in faith should have been at the point where they are taking in solid food; yet, Paul finds that they have turned to building upon the foundation of Christ with self-glorification, vanity, and deceit, not growth in their faith and knowledge of God and His ways. He hears from others that they are fighting and there are factions among them, that there is envy and jealousy (3:3). He states that this is an unspiritual and worldly way to act instead of a godly way. He tells them to safeguard what is built upon the foundation of Christ that he preached to them. Based upon what they are fed and watered, by what they allow themselves to consume,  will determine their growth. God will grow you, he says, but you must choose the right food with which to nourish yourself. He tells them in 3:16 that they, individually and corporately, are God’s temple; they are holy and consecrated to the Lord. With what they choose to nourish themselves will determine their growth in God. Paul gets quite to the point here. “If anyone does hurt to God’s temple (you individually or corporately as a church) or corrupts it with false doctrine or destroys it, God will do hurt to him and bring him to the corruption of death, for the temple of God is holy” (3:17 AMP).
Finally, Paul comes back to a main premise of this letter; he tells them to “become fools according to worldly standards so that they can become really wise, for this world’s wisdom is foolishness with God and He lays hold of the wise in their own craftiness” (3:18-19). Paul beseeches them to seek after God and His wisdom so they can have true wisdom, not that which the world considers wisdom which is mere folly. Lastly, Paul reminds them, most of all, “You are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (3:23). You gave your lives to Christ so you are God’s; build upon the foundation of which you allowed to be laid and which you accepted as truth. Choose God’s wisdom, glory, and reward as your desire and reward so that you may grow to be more like Christ and wiser than the wisest man.
The question remains for us, have we tried to acquire understanding and wisdom to determine how to venture on the paths of our lives? Has it brought meaning and purpose to our lives? Subsequently, have we found the navigator Who does know all the routes and whose way is straight and sure and leads to everlasting life? It is not hard. What seems foolish in the eyes of the learned is actually the wisdom of God made understandable and believable so that all may come to know the surpassing greatness, love, and power of God as shown and given through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus the Christ. This letter from Paul to the Corinthians as well as the occurrences in Corinth were attested to by Clement of Rome in his “First Epistle to the Corinthians,” by Polycarp in his “Epistle to the Philippians,” and by Irenaus in his writing “Against Heresies.” These men attest to these occurrences, as well as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is true. He is the way, the truth, and the life. It is truly simple, believe on Jesus, accept the gift of salvation He gave for your wrong doings, and keep on seeking Him and His knowledge and wisdom. His ways are higher than our ways; His ways are always best. Seek first the kingdom of God. What will you choose self-glorification with no true growth and no reward from God upon judgment, or glorification of God with true, everlasting, and continued growth into Christ-likeness and rewards from God upon judgment? Is it that hard to choose?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

God Uses the Lowliest


John 6, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

There are times in our lives where, after having walked with the Lord for a while, we still must strive to exhibit His nature within us. We thought we had gone beyond that, but we find that there is still a struggle within us that we must bury if we are to be true followers of Christ. Many of the followers of Jesus came to this point, like in John 6 for example. Some turned away after walking with Him for a while and Jesus asked Peter if he, too, would turn away. Peter’s reply showed that he had already given more to Christ than he had kept for himself of his old life. He answered, “To whom shall we go” (John 6:68)? Each of us will come to this point several times in our walk with Jesus. We think we have died to ourselves so that we can live totally in Christ but then find we are tempted to do something the old way because it seems there is nothing wrong with that way. What is wrong with that way, it turns out, is that it is not God’s way. Paul reminds the people he is teaching that God does not use the wisdom, might, power, or learning of humankind to lead all of God’s created people. God uses the foolish things, the unlearned, and the weak to show His own way, to show He is powerful enough and wise enough to “best” the leaders of the day when they argue their stance. Even the foolish and weak in the world can be used by God to be greater than the wise and strong, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. When we come up to the point where the method used in the natural world would work as well as God’s method has in the past, that is where we must stop, check our own desire to leap headlong into the task, and ask God how He wants us to walk, work, and love. Nothing can be about ourselves, but God can use our weakness to show His strength, to confound the wise, learned, strong, and noble of the world. We have a choice, the best way, God’s way, or a good way, the common way.