Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Living Rightly in His Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, NASB95)

Here Paul continues his focus on the church, and he calls it “a temple of God,” adding that the Spirit of God dwells in it or “you” (us) collectively. Whether the church(es) of Corinth met together in a house or some other location is largely irrelevant to this declaration. The church was not determined by the structure where they gathered, but by those who gathered in that structure. In this case, it was those in Corinth who were knit together in Christ by virtue of them being saved and not due to them having gone through some form of membership exercise.

God’s people, Israel, were given access to Him in a very unique way. In Exodus God told Moses, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8, NASB95) Then He continued in instructing Moses on how this sanctuary was to be constructed from its contents to its outer shell (the Tabernacle) and everything related to it in fine detail. In verses 33 and 34 of chapter 26 God told Moses, “You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies.” (Exodus 26:33–34, NASB95) Then Moses and the people did as God instructed, and it was into this most holy place that the High Priest would go as prescribed by God to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the people (see Leviticus chapter 16). Later, Solomon would build a temple as a more permanent structure.

While Solomon’s temple had long been decimated, there was a reconstructed temple at the time of Christ. It was in this temple at the time of His giving up His life for the forgiveness of our sins that we read, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom….” (Matthew 27:50–51, NASB95) The veil through which only the high priest was to enter, and then only in a special way at a specific time had now been torn open from top to bottom by God Himself. In a very real way the barrier between God and man had been removed, and because of what Jesus did for us on the cross we now have become that temple in whom the Spirit of God dwells.

Of each Christian in relation to our behavior Paul wrote later in this same letter, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NASB95) When we trust Christ for our salvation we receive immediately to Spirit of God to dwell in us permanently. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, NASB95) And collectively, we read “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB95)

We have indeed entered an enduring relationship with our God. We are His and He will not let go of us. We are His collectively His church, as individuals we have His Spirit dwelling in us in a very personal way, and as local fellowships of believers we are “a temple of God” in which the Spirit of God dwells. He takes all of these relationships seriously, whether it be on the largest scale or on the smallest and most personal.

Big church or little church, we are His church and His temple, and God takes the protection of His temple seriously. Paul went on to write in this passage, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him….” Looking at destruction here, we are not looking at the destruction of God’s people for their disobedience. Paul had already spoken to this issue, and God does deal consequentially with sin among the saints. Here, we are are looking at those who do not have Christ seeking to destroy His church. They are not God’s people and they will face eternal judgment and damnation on the final day.

Historically, God destroyed those who destroyed Solomon’s temple, and in the future, He will destroy those who seek to destroy His people when He returns to establish His Millennial rule and Israel is saved. And when it comes to the church which is the body of Christ, God will deal as severely with those who raise a hand against it as well.

The call on all of us as believers is to watch how we walk such that we build up that which God declares right and that we stand strong against the forces of evil who would seek to enter and destroy. We read that “the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” The Corinthian believers had not been living as God’s temple even though that is exactly what they were. Here Paul reminds them of their identity as the temple of God, both on the large scale and on the most personal and intimate one on one scale. We are the temple of God in who His Spirit dwells, and we are called to live accordingly.

In Hebrews 10 we read, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NASB95) 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Doing Works that Endure the Test (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15, NASB95)

Paul had just finished addressing that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ and that everyone who builds on it is to be careful in how he does so. Paul may have been the like the wise master builder who started the work, but there were others who were significant in the subsequent work, a work which includes both the pastor teachers who followed and the very members themselves who had roles in the overall work and who left a mark along the way.

This passage is about believers. It is not about those who have not trusted Christ for their salvation. It is in this context that some may have left indelible marks for good and others may have done otherwise. In the short term, the work may or may not have been highly valued and it may or may not have accomplished some form or visible good or have even been seen. People may have come to Christ and grown significantly in Christian maturity through their service. Others may have been prayed for intently during a difficult time, or even benefited from someone quietly or even anonymously reaching out to help them in a time of need. And, contrary to God’s intent, some may have even been hindered, given cause to stumble, or even harmed because of another’s disservice. Some may have worked humbly for God’s glory and some (even the same person at a different time) may have done things with their thumbs under their armpits for their own glory. No matter what we do or the motive we have in doing so, it is all done on the foundation of the church laid before of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.

In the end every single person’s will be fully evident. Paul wrote that whether the work is accomplished as with enduring materials of value such as gold, silver or precious or with less durable ones like wood, hay, and straw every person’s work will be tested with fire. When exposed to the intensity of a consuming fire there will be those things which burn up and perish and there will be those that are further purified and show their true value. On this side of eternity, we might not be able to clearly see the difference, but once having been tested by fire the quality of our work will truly be seen.

Notice here that Paul is talking about the quality of a person’s work and not the eternal state of the person. For us who are in Christ there will be a day when all that we have done will be judged by God as described here, and for all that remains we will receive a reward. We may or may not sense a reward now, but nothing has missed God’s sight. And, similarly where we may have patted ourselves on the back big time for something we have done we might also be surprised to see that this very thing did not survive the fire because our reward was of the moment and not eternity.

Speaking of open religiosity, Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1–4, NASB95)

It is then in the next verses that we have what we know as the Lord’s prayer. “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” (Matthew 6:5–13, NASB95)

Clearly there will be a dividing of the work done for self-adulation and that done for God’s glory, and we read that there will be a “day” when this happens. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 we read, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NASB95) There will be a day when Jesus looks at our work and we will be recognized for what we have done. The bad will be as if our works were burnt away, and the good will lead to some form of reward known to and given by Him.

These rewards or lack thereof are not the determinant of whether we are ultimately saved. These words of Paul were written to believers whose eternal foundation has already been eternally established in Christ. Paul affirms this in verse 15 where we read, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” This is a pretty amazing statement, because it could conceivably include all of a man’s works being burnt and him being saved. This is a truth that is clearly affirmed in passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95) But even Ephesians 2:8-9 are followed immediately by an affirmation of what should happen by all of us once we are saved, which is good, and thus enduring, works. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) 

The Corinthian believers seemed to have not grasped doing work for the glory of God. They were fixated on following particular men and doing things according to their ways. In these verses Paul clearly writes to shift their focus pointing out that these men were given to serve Christ for His glory as His workers, and subsequently they were to do the same as leaders came and went and the church continued to grow even here as we enter 2018.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Builders in His Church (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–11, NASB95)

Sometimes construction takes longer than others. Its been a while since I’ve returned to 1 Corinthians. This doesn’t mean that work hasn’t been going on, but that maybe God was tweaking some other part of His project in me and my extended family.

During the last post Paul spoke of him and Apollos as workers in God’s field, which is represented by the believers in His church. Here he switches from an agricultural analogy to one of a building to describe the Corinthian believers and the relation they had to those who had key roles in their development as a church and as individuals in that church.

There was some contention in the Corinthian church concerning to whom they might owe allegiance or listen to more intently. There were those who were closely tied to Apollos and there were those closely tied to Paul. Neither man was there at the time, nor was either of them able to come personally to help resolve the tensions. So, in this letter Paul continues to drive the point that both He and Apollos as well as others who may have had a role in their coming to the Lord and walking with Him subsequently were any more important than another. Each of them were co-workers or fellow workers who belonged to God and were there to do His will and work. What they had done was not for their own benefit, recognition, or glory but was done for the glory of God. And, just as these me were His fellow workers, so were each of his readers part of God’s crop and the building that He was constructing.

As a personally chosen apostle of Christ, Paul was set aside for this ministry particularly to the Gentiles. It included him being regularly on the move to bring people to faith, establish them as a church, and leave them in capable hands of fellow workers. He compared himself to a wise or skilled master builder (sophos architekt┼Źn). The equipping had begun even before Him coming to Christ, and it flourished supernaturally afterward so that Paul might be wisely enabled to put Christ’s work into action. He was made fully ready to do the work that God gave Him in laying the foundation of His church. He was called and made ready to be the boots on the ground architect of the work that Christ was doing in drawing people to Himself and knitting His people together in local bodies of believers. We might look at the work and highly esteem Paul for what he accomplished, and in Christ we can indeed be thankful for what was accomplished in and through Paul, but Paul saw his work as something not for his own glory, but a sober charge given Him by Christ over which he was to be both careful and diligent. He did not devise the gospel message, but He was called to be its faithful messenger.

The Corinthian churches belonged to Christ and so does the church today. Whether fellow workers directly followed the work of Paul or two thousand years later, the same truth applies—we are building on the foundation laid by the apostles over which Christ is both the head and the cornerstone. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,” (Ephesians 2:19–21, NASB95)

And, as the apostles and early disciples worked hand in hand there in the beginning, God has a continued plan for His construction project to continue today. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, NASB95)

Sure, this time the analogy has shifted from agriculture and construction to that of a body, but the principles all work together to demonstrate that God has intended His work in His church (collectively and as local fellowships) to grow to maturity both through the work of those He has given in roles of leadership, shepherding and teaching and those given to building into one another in countless other ways. It all comes together in Christ, and it works rightly when we are properly submitted to Him as our head and working according to the ways that He intends.

To build on anything else or to trust in anyone else is inappropriate. This was true for the Corinthian believers and it is true today when churches take upon themselves to do things their own way, and not according to the word of God and the wisdom given us by Him. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Workers in His Field (1 Corinthians 3:4-9a)

“For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field….” (1 Corinthians 3:4–9a, NASB95)

Paul was in the position of having to deal with these believers in Corinth from a distance. And, as we can see from 1 Corinthians 16:12, he was not able to enlist Apollos to go and help. “But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.” In the ESV we read that Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to come. He sensed that one of them really needed to go, and since he couldn’t, he really pursued Apollos going. But for some reason Apollos wasn’t inclined to go at that time. So, sending a letter in the hands of someone else would have to do for now.

“…are you not mere men?” As an evidence of their worldly or fleshly focused lives these believers had set their sights on the man who led them in their faith, and not the God who gave them life. These believers were divided over who they were following. It was as if the church had two influential pastors in their past, and rather than moving into the present they were hung up on who was there before, and totally lost sight of the fact that each one of them and their church as a whole belonged to God.

Apollos and Paul were used greatly by God, but the fact is that neither Apollos or Paul were God. They may have had a significant role in their churches existing and them as individuals coming to Christ, but each one of these men did so as servants of God and not as their masters. I felt this tension personally this past week when as an elder in my home church I attended a ministry lunch attended by the leaders of many of the ministries that I once oversaw as a former associate pastor in the church. It was an exciting time as I head from the various ministry leaders how they were doing and what more they might need to be successful in the ministry given to them. It was also a very emotional time as I realized how much of my heart I had given to those same things for so many years. While the ministry leaders were not the same as they were then (for the most part), they represented the same heart for service. For me, though, I saw how clearly my time in that role had passed as others were now carrying that torch. While I was touched by their affirmation, I also know that it is totally right for them to look to work with the leadership that God has for them right now. Evidently, this was not the case in Corinth.

God graciously gives his church gifted men to serve as their pastors, but not one of these pastors are God. In Ephesians 4 we read, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:11–12, NASB95) The role of those who God gives to His church is to build up the body of Christ. The church belongs to Christ. He is the head. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22–23, NASB95) … “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB95)

Apollos and Paul were men through whom God worked to bring people to Christ according to the opportunity that God gave to each of them. Using a gardening analogy, Paul may have done the planting and Apollos may have done the watering, but it was God who caused the growth. And the same is really true in our lives today. There may have been different people that God used at different times to impact our lives for Him, but it was and remains God that is using them in us for His glory, both personally and in His church. We may not agree as we have been shaped by the planting and cultivating effort that certain people have put into us and the love that we have for them. But in the large scheme, Paul wrote of both he and Apollos, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

Of course, these men were not nothing, but surely apart from God and His work in them they would have been. This value is affirmed in the next verse where we read, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” All of God’s workers are equal workers in the work in which He has placed them. All of the have a role in God bringing His crop to maturity. And, one day, God will personally and appropriately reward them for their faithful service.

Paul and Apollos were God’s faithful workers, and the Corinthian believers were God’s field. It was out of his role as a worker in God’s field that Paul wrote to those in the field to aid them in their growth. And, because God used Paul to write to them, we have as our benefit these same words recorded for us from which we can also be taught by today’s faithful workers who are serving as one in God’s field—His church. Every single one of us has a role on both sides of this as His workers in His field while also being corporately His field.

“You therefore, my (Paul) son (Timothy), be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1–2, NASB95)