Friday, October 27, 2017

Grace to Change (1 Corinthians 1:3)

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:3, NASB95)

Grace” and “peace” are incredible things. So much of the world lives without any permanent peace, both internally and externally. But there are those who have discovered how to be at peace even when the things going on around them are far from being right and when peace is hard to find. Grace is that generous kindness that is extended to another when they are in need and unable to fix things for themselves or when they have greatly failed and are in need of forgiveness, longsuffering and patience while change occurs. It is here that someone from the outside offers to those on the inside a help that lifts a burden or takes some things off their plate, so that those burdens that remain seem more manageable.

In this letter to the Corinthian believers Paul started with them using the path of encouragement before addressing their struggles, and even then, he also gave them what was needed to redirect them onto a correct path. For the believers in Corinth it could be easy to become discouraged, especially when their shortcomings were called out by someone important to them. In these moments rather than experiencing peace, it is easy to experience tension, frustration, helplessness and even anger. It is moments like this that the grace that comes from God provides the assurance of acceptance and reminds of His power for change. And, in this there is the reminder that His peace can be known in the process because of the fact that Christ has made us to be at peace with God by His blood that cleansed them and us from our sins.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” was not only Paul’s common salutation, but it was also a way of saying, “God bless you” with a healthy reminder of just how He has done so. He reminds those who hear or read this greeting that both grace and peace are a gift to us from God our Father and His Son who He sent to save us from our sins, to draw us to Him, and to give us new life and an everlasting hope—our Lord Jesus Christ.

God loves us so much. Because of our sin we were separated from Him, and He chose not to let that stand as a barrier. He provided the only means by which we can become fully cleansed and brought back into a relationship with Him. And beyond that we know that He constantly lavishes His love on us in countless ways. It is Him who shows Himself strong when we are weak. It is Him who gives wisdom when we lack understanding. It is Him who knows us intimately and wraps His hands around us. It is Him who holds us closely when times like the one mentioned above are so very true and present. God did all of this not because He was obligated to do so, but because He wanted to out of His love and compassion. This is what grace is. It is God giving to us what we need as a gift because it is His joy to do so.

And peace, what an incredible result of knowing that we not only are fully forgiven and will not face judgment for our sins, but that He is also faithful to keep us until that very moment that He ushers us into His presence. There is nothing that comes to us that has not been through His sovereign hands. There is nothing that blindsides Him even though we may be caught by surprise. God is our constant help, and He has promised Himself to be faithful even when we struggle in response. We are at peace with the Father because we’ve been given salvation in the Son. Because Jesus paid for our sins and rose again, we are fully forgiven and forever made alive. Though we may struggle in our walk before Him, He will not forsake us. He is committed to us and His Spirit indwells us to bring about great change in our lives. What He calls upon us to do in response is to give ourselves back to Him in worshipful obedience.

This church had growth issues, and with some reproof given and correction taken they could and would change. Paul loved these believers and he was confident in God’s ability to do incredible things in their lives and with them as a church. He wrote to them for their welfare as their spiritual father, and it was his hope that they would listen. In chapter 4 he wrote, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:14–15, NASB95)

Paul knew God’s grace and saw himself as an example of God’s power to bring change when we live accordingly. “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9–10, NASB95)  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Clarifying their Identity (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NASB95)

The other day I was listening to a pastor on the radio who was being asked questions by listeners. He was asked a very familiar question, “What can one do to become more of a saint?” (wording not exact) The pastor’s response was (boiled down and reworded), first, there is nothing we can do to become a saint. Being a saint is something that happens to us by virtue of our salvation and what Christ does in us. We are intended to live more and more like Christ as we grow in Him, and in this sense, we might know those people that we refer to as “saintly.” It is not that they have achieved something new positionally or have become more of a saint, but that they have been conformed more and more into the image of who they were made by God who calls us as His own.

Positionally, we see this in the introduction of several of Paul’s letters to the churches.

Romans 1:7. “…to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, NASB95) … “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Romans 1:8, NASB95)

2 Corinthians 1:1. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia:” (2 Corinthians 1:1, NASB95)

Ephesians 1:1. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

Philippians 1:1. “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:” (Philippians 1:1, NASB95)

Colossians 1:2. “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2, NASB95)

It may be notable that Paul does not use the term “saints” in all of the introductions of the church letters. Positively he does not use it in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, though he does heap praise on them for their faithfulness. Negatively, in Galatians Paul chastises them for their desertion of Christ and the true message of the gospel.

But to me, probably his most unique introduction in a letter to a church is the introduction to 1 Corinthians. There was no “to the saints” in this letter. Instead Paul began by laying a foundation of truth from which he would later challenge them concerning how they lived. Rather than focusing on their faithfulness, Paul centered his attention on the faithfulness of God.

“To the church of God which is at Corinth….” The term “church” can mean many things. Typically, it is used in one of two ways in the New Testament letters. The all-inclusive form is the complete body of believers in Christ. We see this in Ephesians 5:23 where 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) And later in Revelation we see the church as Christ’s bride presented at the marriage supper of the Lamb. “Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6–8, NASB95) The moment we are saved we become a member of His church.

The second common usage refers to the individual groups of believers that gather together as a local fellowship or even group of fellowships. Later in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote to his readers, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:17, NASB95) And, of course, we see this usage of church illustrated in the introductions cited earlier in this post.

In writing to the church of God which is in Corinth Paul brings both truths together as a reminder of who it is that unites them as one body. This local body of believers exists as one body intended to walk together because they “have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This word “sanctified” has the same root as the word “saints” which is used later in the same statement. What makes them saints is because they have been sanctified, not because they earned it. “Sanctified” means to make holy or to purify. It also has the meaning of consecrating or setting apart for God’s use.

Paul was confronted with this truth by Christ Himself as we see in his testimony before Agrippa in Acts chapter 26. “at midday, O King, I [Paul] saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:13–18, NASB95) Sanctification comes by faith in Christ.

Having been chosen by God and sanctified by faith in Christ, these believers’ identity has been changed from sinner to saint (Greek: hagios or God’s holy ones). This is what Paul said next of them in his introduction: “saints by calling.” Then Paul reminded them of how they were not alone in this calling, His church, or their identity. Paul continued, “with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” Paul had some very difficult things ahead for them in this letter, but before getting to them he established their firm foundation of faith that they shared with everyone in every place who called upon the name of Jesus Christ for salvation. Just as He was their Lord so was He Paul’s, Sosthenes and even ours today. There was absolutely nothing that Paul would say to them that was going to change this truth. And even today, there is nothing that can change this truth for us.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Called from Persecution to Serve (1 Corinthians 1:1)

“Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,” (1 Corinthians 1:1, NASB95)

As with Paul’s other letters, he begins by establishing his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Though Paul did not believe in Christ until after His ascension to return to the Father, Paul did have a very personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus while he was on the way to make sure that many followers of Christ would be persecuted for their belief (or heresy). The record of this is found in Acts chapter 9. Following his believing and a season of growing in his faith Paul was sent out by the other apostles (Acts 9:25-30). Later in Acts chapter 13, while a group of believers were together praying with Barnabas and Saul (Paul), the Holy Spirit spoke to them saying, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”” (Acts 13:2, NASB95) After they had finished praying, these men laid hands on Barnabas and Paul and sent them off on what we know as their first missionary journey.

While in Antioch and after speaking in the synagogue to the amazement of many on that first Sabbath, we read, “The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ ” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:44–49, NASB95)

Not only was Paul called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul was also sent, or as he put it “commanded” to go to the Gentiles as well and “bring salvation to the end of the earth.” As stated in the previous post the people of Corinth were direct beneficiaries of Paul having been sent out, and in their case to one of the spiritually darkest cities of the day.

In the last post we looked at the origins of the church at Corinth. What was not mentioned was what happened to one who was most likely responsible for bringing charges against Paul. We read, “But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” And he drove them away from the judgment seat. And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.” (Acts 18:12–17, NASB95)

Having been rebuffed by Gallio on their charge, the Jews were turned away. As they were leaving there were those there who took advantage of their weakened position, and they attacked Sosthenes who we read was the “leader of the synagogue.” Somehow and sometime before Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian believers Sosthenes had come to faith in Christ and had actually come to be with Paul. It was likely Sosthenes who even gave Paul information concerning the condition of the church to which he responded in this letter. We don’t know any more other than Sosthenes was once the ruler of the Synagogue opposed to Paul and here he is a believer and possibly even the one who served as Paul’s secretary in the penning of this letter.

There aren’t many words in this first introductory statement, but the words that are there are incredible. Our God took these two men who as Jewish leaders were both called from persecuting followers to becoming servants according to God’s will to reach both Jews and Gentiles in an area that was steeped in darkness, but where people quickly and eagerly believed. Our God is so amazing and His love extends far beyond our imagination. He demonstrates over and over again that He can and does shine the light of life in His Son into the darkest of places so that His glory might shine even brighter. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Letter from Papa Paul (1 Corinthians 1:1-2a)

(It's time to start a new book of the Bible for me, and after looking at several and even wanting to skip this particular one, 1 Corinthians is the one. It will likely be a long ride if you are willing to go on it with me.)

“Paul, … To the church of God which is at Corinth….” (1 Corinthians 1:1–2a, NASB95)

In Acts 18:1 we read that while on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul left Athens to head about 45 miles to Corinth which was located in southern Greece on a narrow isthmus. Because of its location, Corinth was a highly trafficked city. Its importance was greatly enhanced because of the extreme weather and great length of sailing around the southern tip of Greece. In order to avoid this dangerous trip ships would be carried across the isthmus and pass alongside Corinth. Eventually a canal would be excavated, but it took many, many centuries to complete. At Paul’s time the ships had to be manually moved on skids. Corinth was also known for its pagan worship and its home to athletic competitions, including the Isthmian and Olympian games.

As for its cults, Corinth was home to a temple to Aphrodite who they worshipped as the goddess of love where 1,000 temple prostitutes lived and worked during the day while they offered their services in the city at night. Between the economy, sports, and sex Corinth was well known for its debauchery. (Source: MacArthur Study Bible and parallel readings from other sources).

It was on this city that Paul next set his sights, and Acts 18:1-11 records for us a brief record of what happened while he was there. It was upon arriving at Corinth that he met Aquila and Priscilla who had relocated there themselves after being ordered by Claudius had ordered Jews to leave Rome. This couple were tent makers, like Paul, and they hit it off with him right off the bat. They worked together in their trade while Paul “reasoned” with the people in the synagogue on the Sabbath, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks. We also read that as Silas and Timothy joined him that he was able to devote full-time to the work of the word. Eventually the Jews would reject him, and we read that he turned his attention to the Gentiles with a notable Jewish exception. In the year and a half that he was there we read that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized as God protected him from harm. I love the assurance that Paul was given when in a night vision when the Lord told him, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”” (Acts 18:9–10, NASB95)

Eventually his stay was ended when the Jews gathered together to nab him and bring him before the Roman proconsul in that region. Gallio would not hear their argument, and he turned them away. It was after this attack that we read in Acts 18:18 that he set sail for Syria, leaving Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus along the way.

This concludes the record we have of his time with them. And, in 2 Corinthians 1:23 we read that he did not return. “But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.” (2 Corinthians 1:23, NASB95)

1 Corinthians is generally thought to have been written about A.D. 55 during Paul’s third missionary journey while he was on an extended stay in Ephesus. His location is affirmed in Paul’s closing comments to the letter where he wrote, “But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Corinthians 16:8–9, NASB95) It was while there that he again had the opportunity to serve alongside his friends Priscilla and Aquilla who he had left there when he left Corinth. And, having worked alongside them in Corinth, Paul includes a greeting from them in the closing of this letter. “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (1 Corinthians 16:19, NASB95)

1 Corinthians was written by Paul. It was written to a group of believers that he had led to the Lord, and who he dearly loved. And, as we see it unfold we will also see that this was probably a very difficult letter for Paul to write because this church he birthed had floundered greatly in his absence. We’ll look a bit more at his introduction in the next post.