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)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Time to Grow Up (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NASB95)

In that same Crusade booklet, “Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life?” I learned that while there are only two camps for men in the large scheme of things, there are also two camps for Christians. There are those who, like the description in the previous post, live Christ directed lives and who are marked by their trust and growth in Him even in the midst of stumbling, and there are those who while being saved still live as if they are largely in control. It may be because of a lack of maturity and not growing in their knowledge and understanding of who they are in Christ and how they are to walk before God or it may be because they are in a season of rebellion and choosing to ignore the things of God.

Paul wrote of the Corinthian believers that he could not write to them as to spiritual men because they weren’t living as spiritual men. Instead he was placed in the position of writing to them correctively as men of flesh. The word “flesh” in our modern translations is written as “carnal” in the King James and subsequent New King James translations. The roots of “carnal” are not in the Greek word used (sarkinos), but in Latin and then late middle English. And, a form of this word, “carne” is frequently found in many Latin-based foods where it simply means meat. It is this word carnal, that flows from our earlier translations that Crusade and others have adopted this term to describe the Christian who is living a self-, or of himself- or his flesh-directed life. This the person who walks according to his wisdom and his own desires without significant regard to the ways of God. He may go to church on Sunday or things like that, but the rest of his life or certain areas of his life bear little resemblance to his true identity as one who belongs to Christ. In Crusade we learned that this is the person who while possessing great a great spiritual inheritance lives in spiritual poverty and defeat. In the simplest of terms, he has not grown up. These people are still “infants in Christ.” (

The Corinthian church was struggling because the believers in the church were not growing in the Word. They were still being influenced by the outside world and most probably the things of the pagan worship surrounding them and that had influenced many of them. Paul wrote to them as believers, meaning that they were no longer “natural.” They had been saved. This was clearly stated in chapter 1, verse 2 where he wrote, “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) But they also could not be called “spiritual” because they were not living as if they had been saved. For these people their walk did not match their identity. To the world they looked one way, but God knew them to be different. And, it is this difference for which Paul is calling them to account.

It didn’t matter their chronological age or even the number of years or months that they had been saved. What mattered is that they had not grown from the initial things they had heard from Paul which was the basics of salvation. Paul called them “infants.” There are a number of words used in the New Testament to refer to children. There is only one used to refer to a group younger than the word used here, and that word refers to those yet unborn or just born. Here the word “nēpios” is not a general term used of children such as even children of God which is true of all of us who are saved, but specifically referring to little children or infants. It would be like saying they had not grown beyond the initial milk and were still acting infantile in their faith.

My littlest grandson and granddaughter are grabbing for their parents’ food. What they see them eating is very enticing and they want to move past the milk to get the seemingly good stuff that everyone else is eating. But they are 7 and 5 months old. It would be problematic if they were 7 or 5 years old and they were not eating what the rest were. For them, even at their young age they know there is something more and they want it. These believers in Corinth had not gone past the spiritual milk, and this was a real problem in the church.

Paul added that this problem was such an issue that they still were not able to receive solid spiritual food, because they were still “fleshly” as evidenced by how they were interacting with each other. Specifically, he returned to an issue previously brought up; “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” There problem was not that they could not understand more complicated doctrines, but that they weren’t even applying the truths that they knew. There was not spiritual depth in their lives. They had not put off the things that they probably knew they were supposed to and started to live as they were led. Later in this letter Paul would speak of himself writing, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, NASB95) This was the step that these believers needed to take in order to start seeing real growth.

In the English Standard Version, the end of verse 3 reads, “…are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:3, ESV) This was the question Paul rhetorically asked them as he presented to them what he had heard. Paul pointed t how they related to each other as a mark of their immaturity. Jesus presented this same mark as the standard for how we are to be as believers. He wrote, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NASB) And the result of this kind of love in the church, rather than souring people toward Christianity, Jesus went on to say, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NASB)

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” … “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16, 22–25, NASB)

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Natural and the Spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16, NASB95)

Through my early training with Campus Crusade for Christ I learned from these verses about two fundamental types of people. One of them is the person who is an unbeliever and who does not understand the things of God and whose life is structured around what he considers most important in life. This man, as we read here, is referred to by Paul as the “natural man.” He does not have the Spirit of God and considers the things of God as foolishness. Paul said that the things of God are “spiritually appraised.” In the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) we read that these things are “spiritually discerned.” Appraised and discerned have the meaning being investigated, weighed or judged. It means that the things of God have been spiritually looked into and understood. In other words, since the natural man does not have the Spirit of God, the natural man is unable to properly weigh and value the things of God. To them it is foolishness because they don’t get it. (images from

The other man spoken of here that I learned about in Crusade is the “spiritual man.” This is the person who has trusted Christ for their salvation and received the Spirit of God into their lives. This is the person who looks into the things of God and orders his life around the ways of God. This is the person who “appraises” or judges all things according to God’s revealed will. This is the person who is justified by faith, declared righteous in Christ, and who lives free of condemnation before God and right before man. Sure, those who know us can see the chinks in our armor and they know our faults, but they are in no position to sit as our spiritual judge. This belongs to God alone, and He has judged us accepted in His Son.

Paul then quoted Isaiah 40:13, “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? We have been given a great privilege as believers in Christ. We have been allowed to know the mind of God. We read, “But we have the mind of Christ.” We have been granted to know the thoughts of our Lord through the Word and through the Spirit. Speaking of the Jews who did not see the glory of God because of the hardness of their hearts we read in 2 Corinthians, “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:14–18, NASB95)

“But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” These are incredible words of truth and hope. We have been enabled to see the glory of the Lord and we have the privilege of being transformed into His image. These are the two camps, and it is Christ who makes the difference. You either belong to Christ or you don’t. There is no in-between.

Our objective as believers in Christ is maturity in Him, and maturity in Him comes as we look to Him as the center of our lives. According to the little booklet (Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life? Or, what we called the “Bird Book” because of the dove on the cover.) we used with people who were new in their faith, some of the things that mark the spiritual person are “Christ-centered; empowered by the Holy Spirit; introduces others to Christ; effective prayer life; understands God’s Word; trusts and obeys God; experiences love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control.” The booklet went on to add, “The degree to which these traits are manifested in the life depends upon the extent to which the Christian trusts the Lord with every detail of his life, and upon his maturity in Christ. One who is only beginning to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit should not be discouraged if he is not as fruitful as more mature Christians who have known and experienced this truth for a longer period.” (

It then went on to ask this question, “Why is it that most Christians are not experiencing the abundant life?” It is this very issue that the booklet next sought to address and the one which we will look at in our next post as we move to chapter 3.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Taught by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–13, NASB95)

Yep. I know. I already jumped into this in the last post and could have easily included these verses. But, the richness of this truth is so absolutely incredible that its merits not one post, but hundreds and hundreds of them as we look into the Word of God in its entirety and discover how He has revealed Himself to us and are blessed by the understanding of those words by the very Spirit of God in us.

Looking to all of God’s creation, the depths of our hearts, and the infiniteness of our LORD, the Spirit has searched all of these things and made them known to us. This is an amazing gift we have been given by God that He would choose to reveal Himself to us so freely. Man has written lots of books. He has speculated into all sorts of areas. And, he has boasted in great knowledge and astounding discoveries. But all of these things pale in relation to what the Spirit knows and has revealed.

I am reminded again of the first verses of Psalm 139 where we read of just how intimately God knows us, and to think that the Spirit of God being fully God and knowing everything of God has revealed God to us. “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:1–6, NASB95) Then in verse 7 the psalmist added, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7, NASB95) We cannot flee from the view of Spirit and the Spirit cannot separate from the Father or the Son.

Between God and us is the Spirit of God. When we trusted in Christ and were saved we received from God the Spirit of God to be in us. What an inedible connection God has established with us!! Where once we were in darkness and connected with the spirit of the world as slaves to sin, now we have been given the true Light in Christ and the Spirit of God to enable us to see and treasure what the world cannot. With all of this comes the things that God freely gives us, just as we were so freely given our salvation in His Son. By grace we are saved and according to His continued gifts of grace we walk and grow.

We are no longer bound to the speculation and teaching of man who is limited in what he can know and discover in darkness. We have as our teacher the Spirit of God who has moved Men of God to record the Word of God. “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21, NASB95) And, we have the Creator of light to shed light on all that we face in our lives. Oh, what an incredible gift we have in us. We hide the word of God in our hearts so that we can then think the thoughts of the Spirit working in us. “Blessed are You, O Lord; Teach me Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:12, NASB95)

Paul wrote, “but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” In the English Standard Version we read, “…interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” The words “combining” and “interpreting” come from the Greek word used, “synkrinontes” or “synkrinō.” This sounds very much like another word we use today—synchronize. When gears are put in motion it is important that each gear wheel is in sync or comes together smoothly with the other wheels. If the cogs do not match up then the whole machine can come to a stop or cause teeth to be busted off. This word has the meaning of bringing things or truths in line with each other or into a union.

This is what the Spirit does for us as the Spirit helps us to think in oneness with the wise words of God. Through this the wisdom of God is imparted to us such that we can walk according to the will of God. It is this wisdom that Paul wrote was imparted and which we are to impart to each other. It is the wisdom that comes from growing in understanding of God’s word such that we think wisely about how to walk in it. It is then that the word truly does become, “…a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path.” (Psalm 119:105, NASB95) 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Speaking Wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-10)

“Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–10, NASB95)

For those who might have stopped with the previous verses and mocked Christians for being simple, Paul responded by adding that there is a time and a place for speaking “wisdom” or in more depth about God and His way for us. Paul uses the word “mature” which is the Greek word “teleios,” and it means being perfected, having come to maturity, completed, or of full age. It includes the idea of having grown or growing, which specifically here refers to one having been saved and now growing in Christ. In other words, the right words from God are to be spoken at the right time. James wrote of this maturity coming to us as a result of us having grown in our understanding and faith in God as we have seen Him bring us through various trials over the course of our lives. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect [teleios] and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)

Paul said the wisdom that we learn as believers is not the same as that of man apart from God; “…a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away….” These men are perishing, and they don’t have a clue what God really has to say. The prophet Isaiah wrote of this difference, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NASB95)

As we look around us it is very easy to see how man scoffs at the things we know of God. Some ridicule our prayers and try to block us praying in the public arenas. The reading of His Word has been banished from our schools. The Ten Commandments have been removed from many public buildings, and crosses even taken down on public and semi-public lands. Marriage has been altered from His plan. The killing of preborn babies has not only been allowed by our courts, but now is even being pursued as a right that must be paid for by others. Sexual and human identity is being redefined to that of preference over clear biological distinction according to His design. Christians in business are being denied the right to live according to the ways of God in their own companies, and people are being forced out of positions because of their closely held faith. Clearly, man’s ways are not God’s ways, and in this country where much of its structure and rules were once based upon biblical principles we’ve seen a radical change in direction as man’s ways have increasingly pushed God’s ways out of the fabric of our nation.

Many who do not know Christ and embrace His Word as truth view those of us who do as fools. But Scripture tells a different story, which in the end will prove to be the true story. The fools are those who think they call the shots and who think they have no need of God and do not heed His ways. These are the ones who will one day bow before Him in judgment. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him [Jesus Christ], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, NASB95)

But even among Christians, there are those who are influenced by this movement of culture and who have been deluded in much that Scripture has to say. There are those whose lives do not reflect the kind of growth in Christ that Scripture speaks of, and even give others cause to wonder if they are truly saved. And, there are those who’ve jumped onto the slippery slope of viewing the word of God as advisory rather and inspired and who pick and choose which principles of Scripture they want to hold for today. Surely, there are some in this group who call themselves “Christians” who probably are not, and who one day will be revealed as such. But, there are also those who have been deceived as they sit under errant teaching as was looked at in our walk through 2 Peter. The reality is that we probably cannot know who is who here. We can only respond to what we see and encourage each other to grow in the truth or the wise teaching of Scripture, and where there is no growth we can pray that the Spirit would intervene and soften hearts. 

It is in this very place that Paul finds many in the church at Corinth and it is to them that much of this letter is written. Ultimately, we know that just as it is God who called us to Him through the free gift of salvation in His Son; it is God who will bring each of us to Himself in glory. In the next chapter Paul wrote of the assurance we have despite the things we’ve done, remembering that our salvation is found in Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified. “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 3:15, NASB95)

Paul went on to write, “…but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood….” God’s wisdom is not a huge mystery to us (though we all have much to learn), but to those who don’t know God it is. Through His prophets God had foretold the coming of Christ, but the rulers of His day did not understand them. If they had, they surely would not have done with Him what they did, which was to crucify the very One sent to save them from their sins. Being blind to the truth, they “crucified the Lord of glory.” Even them not understanding was prophesied hundreds of years in advance. 

But for those who did listen, Paul quoted another passage from the prophets. “For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him. You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways….” (Isaiah 64:4–5a, NASB95) Isaiah wrote that God meets the one who rejoices in doing righteousness and who remembers Him and His ways. God has revealed Himself to us through His Word as given to us by men moved by the Spirit. It is also the Spirit who opens our eyes to see and understand those same words today. He added, “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” The Spirit is God always present and full of all knowledge, who knows the will of the Father and who indwells every single believer. This is a pretty amazing thing. God resides in us in the person of the Spirit, and the Spirit helps us to understand the very things that God has revealed through the authors that He has chosen to give us His Word.

Knowing the presence of the Spirit in believers and the absence of the Spirt in unbelievers we should not be surprised when we come up against opposition and those who look upon us as fools. The truth is really this—they don’t get it, and because of that they lash out. What they know is life apart from God and being enslaved to sin as they taste the benefit in varying degrees of God’s influence through His people in the world. When that influence wains, the darkness surely grows. God has given us so much. As we grow in Him we in turn have much to offer to one another in the body and also to others as we live before them in this dark and desperately needy world.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, NASB95)

Still in the theme of the simplicity of the gospel message of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” Paul draws them back to the example of his own coming to them. This comment takes us to the starting point, the time when they heard the truth about salvation in Christ from Paul. Though Paul surely taught believers after their salvation, prior to their salvation all that matter was this central message. It was as a result of the impact of Christ saving them that the riches of all that Paul had to share about God was to be unfolded for them. We will see this distinction developed more clearly as we move to some hard words found at the beginning of chapter 3.

Paul had already pointed to the divisions and even arguing among the Corinthian believers as factions had developed and people had aligned themselves with others who had brought the truth to them (even without the awareness of those to whom they were aligned). Paul did not come to set up a camp of Paulites. He did not come and immediately unload the dump truck of all that he knew about God to impress people with his superior knowledge, nor did he reason extensively with them to impress them with inarguable logic. He said that he “determined” or he made a purposeful effort to make the sole message at that time among them to be “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

He told them of his own personal state at the time. He was “in weakness.” He had already been beaten and imprisoned. He knew his own frailties and inabilities. He knew that what he was given to do was not something that he could do in his own strength. He was not powerful enough to accomplish what God had given him to do. He said that he was “in fear.” It can be a fearful thing knowing the harsh and even violent resistance that you would encounter, especially after having encountered it elsewhere. Imagine even the fleeting though that you have the eternal souls of everyone you meet resting on your shoulders. This can be a fearful thing as you contemplate the possibility of failure. Humanly speaking there was much for him to fear, and it was with that awareness that Paul came to them in “much trembling.” Any of these things could surely turn anyone away, except for them possessing a confidence that goes far beyond the individual.

Paul stated that his “message” and his “preaching were not in persuasive words.” He knew that what he had to say on his own was not God’s way to convince anyone. Their response was not to rest on his ability to sway them through the most reasoned message or the most charismatically moving preaching, but on the simple truth as God moved men’s hearts. Paul knew that he did not come to them in his own power, but in the power of God. He wrote that the real moving in the message was “in [the] demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [their] faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Countless people have been led astray by glitz, glamor, and flashy speech. But Paul knew that it was the power of the Spirit working in the hearts of men that would really demonstrate the power of the gospel to bring men to salvation (Romans 1:16).

Paul demonstrated further his vulnerability in Ephesians chapter 6 after speaking about how we have all been spiritually equipped for battle, by asking that the Ephesians believers pray for him. He wrote, “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:19–20, NASB95)

And, the same is true for us. Understanding that we all might approach sharing the truth with others with a realization of weakness, sensing fear and maybe even trembling, we can be encouraged by the example of Paul. The same Spirit works today to open the eyes of people who opened the eyes of these believers in Corinth. It doesn’t depend on us getting everything exactly right or in presenting it in the smoothest way, but in us being willing to trust God as we share the simple truth that we know about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Years ago, while I was in college I had the privilege of being involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, and I can still vividly remember the first time that I went up to a person by myself to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. The person did not believe at that time, and I don’t know if he ever did. While his decision at some point has eternal consequences, that was not the reason that I remember it still today. I remember it because despite my fear and my uncertainty of how I was going to do, I shook off my resistance and went up to him and asked Him if I could speak with him for a few minutes about a booklet I had in my hand. What made the difference was a biblical principle of Campus Crusade taught to me by the person who discipled me, “Success in witnessing is simply sharing Christ in the power of the holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” This was the method used by Paul, and it works because God is powerful to bring to Himself those whom He has called.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

By His Doing (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but 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.”” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31, NASB95)

I don’t know about you, but decades later I can remember standing in lines as two team captains chose alternately members of their teams. While there was a season later when I was chosen quickly for some things, there were definitely those times when I stood there for what seemed like an eternity as others were chosen before me. I struggled with this image and with not being the best for a long time, and even still when I seem to be left behind those same struggles rise up once again. I find myself asking, “Why not me?”

But, I am so thankful that I went to church with a friend on the first Sunday of November in 1974. It was there that I learned that there was a God who knew absolutely everything there was about me from my darkest secret to my greatest hope. He knew my strengths and my weaknesses. He knew the words and thoughts I had, and He knew the ones that I still did not know. I learned that God loved me, and more than that, He formed me in my mother’s womb. When I thought I was small, He knew what He was going to do with my life. And, where I thought myself to be some big deal, I realized just how small it was in the light of His great power (Psalm 139).

I love this passage of 1 Corinthians because it challenges me to consider not only my calling, but also what He called me from and to consider what unlimited things He can do in me when I trust in Him. We read that there are not many people who are big in their own wisdom, who possess strength according to this world’s ways (according to the flesh), or who were well placed as nobility (in high places). Notice that it says, “not many.” Most people are not recognized by the world in this way. Most of us are found much further down on the rungs of the ladder of our society.

But for those who are highly regarded by man, there is more of a tendency for them to be prideful and for their arrogance to get in the way. People can be so big in themselves that they make no room for accepting that God is bigger. As I thought of this I thought of the rich man who turned away from Jesus in Matthew 19 because He did not consider Christ worthy of selling off all of His riches. This is not about buying into salvation, but more a demonstration of the struggle among some to hold onto what they have and their unwillingness to trust. Jesus went on to say to His disciples right after this, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”” (Matthew 19:23–24, NASB95) His disciples then questioned Him about this seemingly high bar for salvation, to which Jesus responded, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NASB95) What seems like an unsurmountable barrier to man only opens the door for the great grace of God to prove totally effective. There was nothing really that this man could do to earn His salvation, but God could, and did do exactly what was needed.

Over and over in these verses we read “not many,” but there is One who is Jesus Christ who makes the difference in this few and the many others who are called and chosen by God. We read that His wisdom has been shown to those who are the most common and vulnerable, who maybe are looked over the top of by others. In this we must also realize that “not many” goes both ways. There are those on the other end of the scale who hearts might be similarly hard and eyes blind. But the problem of elitism and lack of need rests predominantly with the well regarded and placed. Over all of these, though, is the mighty power of God to soften hearts. Consider even the author of this letter who by his own testimony was among the most well-placed and educated among the Jews, and Jesus stopped him in his tracks on the way to persecute followers of the risen Christ. And for everyone who has been saved, regardless of where they are on any scale of man, they all share the same foundation in that they were hopelessly lost and only saved by the great grace of God apart from any wisdom, wealth or works.

God has turned the whole merit system of man on its head. God’s wisdom runs contrary to that of man, and those who receive His salvation testify to how vast and unmeasurable His wisdom and ways truly are. Those who are saved have absolutely nothing to boast about other than God Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ given for us. God has opened our eyes to His truths. He has enlightened us with His wisdom, and all of these surpass the ways of man. Nothing that man has to offer can bring salvation and life. But God is not only the creator of life, He is also the saver of souls and the giver back of life eternal to people who were bent on doing things their own way apart from God and even against God.

We read, “But by His doing [we] 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.”” God revealed Himself to us in His Son who became man so that me might know Him and see His great power of salvation demonstrated for us.

Jesus became our righteousness. Every single one of us was lost in sin. We were spiritually dead and eternally judged to Hell with Satan and his cohorts. There was no hope for us. But Jesus came and shed His blood to pay the penalty for our sins. His perfect righteousness was put upon us at the moment of our salvation. All of our sins were washed away by His sacrifice on our behalf. He paid the penalty for our sins and through Him we have been redeemed. We have been justified fully in God’s court, and in the Lamb’s book our names are found. Jesus is our sanctification. In Christ we are made day by day to look more like Him and to reflect His perfect righteousness. As we grow in Christ we demonstrate or prove that God’s salvation is real. And, as we look to the future we do so with the great hope that we will be presented before Him perfected in glory proving beyond our doubt His redemption power.

This is the difference Christ makes in us, and we have a lot to boast about in Him and what He has done and is doing in us as we learn more and more of Him every day. Paul said that the gospel message is very simple. It is so simple that it confounds those who try to complicate it while being grasped with gratitude by those who embrace its profound truth.

It is all “by His doing.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Open Eyes and Soft Hearts (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, NASB95)

For some people there is no satisfactory answer to, “Prove it!” I went to an online dictionary to look at the common American meanings of the word “proof” and found a long list of meanings. Some of them I set aside because they dealt with the percentage of an item in a product such as metal or alcohol. But even there I thought about not being so quick to set them aside because that percentage might in reality reflect the relative percentage that man applies in his own mind when “proofs” are given. In the metal or the alcohol or even in mathematics the proofs can be calculated with a significant certainty. But once we step away from some of these we find that the acknowledgement of “proofs” tend to rest more in the view of the person receiving them than the person making them.

Consider for example a court case, where in a legal sense the word “proof” means “all the facts, admissions, and conclusions drawn from evidence which together operate to determine a verdict or judgment” (Collins Dictionary online). Notice that the proofs presented are used to determine a conclusion concerning guilt. There have been countless cases in the history of our judicial system where to most of us the evidence for or against someone might seem overwhelming, but the jury has decided contrary to how we think it really should have gone. For these jurors there was either some fact or possibly even more likely some bias that colored their opinion. Is there ever 100% incontrovertible evidence that demands that everyone who sees or hears the facts must agree with them as absolute proof? Our culture has grasped onto this in a big way, and the tendency to question “proofs” and to speculate something else unseen has become rampant, leaving many shaking their heads in the wake.

Paul wrote, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom….” For these people, there was not going to be enough proof. In the history of the people of Israel, God had a long track record of proving Himself through miraculous works. A big one, which is represented in the beginning of their religious year, is the Feast of Unleavened Bread when YHWH (G_d, Yahweh, the LORD) set His people free from Israel. But when Christ stood before them and performed miraculous works in front of their very eyes only some of them believed, while the rest took Him to the cross. For these hardhearted people who wanted something else, there were not going to be enough signs.

The Greeks, on the other hand, who were big in their own philosophies and cult practices were used to a preponderance of deities and competing thoughts. For them, the discussion and the collection of wisdom could even be seen more as an issue of pride than the legitimate seeking to grow in understanding. Consider the parenthetical words of Acts 17:21 just before Paul speaks to the men of Athens in the midst of the Areopagus, “(Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)” (Acts 17:21, NASB95) In speaking to them about their “UNKNOWN GOD” who they worshipped in ignorance, we read, ““Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”” (Acts 17:30–32, NASB95)

Paul preached the simple straightforward truth of the gospel. He preached Christ crucified and resurrected. When Jesus was requested by scribes and Pharisees to prove Himself by showing them a sign, Jesus answered them saying, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. “The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:39–42, NASB95)

Sings and words were not going to be enough for the Jews and the Greeks or anyone else. There was only one proof spoken of that would be adequate, and that is the message of the crucifixion of Christ and the great proof of its veracity through His bodily resurrection. This is what Paul preached because he knew that it was the only message that being believed would bring salvation to man. And, this message carried with it the greatest proof that would ever be given—the resurrection of Christ. It was this message that Paul used to bring this letter to the Corinthians to an end. It is that important.

Jumping ahead again to chapter 15 we read, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, NASB95)

There was enough proof and information for someone to hear, believe, and be saved. But we read that for the Jews these proofs were a stumbling block and for the Greeks they were foolishness. The problem is not in the proof, but in the heart of the juror who has ruled differently. It was in response to this that Paul added, “but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, “Christ crucified” is “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

What seems so foolish to those who are lost is the greatest truth concerning God that man can ever know. I am so thankful to God for opening my eyes to see and softening my heart to hear.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”” (Romans 1:16–17, NASB95)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Salvation in the Simple Truth (1 Corinthians 1:19-21)

“For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 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 1:19–21, NASB95)

Have you ever tried to make things more complicated than they really are? I think we all have at times, and I think we’ve all shaken our heads as we’ve walked away from conversations of misunderstanding when others have done the same toward us. When we receive a gift, it is so common for us to try to justify in our minds a reason that we might have warranted such a gift. It is really hard for most of us to accept that we might receive something without any merit on our part simply because the giver loved us and chose to act so graciously toward us.

We like our systems of how things should work. We like to be able to see, touch, reason, and devise. We like to think that things were our idea. Yes, I thought about using a less general term than “we,” but I think the reality that we all struggle with is that we have our desires and our preferred ways, and those desires do not always match up with the desires and the ways of God. This is something that we as Christians struggle with, and why verses like Proverbs 3:5-7 are so important to our lives. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5–7, NASB95)

Speaking of man apart from God, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.” Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?” (Isaiah 29:13–16, NASB95)

God is infinite in all ways. He exists outside of time and is in fact the creator of time. He exists outside of creation and all that is created comes from Him. His knowledge (including foreknowledge) is absolutely complete. His plans are unwavering, and His wisdom to execute them is unbounded. On the other hand, we see, we reason, and we speculate being extremely limited in all areas. And yet, man apart from God lives as if He were the one calling the shots. We read in this passage from Isaiah that it is as if man turns things around and makes himself as the clay equal with the potter who formed it. Oh, the arrogance and the complete lack of understanding. God is God, and He has graciously revealed Himself to us. We are not to set aside reason, but what we are to set aside is the foolish pride that blocks our hears from seeing the great works that God has revealed to us and the reason that He has given us for Him doing so as we acknowledge Him and look to His ways for us.

Paul wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Earlier Isaiah wrote, “The princes of Zoan are mere fools; the advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers has become stupid. How can you men say to Pharaoh, “I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings”? Well then, where are your wise men? Please let them tell you, and let them understand what the Lord of hosts Has purposed against Egypt. The princes of Zoan have acted foolishly, the princes of Memphis are deluded; those who are the cornerstone of her tribes have led Egypt astray. The Lord has mixed within her a spirit of distortion; they have led Egypt astray in all that it does, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. There will be no work for Egypt which its head or tail, its palm branch or bulrush, may do.” (Isaiah 19:11–15, NASB95) Wow, “as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.” These are pretty strong words of condemnation for those who professed to be the wisest men in their land. Their wisdom proved to be foolish in giving direction, and Isaiah said that the leaders had become “mere fools” and their wisest advisers “stupid.”

And the reality is that nothing has changed. It hadn’t changed when Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the religious leaders of His day, and it hasn’t changed today when we see the leaders and thinkers of our land mocking God and claiming to know a better way. Fools and stupid people still exist, and what makes them this way is their refusal to look to God and heed His infinitely wise, inspired in origin, and unfailing in argument Word.

Paul went on to add, “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.” God made Himself known to us. We did not find Him. The wisdom of man is shrouded in spiritual darkness, and it is the Light who shone on us so that we might come to known, understand, and believe. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for the magnificent discovery of God, but we can surely bow in worship and gratitude for Him having shown Himself to us and for giving us the great gift of forgiveness and life in His Son.

“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9–14, NASB95)

There is salvation in this simple truth. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Word of the Cross is Powerful (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NASB95)

This has been a very interesting year in our country. The social and political climate has become very toxic, particularly towards Christianity and most recently even prayer. We’ve seen legislators in our country ridicule and try to disqualify federal judicial candidates because of their faith, claiming them to be too radical. And, this past week in the aftermath of the shooting of a church full of believers in Texas, we’ve seen many of the same legislators and others in the entertainment industry mock the prayers of the hurting and even other legislators who gather to lift them in prayer. Whether or not gun control should be tightened is a Constitutional rights and wisdom issue. We can try to take steps to reign in the actions of evil, but we cannot legislate a change of heart. Our country has moved more and more toward ostracizing God from the public environment, and those who stand for their faith are finding more and more that they are also being ostracized as well as being ridiculed and even hindered in their involvement and engagement. Laws can change. Courts can rule. Businesses can implement policies. Schools can teach anti-biblical values and untruths, but not one of these things will ever prove effective in excising the evil inside of man.

While these people are reviling believers as fools, the world around them is falling apart because of their hardness of heart and blindness toward truth. Rather than embracing the only hope for man who is Jesus Christ, they point to those of us who trust in Him and call us the fools. But they’ve got it so backwards.

Paul wrote that the “word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Probably one of the strongest statements expanding on this is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18–25, NASB95)

Every man has a core of understanding of God and His creation, but we read here that there are those who have chosen to suppress that understanding for their own agendas. There is so much of God that can be clearly seen, but many refuse to even look. We read that they are without excuse, and so would we be except for God shining His light into our hearts such that we trusted in His Son, Jesus Christ for our salvation. But their blatant rejection of the knowledge of God in favor of their own thoughts and desires has led to their “foolish” hearts being darkened. Paul wrote of them, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” And then later he wrote, “Therefore God gave them over….”

The simple truth is that these people who lash out at Christians are blinded fools when it comes to God and His truths. They’ve indeed “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Living as if they had full control, or as if God would wink at their choices, or even that God does not exist is all foolishness no matter how “well intentioned” they might seem or claim to be. They are spiritually bankrupt, and they can’t see it.

In 2 Corinthians Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6, NASB95)

There is a huge difference between believers and unbelievers. For us as believers to lose our ball in the weeds arguing about peripheral issues really distracts from the central truth that binds us together as well as expresses the most critical central truth to others. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It is for that reason that the cross needs to be our central message outside the church. In 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 Paul wrote that since the gospel is veiled to these people, we also need to be people who are used by God to reflect the light of the truth of His Son so that the veil over their eyes might be lifted and their eyes opened. Verse 6 is the truth that saved us, and it is the same truth that will bring salvation to others. “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Yes, we live in difficult times. We are being mocked because of our allegiance to Christ. Our prayers are being chastised as being futile against the evils of man. God is being reviled as distant, disconnected, and even non-existent. All of these things are the reality of our times. But they are not the truth in which we place our hope. They are the foolish words and actions of blind people. But the power of God for salvation is more powerful than the darkest dark. But, “…to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NASB95) 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Gospel is Central (1 Corinthians 1:12-17)

“Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” (1 Corinthians 1:12–17, NASB95)

Factions tear apart. This is a foundational reality in all of man’s relationships. When things come between us we can easily be tempted to focus more on the thing that divides than on all that knits us together. This is true in marriage, friendships, work environments, politics, morals, and the church. At the time of Paul’s writing the church was still young. The New Testament Word of God and all that we know of Christ and how we are to function as believers was still being spread by direct teaching, word of mouth spread from one to another, or from letters like this one being shared.

As a result, there might not have been 100% agreement in what some of the early church leaders were teaching or who they were looking to for their information. Some may have come to Christ under the ministry of Paul and had the privilege of sitting under his teaching for a season. Others may have heard from Apollos, who only had limited understanding. We read about this in Acts as we also see how humble and teachable he was. “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24–28, NASB95)

But in the next chapter we also see that there were some believers who had heard from Apollos, likely before Apollos had been instructed by Priscilla and Aquila, and who were incomplete in their understanding some things. “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:1–5, NASB95) Right there in Corinth there were those who may not even have herd that the Holy Spirit existed. John the Baptist had died before Christ went to the cross. What Apollos had learned was not wrong in that sense, but it was incomplete. Paul helped them to complete the picture, because Christ has truly come and brought salvation to man.

And then there was Cephas. Peter himself grew in his understanding of Christ bringing salvation to all of mankind. We read about this in Acts chapter 10, where after a vision we read: “Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”” (Acts 10:34–43, NASB95)

Then there might have been those who were personal witnesses of Christ, and who said, “I am of Christ.” Paul’s answer to all of them was the same. “Has Christ been divided?” The body of Christ—the church—is not divided based upon who personally told you about Him. There is no distinction among believers. All who have trusted in Christ for their salvation are one in Christ, and there are to be no divided loyalties. Paul refuted anyone putting even himself above any of the others. They all belonged to Christ, and it was Christ in whom they were to be unified.

This passage is not a statement for or against these men or even water baptism, but rather it is one against the loyalties that may have been associated with that baptism or any other faction. Regardless of the baptizer, we are all knit together in the Holy Spirit. Rather than emphasizing baptism or who did it, Paul retuned to the priority of his calling which was, “…to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”

I am a member of a Baptist affiliated church. We hold in our doctrinal statement a very particular statement concerning baptism and communion as ordinances for believers. Not all churches agree with the position we hold. While these positions can be between us of different Bible believing churches a matter of study and discussion, we understand foremost that these ordinances are responses to our salvation and not a condition of salvation. I am free to walk with and serve alongside other believers who understand these a bit differently, but within the church of which I am a member this is our position. In order to clarify and preserve the unity of the fellowship, we spell this out in our Doctrinal Statement as a biblical principle under which we operate.

The Corinthian church had not come to terms with the distinctives of the teaching they had received, and those distinctives had grown into factions and even quarreling. This is not as it should be. When my wife and I first moved to Grants Pass and were deciding on a church home, we looked first at these things knowing that unity was critical to the health of the local church. And, when I have worked outside the church with other believers I have striven to keep central that oneness that we have in Christ and secondarily consider how I can best walk or work with them in the other things. Most of the time it has worked out very well. Sound teaching and doctrine are essential. We don’t need to compromise our understanding of the Word to walk well with other believers as we always hold first and foremost that salvation in Christ alone is central to the gospel message.

The gospel message is really not that complicated. Later in this letter Paul would write, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, NASB95) This is the central message. Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. This is the great truth that we know, and it is the absolute primary truth that is very simple to share.