Friday, February 23, 2018

Keeping People in Perspective (1 Corinthians 4:6)

“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.” (1 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)

What things? From the beginning of the letter the major issue has been the Corinthian believer’s loyalties and boasting in their previous spiritual fathers, pastors and teachers. And from those who were mentioned, these believers had been exposed to some very well-known ones, some of whom were considered fathers of the church as God’s appointed apostles. They had learned from what they would call “the best,” and this was precisely what was at the heart of their problem. Having focused so much of their attention on the varied loyalties that they had to a particular leader who had had the most influence, they appeared to spend a great deal of time arguing over the leader and not the common gospel they taught.

“These things” which Paul had spoken of regarding humility and service to God as His fellow builders had been applied to all these men in this letter. He applied them to himself and to Apollos for their benefit. Neither man was in position to go to them at the time of the letter, so Paul wrote on behalf of both to speak to the heart of the issues which they were having as a church. And, with their strong disagreement over who they were following, it appeared that these Corinthian believers were going nowhere following none of them. It was as if they were standing on the sidelines of the field arguing over their coaches and not entering the game.

Paul wrote about the perspective that he had concerning his role in ministry, and he was writing to encourage believers to keep that same perspective. There was to be no “he is the man” in their lives. Paul understood this form of adulation. He even testified to it before the rulers of the land, and he encouraged the Philippian believers in humility pointing to the change that Christ had made. We read, “… If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:4–8, NASB95)

Instead of standing on his previous credentials, Paul counted them “rubbish” to gain Christ. In his introduction to Romans Paul painted a new picture of how he identified himself. We read, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1, NASB95) First and foremost, Paul saw himself as a “bond-servant.” Jesus had paid the price for his sins and embraced him knowing all that he had done to persecute Christians. Paul understand the great gift of grace that had been given to him, and he knew that the greatest thing he could do was to give himself back to the One who had bought him at such a great price. In fact, he would write later in this Corinthian letter, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NASB95) And, “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:22–23, NASB95)

Then in the context of him being a bond-servant of Christ, Paul recognized that he had been given a special charge. He was called as an apostle. Though in the most general sense apostle means messenger, Paul was called in the more limited sense of an apostle like Peter, James, John and the others who were personally chosen by Christ to begin this great new work. But, Paul was also called different from them. It was not until after Christ ascension that He appeared to Paul and called him as an apostle to the rest of the world—the Gentiles. Paul who was the Jew of Jews, but also a Roman citizen, was sent to those who were the most far away from all that he knew and all that he thought he would be pursuing in the course of his life. Paul knew that he had been chosen and set apart to bring the message of the true gospel of God.

He did not deserve any of this. There was absolutely nothing in it for him or Apollos to boast, and in writing to the Corinthian believers he made it clear that they were not to argue over which man they followed, but having learned from them and others to then give themselves fully to continuing to grow in their knowledge of God who sent them all as messengers of the good news—the gospel of Christ.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Answerable to God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–5, NASB95)

There are some things regarding judgment that some misread into Scripture that encourage one in a false arrogance. The whole issue of us not being judged by others or becoming the judge of another has in many ways in our culture and even in our churches been taken to the extreme of not speaking against anything that anyone believes or does. I use the word “anything” because we have seen that line move so much. It is changing so far and so fast that we should not be surprised in the future when that line moved so far that it does not even remotely resemble the line of obedience to the word of God that we have embraced for so long even in our cultures. What is right among many today would have never been imagined as broadly acceptable in the past. Tolerance and even acceptance of these views has even infiltrated church speak and practice to the point that not being judgmental has now embraced to such a point that many Christians are accepting the cultural line and not deeply looking to the God-breathed, trustworthy, inerrant and practical for all areas of life Word of God for its sound biblical judgment.

Paul recognized that His judge was God, and it was God who directed his thoughts and set his standard for obedience to the faith. It’s not that he walked with a blatant disregard for others or that he was arrogant in having arrived and was above those he walked beside. He knew that the standard setter for him and all other believers was God and His revealed Word. It was by Christ that he was made an apostle and through God that he penned much of what we know we as Christians and His church are to think, speak, and function.

Paul knew what it was to stand before the courts of men, and even as he would eventually wind up in Rome he would experience the reality of this even more. And, from his life recorded for us in 2 Corinthians we can see that he indeed did stand firmly on his testimony in Christ before the highest courts in the land.

Paul was not perfect, but he also wrote for us here that he believed that he kept a clear conscience before God. We see him encourage Timothy in this in writing to him about the ministry he left Timothy behind to accomplish. “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB95) He was all about loving from a pure heart and a good conscience and an outworking of faith in God. Subsequently, any judgment of man paled in comparison to that which he held himself to before God.

Since he was moved to live rightly, when he did stumble in some way it is fully reasonable to assume that he also dealt with it quickly and rightly. Though he was not aware of any unconfessed sin or pattern in his life, he also acknowledged that he was submissive to God shedding light on those areas and I would believe even accepting of other godly believers pointing them out should it become evident. But even in this, he recognized that God was the One to whom he ultimately answered for all that he said or did. It is God alone who is the ultimate judge.

There are many amazing things about this truth. For instance, when we believed in Jesus Christ for our salvation we were truly saved and fully forgiven. We will never stand before God waiting to find out if we meet his standard for heaven. Jesus is that standard of perfection, and it is because of His shed blood that we are assured to be accepted by God. Also, considering where Paul had been, I am sure that he realized the amazing mercy and grace of God to take a man who was persecuting Christians and in so doing Christ and show him that same mercy and grace. The murderer was made to be a minister of grace to call people to salvation and obedience in Christ. Seeing how God worked here cements the realization that as long as a person is taking breath that it is not too late for them to be saved without regard to how “bad” or “evil” from our perspective they may have been. We have all fallen short of His glory, and yet He sent His Son for us.

It is in light of this that Paul did not see the examination of man to be a very big thing. He walked to a higher and more perfect standard and answered to God as the ultimate and final authority. In this context he encouraged the Corinthian believers to focus on Christ and His return, as they also walked rightly before God. This letter to them was itself one of reproof and correction with the hope that they would be so trained in righteousness that they would walk with each other before God in the same way that Paul had learned.

Abandoning encouraging one another to live godly lives is not what these verses are all about. They are about us encouraging and not condemning of one another while we encourage each other to walk to the higher standard that God has set. The way we do this is to look to Christ, hide the Word of God in our hearts, and encourage others in doing likewise as we “make disciples” who are careful how we walk. This is what we read in passages such as Psalm 119:11; Matthew 28:18-20; and Ephesians chapter 5.

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95)

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB95)

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15–21, NASB95)

Then when that day does come, Paul wrote, “each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Trustworthy Stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2, NASB95)

Having written about how they were not to regard men such as himself, Apollos and Cephas, Paul now instructs the Corinthians believers as to how they are to regard him and them. In this we see three things: servants, stewards, and trustworthy. John MacArthur in his study Bible wrote in the notes, “Paul wanted everyone to view him and his fellow ministers only as the humble messengers that God ordained them to be.”

First as servants of Christ, they knew both who their head was and from whom it was that they received marching orders and their direction in fulfilling those orders. They were first and foremost Christ’s servants. They were there to do what He had set apart for them to do. The word “servants” in Greek is “hyp─ôretas. It is a compound word that can be broken down to look at its parts and then put back together to look at its fuller meaning. The first part deriving from the word “hupo” which means “under” and a derivative of the word “eresso” which is not used by itself in Scripture but means “to row.” These men were Christ’s “under-rowers.” They were there to do as he instructed, just as the pilot of a large ship would command those who were conscripted to remain below the deck and row the boat. From this we sense a great amount of humility. To be an under-rower on a ship was not a place of prestige, but something reserved for those who were among the lowliest. And, carrying this term into other usage came with it the understanding that you were always there at the service of another. For them their lord was Christ, and it was His boat that they were called to row.

As the appointed servants charged to move His ship along, they were also entrusted with a great treasure to bring along with them. They were made “stewards of the mysteries of God.” The word “stewards” is itself another compound descriptive Greek word (oikonomos), where the word “oikos” means house or household and the word “nomos” means anything that is established such as laws, customs, commands, and rules. In other words the normal function or ways of the house. A steward was one charged with the responsibility of his master’s household or some other possession.

And the possession with which they were entrusted was the “mysteries of God.” Earlier in chapter 2, Paul wrote, “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;” … “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:7, 10, NASB95) The prophets had spoken, but man did not understand. With the coming of Christ these darkened doors were opened, and the men were shown these hidden treasures or mysteries which they entrusted with to share with others. These mysteries are the revealed word of God and particularly the unfolding of our New Testament as these men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak His truth (2 Peter 1:21). They were made its overseers and dispensers.

With their placement under Christ with the charge of His word, they were then expected to be trustworthy or faithful in their task. Our passage continues, “it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” The Greek word is “pistos,” and it has the meaning of being fully reliable. Humanly speaking, if you are under someone and you are entrusted with something of theirs then it is fully expected that you will be trustworthy in executing your charge. The servant was to be both loyal and obedient. He was depended upon to do what he was charged to do. He had proven himself faithful and was trustworthy to do as he was expected. All of these things are wrapped up in that word.

Responding to a question raised by Peter after Jesus telling a parable, Jesus said in Luke 12:42-48, “And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward (oikonomos), whom his master will put in charge of his servants (doulos), to give them their rations at the proper time? “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. “But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:42–48, NASB95)

In human terms, it expected of the servant/steward to be found faithful over those things for which he was charged. To not be found as such came at a cost. I am so thankful that our Lord has suffered the price of our sins and has taken the lashes for us. But it does not remove the responsibility that as His we are to be found faithful until such time that He comes again, or we are ushered into His presence by death. Paul had this attitude, and it is the attitude that we see declared throughout Scripture. And, for those who have not believed by faith and been saved, judgment surely does await unless they believe as well before that appointed date.

Paul began verse 2 with the word “moreover.” To be a servant or a steward is one thing, but unless you are faithful to the charge then the position serves little benefit and frequently leads to destruction and decay. In wrapping up today, I reflected on some of the commendations of Paul in his writings. I love how he commends such as of Epaphras and Tychicus in Colossians, “just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,” (Colossians 1:7, NASB95) And, “As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information.” (Colossians 4:7, NASB95)

“…moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” I can think of no greater honor than to have others say of me that I was faithful, and even more to hear the words in the presence of Christ my Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21 excerpt, ESV)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

To God be the Glory (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23, NASB95)

Whether its men in the church our outside the church, we are not to put our boasting in men. There are many wonderful people from whom I have learned and who I hold in high regard, but for the most part I think the real reason I do so is because of how they looked to Christ reflected His image, and then shared what they learned as His followers with me along the way. It is my hope that I would have a similar influence on others such that when they boast they boast in our Lord who has shown Himself in me.

Earlier in the letter Paul spoke to both the roles that he, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and others had in the building of the church as well as how there were divisions in the church because people had been wrongly looking to them and not to them as laborers in the construction of God’s building—them as His church. These men evidenced a humility in their attitude of service, recognizing that they were Christ’s bond-servants first and foremost, and that the credit and the glory go to Him. Sure, they recognized to some degree the impact that was being made and had even shared in the fruit of their labor, but none of them were the one’s to be put on a pedestal and fawned over.

At this time, I am with a bunch of believers in a time of consideration and preparation to come to them as their pastor for a window of time prescribed by God. There were men who came before me and there will be men after me. We are all His laborers in this building of His construction, and the field in which we serve has been and will be served by others just as the vast farm and ranch land surrounding has been done for generations. It is my hope that I would serve them and our Lord well.

As believers in Christ the work belongs to no man. It is shared by all who are called by God and who enter into the life of the local church. And, the boasting by any individual because of the fruit of this goes against the grain of how our Lord intends that His church should be as we share in His gifts and glory. We exist in this long continuum of being His body from the foundation of the apostles until such time that Christ returns, and He has given it to us as faithful stewards who belong fully to Christ the Son as He submits fully to the will of the Father.

Sure, it may look at times that Satan is in charge. But we are never to be fooled by appearance. Satan is the father of lies and those who do not know Christ are indeed at his beck and call. But Satan exists even now because the Father has allowed him to do so until such time that He sends His Son to bring it all to an end and final judgment occurs. But, we are to realize this, Satan was defeated at the cross. It was at the cross and through His resurrection that Christ conquered sin and death and brought life to all who believe. When we trust Christ for our salvation Satan is no longer our master. We belong to Christ. We are made righteous with His righteousness, and we are given the Spirit of God to seal, indwell, and work in our hearts and minds.

We are secure in Christ, and Jesus Christ is the real deal. He is and always has been God, who at the will of the Father as the Son took on the form of man to die for our sins, and who now sits at right hand of the Father to intercede on our behalf. We are Christ’s and as we read in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of Christ is God.” Jesus is fully God, and yet in the makeup of our God who is One manifest in three persons the Son submits to the Father. That is God’s order of things, and for us in the church the men who God places in leadership are there under the authority of Christ, and it is Christ who gets the glory as we all share together as His unified body, praising Him for what He has done in and through us.

To God be the glory, great things He hath done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice!
Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.
(To God Be the Glory, Frances J. Crosby, 1875)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fools Wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)

"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”” (1 Corinthians 3:18–20, NASB95)

We live in a world where it is common to be told how we should think, and we are even ostracized if we dare not think or speak in that same manner. In general, we all have a desire to be thought well of and to have something valuable to offer other people. In our passage for today, Paul is not speaking of this good innate desire, but rather he is speaking of the arrogance that we see and find so distasteful and for which we are to guard against in ourselves. Being on Facebook as a social media platform, I see all sorts of things posted, and it is not uncommon to see something posted by someone who is so forceful in their expression that they put down anyone who disagrees. This is particularly so when it comes to views on gender identity, relationships and politics. The bottom line is that every person has an opinion, and there is clearly a wide chasm generated when those opinions alienate people because of how strongly they attack or malign those who disagree. Without a standard of truth there is really nothing to say that any single viewpoint is either right or wrong. And, when speaking without a foundation we can easily see how foolish one person’s view seem in relation to ours.

In this passage today, we read that these “wise” people who espouse or advocate their positions further entrench themselves in their stance by their own words and the support of those who similarly agree. It becomes a self-feeding structure that reinforces itself by selectively hearing that which best supports their position. Things can even be called proven science or fact, when in reality it may be little more than a strongly held idea. become science when in fact science may indeed say something different or may even be itself silent. And, what is determined as scientific fact really at times is nothing more than a preponderance of people coming together to agree on what may really in scientific terms be nothing more than an unproven hypothesis indicated by a symptomology without a proven cause.

Many try to boast in themselves or their ideals. They can speak with authority, even be quite knowledgeable, and appear wise in what we say. But Paul says that this kind of wisdom has no eternal value. It won’t save anyone. The real way to find answers is to humble ourselves and listen to the One who is eternally existent and is in fact the Creator of all that exists. In simple terms, the way to become wise is to become as a fool in order to learn from the One who is infinitely wise. There is so much that we don’t understand and there are so many pieces that we cannot put together, but God is knows everything without limitation, and He has revealed Himself to us. There is nothing that man can bring to God to cause Him to learn. But for us to really learn, we need to go to Him and let Him teach us. We need to let our minds be absorbed in His truth and His Spirt become the counselor of our hearts.

In our passage for today we read, ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” Before Robin and I got married we had both been drawn to a particular passage of Scripture, which is Proverbs 3:5-6. And, it has been the principles of this passage that have been so much a part of our lives as we have walked together for 38 years through so many different things. It reads, “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.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95) Even now it is Him that we are heavily relying on as we are looking to the possibility of a move and the opening of an exciting and even intimidating new opportunity for ministry. There are many answers that we do not have but having it all figured out is not our standard for moving forward with God. What we are called to do is to seek Him for His leading and having that to step forward trusting Him to take care of the stepping stones along to way as He truly does direct our steps. He provides the principles by which we live. We then are to trust Him as we live by those principles and do what He has given us to do even making decisions that don’t have every “i” dotted or “t” crossed.

The world, however, does not work this way. We continue to read, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” The world schemes and walks according to its scheming. Man, apart from God, is about devising his own path and then figuring out ways to get to his desired end. The reality is that God knows the intent of every person’s heart, and He knows just how futile all of these intents are apart from Him. People may garner a great amount of wealth and admiration in the world, but one day they will die, and all of this will be gone. They will stand before God with absolutely nothing to offer because the reality is that their way might have helped them navigate this life, but it had no ability to bring them into His presence.

“But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God; Who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number. He gives rain on the earth and sends water on the fields, so that He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the plotting of the shrewd, so that their hands cannot attain success. He captures the wise by their own shrewdness, and the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted. By day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night. But He saves from the sword of their mouth, and the poor from the hand of the mighty. So the helpless has hope, and unrighteousness must shut its mouth.” (Job 5:8–16, NASB95)

“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7–9, NASB95)