Monday, April 30, 2018

Living Right in the Body (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” (1 Corinthians 5:9–13, NASB95)

In these verses Paul draws a line between those outside the church and those inside the church. There is an expected different standard of faith and practice between them, and we are to understand that in our dealings. Those who do not know Christ and make no pretense otherwise really should not surprise us when they do not live as one who does. If one does not follow after God, then it is reasonable to assume that they also will not obey God. This does not mean that they won’t be so-called good people from the world’s standard and that they won’t do measurable good on that level.

Paul describes this state and how it was changed in his letter to the Ephesians, where we read, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (Ephesians 2:1–5, NASB95)

Jesus Christ makes the difference in us who are saved by His grace. Knowing this we understand that there are many around us who have not undergone spiritual rebirth. It is among them that we live, and it is to them that we have been sent. We live in the world, and we are sent out into that same world as His ambassadors with the hope those we encounter will also be saved. So, Paul did not write to these Corinthians believers that they were to stay away from all unbelievers. To do this would thwart the purpose for which we are sent so that they might see Him in us and we might be able to share the hope that we have in us (1 Peter 3:15).

Ultimately God is their judge, just as it is His Spirit that works in their hearts for them to see and understand. In that sense, we are not their eternal judge and we are not their savior. This does not mean that in a civil or criminal sense that we are not to prosecute or even to sit as jurors and for some even as duly appointed judges. It also does not mean that we don’t’ speak for those things that are good and right in the world. All of this comes with us being a part of the world into which God has placed us knowing that all of this other stuff is second to His sending us into the world to make disciples who observe all that He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).

It is this part of His commission to us—the making disciples who observe or obey—that leads to the real focus of where Paul is addressing in these verses. He wrote, “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” In general, the Corinthian believers had not grown in their faith and they had not held one another to the need for that growth. It was the stuff that “so-called” brothers in the church were doing that Paul took issue with. They were allowing it to continue in their midst without taking any corrective action. These things were not to be tolerated as ongoing practices in the church. Sure, every single one of those believers, just as is true for us, sinned and continued to sin. It wasn’t coming up short in growth in Christ as they daily dealt with the sin in their lives and put things aside in favor of how God has called us to live. Instead, it was the continual practices without change or even a call to change that were the issue. Those who called themselves believers yet who held onto these current on-going practices were to be dealt with appropriately. It wasn’t a do it once more and you’re out of here issue as much as it was a lacking continual and sincere movement toward living according to God’s truth. It is this sincerity and truth that ended verse 8, and it was the lack of it that marked those who continued in their midst in open sin.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13–15, NASB95)

There is a process which we are to personally engage as we put off those behaviors that are not reflective of our identity in Christ and put on those that are based upon His word hidden in our hearts (Eph. 4:22-24 and Psalm 119:9, 11). There is also a process that goes beyond us to other believers which involves encouraging and admonishing one another, but which might ultimately lead to the kind of action we see in these verses today when Paul told them, “REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” (For more on this discipline process read Matthew 18:15-17 knowing that it was preceded by Jesus speaking to them about going and looking for the lost sheep so that it might be restored.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Cleaned to Live Clean (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6–8, NASB95)

Generally speaking, we think of leaven as a good thing. It is the leavening agent in bread that causes it to ferment and rise. Most commonly we use yeast in order to accomplish this. When it comes to breads like sourdough with its wild yeast starter they can be passed down from generation to generation as long as they are properly tended to. While there is no real record of the oldest starter, there is one that I read of that is over 122 years old which is kept in a refrigerator and re-fed every time its owner uses it. The small amount that she removes is then mixed with flour, sugar and water to make a dough for her bread. She then lets that dough sit for a couple of days, and then before using it she takes a portion of it and puts it back into her starter jar. In that time the amount that she took out, in order to make the dough, became so thoroughly permeated by the growing yeast that she was then able not only to make new bread but to re-feed and keep her old long-protected starter alive and well.

Looking back to the instructions given Israel for the Passover, they were to clean their homes and remove even the smallest portion of leaven. In the same way, leaven is used to refer to sin or in this case an individual engaged in persistent sin. Just as the leaven grows and ferments the entire loaf of bread causing it to rise, in verse 6 we see that their own harboring of this individual in their midst had led to their own swelling attitudes and the resulting boasting. The whole church was becoming infected, and Paul stepped in to take the drastic step of telling them to get him out of there.

The Corinthian believers were to become serious about the new life that they had been given resulting in their full and complete forgiveness of sin. This is who Christ made them to be, and this is how they were to responsively live. No longer were they slaves to sin. Its power over them had been broken at the cross. This is what we read when Paul wrote, “just as you are in fact unleavened.” This was a present condition statement that was to result in a life that reflected their current state.

Jesus Christ is the once and forever perfect Passover Lamb. No longer was an inferior sacrifice to be made. Jesus did it for us, and in Him we have been cleansed. We have become “unleavened.” We have been made righteous with His righteousness and set apart as His holy ones or saints (hagios). And, this truly is something to be celebrated, but not in the old ways that they celebrated and not doing those activities that they previously engaged in. We have not been set free in order to return to the muck. We have been set free to live free from that muck. We are made new creations in Christ to live purified of the old leaven as new unleavened loaves bursting at the edges of the pan of sincerity and truth.

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95) 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Do the Hard Things with Hope (1 Corinthians 5:1-5)

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:1–5, NASB95)

Having read and taught on this letter I know that there is a turning point, but these first chapters are so hard as we read verse after verse of things that were going on in Corinth that needed attention. These five verses are no exception when we read that there was open immorality going on in the church and they apparently did nothing about it. In fact, as we will see later in verse 9, Paul had written to them previously about this issue and apparently his words fell on deaf or intimidated ears.

Rather that shining the light of Christ on the world around them, at least one person in the church had been engaged in an open sexual relationship with his father’s wife. This was something that crossed every boundary, even that of the unbelieving world. And, the church (as a collective) had become so arrogant or puffed up (as we looked at last) that they seem to feel themselves immune from not only walking right before the world around them but God as well. They had seemingly become callous to sinful actions and rather than mourning this man and his actions they tolerated him and what he was doing in their midst.

This should not have been so. Instead, they should have gone to the man in an effort to correct him, and if the man did not repent they should have stepped up the efforts eventually leading to separating him form their fellowship. Not having done that, as an outsider Paul was now stepping in as an apostle sent by Christ to take action from a distance. While he could not physically deal with the man, he wrote, “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.” Then he charged them with, “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

What they did not do through their leadership as a local church, Paul stepped in as an apostle to the churches and put on them his authority to take the necessary action. When they got together after having read this letter they were, knowing that he was with them in spirt and according to the power of their (and ours) Lord Jesus Christ, take definitive action against the man. They were to deliver this man over to Satan to do to his flesh as he desired. But note, that this was a limited deliverance. God has only granted Satan limited power. He could not touch his spirit, but he could inflict great harm on his body and maybe even his physical life. But the power of salvation rests only with Christ, and it is hopeful that through the affliction that the man’s heart might be softened, his eyes opened, and he see the truth. Then, if he has not already been saved (as the wording seem to indicate), he would become saved such that he is received again in the church and one day joyfully meet Jesus face to face.

This passage has nothing to do with the man losing his salvation, but on limiting his damage to the fellowship by his open and blatantly wrong living. Jesus taught on this process in Matthew 18, where we read, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”” (Matthew 18:15–20, NASB95)

These believers were directed by Paul and empowered by Christ. Now it was up to them to take the action. We can hope that the man heard the rebuke, accepted the correction and returned. We don’t know who Paul later wrote about or if he was writing about anybody specific at all, but consider these words to the same group of believers found in 2 Corinthians chapter 2, “But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:5–11, NASB95)

The purpose of church discipline is multi-faceted. First, it is about protecting the flock and secondly, it is about the hopeful and eventual restoration of the believer. If it were one without the other, it would be very easy to forget about the balance between the truth and grace in which our Lord perfectly came. Grace without truth leaves the door open to people doing whatever they want to do and the erosion of the entire body. Truth without grace leads to a harshness that forgets that our Lord came to seek and to save those who were lost which includes every single one of us.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

No Room for Arrogance (1 Corinthians 4:18-21)

“Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:18–21, NASB95PARA)

In verse 6 Paul wrote that he had written to them so that none of them would be puffed up against another. Here he is addressing those who had gone past that. They had already become puffed up. The word translated here as “arrogant” is the same Greek word previously translated as “puffed up”, with “puffed up” or becoming inflated being more descriptive of what was happening. These people had an inflated view of themselves and they were pressing their views on others. It’s as if they took their pushed-out chests and forcibly backed others down.

The reason given that they felt free to do this is that they believed there was no one with any authority who would stand against them. In their eyes someone with the authority of Paul wasn’t going to return, and they were free to press their own views in their own ways. But Paul was not intending to let them continue in their bullying. It was his intention, if the Lord willed, that he would come and see for himself what was actually happening and deal with it firsthand. Then their real power, or lack thereof, would be revealed as their words gave way to the God-given authority of Paul who came in the power of Christ.

Words might seem powerful, but in reality, they are nothing compared to the power of God. Jesus did not come and talk a good show. He went to the cross, was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead. He proved that as “the Word” He had the power not only to forgive sins but to give life and direct the steps of those lives. These self-exalted believers were going to be brought face to face with the real power of God unless they changed.

It was their choice how they were going to be met by Paul at his coming. He could either come as their disciplinarian appointed as an apostle of Christ or as someone who loved them dearly and treated them gently. The amazing thing is that if they turned they would not have to answer for what they had done but for how they responded once having received this written reproof. If they continued in their haughtiness then they would be brought low, but if they accepted his correction, softened their hearts and walked rightly with one another then they would be met as brothers in Christ.

In the church this is probably the most difficult thing to deal with. When one person stands in open opposition it is the role of church leadership as shepherds and overseers to call them back to right walking before God and with one another. This does not mean that every disagreement is a matter for church discipline. What it does mean is that when one becomes openly and persistently disruptive, including the teaching of contrary doctrines, that the leadership is put in a place that some form of action needs to be pursued.

God’s desire for us is that we learn His truth and walk in it. When we see where we have gone off track, we are make the effort to get back on track. Then we are to continue to walk accordingly. This is what we read in passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God [literally “God-breathed”] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NASB95)

Paul wrote these words to Timothy and he encouraged others to respond to them even here in the midst of a church that was in real need of growing up in Christ. These principles were true for them, and they are true for us whether these points of change are big and blatant or small and not seeable by others. God’s plan is that as we are shown something inconsistent with His way according to His Word given to us that we then move to change such that we align ourselves with His truth.

It is the principle of putting off, having our minds renewed, and putting on that Paul wrote of in Ephesians 4:22-24 “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95)

This was Paul’s instruction to the puffed-up people of Corinth and it is our instruction for change as well.