Thursday, May 24, 2018

Godliness and Contentment (1 Corinthians 7:25-31)

“(25) Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. (26) I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. (27) Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (28) But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (29) But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; (30) and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; (31) and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:25–31, NASB95PARA)

Something was going on at the time of Paul’s writing this letter. It may have been a localized or regional distress, or it may have been the first pangs of the coming Roman persecution which was to begin a few years after this is written or it may even have been related to them living in the last days of which none of them knew the exact timing. Whatever the situation, it was significant enough that Paul was encouraging them to hunker down and not seek any drastic changes to their lives. These opinions of Paul were not commandments, but considerations in light of whatever else might have been going on in their bigger picture.

Writing to them as a trustworthy apostle of Christ and one who knew the freedom of being single and free of the care of marriage, Paul encouraged them to remain in whatever state they were at the time. For the single person or “virgins” God had not redesigned His plan for men and women, but as a single person (male or female) there was a freedom that they would not have in marriage.

Similarly, he wrote to the married person that he or she was not to seek to be released from their marriage. And, if for some reason they had been released from their wife (or a husband) they were not to seek to get remarried. Citing the cause of the unspecified “present distress” they were all to seek to remain as they were.
To both the single and the unmarried Paul followed his wise advice by saying should the single or released person marry or remarry that they had not sinned. The exact parameters of this freedom need to be considered in relation to the context of the other verses in Scripture that deal with divorce and remarriage.

For those who did marry or even remarry, Paul continued, that they needed to keep their priorities straight. Marriage is God’s institution for one man and one woman to come together as husband and wife, and then within the context of that union each was to keep the priority of their relationship with God. Their spouse was not to be their god. They may share some very special things, but this bond is intended to be shared as they individually and as a couple worship and follow God and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of living as if they had none (husband or wife). It is not a life of negligence, but of properly placed love for one another out of their love for God knowing that their interests as Paul would soon write truly were divided.

Marriage is not easy. Some do much better than others. Some marriages thrive, and some are a battle. Some are filled with weeping and others with rejoicing, while most have some of both. Paul knew that the bonds of love would surely be tested as the things of life with two people in the same home with varying desires create the friction that surely would happen.

None of us know the length of our days, and for these believers the distress surrounding them may have signaled an expectation that their days may indeed be shortened. In light of this they were to live as if the things around them were not worth acquiring for the purpose of possessing and the things of the world not worth indulging to the exclusion of living for God. We live in the world, but we do not live for the world. One day it will all pass away. This is true whether we leave it by death or by our Lord coming to take us with Him. I don’t have a clue of its origin, but I’ve heard is said in a variety of ways that you will not see a hearse towing a U-Haul.

“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6–8, NASB95)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Grow Where You Are Planted (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)

“Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 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. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NASB95PARA)

We don’t know the real amount of dissatisfaction with their lives that these believers in Corinth were experiencing, but it must have been there to some significant degree. As they were becoming Christians it appears that they were looking to change other things as well. Their new position in Christ was leading to them desiring new positions in life. They were seeking change and needed some instruction in what that change was to look like. Having just addressed individuals remaining either in marriage or singleness after being called by God to salvation in Christ, Paul here expands this instruction to other areas of life as well. He dealt with them being rightly Jews or Gentiles and their status of being slaves or free.

As it was in the previous passages, so it is in this that he encourages all believers to remain “with God in the condition” they were in at the time of their calling. Paul begins this statement with the words “as the Lord has assigned to each one.” The word “assigned” means to divide, distribute or apportion. God is sovereign in their life in all areas. They did not determine their race at birth, but it was God who formed them in their mother’s womb. And, short of them doing something to indenture themselves into slavery, this too would have been largely a condition of birth. This was where they were placed in their life, and they were to be content to remain in that place.

It was from there that God called them to salvation in His Son, and it is in that place that God will work in and through them as His adopted and beloved children in the Lord. Therefore, they were to walk in the manner in which they were called whether it be married or unmarried, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. This was the word that was to be spread among the churches, and it was the instruction that the people were to be given in how to move forward in their new lives of faith.

If one was born a Jew, he did not need to forsake his Jewishness in favor of Gentile ways. God had made a promise to the Jewish people and they had no need to distance themselves from being of His chosen nation. Sure, the sacrifices could go away and some of the ritual because Christ had given Himself as the once and for all time perfect sacrifice for their sins. But there was so much more to being Jewish. And if one were born a non-Jew or a Gentile he or she did not need to become a Jew to be a proper Christian. In making His promise to the nation of Israel, God said that in their seed all of the nations would be blessed. And this is what Jesus did. He brought salvation to all men each according to their race, and He brought them into His family through the blood of His one Son, Jesus Christ.

For those coming to salvation in Christ the big thing regardless of their race or origin is that they follow God in obeying His commandments. As we learn the words of God we are to hide them in their heart and obey them with diligence and in so doing prove that we are truly His disciples. Changing the things that the Corinthian believers were asking about was not the change that God desired. His desire is obedient hearts leading to obedient lives of service to our Lord. It was true then, and it is true today.

Continuing from race to position, Paul wrote that it they were born a slave that they were not to worry about it. Sure, if an opportunity to become free came along they were to take it, but this was their daily reality. In that reality God calls us to Himself and He is able to keep us and making us to grow. Our real freedom comes in not who we answer to here but in being set free from the bondage of sin and being given a new Lord who we are to serve with all our hearts. This is what we read in Ephesians chapter 6, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:5–8, NASB95PARA)

Regardless of who we might serve here on earth our real service is to our Lord. He bought us with the price of His blood and we belong to Him as His bondservants. It is from the framework of these truths that we are to be content to remain as He called us knowing that should that change in some way then that was okay as well. God knows every detail of our lives. He knew this before we were ever conceived, and He knows exactly what He has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On Remaining, Divorce and Remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:10-16)

“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10–16, NASB95PARA)

Paul had just finished saying that if the single person or the widow wanted to marry they were free to do so. In today’s passage he turns his attention to those who are already married and deals with the issue of remaining, divorce and even remarriage. This is a longer passage which represents only a portion of what Scripture has to say on the subject. Knowing that this is an important issue in our culture and recognizing that even within the church Christians are often ill-informed on what God’s Word has to say the leadership of Calvary Crossroads where I worked with them to prepare a document on the subject for the congregation. Rather than rewriting what came out of a great deal of studying, talking, praying and even giving and taking with each other in some difficult areas, what follows is a portion of that resulting document that deals specifically with these verses.

“Divorce is not God’s plan for man and woman. Yet it does happen. Husbands and wives abandon their spouses either to join in another relationship or to be free of the one they were in. They leave because they don’t feel like living together anymore or because they just don’t feel what they once felt. There are numerous reasons given for divorce. But we need to be careful as Christians to never fall into these traps and to carefully guard the treasured oneness relationship that God has granted husbands and wives.

“So important is this for Christians to remember that the Apostle Paul instructs two Christians who are married to one another and who may be having conflict in their marriage that they do not have God’s permission to leave or divorce one another unless one spouse has committed the actual act of adultery. But if one does leave, neither of them have the freedom to marry another. We read in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.” There may be times when the conflict between couples becomes so great that there is no peace in the home. Because of the hardness of both of their hearts, they are blinded to the principles of forgiveness and the sacredness of marriage. At those times, if they leave, separate, or even formally divorce one another, God says that they both must remain unmarried for the purpose of leaving the door open for reconciliation. God wants each Christian spouse to be willing to work through the tough times, waiting upon His enablement, even if only one spouse is willing to try (1 Peter 3:1-2, which is true for both husbands and wives). It is here again that the love and grace of God are really put to the test. Jesus clearly set our example (1 Peter 2:21-25), and God is immensely faithful to see us through all of our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13).

“There is another instance in Scripture where divorce is clearly permitted, and that is in the case of an unbelieving spouse leaving or “abandoning” a believing spouse (abandonment refers to an actual geographical leaving and not, for example: failing or even refusing to financially support, sleeping in separate rooms, or a lack of physical or emotional intimacy). In 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 we read that the believing spouse is not to send or even drive his or her unbelieving spouse away, but rather is to live with that spouse in an agreeable fashion. However, should the unbelieving spouse leave of his or her own volition then the believing spouse is to consent to the leaving and then even be free to remarry at a later date.

[Not included in the document text is a consideration of verse 16, where we read, “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16, NASB95PARA) This passage points back to the unbelieving spouse and it deals specifically with the individual who refuses to let the unbeliever go believing that he or she was God’s instrument to save their unbelieving spouse. Paul wrote that the salvation of another is not within our power. Salvation is a gift of God and it is His Spirit who does the work. The believing spouse is freed to let the unbelieving spouse go knowing that ultimately his or her salvation is really in God’s hands and not their own.]

“Scripture does say in certain circumstances that a believer is no longer under bondage to his/her previous spouse and is free to remarry, but this does not apply to all divorce situations.

“In both the case of a divorce as a result of sexual immorality and that of an unbelieving spouse leaving, the remaining person is no longer bound by the marriage covenant and is subsequently free to remarry. This is also true of the widow or widower. It is important to note that being free to remarry is not in itself an instruction to remarry, but merely the granting of permission to do so without sinning.

“While we recognize that there are passages in the Bible which grant the freedom to remarry, we also need to be clear that Scripture does not extend this freedom to everyone, as we just saw in 1 Corinthians 7:11. Here the focus is clear; Christians are to remain pure to their marriage covenant before God and wait on Him to see what He might do to restore the relationship.

“In situations where restoration is no longer possible due to the death of one of these divorced believers or by one entering into another relationship either by marriage or some other means, then a remarriage might be permitted for the other. But then much time should be spent considering what work God has done in the life of the one who brought about the divorce, considering how his or her relationship with God has changed, and what other consequential steps might need to be taken if and before remarriage might be in conformity with Scripture as understood by the leadership of Calvary Crossroads Church [preparers of this document.

“It is important to remember that Christ did not die for those who were perfect, but He died for sinners. If you find that you have violated a teaching of Scripture related to this topic your response should be no different than it is to any other sin you have committed. Start by admitting to God the wrong that you have done before Him, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and committing to walking right with Him from this point forward. 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is true of our individual sins and of those sins we commit with others. His forgiveness extends to all who seek Him and put their trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. From there prayerfully consider what steps to restoration and/or restitution God might have you take with others who might have been involved or affected by your sin.

“So, even if your marriage is off to a bad start or you did something harmful to your marriage, remember that God is the one who is faithful to complete His good work that He started in each of us. Submit yourself to Him and follow Him with your whole heart, and you will find as the writer of Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “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 straight your paths.” Even a marriage that started wrongly is a marriage, and we must always remember that divorce is not in God’s plan for His people. He knows how to straighten out that which we have made crooked, and He is more than able to help us deal with the consequences.” [section except from Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, A Consideration of Biblical Truth prepared by the Elders of Calvary Crossroads Church, Grants Pass, Oregon]

The purpose of including the text excerpt was both to express a significant understanding of the passages as well as express the grace and forgiveness of our God. If you are going through a difficult season and are desiring to speak with someone in greater detail I would encourage you to contact the pastor of your church. But never let the words of men ever replace your individual responsibility to look into God’s Word, hide it in your heart, and prayerfully study and think on it throughout the day. Between your own study, your listening to God through His Word, and seeking wise counsel I pray that you will be strengthened in your situation.

“There are times when we all need help, and God has placed us in a body of believers in order that we might find some of that help in times of need. Proverbs 1:5 tells us, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.””

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Singular Service (1 Corinthians 7:6-9)

“But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, NASB95)

These next instructions flow out of Paul’s response to this first question of whether it was good or not for a “man not to touch a woman.” Paul’s overriding first statement in response was to say that he wished, willed, or desired that all men were single even as he was and experience the freedom of ministry that came with his celibacy.

This is in contrast to the married person whose interests are divided as Paul wrote later in this chapter. The married individual has other considerations when making decisions and responsibilities that go beyond caring for his or her own personal needs. While I have been married for thirty-eight years I think I freshly understand what Paul was wiring about. My wife and I are in the middle of a transition to a new ministry in a new location. As a part of this transition I am spending considerable time away from my them. I am loving the new role, but there are several times during the day up there that I miss the presence of my family. And, when I am down with my family I miss the opportunities for ministry in the new location. It is this kind of divided interest that Paul referred to as not being a struggle for the one who is single in his or her service to the Lord. He was not advocating celibacy as much as he was recognizing the benefit for service that he had in being single. This was a gift from God to him which was not the same for all. Everyone is different in this regard as Paul indicated in his wording “one in this manner, and another in that.” Unlike Paul, I know that I enjoy ministry much more with my wife and family by my side. This is God’s gift as well.

But, he added, “to the married and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as [he].” Studying the New Testament, we clearly see how God used this single man to accomplish so much. Paul traveled far and wide, but he also spent considerable time in prison while being constantly called upon to trust God for his welfare and even at times where his next meal would come from. He did all of this without having the divided interest that he referred to here and later in this same chapter. For those who were like him Paul saw a similar advantage in how God would use if for their good and His glory. But he also knew that this single life was not for everyone. In fact, it was not for most. Paul knew that in general “it was not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It was for that reason that we read in the same verse that God said, “… I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NASB95) And, in verses 21-25 we see God meet this need in creating woman and bringing them together as one.

Some people are quite comfortable being single. Others struggle with it greatly. It is to this second group that Paul added, “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:9, NASB95) The single person and even the widow are not required to remain as they are. There is freedom in choosing to marry, and this is especially so when they meet that right person and their passions are ignited. Having said this, we don’t have to look far to know that there are many in our culture that would dearly love to be married but who are not. Additionally, there are those who are walking through this season of life without their spouse due to his or her death. While Paul’s answer here does not answer those struggles, we know that our God is intimately familiar, He knows our deepest desires, and He is good who makes us to stand strong in Christ.

Paul presented this in the form of a lack of self-control, and for some this is a huge issue. You may not have to look further than your own life and the strong sexual desire that you had for you spouse prior to your marriage or for those that are widowed and long for the closeness you once shared. You might even look at how you may have succumbed to those desires with either your spouse or someone else prior to your marriage. And, you can definitely look outside to culture and the types of things you see and hear in the media or watch on the streets. These desires can be strong, and for some they can seem to be consuming. Whether reigned in appropriately or left to wreak havoc, this desire is real and for that person Paul says it is much better to marry that to burn with its passion.

It is no sin to have passion and to want to be united with another. God created us to come together in the one man and one woman relationship of marriage. Attraction and desire are strong magnets in this process. But this magnet can be abused and the restraints that God put in place ignored. This was the problem of the Corinthian church and one which led to the “not touching” question. Paul’s response was it’s a good thing to be single and to be able to serve freely. It is also a good thing to be married. But, whether you are single or married do it God’s way recognizing that both are a gift from Him.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Sex in its Proper Place (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:1–5, NASB95)

Chapter 7 marks a transition in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian believers. In the next several chapters he will address a variety of issues in answering questions that they had in a letter referenced here in chapter 7, verse 1 and which may have been delivered by those mentioned in chapter 16, verse 17, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.” (1 Corinthians 16:17, NASB95) If these men did indeed deliver they letter it is reasonable to assume that they also helped Paul to more thoroughly understand the questions while likely also informing him on the other issues which he addressed in the chapters leading to this one. But how ever Paul got the letter, his information was specific enough that he not only was able to address the serous issues of the first chapters but was also able to adequately answer the questions answered in the next chapters ending probably with 11:34 where he states, “About the other things I will give directions when I come.”

In looking at any of these responses from Paul that he is addressing questions raised and the answers may not be complete in addressing the whole subject. But we also are to be mindful that when Scripture does speak to an issue it speaks to it authoritatively as the Word of God.

From the verses you can quickly gather that the subject of today’s post is going to be around the issue of sex. God designed man and woman for it. He is the authority on it, and His Word speaks authoritatively to the constraints surrounding it.

One of their questions must have been related to the issue of how to respond to the sexual depravity surrounding them. It seems to even suggest that the best response was that they might be best served to never go there in the first place with anyone and remain single and celibate. In a way it may have been a throwing the baby out with the bathwater kind of response. Paul responded to them saying, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The term “touch a woman” was a euphemism for having sexual relations. This was in stark contrast to the cults and the practice of some for them to not engage in sex either inside or outside of marriage, and Paul told them that it was good for a man not to do this. It doesn’t mean that it could not be good to do so, but then only within the constraints that God intends.

Knowing the strength of sexual desires and the variety of sexual immorality there was a right and proper place for it, and that was in the marriage relationship. This is the place where one man and one woman have each other and they are free to really have each other in the most intimate and personal of ways. In marriage each has a responsibility to “fulfill” his or her duty to their spouse, and they are to do so with the view that the other even has authority over his or her body. It is bathed in an attitude of mutual submission as each give of themselves in love fulfilling God’s plan for marriage and the marriage bed.

These words were intended to turn the self-seeking pleasure model surrounding them upside down onto its head.  What Paul was writing to them was in stark contrast to the world around them. It was one of choosing in love to give and serve as opposed to getting and being served. As such, the motive was not one of rewarding and withholding, but of freely giving. There was likely more behind this response of Paul’s considering what was happening in the world around them, but the principle remains true.

Depriving the other in marriage was not a biblical response. But even this instruction was not without qualification as we see in verse 5, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5, NASB95) We need the times to get away. Jesus frequently moved away from His disciples for times of prayer, and in the marriage relationship this same practice is appropriate when it comes to sex. But this was not intended to be a lengthy time as the warning following clearly indicates. It’s hard to think that a lack of self-control might be the reason to come back together, but then as it is now when we are united as one in marriage the desire to be one in sexual intimacy can be very intense. And, Paul warned them to be sensitive to their spouses and even as it were to each of their levels of spiritual maturity.

Ephesians chapter 5 contains another section on marriage. Immediately before it begins we read, “… be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NASB95) And, it ends with, “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, NASB95)

We do have a very real enemy in the world, and knowing that we are relational beings that find great pleasure in sexual intimacy Paul wrote to a mixed up church to help them establish good practices whether inside or outside of marriage. But clearly there is only one right and proper place for sex and that is within God’s framework of marriage. Husbands and wives are clearly to be sensitive to each other in this very important area, realizing that when we act loving and respectful toward each other we encourage one another to draw closer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:12–20, NASB95)

Apparently, there were some in the church at Corinth who thought or at least chose to live as if their being forgiven of their sins meant that they were then free to live in those sins and indulge their fleshly desires. In these verses Paul confronts that idea head on. He did so by first returning to a foundational principle of freedom properly applied. This is not a declaration that he was not responsible to live according to the laws set in place by those in authority over him, nor was it a declaration that he was free to ignore the statutes and ordinances of God. Rather, it was a clear declaration that neither obeying nor disobeying was going to save him but having been saved he was now called to live according to his new identity and not the things that may have marked him in the past.

In addressing this, he spoke to the issues of food and sex which are both good things. They were both designed by God and given to man for a good purpose. But man has abused that purpose and severely distorted what God intended for good. God made His good intent clear from the very beginning of the Bible, as we see in Genesis chapter 1: “God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:28–31, NASB95)

There it is. The two subjects that Paul went to in this response to the Corinthian church abuse are found in God’s summary statement of creation on day six that He declared was “very good.” But of course, we know that Adam and Eve sinned and were removed from the garden and subsequently everything was then stained indelibly with sin. But let us not lose sight that food and sex were given to us by God and in their best form were included in His “very good.” Yet, man has turned what was meant for good and has become a slave to it for destruction. It was to this slavery that Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” He wrote to them of a standard that went beyond legitimacy and desire to that of what was right and in its proper place. He recognized his freedom in Christ, but he also knew that this freedom could easily become slavery if not properly controlled. He was committed to not letting even these most basic things have mastery over his life, and this was his charge to a people who had fallen into that trap.

First, he went to food as out most obvious necessity. After all, if we don’t eat we starve and we die. But on the other hand, if we abuse that eating we also die. In the culture of the day and consistent with the cults that were present, food and sex orgies often went hand in hand. These were times of totally letting go of morality and pursuing whatever pleasure was present before them with the preference being all of the above. This is the background of these believers and this is surely some of what influenced their interactions even in the church.

When it comes to food there are many things that I could easily binge on and go after. However, in 2005 I was told by my doctor that I have diabetes. What followed was a process of retraining myself not only in eating but how I thought about eating. My body was at war with my habits, and I had to get serious about which one I wanted to protect. I have come a long way and there are days that the candy and the chips are more prevalent, but overall a process of taking control rather than letting my diet control has proven to be a very good move. It is amazing how strong cravings can be, and sometimes we need to stay completely away. Other times we are enabled to moderate them knowing that properly controlled we wind up having a much greater freedom than when we were slaves to the demands of our minds and our bodies.

One day our bodies will be stuck in the ground (if Christ doesn’t return first), and food will no longer be needed. It is a temporary good given us by God to not only sustain our bodies but to also enjoy the flavor along the way. God will do away with stomachs and it seems that he will also do away with food. I don’t pretend to know what this looks like in eternity, but I do know that when I leave this body the tie that this body has with food will once and for all be broken, and I will be set free to enjoy God’s perfect plan in His presence.

Next Paul went after sex. With food it doesn’t seem like eating or not eating and even how we eat is really in its essence a morality issue, but sex is. In Genesis 1:27 and 28 we read, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:27–28, NASB95) Then in Genesis 2:18; 21-25 He added, “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”” (Genesis 2:18, NASB95) … “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:21–25, NASB95)

God made man. Male and female He made them. He also made them to come together as one man and one woman in the lifetime oneness relationship of marriage with the purpose in part of being fruitful and multiplying. And this part does not come without sex or as Paul said “join[ing] together. Though sex is a significant part of marriage, it is and always has been about more than sex. It is a oneness relationship where the husband and wife are made to be suitable for each other to walk side by side with each other through life. And, not getting into the fact that some don’t marry and some who do never have children either by choice, infertility or some other reason, this was and remains God’s design for man and woman as male and female, husband and wife.

I know that our culture is fighting this and that laws are even being changed in some places where you cannot speak or write openly a different opinion than that of the culture. This issue has even surfaced in the church where people have stepped away from the authority of God’s Word. But, this is God’s design declared by Him in His Word. It was established at creation and reaffirmed by Christ. It is not something that God intended to morph or change. It is the same from beginning to end, and its instruction is wide swept throughout Scripture. And, I choose to accept His Word to be fully inspired by Him as truthful, accurate, and dependable. Peter spoke very strongly to this issue. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20–21, NASB95)

From that position, Paul declared that anyone who goes against this and specifically here joins himself (speaking to men) to a prostitute violates the relationship that we also have of being united in Christ. Being united as a husband or wife properly in the marriage relationship and simultaneously with Christ are not incompatible. This is God’s design. But bringing anyone else into that relationship not only violates the human plain of relationship but it also violates the vertical with our Lord. We in essence take these bodies which are temples of His Spirit and we join them with the spirit of one who is not properly ours. To this Paul wrote that everything else we do we commit outside the body, but when we engage in sex in conflict with God’s design we bring a oneness with that outsider into the same body as our oneness with Christ. And to this Paul says, “May it never be!” 

When we trusted Christ for our salvation we became new creations in Him. His Spirit became a permanent resident in us, and we are to live according to what is right before Him. Knowing this, we do sin and we do have forgiveness. These passages are not given to beat us up, but to bring us to a point of thinking soberly about how we might be living and to turn from those things toward living right with our Lord who purchased us with His body.  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Having Identities Changed by God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NASB95)

Having just addressed the Corinthians believers taking their matters to the courts of the land to decide their internal conflicts, Paul now turns to the difference in their identities. This does not mean that all judges in the previous context were unbelievers. I imagine that there were some believers just as there are today, and that their faith influenced their practice. The real issue here as it was there being that those of the world are markedly different from those in the church. It is not because Christians have achieved some form of moral superiority on their own from which they can look down at the rest. No, it is because of what Jesus Christ has done in us.

Those who the Corinthians believers had been taking their conflicts were not influenced by God. They were counted among the unrighteous and engaged in the deeds of the unrighteous. They had no place in the kingdom of God? There was nothing that they were going to do in their lives that would make them good enough to inherit His kingdom, to receive His forgiveness and to obtain His gift of eternal life. Those who have not placed their trust in Jesus Christ for His sacrificial gift of salvation are the unrighteous. These believers and us are not to confuse this matter. Those who are lost in their sins are marked by their sinful actions, and this list was provided as proof of that. This was not a list of man by which men were to be judged. It is a list given by God which is representative of what was some of the more notable sin issues. But this list was also not exhaustive. Everyone is lost and will be judged apart from Christ. It is simply their identity, and unless it is changed it will result in eternal judgment and separation from God.

Indicating the partial nature of the list, Paul then wrote, “Such were some of you.” Sure, there were likely some who read this letter who were still identified in this way just as there were some who may not have identified with any of the things on the list. Paul did not use the term “all” as exhaustive, but as indicative of where they all came from. Every single person who read this letter at one time had the identity of being “unrighteous” and as such had no place in the kingdom of God. This part is exhaustive without exception. And what moved them from the camp of the unrighteous to the camp of the righteous was not ceasing whatever activity they were engaged in but them being saved by Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote to these same believers, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB95) When we are saved we receive a new identity. We are no longer counted among the unrighteous and we are no longer marked by our sins. We become a new creation in Christ and all things do become new.

One evening Nicodemus came to Jesus to talk to Jesus. In that conversation Jesus told him that he must be born again, and not understanding what Jesus was saying He asked how this was possible. “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:3–8, NASB95)

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must have a spiritual rebirth. Paul breaks this into pieces for us in our passage for today. First, he wrote, “but you were washed.” The first step in the process was being cleansed of sin. Jesus’ blood shed for us cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The hope that Israel had been longing for was realized for all of us in Christ. “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7, NASB95) … “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12, NASB95) … “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19, NASB95) We needed to be cleansed to be made righteous, and it was Jesus who shed His blood for us that accomplished this perfectly.

He also said that they and us have been “sanctified” (Greek: hagiazo). This means that we have been made holy. This is our new identity. We are God’s holy ones, cleansed and set apart for Him to live holy before Him. It represents both what He did in our salvation such we are called “saints” (Greek: hagios). When Paul wrote to the saints in the churches he was specifically writing to them referring to their new identity in Christ, and when we look at the term “sanctification” today we are speaking of the continued process of growing as we live and breathe into the identity that we already have. Another term spoken of in Scripture is transformation into the image of Christ. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;” (1 Peter 1:14–15, NASB95) And, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

We do not need to justify our identities before any court, nor will we have to suffer eternal judgment for our old identity or for what we do even as newly identified. Paul added that we “were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Remember, that this letter was written to a group of believers that were really struggling and who had not grown in Christ. Paul did not identity them for who they were before, but who they currently were in Christ as their new identity. This identification is something that we all need to remember even when we struggle with sin today. We do not lose our identity. It is established for us by Christ. The scars that Christ bears for us and the proof of the resurrection stands to declare the truthfulness of our being justified. This case has been closed.

Paul clearly presented this case in Romans chapter 3. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–26, NASB95)

Paul wrote these things not to minimize the sins on the list or any other sin, but to clearly draw a line between them and our identity as Christians. Throughout Scripture we read the continual call for us to set aside the sins of the flesh and live according to Christ and the character of God revealed in His Word. But knowing that we all sin, we are also never to forget that our identity is not based upon our actions, but on Christ and His work to justify us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pursue Peace Within (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)

“Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.” (1 Corinthians 6:1–8, NASB95)

Among the other issues that Paul was dealing with in this letter to the Corinthian believers was their inability or unwillingness to deal with quarrels and disputes biblically between each other. For the Jews there was an extensive system of laws put in place from God through Moses. This, aside from what may have later been added by the rabbis which was extensive, gave the Jewish believers a framework from which they could walk through issues. Aside from the Jewish believers there were also the customs and laws in their culture which formed a framework of civility which could guide them in their disputes.  But, beyond all of this was the basic principle of God that they were to love Him first and foremost and then to love each other. “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:37–40, NASB95)

On all of these levels they were failing. Instead it seemed that they were allowing things to fester and then running off to the courts for a resolution. Consider that they were not acting competent to “constitute the smallest law courts.” They were, probably along with more significant issues, taking even the small stuff to the courts and not working together among themselves to apply biblical principles to resolve their conflicts of whatever nature they were. They were evidently taking things that biblical principles would even have differed from the principles of their world.

Typically, the courts are not concerned with bringing people back together in peace and oneness before God as they work together to resolve their conflicts in biblical ways. The courts are rightly concerned with the black and white of the matter. This does not mean that the court does not consider and encourage restoration, but it is not their primary purpose, and in some places and some cases it may even be adjudicated in ways contrary to the principles of Scripture.

So, where is your starting place? The starting place of Scripture should always be considering whether this is something to work out between yourselves as people called to love each other and to be longsuffering and forgiving of each other. It is not a “sweeping things under the carpet issue,” but one of before God working it out where needed and not bringing it to the level of something greater than it is when not. Then from there, is it something where you might need some godly biblical counsel for yourself or between yourselves as to how to move forward. And, beyond that is it something that the leadership of the church might need to get involved in or you might before God after prayer decide to drop and even be defrauded as it were.

There is a lot in this passage that is not being dealt with and there are countless biblical principles that could be considered. But the real heart of the problem here is that there was apparently little to no effort among these believers to figure out how to walk with each other before God. Instead, they were running to those who did not know God to get the advice and even the judgment that should be coming from Him. When this passage speaks of the church it speaks not only of the collective body of believers united in Christ, but it also speaks of the authority of those appointed to leadership in the church as His overseers and shepherds. A couple of posts ago I cited Matthew 18:15-20 which is probably the most used passage dealing with the progression to resolution (or discipline) in the church (see April 18). We live under two authorities. One is appointed by man in our criminal and civil systems in which we live—the world, and the other is under God as appointed through His people—His church.

I know that the pledge of our country includes the words “one nation under God,” but this should never be confused as being according to God’s will. They each have their place, and even the authorities that rule over us in the world are here because God instituted them as we read in Romans 13:1-3, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;” (Romans 13:1–3, NASB95) This does not mean that these authorities seek after God or apply His wisdom to adhere to His principles. In fact, we don’t have to look too far to see just how far off they can be. But the basic structures of authority are to protect those who do good and to prosecute those who don’t while working to make the whole system flow whether through laws, taxes and more. Courts do exist for a reason and the have their appropriate place. This is especially true when it comes to matters of harm and abuse.

In this land we can sue and be sued, and we may need to walk through the paths of the courts. But this is not to be the primary place to where we who are Christians run to resolve our issues, especially for what Paul called the “smallest.” God’s Word is filled with His principles for how we are to walk with each other. There are those in the church who can help us with it, and there are even those who have made it their live ministry and even for some their livelihood to help Christians resolve conflict. (

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1–6, NASB95)