Thursday, May 21, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 5 - “An Important Authority”

As most of you know, I do not like being called pastor. This extends to the point of, I don’t even like being introduced as pastor. And it’s not because I don’t simply like the title, but it’s more because of the way in which conversations go after people find out that’s what I am. See, when I have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know I’m a pastor, they are more free to speak as they normally would. But when they know from the start that I’m a pastor, people tend to go into one of two directions. They either begin to act and tell me how good they are, or they become defensive watching every word and action as they navigate trying not to allow the conversation to go deeper.
The people that become defensive in the conversation, tend to look for any word I say that they can counter with the handful of Scriptures they know. One of the Scriptures that I’ve heard a lot is the Matthew 7:1-5 passage that we talked about last week. But more specifically, just the first few words of that passage, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is usually the way it’s said. For those that use it, it seems to give them a sense of moral superiority to be able to say this to a pastor. 
Their reason for this, and for other phrases like, “Only God can judge me,” is to corner Christians into a place where they cannot speak into lives of others, because the other person is saying Christians have no right to judge. 
And this is both true and false at the same time, as we’ll see as we return to 1st Corinthians, where we’ll pick up chapter 5 verse 1. And as we return to 1st Corinthians chapter 5 verse 1, let’s look back on the first several weeks of our study. 

We saw in the opening of 1st Corinthians, that Paul’s desire for the Corinthian Church, was that they would stand united in their faith in Jesus. The reason for this was because of the of some of the issues that were causing problems within the Church. Paul then spends the first four chapters tackling one of these issues, which was the issue of leadership.
Paul takes time to help the Corinthian Church correct three of their misunderstandings in the area of leadership. First was, who has the utmost authority in the Church, this is of course Jesus. Second Paul helps clarify what the roles of leaders are in the lives of other believers, they are planters and waters.  Then finally, what Paul’s specific role was, which was a spiritual father in the faith for the Corinthian Church.

And it’s because of Paul’s specific role as a spiritual father to the Corinthian Church, that he is going to now deal with some more of the issues that are causing the Church of Corinth to experience disunity. So now, let’s dive into 1st Corinthians chapter 5, starting in verse 1.

Now before we get into it, for the next two weeks we’re going to camp out in chapters chapters 5 and 6 because, there is an overarching theme that we’re going to discuss today, and more specific topics that I think we need to discuss in more detail, which we will do next week. Our goal in these summer studies is to see the overarching teachings of the books of the Bible, but sometimes we need to go into the details as well, because their are some misunderstandings that we can’t gloss over. So, let’s cover the overarching topic of 1st Corinthians 5 and 6 first. Let’s read.

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

So what’s the situation that Paul is addressing here? A man is having sex with his father’s wife. Now this isn’t his biological mother, but is most likely his stepmother. Now in the ancient world, this would be considered incest, even though the two are not blood related. This act was condemned in both the Old Testament Law, Leviticus 18:8 and in Roman Law. So the fact that this man is committing this act, is an extreme affront to all societies involved here. Yet, as Paul points out, the Church sees this practice going on and not only does nothing about it, but in fact is somehow boasting about it.

This boast might have something to do with what Paul writes, when he quotes a common Corinthian saying later in chapter 6 verse 12. Paul writes, “I have the right to do anything,” or as some translations put it, “All things are lawful for me.” Remember, the city of Corinth was a rich place to be, and as can happen with wealth, a sense of superiority can overtake us. Even thinking we are above societies laws. This Corinthian saying about having the right to do anything, coupled with the freedom we find in Christ, could be giving the Corinthian Christians a justification to allow the man’s sexual sin to continue.

Paul is addressing the fact that the Corinthian Church is purposefully and emphatically downplaying the sin of this man, that, as Paul puts it in verse in verse 1, “…of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate…”

Paul emphasizes their acceptance of the act, when he begins to speak of unleavened bread and Christ. In the early Church, the sharing of Communion was a sign of acceptance of being a Christian. All those who had put their faith in Christ ate together, and by doing so sealed their lives to the cause of Christ. When you ate the bread and drank the wine, you were accepting the world of Christ: the of repentance of sin, the of washing away of that sin, and new life in Jesus. But by downplaying the sin this man was committing, the Corinthians were downplaying the faith in Christ and even, in a sense, cheapening the grace of God in their lives.

To this, Paul calls the Corinthian Church in verse 5 to, “…hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

When Paul mentions the destruction of flesh here, he isn’t talking about the destruction of the physical body, but rather the destruction of the sin in this man’s life. This might seem extreme to disassociate with someone in rampant sin, and in our modern American way of approaching Church practice, we might even call into question Paul’s or the Church’s right to pass judgment on anyone. I mean, who are we to question someone else’s life? Wouldn’t that be a reason why people look at the Church today as a bunch of judgmental hypocrites?
But let’s put this situation in it’s place. We know from verse 9, that Paul had written about this situation in some form in a prior letter to the Church, so this sin has been going on for some time. We also know that it had become almost accepted by the Church as a whole, who were in some way boasting about it. And that this, along with other situations, where the cause of the Church descending into disunity. So what does Paul call the Church to do? He calls them to deal with the situation. To stop sweeping sin under the rug and deal with it.
We must remember that Paul, in the previous chapter, had already pointed the Church back to Jesus’ teaching on judging. Judgement always starts with bringing ourselves before God. In fact the Apostle Peter would write in the fourth chapter of his first letter, that the judgment of God starts with the Church (1st Peter 4:17). 
In addition, we must also remember what Paul’s role is with the Corinthian Church, he is a spiritual father, and one of the roles of a father is to deal out discipline. So now he is calling the Corinthian Church to bring themselves before God for judgment, and then to deal out discipline as needed.

But the logical question that comes to mind is, is it really our place to judge? And to this Paul gives us an answer.
First he gives us where the Church’s authority to judge lies. In verse 9 Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
“12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

Paul specifically focus’ the authority of the Church to judge only those who claim to be a part of the Church. In other words, the Church’s authority to pass judgment stops at it’s own fellowship. Can the Church take a stand in moral arenas? Yes, but there is no judgment of people or condemning of people in that stand. But when the fellowship of believers meet, the Church does have authority to judge situations between believers.
And judgment by the Church is a necessary role of the Church because it is meant to bring people to repentance, as we saw was Paul’s intent in verse 5, and to bring unity as a whole.

This is why Paul then addresses another issue that is causing division in the Corinthian Church, which was that of lawsuits. See the Corinthian Christians were having business dealings with each other, but instead of bringing a dispute to fellow believers to have it judged, they were entering into the Roman Court system to have non-believers judge. 

Paul writes this in chapter 6 verse 1, “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.”

Paul calls the Corinthian Christians to take their authority in judging matters and their calling to represent Christ seriously. They are to be judges in disputes both of sin and of everyday business disputes, for the purpose of bring the sinner to repentance and the Church to unity. Paul emphasizes his point on how important the judgment authority of the believer is when he says in verses 2 and 3, “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”

It is here that we see that Paul is limiting the authority of the Church to judge only matters pertaining to believers, and calling the Church to live upright and blameless lives in front of the world. 

Recently, I saw a situation play out where two people who say they are Christians had a problem. One was carrying out their job responsibilities, and when they did, the other became upset with the work that was being done. But instead of speaking with the their fellow believer, the second instead took their complaints to the managerial staff, who is made up of unbelievers. What do you think the end result was? At the very least, I can say it wasn’t unity between the two believers. 

Now we may think that Paul, with this idea of the Church having authority to judge between believers is coming out of nowhere, but we can actually see that Jesus gave us the road map for the Church’s authority to judge in such matters. This is found in Matthew 18, verses 15-20.

So, taking what we talked about last week, in how judgment must start with us first when we take ourselves in front of God, let’s spell out the step-by-step process God has given us as believers to exercise our authority in judging matters of the Church.

First, we must understand what is the purpose of judgment in the Church is? It is to bring people to repentance. We see this in 1st Corinthians 5:5. It is not to call out people for every mess up, or ever stumble, because it would be an unending judgment process that everyone would be in. And it is not to make people fell bad, or that we would become legalistic. It is, instead to help people see in areas that they may not know they are falling to sin. So if our purpose is not the repentance of sin, then we have no right to be a part of the judgment process.
Second, we must understand what our attitude must be like in this process? First, our attitude must be one that seeks to speak the truth in love as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14. And as we speak to people in love about their sin, we also must prayerfully watching that we do not fall into temptation ourselves as Jesus says to the disciples in Matthew 26:41, and Paul will later write in 1 Corinthians 10:12. A loving and prayerful attitude must accompany those who are a part of the judgment process, or else it will end in disunity.
Now with the understanding of the purpose of judgment in the Church being repentance, and our attitude needing to be loving and prayerful being clear, then we take the first step in the judgment process.

This first step is what we talked about last week, we must personally take ourselves before God for judgment. We must spend a lot of time in prayer having God search us for sin, and dealing with the sin in our lives. We have seen the Corinthian letter so far, that the Corinthian Church had not done this, and so they were blind to their own sin in the matter, and were not in a position to judge another’s. So Paul calls them out in this, when he tells them that he writes this specific thing to shame the Corinthian Christians (6:5). This is because they haven’t dealt with their own sin, and now disunity is running a muck.
But once we have spent time in prayer, if God has shown us how we are in fact in the wrong, that we are caught up in sin, then we must repent, and leave the situation in God’s hands. But if we spend a lengthy amount of time in prayer, and God directs us to continue the process of judgment with the other person, then we must pray that the Holy Spirit would prepare our hearts and the person we will be talking to about their sin as we move into to step 2, which we find in Matthew 18 starting in verse 15.

Let’s read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Step 2 begins with us going to the person who is in sin with gentleness and in private. There is no reason to talk about it with someone else. There’s no reason to vent about it on social media, or anywhere else. This is a one-on-one conversation that is to not go beyond that. As soon as we bring it up to another, we have already messed up the process and it will probably end in disunity without repentance on our part. 
But if we do it right, and the person repents, we’re done, we rejoice and move on with our lives not holding on to the sin. But if the person refuses to repent, we can’t get upset , but instead we need to pray that God would be working in the situation and we move onto step 3.

Let’s read Jesus’ words in verse 16, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
Step 3 looks to expand the sphere of those who know about the sin, but we must be cautious of who we tell. We must find someone, no more than two, that is a non-partisan person. That means that they are not on our side, nor are they on the side of the other person. This non-partisan is someone that will tell us we’re wrong, just as much as telling the other person they are wrong. Then when we bring this non-partisan person to discuss the sin with the person, if the non-partisan finds the sin is ours, we must be willing to repent, ask for forgiveness, and move on. But if the non-partisan person finds the fault is in fact with the other person, and they repent, we must forgive them and move on. But If the person does not repent, again we cannot get upset, and we must pray that God would be moving, and move onto to step 4. And now it has gotten very serious.

Let’s read Jesus’ words in verse 17, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is the step that we find the Corinthian Church in. In cases like this, the sin is so egregious, and effecting the unity of the Church that is must be brought to the Church as a whole. These are situations that effect the spiritual life of all believers who gather together for fellowship. And we should never think of getting to this point over being slighted by someone, or over a misunderstanding. For the Corinthian Church it was with a sin of incest being celebrated in their midsts and it was the sin greed and swindling that was happening between believers in business transactions. It wasn’t over carpet color, or donut choice.
Step 4 is taking the sin to the Church for judgment. This is one of the roles of leadership to oversee these proceedings being as neutral as possible. And if the Church finds that the sinner is the one who brought the complaint forward, that person must be willing to repent. If, at any point, the person who is bringing the complaint of the sin forward is unwilling to repent themselves, then the fault has always been theirs.
But, if the Church finds that the sin is the other person’s and they repent, we as a Church community must forgive and move on, not holding onto any negative emotions or thoughts towards that person. Because as Paul states in 1st Corinthians 6, verse 11, “And that is what some of you were…” Meaning only by the grace of God go I. We too have been in sin, and we too have needed to repent and be forgiven. So we must forgive others. In fact, in Paul’s second letter, the Corinthian Church has taken Paul’s judgment to disassociate with the man, and the man repented and Paul then tells the Church to accept him back in. Again showing that repentance is the goal.
But If the person does not repent, and this is where it is hard, and can cause disunity, but it is acceptable disunity over dealing with sin, the Church as a whole must treat the unrepentant person as one who is in a state of rebellion against God. Jesus uses the idea of a pagan or tax collector, those who do not believe the teachings of Christ. In this case we must still be loving, compassionate, and in prayer for them, but we must recognize in our dealings with this person, that they are in rebellion against God’s correction. And we must as a Church body stand together in this final course of action.

This whole process is hard because we tend to not want to cause problems by pointing out another’s sin. And in most cases, there is no reason for us to do such. If a person is seeking God, repenting of sin when God reveals it to them, and seeking to bring unity to the Church body, yet then a stumble in their faith there is nothing to cause the authority of the Church in judgment to be called upon. 
Yet, in times when sin is becoming boasted about in the lives believers, where un-repentance  runs rampant, and the disunity of the Church is occurring, then the process in which God has laid out for judgment must be followed. I pray that there will never come a time when our church has to conduct this final step in judgment. But for that to happen, each of us must daily take ourselves before God and seek his cleanings work in our lives. We must each learn to take the sin in our own lives seriously, and be willing at any time to be corrected by a brother or sister, knowing that they desire for our best in the faith as we desire the best in theirs.

So my challenge for us this week, is similar to last week. This week I challenge you to wrestle with Matthew 18 verses 15-20. Let us this week take ourselves before God asking him to cleanse us of all our sin, so that we might bring greater unity to our brothers and sisters and greater light to the world around us. Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 4 - “Test Time”

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I already knew where I wanted to go for my undergraduate education. I had decided over the summer that it would be Simpson College in Redding, California. I applied at a few others, but Simpson was my preferred choice. As I spoke with the admissions counselor, I informed them that one of the reasons why I wanted to attend Simpson was because of their baseball program. The counselor then told me that in order to play sports in college, I had to get at least an 800 on my SAT test.
Now, the problem with giving me a low goal at this time in my life was, I strove to not work harder than I needed. So, I set it in my mind to get the 800. Most people study really hard to get the best score they can, I didn’t. I took one practice test, scored about an 850, and I was good to go. 
In the fall, I arrived at the testing site at 7:30am, check-in was at, 8am, and the test started at 8:30am. Unbeknownst to me though, because I didn’t really bother with understanding how the SATs work, I could use a calculator on the math section, which, if you’ve listed to me long enough, you know I am not to good at the math stuff. 
Well, I had no calculator, so I ran over to the Target next to the testing site, bought a calculator I had never used before, ran back to the testing site, right at 8:30. The test went by quickly. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing, when you’re the first to finish with about 2 hours to spare. 
But in the end I got an 880, and was able to play sports in college. After that, I began to rethink my stance on being prepared for tests. But it wasn’t a lesson I really learned unto the end of my college experience. 

But it’s this idea of being ready to be tested, that brings us back into our summer sermon series of 1st Corinthians, where were arriving at chapter 4, verse 1. And as we come to verse 1 of chapter 4 in 1st Corinthians, let’s refresh ourselves with where we’re at in this study.

For the past three weeks we have covered the first three chapters of 1st Corinthians, where we have seen Paul, the writer of the letter, communicate his desire for unity in the Corinthian Church. This is because the Corinthian Church is not united and instead is dealing with several issues that are causing splits within the Church. The first of these issues is leadership, and it’s this issue that Paul deals with in the first four chapters.
In the first week we talked about how Paul was calling the Corinthians away from a focus on human leadership, and instead reminding them that it was Christ who is the authority over all. This is because the Corinthians were grouping themselves around the authority of different human leaders, which was leading to one of the issues causing a split. Paul calls us to remember that no human leader is to be set above Jesus, and that it is Jesus that we must follow.
In our second week, we saw Paul call the Corinthians to reject worldly wisdom and embrace godly wisdom. This is because, God doesn’t work in a way that makes sense to a worldly mindset, and so, by trying to hold onto worldly wisdom, there will be natural strife. The lessons of God cannot be implemented when they are forcibly coupled with lessons from a worldly mind. And so, this coupling of godly and worldly wisdom ends up causing division. But when we fully embrace God’s wisdom, and fully reject the world’s, unity and godly understanding can occur.
Finally, in our last week we talked about seeking goodness. The Corinthians were viewing their leaders as the access point in which to experience God’s goodness. For the Corinthians, by holding onto a certain human leader, they thought they could experience certain things from God. Yet Paul calls the people to reject this idea. In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians that, because of what Jesus had done for them, they already had access to all the good things of God. And that the teachers that God brought into their lives, where a part of that goodness, that they could praise God for.

With that now in our minds, let’s return to 1st Corinthians and begin reading in verse 1 of chapter 4. And as we begin, we’re going to separate this passage more than usual so that we can better follow the flow of thought as Paul writes. Let’s read.

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Paul gives us a brief understanding of the role of a leader. Using the apostles and other preachers of his day, Paul lets us know that leaders are first and foremost servants of Jesus. The word servant here is the Greek is hupéretés (hoop-ay-ret’-ace), which was someone who maned an oar on a lower part of the ship, there were usually slaves. In other words, Paul was letting the people know how low a position it was to be a leader of the Church. This fits perfectly with Jesus’ teaching on leadership in Matthew 20:25-28, where Jesus says in verse 26, “…Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…”
This is the way of the Christian leader, to be the first servant.
And then Paul lets us know that leaders are also entrusted with, or stewards of, “the mysteries God…”
Meaning that the Gospel, the story of: God creating the world perfect, humans then caused sin which put all of creation into bondage, which then they couldn’t do anything to fix it and therefore were destined to die in their sin, but God the Son came to earth as Jesus, died to pay sin’s requirements, and now gives life to any who would accept him as Savior, and those who accept him are to now follow him in the way he has called us; that story is a leader’s job to pass on to believers in a continual passing of the torch.
These are the roles of a leader, and when more authority, or prestige is given to them beyond this, we make an idol for ourselves out of them. Instead of them doing the job in which they were called to do.
We can see the negative results when Christian leaders go beyond this simple role of God. 

Let’s move on to verse 3.

3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 

In these verses, we see Paul begin to talk about judgment. In verses 3, Paul almost comes off as cocky in the way he writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear…”
But, as Paul continues to write he ends that section with, “that does not make me innocent.”
What Paul is getting at isn’t that he is above judgment, but rather he is entrusting his judgement to the only One who can judge him correctly. 
Later on in chapter 6, Paul will address the inability of the Corinthians to judge in small matters. Since they are unable to judge small situations, they would also be unable to judge Paul in his spiritual life. Paul too is unable to judge himself, because only God is truly able to judge the motives and actions in us. And so, what are we then to do?
This is where Jesus’ teaching on judgment in Matthew 7:1-5 comes in. Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Judgment must start with us, and our sin must be dealt with before we can even think of judging others. So instead, we are to take ourselves before God for judgment. In the 26th Psalm, King David writes, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…(v.2)”
Again in the 51st Psalm, David writes, “7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you (v.7-13).”
This is what each of us is called to do. To have our lives judged before God so that we can be cleansed of sin. We cannot speak into the lives of another until we are willing to have God judge us. 
So what is the process then? Well, first we must take our spiritual lives before God and seek his judgment in them, then we may speak into the lives of those that God has place us in, as a person seeking the betterment of others. Jesus says, “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” David writes, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways…”
So we must personally walk through the judgment of God first, then we may speak into the lives of others. It has to has to happen in this order, because if not, there is no love in correction and division in the Church then occurs.

And what does Paul say? In verse 6 he writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit…” 
Paul has gone through this process and is now speaking to the Corinthians. But how have the Corinthians acted in their own process? Let’s drop down to verse 7.

7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

Here, Paul is being a little bit facetious. And I have to admit I missed that in my first few readings, because it doesn’t really come off as facetious in English, but does so in the Greek. Paul is contrasting the need to be humble, to that of the Corinthians thinking of themselves as rich and kingly. To the Corinthians they can choose a human over Christ because it suits them. To the Corinthians, they can reject Paul because they don’t consider all that he has done on their behalf. In other words, they have received all the riches of Christ, and now act as if they deserved it, rather than being humble in their acceptance.
And so, Paul let’s them know what it really means to be a leader and follower of Jesus. It means hardships. It means going hungry and thirsty at times. It means to be dishonored, gossiped about, reputation tarnished. It means to bless those who curse you. I means to endure torture and persecution. It means to be seen by the world as less than human.
And if you’re not experiencing those things, you should as least be humble in thanking God for your circumstances, and not be like the Corinthians that attributed their circumstances, not to God, but to them being better than others.
Paul is attacking their pride, for the purpose he gives us in verse 14.

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

Paul attacks the Corinthian pride so that they would be more humble in their treatment of those that God has placed over them. In verse 15, Paul uses the Greek word, paidagógos (pahee-dag-o-gos’) which was a slave who’s job it was to help a child in their development of morality. Paul is saying that the leaders that who they are fighting over are still lowly workers in God’s economy. They are doing a job they are called to, but that job is different than what Paul had done for them.
There’s a difference between those workers and Paul. Paul says they are like a slave in the care of a child, guiding them in morality, but they are not family. It’s a job to these other leaders. But to Paul, the Corinthians are more like his own children. And so Paul uses the word gennaó (ghen-nah’-o), meaning one who brings fourth another, like a father brings forth a child. Paul is saying that the Corinthians were brought forth by him as a father would their child. And so, he has a greater desire for them to succeed.

This leads us into Paul’s final words on this subject of leadership. Since he is a leader, and since he is like a father to them, he has some final words for them. Let’s read them in verse 18.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

You ever hear a child talk big about how they’ll do something as they well please, but then they buckle when they see their parent?
On the first weekend of college, I was taking a group of fellow students out to a lake to hang out. Marika was in the front seat with me, and three guys were in the back. I had never been to this lake before and so I was following some leaders of our small group. Well, they took off like a shot, and I tried to keep up with them. The fact is, I was going way too fast trying to catch up, and a eventually saw two flashing lights behind me. 
After the officer took my information and walked back to their, one of the guys in the back started talking big. Saying things like, “If I was driving, I’d tell the cop what I thought.” And in my mind, I was thinking, “Yeah you can talk big, except you don’t have a car, and you had to ride with me.”
It’s the same with some of the Corinthians. There were some talking in defiance of Paul’s authority in their lives, and Paul calls them out on it. And ends up asking them a rhetorical question, “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?”
Of course no one likes being reprimanded, but Paul’s intent is, again not to come to the Church with harshness, but rather to build them up in unity. But that doesn’t mean he will shuck his responsibilities of a father to his children. It really is a, “this is going to hurt me more than you” situation.

And this brings us to what God has for us. If a letter with this last chapter was written and sent to us, challenging us in our spiritual walk, how would we respond? If I am honest, I think I would have some pride show up. I would respond with, “I pray, I read my Bible, I go to church.” But Paul doesn’t address any of those things, rather what’s being addressed by Paul is, are we willing to be judged by God, and have our humbleness in our faith challenged? Because that’s what Paul is doing to the Corinthians in this chapter. He is challenging them to check their lives, asking God to judge what’s going on in them, and then be humble about the results. That’s hard, because we tend to become prideful, forgetting what God has done to bring us to where we are today. We can forget the distance we once were from God, and how far those who God sent into our lives have worked on our behalf.
But God wants us to recognize the work he has done, and how he calls us to continually seek his work so that we may come closer to him. We are called to constantly go before God and ask him to search us, cleanse of all unrighteous thoughts and actions. And by doing this, we will be humbled by God’s work in our lives. And this leads us to better unity in the Church, because if everyone is seeking to be humbled by God, then no one is seeking their own self interest, but only the interest of God himself.

So my challenge you for this week is to read Matthew 7:1-5, and ask God everyday, what David asked in Psalm 26, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…”

In this way we will bring greater unity to the Church, through godly humbleness. Amen.

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 3 - “You Got It All”

Back at the turn of the 4th century, the Emperor of Rome Diocletian, began persecuting Christians in North Africa, he did this by resending their religious rights. The Christians were told that they had to worship the Roman gods and give up their Scriptures to be burned. This was the tenth great persecution of the Church under Roman rule, and is considered one of the greatest Christian persecutions of ancient times.
Some bishops of the Church are said to have rejected Christ and when the persecution was over, many Christians were said to have questioned their faith. The thought was, if I received salvation under a bishop who then renounced Jesus, is my faith true? The bishops that came in afterward assured the Christians, that their faith didn’t rest on a bishop’s faith, but rather their own trust in Jesus. 
But it’s this very idea of going through a spiritual leader to gain God’s good gift of salvation or to receive God’s goodness in general, that brings us to back to our summer study in the book of 1st Corinthians, where we’ll be picking it back up in chapter 3, verse 1. And as we return to 1st Corinthians 3:1, let’s catch ourselves up to where we’re at in the book so far.

In our first week, we opened the letter of 1st Corinthians with Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian Church to be united. There were several issues that were happening in the Corinthian Church that were causing divisions, and Paul decided to write to them so that these divisions could be dealt with and that unity could be restored.
The first of these divisions was over leadership, with several groups holding up a certain teacher as the one who had greatest authority. Yet, as we walked away from this first week, we saw Paul calling the church in Corinth, and us, to realize that having human teachers is good to help us, but they should never take the place of Jesus himself. In fact, a good human teacher is one that points us continually back to Jesus.
This led us into our second week where Paul focused on having the wisdom of God over the wisdom of the world. He challenged the Corinthians to reject the world’s wisdom and to fully embrace God’s. Because we cannot hold onto the wisdom of the world and couple it with the wisdom of God. This is because they are incapable with each other, and in the end, one will overtake the other. Paul calls us to allow God’s wisdom to prevail in our lives, but that means we need to reject the world’s wisdom.
Now, as we look back on these first two weeks and we move forward this week and next, we must realize that in these first four chapters, Paul is still dealing with the issue of leadership. Holding onto godly wisdom will aid us in determining which human leaders we should listen to, and which ones we should reject. 
With this now in the forefront of our minds, let’s dive into 1st Corinthians chapter 3, starting in verse 1.

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul points out two realities in these fifteen verse. The first is his audience’s situation. They think that they have embraced the wisdom of God and rejected the world’s wisdom that Paul has mentioned, but in reality they haven’t. Paul tells them that they are infants in Christ, and being infants, they require milk and not solid food. It’s a simple analogy. Just like a baby needs milk when they’re young because their digestive track cannot handle solid foods, so too a Christian who is young in the faith needs to have milk teaching until they can digest more hearty teaching. 
So what’s that mean? It means that there are rudimentary teachings of the faith and there are advanced teachings of the faith. Before we can understand the advanced, we must understand the rudimentary. And Paul gives us one of those rudimentary teachings, and what is that? Jealously and quarreling about who to follow. But it’s deeper than that. It’s not just, I like this person’s teachings and not that one’s. It’s a miss understanding of the basic purpose of those who God brings up to lead his people.

This is that second reality. Paul gives us to analogies of what work a leader does in the lives of others, but let’s focus on the first. Starting in verse 5 Paul gives us a simple dichotomy of what those who are leasers are supposed to do. The dichotomy is simple, there are planters and there are waters. That’s it. Paul says that some plant, meaning some share the Gospel, we would call them evangelist, and some water, meaning they teach or disciple those who have heard the Gospel. Can someone both plant and water? Yes, but there are only these two aspects of godly leadership.
This simple dichotomy of the believer’s work in the Gospel process is spoken about by Jesus in places like Mark chapter 4. In Mark chapter 4, we are given three parables about seeds. The first and third of these parables fit within Paul’s dichotomy of what the believer’s work is. The first is the Four Grounds parable; where there are four types of ground that the seed, or Gospel, is spread on. Three of which are not conducive to the Gospel’s growth, whereas the fourth produces a crop that dwarfs all others. This parable was given to the disciples to let them know that as they share the Gospel, people will respond in different ways. The third of the parables is the Mustard Seed parable; Jesus explains that the mustard seed is small, but it’s growth into a large plant is drastic. This was to communicate the fact that even a small planting of the Gospel can produce enormous results. Paul picks up these ideas of the believer’s work. Paul both plants and waters the Gospel in people’s lives, as does  Apollos. In fact, every believers is called to plant and water the Gospel in the lives of others in some way.
But then at the end of verse 6 Paul says, “…but God has been making it grow.”
This is Jesus’ parable of the Growing Seed. Jesus tells of farmer who plants his seed and then goes to sleep. While the farmer is asleep, the seed begins to grow. Slowly over time the seeds grows into a plant ready for harvest. The farmer didn’t make the seed grow, but rather simply planted and watered it. The implication from Jesus’ parable is that his followers simply plant and water the Gospel, but it is God working behind the scenes, that is growing the Gospel in people’s lives. 
Paul picks this idea up and let’s the Corinthian church know that neither Paul nor Apollos have grown anything in the lives of the people, but rather it is God himself who has done this. Paul’s point is a rehash of the point he made earlier, we can have human teachers that plant and water the Gospel in our lives, but we must always make sure that God himself is our first teacher, never replacing him with someone else.

But Paul doesn’t end there. In fact, he gives us a greater insight into just what God has grown in our lives. Let’s drop down to verse 16 and read.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

  It’s here that Paul lets us know of two things that God has and is growing in our lives. The first is God’s temple. Now, this isn’t a temple in the sense of a building. The church building that we meet in is not a temple, and in fact Jesus in John chapter 4, verses 23-24 moves beyond temples or even physical locations where God meets his people and instead brings it to the gathering of his people where true worship happens. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 that, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The presence of God is where his people are. And so Paul tells the Corinthian Church that they, gathered together in unity, are God’s temple. If they then chose to live in jealously and quarreling, they are destroying God’s temple in their midst. This leads to a harsh rebuke by Paul in verse 17, where he says, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person…”
But that’s not the only thing that Paul says God is growing in the people’s lives. And in verse 21, after Paul writes, “…no more boasting about human leaders…” he writes, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours…”
When I first read this, I began to wonder, what does Paul mean by all things are yours? What does it mean that Paul and Apollos and Cephas and the world and life and death and the present and the future are ours?
Then it hit me, Paul’s teachings are from God, so are Apollos and Cephas’. So then, I can accept them. They are good for my growth and the growth of others. The world is mine, in that God created it and I can enjoy it as he made me to. Life and death are mine. Death has no hold on me, and though this body dies, I live! I have life in Jesus that began when I accepted him as my Savior, and it’s mine into eternity. The present is given to me by God to glorify him, and whatever is given to me I can rejoice in it, because God is with me in it. The future is mine, because God has it in his control and so I need not worry about what will happen.
Paul tells us that all this is ours who are found in Christ Jesus. This is because all things are Jesus’, and we are inheritors of all that he has. 

But here’s the problem, we tend to think that our having all things is someone how connected to a human person we follow, rather than in God himself.
When Paul says in verse 4, “I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos,” what he means in the Greek is that people are saying “we are of them”. That it’s in these teachers that we find salvation. That’s why Paul in verse 26 says, “…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” 
Pointing us away from being of any teacher, but rather of Christ who is God.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Christian leaders, mostly on TV, say, if you send me “x” amount of dollars, God’s going to bless you. Now, is there a connection in giving where God calls us to give and blessings? Yes, but is our blessing connected to a human leader, or is it connected to God himself? If we are living as if our relationship with God, or blessings from him are predicated on what human leader we follow, then we are living as an infant in the faith. Just as the Corinthians were doing. Because our faith, our salvation rests in a person and not in God himself.
We need to reject that line of thinking. That line of thinking that says, a human stands as a gateway between me and God. Paul would later write in his first letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…(2:5)”
God is calling each of us away from human leaders as the source of our relationship with him and recognize that leaders are fellow workers, fellow planters and waters of the Gospel. We can learn from them, but it is God who is our source of growth and the one who has given us all things. And so, we must not break the bond of unity, but rather be built together by God into a temple where his Spirit can dwell and be seen by the world.

My challenge this week for you is to read through Mark chapter 4 verses 1-34 and pray that God would help you plant and water the Gospel in someone’s life, that you would thank him for those who plant and water in your life, and that you ask him to grow everything that has been given to you so that you would be built with your brothers and sisters in Christ into his temple.

So then, let us join in unity, as God’s temple, seeking God’s growth in our own lives, rejoicing in that he has given us all things for his glory. Amen.