Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 10 - “Don’t Really Want to Do This”

We’ve all been there right? There’s just something we have to do, but we really don’t want to do it. Giving a presentation in front of the class. Dealing with that one neighbor that irks you with how they maintain their yard. Or for some people, Mondays at work. One of the things that I find funny every year, are the little cartoons that are sent around where that has a guy knocking on the door of a room, telling the occupant of the room to come out it’s time for school. The occupant of the room then yells out, I don’t want to go, their mean to me there. To which the man knocking replies, yeah but your the teacher and they’re just kids. 
I love it because two of my siblings were teachers and my brother-in-law still is.

But it’s this idea of knowing that we’re suppose to do something, yet not really wanting to do it that brings us back to our summer sermon series in the letter of 1st Corinthians. This week begins a multiple week dive into the more controversial topics of the letter, which start chapter 11 verse 2. But before we being this trek into the controversial topics, let’s remind ourselves where we are.

Every week we go over Paul’s main point in writing this letter to the Corinthian Church. That main point, is unity. Paul’s desire for the Church is to be unified, and so every issue or topic that he brings up, are causing disunity. Paul wants us to work through these issues so that unity, even in hard topics, would be found.
And so far, Paul has dealt with five of these dis-unifying issues.  First Paul addressed, which leader to follow, with his conclusion being Jesus. Which seems easy, but when we allow our preferred human leaders to become more than Jesus, disunity happens. And so Paul reminds us that human leaders are good only as far as they point us back to Jesus and help us grow in our relationships with him.
The second issue is the unwillingness to confront and judge the sin that was happening between Christian brothers and sisters. When we do not view sin as a problem, it naturally leads to disunity. And to compound that, when we are unwilling to deal with that sin, then disunity becomes the norm and the Church has no solid foundation to stand on when the world looks at it. So Paul calls the Church to take seriously our own sin and the sin in the Church, so that it doesn’t grow out of control and makes a mockery of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
The third issue was not being content in the circumstances that God has places us in. A  desire to do new things, or go where God has called us is good, but the problem comes when we don’t think that God can do anything with us until we leave where we are. And so, we become dis-unified because it’s never the now that God can work, it’s always the later.
The fourth issue is the fight over non-essentials. When we make the non-essentials of the faith more important than the core teachings of Scripture, we will inevitably cause disunity. This is the reason why we have so many Christian denominations. Most are founded on the unwillingness to be okay with disagreements over the non-essentials.
The final issue that we talked about was the idea of what is the use of knowledge. When we seek knowledge just to be the smartest person in the room, we sometimes get to the point where no one else is worthy of us, this leads to us demeaning and belittling others. But as Christians we are called to use knowledge in a way that is tempered by love. In the Christian’s life, knowledge for knowledge sake is not the goal, rather, knowledge of the betterment of my brothers and sisters is what I should strive for.

With the last nine weeks refreshed in our minds, let us now turn our attention to the first controversial topic of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, where we’ll being readying in chapter 11 verse 2.

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

In the remaining six chapters of 1st Corinthians, Chapter 11 is the beginning of a four chapter arc dealing with the issue of worship in the Church. In this worship arc, Paul deals with four areas worship. In the first sixteen verses of chapter 11, Paul focus’ on head coverings of both men and woman. And since this issue has been used to call Paul a misogynist, or attack the Christian faith for making women less than men, I think that this passage warrants a verse by verse breakdown to fully understand what’s going on in these verses.
  So, we’re going to read a verse or verses and then talk about each. Let’s start with verse 2.

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.

The traditions that Paul talks about are not the cultural traditions of the the Israelites, we have to remember that Paul was the leading opponent of making Gentiles, non-Jewish people, become cultural Jews in the way they would follow Christ. This is recorded in Acts 15, where Jewish Christians were trying to make Gentiles take on Jewish cultural practices, Paul rejected this idea that in order to be a Christian one must adhere to certain cultural practices. If you were here last week, we actually addressed this in how Paul used his knowledge to reach past culture to share the Gospel back in chapter 9 of this very letter. And so, it’s not cultural traditions that Paul is talking about, but rather as the Greek word literally translates, we’re talking about teachings (paradosis [par-ad’-os-is]). So the Corinthian Church, as far as the teaching in their worship was concerned, that was good, and Paul commends them for it. But Paul is looking at a different problem that was facing the Church, let’s read verse 3.

3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

The problem that Paul sees, is a problem that is rooted in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree that God forbade them to eat of. This issue is practical submission to godly authority. What I mean by that is, in the Bible we are given two created orders that lead to unity: unity in substance, and unity in authority. Both are alluded to in this verse.
First, let’s talk about unity in substance. This idea speaks to the created order that because we are the same, i.e. humans, there is a unity there. This can be understood through God himself. We can look at who God is in unity and then apply that to humanity’s unity. The biblical concept that we see of God, is that he is one God, and at the same time revealed in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. The word persons that we used to describe this unique differentiation, is not the use in the individual sense, but rather in the fact that each has personality. This means that that there are three distinct persons and yet all are one God. All are equal in divinity, in power, and authority. There are not three gods, nor is there one God playing three parts. All are co-equal in all sense of the word, and so there is no hierarchy of greatness in who God is. Marriage is the best idea that follows this: man and woman, as the Scriptures say, become one in flesh. This is something we’ve talked about in the arena of sexual relationships. There is a unity there where the two are co-equal in the marriage relationship. This is unity in substance. There are two, but they are co-equal. 

The second part is unity in authority. This idea speaks to, even though substantively  there is nothing that makes us better than the other, we understand that to work well, one takes the lead and the other submits. We do this all the time when we get into cars. There’s the driver and passengers. The driver is not substantively different than the passengers, as far as humans go, but they take the lead in the actual driving. For God himself, the Father takes the lead, and the Son and Spirit submit to him. This is why Paul says, “…the head of Christ is God.” Paul uses the word God synonymously with the term Father, because Paul uses words like Christ and Lord of Jesus as a way to denote their rolls and this submission relationship. And so, Christ derives his authority from the Father, because he has submitted himself to the Father’s authority, even though, substantively, Christ is not less than the Father.
And so it is with humanity. Men and women are not substantively different from each other, but there is a godly authority structure given to us. Therefore Paul gives it to us as verse 3, “… the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

For the most part, it is the unity in authority that Paul is focusing on in the rest of the passage, and not unity in substance. 

Now I want to make an observation here, Paul uses Greek terms of men and woman that are almost interchangeable with Greek terms for husband and wife. This seems to be because the family structure is the closest human institution, that God designed, that follows both in unity of substance and unity of authority.

So the issue that Paul is trying to get at in these verses, is an issue dealing with submission to authority in the Church, to which the Corinthians, though they preached correct teachings, they were not conducting themselves rightly. And really, we can see this throughout the letter. In fact submission can be seen as the root of every problem that the Corinthian Church has encountered so far. Leadership - unwilling to submit to proper authority, even to Christ. Judgement - unwilling to submit oneself to be examined for sinfulness. Contentment - unwilling to submit ourselves to our situation. Non-essentials - unwilling to submit to the idea that not everyone has to submit to our relationship with God. Knowledge over Love - unwilling to be humbled for the good of others.

Submission is that one thing that we know we’re supposed to do, but really don’t want to.

Let’s keep reading in verse 4.

4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

The Greek word kata (kat-ah’) that is translated as covered for the man, has the connotation of “something that separates”. In other words, a man should not have anything that separates himself and God above who is above the man in authority. And so, no covering is needed.
But then Paul uses a different word to talk about the uncovering of the woman’s head. The Greek word akatakaluptos (ak-at-ak-al’-oop-tos) is used, which basically means uncovered. But it comes from another word, kaluptó (kal-oop’-to), which means, to keep oneself covered. This can be understood with the idea that a woman is covered by her husband’s authority, or as the veil covers a bride’s face in a marriage ceremony. The one who uncovers the veil is the husband and so, only in front of him is she uncovered. Just as there is no covering between God and man, there is no covering between husband and wife. But to all others, even to God, the wife is covered. This is because of the joining that occurs between husband and wife.
It’s an interesting idea, because it truly speaks to the deep relationship that marriage plays in our spiritual walk with God. How many lives would be different if marriages continued to be godly? Where the husband and wife were only giving themselves to each other, and strengthening their bond?
It must be this idea that Paul is going for, because he brings up this idea of a shaved head. Now this must be understood in it’s cultural context. Remember, Corinth is a metropolis and indulged in many sexual acts, one of these was prostitution. Corinthian prostitutes had a practice where they would shave their heads, and then put blonde wigs on, this was to announce their availability. So Paul is most likely making a comparison of leaving behind biblical authority structures for sinful acts. This wouldn’t be out of the norm of biblical teaching. Our sin being related to a prositute is a common theme throughout the Old Testament, and in fact, is put on full display in the book of Hosea. Where God calls the prophet Hosea to be married to a prostitute, only for his wife to return to prostitute. God uses this to teach his people that this is exactly what they are  doing when they return to sin, they are like one who prostitutes themselves. Paul seems to be associating an unwillingness to submit to this created order of unity in authority as a sign of sin in the vein of prostitution.
This isn’t to stay that a woman who’s head is uncovered is somehow a prostitute, but rather, the an unwillingness to submit to biblical authority structure is a sign of deeper sinful problems. And the unwillingness of men to take their role as leaders in the Church seriously is just as sinful.

Now let’s look at Paul’s two reasons of why these authority structures and coverings are  there. The first of these reasons comes in verses 7-12.

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

The first reason Paul gives for why there is this authority structure is because of the image of God. Paul states that Man is the image and glory of God. This term glory, carries with it, the idea of honor, or worth given to man by God creating him. Now the knee jerk reaction is say, “So are women!”, and that is correct. Men and women are both made in the image of God, we know this because of Genesis 1:26, that is the unity in substance that we mentioned before, but that is not what Paul’s focus is. Remember, Paul is focusing on the unity in authority. 
And so Man is created by God first, as we understand it from Genesis 2, and therefore God’s glory, honor and worth is in man. But also in Genesis 2, we know that the woman is made out of man, this means that the glory of man is in her. The man’s worth his honor is now in her. God creates man and from that, God’s glory passes to man. God makes woman out of man, and so man’s glory passes to her. This is the same idea is found in verses such as Proverbs 17 verse 6, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged…”

Paul speaks of the order of creation here, giving us an understanding of the order of the godly authority structure. 
But we also know from Genesis 3 how the breakdown of this order of authority can lead to catastrophic disunity. At the end of the story of Adam an Eve in the garden, when God is giving out judgment, he begins from the bottom in distributing punishment. The serpent crawls on his belly, the woman has increased childbearing pains and a strained relationship with her husband; both of these are personal consequences. But to the man, the very earth that he has to work is now cursed. And so judgment worsens as the one with greater authority is addressed. This is why, to teachers, the book of James says this in the 1st verse of it’s 3rd chapter, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
So, a woman’s head covering is a display of willing submission. A submission to the original order of God’s creation. Now this submission is supposed to be voluntary. In fact Paul connects his own voluntary submission in chapter 4 verse 9. Where Paul talks about how God has made him a spectacle or an exhibit to the angels. The angels watch at what we do. Paul submits to what God has for him, and the angels see that willing submission, and so Paul calls women to that same willing submission as an example to the angels in verse 10.

Now the thought might then cross our minds, does this mean that men are more important than women? No, and because of that natural thought, in verses 11 and 12 Paul refers back to the reality of the unity in substance, that calls both to be under God’s authority in a rightly created way. Men are not separate from woman, as if they do not need them, and vice-a-verse-a. We are unified in our substance before God, just as God is to himself. Yet, just as God works in a unity in authority, so too are we called to do the same.

Paul’s final thought on the subject is another reason why we should accept this teaching. Let’s drop down to verse 13.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Paul’s final thought on this, points to a common structure throughout the cultures that Paul has encountered. In Hebrew, Roman, and Greek cultures, men would cut their hair short and women would keep their hair long. This was one way of differentiating between men and women. For a man to wear his hair long in theses cultures (except where specifically mentioned in a culture’s teaching, such as the Nazarite vow with the Hebrews) meant that the man was trying to be a woman. This was a practice also going on in the city of Corinth, which we covered back in chapters 5 and 6. Paul denounced men trying to be effeminate or playing the part of the woman, as to be a part of a sexual relationship with other men. 
Most cultures have distinctions between male a female, and so Paul is affirming that even in a natural sense, separate from the biblical teaching, we as humans have a natural understanding that there are differences between male and female. In the Church, we should understand these differences, and embrace the unity that comes from the biblical order.
Then Paul adds this in verse 16, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”

In our society, we are challenging this idea of unity in authority. We say men and women are the same, but in saying this we are distorting the concept of the unity in substance that the Bible teaches. Out society is moving in a direction we’re saying there is no difference between what it means to be a male, or what it means to be a female. And because we have distorted the unity in substance, we have distorted the unity in authority. Willful submission is kicked to the side as being unneeded because no one should have to submit to another. Yet, what has that gotten us in our society? Confusion of sexuality, which leads to a lost identity. 
Feminism once said that femininity should be celebrated, which I agree. But then it began to say there is no difference between male and female, and now we are told that you can change from a male to a female and vice-a-verse-a. And because of this and many other factors, all of which are rooted in sin, we are seeing chaos in our society.
But not just our society, but the Church as well. What if, we take the biblical teaching of unity in authority seriously? You know, I am not the final authority in our church structure? That’s the Elders. And so, I must submit to them. But did you know, that they in turn submit to me has their lead shepherd, and they do this under Christ, because they see that I submit to Christ? 
And because of this willing submission, our church leadership is in accord with each other as we follow Christ together. Willing submission is not a place of indentured servitude, but rather a freeing place of understanding our role in God’s work, and being able to work for him all the stronger. 
Those over us are there for our encouragement, those under us are there to be encouraged. 

We must not fall into the trap where we reject godly submission to godly authority. When we do that, disunity comes easily and quickly. Instead, God calls us to submit in the roles and places we have been given. In this way, and in this unity, the world will understand that we follow Christ, and his teachings. 

And so my challenge for you this week is simply to answer this one question, do you struggle with the idea of submitting to another? Why are why not? Are you willing to submit to a person whom God has placed over you or would you leave a church because of it? One of the things I ask every new member is, are you willing for me to be your pastor? I’m not perfect and I will make a ton of mistakes, like I probably already have, but are you willing to place yourself under that authority? Where a guy who is most likely the age of your children can speak into your life? So answer this question of authority and rad through the passage of Matthew 5:38-48; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; Romans 13:1-7; Ephesians 5:22-6:11; 1 Peter 2:1-4:19.

It doesn’t matter your age, or your sex, submission is hard. It was the root of the first sin, and the root of most disunity in the Church. But when we submit to the authority that God has set up, his Church becomes unified and he is glorified through it. And that should be all our goal. Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 9 - “I’m Not That Smrt”

While in college, we did some pretty weird stuff, because, you’re young and dumb. There was this one time when Marika, two of her roommates, and I participated in a jeopardy style gameshow for students. Each group of four had to create an identity for their group and play as if you were that personality. Our group was something, none of us really remember, because you try to forget unpleasant experiences, but I know there’s a picture somewhere that reveals the truth. Now, out of all of us, Marika was the most extroverted person, but I was the most vocal, but as the game progressed, our group just couldn’t keep up. That is until one question. The question was along the lines of, “The 2000 hit song ‘Opps I did it again’ was sung by this artist.”
Now in a split second the name Brittany Spears crossed my mind, so I buzzed in, and for the first time in a while, we had an opportunity to get some points on the board. But as I spoke the name that I was thinking, the name that came out was not the right one. Instead of saying Britney Spears and getting the answer right, I said something like Gwen Stefani. Who, though they looked similar at the time, was obviously not the same person, and as soon as the name slipped out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong. It was all down hill from there, I don’t remember the rest of the game, but I know I was silent for the remainder of it. I was extremely embarrassed, because I knew the answer and messed it up. I had the knowledge, but the knowledge didn’t help me and my team. 

And it’s this idea of having knowledge and using it in a way that benefits others that brings us back to our study in 1st Corinthians, where we’re going to be returning to chapters 8,9, and 10; the same three chapters we talked about last week.

And as we open up to 1st Corinthians chapter 8, let’s bring ourselves up to speed on where we’re at in this summer study.

As we saw in the opening of this letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul is calling for the unity of the Church to be restored. The Church’s unity was starting to fracture because several issues had arisen that were not being taken care of. 
These issues include: a misunderstanding of Christian leadership, which focused on humans rather than on Jesus; the second was an unwillingness to confront sin, which not only turned a blind eye toward sin, but boasted about it infant of both believers and non-believers; the third was not being content where God has us, trying to become more spiritual by getting out of the very situations God uses to draw us closer to him; and finally as we saw last week, realizing that our relationships with God is both individualized and community oriented. And so we must be willing to get ride of the non-essentials in our lives, if it means helping others grow in their relationships with God.

And it’s with this idea of helping others in their walks with God, that we are going to return to chapters 8, 9, and 10, because within these chapters Paul gives us a way in which we can help each other out in our faith walks.

So let’s read together, starting in verse 1 of chapter 8, and see how we can better help each other grow as children of God.

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

Now last week we talked about the situation that Paul is addressing here. Food was offered to pagan gods to both cleanse it of evil spirits and to gain favor from those gods. Christians were struggling with the idea of then eating that food when it was offered to them, because it came from a pagan place of worship.

But this week, let’s focus on what Paul writes in these opening verses as he deals with the food offered to these pagan gods. Paul writes in the 1st verse, “We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’”

The knowledge Paul is talking about is that the pagan gods are not real. In the book of Isaiah, chapter 43 verse 10, God himself says this, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.’”

God himself states that there are no gods that are before him, meaning that no gods predate him in existence. And that there are no gods that came after him, and the Hebrew literally means, none that he, God himself, created. 

Paul is affirming that these things that people are sacrificing food to, are not true gods, but rather, they are idols; things created by human hands from a human desire to control what they cannot. If we drop down to the latter part of verse 4, Paul writes, “‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’” Paul is referencing God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 4:35, where God says this when referring back to what he did in Egypt, “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other.”

Now Paul concedes that there are “so-called gods” in verse 5, but these are nothing on the level of the God who has called us out of sin and into new life. These other gods and lords are nothing compared to the God who came to earth, walked among us, died for us, and was resurrected. These gods are pale, lifeless imitations to the true and living God. They are man made, while he is not.
And so it’s this knowledge that Paul is talking about in verse 1. But then after Paul mentions this knowledge of the one true God over all imitations, he writes these words, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.”

Knowledge is something that needs to be tempered. Knowledge for knowledge sake is not the best use of it. The practical work of knowledge has to accompany it, or else, it will only lead to a state of pride. This is why Paul says knowledge puffs up. When we know more than others, we can easily get into a place, where our head becomes to big for the room. And this is Paul’s point, knowledge without the temperance of love, is worthless. Because the intent of love is to use knowledge for the betterment of others. And so those who know God and are known by him in close relationship, are those that use their knowledge to build people up in love.

This is the basis for what we talked about last week, with the reality that we are both individuals in our walks with God, and yet we are a part of a community of believers who are to help each other by focusing on the essentials, and letting the non-essentials fall when they need to.

But, Paul isn't just going to leave us trying to figure out how we can use knowledge to help others grow.

No in fact, Paul gives us two examples of how to do this. The first of these examples comes in chapter 9 verses 19 through 23. Paul writes this, “19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Paul points to using knowledge to help people hear the Gospel. The knowledge that Paul has is his freedom in Christ. You and I, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are free. Free from the power of this world over us, free from the chains of sin in our lives, free to do pretty much anything within the bounds that God has prescribed, because Jesus has set us free. Yet, Paul says that he chooses to use his freedom to become a slave. And so his knowledge of freedom is used to bring others to Christ. 
And so he is a Jew to Jews, and though he knows that he has been set free from the Mosaic law that the Jews have to follow, he can live within it’s rules, not because it’s required, but rather so that he can show that he can follow the law of Moses, and yet still follow Christ.
To Gentiles or those not under the Mosaic Law, he is like a Gentile, able to converse on a philosophical level, yet all the while having the law of Christ, which is love, be his foundation to that philosophy.
To those who are weak, Paul can live in weakness because Christ gives strength.

Now, I have heard the charge against Paul, that he is being manipulative and two-faced by doing this. But is he though? He is still being true to his faith, and this is the great thing about the faith of following Jesus. The Christian faith is flexible in the sense that it can thrive in a multitude of environments. It thrived in the first century Jewish area where it began. It thrived in the Roman world. It thrived in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. It thrived on the new continents of America. And it thrives in both hostile areas, like China and the Middle East, and non-hostile, at least for now, areas like the US. Yet, it is consistent, Christ crucified on the behalf of sinners. Unlike other religions that require a cultural embrace in addition to the religion, Christians are as diverse in their culture contexts as those culture contexts are in the world. And when I was with Christians in Honduras, our language and other cultural ways were different, yet our worship to the Lord was the same.

This is what Paul is getting at, whatever the cultural context is, we can be Christlike in it, because Jesus supersedes and penetrates every culture. And so the first example of knowledge tempered with love that Paul gives us, is that we understand that Christ is beyond culture, yet to help those bound by culture, we can work with them to bring about salvation.
Ministries like Blood Water Mission, do this by, much needed drilling fresh water wells in African villages. The Alliance does through groups like CAMA services, where professionals from different business backgrounds go oversees, to what are called creative access countries, and share the Gospel through teaching their expertise. We are called to share the Gospel, and the Gospel is not limited by the world, only by the people entrusted to share it.

The second example that Paul gives us, comes from chapter 10. In the first example we are given a broad way of dealing with culture, but in the second example that we find in chapter 10, we are given a more specific one. 

And this is the one that gets many of us in trouble. For me it’s the hardest, because I want to be the smartest one in the room, and I have quickly come to realize, that that’s probably never going to happen, except when I’m alone with the dog, and even then it might not true.

But listen to what Paul writes in chapter 10, starting in verse 1. 

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul points back to the Scriptures to help the Corinthians understand their situation. He uses his knowledge of the Word of God to encourage and build up the Church. And he uses the Bible to let his fellow Christians know that they’re not alone in their walk. That there have been others that have gone before them who have set both good and bad examples, and that we can now learn from them. 
He’s not using the Scriptures to belittle, he’s not using the Word of God to demean, and he’s not using the Bible to break people down. Instead he’s using his knowledge of what has come before, to show the people just what others have done and the consequences of their actions. And he tells them as an encouragement, “13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

This is encouraging because no matter what I face, others have faced, and God is with me, providing ways for me to avoid sin in my life. 

And so Paul gives us our second example of how knowledge needs to be tempered by love: we need to use our understanding of the Bible to lift up our brothers and sisters, and not as a way to bring them down.

  It’s easy to try and be the smartest person in the room, and when we are or even when we’re not, it’s easy to use that knowledge to make ourselves greater than those around us. Yet, God wants us to use the knowledge he provides, in a way that builds up his Church. That is what we are called to. I was told once that you don’t really know anything until you’re able to explain it to a five year old and it make sense to them in a non-condescending way.

We are called to love each other, because we are God’s family, we are his Church. Each of us have been give responsibilities and knowledge to do just that. And so my challenge for you this week is twofold. First, we need to repent in our misuse of knowledge. I know have done this many times, someone asks a question or makes a comment, and the thought briefly passes through my mind, “that’ stupid.” We need to repent of things like that, because it’s not. Ignorance is not stupidity, purposeful ignorance is. 
Second, we need to seek God to temper our knowledge with love. As we’re reading God’s Word, we need to be asking, “how can what I read, be used to build up the Church?” We need to seek the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations, so that Scriptures are used appropriately, in their context, and for the betterment of our brothers and sisters.

And when we do this, God will be glorified, the Church will be encouraged, and unity will be restored. Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 8 - “A Team Sport”

I love sports. I started playing organized sports when I was five years old, with t-ball, and most of you know I played baseball up to my senior year of college. When I was a kid, I also played soccer, wrestled a little, and even played a little flag football. As a teenager I played baseball, soccer and basketball in high school, and even boxed a little, winning both my bouts by TKO in the second round.
I love sports because there’s two sides of the game, and I don’t mean offense and defense. The two sides I’m talking about is the individual and the team aspects. In every sport there’s both sides, but depending on the sport, one is seen as more important than the other. In most sports, like baseball and football, the team is very important. Every individual has to play their role on the field which can garner them a lot of praise for their work, but if the team doesn’t work together, then the everyone can suffer. In basketball the team is important, but an individual can carry the team through many games. And then there’s a sport like boxing, where the individual seems to be the most important, because boxers are going one-on-one in the ring. But even in boxing, there’s still a team, you have at least one trainer and the more high profile you get, the larger you support team becomes.
No athlete is an island. Every person that participates in sports has a team, either front and center, or supporting them on the sidelines. 
And it’s with this understanding of sports having both individuals and team participants that we come back to 1st Corinthians, where we’ll be starting back up in chapter 8 verse 1.

Now as we open up to 1st Corinthians chapter 8 verse 1, let’s recap where we’re at.

As we’ve been going through our summer series, the focus has always been on one word, unity. The reason for this is because Paul makes it his end goal in the very first chapter of his letter. Everything he says after that introduction is meant to bring about unity within the Corinthian Church. This is because the Corinthian Church was fracturing. 
So following Paul’s call to unity, he begins to address each of the issues that are causing fracturing within the Corinthian Church. First, the issue of leadership. The Corinthians were fighting over who was following the better leader. Paul addresses this with a call away from the focus on human leadership, and a return to Jesus as the authority over all others. Paul writes that human leadership is there only to nurture the believer, but even human leaders answer to Jesus, and so all of us are under his authority, with no human leader being more important than another.
Second, sin had become acceptable within the Corinthian Church, and so Paul addressed the second problem they were dealing with, which was an unwillingness to judge sin. For the two reasons that Paul gives and that we talked about, the Corinthians were not taking sin seriously, and so they weren’t taking on their role in judging within the Church in these matters. And so, Paul calls them to make righteous judgments in the areas of flagrant sin.
The third problem that Paul addresses, is what we covered last week. The Corinthians, most likely, because of sexual sin running rampant, asked Paul to speak on whether it was right for them to abstain from sexual relationships. It was here that Paul discussed singles and marrieds, revealing that both have their strengths and weakness, and that the goal was to stay away from sexual immorality. So if you needed to get marriage then Paul said do it, if you could stay single, Paul said that he believed that it was better to do so. But the crux of the matter wasn’t just sexual immorality, but rather an unwillingness to be content in the situation where people found themselves in. If we are not content where God has us, then sin will be all the more tempting because it says it has a way to give us more. And so Paul calls the Corinthians to be content, whether married, single, slave, or free.

Now with this refreshed in our minds, let’s return to 1st Corinthians and pick it up in chapter 8 verse 1. Now today we’re going to be covering three chapters. The reason for this is because we are looking for the overarching themes in the books of the Bible during these summer series. And sometimes, in order to see these themes, multiple chapters have to be looked at. So today we will be starting with chapter 8 verse 1, going all the way to the beginning of chapter 11. This means we will not be reading or covering every verse, but rather focusing on those verses that speak to the overarching theme. Then in the following weeks we will return to these chapters, because there are some other things in them, that we need to look at. But for now, let’s open together and read 1st Corinthians chapter 8 starting in verse 1.

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

In these verses Paul addresses a common practice of his day that the Corinthian Christians were struggling with. The pagan belief was that spirits would attach themselves to food and try to enter into a person’s body when that food was eaten. The belief was that, in order to cleanse the food of the spirits, it had to be offered up to the pagan gods. This had the dual outcome of cleansing the food and gaining favor with the god. The meat that wasn’t ceremonially burned to the god, was then used in the pagan religious festivals. Finally whatever meat was left over was then sold in the market. 
To a converted Gentile, the thought of this was abhorrent, and they were struggling with the idea that eating the food would return to their life before Christ. So Paul reminds them, that these other gods, are nothing, they’re mere idols, and have no power or authority over the believer’s life, and neither does food. In fact as Paul writes in verse 8, “…food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” 
This is a biblical teaching, where Jesus says in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Paul upholds the biblical understanding that what we eat and what we drink is not the basis of sin, or being spiritually unclean. Rather it is our response to those things that are in fact what causes sin.

And so, if you’re okay with eating the meat, then it’s fine to do so. This simple biblical teaching can manifest itself in a lot of other areas. Drinking alcohol is probably one of the ones that gets brought up a lot. Can a Christian drink alcohol? Well, as we talked about in our word study a few weeks back, the sin is intoxication; so can a Christian drink alcohol, perhaps. Will it cause them to become intoxicated and therefore sin? For me, I know from my life, that I can drink a little alcohol and not be intoxicated or even tipsy. But I’ve know friends who have put rubbing alcohol on their hands and passed out drunk.
This simple biblical teaching let’s us know that there are areas in the Christian life in which there is a little gray. In the Corinthian Church there are those that have no problem eating the meat sacrificed to idols, because they understand that the idols are nothing. Yet there are some that struggle with the idea because of past life issues. So if a person who has no problem eating the meat eats it, did they sin? No. But what if a person who does have a problem eats it, have they sinned? No but yes. They have sinned against their own consequence, not that the meat has made them sin, but their struggle and the power it has given the idol has caused them to sin.
So this should be a clear cut and dry thing. If you have no problem doing something that falls into a grey area fo Scripture, and as long as it is not taken to a sinful point, then you’re fine. But if you do have a problem with something that is not clearly stated in the Bible, even when others don’t, you should abstain from it, if you don’t it will cause you to sin. Simple right? Nope, because of what Paul says in verse 9.

  9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Paul just threw a wrench into this whole simple idea of I can do whatever I want, and you can do whatever you want. Our individual relationship with God is not that simple. What I do, can lead another into sin, even if what I’m doing is neither condemned within Scripture, nor is condemned by my consequence. And this is where it gets tricky. Because we have two seemingly contradictory ideas here. Take these two verses for example, both written by Paul. In 1st Corinthians chapter 10 verse 33 Paul states, “…even as I try to please everyone in every way…”
But in another letter Paul writes, this time to the Galatian Church, he states in the 10th verses of the opening chapter, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

These seemly contradictory statements by Paul is, in my opinion outside of the Trinity in theology, one of the hardest aspects of the Christian life to wrestle with. I am my own, but I am not my own. I am freed in Christ, yet I am a slave to him. I can eat whatever I want, but I need to be careful in it because of others. 
Especially in our individualized American Christianity, this is hard. What should I care what others think? They need to get over it.
Yet we are both the individual athlete, and one who is a part of the greater team. I must do what I can for both my good and the good of those around me. This is a hard thing to do, because individualism is so intrenched in our way of life, that living out our Christian lives in light of another’s faith seems unattainable or unnecessary. Yet it’s what we are called to.

Let’s walk through this: I come to Christ as an individual, my sins were paid by him on the cross. No one else can take his place, nor can anyone take mine. My individual relationship with God is what moves me to repentance, and to salvation. Yet now when I, the individual have come to God, he brings me into his Church. 
Paul writes this in Ephesians 1:15, “5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (NLT).”
We are now a part of God’s family. And so as a part of God’s family the Church, Paul goes into great detail of how we are to view ourselves as a part of that family. In chapter 9, Paul talks about the right he has as a preacher and apostle. Paul argues that, those who work in full time ministry have the right to be compensated for that work, yet Paul himself has decided to not take this right. He chose instead to be a bi-vocational minister of the Gospel, which is a really hard thing to do, I know, I’ve done it in the past. But this was his choice, he gave up his right.

Then in chapter 10 verse 23, Paul brings up again the Corinthian saying that we’ve talked about before when he writes, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

This goes to an even deeper theological thought that we do not have time to cover today. But suffice it to say that just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean they are in the right to do it. I personally have no problem with the idea of drinking minimal alcohol, but I rarely ever do it for the reason that if someone were to see me buying and they known me to be a pastor, that might cause them to sin. In my life I try to do things that would uplift people in the Lord. Do I always succeed? Far from it. 
One time I made a joke that was harmless to me and the person I made it with. But that person told another person, and that third person took offense to it. That little joke between two people, was one reason that third person gave for walking away from their faith. So, I try very hard to watch what I say with people now. Not because I think that what I did was wrong, but that joke was taken as something that hurt another’s faith.

Can we be people pleasers? No, we can only seek to please God, yet as we seek to please him, we need to begin to ask questions like, are there things that I do, that I’m fine with, but others could stumble over? Is it a hill I’m willing to die on? Can I live without this thing? If the answer is yes, I can live without something for the sake of another, then by all means let’s get rid of it. 

Paul’s words in chapter 10 verse 31 have become a staple thought in my life, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

Whatever we do, we’re individuals who are a part of a team. Our desires as individuals should be to glorify God, and if there are things that I can do to help another, that are not sinful nor are they required by God of me, then why not?

It’s easy to fall into the mindset that my faith is purely individual. That what I do only effects me, but the reality is, our walk with God is a community life, and the way in which we conduct ourselves can have lasting impact on those around us.

So what must we do? First, we must seek to help those who have convictions that we do not, we do this by not participating in those things that are not essential. Is drinking alcohol essential to the faith? Is, eating certain foods essential to the faith? Are certain clothes essential to the faith? Are certain political stances essential to the faith? Wherever we can, we must make allowances for each other and not hold onto the non-essentials of our faith. Second, if we are on the other side and hold to convictions that others do not, we must give grace to them. Allow them the freedom that is in Christ. Not everything we disagree with is a sin, and only when something is a blatant sin or a non-essential is taken to a place of sin, do we need to speak up. 

My father gave me this example years ago that has stuck with me. A man in the church smokes, and the members of the church chastise him for it, “You’re body is the temple of God and you’re destroying it with cigarettes,” they say, “That’s a sinful act and you need to quit.” But what they don’t know, is that God was working on fixing his marriage because he had an adulterous relationship, and it’s that, that God is focusing on. The cigarettes, though bad, were a less important matter in the grand scheme of things.  

This is my challenge to you this week, what are the essentials to the faith? Have you ever thought about that? I want to challenge you write down what you believe are the essentials to the Christian’s walk with God. Then, once that is done, make another list of things you do, that others might say of you, that’s not what a Christian should do, and in that list, cross out everything that you could live without if needed. 
There are certain things that a Christian cannot reject, Jesus as Savior and the only way to the Father is one of those things. So let’s narrow our lives to the essentials of the faith, all the while being mindful that God works with others as individuals and their convictions over non-essentials might be different than our own. Let’s examine our lives and be prepared to cut out the non-essentials, when needed.

Let us take seriously the call on our lives to be a part of the Church, by being humble with our own lives, and gracious with the lives of our brothers and sisters. When we do this, harmony and unity will overflow from our lives, and people will experience the God whom we serve. Amen.