Sunday, February 22, 2015

Unity, Diversity, and Maturity I Corinthians 3:1-10

I Corinthians 3:1-10
Introduction: The High School basketball season has come to an end for our teams, and they did great!  With some sports, like wrestling, you are on a team, but really it is you against your opponent, no one is going to help you and you can’t really help anyone either. With a team sport, like basketball, a cohesive team that plays well together can sometimes defeat another team that may have an excellent player, but which doesn’t play as “one.”  Do you consider yourself a team player or a one man show?  I am not talking about basketball, or hockey, or football. I am talking about the Christian life, about living as the body Christ intends us to be. The Corinthians were allowing themselves to be divided, and pridefully identifying themselves with one or another human leader. Paul is calling them out, saying that these things ought not to be.
The Big Idea: Unity flows from humility and is evidence of maturity and submission to the Lordship of Christ.

I. Mature Christianity: A Unified Church (1-4).

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? 
First of all we see that mature, growing Christians live increasingly in the light of their unity in Christ. Conversely, a divisive spirit is evidence of an immature faith. As Paul opens chapter 3 he returns to one of the key issues among the Corinthians that had been reported to Paul: divisions in the church. We see in v.1-3a  that the divisive spirit of the Corinthians reveals their spiritual immaturity.  In the preceding context Paul spoke about two categories of people: 1) the natural man, who represents fallen, unregenerate humanity, and 2) The spiritual, that is born again believers, normal, healthy, growing, Christians.  If you are no longer one, ideally you should become the other. This context in I Corinthians is a reminder that the Christian life is a walk, a process, in which we hopefully are growing more and more into what we were created to be: mature, healthy, followers of Jesus. The Corinthians were not there yet, and in some respects they had stumbled and stalled at the start of the race.

3:1 starts, “But I, brothers” For the fifth time in this letter Paul again addresses the Corinthians as his “brothers.” The repetition of this mode of address in such a short space draws attention to it (it occurs 28 times in the entire letter, more than in any other epistle of Paul!). Here are the examples we have already seen…

1:10I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

1:11For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.”

1:26  “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

2:1  “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.”

And now in 3:1, “But I brothers…” It’s clear that Paul wants to constantly reaffirm his confidence that the Corinthians are his brothers in Christ, he wants them to know that he stands with them and he is admonishing them in love, as a fellow believer, as a brother.  Do you see here the pastoral heart of Paul? He doesn’t talk down to the struggling Corinthians rebuking them with his apostolic authority. Rather, he comes alongside them and encourages them toward thinking rightly.

He says “…I could not talk to you as spiritual…” That is where they could have been or should have been, since they were no longer “natural men,” fallen humans, separated from God.  In fact they were “spiritual” since they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  But they weren’t acting that way, they weren’t living up to their positional reality. Instead Paul has to introduce another category of humans to describe the Corinthians, and he uses two, parallel phrases to do it: “…but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” In the first phrase “people of flesh” contrast with “spiritual” earlier in the preceding context. Since believers have been made alive spiritually and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they can and should walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) be led by the Spirit (Gal 5:18; Rom 8:14) and filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), manifesting more and more in their lives the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). Even so, the Corinthians were not experiencing that kind of fruit. They were “in Christ,” but they were “babes in Christ” (I Cor 3:1). In another context that is talking about the maturing that should happen in the context of the proper use of spiritual gifts in the body we read in Ephesians 4:14-15

“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
In our small group this week we mentioned a youtube video, a mother saw her little girl, maybe 4 years old, with her arm around her baby brother about one, and the little girl was crying. The mother asked what was wrong, why was she crying? The little girl is sobbing, and dramatically says, “I love him so much just the way he is, I wish he wouldn’t grow up! I want him to stay just like he is!”  It was a cute video, but we know growing up is necessary, normal, healthy, and a failure to grow would be a tragedy. The Corinthians were still acting like babies!

If you put a piece of steak in a baby’s mouth he might gnaw at it a little, but he won’t get much from it, he might even choke on it. No teeth!  They need milk at first, and then, gradually, as they grow, they move on to more solid food.  Our current Sunday School series, “Ballast for your Boat!” is dealing with the question of sound doctrine that will help us stand firm as we “grow up” into the mature Christ followers God wants us to be.  The Corinthians had some great teachers, including Paul and Apollos, but they were still children, babes in Christ. They hadn’t grown up! Verse two is striking language, “They weren’t ready for it then [when Paul was with them] and even now they are still not ready!”  

Vv. 3b-4 shows the evidence of their immaturity, the proof that they needed to get the basics right before they could move on.  The effects of immaturity? Living like the world! The “jealousy and strife” among the Corinthians revealed where they were at. They were “living like [mere] men…” The idea seems to be that looking at their lives you could hardly tell a difference, if at all, between them and the world around them. This ought not to be!  There is no doubt that we will not reach perfection, we will not be sinless in this life. But we should be different, noticeably different, from what we were before we trusted in Jesus. After all, “…if any man be in Christ—a new Creation…” (2 Cor 5:17).  We are citizens of Heaven, we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit who is the down payment of our inheritance, the assurance that we are God’s, forever. How can we live like the world any longer?   The divisions ought not to be. You see, unity flows from humility and is evidence of maturity and submission to the Lordship of Christ.

II. Healthy Christianity: God working through diverse gifts (5-7).
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
The attitude of a servant (5a).  Paul exemplifies humility putting himself side by side with Apollos. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” We are servants, from the work “diakonos.” Does that sound familiar? The English word “deacon” is basically a transliteration of the Greek word, diakonos. The verb form was used back in Acts 6 when Peter talked about the inappropriateness of leaving the ministry of the word to “serve tables.” Paul says of himself and Apollos, we are just servants, here by grace, wanting to be useful to the Master.

Recognition of the gift giver (5b). “Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each”  We did the task that God had entrusted to us. Our part was limited, we could take no credit. Why? Because He is recognizing that God deserves all the credit. Paul includes himself with Apollos, we are just servants through whom you believed, “as the Lord assigned to each.”  He is in charge of this mission, He is building His church.  And He calls each of his people to have a part in his mission. Have you recognized that God has assigned to you a place on His team? He gave you a role in His mission?

Recognition that growth depends on the Lord (6,7). “I planted, Apollos watered… God caused the growth…” He gives gifts to humans, He calls us, He sends us, He empowers us, but any change that happens in another person’s heart is the result of God at work in them, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. God causes the growth. He has chosen through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. Believers should “long for the pure milk of the Word that they may grow thereby…” That is God at work in us, molding us into what He wants us to be.   Once again, unity flows from humility and is evidence of maturity and submission to the Lordship of Christ.

III. Missional Christianity: Edification and Outreach (8-10)
8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.  10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
God working in us—We are both the means Jesus uses to build his church, and a part of the church He is building (8,9). Noticed he points to our unity in God’s mission: “He who plants and he who waters are one…” The disunity and divisiveness that was threatening the Corinthian church were exactly contrary to the reality of their position in Christ: we are one, part of the same body, under the authority of the same Lord. WE are God’s and YOU are God’s. We are “co-workers,” we are on the same team, carrying out the same mission.

       Then he describes them as God’s “cultivated field…” Not just God’s land, not a wild meadow, but something being cultivated, tended to, carefully developed by the Master. When I grow a garden by the Fourth of July it is hard to tell the difference from a wild meadow! Not so with Mary Ann, she plants flowers, places them carefully, waters and feeds them, plucks out the weeds that sprout up, she even talks to them! There is design and purpose in what she is doing. Paul uses that image for the Corinthians: You are God’s cultivated field… He has placed you and set you where you are, he will give you what you need to nourish you and help you grow.  And He will protect you from those who would trample you… And then he uses another image…

You are… God’s building…”  Here he mixes the metaphor and calls them “God’s building.” It’s hard to read that and not think ahead to a little further down in this chapter (and again in chapter 6) where he’ll call them God’s “temple” (I Cor 3:16). Paul uses this imagery in other places,  in Ephesians 2:19-22 for example…

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

       I’ve spoken before of the house I grew up in. It started as an old army barracks that my father moved to a piece of land.  At that time there were two children in our family, my older sister and myself. As our family grew, my father kept on adding on to the house, first to the back, then to the side, then upward… it seemed to take on a life of it’s own! Now it is multifamily with four apartments! It was all haphazard, ad-hoc growth. God’s building is intentional, perfectly planned, exactly as he intends it.

God working through us—Each “co-worker” is called to faithfully fulfill his calling (10).  According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled [“wise”] master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

First, notice that Paul’s actions were “according to the grace of God given…” to him. He understood that his Christian life and ministry was initiated by the grace of God, and he understood that whatever good he accomplished it was because of God’s grace working in him.  So he worked as a wise master builder… In the context of I Corinthians 1-3 the adjective “wise” must be understood in terms of the contrast Paul has set forth between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God.  He was a master builder guided by God’s wisdom. He realized he had a part in the mission of God to the Corinthians, but others that followed him did as well.

Jesus is ultimately the one building his church, and if we are seeking to be obedient we want to recognize what he is doing, discover the gifts he has given us for reaching in and building up, and reaching out and bringing in. God is building his church, and each of us, if we know Him, have a part in that mission. “Let each one take care how he builds…” on the foundation God has established.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Unity flows from humility and is evidence of maturity and submission to the Lordship of Christ.  

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you see yourself as part of a team, or as a “one man show”?  Are you more like a wrestler, you against your opponent, or are a basketball player, contributing to the effort of the team? Team work is important for basketball, and it is also God’s design for the church. One plants, another waters. One lays a foundation, another builds on it. Each has a part in the mission, but God brings the increase, Jesus is building his church. God’s story is revealed in Scripture, and it is unfolding in history. Everything is moving toward the culmination of God’s plan. By grace we have been included in that story. One of the joys of the Christian life is discovering our part in God’s plan. The church is God’s design, his plan, and that means discovering how our gifts fit into the mission, it means a place where we can build up others, and be built up and held accountable.  The Corinthians were priding themselves on their tolerance of sin and their supposed spirituality, but the truth is they were Christians who were still babes, because they were not living in the light of the Church as God had designed it. How are we doing? Are we taking seriously the “one anothers” of the New Testament? Are we seeking to use our gifts for the building up of the church and reaching out to the world?  Think about that, AMEN.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

In the midst of the storm

In the Midst of the Storm: Pain, Patience and Promise
Psalm 102
Introduction: [This is not a complete “study” but rather an outline that was used to guide a discussion of this psalm last Wednesday evening. Your insights, answers and thoughts on the questions, reactions to the big idea, are all invited in the comments section below]. We’ve been working our way through the psalms the last couple of years for our Wednesday night prayer meeting. Last Wednesday night we started our prayer meeting with a devotional on Psalm 102 entitled, “Snow, the Super Bowl, and the Souper Bowl…” OK, the “Super Bowl” is past, that was fun (and the ending was pretty exciting!). And the “Souper Bowl of Sharing,” is over, our offerings and gifts going to the regional Food Pantry. That certainly reminds us that many people struggle to meet their needs day to day. The snow?  Well, enough said about that! But if you are in a warm home, safe from the elements, maybe you are counting your blessings today. There are many people facing challenges, persecutions, and life threatening situations in many parts of the world. Today weather may keep us from church, but we don't live in fear of ISIS soldiers breaking through our doors. In some areas of the world believers are putting their lives at risk by identifying themselves as Christ followers.  At some level the tribulation that comes with living in a fallen world touches us all at some point. There is hope in this psalm.

The Big Idea: The suffering of this age can be overwhelming if we lose sight of the promises of God. Keep looking up!

I. The suffering of this present age (1-11). Jesus said that we would have tribulation in the world (see also John 16:33).  God created a world that was good, but human rebellion brought the curse of God on creation. We live in a fallen world, disoriented by sin and the consequences of sin.

Psalm 102:1-11  A PRAYER OF ONE AFFLICTED, WHEN HE IS FAINT AND POURS OUT HIS COMPLAINT BEFORE THE LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!  2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!  3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.  4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.  5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.  6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;  7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.  8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.  9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,  10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down.  11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
Read slowly through these verses one at a time and sense the desperation, even despair that seems to overwhelm the psalmist. Have there been points in your life when you felt some of this?  Was God there in the midst or you pain? How did you get through?

II. Kingdom living in a fallen world (12-22).  If this is where we are living, what hope is there? Because we know the King, what’s more, because we are HIS children, we can live victoriously in the midst of chaos.

Psalm 102:12-23  12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.  13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.  14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust.  15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.  16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory;  17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.  18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:  19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,  20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die,  21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise,  22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.  23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.
Consider the stark contrast in v. 12, “But you O LORD…” What characteristics of God are emphasized in the following verses? What does it mean to us to consider that God is “enthroned”?  What actions, past, present, or future, give hope to the psalmist? Which of these verses speak “hope” most clearly to you today?

III. Hope for the Age to Come (23-28). There is no promise that all hardship goes away when we decide to follow Jesus. In fact, in some ways things might get worse! But as it is written in another psalm, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5b).
Psalm 102:23-28   23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.  24 "O my God," I say, "take me not away in the midst of my days- you whose years endure throughout all generations!"  25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,  27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.  28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.
How do you feel about the idea that God is sovereign, even in the midst of our suffering? One writer said, “Nothing touches us that hasn’t first passed through the hands of our loving, heavenly Father. Nothing.” Do you believe that? Have there been hard times in your life that God used for your good, or for the good of others?

How does the psalmist bring together the plan of God in creation and the promise of His presence in these verses?  

To guide us into prayer: He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We trusted Him in the past, we can trust Him now, whatever the circumstances, and tomorrow, whatever may come.  Think about how so much of what we pray about relates to the struggles of living in a fallen world. Is that true of your prayer list? Does His presence in the darkness give you hope? Does the promise of Heaven make you stronger? Your insights and testimonies could encourage someone today, please post your thoughts!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God has spoken: Do you hear Him? I Corinthians 2:6-16

The Way, The Truth, and The Life
(or, “God has spoken, do you hear Him?)
I Corinthians 2:6-16
Introduction: Do you prefer driving with a map or GPS, or just exploring? I’ve grown accustomed these last few years to having the GPS plugged in all the time, even if I know exactly where I am going. The assurance that I am on course, the correction when I stray, the reminder of where I am at and how much further there is to go, there is something comforting about it all.  Even the annoying “RECALCULATING” when I make a wrong turn isn’t so bad anymore.  The Corinthians had begun to stray off course, they were perhaps not rejecting the theology Paul had taught them, but they were arbitrarily deciding how it should be applied in their lives and in their church. Maybe that is what it means to you, but this is what I think… Have you heard that? Have you said it? Paul is going to emphasize the reality of God’s Positioning System, God’s GPS, that is, His presence in the person of the Holy Spirit working in the church, and in the life of the believer. We have been given a “God-breathed guidebook,” the Bible, and we have the Guide and Author himself to lead us through it.

Remember the Context: Paul is concerned about the reports he has heard of divisions in the church in Corinth, divisions that arose because of allegiance to different human leaders and a faulty confidence in human wisdom. After urging the Corinthians not to allow divisions by wrongly aligning themselves with certain human leaders, after contrasting the wisdom of the world with its love of philosophy and rhetoric over against the wisdom of God and the message of the cross, after reminding the Corinthians of his own ministry among them, not in impressive speech or argumentation but with the attitude of a humble servant, setting forth the plain message of the Gospel, Paul now argues that true wisdom, God’s wisdom, cannot be appreciated or understood by everyone, yet it can and should be understood by those who are “mature,” ideally by every true believer in Jesus Christ.
The Big idea: God’s plan is immeasurably beyond what humans would imagine, and he has revealed his plan by the Spirit through the word. Let us read the Bible for what it really is: the revelation of the King and Creator of the universe!

I. God has revealed a plan that is wiser than we could imagine (6-10a). There is a “wisdom” that comes from God, and offers greater hope than we can comprehend.
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away;  7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;  8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;  9 but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM."  10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit… (I Cor 2:6-10a).
        “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature […en tois teleiois…]…” The old KJV translates “those who are mature” as “those who are perfect.” The word can have that sense, but it is not the usual New Testament usage. It’s much more commonly used to refer to something being “complete” or “mature.” In the Greek context of Corinth it was also a term used to refer to someone who had been initiated into a group.   It may be that is the idea that Paul has in mind here, appropriating their language to make his point more emphatically. He is saying that there is a kind of wisdom, God’s wisdom, that he speaks among the true insiders, the brethren, the Christ followers. 

     “…a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away…” The source of the wisdom spoken to believers is not this age, or the rulers of this age. They are “…passing away…” A present passive participle, they are being nullified, being abolished. The sense seems to be they are dying, on their way to perdition, and they don’t even know it.  Paul is contrasting true wisdom, God’s wisdom, with the “philosophy” of men.  The wisdom of this age, like the rulers of this age, is passing away. The wisdom of God, however, abides forever. That wisdom centers on Jesus, the Word who was made flesh. It focuses on calling men to believe who He is, and calling them to trust in what He has done. Paul has just said, “I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

     “…a secret, hidden wisdom which God decreed from before the ages…” God’s wisdom, his plan, is not something he has worked out as he went along. Think about it: He is the Lord of history, all of history from the time of creation has been under the sovereign reign of God.  God has ordained, or decreed, His wisdom, His plan, from before the ages, i.e. from before the foundation of the earth.  It was a “mystery,” hidden in times past, but revealed, progressively through history, by God, reaching its pinnacle in the Cross and Resurrection.   Paul made a similar point in Ephesians 1:3-10,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,  8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight  9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
As the writer to the Hebrews says, “In different times and in different ways God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, in these last days He has spoken in [the] Son…” God’s revelation of himself and of His redemptive plan for humanity reached its pinnacle in Christ.

      “…to our glory…” Does the wonder of that strike you? That God had a plan from eternity past, and, if you know Him, it included you. You have been predestined for redemption, for forgiveness, for adoption, the recipient of the riches of His grace, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, all because of Jesus. Paul makes the same connection in Romans 8 when he says,
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29-30).
He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion, we will be gloried because of Him!
      Notice what he says, none of the rulers of this age understood what God was doing, if they had, they would not have crucified the “Lord of Glory.”  Who are the rulers of this age? Men? Yes, that is the point, but we understand it was not only men.  Elsewhere Paul says that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving…” (2 Cor 4:4). I don’t think Satan himself understood what God was doing in the Cross. The human rulers certainly didn’t. It was expedient for Caiaphas and for Pilate. It was a way to maintain the status quo and keep peace with Rome for the religious rulers.  The amazing thing is that even their unbelief was turned around by God and used for His glory. They rejected Jesus, nailing Him to the Cross by the hands of godless men, but all of that in accordance with the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God (see Acts 2:21-23). God spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all… The rulers of this age didn’t know what they were doing. Remember the prayer of Jesus as He was being crucified? “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). That is grace, love beyond measure.

     “…eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered man’s heart…” The wisdom of God, His eternal plan, is more that humans could imagine. There are a lot of man-made ideas about life and death and eternity. No one could have come up with a plan like God’s plan.  Even people that profess to believe will sometimes say, “My God would never do that!” Wait a minute, who says He wouldn’t? Are you sure about that? What has God said about himself, and us, in His word?  Instead of reacting from our gut, from what “seems right,” let’s diligently search the Scripture. That is the final arbiter of truth.  He has spoken, and He has revealed absolute truth in His word about who He is and about what He expects of us. And now through the foolishness of the message preached He saves those who believe. That is truly amazing grace!
     “But God has revealed them to us by the Spirit…” (10a). Men did not and could not come up with the plan that God has revealed. From a human perspective it is unimaginable and unthinkable. BUT, the things that God has done and planned for our benefit, have been revealed to us by the Spirit. The God who is has spoken. He has revealed himself. And He is good. What’s more, He has shown us His love in the Son. God’s plan is immeasurable beyond what humans would imagine, and he has revealed his plan by the Spirit through the word.

II. God has revealed his wisdom through revelation by the Spirit (10b-16).
for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.  11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,  13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.  16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ (I Cor 10b-16).
·          Only God (the Spirit) understands the depths of God’s wisdom. 10b-11 makes an analogy. As no one knows what is in another person’s heart, only the Spirit understands to depths of God. Sometimes couples get in trouble here: rather than listening to what someone says, we think we know what our spouse is thinking! No always!  "I didn't say that!" "Well, you were thinking it!" Enough said. Or not.
·          We (who know Him) have received the Spirit! Because God, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we who know Him can understand the things “freely given us by God.”  Through the Spirit we can understand what God has revealed. “Freely given” is related to the word for “grace,” undeserved favor. God was not compelled to speak to humans, to enter our story, to reveal himself and to show the way to reconciliation. But He did!
·          The context is talking about revelation, v.13 get’s more specific it seems and speaks of the process of inspiration. “Which things we also speak…” Notice that God did not only inspire “ideas” but “words.” Note the language Paul uses, “…not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” Elsewhere he says,
“…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
And Paul is not the only apostle who wrote about this process of revelation through the inspiration of Scripture. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:21, For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” All these texts emphasize the work of the Spirit in the process of inspiring the words written by the human writers of the Bible. It is God’s Word to us, the Word of the Designer, Creator, and King.
2:14-16 presents one of those doctrines that challenge our thinking and stretch us.  Theologians refer to this as “the total inability” or “total depravity” of the unregenerate or “natural” man.  God’s revelation is unintelligible to the “natural person.” The language is very strong here: He does not receive them because to him they are foolishness to him, i.e., moronic, nonsensical. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. This is not saying that it is difficult for them to “get” spiritual things or that they are a little slow to undertand. They simply do not have the capacity to receive them and understand them because they do not have the Spirit. Period. Deaf, dead, and blind.
God will guide us to think His thoughts after Him… 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.  16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:15-16). He is our teacher, He will guide us in our understanding of His truth.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Driving aimlessly around our beautiful mid-coast area might not be a bad thing once in awhile, but we don’t want to be aimless in our walk with God.  He has given us a map, a GPS to guide us, and God’s plan is immeasurably beyond what humans would imagine. He has revealed his plan by the Spirit through the word. Let us read the Bible for what it really is: the revelation of the King and Creator of the universe!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?
1. Are you reading these words, and feeling an uneasiness in your heart, uncertain if you have truly been hearing His voice in the Word? That uneasiness may well be the conviction of the Holy Spirit, prodding your heart, by his kindness leading you toward repentance and faith.  You are not saved by saying you believe, or by praying to believe, you are saved by believing: recognizing that He is who He claimed to be, and trusting that He did what He came to do: that is, He died for your sins, in your place, and He defeated death in the resurrection. Praying a simple prayer is an expression of faith that can seal that miracle in your heart: Even if it starts with a hesitant, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” You might pray something like, “Lord, I know I am a sinner and deserve judgment, I believe that Jesus is Lord, that He died in my place on the Cross, and I put my hope for forgiveness and eternity in Him.” A prayer like that is an expression of faith, of trust in Him. The promise of Scripture is that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
2. Believer, do you believe this Book to be the revealed Word of God? Do you long for the “pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby? Start, now, reading, daily, systematically, with an open heart. It’s here that you meet Him and hear his voice and learn what He expects you to do. You learn of His love, and of His grace. I have several resources to help guide you as you read through the Bible, but it really only takes a choice on your part to pick it up, daily, and read it.

3. Be reminded that we are on a mission. God has us in this world to be his witnesses. That means looking for ways to share the Word of Truth with people in our sphere of influence.    We need to encourage one another, we need to point others to Him. In reach and outreach. Both are part of our calling as his disciples.  Think about that,   AMEN.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Balancing Your Christian Life I Corinthians 2:1-5

Balancing Your Christian Life
I Corinthians 2:1-5
Introduction:  Nik Wallenda is a believer in Jesus who comes from an interesting family: like generations before him He is a “tight rope walker.” He was in the news in recent years when he walked over the Niagra Falls. He also had crossed a cable suspended between Sky Scrapers in Atlantic City and again in Chicago, and he crossed another stretched over a portion of the Grand Canyon, 1500 feet above the little Colorado river, and 1400 feet across. He says the key to safely completing these feats is his training (he’s been doing it since he was 2), and keeping his focus on a solid object on the other side. He has used his celebrity as an opportunity to point others to the solid Rock, His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Remember the words of the writer to the Hebrews in 12:1,2a of that epistle…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
Probably 40 years ago Charles Ryrie wrote a book entitled, “Balancing the Christian Life.” I am only borrowing the title of the book, because just as Wallenda needs to maintain his balance on the high wire, fixing his eyes on a solid object on the other side, we need to maintain balance in the Christian life by looking to Jesus. I think Paul exposes in this passage the attitudes that complicate maintaining “balance ”— specifically we get out eyes off of Jesus and begin relying on our efforts or what seems reasonable to us.  
Context: Paul has confronted the divisive spirit and spiritual pride in the Corinthian church by reminding them that a right understanding of the doctrine of grace must lead us to a proper humility.
The Big Idea: We can stay balanced in the Christian Life by relying on God’s power and remembering that our life, ministry, and message must be centered on Jesus.
I. REMEMBER the Lord: Keep the focus on Jesus (2:1,2).
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 
     - Paul’s initial approach: “And I, when I came to you brothers…” Paul just talked about them and their calling at the end of chapter 1. He reminded them of their humble backgrounds and made it clear that it was only by grace that they had been chosen by God. Now he turns the lens toward his arrival and his ministry among them. In short it wasn’t about him, he always sought to point them to Jesus. So again, as a brother speaking to brothers, “And I, when I came to you brothers…” He is gently inviting them to think back to his early ministry among them.
        First Paul says what he did not do when he began his ministry in Corinth: “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom…” After his time in Athens, speaking on Mars Hill and debating with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, Paul might have been a little disappointed by the relatively small response to his preaching. Just a few converts.  As he came to Corinth and saw the streets crowded with people, trying to get ahead, a place full of commerce and wealth, but also, like Athens, a city full of idols, the temple of Aphrodite with its temple prostitutes overlooking the place.  He did not resort to rhetoric or eloquence or philosophical arguments to win people to the Lord. He was determined not to stand in the way of the gospel.  
         Notice the positive statement concerning Paul’s approach in v.2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified…”  Is Paul saying that for 18 months in Corinth he never went beyond the basic facts of the gospel? I don’t think that’s the point. He determined to keep his message focused on Jesus, on his person and his work.  That’s a good decision for any preacher to make, after all, Jesus is the center of the message of the Bible and he must be both the solid rock that we look to, and the source of life that we need. Paul sums it up well in Colossians 1:16-20…
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus Christ and Him crucified!  We can stay balanced in the Christian Life by relying on God’s power and remembering that our life, ministry, and message must be centered on Jesus.

II. RELY on God’s power, not our ability or cleverness: Remember He is the source of power for life and witness (3-5).
3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
       First, Paul describes his ministry among the Corinthians in terms of his “Weakness” – A conscious recognition of his own limitations. In 2 Corinthians Paul uses this term as he talks of God teaching him humility in the context of the apostolic revelations he had received:
7 So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
       It is not only in “weakness,” but with “fear and trembling” that Paul ministered to the Corinthians. This pair of terms is always used by Paul in contexts that affirm God’s majesty and His sovereignty [especially in salvation]. Remember from the Old Testament that true wisdom is characterized by the “fear of the Lord,” a reverence for Yahweh that trembles before his awesome presence (cf. Prov 1:7). As Paul exhorts the Philippians in 2:12,13 of that letter we see the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility,
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
As we remember who we are: fallen, weak, and sinful… and reflect on who God is: awesome, omnipotent, holy, just… We should tremble at His presence and power working in us! Paul was with them in weakness, and in fear and trembling, and that should be our attitude in the Christian life.
       “…My word and my message were not…."  He uses again the word “logos” to describe his speech, and he refers to his “message,” kerygma. This is the heart of the doctrine that he taught. Paul uses the term logos in every one of his letters except Philemon, so it is not rare by any means. But he does use it more in I Corinthians than in any other letter. Most frequently Paul uses the term to describe the word of God, or to contrast the word of God and the word of men. For example note this verse where the word appears three times,
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers…” (I Thess 2:13).
These are the first six uses of “logos” in I Corinthians, two of them in today’s passage:
1 Corinthians 1:4-5  4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-
1 Corinthians 1:17-18  17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.
1 Corinthians 2:4   4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…
1 Corinthians 2:13  3 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Throughout these first two chapters Paul has been contrasting “words of wisdom” (human, earthly, carnal wisdom) and the Word of the Cross, or, as he’ll say in 2:13, “words taught by the Spirit.”  Where do you want to put your trust: in the best ideas that fallen humans can come up with, or in the God who spoke the universe into existence, “the Word who was made flesh”?  The writer to the Hebrews says, “In these last days He has spoken in [the] Son…”
       The complementary term Paul uses here is not nearly as common, “message,” kerygma.  It only appears six times in all of Paul’s letters, three of those in I Corinthians. Here are the six times Paul uses the word:
Romans 16:25  25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
1 Corinthians 1:21   21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 2:4  …and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power
1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
2 Timothy 4:17 [probably the last letter written by Paul before his death] But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.
Titus 1:2-3   2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began  3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior
The English word “preaching” just doesn’t appear full enough. Paul seems to use kerygma to summarize the apostolic message, the sum total of the revelation of God in Christ that they were proclaiming to the world.
       His preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, “…BUT…” a strong contrast, “on the contrary,” rather than human ingenuity, eloquence, or wisdom, Paul’s message was “…a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” If you live anywhere near the church, you heard (and felt!) the blasting that was going on across the street (I don’t know if it’s stopped for the winter or if it is really complete!). Those charges of dynamite shake the ground for hundreds of yards. That is a lot of power.  God is all powerful. God uses his word to break through the “stony heart” of fallen humans, and he gives us a new heart, as the prophet says, “a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26).
V.5 gives a purpose clause, that is, the reason that Paul relied on God rather than seeking to use whatever means he could to “win friends and influence people,”  
“…[in order] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
After all faith, true faith, saving faith, comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Faith is taking God at HIS word. For the glory of God and for the good of his listeners, Paul wanted to stay out of the way and let the Word of Christ do its powerful work in the hearts of his hearers.  Listen, we are not going to argue anyone into heaven or bully them into becoming believers. If that were the case it would depend on us. Rather, with love and compassion we want to share the word of the Lord with them, knowing that it is only as the Spirit applies the word to a human heart that it will be received, by faith. 
Instead of human wisdom or eloquence Paul desired to see a demonstration of “the Spirit and of power…” I think the NIV gives the sense of this when it says a demonstration of “the Spirit’s power.”  Paul wants God to be put on display, publically placarded, all the glory going to Him.  He wants to say “Look at Jesus, see what He has done!” This word “power” or “dunamis” is common in Paul’s letters. However it’s another word that he uses more times in I Corinthians than in any other of his letters (so far we’ve seen 1:18,24; 2:4,5).
·        Remember the contrast between the “words of eloquent wisdom” and the “word of the cross” in 1:17,18. God’s word is powerful and true.
·        Though God’s message is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others (1:23), to the called it is the power and wisdom of God (1:24).
·        Here, Paul relied on the Spirit to empower His words rather than trusting in his own eloquence, because he desired that his hearers have their faith on Christ, the Solid Rock—all other ground is sinking sand (2:4,5).
He wants his readers to reflect on the spiritual power of the Word of the Cross, the gospel message by which they had been saved.  They needed to keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Balancing the Christian life: We can stay balanced in the Christian Life by relying on God’s power and remembering that our life, ministry, and message must be centered on Jesus.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Nik Wallenda has well illustrated the importance of maintaining balance by keeping our focus on an immovable, unshakable object. That’s as true in the Christian life as it is on the high wire. Jesus is the Rock of Ages, the Strong Tower, the Mighty Fortress in which we can trust.  Have you begun by faith and slipped into trying to be perfected by human effort?  As Paul says elsewhere, “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.” We need to stay balanced, keeping our focus on Jesus, relying on His power, remembering that our message and ministry, our very life, must be centered on Him.

       The Lord’s Table is a periodic opportunity to re-focus on Jesus, to make sure we are keeping the main thing the main thing, to get our balance. It draws our eyes to the Cross, to the price that was paid to redeem us. It reminds us that He is God, Savior, Master, and we can trust Him.  He deserves the glory.  Think about that. AMEN.