Sunday, June 28, 2015

Wise Living: Love and Liberty I Corinthians 8:4-13

Wise Living: Love and Liberty
I Corinthians 8:4-13
Introduction:  Lewis Sperry Chafer was a very influential professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He apparently was personally convinced that Christians should not drink coffee, feeling it was both addictive, and bad for your health.  He never drank coffee himself, he taught his students that they shouldn’t drink coffee, and he preached against it.  Well during a conference at the school H.A. Ironside was present, along with another prominent Bible teacher of the day, and the three men went out for lunch during a break.  The waitress asked them what she could get them to drink, and Ironside and the other man said, “we’ll have coffee.” Chafer scowled and said, “I’ll take water, I’ll bury these two later!” Some of you might have a scruple about coffee, and others might like nothing better than meeting down at the Red Cup for a latte!  Who is right?  The Bible doesn’t talk about coffee, so what do we do when we face questions like that?  (Ironically, Chafer developed some heart issues, and apparently on his death bed his doctor advised him to have some coffee!).  Obviously we’re talking about more than coffee, and Paul’s teaching here applies to more than meat sacrificed to idols.
One of the verbal links that we saw in our two side-trips for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day into 1 Peter with Paul’s teaching in our current series in First Corinthians, is the word “knowledge” (and the related idea, “wisdom”).  Rightly defined, true wisdom, God’s wisdom, is rooted in the Gospel and the grace of God.  Here, in the opening verses of I Corinthians 8, we saw that if we love God, we have been known by Him. As God’s elect, how in the world should we live?  Looking back, we could have called our teaching series this year “Wise Living,” since the dominant idea has been contrasting the false wisdom (and false gospels!) of the world, with the truth of God. This section of First Corinthians is reminding us that “truth” is not just doctrine in the abstract, but that rather it is something that must be “known” personally. It has only been “believed” when it is received and applied in our life.  
The Big Idea: We are free in Christ, yet love should guide how we use our freedom.
Context (1-3): In 8:1-3 Paul introduced the topic of idol sacrifices and the principle that love should guide how we use our freedom.  “Knowledge,” even theological knowledge, is not an end in itself, rather, it must be guided by love.  We have been known by God, and now, as His children, we have been entrusted with bringing the message of His grace to the world. Paul now applies the principle to the matter at hand (N.B. 8:1,4).

I. REMEMBER THE TRUTH: The truth about idols is that they are nothing. The truth is, there is one God who made us and who has redeemed us (4-6).
4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."  5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth- as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-  6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 

       Paul starts by affirming theological truth.  For Paul, theology is always practical. Throughout this letter, as Paul addresses practical issues about divisions, immorality, lawsuits, marriage, and sexuality, he reminds them essentially of who God is, and who they are in the light of His story. He taught them doctrine and called them to live like they believed it!  As he addresses the question of “meat sacrificed to idols,” the theological issues are perhaps even more transparent.  As he establishes a basis from which to address the questions the Corinthians had asked him on the matter (cf. 7:1; 8:1) he has to lay a foundation before he calls them to respond.  There are two sides to what he is saying at the outset, 1) idols are nothing, and 2) there is one true and living God, the Creator, the God of the Bible.  We’ve been going through the psalms for the last couple of years on Wednesday nights, and lately we’ve been going through a group of psalms starting around Psalm 111, several of which begin and/or end with the phrase, “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah!” Yahweh, the Lord God of the Scriptures, He is the One true God who exists, and who has revealed himself in history, who remembers the promises He makes and always acts according to His character.  Our psalm for this Wednesday night is Psalm 115. Read verses 115:1-9,
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!  2 Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"  3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.  4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.  7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.  9 O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

Idols are nothing! Yahweh parted the sea and led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage. He gave them food and water for 40 years in the wilderness.  He brought them into the promised land and gave them victory over their enemies. Even when they wandered from Him, He never gave up on them but chastened them, and wooed them back to covenant faithfulness.  He preserved them through the exile and when the time was right he brought them back into the land.  The prophetic word was silent for a time, but in the fullness of time He spoke again, this time, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law. And redeem He did, through the cross and the resurrection.  That is a God who is real, a God who is faithful, and God worthy to be praised!  And yet men make their idols.  You might recall Paul’s visit to Greece on his second missionary journey. After coming through Philippi and Thessalonica, and Berea, before coming to Corinth, Paul stopped in Athens.  He was grieved by the idolatry he saw there.  We read his about his encounter on Mars Hill in Acts 17…
21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.  22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…
Paul came into a city that was full of idols. Just in case they had missed a “god,” they even had an idol to the “unknown god”!  Rather than starting by attacking their idolatry, he began with the positive, talking about the one true God, the one God who was still the “unknown god” to the Athenians, the one God who is real.  Paul pointed to Him as the creator and sustainer of the universe.  The Old Testament is full of teaching and warnings about the foolishness of idolatry.  We read in Isaiah 40:19-26,   
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.  20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.  21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;  23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.  24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.  25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.  26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
Also in Isaiah we read in Isaiah 44:10-17,  
 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?  11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.  12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.  13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.  14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.  16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!"  17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
Well it sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it that way!  The reality is, that is what we have all been saved from if we are believers. What do I mean by that? Well, the truth is, there are no real atheists, but there are many idolaters in the world. There is a sense of the eternal, an understanding that God exists, that there is an uncaused first cause out there, that we are not alone in the universe. But rather than taking God at His word and responding to Him we resist. We try to “create a god” in our mind, a god we can live with, one who is like us, one who leaves us in charge. So let’s not be too quick to say that idolatry was only a first century issue!
            The point Paul is making here is that for the mature believer, for the one who has come to the knowledge of the truth and trusted in the one true God, we realize that the idols men build for themselves are not gods, even though humans may act like it!  There is only one true God, our creator, the God of the Bible. The God who revealed himself in history and has invited us into His Story. That theological basis invites us to tear down the idols that lurk in the margins of our souls and to consider how he would have us live in the world. The truth is, we are free in Christ, yet love should guide how we use our freedom, love for God, and love for one another.

II. RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEM: Christian Immaturity (7-12).  God one, idols nothing. Final score. No debate. The Corinthians seemed to embrace that truth, but they were neglecting an important aspect of how it should be applied. If we are God’s, His beloved, His elect, how in the world should we live?

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 

       Paul has talked about truth, and now he points to the problem: not everyone has gotten it, not all have learned enough about grace to embrace their freedom in Christ, “…not all possess this knowledge…”  Some of the believers at Corinth felt like the old idols were all around them, luring them back, and they struggled to learn and grow in the knowledge of the one true God.  The Christian life is often called a “walk,” in the New Testament. It is a journey, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.  We’re not home yet, and we are all at different points in the journey.  Notice the phrases that are used to describe our brother and how we exercise our freedom…
     First of all, we all have different situations that we’ve come through in life.  Though we get to know each other over time, we don’t know everything about someone’s past and the things they might have struggled with.  Here Paul refers to some who “…through former association with idols…” had a history that affected their present “freedom” in Christ.  So, though what enters the mouth of a person can’t defile them, that brother, “…their conscience, being weak, is defiled…” If he knows the meat was sacrificed to an idol, even as it is in his mouth his mind may go back there, to the pagan worship that enslaved him in the past.
       The Corinthians had their doctrine right, Paul does not challenge that, it seems in v.8 he quotes something they are saying, that is, Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do…”   Paul agrees, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…”(v.9).  We don’t want to be the cause of someone stumbling in their faith, or backsliding into some area of struggle from their past.
       Notice v.12,  “…Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ…”  Listen, that “latte” (ok, I am not talking about coffee!) might be kosher, it might be theologically neutral, it might be perfectly ok for you, but if I am having lunch with a brother who has had a serious “Starbucks” addiction, I need to ask if my coffee is that important, or if I would do better to put my brother ahead of my freedom. 
       Paul makes a similar argument in Romans 14:13-23…
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.  22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.  23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin…
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.  Notice especially v.22, “…the faith that you have keep between yourself and God…”  In other words, if you have freedom in your own conscience in an area that you know full well could become a stumbling block to someone else, “Don’t ask, don’t tell”!  Don’t make an issue of it, out of consideration to your weaker brother.  If you really want that latte (!) don’t have it in a place where it will be seen by your weaker brother, where it could become a point of offense. After all, we are free in Christ, yet love should guide how we use our freedom.

III. RELINQUISH YOUR RIGHTS: Extend the Grace of Christian maturity in love (13).
13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

       So then what do we do? How do we decide between our “rights” and someone else’s weak conscience? Paul would not risk “scandalizing” someone who was weak in the faith, being a “stumbling block” to their faith. He would rather surrender his rights in such situations.  This seems to have been the principle that guided in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.  Some Jewish Christians were saying that gentile converts to faith in Christ needed keep the requirements of Jewish law, like circumcision.  The council met and issued a decree that apparently addressed some issues that were either a problem in the conduct of the gentiles (such as fornication) or that would be offensive to Jewish believers (eating blood, or meat sacrificed to idols).  This is not presented in Acts as “law,” but for the sake of the Jews in the community, to avoid offense (see Acts 15:21). Consider Paul’s resolution here, “Therefore…”, i.e. “in the light of the principles that guide how in the world I should live,” “if food makes my brother stumble…”  The word here is skanilizo, from which we get the English words “scandal” or scandalize,” “I will never eat meat again…” Paul is saying that watching out for his brother, recognizing that they may not be in the same place in their spiritual journey, he will surrender his rights for the good of his brother.

What is God saying to me in this passage? We are free in Christ, yet love should guide how we use our freedom.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? All of this talk about meat and coffee might be getting you hungry, especially if you missed breakfast today!  We’re talking about more than meat, and more than coffee. I want to allow you to fill in the blanks.  I also want to say that we need to distinguish those who would emasculate the gospel of grace and seek to replace it with a religion of “works righteousness,” from those who legitimately, due to their past, struggle with an area of Christian conduct that is may be no problem for you and me.  Dr. Ironside had no problem having a cup of coffee while having lunch with Dr. Chafer, he was no weaker brother who would be tempted and fall into sin!  Let me close with another quotation from Paul, Galatians 5:13 (NLT),  “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”    Think about that.    AMEN.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pilgrim Fathers: A Call to Biblical Manhood - I Peter 3:7

Pilgrim Fathers: A Call to Biblical Manhood
I Peter 3:7
Introduction:  For Mother’s Day this year I chose a rather atypical passage for the message, I Peter 3:1-6 and entitled the message “Pilgrim Mothers: The Beautiful Example of Biblical Submission.”  The big idea I tried to emphasize was that godly mothers lead by example, as they show their children the beauty of God’s design for the family.  That was a little “controversial”!  I hinted then that for Father’s Day I might come back to the same context and we’d take a look at v.7 which explicitly applies the idea of “Pilgrim Living” to husbands (and fathers), as I believe the text also shows the kind of example men are called to give to our children.   A few weeks back we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which showed the responsibility we have to teach and disciple our children.  We teach, not only by word, but perhaps even more so, by example.  Remember the scene from the movies “Jaws” when Sheriff Brodie was in deep thought, sitting at the table, and then the camera panned back, showing his son copying his every movement? [see a clip at].  Whether we know it or not, for better or for worse, our example teaches.  Today I want to focus on what I believe is the greatest, must impactful gift that fathers can give their children: loving and cherishing their mother.
Throughout this context, but particularly when we are talking about God’s design for the family, the Scripture is calling us to a counter-cultural lifestyle that flows out of a biblical worldview.  We look around us and the evidence is overwhelming of the direction godless thinking is taking our society, particularly in the area of human sexuality and the family. And we need to recognize the reality, that is, since we live in a fallen world, not every family has the ideal, intact, family situation.  But all of us have a perfect example of a father: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5).  God is the perfect Father.  Jesus, as the bridegroom, is the perfect husband (to the church). That is a good thing, since we live in a fallen world and we all fall so far short.  The problems we see in the world should not surprise us, they were predicted by Paul nearly 2000 years ago. This is from 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the NLT:

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.  2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred.  3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.  4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.  5 They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
Does that sound familiar? Is that not describing the attitudes and actions that seem to be manifested more and more in the world around us?  Notice what it says about love: they love only themselves and their money (3:2), they are unloving and unforgiving (v.3), and they love pleasure rather than God (v.4).  Those attitudes are exactly the kind of thinking that is at the root of the decline in the family and of much conflict in marriage, and it paints a poor picture for our children in obscuring God’s design for marriage and the family.

A reminder: There is no sense that all the privileges go to the husband and all the responsibilities go to the wife (this text will make that clear). The Christian worldview was radical in its setting since it was “normal” for societies to be dominated by men.  God designed humans in His image, and He created them male and female to be different, complementary, one completing the other.  Today we’ll focus on I Peter 3:7.

The Big Idea: The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and cherish their mother. That sets an example for them, illustrating the Lord’s love for us and honoring God’s design for the family.

I. The Call: “Likewise, husbands, live according to knowledge with your wives…”
            “Likewise…”, i.e., “…in the same way…” The first word here is tying this exhortation for husbands into the previous context.  It’s the same word that began v.1, “Wives, likewise…”  Both these texts refer back to the foundation in chapter 2:9-11,
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.   
We have been chosen by God, who made us his own, so that we could proclaim the riches of his grace to the world.  So we are different, we are pilgrims, sojourners and exiles, looking forward to something better.  We are not home yet. And so Peter says as we submit ourselves to the delegated authorities,

…live according to knowledge with your wives…

I see a connection here with what we’ve been learning about the word “knowledge,” gnosis, in First Corinthians.  Peter uses the same word here. In First Corinthians Paul contrasts the wisdom and philosophy of the world, with God’s absolute truth. I don’t think Peter is just saying “live wisely” here. He is saying that the truth he has been talking about, the recognition of who God is, and who we are, how we fit into His story, should guide our life and our choices. We are pilgrims, and we are His, so we want to live in a way that honors His design for humans, and for the family. As we do that, we set an example that will impact our children.  The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and cherish their mother. That sets an example for them, illustrating the Lord’s love for us and honoring God’s design for the family.

II. The Components: “…showing honor to the woman, as the weaker vessel, and as joint heirs to the grace of life…”
       “…showing honor to the woman…”  The word “honor” refers to something that is valued or treasured. Ray Pritchard ( told the following story… 
called “Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife.” The story takes place on a primitive Pacific island called Kiniwata, where a man paid the dowry for his wife in cows. Two or three cows could buy a decent wife, four or five a very nice one. But Johnny Lingo had offered an unheard of eight cows for Sarita, a girl whom everyone in her home village thought rather plain looking. The local folks all made fun of Johnny, who they thought was crazy to pay so much for a wife. But when the teller of the story finally sees Johnny Lingo’s wife, she is stunned by her beauty. How could this be the same woman the villagers talked about? What has happened? How did she become so beautiful? Johnny’s reply shows that he’s nobody’s fool:
“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.” “Then you did this just to make your wife happy?” “I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”
“Then you wanted—.”
“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But—.” I was close to understanding.
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”
Johnny wanted to show honor to his wife, to value her. Because she felt treasured, it transformed her. And you know, as pilgrims living in a fallen world, we might want to nuance that, because even more important is the truth that God values her more than she could imagine.  Remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 2:9,

“…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for his own possession…”

Mary Ann and I got an “vintage looking” marriage certificate on our honeymoon.  I remember that one line on it said, “…having chosen one another out of all the species…”  We are God’s, a “chosen people”! As husbands cherish their wives, we reflect God’s love for the church.  As we love our wives, our children see that, and they learn from it. Richard and Joanne C. just had their 59th wedding anniversary. When they were asked at our small group meeting what advice they could give, one thing Richard said was as simple as it was profound, “Just keep loving.”  That is it! Give honor to her.

       “…as to the weaker vessel…” This metaphor has been a struggle for me. How do we honor a “weaker vessel”? Why would we? What does that mean?  At one level this may be referring to the simple, biological fact that men are naturally physically stronger than women.  Listen: men should never use their physical size or strength to intimidate a woman.  And any man who would hit a woman should be ashamed of himself. That cannot and should not be tolerated.  This passage goes far beyond the prohibition of physical abuse: he should “honor his wife.” I like the way the NLT puts it, “…She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life…”

I think this is referring to how we value something that is costly or precious, like fine china or an expensive vase. It is weak in the sense that it is fragile, delicate. You take care of it and protect it, you keep it in a special place.  We don’t have a lot of expensive “tchotchkes” around the house that we have to worry about breaking (if we had any I managed to break them over the years!).  We do have a couple of old plates that the owner of an antique shop gave us back in the late 80s or early 90s.  I think most of them were left behind (or broken!) during our years in Brazil.  We don’t really use the ones that we have left, we have them in a plate holder on the wall.  In any case, when our two-year old granddaughter came for a visit, we looked around the house to make sure there was nothing “breakable” or dangerous within reach.  Certainly if you have something that is precious, that you treasure, you want to keep it in a safe place, you protect it. I think this has to go beyond physically protecting our wife and family. Because we treasure our wife we stand up for her and keep her safe from the thoughtless or cruel words of others. When your wife feels treasured, she will be a treasure.

       “…also as heirs with you of the grace of life…”  This might seem obvious to us, but it was somewhat radical in the first century. Many societies might have accorded second class status to women, but Peter is making it clear, they are spiritually equal, “heirs with you [co-heirs] of the grace of life…”  That puts the man and the woman on the same plain, side by side. Listen, there is no question that God designed men and women to be different.  It’s not a choice, it is nature. We take a complementarian view to what the Bible says about humans: God has made us different, we complete one another, he has assigned different roles to men and women in the church, and to husbands and wives in the family.  But when it comes to spiritual standing before God, our position in Christ, Paul said in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Here in I Peter 3:7 Peter uses a compound word, “joint-heirs,” implying unity, oneness. Heirs of what? “Joint-heirs of the grace of life.”  It seems certain, this is the “life,” eternal life, the life of the saved, that flows from God’s grace.  We, men and women, by grace through faith, are His children.  So we treat each other with respect, we recognize that God has designed us to complement one another.  Together we long for God’s design for marriage and the family.  The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and cherish their mother. That sets an example for them, illustrating the Lord’s love for us and honoring God’s design for the family.

III. The consequence: “…so that your prayers may not be hindered…”
            The connection between honoring your wife and your prayer life might not be immediately evident.  We are told that a result of loving, honoring, and respecting our wives will be that “…your prayers may not be hindered…”  For some reason I have always read that in terms of the answers to my prayers, as though my relationship with my wife could become a direct impediment to God answering my prayers.  But that isn’t what it says, is it?  First notice the word, “hindered” here.  It occurs only five or six times in the New Testament, three of them are illustrative of the meaning...

Romans 15:22This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you.”

Galatians 5:7You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

1 Thessalonians 2:18 “…because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us.”

The idea is an impediment to some action or movement, some kind of obstacle that comes between a person and what he desires to do, or knows he should do.  What does it mean for your prayers to be hindered?  Not that God is delayed or hindered in answering, but rather, if our relationship with our spouse is suffering, if it is not what God designed it to be, we are hindered in asking, our prayer life suffers because we know we are not where we should be in one important, fundamental aspect of our Christian life, i.e. the family, or more specifically, our relationship with our wife.  If we are not prayerless, we certainly “pray less” during those times.  So our prayers are hindered.  We are not comfortable talking to God because we know that he’ll tell us we need to be talking to our spouse. Have you found that to be true?  Paul says in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Peter says here, “…you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together...” That is something that our children will see and learn from.

What is God saying to me in this passage? The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and cherish their mother. That sets an example for them, illustrating the Lord’s love for us and honoring God’s design for the family. 

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  In the next verse Peter draws a conclusion to this section of his letter, after calling the believers to recognize and submit to the delegated authorities God has established, after teaching about the complementary roles that God has established in the marriage relationship, he says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind…” (v.8). That sounds like another sermon, but it is surely an attitude that applies to husbands and wives, and sets an example for our children. It models for them God’s design for the family.  Think about that,     AMEN.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Love, Liberty, and the Christian Life I Corinthians 8:1-3

Love, Liberty, and the Christian Life
I Corinthians 8:1-3
Introduction: Many religions have the tendency to be guided by a system of “rules.” They have their own idea of “The way life should be,” and they will be very happy to explain it to you.  Others have only one rule: “There are no rules!” They are from New Hampshire and their license plate says “Live free, or die!” There were some conflicting ideas about grace and what it really means to be set free by Jesus in the church at Corinth. And so they wrote to Paul, their founding pastor, to get some insights about his thoughts on the matter. The issue at hand relates to “meat sacrificed to idols,” but the principle behind it goes to the question of Christian Liberty.
The Big Idea: We are free in Christ, free to allow our liberty to be guided by love for God and love for one another.
I.  More than meat: How is our liberty in Christ to be guided in those areas to which the Bible does not directly speak (1a)?
“Now concerning food offered to idols:
we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’"

            With the phrase “now concerning” Paul introduces the next subject that he will deal with over the next two or three chapters, that is, food that had been sacrificed to idols (see 7:1, 25, and now 8:1 for the first uses of this phrase in I Corinthians).  Your first reaction on reading that might be “What?! What in the world does that have to do with me?”  Burnt offerings or idol sacrifices are not usually an issue in 21st century America (unless I am cooking hamburgers on my George Foreman Grill, in which case the smoke alarm functions as a “timer” and yes, there have been a few “burnt offerings have gone up in smoke on my barbeque!). The abiding principle that underlies this subject is the question of our freedom in Christ, and what if anything should guide our freedom and how we exercise it.  In first century Corinth the city was full of idols, and as a matter of course people would offer sacrifices in order to curry the favor of one god or another.  Some of the meat would be burned typically as a sacrifice, and some would go to the priest.  Some apparently would be shared in ritual meals in the temple, and if the priest already had enough for dinner for himself and his family, some would be sold to venders in the city who would then sell the meat to the public. Through the next few chapters Paul touches on various aspects of this matter. The problem was, that for some new believers in Jesus, they wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from the pagan practices that dominated their lives in the past. It wasn’t enough to stay away from dinners in the pagan temples, some of them wanted nothing to do with meat that been offered to idols.  And so what if they were eating with a friend or someone from their extended family, should they inquire about the source of the meat?   What if it had been sacrificed to an idol? In the following verses Paul says “idols are nothing” (v.4f) and certainly they could do nothing to change the meat.  ­­­That was truth, plain and simple. It was correct theology. And some of the Corinthians were insisting that their theology resolved the matter once and for all.
….we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’…
The Corinthians apparently wrote in their letter to Paul, “We all have knowledge…”  i.e., we know the truth about meat and idols and we know we are free to eat or not to eat, it makes no difference.  We’ve got our “theology” right. And they were proud of their knowledge and of their freedom. Paul says yes, you are part right, you got your theology right, but what about your heart?  The problem was that some of the Corinthians seemed to love their theological system more than they loved people, perhaps, more than they loved God. Don’t get me wrong, we want to pursue truth. We want to constantly seek to sharpen our understanding of what the Bible teaches, sound doctrine. But sometimes our theological system can become an end in itself, it can become a kind of idol, rather than drawing us closer to the God who is, and deepening our love for people. That is a foothold that the enemy can use against the church. The truth is, we are free in Christ. We are free to allow our liberty to be guided by love for God and love for one another. More than meat is at stake, and…

II. “Knowledge” must be guided by love: Knowledge can “puff up” if not guided by love (1b).
“This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”
       Knowledge is a good thing, but “this knowledge,” i.e. knowledge without love, can be deadly.  Scripture tells us that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall…” (Proverbs 16:18).  One issue that was at the heart of many of the struggles that the Corinthians were dealing with was the matter of their “pride” regarding their own spirituality.  Paul has already called them out on this in this letter, emphasizing the doctrine of grace (e.g. 4:7), and he isn’t finished yet. 

       How is it that “knowledge” can “puff up”?   Pride, or arrogance, means that somehow we have begun to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  There is a real danger in this regard with respect to our “theology.”  Sometimes it can seem like we are more in love with our theological system than we are in love with God!  Theology should describe God, it should elucidate what He has revealed, but it should point us to Him.  I resist being “classified” in terms of my theological position since I want to be a Christ follower, always testing my theology against the Word. We come from a wide range of backgrounds in this church and I think that is great. It brings a richness to our discussions and allows us test our beliefs against Scripture. Whatever our background…

       There is a principle that should guide our application of our theology in the Christian life, it should guide the decisions that we make.  Paul says knowledge “puffs up,” and “love edifies,” literally, “Love builds up…”  As we act in love toward one another, we are focused on others rather than on ourselves.  To encourage and strengthen my brother or sister becomes more important than my freedom or my “rights.”  That “love” for one another is one thing that sets apart the church.  The writer to the Hebrews said,

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25).

In fact, a little further on in First Corinthians Paul will very eloquently make the point that knowledge, without love, is worthless. We read in I Corinthians 13:2,
 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
That is strong language! Knowledge, even detailed extensive knowledge, if it is not motivated and guided by love, misses the point of God’s revelation. We have his Word so that we can know Him and know what He expects of us. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He also said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…” (John 13:34-35; see 15:12,17).  I am not advocating emotion over thinking, nor do I believe that is the point Jesus makes in his teaching or that Paul intends in this letter. The point is that we are free in Christ, free to allow our liberty to be guided by love for God and love for one another.

III. A Word to those who think they know: If you think you have it all figured out, your pride reveals your true ignorance (2).

“If anyone imagines that he knows something,
he does not yet know as he ought to know.”

I like the way the New Living Translation renders this verse, “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn't really know very much.” Why is that true? Knowing facts, even facts of theology, is not enough.  Remember the words of James, “You believe that God is one, you do well. The devil also believes, and trembles!”  The devil could quote orthodox doctrine in many areas, but he obviously is not “saved.”  There is a “knowledge” that goes beyond stating facts, and extends to include “faith,” trusting in those facts, resting your hope in what they reveal.  I think it is true that if we truly “believe” good theology, in a biblical sense, we will be humbled, we will be driven to love God and to love His people. The problem sometimes is making that short trip from the head to the heart.

       It is sometimes the case that when you get freshmen coming into a college class that a few among them think they have all the mysteries of the universe worked out. Usually, by the time they graduate they realize that they don’t have all the answers, but maybe at least by then they are asking the right questions!  When I started Bible College I was a little different, since I knew that I didn’t know anything, I was just a new Christian and it was all new to me. When I went to seminary, on the other hand, well I already had a Bible College degree. Most of my colleagues had degrees in other disciplines so I thought I had all the answers! During those years I began to see how small and ignorant I am, and how awesome and majestic God is.  Hopefully I’ve been learning through 35 years in the Lord, but though I usually realize how little I know, pride still tries to raise its ugly head way too often.  In His mercy God is constantly astounding me with his majesty and overwhelming me with His grace.  We are in the world so that we can be part of His church as he carries out his mission in the world. By his design, we need each other. I believe it was Augustine who said, “Love God, then do as you please.” So we are free in Christ, free to allow our liberty to be guided by love for God and love for one another.

IV. Love for God reveals that He knows us (3).

“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”

        “But if anyone loves God…”  We looked recently at the greatest commandment, the call to love God whole-heartedly (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6). It is also true that love for God and love for our brother are inter-related ideas.  John addresses the relationship between love for God and love for our brothers in his first letter. He wrote, for example in I John 4:20,21,
20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
So love for our brother is one evidence that we truly love God.  Love, of course, is more than just a “feeling.” It involves a conscious decision to put others and their needs before ourselves and our own needs. Giving up our freedom or our rights to avoid causing a brother to stumble should be relatively easy.  After all, Jesus laid down his life for us.  Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends!
        Paul goes on to say in our passage “…If anyone loves God he is known by God…” Literally, “…this one is known by God…”  The parallel phrases have a change in verbal tense that we don’t want to miss. “If anyone loves God” (in the present, that is loves him now, in an ongoing present sense) “he is known by God…” (the perfect tense indicates a past action with continuing results, God knew him, at a point in the past, and continues to actively know him).  In other words, our love for God is evidence that we are His. Remember the words of Jesus, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” It is not that we simply chose to love God, rather He loved us first. When God is the subject, knowing, loving, and choosing, are closely related, and in some contexts, almost interchangeable ideas. Read carefully through Ephesians 1 and you’ll see how closely connected these ideas are. A couple of selections from that chapter,
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… (Ephesians 1:3-6).
We could (and probably should!) read the whole chapter, but skip for a minute down to verse 15,
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might… (Ephesians 1:15-19).
That is amazing grace! From before the foundation of the world He chose us, loved us, and knew us. Sound doctrine rightly applied will drive us to love Him, and to love one another. That means putting the needs of others before our freedom, and being diligent to encourage one another to love and good works.
What is God saying to me in this passage? We are free in Christ, free to allow our liberty to be guided by love for God and love for one another.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  We need to be wary of the trap of falling into either legalism or license, and though we should pursue truth diligently, we need to apply it personally, loving the God of whom it speaks, He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Pursue God. He said “Seek me and you will find me.”      And might it be increasingly true of our church, that by our love for one another, people would know that we are His disciples.         AMEN.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pilgrim Perspectives on Marriage and Singleness I Corinthians 7:25-40

Pilgrims, Singleness, and Marriage
I Corinthians 7:25-40
Introduction: Since Mother’s Day or so we’ve had a series of messages that relate to the question of God’s design for marriage. It is an important topic when we realize how the idea of marriage is being reshaped by the world around us. When God created Adam and then took a rib from his side and made Eve, there wasn’t much question that she was literally “made” for him. Yet marriage today is not highly valued in the world, it is not viewed by many as a lifetime, “until death parts us” commitment.  Paul is not, in this chapter, answering every question that we might have concerning marriage, rather, he is answering questions the Corinthians had sent him on the subject.  He just spoke about “contentment” and now urges his readers to apply that principle to their marital state. We started this chapter talking about God’s plan for marriage as it was revealed in creation. Even in that pre-fall reality God said “It is not good for the man to be alone, let us make a helpmate suitable for him.” Marriage changed after the fall, because instead of two sinless humans in a perfect garden, marriage now occurs between two sinners living in a fallen world.  
       In a perfect world we would all be in perfect marriages with a perfect spouse (and guess what, our spouse would have a perfect mate as well!).  Well, in the words of Morpheus, “Welcome to the real world, Neo!” Remember when Jacob served Laban for seven years so that he could marry Rachel, and he so loved her that it seemed like just a few days. And then, on the wedding night, Leah was sent into the marriage tent in her place. The Bible said when Jacob awoke the next morning, and “Behold, it was Leah!”  Listen: It is always Leah!  Our expectations are usually so one sided, so unrealistic, that there are bound to be surprises on both sides, whenever two sinners say “I do.” And then if God gives you children another little sinner (or sinners!) enter the mix to complicate things further!  That is one reason we insist on pre-marital counselling, to help both the future husband and the future wife to understand and prepare for the surprises that lie ahead, and to help put in place mechanisms to deal with them when they come.  Paul’s point at the end of this chapter is that living as pilgrims in a fallen world we should seek God first, obey Him, and trust Him for all things, including our marital state, and the possible spouse that he intends us to have.  And he emphasizes that staying single is not by any means an inferior option, in fact, as we will see, it presents some advantages for carrying out our part in God’s mission in the world.
The Big Idea: Each of us must discern God’s will concerning marriage, and be faithful right now, where we are, to serve Him.

I. Pilgrim Perspective: In view of the big picture be content to wait on God and Trust Him (25-31). As Paul shares his perspective on the question of marriage he calls attention to the complications we face living in a fallen world. Notice the theme carries through this first section,

7:26I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.”

7:29This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none…”

7:31bFor the present form of this world is passing away.”

We are pilgrims, just passing through. This age is marked by a clash of kingdoms, by the consequences of sin, by the reality of rebellion against God and his authority. And this age will come to an end at the time God has determined.

There are some translational issues that come up in this passage, should “virgins” be translated, “betrothed” as in the ESV, or merely “virgins,” or perhaps better, as the NLT, “Now concerning the young women who have never married…”?  There is some question as to whether this is directed toward fathers giving their daughters in marriage (as would be the case in many societies in the ancient world) or to betrothed couples deciding whether or not to marry (which culturally would seem a little stranger) but the point is this is talking about the unmarried, about singles. Paul offers some advice, and he urges them to adopt a pilgrim perspective.

Be advised: In the world you will have tribulation (25-27)!   
 25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy.  26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.  27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
“…I have no command from the Lord…” (v.25). Paul is not denying inspiration here, but as we saw earlier in the chapter, he is saying that there is no explicit teaching of Jesus on the subject to which he could refer.  Therefore he speaks as “one who is trustworthy,” that is, as an apostle of Jesus. He’ll end the chapter affirm, “…according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God…” Paul is giving advice, sharing wisdom, but God is guiding His word by the Spirit. This too is “God-breathed,” authoritative teaching, rightly understood in its context.

In view of the current distress…” (v.26). One writer defined this as “…the violent clash between the fallen cosmos and the Kingdom of God…” We know that even within the Biblical narrative we have the testimony of the persecution and tribulation that believers experienced almost from the start. We know that by the end of the book of Acts Nero would be the “Caesar” in power in Rome, the same Nero who would be the architect of intense persecution against the church:  Believers painted in tar or wax and set on fire as torches to light his gardens; others thrown to the lions so the emperor and his guests could enjoy the “sport” of seeing them torn to bits. Jesus said “Do not be surprised if the world hates you, remember, it hated me first!” In the second psalm the psalmist asked, “Why do the nations rage and peoples plot a vain thing, the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and against His anointed…” Paul says, “In view of the current distress…” In light of the reality of what we are facing and will face in the world, there are advantages to being single.  That was then and there, we don’t have such concerns here and now do we?  Some certainly do. Imagine the pain and the heartbreak of Christian parents in Syria and Iraq who saw ISIS terrorists put swords to the necks of their children… Those who were single, it was only their own life that was on the line.  The brutality is unimaginable: deny Christ or watch them die!  You might think, “That is Iraq, or Syria, or Pakistan, we live in the USA!” The phrase, “In view of the present distress…” is a descriptor of this present evil age, from Pentecost to the return of Christ.  Jesus likewise said, “In the world you will have tribulation…”   We are seeing more and more evidence of the clash of worldviews, and it seems that conservative Christians are one group that it is ok to publically ridicule and mock. Where will things be a decade from now? Only God knows.  Singleness is good when you consider the distress and pain that can come against God’s people!

Marriage is an option, but life can get complicated (28)! 
28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
Marriage is not a “sin,” but life can get complicated.  God created marriage in the Garden, it is the most intimate of human relationships, such that Jesus used it to illustrate His love for the church.  In Genesis, God called marriage “good” with the rest of His creation.  Look, there are blessings that come with marriage, but also the reality that two sinners, albeit two sinners saved by grace, are merging their lives together.  Then if you have children you have a few more little sinners joining the party!  I remember when I told my father-in-law that Mary Ann and I were going to get married. It wasn’t a long conversation. He looked at me and said, “Married life is the best thing in the world if you find the right partner.” Then he looked at Mary Ann, he looked at me, and he kind of shrugged and walked away!  I wasn’t so sure how to interpret that, but after over 31 years I can say I found the right partner!  That doesn’t mean there were no trials along the way.  Paul says you will have “worldly troubles.” Paul is not trying to be mean, or to deprive someone of happiness in this life. He said, I want to spare you problems, “worldly troubles.”
We are pilgrims, we are not home yet, live like it (29-31). The time is short!
29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,  30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,  31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
The end of the world as we know it is drawing near.  “The appointed time has grown very short.” Well, we might think, nearly 2000 years have passed since Paul wrote! His point is, that this world, as we know it, is temporary, and with every passing day we are closer to the time when God will judge the world in righteousness. The idea behind this seems to be that we need a new perspective, as Colossians 3:1,2 says,
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Why? I Corinthians 7:31b tells us, “For the present form of this world is passing away.”  Paul is not saying that we are to sacrifice our relationship with our spouse on the altar of our “spirituality.” He has already said that physical intimacy in marriage is not something that should be neglected. On the contrary, he is saying that every aspect of our life, including our marriage, should be translated through the perspective of eternity and the reality of the already/not yet of the New Creation.  It is a question of what our priority should be. People who have no hope beyond this life live with everything focused on today. Some think about building a legacy that they can pass on to their children and beyond, but only people who recognize that we were created for something better, something eternal, only those with that perspective look forward to the eternal, abiding, New Heaven and New Earth which is promised to those who know God. We understand, in the words of John Piper, that “We are most satisfied when God is most glorified in us.” So we seek Him.
       Paul says even though we are in the world, we are “citizens of heaven.” That perspective will shift your priorities! This world is passing away. Before the financial crisis in 2008 many Americans thought that our financial system was unshakable, the dollar inviable, our future and the future of our children secure. Today, not so much, though our memories are short and some seem to have forgotten already how close we were.  We were close to disaster then, and it wouldn’t take a monumental crisis to push us to the brink again.  When we see how easily some of our cities descended into chaos this year, when we see the (im)morality of our society, the confusion about sexual roles and identity, we need to pray for those in authority so that we can live quiet and peaceable lives. We want to be a voice for righteousness and justice, but we know that this world is perishing, that it is all passing away. Our hope is in something better, we look for a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Paul says in view of all that, he wants to spare you some trouble.  Each of us must discern God’s will concerning marriage, and be faithful where we are, right now, to serve Him.

II. Pilgrim Peace: Be anxious for nothing (32-35)! Rather than have “divided devotion” between God and your spouse, Paul here talks about the advantages of being “single”-minded. Basically, if our heart is set on pleasing our spouse, we ideally also love God and seek him together. But for most of us, it means that God is not at the center of all that we do. He can be and should be.  He was there with Adam and Eve in the Garden. But we live in a fallen world. And even we who follow Jesus are “redeemed sinners.” Paul is saying he doesn’t want to add any stress to peoples’ lives; it’s just a reality that we are more easily able to focus our lives completely on seeking God and His will when we are single…
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,  34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.  35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Singleness isn’t for everyone.  Notice the “potential” of singleness that Paul points to here, being truly “single-minded,” devoted to the Lord. If you have a gift of singleness thank God for the opportunity of devoting yourself wholly to Him. If you know that isn’t your gift yet you find yourself single, thank Him for the momentary freedom you have for this season of your life, freedom to experience for a time the blessings of singleness in a fallen world, and to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, making intimacy with Jesus and faithfulness in serving Him your over-riding concern. Each of us must discern God’s will concerning marriage, and be faithful where we are to serve Him.
III. Pilgrims, Patience, and Passion: Marriage is good if singleness is not your “gift” (36-38). Whether Paul is talking about virgin daughters or fiancĂ©es is uncertain, but the point is that they are “singles.” (Being “betrothed” without plans to eventually marry seems odd since celibacy is assumed by Paul. In many cultures in the ancient world there were “arranged” marriages so that may be what is in view).
 36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry- it is no sin.  37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.  38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
The idea here is similar to what we saw in 7:9, marriage is not a sin, and though there are certain advantages to being single, it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Paul is saying here that neither singleness nor being married is inherently more “spiritual.”  Peter was married, Paul was not, both were apostles used greatly of God in the early stages of the church. Billy Graham was married, John Stott was not, but both served God and used their gifts to impact millions. If singleness is your gift, regard it as such, and dedicate yourself to knowing and serving God, and using your gifts to encourage others. If you are single, and you know that singleness is not your gift, trust God, I believe that He will supply the right person as your complement and help mate in His time.  In the meantime recognize the advantages of your current position and seek Him and serve Him.  Each of us must discern God’s will concerning marriage, and be faithful right now, where we are, to serve Him.

IV. Pilgrims’ Promise: Marriage is designed by God as a lifetime commitment so choose carefully (39,40)!
39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.  40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Another reason for not rushing into marriage, and also for not looking for a way out if you are married, is that marriage is intended as a lifetime commitment, “Until death do us part.” For the unmarried that is motivation to “choose carefully.” You are making a vow before your betrothed, before the church, and especially before God, to love, honor, and cherish until “death us do part.”  Each of us must discern God’s will concerning marriage, and if we don’t have the gift of singleness we need to choose carefully, and in the meantime be faithful where we are to serve Him.

What is God saying to me in this passage?

Transition to the Lord’s Table: As we’ve been reflecting on marriage and now prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Table, remember that His love for the church is the model and motivation for husbands loving their wives: “Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…” That is a convicting verse, as we know how far short we fall in perfect, unselfish, sacrificial love, but that is what we are to strive for.  The Lord’s Table invites us to look back and remember His unfathomable, unconditional, unbreakable love for us. God demonstrated his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  This is how He showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  The table also reminds us that we are pilgrims, it shows forth the Lord’s death until He comes.  Are you looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?  Think about that, AMEN.