Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Peril of Presumption: I Corinthians 10:1-12

The Peril of Presumption
I Corinthians 10:1-12
Introduction: In the context Paul has been talking about our freedom in Christ. As Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to live out the implications of the gospel in their lives and in the church, he wants them to be truly “free.” What does that mean? Some, it seems, were interpreting it to mean that they could live any way they wished, that grace meant they were no longer under any constraint. They were saved, right? They were a part of the church were they not? Have you ever had someone, with whom you were sharing the gospel, say, “I believe in God! I am as religious as you are!” Remember the words of Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.How much is “religion” worth in terms of pleasing God? Here, Paul warns against the sin of presumption. In the previous context, 9:24-27, he made it clear that he was striving to grow and learn and to be faithful in the mission God had given Him. As he expressed in Philippians 3 his heart was to …press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
The Big Idea: Outward religion alone does not please God, but rather He desires a heart that constantly depends on His grace and consistently seeks His glory.
I. Outward Religion alone is not what God desires (1-5). 
I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,  2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  3 and all ate the same spiritual food,  4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 
       As Paul begins this chapter, knowing that he is about to bring a stern warning and call on his readers to examine their hearts, he appeals to them as “brothers” and identifies with them on the basis on common faith in the God of Israel. Surely the church in Corinth was a mixed group, both Jewish converts and gentiles believers. He appeals to them as “brothers” and refers to their “fathers.”  He reminds them of the biblical revelation that they have believed and makes it clear that all of that history ultimately points to and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. By the way, I hope we all embrace that perspective of the church, we are, at the deepest level, a family. Paul is writing a rather stern letter confronting some problems in his church family in Corinth, but he never stops loving them, seeking to encourage them. Look around you, brothers and sisters, we’re a family. So we love one another, encourage one another, build each other up.
            “All were baptized into Moses…” Five times in four verses Paul repeats the word “all.” He is emphasizing that the Hebrews in the wilderness, at least outwardly, had a common religious experience.  I don’t think the point is whether they were “immersed” or “sprinkled” though Baptist and Presbyterian commentators have debated the point!  The Exodus account makes it clear they passed through on dry ground!  Paul is using metaphorical language, he saying that the people were identified with Moses through the Exodus and through the revelation that God would give through him, i.e. the Law. In vv. 3 and 4a he is not talking about the manna and water God gave the people in the wilderness, that is only an illustration.  He speaks of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink.” He is referring to the spiritual sustenance that was made available through God’s revelation and presence. He is saying that all of those people who left Egypt were part of the community, part of the people of God.
            It is kind of interesting that there was a rabbinic tradition that developed of a rock that gave life giving water following the people through the wilderness. It may be that Paul is reflecting an early form of that tradition by saying that, yes, there was a “Rock” that accompanied the people, the Rock of Ages, the pre-incarnate Christ. So we see that Paul is looking to Israel of the Old Testament and using them as an example and an illustration of outward identification with the people of God, sharing in and experiencing the blessings and provisions of God. They “all” had a common religious experience. But then Paul makes a startling point in v.5, “Nevertheless…”, in spite of the plentiful and abundant provision and “tasting” of the blessings of God, “with most of them God has not well pleased.”
            God has a way of sometimes making dramatic understatements! Think about the reality: of the generation that left Egypt, all of the adults, those around 25 or older when they passed through the sea, hundreds of thousands of men and women, all of them except Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness.  Even Moses and Aaron and Miriam did not enter the land! Paul is writing to his spiritual family in Corinth, and he is pointing to this illustration from Old Testament history and warning them against the sin of “presumption.”  He is not saying that if you are saved you can somehow lose your salvation. That would contradict the overall teaching of Scripture regarding the grace of God and the perseverance of the saints. He is saying that we should not be content with going to church and identifying outwardly with the people of God.  Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish…” Hearing His voice means believing God, taking Him at His Word. It means recognizing that the Bible is true and receiving it in faith, which includes responding to it. He knows us (and when God is the subject, knowing, loving, and choosing are inseparable truths), and we follow Him. To “follow” is to be a disciple, to live like we really believe that He is our Master and Lord.
       The Jews in the wilderness were judged, it seems to me, essentially for unbelief. They were outwardly identified with the nation, but they didn’t believe God, they failed to take Him at His word.  Outward religion alone does not please God, but rather He desires a heart that constantly depends on His grace and consistently seeks His glory.
II. Outward religion alone does not address our need and change our hearts (6-10).
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
    First, Paul points to Israel, and essentially calls on the Corinthians to learn from the past (or they would be in danger of repeating it’s mistakes!) (6).  “These things took place as examples for us…” That is a powerful statement regarding God’s work through Israel and His plan for the nations. Their story did not simple “unfold” as it did by chance, but God in His sovereignty was thinking of subsequent generations and the lessons that people needed to learn, positive and negative, from their example. 
       “That we should not desire evil things…” The word “desire” is not common, in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament it appears in Numbers 11:34 to describe the people who complained about the manna God had given and had an “intense craving’ for meat, and God gave them quail.  While the meat was still in their teeth God struck them down with a plague.  This entire series of warnings tie to similar examples, warning the Corinthians to avoid the sins of the Jews of the wilderness. If God judged them, it would be presumptuous to think grace implies license to live in any way we wish!
       “Do not become idolaters as some of them were…” (7). The context is Exodus 32. Moses had gone up the mountain, and received the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone by the finger of God. [Keep in mind, the first one of those commandments said to love and worship the Lord alone.  When Moses delayed in returning the people went to Aaron and asked that he make them “a god” to go before them – Moses was gone, they had no idea if he was ever coming back. There is something interesting in that passage, Aaron made the golden calf, then he said “Tomorrow will be a feast day to the Lord (Yahweh).”  It was an idol made by man, yet Aaron was calling it the Lord. It is not enough to say we are following the God of the Bible, or even to say “I believe in Jesus,” if we are not worshipping God as He is, as He has revealed himself in his word, we are making an idol.  If we start to question what the Bible says, or begin to ask if God would really say the same thing to us today, in our culture and setting, we are falling into the pattern of the first temptation, questioning, like the serpent to Adam, “Did God really say…?”!  Here, as the nation “rose up to eat and drink, and turned to play,” the Old Testament text seems to describe a wild scene, like an out of control party, an orgy.  That leads into the next phrase…
       “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day”  (8). The reference is to Numbers 25 when the sons of Israel prostituted themselves with the daughters of Moab, and God brought judgment against them. The connection between idolatry and sexual immorality would have resonated with the Corinthians. Remember, they had a temple to Aphrodite that according to one ancient source had a thousand temple prostitutes connected with it. In this context he has been talking about freedom, and the abuse of freedom, and he tells them to avoid the sin of the Israelites-flee sexual immorality!  The world has its own ideas about morality, about sexuality, and what is acceptable.  “Standards” seem to be flexible, and depend on what culture finds acceptable. Listen: There are absolutes of right and wrong, God is our maker, and God makes the rules! He has absolute standards. He is the God who never changes. Paul has made it clear, as does the teaching of the Bible as a whole, that God designed sex to be expressed in the context of a marriage between one man, and one woman. No matter what society accepts or SCOTUS declares, God made us, and God alone makes the rules!
       Next, Paul warns against “testing God.”  “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents…”  (9). The idea seems to be, pushing the limits of grace… In Numbers 21 the people were questioning God’s goodness and testing His patience with their complaints. In response to their unbelief, God sent fiery serpents among them, so that whoever was bitten would die.
5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food."  6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  7 And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.  8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."  9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live (Num 25:5-9).
[We can’t read that without mentioning that Jesus referred to that text in John 3:14,15 when he said that “Even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever  believes in Him may have eternal life.”] The idea of “testing God” made me think of the experience of Jesus when he was tempted by the devil for 40 days in the wilderness. We read in Luke 4:9-12,
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,  10 for it is written, "' He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,'  11 and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"  12 And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Jesus warned about “testing God,” pushing the limits to see what He will do. That would be the sin of presumption, and that was what the enemy was trying to cause Jesus to do.  With this temptation, like the others the devil used against Jesus, the Master used Scripture to reply, citing part of Deuteronomy 6:16.  God calls us to faith, to believing Him, taking Him at His word.
       “Nor let us grumble…” (10). I.e., complaining about God… Perhaps the most shocking thing about the narrative of the Exodus is how quickly it came to this. The people complained they didn’t have food, and God sent them manna and gave them water. Then they complained about the food! They missed the leeks and cucumbers of Egypt and grew tired of the bread from heaven. They murmured against Moses and Aaron, and ultimately against the Lord. How could they? We would never grumble… would we?  Grumbling is unthankfulness, a sense of entitlement, perhaps even questioning God’s goodness.  It’s thinking that focuses on “me,” what has God done for me lately, what is in it for me, rather than focusing on God and His amazing grace.  Outward religion alone does not please God, but rather He desires a heart that constantly depends on His grace and consistently seeks His glory.
III. We should learn from the example of Israel and take a hard look in the mirror (11,12).­­­­­­
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
       God allowed their struggles as an example to us -  Actually the ESV implies a two part “purpose,” first, these things happened as examples, they taught their fellow Israelites at the time and subsequently about God’s character and what he expects of us, warning them against presumption and complacency.  And secondly, “…but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages has come.” In other words, God inspired Moses to record this events knowing that one day the church, the people of God at “the ends of the ages,” or as the writer of Hebrews says, “these last days…”  Yes, we have a blessed hope that still lays ahead, the promise of the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.  But it also true, that in this age we are already participating in kingdom blessings, somehow, as Paul told the Colossians, “We have been translated out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son.” Or as he told the Corinthians in his second letter, “If any man be in Christ—a new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17). What a blessed privilege, the future is now! God story has reached a climactic point, and we have been included in the cast!
       Let’s look at the second phrase a bit more: they were written down for our instruction… Remember the words at the end of John’s Gospel, “Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book, these things were written that you might believe… that you might have life…” They were recorded in Scripture so we could learn.  We need to remember that throughout history God has guided the revelation and the preservation of his truth in Scripture.  Paul here is saying that very thing: As God guided Moses to write down particular stories he had us in mind as well, he knew exactly what we needed to learn about Him and about what he requires of us. Do we value the Bible as God’s revelation? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ…” (Rom 10:13); “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (I Peter 1:23); it is the Word of Life, the Word that abides forever, and so we should “…long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation…” (I Peter 2:2).
       “The end of the ages…” is an interesting phrase here, since Paul was writing nearly 2000 years ago. Was he mistaken?  Did he somehow misunderstand the imminence of the return of Christ?  Not at all. The point is that in Jewish thinking the arrival of the messianic age was the beginning of the last days. Peter indicated that in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 when he quoted from Joel 2 and added a phrase to the quotation: “In the last days, says the Lord, I will our out my Spirit on all flesh…” Peter added the temporal descriptor, indicating that from his perspective, the future age that the prophet had predicted, the messianic age, had arrived. “This is that” he was saying.  The writer to the Hebrews began his epistle contrasting the previous revelation given in times past through the prophets, and the revelation “in these last days” in the Son. When we consider God’s story as it unfolds in Scripture, we live in a blessed position, we have the fuller revelation given in Christ and though His apostles. We are that much closer to the “blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”!
       The warning gets specific and personal in verse 12: Therefore, in light of the history of Israel and the repeated examples of people falling into sin, if God knew we needed this revelation to teach us about Him and about ourselves, take heed!  Many times I have heard people express confidence that they would never be vulnerable to certain temptations, it couldn’t happen to them!  The book of proverbs warns that “pride goes before destruction, and haughty spirit before a fall.” Some of those same people later met me and tried to justify their sin, “You don’t know what I’ve been through…” or worse, “I prayed about it and I think God understands, this situation is different…” or “Don’t I have a right to be happy?”  That last one is a real killer since we somehow seem to be implying that we know better than God where we can find true happiness. The painful truth is, every time we resist the Spirit, every time we willfully sin, we are guilty of excusing or rationalizing our choice in the same way. Are you “religious?”
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Outward religion alone does not please God, but rather He desires a heart that constantly depends on His grace and consistently seeks His glory.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do these warnings to the Corinthians, based on illustrations from the Old Testament, cause you to pause and think? I believe they should evoke introspection in all of us.  Someone said “an unexamined life is not worth living” and I believe God intends for each one of us to regularly turn the lens of Scripture on ourselves. How much is “religion” worth? Well, we don’t want our “religion” to be merely external, going through the motions, complacent. We had better not be dependent on our goodness, because, as Paul said, “None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…” (Rom 3:10-12).  Because of His amazing grace, because He first loved us, we love him in return. The more we love Him, the more we’ll embrace the mission He has given us, to seek His glory as we declare the riches of His grace to the world!   Think about that,    AMEN.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Free to Serve! I Corinthians 9:15-27

Free to Serve!
I Corinthians 9:15-27
Introduction:  Our town is filling up with visitors this time of the year.  If you are visiting the area, we are glad you are here! (Good for the local economy too!)  Someone who recently had traveled to New Jersey commented that they were surprised, and even a little insulted, that in NJ you are not allowed to pump your own gasoline. Full service only, it’s the law!  Most states have a very different view, most states, in most gas stations, it’s “self service only”!  That seems to be a brand of “christianity” that is growing in popularity today as well: “self service Christianity.” What is in it for me? Though it may be human to ask that question, biblical Christianity turns this whole discussion on its head. It’s not about me and what God is going to do for me, it is about Him, it’s about God’s glory and His mission in the world. In view of what God has done for us in Christ, are we willing to give Him our best, and to be fully engaged in the mission He has entrusted to us, that is, to know Him, and to make Him known? 
Big Idea: We have been set free by God’s grace, free to express our love for Him as we give our best in seeking to fulfill our part in His mission.
I. Free to obey God’s Call: Compelled to serve, mission is a sacred responsibility, and a blessed privilege (15-18)!
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.  16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
       When you start a reading with the word “but” you need to remember the context in which it falls. Recall from recent weeks that Paul has been talking about being free in Christ, and the willingness of the mature believer to give up the exercise of certain freedoms that might be an impediment to a weaker brother. The argument here is a little different, here the concern is over gaining a hearing for the gospel, and doing whatever he could do to identify with and reach people of various backgrounds with the Gospel.  He has just made the case that those who minister the word have the right to expect their needs to be met by the church.  Paul’s “boast” so to speak was that when he came and ministered in a region, like Corinth, he preached and evangelized and made disciples without expecting or accepting sustenance from the new churches being planted.  Like a missionary church planter he would come in and establish a church, either supported by gifts from other churches, or, as he did when he initially arrived in Corinth, by working as a tent-maker.
            Note that Paul did not view ministry as a “job,” it was a calling. He had a burden to share Christ with as many as possible, to urge men and women to be reconciled with God. It wasn’t a path he had chosen, he did not dream about being a missionary or a pastor in later life. Remember Paul’s opening words in the letter to the Galatians, Paul, an apostle- not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” He was called and this calling came from God, his gifts were bestowed by the Spirit, and he had no choice but to preach. He says here in I Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  
       I preached a few times while in Bible college even though I was such an introvert, and I did not relish the idea of public speaking.  It wasn’t a career path I would have chosen, but I felt compelled to make myself available for the ministry. When I was in seminary my first year I preached most every weekend in a church that was without a pastor. They had a small evening service and were happy to have a student preacher come. It was not that I felt confident about speaking by then, I felt like I had to do it. It was a privilege. The preparation and the preaching was a good experience for me that confirmed God’s calling on my life. Slowly I realized that despite my weakness God could use me. This year is 30 years since my first position as a youth pastor in 1985. God calls each of us to discover and use our spiritual gifts for the edification of the body and evangelization of the lost.
       You might wonder about your place in God’s mission. My place is right here you might think, right in this pew, I sit here every week! I sing the songs and put money in the offering!  Well, good for you. But God has formed you into the person you are, with a unique story that is a part of God’s story. He has gifted you, and molded you through the experiences that you have passed through in life for this moment. Are you listening? Are you willing? You might think, l can’t do this. Well, join the club. It is not about our weakness but about His power.  We have been set free by God’s grace, free to express our love for Him as we give our best in seeking to fulfill our part in His mission.

II. Free to prioritize God’s mission: Commitment to mission means surrendering our freedom for the sake of the lost (19-23).
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
            Paul understood the doctrine of grace.  9:19 summarizes the main idea, and then it is restated in v.23. Paul is free, absolutely free in Christ. Even so, he has chosen to be a slave of all for the sake of the Gospel, that he might win more to Christ. Four times through the section he repeats his motivation, “…that I might win more of them…”  Paul was motivated by a sense of urgency in the mission that he was on. More than his own comfort or security or sensitivities he wanted to do everything possible to share the gospel with as many as possible. He felt compelled to preach Jesus, and to urge men and women to be reconciled to God. So he stayed “flexible,” and he met them where they were at.  It is a matter of fact, that after we come to faith, gradually we have fewer contacts with people outside the church.  We have to be intentional in cultivating those relationships because it won’t happen by itself. Family, neighbors, co-workers, people we rub shoulders with in the community, all of these are headed toward eternity, either in Christ, or in darkness. The task is urgent!
            V.20, to the Jews, to those “under the Law,” he became as a Jew, as one under the Law. We see examples of Paul choosing not to be an offense, to identify with his audience. Typically, when there was a Jewish synagogue in a town that Paul arrived in, it was there that he first went. Why? They were the guardians of the scriptures, the race through whom God brought Messiah Jesus into the world. They were Paul’s brothers, the nation from which his mother and father and all his relations had come. We read in Acts 16:3,
3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
This was after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 when it was determined that gentiles need not be circumcised!  Why did Paul do this?  “Because of the Jews who were in those places…” He did not want Timothy, whose mother was a Jew and whose father was Greek, to be an offense to those that they were seeking to reach.  It was a concession for the sake of others, to avoid putting a stumbling block in the way of faith. Later in Acts we see that Paul in Jerusalem, reporting to the believing Jewish leaders of the church there what God was doing among the gentiles. And what does Paul do? We read in Acts 21:19-24,
19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law,  21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.  22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.  23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;  24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law…
Paul went and participated in a Jewish rite in order to show the Jews he respected their traditions and customs.  After all Jesus had said that He didn’t come to do away with the Law but to fulfill the Law!  But when Paul went to Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17, he did not rely on Jewish tradition to point men to the God of the Bible. Speaking to those pagan philosophers he spoke of God as creator, sustainer, and coming judge…
19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean."  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 man,  25 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,  28 for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "' For we are indeed his offspring.'  29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." 
What was so different?  Why no reference to Moses and the prophets and the fulfillment of Scripture, when in the synagogues he would reason from the Scriptures, proving that Jesus was the messiah? Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he might win some.  Certainly appeal to Moses and the prophets made sense to a Jewish audience, but less so to those Greek philosophers!  We need to meet people where they are. All truth is God’s truth, so we listen and look for a window that we can invite them to look through to see the Creator, the God who is their only hope. For Paul, in Athens, it was the altar to an unknown God.  Then we share the Bible, since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ…” We have been set free by God’s grace, free to express our love for Him as we give our best in seeking to fulfill our part in His mission.

III. Free to Strive for excellence: As an athlete strives to win the race, we can strive for maturity, giving our best for the Lord (24-27).
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
        Paul uses the imagery of athletics, which would have resonated well with the Corinthians.  The Isthmian Games which were held every two years in the region of Corinth were second only to the Olympics in importance in the ancient world. Then, as now, the contestants trained hard for the competition. I have a younger brother who took up running at about the age of 40. Today he is competing in the NJ State Triathlon. He has since run several marathons and triathlons, and has done two “half-ironmans.” He is now training for a full iron man competition in the fall, 2 mile swim, 100+ mile bike ride, and 26 mile run, all together! The same day! One after another! If I added together all the swimming and running and biking in my entire life I might get close to those distances, but probably not!  Those of you who have run races like that know you don’t just “show up” the day of the race. You train. Diligently. Rigorously. You give it your best.  You work hard.  I think one of the young mothers in our church is planning to run another half marathon this year. You don’t just “show up” on race day, you give it your all. It takes real commitment. We’re not talking just about athletics here. Paul is using this imagery to teach us.
       How do we “train hard” for the Christian life and mission? Make use of the means of grace God has given us. Be in the Word, read it daily, spend time in prayer.  Come to Sunday School and join a small group. Iron sharpens iron. We need to benefit from the gifts of others and listen, they need to benefit from the gifts God has given you. The Christian life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And it’s not enough to just show up. Meetings like this are a time to recharge and to be equipped, but as soon as you pass out of this building you are on the mission field, and you are on assignment.  God deserves our best, our commitment. He gave us the best, perfect love demonstrated on a hill called Calvary. He gave His only begotten Son. So, in Him…

What is God saying to me in this passage? We have been set free by God’s grace, free to express our love for Him as we give our best in seeking to fulfill our part in His mission.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? This Wednesday we are up to one of the shortest psalms in the Bible, Psalm 117. It’s the last in a series of psalms that begin and/or end with the phrase, “Praise the Lord!” [I.e., “Hallelujah!”]. This Psalm begins with parallel statements, “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!”  That word “nations,” goyim, “gentiles.” The psalm is calling for the whole world to know and to worship the God of Israel. That is Paul’s desire, Paul’s heart, here in I Corinthians: that all the nations praise Him, i.e. that the God of the Bible be exalted, that He be glorified.
       Because Paul loved God he was willing to give himself, to step out in faith, to give up his own rights, so that he could become "all things to all men, so that but all means” some would be saved. Each of us is called to be a missionary where God has placed us, we are all called to be witnesses. We talked recently about the idea of hiring an outreach director and if that is God’s will and God’s time, that’s great, we’ll see. But we can’t imagine that we are hiring someone to do the outreach for us. That is our job. Every one of us. Ephesians 4 says “…he gave some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” That is telling us that every member, according to God’s plan, is a minister and a witness.  Some teach and preach and equip, but every one of us, as we go out into the world, in our families and neighborhoods and workplaces, is called to be a witness. The church isn’t only our Sunday gathering or our Wednesday night meeting, or even our small groups. We are the church. And we have a mission to carry out.

       VBS is coming up. Is there a child in your extended family or neighborhood that you can invite to Vacation Bible School?  What a great way for kids to hear the gospel and what a great way to introduce a family to our church!  Is there someone in your family or neighborhood that doesn’t attend church, but who needs the Lord?   Why not invite them next Sunday to the Adult class at 9 am, and then to stay for church? God has us here, together, because there is work to do. May we prove to be a lighthouse of His grace and truth. “Self-service only” might be a good idea at the gas station, but that is not biblical Christianity, and it is not our church!  Keep that in mind this week and be sensitive to the opportunities the Lord sets before you.   AMEN.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Support of the Ministry I Corinthians 9:1-18

The Support of the Ministry
I Corinthians 9:1-18
Introduction:  The discipline of preaching through books of the Bible guarantees that we won’t just focus on my “hobby horses,” and I Corinthians has certainly been an example of that!  I know that “money for ministry” is an important topic, that Bible has a lot to say about stewardship and giving, but it is such a personal issue for people I know there are strong feelings and I know speaking on the topic risks offending someone.  Some are probably visiting today and thinking great, just what I thought, all they ever speak about is money!  This is not the norm, it is the passage that we have come to in Scripture, and I am committed to teaching the Bible!  Now in our church I don’t know who gives how much, and except for those who count the offering you don’t know what Mary Ann and I give.  We do know that despite our numbers we have been able to meet our budget, so obviously we have generous givers in our church!  Let me take the pressure off myself a little at the start by saying we are very blessed, and very thankful for how the church has supported us since we have been here.  We are not lobbying for a raise, we certainly are not complaining! We are thankful for the generosity of the church toward us. Not only has the church supported their pastors faithfully through the years, and we give substantially to missions as well, and we have funded some very substantial renovations and projects. Is God pleased? I think He is! Even so, as we come across topics in Scripture we will preach it, God has it here for our benefit, to reinforce and strengthen our commitment to His mission.
The Big Idea: When we affirm that God has called someone to full time ministry among us, to the degree that we are able, we are obligated to support them in such a way that they are free to serve.
I. As an apostle Paul had the right to be financially supported (1-6).
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.  3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.  4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink?  5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?  6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
The apostolic ministry (1a,b).   
Paul has been talking about being free in Christ, and about the concessions that we may choose to make for the sake of a weaker brother who may not enjoy the same freedom that we have in the Lord.  He begins in verse one with a series of rhetorical questions, the implied answer of each is an emphatic, “Yes, of course!”
       “Am I not free?” of course you are Paul!  You are as free as any of us, and as free as all of us! The Corinthians were claiming that they were “free in Christ,” and Paul just reminded them of the importance of considering how the exercise of their freedom might impact those around them, especially a weaker brother who might stumble in his walk with the Lord if he saw a fellow Christian eating food that had been sacrificed to an idol. Love should guide the exercise of their freedom.  Paul is stating that he too is free, he has rights and authority as an apostle, yet he will show them that he chose not to exercise some of his rights so that there was no chance he would be an offense to anyone.  
       “Am I not an apostle?” Implied answer: Yes, we recognize and affirm that you are! Paul was not just a pastor and a missionary, he was an apostle. The apostles had a unique, foundational office in the church (see Eph 2:20; 3:5). They had been entrusted with the Word of Christ, and spoke as his representatives. We’ll see from Paul’s next questions that there were probably some who questioned Paul’s right to the title “apostle.”  Why would that be? Well, he had not walked with Jesus as did the twelve for three years. In fact Paul had been a persecutor of the church, and only came to faith later, after the cross and the resurrection!  His ministry was unique, but he too had met Jesus face to face, and had been called and sent by Him.  Paul’s next question refers to this idea…
       “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Yes, we know that you have, you testify about it all the time!  This underscores the uniqueness of the apostolic ministry. Even though Paul was not one of the twelve he met the resurrected Jesus and he was called, uniquely, to be the apostle to the gentiles.  Like Peter, James, and John and the others, he had authority to speak the word of Christ to the church. There are no “apostles” today in the technical sense of the New Testament office. Ephesians 2:20 makes it clear that that office was foundational, the church being built “…on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone…” We have a good number of men who have been builders or carpenters in our church, how many times do you lay the foundation of a building? Only once! In the beginning. Then the house is constructed above it. The apostles’ ministry was unique and foundational. But while Paul starts speaking of his apostolic ministry here, he extends in more broadly in this context to the support of the ministry in the local church.

The proof of the ministry (1c-2)
Are you not my workmanship in the Lord?  Paul is reminding the Corinthians that he was the one the Lord used to establish the church in Corinth.  He had no doubt won many of them to faith in Christ and discipled them. They were his work or “workmanship” in that their faith was the result of his labor among them, they themselves were “fruit’’ of his ministry. That being said, their immaturity and struggles no doubt grieved Paul. It’s kind of the opposite of what John said in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” If obedient children bring joy, what did the Corinthians bring to Paul?  

       “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.  3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.”

Up to the time of writing this letter, Paul had spent more time in Corinth that he did in any church that was planted on his first two missionary journeys, 18 months!  If anyone regarded him as an apostle, if anyone knew his heart and had been blessed by his spiritual gifts it was them! IF no one else recognized his calling and affirmed his ministry, they should.  Some were apparently challenging Paul’s credentials or his authority and he presents the Corinthian church as “exhibit A”, proof of his apostolic calling and authority. I think there is a principle here that our first obligation is to support the ministry of our local church. He’ll say here “If we sowed spiritually among you, is it too much if we reap materially?” The local pastor helps feed the church spiritually, and the church meets his material needs. For Mary Ann and I we have viewed our giving as first to our local church, that is where we commit our tithe, not under law or compulsion, but freely, with joy, as a starting point. Our support of additional ministries and missionaries goes beyond that.   

The rights of an apostle and the support of the ministry (3-6).

4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink?
I don’t think Paul is returning to the discussion in Chapter 8 of meat sacrificed to idols. He means that he had to right to be sustained in his missionary work among them, to “eat and drink” in that sense.

 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

       It is interesting that we don’t read much of anything about the wives of the apostles in the New Testament (though, besides the clues in this passage we also do see mention of Peter’s mother-in-law, so he was clearly married!).  But this is a clue that it was the case that most of the apostles, including the Lord’s [half] brothers and Peter, had a wife who accompanied them in the ministry.  Paul mentions this “right” here, the same word as in v.4, “authority,” a “legal right.” John MacArthur suggested that an application of this would be the expectation that a church would support their pastor at a level that would allow his wife not to need to work outside of the home. We know that a pastor’s wife, like a pastor, is always on call, and is almost unavoidably involved in many aspects of ministry. If she is financially able to not work at a secular job she can be more effective in complementing her husband’s ministry in the church.  Mary Ann’s gifts in ministering to children and her hospitality especially have been a blessing to many in our church.

       Paul goes on to ask,  “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?”  [literally, “refrain from working”].

We read about Paul’s initial ministry in Corinth in Acts 18:2-5…
2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them,  3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.  4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.  5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
So we see that Paul began among them “making tents” and ministering in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  When his colleagues arrived, he depended on their support, or on gifts they had brought from other churches, and was able to give himself fulltime to the ministry. Paul’s letter seems to indicate that through the time I Corinthians was written, he had always relied on either external support or tent making to supply his material needs. He chose to do that lest something as carnal as money become an impediment to the gospel.  He surrendered his right to support for the sake of others.  When we affirm that God has called someone to full time ministry among us, to the degree that we are able, we are obligated to support them in such a way that they are free to serve.

II. The principle: It is well established and abundantly illustrated that those who work in full time in ministry have the right to be supported (7-12a).

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?  8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?  9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.  11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?  12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

       Paul turns to a series of illustrations from everyday life to show that a worker is worthy of his hire. Soldiers are not expected to pay their own way to the front. Farmers or shepherds are expected to benefit from the produce of their labor. These raise no questions or objections, they are expected.

            Next he turns to a scriptural principle to illustrate what he has been saying, “For it is written in the law of Moses…” In case the illustrations from life were not sufficient to make the point, Paul turns to Scripture, and quotes a law regarding “muzzling an ox.”  Again in vv. 9-12 Paul asks a series of questions applying this principle from the field to the church: “If we have sown spiritual things  among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do we not even more?” The implied answer is yes, of course!  When we affirm that God has called someone to full time ministry among us, to the degree that we are able, we are obligated to support them in such a way that they are free to serve.

III. The prerogative of the church planter (12b-18).
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.  13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?  14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.  15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.  16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.  18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
       Having made the case of his right to be supported in the ministry, Paul, the church planter, set aside his rights in order to not be an obstacle to faith (12b-14).
Nevertheless we have not made use of this right…”  (cf. v.15). Paul has established and illustrated a principle, he has shown the right, indeed the expectation, that a pastor would be supported in his ministry, but then just as he said in chapter 8 that he would choose not to eat meat if it would cause offense, he says he chose not to accept support from the Corinthians to avoid any offense. We know that Paul did accept support from at least some churches.  He mentions in his letters thanksgiving to churches for their gifts and support. But at this point at least he had intentionally not accepted any support from the Corinthians.

Paul chose not to use this “right” that he had (15-18). Paul wants to make it clear, he is “…not writing to secure any such provision…” Paul’s purpose was not to guilt the Corinthians into fulfilling their obligation to support him. His time serving among them was over, and he was probably writing to them from Ephesus! It is not his intention to shame them into supporting him – he is both illustrating the truth that freedom in Christ includes freedom to give up our rights for the sake of others, and at the same time he is responding to his critics who were challenging his apostolic credentials.
Question: Does the fact that Paul chose not to accept support from the Corinthians indicate that others are bound by his example? Well, think about the context. Paul was a church planter, he was “from away,” working among the Corinthians. He was a missionary. We support and send missionaries so that they can do the work God had given them to do. 

What is God saying to me in this passage? When we affirm that God has called someone to full time ministry among us, to the degree that we are able, we are obligated to support them in such a way that they are free to serve.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  In his next letter Paul will speak more generally about principles that should guide our giving. He says in 2 Corinthians 9:5-8,   

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.  6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

So Paul does at that point teach about generous giving, willing, joyful, trusting God. God has supplied for us generously through the gifts of the people since we have been here, and we are thankful. And if you are a member or regular attender, the Bible spells out clearly our obligation to support the local church budget. At our last annual meeting we authorized an exploratory committee, looking into the possibility of hiring a youth worker / outreach director, and for the last few weeks have received “faith promise” pledges, to see if this is God’s will and God’s time.  If this is a part time position we’ll need to have reasonable expectations.  What is the Lord telling us? Is it His will that we do this at this time?  If it is, what would he have you to do? If it is not, how can we more effectively carry on the outreach and discipleship that must be a part of our mission with our current staff and volunteers?   Think about that, pray about it. Are you a part of the answer?   AMEN.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pastor's Report Preview for July 2015

Pastor’s Quarterly Report – July 2015

       Summer is a great time to live in the Boothbay region, as we enjoy beautiful weather as well as the events and activities around town.  Summer also presents strategic opportunities for ministry as we experience a flood of summer residents, tourists, and seasonal workers from around the world.  We want to be open to opportunities to reach out to the mission field at our door. 
       Our “God and Country Day” celebration featured an excellent challenge from our visiting speaker and a good reminder of the Christian “roots” of our country.  May we be faithful in being witnesses to those in our sphere of influence.   Preparations for another important summer outreach, Vacation Bible School, are underway, with a team of volunteers led once again by Doris South.  VBS is a great opportunity to reconnect with our Word of Life Olympian kids during the summer break, and also to meet some new friends and their families.  If you haven’t been approached and would like to lend a hand, talk to Doris!  
       Later this month we’ll host the new Hope Haitian Choir during their rehearsal days before they begin their summer tour.  Our church is privileged to have a small part in encouraging this ministry which brings to light what God is doing in the midst of difficult circumstances in that nation.
       How can each of us be “salt and light” in our community?  We have volunteers involved with the Boothbay Region Food Pantry as well as the Community Resource Group,  which help us “have a pulse” on some of the needs in our community. Even more important is the realization that every one of us has been strategically placed where we are by the Lord, and that means we constantly have “divinely appointed encounters” where we can be a witness for the Lord. Seize those moments!
       Some of our small groups have taken a break for the summer, while at least one or two have continued.  I believe the elder board is united in seeing the value of these groups and we would encourage your involvement either now, or starting in the fall when all of our groups restart.  These meetings are small enough for interaction and sharing at a personal level. It is a context in which we can bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, and grow together.  Our Thursday night group at the parsonage has a time of praise as we sing together, a discussion of the preaching portion from the previous week, and a time of prayer (all of which is followed by snacks and fellowship!).
       A different kind of small group has developed on Wednesday night, as we share a devotional from the book of Psalms, share testimonies and praises based on what God has been doing during the week, and then pray together, bringing the prayer needs of the church, our extended families, our community and the world before the throne of grace.  Have you come to a prayer meeting lately? Come expecting a blessing and you will be blessed! We also have a morning prayer meeting and coffee time for men at 6:30 AM on Tuesdays at the parsonage. If you are in the area and available, we would invite you join us!
       I’ve been challenged in studying and preaching Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church this year. We’ve encountered challenging and relevant topics that at times push us (and me!) out of our comfort zones, but hopefully encourage us to know Jesus better and to love him more.  It’s been my privilege to be available for counselling for couples and individuals and I am encouraged at the work God is doing in our families. Let’s stay engaged this summer, as we seek to know Him and make Him known!  
Your co-workers in Christ,

Pastor Steve and Mary Ann