1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Unity and Diversity.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 NLT

Paul had heard about divisions and disunity taking place in the local congregation in Corinth. They had taken sides within the church, with some claiming to be followers of Paul, while others claimed Apollos as their spiritual leader. They had even been bragging about who had baptized them, claiming some kind of spiritual superiority as a result. Then there were those in the church whose disputes with one another had resulted in law suits in the secular courts. On top of all that, Paul had to deal with a spirit of division that had crept into the church as some were claiming their right to live in their new found freedom in Christ, but who were causing their fellow believers to stumble and fall into sin. There had crept into the church an attitude of selfishness and self-centeredness that was doing serious damage to the cause of Christ and the health of the body of Christ. What seemed to be missing was any concern for the common good. Everyone was in it for what he or she could get out of it. Personal rights had trumped any concern for the corporate well being of the body. So Paul provided them with a metaphor that he hoped would help them understand the unique nature of their role as members of the body of Christ – the church.

Because the church is a collection of individuals, it is easy for us to bring our individualistic mindsets with us and never fully understand what it is that God has in mind for this unique institution He has ordained. Becoming part of the church is not like joining a country club or a fraternity. There is something spiritual going on behind the scenes when an individual is called by God into a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. That act of salvation places the individual into an entirely new situation, making him a Son of God and a brother to every other individual who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. He becomes a member of the family of God. But even more so, He becomes a member of the body of Christ. To make His point, Paul compares the body of Christ, the church, with the human body. His emphasis seems to be on diversity, first and foremost. Unity is a byproduct of that diversity. In other words, in the human body, God has divinely designed each and every part with a purpose in mind. Each part is necessary and must work in conjunction with every other part. Some parts are seemingly more important – like the brain or the heart. Yet God has brought every part together and given it its own function and role to play. Some of those parts go unseen, working behind the scenes, but playing an essential part in the overall well being of the body. Each part is necessary. There is not competition or jealousy within the human body. One part does not envy another part. There is no pride or arrogance within the human body. Because God has crafted each part and placed it right where he wants it, to perform the role for which He created it. The same is true of the body of Christ. God has called every believer and placed them within the body of Christ, the church, and provided them with a spiritual gift that is designed for the good of the body. Paul had made it clear to the Corinthians: “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. he alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NLT).

The body of Christ is a divinely ordained and designed organism filled with a variety of individuals who represent and a diversity of gifts. Paul lists some of these as apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, leaders, and even those who speak in other languages. Not everyone has the same gift. What would a church look like that was made up of only teachers? Diversity is a necessity. Every gift is needed. Every individual is important. But the goal is always for the common good. The motivation is always love. Paul is going to drive this point home in the very next section of his letter. Because even the spiritual gifts can lead to disunity if they are done without love. If our overall objective is not to express selfless, sacrificial love to others, then even our spiritual gifts can become destructive rather than constructive. They can divide rather than unite. We must recognize that God has divinely organized the church, placing each individual where they belong and gifting them in such a way that they play a vital, non-negotiable role in the overall health of the body of Christ.

Father, the church can be a messy place. There are so many people who have come from so many walks of life. They bring their personalities and all their baggage to the equation. Then there is our tendency to compete and jockey for positions of prominence and importance. Help us to understand that there are no spectators in the body of Christ. Each person has a role to play. Each is necessary and needed. You have designed the church to be a well-ordered organism where all the parts work seamlessly and effortlessly together. But all that is impossible without love. Show us how to be more than an organization. Give us a growing awareness and understanding of just how unique this thing called the church really is. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

All For One and One For All.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT

Spiritual gifts. There is probably no other topic more misunderstood, abused or simply ignored in the Bible. And it would appear that, among the believers in the city of Corinth, there were some serious issues involving the importance and use of spiritual gifts. So, once again, Paul was forced to provide them with insights and instruction. Like so much else involving the Christian life, the spiritual gifts were given by God in order to bring about unity in the body of Christ. Yet the Corinthian believers were actually using their God-given spiritual gifts to cause division and disunity. There was jealousy over who had which spiritual gift. Pride had crept in as they compared and contrasted each other’s gifts and determined which ones were of greater value. In the midst of it all, they had lost sight of the true purpose behind the gifts in the first place. So Paul clarified it for them. “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT).

Later on in this chapter, Paul is going to use the analogy of the human body in order to get the Corinthians to understand the true nature of the church of Jesus Christ. It was not to be viewed as a collective of independent individuals, like rocks in a box, but a well-designed organism made up of various parts, each with its own function and purpose, but completely dependent upon one another for survival and health. The body of Christ is NOT about equality. We are not all the same. There is diversity and different degrees of giftedness. Each individual brings his or her unique personality and spiritual giftedness to the body in order to serve and contribute to the greater good. But there is no place for pride, comparison, jealousy, envy, or any other self-centered outlook that inevitably destroys unity and robs the body of its health and vitality.

It is the Spirit of God who distributes the gifts within the body of Christ. He gives to one the gift of wisdom, to another the ability to heal, and to another faith. And then there is the one who is given the gift of tongues, while someone else gets the gift of the interpretation of tongues. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the sheer variety and distinctiveness of the gifts could easily lead to competition and unhealthy comparison. Some of the gifts are more visible and flamboyant than others. Some would appear to be more “spiritual” than others. But Paul emphasizes that it is the same Spirit who distributes these gifts – as He sees fit. And He hands them out with one purpose in mind: the well-being of the body of Christ. They are not badges of honor and they have nothing to do with the merit or deservedness of the recipient. “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NLT). But it is so easy for us to decide that one gift is more important than another and, therefore, to conclude that one person is more important than another. But nothing could be further from the truth. The gifts are given for the common good of the body, not to elevate the worth or significance of the individual. We have nothing to do with our spiritual gift. It is given by God through the Holy Spirit. And it is not given to US, but to the church. We are simply stewards of our gifts and are to use them to minister to one another, selflessly and sacrificially. Our gifts do not belong to us. They are not badges of honor or symbols of spiritual worth. Spiritual gifts are not given based on merit or as rewards for righteousness. They are God-given, Spirit-empowered abilities that God has ordained and distributed among His people in order to create unity and increase the vitality of the body of Christ – His church.

Father, it is amazing how easily and quickly we can turn something you intended for unity into something that causes division and disunity. Pride is always waiting in the wings to cause us to make everything about us. We can even turn the spiritual gifts into measurements of self-worth and value. We compare and contrast. We measure one another by the degree of our giftedness and then wrongfully conclude that some of us have more value than others. We lose sight of the common good and the call to selfless, sacrificial love. Open our eyes to the pride that lurks in our hearts. Give us a passion for the body of Christ – the Church. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Family Dysfunction.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this! – 1 Corinthians 11:22 NLT

The church should have been the one place where all the barriers were brought down, where all the dividing lines were erased, and a sense of unity and love was found that was unlike anything else in the secular society. That was Paul’s contention as he wrote this powerful section of his letter to the Corinthians. These are some of the harshest and most critical words he shared with the believers in Corinth. He had received disturbing news regarding some unacceptable behavior taking place when the believers gathered to take the Lord’s Supper. Rather than coming together in unity and love, they were even partaking in the Lord’s Supper selfishly and sinfully. The normal divisions found in secular Greek society had made their way into the church. There were clicks and special interest groups. The rich looked down on the poor. The have-nots refused to associate with those who had nothing. Preferential treatment seemed to be common place. And it was all taking place when they gathered for the Lord’s Supper. This appalled Paul. Here was the church gathering to celebrate the selfless, sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, and they were marring the experience with their selfish, self-centered behavior. Not a one of them, regardless of their social status or net worth, deserved what Christ had done for them. Each of them had been guilty of sin and deserving of death, but Christ had died on their behalf and had made it possible for them to be made right with God. Yet now they were celebrating and commemorating Christ’s death by treating each other with contempt.

In the early days of the Church, it was common for the congregations to gather together for the Lord’s Supper and to include it as part of a “love feast.” This was a communal gathering that was probably a lot like a pot-luck supper. People would bring food and turn the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper into a full-fledged meal. It was a family gathering. But the problem was that some who had plenty of food were refusing to share it with the poor. Others were getting drunk on wine. Rather than a time of unity and love, it had become a time of disunity and division. So Paul reminded them of the words of Jesus on the night of His last Passover meal with the disciples. Jesus spoke of his broken body and shed blood. He foretold of His coming death and sacrifice. And then He commanded the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” The Lord’s Supper was to be a commemoration and celebration of His death and the salvation it had made possible. It should have been a humbling reminder of Jesus’ sacrificial, selfless death. But instead, it had become an occasion for selfishness, pride, and un-Christlike behavior. So Paul warned them that this behavior would have serious ramifications. Their improper treatment of one another showed a serious disregard for Christ’s death on the cross. They were treating His death with contempt. And for Paul, this was a serious issue. He contented that many of them were physically weak and sick because of their actions. He warned them to take stock of their behavior and to come to the Lord’s table warily and cautiously. Somehow the bread and the cup had been lost in all the feasting. It had become more about eating and drinking than celebrating and commemorating. The Lord’s sacrificial death had become an occasion for selfish, sinful behavior. And Paul warned them that this kind of behavior would lead to judgment. The Lord’s Supper was not to be taken lightly or treated contemptuously. Christ died so that sinful men could be made righteous. He died so that believers could live in unity. His death made possible our salvation and the Church’s creation. His love, expressed in His death for us, is to be a constant reminder of the way in which we should love one another: selflessly, sacrificially, humbly and completely.

Father, You have expressed Your love for us through the giving of Your own Son in our place. And yet, it is so easy for us to refuse to express love to one another because we are so self-focused and consumed by our own selfish interests. If we can keep our eyes focused on the cross and what Jesus did for us there, we should be able to remember that our gratitude to and love for You is best expressed through our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Order Amidst the Chaos.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NLT

I would by lying or delusional if I said this was not a difficult passage. There has been much debate and confusion regarding the words of Paul found in these verses and, I for one, am not sure I am the one to bring clear insight into their meaning or application for 21st-Century Christians. These verses are controversial and, while some use them to justify their particular denomination’s modern-day practices, others simply write them off as admonitions from Paul that had a limited-time, cultural significance that does not apply today. And yet, God chose to include these verses as a part of His inerrant, infallible Scriptures. So what are we to do with them.

I think we have to consider the cultural context, as you do when you read any of the books of the Bible. You have to remember who Paul was talking to and what was going on in their particular community and context. Paul’s letters are specific and general in their content and application. Some of the things he wrote were meant to address very specific issues that were unique to that particular fellowship. While there may be principles that can be applied to today’s modern context, the specifics do not. For instance, we do not struggle with the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols. That was unique to the believers living in Corinth. But there are underlying principles that apply to us today. In the verses for today, we must look carefully for what it is that God would have us take away and apply to our current cultural context.

He deals with everything from headship and authority to women’s head coverings. What is his main point? What is the real problem going on in Corinth? What are we to take away as the lesson or spiritual insight for the modern church? There is no doubt that Paul is addressing an underlying problem of the lack of order within the church. If you recall, there were those among the Corinthian believers who were embracing the idea that, because of their new found freedom in Christ, they were free to do things as they wished. Their attitude had become, “I am allowed to do anything!” Under the context of personal rights and freedoms, they were beginning to determine their own rules of behavior within the body of Christ. This included eating meat sacrificed to idols and, according to these verses, it seems that some of the women began to question the whole idea of authority. This was symbolized culturally by the use of the head covering. Evidently, some of the women were choosing to NOT cover their heads, as was the custom of their society. Even among the Greeks of their day, a woman usually covered her hair and head when out in public. It would seem that some of the women in the Corinthian fellowship had decided that they didn’t have to adhere to this cultural mandate any more. But Paul raised a much more basic and fundamental issue: The biblical concept of authority and headship. He reminded them, “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Even within the Godhead, the Trinity, submission and headship was practiced. This was God’s divine plan and His order for mankind. The real problem, as far as Paul was concerned, was the danger of rejecting God’s divine order. The removal of the head covering was a cultural symptom of a much greater issue. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was not the primary problem. It was that individuals in the church were using their so-called rights to cause their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. Think of what it would have been like if the believers in the church in Corinth had begun to throw off all the accepted cultural norms within their society. Those outside the church would have looked in and questioned the validity and value of the church and its practices. For Paul, everything always revolved around making sure that he did nothing to prevent the spread of the gospel. So if the women in the church suddenly decided to stop wearing their head coverings, it would have been a turn-off to those outside the church and been viewed as too radical and revolutionary; thus preventing them from ever entering into a relationship with the Corinthian believers and thereby hearing the gospel message.

It would see to me that much of what Paul was addressing had to do with accepted cultural norms. It would have been shocking for a woman to go out in public with her hair uncovered. It would have been even more disturbing for a woman to pray in a public worship service with her head uncovered. The real issue for Paul seems to be the confusion and chaos these acts would cause both inside and outside of the church. To not wear a head covering would have been as shocking in that day as a woman shaving her head – unthinkable and unacceptable. But what Paul really seems to be addressing is the need for order within the local body. Anything that would detract from the unity of the body or the spread of the gospel was to be avoided at all costs. Anything that gave the impression that there was no accepted order or need for authority or submission was to be rejected. Rather than seek our rights and demand our way, we need to always keep in mind that we exist for God’s glory. It is not about us. It is about the overall health of the body of Christ, the spread of the Gospel and the cause of the Kingdom of God. We are to do things God’s way, not ours. We are to be willing to die to our rights if it will benefit the body of Christ. We are to give up our freedoms if it will help others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Father, this is a difficult passage, but it is even more difficult to live out our lives with a sense of otherness rather than selfishness. It would be so much easier to make these verses all about head coverings and hair cuts. But it seems you are calling us to live in unity and humble submission to one another. Our pride is to take a back seat to the well being of the body of Christ. Open our eyes and help us see the lessons You have for us in these verses. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

It’s Not All About You.

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT

The Christian life is a team sport, not an individual event. Yet, many of us, heavily influenced by a society that puts all the emphasis on the individual, have come to believe that everything revolves around us, including the Christian life. But Paul would beg to differ. He had a completely different perspective, and spent a great portion of his correspondence to the believers in the early church trying to convince them that individualism was antithetical to the Christian cause. A big part of the problem that Paul was trying to address concerning meat sacrificed to idols had to do with the selfish and self-centered attitude that was motivating the behavior of some of the Corinthian believers. While the logic behind their argument that they were completely free to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols was true, it still did not give them the freedom to do as they wished. They had to consider the well-being of others. Just because they could eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience didn’t mean that they should.

The response of these individuals had been, “I am allowed to do anything.” But Paul reminded them that not everything was good for them or beneficial. He gave them another way of looking at their situation that took the focus off their individual rights and put them on their role within the Body of Christ. “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NLT). In other words, it’s wasn’t all about them! The universe didn’t revolve around them. They were not the center of all things and the sole inhabitant of the planet. In saving them, God had placed them in His family along with other brothers and sisters in Christ for whom they had a responsibility to love and protect.

For Paul, community was everything. Fellowship and loving concern for one another were the foundational principles of faith. Every believer was to live his or her life with a sense of shared responsibility and mutual concern for one another. Individual rights were to take a backseat to the corporate well-being of the flock. That required a daily dying to self and a willing sacrifice of legitimate rights and freedoms – all for the benefit of others. But Paul didn’t just write about this, he lived it. “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT). He had adopted this same attitude and lived it out in his daily life. Which is why he could say with a straight face, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

Paul echoes this theme in his letter to the believers in Philippi. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-5 NLT). He then went on to describe in great detail the attitude that Christ possessed. He gave up His divine privileges as God, and took on human flesh. He came and served, becoming a slave to all men. He willingly obeyed His Father, even to the point of death – giving His life as a substitute for sinful man. We are to follow His example. We are to live our lives with the same selfless, sacrificial attitude. It isn’t all about us. It’s about Jesus Christ and His body, the church. It is about the Kingdom of God and His plan for the redemption of the world. It is about the benefit and well-being of the other members of Christ’s body for whom I have a responsibility to willingly give up my rights for their good. Loving God and loving others is our call. That requires sacrifice and selflessness. It demands that we have the same attitude or mindset that Christ had – like Paul had.

Father, give us the mind of Christ. Let us see our lives like He did. We need to give up our addiction to individuality and begin to think corporately and communally. Too often, we let our rights become a road block to mutual love and care for the body of Christ. Thanks for reminding me once again that it isn’t all about me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

No Place For Cockiness.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to e more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NLT

There was a group of believers at Corinth who viewed themselves as having a superior knowledge. They had become a bit prideful and cocky over the subject of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. This was a common practice among the pagans in Corinth, but some of those who had converted to Christianity were continuing the practice even as believers. Their justification was that they knew that the idols to whom this meat had been sacrificed were not really gods at all – because there were no other gods besides Yahweh. They also seemed to believe that they were protected from any harm because they had a special relationship with God. From this section of Paul’s letter, it would appear that they also believed that believed their participation in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper provided some kind of supernatural immunity to them. So Paul gave them a brief history lesson, using the people of Israel as an illustration of what can happen when you let your guard down and assume you are immune from or impervious to temptation or sin. Paul recounted the story of the Israelite’s days wandering in the wilderness after God had freed them from captivity in Egypt. He wrote about the pillars or fire and smoke that guided the Israelites night and day. He wrote about their miraculous crossing of the sea on dry ground. He recounted God’s provision of manna and the water from the rock. He spoke of God’s appointment of Moses as their leader and the requirement of the Israelites to follow him faithfully. In all of this, Paul was trying to compare the situation of the Corinthian Christians with that of the Israelites. Both had been freed by God. They had been provided leadership by God. Since baptism is an outward express of faith, the act of the Israelites walking through the sea, following the cloud and accepting Moses’ leadership, were in essence a waterless form of baptism – an expression of their faith. The manna they ate and the water they drank from the rock were symbols of God’s supernatural provision – much like the Lord’s Supper. The bread and water were provided by God. The rock from which the water flowed was representative of Christ Himself. Just as the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper represent the body and blood of Christ and His provision for our spiritual needs, the manna and water represented the supernatural provision by God of the Israelite’s physical needs.

And yet, in spite of their status as God’s chosen people and God’s miraculous provision of food and water, the people ended up in idolatry. That was Paul’s whole point with this little history lesson. He was warning the believers in Corinth not to get cocky and too sure of themselves just because of their unique relationship with God made available through Christ. Paul reminded them that “these things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did” (1 Corinthians 10:6-7 NLT). The Israelites were guilty of idolatry, immorality, unbelief, grumbling, complaining, and unfaithfulness. All in spite of the fact that they were the chosen people of God. They had been delivered by God. They had been led by God. They had been fed by God. But in the end. God was not pleased with some of them. They had rebelled against Him and they never made it to the Promised Land, having died in the wilderness instead. Again, Paul warned the Corinthians that “these things happened to them as examples for us” (1 Corinthians 10:11 NLT). Then Paul writes those memorable words: “If you think are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT). Like the Israelites, believers will face temptations along the way. Despite their position as God’s chosen people, they will find themselves facing all kinds of opportunities to rebel against God and practice both idolatry and immorality – either literally or spiritually. And when we become cocky and sure of ourselves, that is when we are the most vulnerable. Remember the Israelites. They had miracles, manna, clouds of fire and smoke, water from a rock, sandals that never wore out, and countless other signs of God’s presence and power – and yet, they sinned. They turned away from God. It could happen to anyone. But God is faithful, even when we are not. He will not allow the temptations in our lives to be more than we can handle. He always provides a way of escape – an exit strategy. But we have to be aware of our vulnerability and susceptibility at all times. It is when we think we are “strong” that we are in the greatest danger. Self-confidence can be a dangerous thing for a believer. We must place our confidence in God, not ourselves. The Corinthian believers were running the risk of placing too much confidence in their position as God’s chosen people. Like the Israelites of old, they were setting themselves up for a dangerous fall. No one is immune to idolatry or spiritual unfaithfulness. They are a constant threat to all believers – at all times. But we must always turn to God for help. We must recognize our own weakness and His sufficiency. He will show us a way out so that we can endure. Because He is faithful.

Father, never let me become cocky or complacent. Keep me fully aware at all times of my propensity and capacity to become unfaithful. I don’t want to become so self-assured that I let my guard down and end up failing and falling. I don’t want to take my position as Your child for granted or allow my eternal security to let me live carelessly in this lifetime. Failure and unfaithfulness is always a real possibility. But You are faithful. You provide a way of escape at all times. Thank You for that assurance. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 9

The Law of Christ.

1 Corinthians 9

When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:21 NLT

Paul continued to address the questions raised in a letter he had previously received from the church in Corinth. In it, they had communicated a number of concerns regarding a variety of topics. In chapter nine, he addressed a question regarding the validity of his apostleship. Evidently, there were those in the Corinthian church who were raising doubts about his apostleship in an attempt to diminish his authority over their lives. Paul didn’t spend a lot of time defending his apostleship, but instead used the whole issue as a chance to talk about rights and their relationship with the context of the Body of Christ. Six different times in this section of his letter he brought up the topic of rights. This was in direct response to the claims of the Corinthian believers that they had every “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, because the “gods” behind these idols didn’t really exist in the first place. Paul has been trying to get them to understand that their rights had to take a back seat to their love for others. And he used his own life and ministry as an example. As an apostle, Paul had the right to expect compensation for his work among them. He had the right to expect the same kind of treatment that they had afforded Peter when he had come to minister among them. He had the right to expect the same kind of support the Corinthians had given to other ministers of the gospel.

But rather than demand his rights, Paul said, “We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12 NLT). Paul was not interested in demanding his rights. He was more interested in preaching the Good News. He was compelled to do so. He wasn’t in it for the money or the material benefits. “What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News” (1 Corinthians 9:18 NLT). For Paul, it was not a matter of rights, but responsibilities. He had been given a “sacred trust” by God to preach the gospel and he would not let anything – including his own rights – stand in the way. As a result, Paul took the attitude that he was a slave to all. Yes, he was a free man who had all kinds of rights he could have demanded, but he willingly set aside those rights so that his rights would never stand in the way of leading others to Christ. When he lived among the Jews, he willingly kept their Jewish laws and dietary practices, even though he no longer obligated to do so. When he ministered among Gentiles, like the Corinthians, he set aside those very same Jewish laws because he knew that they would confuse them, causing them to consider the law necessary for salvation. But Paul made it clear that he was not ignoring the law of God. He was simply obeying the law of Christ.

“The Law of Christ is the moral Law as found in the Old Testament, preached by the prophets, and interpreted, lived, and applied by our Lord and His apostles—only now in a new covenant context. The term ‘law’ here refers to the commandments Jesus and His apostles give us and which constitute a holy life, pleasing to God and beneficial to men and women. The Law of Christ is the standard for the Christian and Christian community, not our feelings or uninformed ideas. It calls us to a righteous and holy life. Holiness has particular reference to our relationship with God and righteousness involves the living out of that relationship with those in the world” (Greg Herrick, Beliefs Leading to Christlikeneess – The Spiritual Life, Bible.org).

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul wrote of the same law of Christ. “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:2-3 NLT). In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged them with the same idea. “We must not please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Romans 15:1-3 NLT). Later on, in that same letter, Paul would write, “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:10 NLT). Jesus Himself had said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). Love should be our motivation. Love for God and love for others should be what drives our actions and attitudes. Not rights. Paul was willing to set his freedoms and rights aside for the sake of others. For Paul, the Christian life was not about rights and privileges. It was about discipline and required determination. The Christian life was like a race and he ran it to win. He ran it with purpose in every step. He disciplined his body. He set aside his rights. He gave up certain privileges. All so he could see others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Father, I worry way too much about my rights. I spend far too much time worrying about whether my rights have been respected or even violated. But give me the attitude that Paul had. Help me obey the law of Christ. May I learn to make self-sacrifice and selfless service the norm for my life. May I learn to give up my rights for the sake of others. Forgive me for spending so much time trying to please myself instead of serving others. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 8

Loving to Know Vs Knowing to Love.

1 Corinthians 8

But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT

Our society puts a high priority on knowledge. So did the one in Corinth in Paul’s day. Then, as now, knowledge was held in high regard. Education was important. It was and still thought to be a cure-all for all kinds of problems. It is often believed that education can solve everything from poverty to violence. More knowledge can empty out prisons and prevent wars, cure diseases, eliminate starvation and bring out the best in just about anyone. We blame a lack of knowledge for most of the world’s woes. But knowledge has a way of puffing us up, inflating our egos and causing us to become prideful and arrogant. There is nothing wrong with knowledge, but it is far from the answer to the world’s problems. It can actually become divisive and destructive. Which is exactly what was taking place in the church in Corinth.

Once again, Paul responds to yet another question the congregation had sent him in a letter. This one had to do with meat sacrificed to idols. To most of us, this chapter makes little or no sense. We have no context to which to compare this issue. And unless we do some digging into the historical nature of what was going on, this passage will continue to make no sense and will remain of little help. But Paul took what was a contextual problem, unique to the Corinthians church, and gave it a universal application. He dealt with a specific issue going on in the church in Corinth and provided a timeless lesson for congregations around the world and throughout history. In Corinth, the problem revolved around whether it was permissible for the believers to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian believers, who all, for the most part, had come out of pagan backgrounds, were under the impression that they were perfectly free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This had been a common practice for them when they were pagans, and they saw no reason to stop now that they had become Christians. They based their conclusion on a “special knowledge” that they had. This knowledge or understanding gave them the freedom to do as they wished, in spite of Paul’s admonitions to cease and desist. Their knowledge was fourfold. They argued that they all knew that idols weren’t real and so eating meat that had been sacrificed to them made no difference. They also “knew” that what we ate or drank didn’t really matter to God. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat” (1 Corinthians 8:8 NLT). According to chapter 10, they also seemed to believe that their participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper gave them some sort of magical protection or freedom to do as they wished. Their God was more powerful than any other potential god. Finally, they had reached the conclusion, that because Paul did not agree with them, he probably wasn’t really qualified to be an apostle in the first place. He was obviously not as knowledgeable as they were.

Paul goes straight to the problem at the very beginning of this section. He tells them “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (1 Corinthians 8:1b NLT). For Paul, this was all about love, not meat sacrificed to idols. This was all about arrogance and pride. It was about self-centeredness and selfishness. These people were going to do what they wanted to do, without any regard to how their actions or attitudes might affect those around them. Paul agreed with them, that there was only one God and only one Lord, Jesus Christ. He conceded that there were no such thing as other gods. They were a figment of man’s fertile and fallen imagination. But Paul also stated that not all believers in Corinth knew this. Many were still operating under the knowledge that while God was the superior God, there were other less significant, but nonetheless, real gods. So when they ate meat sacrificed to these idols, they were, in essence, worshiping these false gods. So while the more “knowledgeable” believers were able to eat the meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience, they were confusing the other believers and causing them to stumble. Paul said, “Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so then they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). He goes on to say, “For if others see you – with your ‘superior knowledge’ – eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?” (1 Corinthians 8:10 NLT).

Then Paul brings this whole matter to a powerful conclusion: “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ” (1 Corninthians 8:12 NLT). Wow! That’s a strong statement. Just because we know that something is permissible for us, doesn’t mean we have the right to flaunt our rights in the face of others. We can’t allow our knowledge to trump our love for others. We have a God-given responsibility to protect those around us who are less knowledgeable or who might lack in spiritual maturity. Paul is saying that we actually sin against God and that person when what we do causes them to stumble or violate their own conscience. Jesus Himself said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then He said that there was a second and equally important commandment – to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Our love for God and others is to trump our love of knowledge. We can be right and be totally wrong at the same time. I can know that what I am doing is entirely permissible for me and do it with a clear conscience. But if what I do causes a fellow believer to sin against his own conscience by following my example – I have sinned against Christ. I have forsaken the great commandment. I have chosen to love myself more than my brother or sister in Christ. Paul said “So if what I eat causes another brother to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13 NLT). Paul will drive this point home later on in his letter in what has come to be known as the great love chapter. “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT). Knowledge without love is nothing. It puffs up. It makes us proud. It is destructive. But love never fails.

Father, teach us to love. We love to learn and we can become so proud about what we know, but if we fail to love, we have missed the point. May we learn to live out the Great Commandment and love You and others more and more with each passing day. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 7:25-40

A Matter of Priorities.

1 Corinthians 7:25-40

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 NLT

As Paul continued to answer the questions he had received from the believers in Corinth, he summarized his response with a call to reconsider their priorities. Most of their questions had to do with whether certain things we worth doing or not. Should they get married or remain single? If they were married to an unbelieving spouse, should they leave them? Should a believing couple abstain from sex in order to make their marriage more holy? Paul’s advice, considering the growing persecution they would face, was simple and direct: “I think it is best to remain as you are” (1 Corinthians 7:26 NLT). If you’re single, stay that way. If you’re married, remain so. But then he told them something incredibly significant that seemed intended to refocus their priorities. He informed them that the time was very short. They needed to have more short-term, rather than long-term goals and objectives. They needed to understand that there was going to be a day when the Lord returned. No one knows that day, but it is inevitable and unavoidable. Paul had no idea when the exact date of Christ’s return would be, but he knew that his own time on earth was limited. He understood that this world is a temporary reality and has a limited shelf life. Most of the questions he had received from the Corinthians were evidence that they viewed this world and their life in it as a high priority. Paul was trying to give them a more eternal perspective.

The words of Paul is this passage are difficult for us to hear and even more difficult for us to agree with. He tells the married men, “So then those who have wives should be as those who have none” (1 Corinthians 7:29b NET). This sounds radical and even unbiblical. What is he saying? It would seem that Paul is trying to tell married men to not focus all their attention on their married state. He is not suggesting that they abandon their responsibilities as husbands or that they no longer love their wives as Christ loved the Church. He is telling them that nothing in this world – marriage, singleness, sorrow, happiness, material things or physical pleasures – should demand all our attention and distract us from our true calling as Christ-followers. “For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31b NLT).

Paul wanted them to be free from the concerns of this life. He was not suggesting that they abandon their responsibilities and live some kind of ascetic lifestyle, denying themselves any kind of enjoyment or pleasure from this world. He was simply trying to get them to rethink their priorities and refocus their attention on what was really important. For Paul, it was simple. A single man or woman had more available time to serve the Lord. They could dedicate more of their life to Kingdom causes, without having to feel guilty that they were neglecting their marital responsibilities. The more earthly ties we have, the more difficult it will be for us to focus our attention on the things of heaven. This world has a way of distracting us from the things of God. It isn’t that the things of this life are evil or wrong, but if we’re not careful, we can end up focusing all our attention on temporal issues and lose sight of the fact that we are eternal beings and this world as we know it is not our final destination. At the end of the day, Paul just wanted the believers in Corinth to set the priorities of their lives so that they could serve the Lord as successfully as possible. “I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT).

One of the constant risks for us as followers of Christ in this fallen world is to find our value and meaning from the things of this world. We cannot afford to let whether we are married or not define who we are. We cannot afford to let our possessions, or lack of them, define who we are. We cannot afford to let our sadness or happiness determine who we are. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are, first and foremost, disciples of Christ. We are His ambassadors. We are citizens of His Kingdom, not of this world. We are temporary residents in this temporal environment. This world is not our home. We must constantly protect ourselves from divided interests. Again, Paul is not encouraging the Corinthians or us to abandon our earthly responsibilities, but to manage them wisely. Our problem is that we tend to add more and more responsibilities and earthly distractions that keep us from focusing our attention on the spiritual aspect of our lives. We live under the delusion that this world is all there is and that we must grab as much of it as possible while there is time to do so. But the end result is that we become burdened down with distractions that take our eyes off the Lord and absorb all our time, preventing us from serving Him effectively. For Paul, serving God was priority number one. That objective had to be considered at all times. Anything that distracts us from making Him our highest priority has to be evaluated and re-prioritized. That does not mean that we have to leave our spouses, quit our jobs, abandon our friendships, sell all our possessions, or dedicate our lives to full-time Christian service. It simply means that we must never allow anything to become more important than our relationship with and dedication to God. The truth is, when we make Him our highest priority, we become better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, employees and employers, friends, neighbors, and citizens. It is when we understand that we are to have no other gods, no other idols, no other sources of worth or worship, that we are able to live in this world, but not be absorbed by it.

Father, reset our priorities. Make us Kingdom people who live with the future in mind. Don’t let us buy into the lie that this world is all there is and that we must grab as much of it as we can while we can. Don’t let us lose sight of what is of real importance: Our relationship with You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Right Where God Wants You.

1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. – 1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT

The Corinthians had questions. Their new-found faith in Christ has raised some interesting issues and caused them to reach some dangerous conclusions. So the appealed to Paul by sending him a letter laced with questions concerning a wide variety of issues. Chapter seven of 1 Corinthians contains Paul’s response. One of the first things they asked about was sexual relationships. This one was extremely confusing for them. They lived in a sexually charged society where sexual immorality was part of the daily worship in the pagan temples. Promiscuity was common place. Marital infidelity was rampant and almost expected. So one of the first questions they asked Paul was whether they should simply abstain from sexual relationships altogether. The problem was that some of them had come to view sex as something perverted and immoral, which led to them to conclude that they would be better off without it. It seems that others within the church were being tempted to take on the standards of the culture around them, where adultery was not only accepted, but expected. There were others who had come to faith in Christ, while their spouses had not. They were struggling with whether or not they should leave their unbelieving spouse. There were evidently some married couples in the church who had completely eliminated the sexual relationship from their marriage – all because they had mistakenly concluded that sex was sinful and wrong. Some, who were single, were struggling with whether or not they should get married at all. After all, if sex was immoral, then what purpose could there be in getting married. But by refusing to get married, these individuals were not eliminating their sexual desires. Their decision was leading to lust and potentially the sin of sex outside of marriage.

It would seem that Paul had been inundated with all kinds of questions in the letter he had received. And he methodically and patiently answers each and every one of them. But there is a phrase that Paul uses three separate times in his response. His repetitive use of this phrase was a not-so-subtle attempt to give it extra weight. He was trying to drive home an important message. After answering a number of their questions, Paul said, “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Just a few lines later, he repeats the same admonition: “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NLT). Then he said it one more time for emphasis. “Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you” (1 Corinthians 7:24 NLT). In their attempt to be “good Christians,” the Corinthians believers were contemplating some serious, but misguided alterations to their lifestyles. Believing spouses were seriously considering walking out on their unbelieving partners – even if it meant leaving their children behind. To drive home his point, Paul used the illustration of circumcision. A man who had been circumcised prior to becoming a Christian would not need to try and reverse the procedure after coming to Christ. And a man who was uncircumcised prior to coming to Christ would not need to get circumcised post-conversion. Circumcision was not the point. It was obedience to God. Couples that were considering the elimination of sex from their relationship should think seriously and soberly before making a change of that magnitude. While there might be some short-term situations where abstinence made sense, it was not a good long-term strategy. Paul encouraged those Corinthian believers who had been slaves when they came to Christ to willingly remain slaves. He reminded them that it was more important that they understood they were now free from enslavement to sin and the world.

The Corinthians were confused and struggling with how to live out their faith in their daily lives. Paul seemed to be encouraging them to stay right where they were and watch God work in their current circumstances. How many times have you seen someone come to faith in Christ, then begin to question everything? Should they remain in school or in a certain relationship? Should they quit their job and go to seminary? Should they change careers and look for something more “spiritual?” Should they downsize their home and sell all their possessions? What Paul seems to be saying is that we all need to understand that God was fully aware of our circumstances when He called us. He knew our situation intimately and saved us in the midst of it. In Paul’s mind, it made sense to stay right where you were when God saved you. This does not mean that we should not seek life change and transformation. But we have to understand that a change in circumstance will not make us more holy. Leaving an unbelieving spouse will not result in increased sanctification. When God saves someone, His intention is to set that person apart right where he is. He wants them to be salt and light in his current context. God saved Paul and then used him right where he was. He gave him a new message and a new purpose in life, but he left him in the same environment where he could be an influence on his former peers. Sometimes were are tempted to make wholesale changes to our lives when we come to Christ. But sometimes we need to sit pat and wait for God to show us what He would have us do. Remaining where we are and in the circumstances in which we were saved takes patience and faith. A married woman who becomes a believer will need the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a home with a husband who remains unsaved and possibly antagonistic to her new-found faith. A new believer who finds himself working in a less-than-fulfilling job will need to trust God and wait for His direction before assuming that he would be better off somewhere else. God saved him right where he was. He knew his circumstances and probably had a purpose for converting him in the midst of that context. The question to ask is, “What would God have me do?”

If we’re not careful, we could become so obsessed with making changes in our circumstances that would allow us to serve God more effectively, that we overlook the opportunities right in front of our face. So often, God has us right where He wants us. But we refuse to accept that reality. We get wrapped up in the questions of “What if…?” What if I weren’t married? What if I weren’t single? What if I had a different job? What if I lived in a different city? What if I stopped doing this and started doing that? What if didn’t have all these responsibilities holding me back? What if? What if? What if? Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you.

Father, it is so easy to play the “What if?” game We think a change in circumstances will change everything. And yet, You tend to have us right where You want us. If You want to change our circumstances, You are fully capable. Teach us to be content. I want to be able to say as Paul did, “…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org