The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

More Than a Man.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Matthew 4:2-11 ESV

Jesus has just received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and an audible and verbal testimony from God Himself confirming Him to be the Son of God. His long-awaited earthly ministry is about to begin and the very first thing we see Him doing is heading into the wilderness, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to be tempted by Satan himself. God has just expressed His pleasure with Jesus and, yet, God’s immediate plan for Him was going to be a period of severe temptation at the hands of the enemy. There is a seeming dissonance in this narrative that should leave us feeling a bit uncomfortable and uncertain. Why was this the first major act of Jesus’ earthly administration as the Son of God and the King of the Jews? Why was there no grand announcement to the people of Israel concerning His arrival? His unique genealogical record and virgin birth established Him as the legitimate heir to the throne of David. His baptism illustrated His willingness to fulfill the righteous will of God and confirmed His status as God’s Son and His role as the promised Messiah. But instead of beginning His ministry with a speech or a gran entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the vast emptiness and stark loneliness of the Judean wilderness. And there was a singular purpose behind this strange inaugural act of Jesus’ earthly ministry: To be tempted by the Devil. For a period of 40 days, Jesus went without food and water, while suffering a direct onslaught  from the enemy. And Matthew simply matter-of-factly states that, at the end of 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry. But Luke reminds us that Jesus was not alone. He had entered the wilderness “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV). It had been the Holy Spirit who had led Jesus into the wilderness and He would be with Him throughout this long ordeal. 

The immediate temptation of Jesus, His battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness, reveal that His earthly ministry was going to be met with intense opposition. Satan, the prince of this world, was not going to stand back and allow Jesus to enter into his domain unopposed. It is important to remember how John the Baptist had described Jesus upon seeing Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). John had recognized that Jesus was coming as more than just a physical, earthly king. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world and because of His coming, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). Satan recognized the significance of Jesus’ arrival on the scene and was ready to do everything in his power to thwart God’s plan of redemption by eliminating His agent of redemption.

The apostle Paul knew well the spiritual battle that is waging on this planet because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He wrote, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). The entrance of the Son of God into a world long dominated by Satan and his demonic forces was destined to result in a battle of epic proportions. And Satan tried to eliminate any potential threat by personally attacking the God-appointed means of man’s salvation. If he could dissuade Jesus from doing the will of God, Satan knew he could thwart the plan of God. 

Satan appears to question the validity of Jesus’ Sonship, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3 ESV). But this was probably less an expression of doubt concerning Jesus’ deity than a vain attempt on Satan’s part to appeal to the pride of Jesus by tempting Him to flaunt His divine power as the Son of God. He was trying to get Jesus to use His divine attributes to satisfy self rather than submit to the will of God. Satan appealed to Jesus’ physical need of hunger by stressing His divine power to create. But Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, obedience to the will of God took precedence over His own physical well-being. He found nourishment in doing what His Father commanded rather than in meeting His own needs. Which is why He would later tell His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). It is why He could say in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mathew 5:6 ESV). Jesus had come to do the will of God, even when that will meant suffering pain and enduring an undeserved and unbearable death on the cross. In the garden on the night He was betrayed, Jesus pleaded with His Father, “if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). And Paul records that Jesus did the will of His Father and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

But Satan was not done. Again, he seems to question Jesus’ deity, stating, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matthew 4:6 ESV). He was really trying to get Jesus to flaunt His power and position by testing His Father’s love for Him. In a classic case of showmanship, Satan took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and tried to get Him to leap from the highest point. What a great way to attract a crowd and make an impression. Surely, this kind of dramatic miracle would convince the people of Israel that He was their Messiah. But the problem with Satan’s scenario was that it was not God’s plan. Jesus saw Satan’s ploy for what it was: An attempt to get Him to test His own Father’s love for Him. Which is why Jesus simply responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7 ESV). Satan wanted Jesus to test the faithfulness of God. He wanted Jesus to question the Father’s love for Him by putting His life on the line. But Jesus knew that He had no reason to test God’s love. His relationship with His Father had never been in question. His confidence in His Father’s care and concern for Him had never been in doubt. Jesus had heard His Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and He had believed Him. No questions asked. No tests required.

Finally, Satan gave one final try to distract Jesus from His God-ordained mission. And this one was aimed at getting Jesus to circumvent God’s plan for His future exaltation by avoiding the crucifixion. Satan was offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” but without any need for suffering on His part. And all Jesus had to do was worship Satan instead of God. He had to swear allegiance to the enemy and, in doing so, He could have glory without cost. But that was not God’s plan. That was not God’s will. And the apostle Paul made it perfectly clear that the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, which were rightfully His as the Son of God, would come only after Jesus had done the will of God.

8 …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

There are no short-cuts to glorification. There would no salvation apart from the crucifixion. There would be no resurrection apart from Jesus willing obedience to suffer humiliation. Worship of Satan brings no one glory but himself. His tempting offer of self-glorification is a lie that benefits no one but himself. And Jesus saw through Satan’s lie, shouting, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10 ESV). And at that, Satan left Him. The enemy had failed. He had met his match. In Jesus, Satan had met a man like no other man he had ever encountered. He was the God-man, filled with the Spirit of God and willing to live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He was not tempted by self-gratification, self-preservation or self-glorification. His will was subordinate to that of His heavenly Father. And Satan, out of tricks and out of his league, left Jesus alone. But as we will see, the battle was far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Temporary Insanity.

And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” – 1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV

The question that should immediately come into your mind when reading these verses is, “What was David thinking?” There seems to be nothing rational or logical in his behavior. Why in the world would David, the very man who killed Goliath, who was from Gath, choose to seek refuge in Gath, and while carrying the sword that once belonged to Goliath? What kind of flawed logic did David use to think that he would be welcomed with open arms? After all, it was David who, in an act of over-achievement, killed 200 Philistines in order to obtain the 100 foreskins Saul had demanded as a dowry for his daughter, Michal. It was David who had served as a commander in Saul’s forces and had won great victories over the Philistines. So what would possess him to think they would provide him with refuge? From what we know of David’s faithfulness to God and his hatred of the enemies of God, it seems quite unlikely that David had gone to Gath to offer his services as a warrior to king Achish. In other words, David was not considering switching sides and fighting for the Philistines against his own people. So why did he go? The text does not tell us. We can only conjecture that David was desperate to get away from Saul and any troops that may be out to seek him. He knew that the last place Saul would look for him was in the land of the Philistines. But David didn’t think his strategy through all the way. He made a rash decision, under duress, and now found himself in a very dangerous spot.

The Philistines immediately recognized David. It’s interesting to note that they referred to David as “the king of the land” (1 Samuel 21:11 ESV). They had heard about the songs sung about David, that celebrated his military exploits and lauded him as greater than Saul. It is doubtful that they had heard about David’s anointing, but they most likely viewed David as the true leader of the Israelites. At the affair in the Valley of Elah, Goliath had challenged Saul and his men to send a champion to face him in hand-to-hand combat, but no one would step forward. Day after day he taunted them, but Saul remained in the background, afraid to take up the challenge and take on Goliath. At that moment, the Philistines most likely lost all respect for Saul as a king, and when David ended up slaying Goliath, they saw him as the true king of Israel. But whatever the case, they knew that the man standing before them was an enemy and a threat.

The text rather of matter-of-factly states, “And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (1 Samuel 21:12 ESV). It was as if David woke up from a bad dream and realized the gravity of his situation. The stupidity of his decision to go to Gath suddenly dawned on him and he was “much afraid.” He was petrified, terrified, and mortified that he had ever come up with this doomed plan in the first place. So, finding himself in a jam, David resorted to deceit. Here was the man who had killed Goliath, defeated hundreds of Philistines in battle, slaughtered 200 Philistines just to pay the dowry for his wife, and who was carrying the sword of his Goliath in his hand, and yet he chose to feign madness rather than trust God and fight his enemies. David somehow forgot all about his anointing and the fact that God had been by his side during all the conflicts of his life. The young man who once shouted, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:27 ESV), and then took the life of Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone, was now so fearful in the face of his enemies, that he resorted to acting like a madman. The Message paraphrases verse 13 this way: “So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.”

What a scene. What a sad situation for the future king of Israel to find himself in. This is the same David who would later write:

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me. – Psalm 144:1-2 ESV

He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
– Psalm 18:34 ESV

This ill-timed, poorly conceived plan of David would be used by God to teach His young king-in-waiting an invaluable lesson in faith. David would learn, in the future, to place his trust in God rather than his own rash plans and flawed attempts at self-preservation. David would escape with his life, if not his dignity. He would not forget that day. In fact, he ended up penning the words of Psalm 34 as a result of this encounter with King Achish.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
– Psalm 34:4 NLT

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.Psalm 34:6 NLT

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles. – Psalm 34:17 NLT

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
    not one of them is broken! – Psalm 34:19-20 NLT

It is interesting to read these statements in light of what actually happened that day. There is no indication that God intervened. David didn’t take the sword of Goliath and slaughter King Achish and all his soldiers. There was no lightning bolt from heaven that struck down the Philistines and allowed David to walk away safe and secure. There is no mention of any miraculous intervention on God’s part. What really happened was that David resorted to acting like a madman, complete with drool dripping from his beard. Faced with the prospect of death, David had taken matters into his own hands and escaped with his life because he was willing to throw away any sense of pride or dignity he had. And yet, when looking back on that day, David saw his rescue as having come from God. In spite of his actions, God had rescued him. While he had run from the land of God to the land of the enemies of God had remained with him. Even at one of his worst moments, God had not abandoned him. Regardless of how badly David’s poor attempt at self-preservation had turned out, God is the one who rescued David from himself. And that is what God does for His own. God had said David would be the next king of Israel, and he would be. Even David, at his worst moment, couldn’t screw up God’s plan. He could make things harder on himself, but nothing he did would make it too hard for God to fulfill His divine plan for him. Even our bouts of temporary insanity cannot prevent the future fulfillment of God’s plans for us.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Beauty of the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 1:5 NLT

One of the mistakes we make when reading the letters of Paul is to take every personal pronoun and make it personal. So every time we read the word “you,” we believe he is talking to us as individuals. But in most cases, Paul uses a plural personal pronoun. That’s because most of his letters were written to churches, not individuals. In this case, he was writing to the believers in Corinth – all those individuals who made up the corporate body of Christ in that city. So his words are to be taken in a corporate context. But because of our intense individualism as western Christians we attempt to make it all about us – or better yet, me. We read these verses as individuals and fail to see the community focus of Paul’s words. I like the way the New Living Translation renders verse 5. It reads, “God has enriched your church in every way…” In this letter, Paul is addressing the issue of spiritual gifts. He wants the Corinthian believers to know that they have been given spiritual gifts as individual believers, but they are intended and designed for use within the body of Christ. Those gifts were meant to be used to enhance life within the community. My spiritual gift is not for me, but for the benefit of others with whom I live as part of the body of Christ.

In verse 7, Paul makes it clear that he is talking about spiritual gifts when he writes, “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The body of Christ in Corinth had been blessed by God with a full assortment of spiritual gifts, given by God to enhance their community and encourage their spiritual growth and vitality. Even when Paul writes, “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns” (1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT), he has a community focus in mind. Through the proper use of their spiritual gifts, God would keep the body there in Corinth strong until the Lord returned. Paul knew that their spiritual well-being and health was dependent on the proper use of their gifts. There were abuses of the spiritual gifts going on in Corinth and Paul was going to address them, but he wanted them to understand from the outset that the gifts were God-given and designed to be life-giving – to the community. A healthy body is one in which all the members are performing their intended task faithfully and with the overall well-being of the body in mind. There is no place for selfishness or self-centeredness within the body.

Father, how easy it is to make it all about me. We are wired to think about ourselves and to neglect the needs of others. Our instincts of self-preservation and survival have allowed us to misunderstand the spiritual life. We make it an individual pursuit and fail to recognize that You intended it to be a corporate experience – a team sport. As we read through the letter to the Corinthians, remind us again of the power of the gifts used in the context of community as You designed them to be used. Amen.

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