Living His Way.

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:7-11 ESV

Paul understood well the necessity of marriage. He knew it was ordained by God and, when treated properly, could provide believers with the full benefits of their sexuality as intended by God. As far as Paul was concerned, marriage was the only appropriate context for sexual expression between a man and a woman, because that was how God had planned it. But Paul had a personal appreciation for singleness. Evidently, Paul was unmarried at the time this letter was written. We do not know if he had ever been married. But when he writes, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” he is stating a personal opinion, not the will of God. He is in no signifying that singleness is better than marriage. He simply knew that marriage required a great deal of commitment and sacrifice, requiring each person in the relationship to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. For Paul, being single allowed him the freedom to dedicate all his time and attention to the spread of the gospel and for ministry to the growing number of churches around the world.

For Paul, singleness was a gift from God. He believed it was God who had given him the self-control to live as an unmarried man and to not, as he put it, “burn with passion.” He had a supernatural, God-given capacity to resist the temptations associated with lust. Even Jesus alluded to the existence of this gift. One day He was confronted by the Pharisees and asked whether it was “lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause” (Matthew 19:3b ESV). Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus replied, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 ESV). Jesus went on to explain that “whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Marriage was a binding covenant. This statement led one of the disciples to state, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). And Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this statement. Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12 NLT). Jesus Himself never married, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). 

Singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry. But it is not for everyone. So Paul goes on to address those who were married. He speaks to the women first, reminding them that they should not divorce their husbands. Paul was simply repeating the words of Jesus. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12 NLT). Paul knew, just as Jesus did, that just because divorce was prohibited, it would not stop it from happening. So they both commanded no remarriage after divorce. To do so was to commit adultery. Paul states that if a woman divorces her husband, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11a ESV). And then he adds, “and the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:11b ESV). Jesus seems to have given only one exception to His no-divorce mandate. When He stated, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9 ESV), He appears to present sexual immorality on the part of one of the married partners as the only grounds for divorce. In that case, it would seem that the offending partner has broken the covenant of oneness. But Paul emphasizes that whoever finds themselves divorced for whatever reason, should remain single or be reconciled to their partner.

It is important to remember that Paul is calling the Corinthians believers to live out their faith in the midst of a dark, pagan culture where virtually anything was considered acceptable behavior. Divorce was commonplace. Sexual immorality was rampant. Sexual sins of all kinds were prevalent and regularly practiced. He is demanding that the Corinthians live lives worthy of their calling as followers of Christ. They are to be distinctly different in their actions and attitudes. Their approach to life was to be determined by their faith, not their feelings. They were to be driven by a desire to please God, not their own desires. It is highly possible that there were some in the church in Corinth who were divorcing their spouses in order to escape having sexual relations altogether. More than likely, these individuals were influenced by the philosophy of dualism that flourished in Greek culture. It led them to believe that anything associated with the body was evil. Divorce allowed them to experience “freedom” from involvement with sex altogether. But their views were unbiblical and un-Christlike. While the culture around them was distorting God’s views on everything from marriage to human sexuality, Paul was reminding them that they were the church of God, “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV). Like the Corinthians, we have been called to live lives that are set apart from the world. We are to be holy, different and distinct. We exist to bring glory to God. We are His children, His workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

 

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The Christ-like Life.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 ESV

As is usually the case in any congregation, there were two views or opinions influencing the church in Corinth. We have already seen that their Greek, dualistic way of thinking to see all sin as something done in the body and, therefore, permissible. They viewed themselves as being made up a two natures: the body and the spirit. And they were using this pagan outlook on life to excuse their immoral behavior. But there was evidently another group within the church who viewed believed in dualism, but viewed it as a threat. Their solution was to practice a form of abstinence. Since they viewed the body as evil or sinful, they would simply deny the body anything that might cause it to sin, including sexual relations. In a letter written to Paul by the congregation, they had commented: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1b ESV).  And while Paul sees a seed of truth in this statement, he also see a serious danger. Their ongoing struggle with temptation toward sexual sin was going to make abstinence extremely difficult to carry off. The solution, according to Paul, was God-ordained marriage. He tells them, “because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 7:2-3 NLT). It is not as if Paul did not believe in abstinence or celibacy. In fact, in just a few verses he tells the unmarried and widows in the church , “it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9 ESV).

Abstinence may result in the absence of sexual contact, but it cannot eliminate the problem of lust. It was Jesus who said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Simply refraining from sexual intercourse does not fix the problem, because the problem lies within the heart. Again, Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). Their attempt to separate the spiritual and the physical was based on man’s logic, not God’s Word. God had created marriage as the proper means by which men and women could enjoy His gift of sexual intimacy. And while marriage does not eliminate the problem within the hearts of men and women toward sexual, it does provide a God-ordained outlet for the expression and experience of the act of sex between a man and a woman.

But Paul knew that the dualistic viewpoint of the Corinthians could even be used to mess with God’s divine design for marriage. There would be those who chose to practice abstinence even within the context of their marriage. Paul makes it very clear: “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5a NLT). They were not to deny one another sexual intimacy, unless they had a very good spiritual reason for doing so, and the only one Paul lists is prayer. And even if they practice abstinence for the purpose of prayer, they are to do so for a very limited time period. Why? Because Paul knew their hearts. Which is why he warned them , “Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5b NLT).

At the heart of Paul’s commands on this topic are his concern for the spiritual well-being of the congregation in Corinth. He had a burden that their relationship with Christ be lived out and permeate every area of their lives, including their marriages. He made a concession toward abstinence in marriage only if it was done in order to concentrate on more pressing spiritual matters, such as prayer. For one spouse to deny the other their rightful access to sexual fulfillment would be un-Christlike and selfish. Paul makes it clear that the husband’s body does not belong to him, but to his wife. And the wife’s body belongs to her husband. There is to be a selflessness and an attitude of sacrifice at the heart of every Christian marriage. It is not more spiritual to deny your spouse what God has intended for their good, in order that you might satisfy your own desires.

I think Paul’s admonition to the Philippian believers echoes his thoughts here. “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 2:3-4 NLT). What better place to practice those practical warnings than within the context of a marriage? Any attempt to live a more godly life that ends up hurting someone else or denies the other person their rights, is misguided at best. We are to die to self. We are to put the other person first. We are to sacrifice. Spirituality is not about abstinence, but about obedience – obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God and as lived out by the Son of God. He is our model. The Christ-like life is one of sacrifice, service, humility and selfless love for others.

One With Christ.

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:17-20 ESV

The Corinthians were not taking their union with Christ seriously. Because of the dualistic approach to life, they seemed to believe that what they did with their bodies really didn’t matter. This led them to look on any sins they committed with their bodies as somehow separated from their spiritual lives. You can see the logic behind their thinking in the phrase, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). This was a common expression used by the Corinthians to excuse their behavior. And it had led them to commit all kinds of sin with impunity, including sexual sin. The very fact that they had refused to deal with the man in their church who was having sexual relations with his stepmother shows how skewed their thinking had become. But Paul is out to confront and correct their improper views of the body and its relationship with sin.

Paul commands them to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18a ESV). He uses the Greek word, φεύγω (pheugō), which means “seek safety by flight or to escape safely out of danger” (“G5343 – pheugō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is the same word he used when writing to Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV). Paul had been warning Timothy about those who have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:4-5 ESV). Paul warned Timothy to flee from these things. Instead, he was to διώκω (diōkō) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. The word Paul used means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after” (“G1377 – diōkō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is not enough to simply run from something. We must also run to something else. But if the Corinthians would not see sexual sin as wrong and dangerous to their spiritual well-being, they were going to continue in it. That was unacceptable to Paul.

So he attempts to paint a vivid picture of the dangers of sexual sin, by emphasizing that every other sin a person commits is “outside the body,” while sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body. The word he uses is a Greek preposition that is most often translated “into.” There is a physical union that takes place in sexual sin unlike any other sin. There is no doubt that all sin requires the use of my body. In order to lie or slander, the tongue is necessary. In order to steal, the hands and feet must be used. To murder another human being requires the mind to plan it and the body to carry out that plan. And while these sins are no less serious than sexual immorality, Paul’s point is that there is a difference. Sexual immorality is a blatant sin against the body, and that body, Paul stresses “is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19b NLT).

As followers of Christ, we enjoy a mystical, but real union with Him. His Spirit lives within us. We take Him with us wherever we go. Paul told the Colossians, “Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory” (Colossians 1:27 NLT). And so, there is a sense that when someone commits sexual sin with his or her body, they are dragging Christ into that experience. Paul asks the Corinthians, “don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16a NLT). There is an intimacy and interconnection established. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 NLT). And just to clear up any possible confusion, Paul’s provides the correct answer: “Never!”

For Paul, union with Christ was an essential doctrine that needed to be understood and made a part of the believer’s daily life. John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 201, 205). We are one with Christ. We share His identity. We are progressively being transformed into His likeness. We not only share in His death and resurrection, and all that those things imply, we share in His righteousness. We have the capacity to live like Christ in this lifetime. The very same power that raised Him from the dead lives within us and is available to us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). He went on to emphasize their oneness with Christ:

 In him we have redemption through his blood – vs 7

In him we have obtained an inheritance – vs 11

In him you also … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – vs 13

We are in Christ. We are one with Christ. Sexual sin uses the body that belongs to Christ and re-purposes it for immorality. It takes what God has bought with the precious blood of His Son, our body, and uses it for ungodly purposes. And in so doing, we degrade and desecrate the very temple of God. Which is why Paul ends this section with a call to “honor God with you body.” Why? Because “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT). We belong to God – body and soul. Your body is no longer yours to do with as you want. It is the temple of God’s Spirit and is to be used to bring God glory and honor. As Paul reminds us, “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

Left To Our Own Devices.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27 ESV

What happens when man abandon the truth of God for “the lie?” The lie is, in essence, that God does not exist at all or that He exists according to man’s invention. And if the one true God does not exist at all or exist as He truly is, then man is left to create his own order of things and his own laws for life. Three times in this section of Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up.” Paul is attempting to demonstrate what life looks like when God releases men to pursue and believe “the lie.” Thinking themselves to be wise, their foolish hearts become darkened, and they lose any ability to make decisions based on the wisdom and righteousness of God. In this condition, they find themselves believing and practicing practically anything. “Those who turned against God turned everything on its head. For those who forsook the author of nature could not keep to the order of nature” (Pelagius, Commentary on Romans). Paul refers to women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and he mentions men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26-27 ESV). There are those today who would like to write this off as simply the opinion of Paul. There are others who attempt to explain away what Paul says by insinuating that he is only speaking against “improper” homosexual acts, not the act itself. Still others want to believe that Paul is only referring to homosexual acts that were taking place in the context of pagan worship. But these are not the words of Paul. They are the words of God. They are part of the powerful explanation Paul has provided in this letter regarding the gospel of God. Men are without excuse. They have abandoned the truth about God and His will for mankind. They have ignored God’s clear revelation of His invisible attributes and divine nature in His creation. Rather than worship God, they have ended up worshiping anything and everything but God. And Paul makes it painfully clear that what sinful man always ends up doing is distorting the truth of God. They exchange the natural for the unnatural, what is right for what is wrong, the holy for the unholy, the will of God for the will of self. They become consumed with passions – all kinds of passions, both good and bad. But the time comes when they can no longer tell the difference. The lines become blurred. Their consciences become seared. They lose the ability to discern right from wrong, and even become rabid defenders of their actions and attitudes.

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to read the words of God recorded in Genesis 1 and to reach a conclusion. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it’” (Genesis 1:27-28 NLT). They were to bear fruit, to multiply their kind. That is why God created them as a male and female. It was together, as man and woman, that they were to fulfill the command of God. Adam could not do it alone. Eve was incapable of multiplying by herself. God built into nature and into their physiology, the ability to live within His will. But man, in his sin, has determined a “better way,” a preferred way. Natural passions end up being replaced by unnatural, ungodly passions. Paul calls them “dishonorable passions.” The Greek word he uses is atimia and it is very graphic in nature. It was “used of the unseemliness and offensiveness of a dead body” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It was also used to refer to the dishonorable use of a vessel or container. Bodies are meant to have life. A dead body is unnatural and offensive to our senses. It is lifeless and no longer operating as it was intended to. The same thing is true of those who are consumed with passion for those of the same sex. They are no longer operating as God intended them to. Their acts are unnatural and against the ordained will of God.

But in our day and age, any attempt to make this claim is met with disdain, hatred, cries of bigotry and intolerance, and a violent defense of individual rights and freedoms. But, according to Paul, we should not be surprised. Their foolish hearts are darkened. The claim to be wise, boasting in their enlightened understanding and progressive comprehension of all things moral and ethical. But they are fools. They have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Of course, Paul was referring to idol worship here, but the real issue is that of man-worship. When the best expression we can come up with for God’s revealed power and divine nature is the image of man, we are in trouble. When we make a god out of man, we end up worshiping ourselves. And we sacrifice truth at the altar of our own corrupt passions and desires. Self-satisfaction and self-gratification consume us. God releases us to pursue our increasingly perverse passions.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Paul is attempting to explain and expound upon the gospel of God. The good news of Jesus Christ must be displayed against the backdrop of man’s darkened state of sin. Paul is going to show that man is in trouble. Apart from God, things will always for from bad to worse. In Paul’s estimation, it doesn’t matter if you’re pagan or pious, immoral or a moral icon of virtue. Without God’s glorious gospel, all men will ultimately receive “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27 ESV). Man without God is hopeless. Man, left to his own devices, will always gravitate toward ungodliness and unrighteousness. But the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).

2 Samuel 11-12, 1 Corinthians 8

When Physical Passions Become Spiritually Destructive.

2 Samuel 11-12, 1 Corinthians 8

So if what I eat causes another believer 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 ESV

As human beings, our physical appetites can get us into trouble. Our love of food can cause us to overeat, making ourselves sick and even overweight. Our love for sexual pleasure can cause us to have immoral thoughts or even put those thoughts into action. The simple pleasure of good wine can turn into drunkenness. There is nothing inherently wrong with physical pleasures or even the desire to fulfill them, but we must always understand that our sin nature will attempt to transform these God-given appetites into opportunities for sin. The apostle Paul knew this well. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT).

In the story of David and Bathsheba we have a sobering illustration of what can happen to a good man who allows his physical passions to get the better of him. David found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he should have been at war, he was at home, with far too much leisure time on his hands. While his men fought, David was relaxing on his rooftop, and that’s where his trouble began. He saw Bathsheba taking a bath on an adjacent rooftop. David lusted. But rather than stop there, he allowed his passions to take control of him. David experienced what James warned about. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15 ESV). David’s desire turned into full-blown adultery. He satisfied his sexual appetite in an immoral and improper way. And the result was death.

What does this passage reveal about God?

David’s sin was against God. He would later acknowledge that in the Psalm he wrote in response to his sin and God’s response to it. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). Yes, David’s actions were damaging to Bathsheba. He coerced her to sin against God and her own husband. David even resorted to taking the life of Uriah in an attempt to cover up his sin. But at the end of the day, David had sinned against God. He had broken God’s commands and allowed his physical appetite to become his god. The apostle Paul wrote about this very thing. “…there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:18-19 ESV). David let his sexual appetite control him. He obeyed his desires rather than obey his God. And the result was death.

What does this passage reveal about man?

This is a constant reality for all of us. Our physical appetites are real and ever-present. But we cannot afford to be ruled by our passions. We can’t let our physical desires become our gods. When we allow them to control us, the results are rarely good. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:16-17 NLT). “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). We should never let the temporal things of this world control us. David’s sexual appetite was God-given and good, but when he let it control him, and he gave into its desire for something outside of God’s will, he sinned. Gluttony is a serious sin in the life of the believer. It literally means “to gulp down or swallow.” It has to do with over-indulgence and over-consumption. It is to take the desire for something good and to turn it into an overwhelming and uncontrolled obsession for even more. David had wives. He had appropriate means for expressing and fulfilling his sexual desires. But when he let his passions control him, he wasn’t satisfied with what he had. He wanted more. His god was his appetite, because he obeyed it rather than do what God had commanded him to do.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The enemy loves to distort and twist the truth. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve with forbidden fruit. God had give Adam and Eve all the fruit of the garden and had only denied them access to one particular tree. But it was that ONE tree that Satan used to tempt Eve. He tried to confuse her by twisting the words of God. “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NLT). He appealed to her sense of right and privilege. He preyed upon her physical appetite. “She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). And the result was death. Eve knew better. She was fully aware of what God had said. But her appetite for food and her desire for power got the best of her. She gave in to her physical passions and disobeyed God.

But there is another area in which I can allow my desires to end up in death. Paul deals with it in 1 Corinthians 8. I may have every right to satisfy my physical desires by eating certain foods or partaking in certain activities because they are NOT sinful. But if I have a weaker brother in Christ whose conscience is uneducated and who wrongly assumes that those activities are sin, I must be willing to give up my rights for his good. “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:9 NLT). I may have the right to drink wine, but if my doing so causes another brother to sin against his own conscience, I have sinned against Christ. “And when you sin against other believersby encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12 NLT). I must never allow my physical appetites to rule or run my life. Paul was willing to give up eating meat altogether if he thought it might cause a brother to stumble. What am I willing to give up in order to protect my brothers and sisters in Christ? Too often, we allow our physical appetites to control our lives. But all these things are temporal and fading away. They have little to no lasting value. We eat, only to get hungry again. When we try to satisfy our lives with temporal pleasures, we always end up wanting more. The things of this earth cannot satisfy. Only God can.

Father, forgive me for letting my physical passions rule and reign in my life. I am so prone to giving in to my appetites. Give me the strength to say no when necessary. I don’t want my stomach to be my god. I don’t want sexual desires to control me. I want to be under Your control. I want to do what You could have me do. But this sinful flesh is always at war within me. Give me the power I need to say no to the flesh and yes to Your Spirit. Amen

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

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

A Change in Ownership.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

autonomy: (aw-ton-uh-mee) – independence or freedom; self-government or the right of self-government

The believers in Corinth needed a slight attitude adjustment, and Paul was more than happy to provide it. It seems that much of their behavior was based on a misguided understanding of their new freedom in Christ. They had reached the conclusion that, since Christ had freed them from sin and provided them with forgiveness, they were free to do whatever they wanted to do. They had even come up with their own taglines or slogans to justify their behavior, such as, “I am allowed to do anything.” The NIV translates that phrase as “Everything is permissible for me.” Their problem was one of autonomy. Rather than understand the fact that they had been purchased out of slavery to sin by God with the death of His Son, they believed they were now free to do as they wished. They were self-governing, independent agents who believed they had every right and freedom to do whatever they wanted.

This would be a common misunderstanding in the early church. Paul addresses it in his letter to the believers in Rome. “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:15-16 NLT). The logic of the Corinthians had led them to some fairly dangerous conclusions. Yes, there were some behaviors that were not addressed or prohibited in Scripture. But even those things we are free to do can end up enslaving us. Another popular maxim among the Christians in Corinth was “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” While this was a true statement, it was not a license for gluttony or dissipation. That same logic had seemingly led the Corinthians to conclude that the body was made for sex, therefore, sexual relationships of all kinds were permissible. Paul confronts them on this issue. “But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:13b NLT). Sex was an everyday reality for the Corinthians. Their city contained the temple of the love goddess, Aphrodite, where more than 1,000 “priestesses” performed sexual acts with those who came to worship. The satisfying of their bodily desires and urges was natural to the Corinthians. Becoming believers had not taken the temptations and urges away. So Paul encourages them to “run from sexual sin!” He reminds them that their bodies no longer belong to them. Christ had died to redeem not only their souls, but their bodies. In fact, the Holy Spirit had taken up residence in their bodies. Just as Jesus had taken on human flesh and lived a holy, sinless life, Paul was encouraging them to allow the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts and their character. He was pleading for them to honor God with their bodies. Christianity is not some kind of ethereal, purely spiritual endeavor, but a holistic, all-encompassing transformation of the entire being. We cannot divorce the body from the soul. In fact, Paul begged the believers in Rome, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Our bodies belong to God. We have been set apart by God for His use – not just our souls, but our bodies as well.

The constant temptation for all believers is to satisfy our natural desires. Some of these temptations can appear to be quite innocuous. There is nothing inherently wrong with good food, but the desire for it can quickly lead to over-indulgence and gluttony. We are sexual beings, created by God to enjoy the pleasures of the relationship between a man and a woman. But we are not free to satisfy that desire outside God’s preordained bounds of marriage. Freedom is a highly valued, but also highly misunderstood concept today. Everyone wants freedom, but few understand the dangers that come with it. We are free in Christ, but that does not mean we are free to do whatever it is we want. Paul told the believers in Galatia: “For you have been called to live in freedom my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13 NLT). Freedom for the believer is not to be self-centered, but outwardly focused. I have been set free, not so that I can indulge the self, but to serve others. I am free to express love to others, not practice some sad form of narcissism – totally focused on self and our own satisfaction. We are free to live differently. We are free to live selflessly. We are free to live our lives on God’s terms, not our own. Because He bought us out of slavery to sin having paid the high price required with the life of His own Son.

Father, forgive me for my obsession with self. Help me to continue to grow in my understanding that I belong to You. That all of me belongs to You. May my life become less and less about me and my own desires, and more about You and Your will for me. I want my body to be a living, daily sacrifice to You. I want to die to self and live for You. Show me what that looks like. Make it concrete and practical. Don’t let me abuse my freedom by focusing on me. Keep my eyes turned to You. Amen.

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

1 Corinthians 5

Too Tolerant For Our Own Good.

1 Corinthians 5

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?. – 1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV

Tolerance is the official pastime of today’s culture. We are expected to tolerate any and all behavior. We are demanded to tolerate alternative lifestyles and sexual behaviors. We are feed a steady diet of tolerance on TV with programs portraying every imaginable situation and circumstance, selling as perfectly normal what would have been abnormal and unacceptable just a few short years ago. Sin craves tolerance. It demands to be accepted. And while no seems to want to live in a nation that legislates morality, just about everyone wants to live in a society that protects and legitimizes sin through the passing of laws.

None of this should surprise or shock us. It is the nature of sin. It is the natural outcome of man’s sin nature and the devastating impact of life in a fallen world. But the Body of Christ should be another story. The Church is not a place where tolerance should be tolerated. Don’t get me wrong. The Church is where love, acceptance and forgiveness should reign. But acceptance and tolerance are not synonymous. They are not one and the same thing. Paul seemed to know and understand that. He knew that the Church of Jesus Christ was going to be made up of sinners who had been saved. They had been redeemed out of their slavery to sin by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But they were not to remain in their sin. They were not to stay as they were, but were expected to grow, mature, and increasingly take on the nature of Jesus Christ Himself. So when Paul received news that there was sexual immorality taking place among the believers in Corinth, he struck fast and hard. He classified what was going on in their midst as “something that even the pagans don’t do” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). There was a man who was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Not only was he committing adultery, he was doing so with his own stepmother. And the members of the local congregation were doing nothing about it.

It’s interesting to note that Paul says little about the sin of this man and his stepmother. He doesn’t need to. It is wrong. It is immoral. Even the pagans would say so. No, Paul addresses his indignation against the rest of the congregation for its tolerance of the sin. They had done nothing to deal with it. He even says, “You are so proud of yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). He doesn’t clarify why he calls them proud. Perhaps they were proud because they were so accepting AND tolerant of any and all. Maybe they felt like theirs was a fellowship where everyone was welcome, because after all, all men are sinners. Later on Paul indicates that they were even boasting about what was going on. But whatever it was that motivated their pride, Paul lets them know that their reaction should have been one of mourning. They should have been sorry and ashamed. Not for the couple, but for their entire fellowship. This was a corporate issue. Paul uses the well-understood imagery of leaven to explain what was happening to their fellowship due to their tolerance. “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6 NLT). The sin of this man and woman was more than an individual act, it had corporate implications. Their presence was contaminating the entire fellowship. It was impacting and influencing the entire congregation. Now, what seems to be evident in the text is that there was no repentance or remorse on the part of the couple. It seems that they were living in sin and expecting everyone around them to accept them accordingly. And no one was confronting them about their sin. Their sinfulness was met with silence and tolerance. That is where the danger lies. Yes, we are to accept sinners. We are to lovingly include the lost and welcome them into our midst, but we are never to tolerate their sin. We are to lovingly confront them with the truth of God’s Word and call them to repentance. Paul makes it clear that it would be impossible to disassociate ourselves with unbelieving sinners. “You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). But when someone comes into our fellowship, claims Jesus Christ as their Savior, and yet indulges in unrepentant, willful sin, that is where our acceptance and tolerance must end. We must stand up for the truth of God’s Word. We must understand the danger of allowing sin to influence and infect the Body of Christ. Yet the common response most of us utter is, “Who am I to judge someone else?” What a dangerous conclusion to reach. We have been programmed to believe that judging others is unacceptable behavior for a Christian. but Paul clearly states, “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). The key phrase is “who are sinning.” We are not to judge another believer’s faithfulness. We are not to make judgments based on income, status, clothes or the color of someone’s skin. But we are to “judge” the sin in our midst. The word Paul uses for “judge” is one that can mean “to separate or pick out, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.” We have an obligation to protect the integrity, unity and purity of the Body of Christ. When sin becomes apparent, we are to deal with it. We are to lovingly confront it. We are to call one another to repentance and restoration. But if an individual refuses to repent and continues to willingly remain in their sin, we have a responsibility to act. Paul makes it painfully simple: “…you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worship idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). Not only that, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13 NLT). Unrepentance trumps acceptance every time. But the truth is, we are far too tolerant far too often. We don’t want to judge. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to cause a scene. So we tolerate the presence of unrepentant, arrogant sin in our midst, and then wonder why the church is weak, powerless and a mere shadow of what Christ intended for it to be.

Father, wake us up. Give us the moral fortitude to stand up for what is right – in our own churches. Help us understand that love is not tolerance. It is not putting up with one another’s sins, but lovingly calling each other to live lives of holiness. It is understanding that the corporate well being takes precedence over a single individual’s self-indulgence. Give us the boldness to stand up for what is right and righteous. But show us how to do it in love, not anger. Help us do it for the good of the Body of Christ, not out of some sense of self-righteous indignation. Amen.

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

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s Will For You.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT

Have you ever wanted to know God’s will for your life? Have you ever wondered whether what you were about to do was something God would want you to do or not? The sad truth is that some of us just prefer to not even bother worrying about what God’s will might be, preferring to do our own will instead. But the topic of God’s will is a huge one among most believers. We constantly wonder about what God would have us do. Should we date that individual, buy that house, accept that job offer. put our kids in that school, or attend that church? We inherently know that living outside of God’s will is not a safe place for us to be. So we wonder and worry about whether we are in God’s will. We search the Scriptures, hoping to discover what He might have us do in any given situation. But in most cases, we find it hard to discover God’s opinion on things like what dress to buy for the prom or even what person to marry. Our problem is that we tend to deal in specifics. I’m not implying that God doesn’t care about the specific decisions we make, but I believe God is concerned about something far more general – something that would aid us in our daily decision-making and insure that we are well within His will at all times.

Here in chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us a glimpse into God’s will, and as you will see, it is quite broad when it comes to God’s expectations. Paul simply says, “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). As far as Paul is concerned, God’s primary concern and desire for His people is their holiness, which really refers to their lives being set apart for His glory. In verse one, Paul puts it another way: “we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT). To be holy is to live your life in such a way that it pleases God, not you. It is to live according to His expectations, not your own inclinations. And Paul gives the Thessalonians a very real example of what he is talking about by telling them to stay away from all sexual sin. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by your own lustful passions. It is never God’s will for a man to cheat on his wife or a woman to engage in sexual fantasies by reading sexually explicit romance novels. It is never within God’s will for two young people to live together outside of marriage. It is never God’s will for a young man to fill his mind and corrupt his soul with pornography. Paul makes it quite clear. “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:76 NLT). God has expectations and standards. While we are no longer required to live by the Law in order to gain acceptance with and access to God, we are still obligated to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy standards. He has even given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. Before accepting Christ as our Savior, we were totally incapable of living holy lives, but now it’s not only possible, but expected. Our lives are to be set apart, different and distinct from those of people who do not know Christ. We have a special capacity to live in such a way that God is not only pleased, but glorified, because it is all due to His power within us.

God’s will is for us to be holy because it is an indication of His work in us. When we refuse to give in to our own lustful desires and abstain from sexual sin, it is a clear indication of His Spirit’s work in us. Holiness is the byproduct of His presence and power in our lives. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Then he gave them specific examples: Stop lying and start telling the truth. Instead of letting anger control you, forgive. If you used to make a habit of stealing, work hard instead. Replace your foul language with words of encouragement. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).

So does God care about what kind of car you drive or what particular neighborhood you live in? Most certainly. But His real concern is what motivations are driving our desires for that car or a home in that neighborhood. Are we driven by selfish and prideful passions? Are we attempting to impress others or build up our low self esteem? There is a simple question we can ask ourselves whenever we face a decision of any kind and want to know what God’s will concerning that decision might be. Will it help our hinder my pursuit of holiness? To put it another way, will that car, dress, job, relationship, home, or whatever else it might be, make my pursuit of holiness easier or harder? If God’s will is our holiness, shouldn’t that be our will too? But sometimes we make it much more about our happiness. We buy things to make us happy. We decide to do those things that fulfill our own selfish, self-centered desires. And in many cases, those things are not wrong in and of themselves. But if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the real objective, which is to live in a way that pleases God. His will is our holiness. And that should be our will as well.

Father, You have made us Your own. You have purchased us with the blood of Your own Son and You expect us to live up to our calling as Your sons and daughters. Your will for us is holiness. You have placed Your Spirit within us in order to make it possible for us to live differently and distinctively in this world. There are all kinds of decisions we make every day. Help us to make them with holiness as the objective. Don’t let us compromise and make it just about our happiness. Show us how to live our lives in such a way that they please You, not us. Amen.

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

Proverbs 7d

Prone To Wander.

“Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her. Don’t wander down her wayward path.” – Proverbs 7:25 NET

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Those are the lyrics from one of my favorite old hymns and they go well with today’s topic. Prone to wander. That’s a big problem for all of us as Christians today. We have happy feet. We just can’t stand still. Constantly on the move, because we grow quickly dissatisfied and discontent, we find ourselves prone to leave the God we say we love. We stray off the path and start to pursue other temptations, other delights that promise us more and offer to satisfy our passion for pleasure. This proverb is a warning from a father to his son regarding the danger of sexual promiscuity and immorality. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem today. And the enemy knows that we still can’t seem to control our most basic urges and animal instincts. We are far too often driven by the desires of the flesh. If not for sex, then for some other sensual pleasure, whether for food, a good buzz, a momentary thrill, sleep, entertainment, or our insatiable need for acceptance.

It’s interesting that the young men in this proverb are described as naive. They are lacking in common sense and good judgment. They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. They have put themselves at risk by being where they had no business being. They’re in the wrong neighborhood and after dark. Not a good combination. Spotting her prey, the immoral woman approaches one of them and begins to ply her craft. She is “seductively dressed and sly or heart.” She’s a pro. In her day, before she went professional, she was “the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home” (Proverbs 7:11 NLT). On other words, she was a wanderer as well. Now she plies the young man with all kinds of tempting tools of the trade, appealing to his sensual side. She applies false flattery and butters him up with offers of sensual pleasures and forbidden fruit. And before he knows it, he’s hooked, like a striped bass to a lure.

And it all began with a simple step off the path. He wandered away from the truth. He took a dangerous detour and it led to a dead end. But isn’t that always the way sin works. The problem is that it almost always begins with a wandering heart. We find ourselves somehow dissatisfied with life as it is. Unhappy or discontented with our lot in life, we begin to look around. We get off the path. It could be as simple as surfing the Internet while in a state of boredom or mild depression. Or what about channel surfing late at night while everyone else is in bed. Your guard is down. Your sensual side is on high alert. Your body tells you it needs more. It is unhappy and dissatisfied. Pretty soon, you find yourself somewhere you don’t need to be – off the path and in for an attack from the enemy. And he will use all the subtle, seductive and yet sinister resources at his disposal to lure you in and trap you.

So what are we to do? Simple. Don’t wander. Recognize the fact that you are prone to wander and ask God to bind your heart to Him. You see, it’s always a heart issue. It’s about love and misplaced affections. When we begin to fall out of love for God or doubt His love for us, we wander. We start to look for love in other places and from other people. And we all do it. We turn on the TV to anesthetize and numb us, or simply take our mind off our problems by distracting us for a few minutes. Some feel unloved or unwanted, so they turn to the false allure of pornography or sex outside of marriage. Some attempt to shop their way to satisfaction and happiness, or they work themselves to death in an effort to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. But in the end, all these things turn out to be wrong turns that lead to dead ends and disappointment. Don’t let your hearts stray. Don’t wander. Let the goodness of God bind your wandering heart to Him.

Father, I am prone to wander. I tend to forget all that You have done and are doing in my life and begin to think that something is missing. Then I begin to look elsewhere for something or someone to provide what I think I need to have. But You are all I need. You are sufficient. Bind my heart to You, Father. Continually remind me of just how much You love me. Keep me from wandering off the path and away from Your love. Amen

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

Proverbs 5c

High Fidelity.

“Drink water from your own well – share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone?” – Proverbs 5:15-16 NLT

fidelity: strict observance of promises, conjugal faithfulness

We live in a world where little is certain or sure any more, including moral absolutes. Everyone does what’s right in his own eyes. Tolerance is in, conviction is out. There seem to be no standards of right or wrong, and the idea of putting any kind of expectations on behavior is old-fashioned and intolerant. We are constantly reminded not to try and legislate morality or force our standards on others. So what we end up with is a society drowning in sea of uncertainty.

But God has standards. He has rules and expectations for keeping them. Yes, He is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness, but none of that diminishes the fact that God is holy and requires His people to be the same. Over in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul reminds us, “God’s will is for you to be holy…” And he goes on to say, “…so stay away from all sexual sin.” A big part of our holiness or separateness, the thing that should make us stand out from the crowd, is the way we behave. Paul continues, “Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor – not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins…God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-7 NLT). Paul is making the same point that Solomon makes in Proverbs 5. We are to live lives of fidelity and faithfulness that shows up in our behavior, both sexually and socially. Men are to be faithful to their wives. Wives are to remain faithful to their husbands. But in our society, that is seen as an antiquated, out-dated virtue that no longer has a place. So adultery is common place and a normal part of everyday life. Infidelity is in. You see it in movies, on TV, in the lives of celebrities, and even in the homes of godly Christian couples. Solomon describes those who embrace this lifestyle as evil, and he says they “will die for lack of self-control” (Proverbs 5:23 NLT). Those who turn their back on fidelity are held captive by their own sins. Their passions control them, causing them to abandon their commitments and default on their faithfulness – to one another and, ultimately, to God.

We have been called to a higher standard – to lives of high fidelity. We are to model what it means to live in holiness, separateness, uniqueness, and distinctiveness. Our lives are to be different, because we have been changed by the life-transforming power of God. We have been given the capacity to live according to a higher calling, and it should show up in our behavior. God’s will for us is holiness. God’s desire for us is fidelity.

Father, give me a growing desire to remain faithful. Not just to You, but in all my relationship. Especially with the wife you have given me. Don’t let me get sucked into believing the lie of the enemy or allow myself to be driven by my passions. May my love for You motivate my desire to obey You and live in fidelity, each and every day of my life, in both my actions and attitudes. Amen

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