When Rights Are Wrong.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ESV

With the opening words of this chapter, Paul reveals that he is answering yet another one of the questions sent to him by the church in Corinth. It had to do with food offered to idols. To modern, 21st-Century Christians, this will sound like a strange discussion that has nothing to do with us, and little in the way of practical application. But Paul’s primary point has to do with knowledge and what we do with it, especially in our interactions with “weaker” or less spiritually mature Christians and with the lost.

There are two major views as to what was going on in the Corinthian fellowship that caused them to raise this question with Paul. The more traditional view is that there were former pagans in the church who had come to faith in Christ and who were still buying meat in the marketplace that had been sacrificed to idols. It was a common practice for pagan priests to offer sell in the market some of the meat left over from a sacrifice to their god. This was considered good, high-quality meat. The converted pagans in the church knew that the meat was good and they also knew that there was no such thing as idols. So their conclusion was that it was perfectly acceptable to buy and eat the meat and even serve it to their believing friends. And Paul confirms their conclusion when he writes, “we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one’’ (1 Corinthians 8:4b ESV). Their “knowledge” or understanding of the matter was correct, but that same knowledge was a source of pride. It was causing them to look past the negative influence they were having on their fellow church members. There were younger, less mature believers in the church who did not yet understand the truth regarding idols. Paul writes, “not all possess this knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7a ESV). These people were confused by the actions of their fellow church members. And when they saw what they were doing, they were tempted to sin against their consciences. They could not help but eat that same meat and feel like they were being unfaithful to God. The spiritual arrogance of their brothers and sisters in Christ was causing them to stumble in regard to their faith.

But there is a second view regarding what was going on in Corinth that carries an even more shocking indictment on those who were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It seems that this was more than just a case of buying meat at the market and serving it for dinner in your home. The problem involved a continuing practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the very temple dedicated to that idol. In verse 10, Paul writes, “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?” It seems that there were those who had gone back to celebrating at the feasts as part of the worship of the false gods. These were common affairs in the Greek culture and were well-attended. They were social gatherings where the community came to worship their god and to share a celebratory meal together. Evidently, there were believers in the church in Corinth who were attending these meals and justifying their behavior based on their “knowledge” regarding the non-existence of idols. Their reasoning was that if idols do not exist and God is the one true god, then what difference does it make whether we eat meat in the temple of an idol or not. And while their logic made perfect sense, they were leaving out the Savior’s admonition that we love one another. They were disregarding the spiritual well-being of those within their fellowship who might be confused by their actions and caused to follow their lead.

For Paul, the issue had little to do with meat sacrificed to idols, eating in temples, or spiritual knowledge. In fact, he simply states, “this ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b ESV). Their knowledge had led to pride and arrogance, rather than love. They cared more about their so-called rights than they did about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. They enjoyed eating meals in the temple. The food was good and the fellowship was great. They got to be with all their pagan friends and act as if nothing had changed in their lives. They may have even used the excuse that being in the temple with their lost friends and neighbors gave them the opportunity to share the gospel. But Paul knew that their actions were motivated by selfishness, not selflessness. They were doing what they did for themselves, not for the sake of others.

Paul makes it clear that the issue has nothing to do with meat. He writes, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). But the issue is about rights. “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). For Paul, it was simple. He would rather give up meat altogether if it was going to cause a brother to stumble. It wasn’t worth it. If our freedoms in Christ cause a brother or sister in Christ to become enslaved to their own sin, we have missed the whole point of the gospel. Not only that, Paul says that we have actually sinned against them and against Christ. We have become a stumbling block in their spiritual path. As Christians, we have certain rights based on our newfound freedom in Christ. But when we let those rights tempt our brothers and sisters in Christ to do wrong, we stand as guilty before God. My rights should never deter another believer in their pursuit of righteousness. It would be better to die to my rights than to die for them.

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Foolish, Weak and Despised.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

The division taking place within the church at Corinth was based on pride. They were boastfully claiming, “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). They were each seeing themselves as somehow better or more spiritual because of who they followed. They were even bragging about who had baptized them, claiming to have been baptized in their name. Which had led Paul to say, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:14-15 ESV). Even those who were claiming to follow Christ were emphasizing His teaching more than His role as Messiah. They had become followers of men and adherents of their particular teachings, rather than followers of the very one whose death had made their salvation possible. 

So Paul felt compelled to remind them of pre-conversion state. For the most part, none of them had been wise, wealthy or powerful. They had not been from the upper crust of society. They weren’t known for their intelligence and erudition. Their influence and power had been minimal. In fact, Paul flatly states that they had been foolish, weak and despised. Not exactly a flattering assessment. But Paul’s objective was to get them to see the “foolish” nature of their salvation, not stroke their egos. There had been nothing about them that warranted what God had done for them. Even from an worldly perspective, they had not been deserving of God’s amazing grace and mercy. They had not been the brightest and best, the richest and wisest, the movers and shakers of society. When Jesus ministered on the earth, it was not from among the wealthy, wise and powerful that His disciples had come. They had been lowly fishermen, tax collectors and common men. Those that had followed Him during His three years of earthly ministry had been, for the most part, from the peasant class. And this trend had continued long after Christ’s resurrection. Paul reminded them, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT).

None of them had cause for boasting. They had done nothing to deserve their salvation. And their pride over who it was that they followed was misplaced. Later on in this same letter, Paul will tell them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). It was only as Paul displayed Christ-likeness that they were to emulate his life. It wasn’t supposed to be about Paul, but about the Christ-like character he displayed. Paul wanted them to remember that their status as children of God had been the work of God. It had been God who had called them, which is why Paul tells them, “consider your calling.” The Greek word Paul used was βλέπω (blepō) and it means, “to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine” (“G991 – blepō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul wanted them to take a long, hard look at their calling by God. So he reminds them three times:

God chose what is foolish…

God chose what is weak…

 God chose what is low and despised…

God chose. It was His doing. Not based on any merit or worth on the ones chosen, but solely based on His divine mercy and grace. And Paul reminds them that it was “because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV). Not because of themselves and not because of Paul, Cephas or Apollos. Those men had been nothing more than instruments in the hands of God. It had been God who had made it possible for the believers in Corinth to have a relationship with Jesus. And it had been Jesus who had revealed to them the wisdom of God. By His death on the cross, Jesus had opened up the way for men to enjoy righteousness, sanctification and redemption. With His death on the cross, Jesus had taken on the sins of mankind. Those who place their faith in Christ have had their sins imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to them. They now stand before God as righteous because of Christ. And they are going through the process of sanctification, their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And ultimately, they will enjoy their final redemption or release from the power of sin in their lives, when God glorifies them.

There is no man who can make these things possible. No human teacher can provide us with righteousness before God. No pastor can transform us into the likeness of Christ. No evangelist or theologian can make our glorification possible. These things are all the work of God, just as our salvation was. He called. He chose. He justified. He is sanctifying. And He will redeem. So if we are going to boast, we need to boast in God. We need to brag about all that He has done, is doing and will do in the future. He made our salvation possible. He has made our daily sanctification obtainable. And He will one day accomplish the seemingly impossible: our glorification. We owe it all to Him.

 

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

No Comparison.

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. – 2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT

Over the last two to three weeks, I have had two of my cars break down and require major, unexpected repairs. My father had to be admitted to the hospital on two separate occasions during that same time period. While he was there, the AC at his house went out requiring the replacement of the outside condenser unit. At the same time, the dishwasher and garbage disposal at my home both decided to call it quits. Then one of the cars I had just gotten out of the shop broke down on me as I was heading from the hospital back up to the church to teach a Bible study. It was the transmission this time. To say the least, it was not a fun few weeks. But as all this was taking place and I was reading through the letters of Paul, the thought dawned on me that I would have a hard time comparing war stories with the apostle Paul. If I tried to compare my difficulties with his, it would be like toddler trying to take on Mike Tyson. Talk about a mismatch.

In reading through 2nd Corinthians, we’ve reached an interesting place in the letter where we find Paul literally bragging about himself. It’s a somewhat awkward read and seems a bit unexpected from someone of Paul’s spiritual caliber. But there’s a method to Paul’s madness. He isn’t really bragging, but simply trying to make a point. There are those in Corinth who have questioned his authority as an apostle and his credibility as a teacher. A group of self-proclaimed apostles have shown up who are trying to discredit Paul, in order to elevate themselves in the minds of the people. As a result, they boast about their human achievements, wearing their curriculum vitae on their chest like a badge of honor. So Paul decides to fight fire with fire. He admits that he feels like a fool doing it, but if these men want to get into a battle based on comparative worth and worth, Paul is more than willing to oblige them. These people were putting high stock in their “Jewishness.” They were Hebrews and wanted everyone to know it. They believed their ethnicity gave them a leg up and made them more “Christian” than the Gentiles. But Paul assures his readers that he too is a Hebrew and an Israelite. He too is a card-carrying member chosen race and a descendant of Abraham. He is also a servant of Christ, just as they claim to be. In fact, he argues that he is a harder working servant of Christ and then he proceeds to give ample proof of his claim. What comes next is Paul’s laundry list of trials, troubles, difficulties and circumstantial setbacks. He had been imprisoned, beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, gone without food and water, and nearly froze to death. On top of all that, Paul had the constant pressing responsibility for the spiritual well-being of all the churches he had helped start.

Paul was not some fly-by-night, headline-grabbing, attention-seeking, self-serving and self-proclaimed spokesman for God. He was the divinely appointed messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. But if they wanted to get into a war of one-up-man-ship, Paul was more than willing to oblige them. He admits that his boasting “is not from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 11:17 NLT), but he is doing it to validate his message and defend his authority as a spokesman for God. But one of the interesting things about Paul’s boasting is that he only boasted about his weaknesses, humiliations and sufferings. He wasn’t bragging about his intellectual prowess or oratorial skills. Paul boasted that he had suffered as a result of his ministry. He was not a success in the eyes of many because his life didn’t seem to have the trappings of success. Paul made it clear that if he was going to boast at all, it would be about all those things that reveal his own weakness and his need for God’s strength. Paul didn’t pat himself on the back for having accomplished great things for God. He simply listed all the things that had happened to him as he faithfully served God. The very fact that Paul was still at it, in spite of all that happened, was more than enough proof of God’s sustaining power and Paul’s divine authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. God was at work in the midst of all the troubles. He was using Paul in spite of his weakness and countless obstacles. That was all the proof Paul needed. And it was all the proof he was going to give. Paul’s life was like that of Christ Himself. He suffered willingly and obediently. He sacrificed his comfort for the cause of the Gospel. He had learned to rely on God’s strength instead of his own. His life was marked by weakness and apparent failure, yet God was at work in him and through him. The Christian life is not a contest or cause for comparison. Our lives should reflect Christ and reveal the power of God at work in and around us. We should be able to boast about what God is doing in our lives. Our greatest testimony is a life of complete reliance on God. Nothing else compares.

Father, I want to continue to learn to boast about those things that reveal my weakness and Your strength. Don’t allow me to become too full of myself and in love with my own accomplishments. I am nothing without You. But I can do all things because of You. Amen.

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

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The Work of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. – 1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT

After warning the Corinthians about the danger of division within the body of Christ, Paul reminded them that the work of salvation had nothing to do with man. Paul, Apollos and Peter were nothing more than messengers of the Good News. Their role was to tell what God had done through Christ on the cross. Paul made this point quite emphatically when he wrote, “Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not!” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). Salvation was not man’s idea, but God’s. In fact, left to their own devises, mankind had not been able to come up with a way to restore their relationship with God. No amount of good works, sacrifices, worship or religious rituals had ever fixed the problem created by the sin of mankind. So God had come up with His own plan, and it appeared as nothing less than foolish from man’s perspective. God chose to send His sinless Son to die on a cross for the sins of mankind. And to those who are lost, “The message of the cross is foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT). It appears ridiculous. It sounds far-fetched, too hard to believe. To the philosophers, scholars and the brilliant debaters of this world, the message of the cross sounds like superstitious nonsense – the creation of pathetically simpleminded people.

“But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24 NLT). To those who humbly accept the message of Christ’s substitionary death on the cross as real and life-transforming, the power of God is self-evident and non-debatable. It is clear that the work of salvation is the work of God – from beginning to end. Man has nothing to do with it. God chose us. God called us. God united us with Christ. And it was Christ who made us right with God. It was He who made us pure and holy. It was He who freed us from sin, not Paul, Apollos or Peter. So there is no reason for anyone to boast – either in themselves or any other human being. Salvation is God’s work and He accomplished it through the death of His own Son. The only role we played was that of the foolish, powerless, helpless, despised and sin-enslaved human being. We brought nothing of value to the table. We had no worth or merit in God’s eyes. God didn’t look down from heaven and select the best and the brightest. He didn’t choose the rich, famous or successful ones. He wasn’t impressed with anyone’s talents, efforts, resume or attempts at self-righteousness. Because in God’s eyes, all men were sinners. All men were separated from Him. All men were deserving of His wrath and destined to spend eternity being punished for their rebellion against Him. But God had a plan. He had a solution to man’s problem that didn’t involve man at all. It was His work. It required the death of His Son. It was His plan and “this foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human reason” (1 Corinthians 1:25 NLT). So there is nothing for us to boast about, except in the fact that God has chosen us. We need to boast about God. We need to brag about Him. We need to constantly remind one another that, without His plan of salvation – as foolish as it may sound – none of us would have any hope.

Father, thank You for Your incredible plan of salvation. Without it, I would have no hope. I would have no future. But because You sent Your Son to die on a cross in my place, and You chose to open my eyes so that I could see the futility of my situation and the reality of salvation made available through His death, I now stand as right and righteous before You. I have nothing to boast about, except You. Don’t ever allow me to make it about me again. Don’t allow me to make more of anyone than I do of you. Amen.

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