One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Monday, August 31, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 9

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 31, 2007

It's good to be back. I basically have a new computer now, and I don't like breaking in a new computer, but I'm sure it will be fine eventually.

This chapter continues Paul's message about the collection for the church in Jerusalem. It begins with a very peculiar statement by Paul: 
"Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction." (9:1-5) Remember that Corinth was in the Roman province of Achaia, which is most of modern Greece today.

Paul is saying he doesn't want himself or the Corinthians to be embarrassed by their lack of giving. This just kind of struck me as an odd way to say it. Obviously lots of people would find out how much the Corinthians gave, so that was an incentive. I realize this has to be balanced with Jesus’ teaching about giving to others in secret, so I’m not advocating for public giving. But God knows. And one day we might be embarrassed by how little we gave. Notice that the last thing Paul wants is for the gift of the people to be an "exaction." True Christian giving is never the result of force or manipulation. It is the result of a joyful heart in the Lord.

Paul continues that thought here: 
"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." (9:6-8)

I've heard some people say, "God loves a cheerful giver, but He will take it from a grouch." I used to think that was true in the sense that the church will take it, but the Lord will not honor it. But the Lord is showing me a lot of things about giving lately. The Lord will reward a person who may not be exciting about giving but recognizes that the Lord will bless us when we obey. This is about the point where I am right now. The more we give, the more the Lord blesses and the more cheerful we will become.

Paul talks about the benefits of Christian giving, which benefits both the giver and the receiver immensely: 
"You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (9:11-15, ESV)

The main reason we give is because of the inexpressible gift God gave us: salvation through Jesus Christ. The giver is blessed by the Lord for his gift, and the receiver thanks God for the gift and at the same time prays for the giver. How many times have I and all of us left this chain of benefit broken because we do not give? It is a crying shame how many blessings we forgo because we don't give. This chapter just goes along with what the Lord has been dealing with me about lately. 

You all have a great holiday weekend. I'm pretty sure I will, Lord willing.

(Boy did I ever! I met the love of my life, Beth Anne!)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 24, 2007

This chapter begins a long section on giving. This is a teaching much neglected in the church today, or at least Biblical teaching on the subject is hard to find. The main purpose of this section is to encourage the people to give to the collection for the church at Jerusalem. This was the first large fundraising project in Christian history. Jerusalem was suffering a terrible famine and there were many people starving.

Paul starts with pointing out the example of the Macedonians: 
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." (8:1-5)

Notice the progression: they gave themselves to the Lord and then they gave to Paul's project. Spiritual giving is not the result of badgering or of pictures of starving children or abused animals in a TV commercial. Not that those charities are bad by any means, but that wasn't Paul's method. Paul didn't try to twist the arm of the Macedonians or even beg them to give. He presented the need and the people gave gladly and willingly, according to the will of God. Of course some churches are afraid that if they don't use the world's tactics their people won't give. To that I say, how will they know if they have never tried any other methods?

"Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine." (8:6-8) 

We hear a lot about growing in faith, about our speech and knowledge becoming more and more like Christ, but we don't hear preaching about our giving being a similar matter. We hear more about beating people over the head about giving or embarrassing people into giving. Now Paul does that a little bit by mentioning the Macedonians, but it is not the entire thrust of his message.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (8:9)

I want to stop and comment on this verse very specifically. A lot of people use this verse to point out the earthly poverty of Jesus. But that misses the point of the verse. His father Joseph had a trade and as a young man Jesus would have obviously been a great carpenter. The relative financial state of Jesus is quite irrelevant to His ability to save us. The point of the verse is that He left the eternal riches of God and became a mere man. Just that alone was a tremendous sacrifice, yet we are told that He did it with joy, just to reconcile us to Himself. Amazing.

"And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, 'Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.'" (8:10-15, ESV)

I honestly don't know how much you can apply this to regular giving to your church. I think we will discuss that more in the next chapter, but even here, Paul is specifically talking about raising money for the church in Jerusalem, not about giving to the church, which is what this passage is often used for. I'm not saying the principles taught here are not true, because they are and they should be applied. Apparently the Corinthians had started to collect money, but the momentum ran out. Spiritual giving keeps giving even when the collective positive feelings have worn out. We will talk more about this in the next chapter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 23, 2007

This chapter is a very personal section. Paul is just kind of sharing his heart with his friends in Corinth: 
"Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more." (7:2-7)

This section doesn't really need comment, so we will go on to the next one: 
"For I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God." (7:8-12)

This is a very revealing passage. We usually use the phrase "Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation" when talking about unbelievers getting saved. Obviously that is true, but Paul is using it here as describing saved people. The church at Corinth had some serious problems, and Paul pulled no punches when dealing with them in his first letter. And apparently the fact that Paul did not come back to Corinth or send another letter very soon discouraged the believers in the church there, as we discussed in an earlier chapter. But the overall result of the letter was positive, as they did get rid of some of the sin that was in the church. Paul said that he even regretted at some level some of the things he said, but he was glad the church repented and moved closer to the Lord.

I am struck by the statement that the Corinthians had proven themselves innocent. What a testimony of the grace of God in the life of believers! The Corinthians were obviously doing a lot of things wrong, but their repentance - not to salvation but toward their wrong practices - demonstrated their salvation and demonstrated that God was not judging them for the wrong they were doing. I think this is what Paul meant when he said, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

"Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you." (7:13-16, ESV)

I love these passages where we get to know the writer a little bit. Paul was proud of his converts in the Corinthian church, and wrote the first letter out of love. This second letter shows even more love, because what he knew about the people was confirmed by the fact that they responded positively to the first letter, even if they were somewhat discouraged.

Monday, August 24, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 21, 2007

Paul continues the theme of keeping an eye on the eternal while living in a temporal world. He says a lot of ironic things, but they make sense in context: 
"We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; knowledge, patience, kindness, by purity, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything." (6:3-10)

In the eyes of the world, Paul lived a terrible life. Some may admire his dedication as we admire anyone who lives their life in devotion to a cause, but there can be no denial of the fact that Paul definitely lived his life with eternity in view. He did not care about the trouble he went through, as long as the gospel was preached and he was a part of it.

The last part of this chapter deals with bad relationships with unbelievers: 
"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'" (6:14-18, ESV)

We use this passage primarily to prove that a saved person should not marry a lost person, and of course that is a proper and reasonable application of the verse. But this passage goes farther than that. It has to do with close friendships as well as probably business relationships. I think it certainly has to do with church members who are not truly born again and give signs of that fact regularly. Of course this does not mean acquaintances or co-workers, because you would have to close your life off almost completely if you can’t know people who are unbelievers. Just because there is someone at work who is an unbeliever doesn't mean you need to go to their house on a regular basis and chew the fat with them. And if you are in a close business relationship with someone who is unethical and a cheater, at some point you are going to have to either confront them or they will fire you or cut you out or you will be tempted to go along with their sinful business activities. And of course it goes without saying that if you are saved, you are very foolish to marry an unbeliever. There will be endless conflicts, just because they will not understand the things you do as a Christian.

Friday, August 21, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 20, 2007

Well this has been a terrible weekend. I wasn't gone, just sick. I feel better right now, but that doesn't mean I won't feel worse later. Anyway, the first few verses are very appropriate: 
"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened— not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (5:1-4)

I can certainly feel that groaning right now. It really stinks to be as sick as I was over the weekend. But even when we are feeling fine, it really is a burden to be stuck in this body, or at least it is for me. I'm sure that it will only get worse when we get older.

"He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (5:5-10)

The Judgment Seat of Christ for believers is a topic that is often misunderstood. We will not be punished for our sins; those are already paid for by the blood of Christ. But we will suffer loss of rewards and probably a position in Christ's kingdom if we fall short of what we could have done for the Lord. It is something to be concerned about, in the sense that it spurs us to action, but not something to fear, because we are already accepted as God's children.

Actually, in the passage that follows, Paul does a lot better job explaining the implications of the Judgment Seat of Christ than I could: "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." (5:11-15)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (5:17-21, ESV)

This is one of the most profound passages in the Bible. It explains multiple times what salvation means and what our responsibility is in the world. First of all, we are a new creation. Secondly, we are reconciled to God through Christ. Thirdly, we are given the ministry of reconciliation, to help reconcile others to God. Finally, and this last verse is one of the most profound in the Bible, God made Christ to be sin for us, that we might receive Christ's righteousness.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 17, 2007

Paul talks about his ministry and the overall purpose of ministry for all Christians: 
"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (4:2-6)

Notice the contrast here. The god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of unbelievers, but the true God is able to break through that veil and let the light of the Gospel shine in their hearts. Also notice what the essence of the Gospel is: it is Jesus Christ, not man's ideas or persuasive arguments.

Paul expands upon the idea that Jesus is the essence of the Gospel: 
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." (4:7-10)

The "jars of clay," of course, are our earthly bodies. I know that I have not suffered nearly as badly as Paul did, but it is good to know that whatever we have to endure for the cause of Christ is just a little bit of what the Lord Jesus suffered for us, and anything we have to bear is just a little bit of sharing in that.

"Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (4:13-18, ESV)

This is one of the most important lessons we can ever learn. It is so easy to get caught up in the things we can see, the things of this life. But it is more important to remember that the things we can't see, the things of God, are those that are truly eternal. That is why a lot of these religious trinkets you see peddled around are wrong. I'm not talking about "Jesus Loves You" stickers or things like that, but I am talking about little figurines or holy handkerchiefs and stuff like that. Our faith is not wrapped up in things we can see or handle. Christianity is a life of faith. We must have faith to look beyond this life and see the things in the next life that are eternal.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 16, 2007

This chapter begins with a defense of Paul's ministry, including his apostleship, which is a major theme of the later portion of this book: 
"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all." (3:1-2) 

Paul took on immediately those who questioned Paul's apostleship and standing in the church. Paul was saying his position in the church spoke for itself. He did not need letters from other preachers or other kind of thing to bolster his reputation. His reputation was based on the results of his ministry.

Paul makes a jump from a discussion of his own place in the church to some of the clearest teaching on the differences between the old and new covenants: "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory." (3:5-11)

It is interesting that Paul calls Moses' law the "ministry of death," because in other places Paul is insistent that the Law was holy and was God's plan for that time. I think in this case he is using a slight bit of hyperbole to demonstrate the difference between the old and new covenants and the danger of trying to return to the old covenant.

It is important to note that Paul describes the "ministry of death" as being "carved in letters on stone." Paul is talking about the 10 Commandments here. Yes, even that is done away with in Christ. Not that we can go out and kill people or wantonly commit adultery. Jesus and the Apostles are clear that such things are sin. But there are at least 2 of the 10 that most Christians don't even worry about breaking any more: keep the Sabbath day holy and no graven images. We recognize that Saturday is not holy any more, and we don't have a problem with coin money, pictures and other things that clearly violate the graven images prohibition. If it's fine to break 2 of them, why do we feel obligated by the other 8? We need to be more consistent in the way we apply Scripture to our lives.

The last section of this chapter is one of my favorite passage in all the Bible: "Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (3:12-18, ESV)

First of all, Paul talks about the fact that most Jews, even to this day, are blinded to the truth of Christ. It is interesting that Paul says that only through Christ is the veil taken away. This means that one cannot truly understand the Old Testament the way God intended without the knowledge of Christ.

And of course the last verse is one of the most profound verses in all of the Bible. God is at work in every Christian's life, even when the person is not always aware of it. He is at work bringing us closer and closer to the image of the glory of the Lord. Of course we can grieve the Spirit and slow down the process, but that does not mean that the Lord is not at work each and every day in our lives. That fact brings confidence and assurance that God is not going to leave us alone and hasn't forgotten about us. He will bring about His plan, and the more we submit to that plan the easier the process becomes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 15, 2007

Paul begins to correct some of the problems in the church that were indirectly caused by the Corinthians' overreaction to his first letter: 
"But I call God to witness against me— it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you." (1:23-2:4)

First of all, I should point out in passing that at the beginning of this passage Paul takes an oath. This should finally put to bed the notion that Jesus said Christians should not take an oath. In context, He was saying that if you have to swear all the time in order for people to believe you, you've got a problem. When you speak the plain truth, you won't have a problem with getting people to believe you.

Anyway, yesterday I mentioned the fact that the Corinthians were upset that Paul had not followed up on his first letter, and some had used that fact to lead them astray. Paul said he did not want to write because he did not want to send a hurtful letter, but now it is necessary. In this case, telling the truth is not always a pleasant thing.

The one person who had suffered the most from the Corinthians' overreaction was the man mentioned in chapter 5 who had been living in adultery with his stepmother. The church had kicked him out. But the man had repented and was now trying to do the right thing. But the church would not have him back. And it wasn't like there was another church down the road: 
"For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." (2:6-11)

A lot of Paul's epistles include a riff of praise that really has nothing to do with the previous point, but often leads into a new discussion. The last section of this chapter is a prime example of this phenomenon: 
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ." (2:14-17, ESV)

Notice that Paul says there were "many" peddling the gospel, even in his day. Things of course always seem to get worse and worse, but human nature never changes. People always think they can improve upon the simplicity of the Gospel, but they never do.

Monday, August 17, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 14, 2007

In 2 Corinthians, we find Paul continuing to correct the Corinthian church. Most of his corrections involve addressing overreactions to his previous letter. You have to admit the Corinthians had a zeal for the Lord, but sometimes they went a little too far.

There are some who try to say that the last few chapters of this book are a separate letter. When you read the entire book from beginning to end, Chapters 10-13 do seem disjointed. As long as you recognize that the whole thing is inspired, I don't guess it really matters how you divide it.

As Paul opens his book, he seems a little down-hearted. He is having a rough time as he is writing his letter, but he is still praising the Lord in spite of the problems: 
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many." (1:3-11)

It is so easy to be downhearted and miserable. It is much harder to look beyond our problems and praise the Lord for what He is doing in our lives. But it is good to see that Paul had to work through his problems just like everyone else. The Lord never promised to lead us happily through life and solve all of our problems for us. He promised to work all things together for our good, and sometimes that work isn't very pleasant. I think most of you know my financial situation. Not that I want you to feel sorry for me, but I bring it up because I want you to understand what I feel about this passage. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and blame God for your problems. That comes naturally to our flesh. I fight the temptation all the time.

"For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us— that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you." (1:12-14)

That is interesting how Paul says that there will be boasting in heaven. I think clearly this means boasting in what the Lord has done, not boasting in ourselves. But I think this reference in an odd way confirms that we will keep most of the friends we have down here. Even though the relationships will be different and no doubt better, the relationships will be similar. It is not like we will be bored after a while in heaven. Yeah, fellowshipping with the Lord Jesus will be the best part, of course, but renewing acquaintances with our loved ones will also be a special time. I know I am looking forward to it.

"I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say 'Yes, yes' and 'No, no' at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory." (1:16-20)

This is a hard passage to interpret, I will admit. It has been a long time since I have gone through this book, but apparently there were some erroneous teachers springing up in the Corinthian church who were confusing the simplicity of the gospel. They were using the fact that Paul had not returned, either in person or by another letter, to somehow reason that God was keeping him away because what he was teaching was wrong. Paul could not be more vehement in his repudiation of that rumor. 

He begins his explanation in the last two verses of this chapter, but they are more fitting with the beginning of chapter 2. So I will treat them as such and address them tomorrow.

Friday, August 14, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 16

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 13, 2007

This is the end of this epistle, and Paul had some final words. First of all, he had some interesting things to say about the project to raise money for the church at Jerusalem: 
"Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me." (16:1-4) 

Often we see this passage referenced with respect to all sorts of giving to and through the local church. This is obviously talking about giving, but it is less about general giving than it is about the specific need for the saints in Jerusalem. There was a terrible famine in Israel that is mentioned briefly in Acts. This was a huge project for the church around the world. Paul mentions it in several of his epistles.

Paul said that he will likely come and visit, but probably not for long. But he said there is someone he is sending, and they are supposed to receive him well: 
"When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers." (16:10-11)

A very interesting study I have never seen done is a study on the personality of Timothy. Here is probably Paul's most significant protégé, and it seems every time Paul mentions him in his epistles, he is reminding the church to be nice to him or to treat Timothy as they would treat Paul. Timothy must have been a very timid young man. Paul's first epistle to Timothy is all about encouragement and building up his confidence. I find it very interesting that Paul saw something in Timothy and put up with his many weaknesses in order to encourage him in the Lord. It is certainly a lesson to us not to focus on the weaknesses of young believers, but rather to encourage them.

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!" (16:21-22, ESV) 
This is how the epistle ends. Those who do not love the Lord will certainly be accursed in the judgment, but I think this is probably referring to people attending the church who exhibit no real change of life or heart. Our job is not to do the condemning, but we can and need to exercise our own judgment and be discerning about people in the church and try to be an encouragement.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 15, Part 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 12, 2007

Well, yesterday was kind of short, and now I have a lot of ground to cover to finish up this chapter. This is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible though. 

Remember that the second half (actually it is more than half of the text but bear with me) of I Corinthians is a response to a series of questions the church wrote back to Paul. He had some pressing issues, like divisiveness, he had to get out of the way first, and then he answered their questions. Apparently there was a controversy in the church what the resurrection body would be like. Paul gives them an answer, but I think if you read it, you can read between the lines that Paul is thinking, "Why are you asking me this? God is going to do things right. What does it matter?"
"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." (15:35-49)

But there is a spiritual lesson to be learned here. I'm pretty sure Paul is the only epistle writer to refer to Jesus as the "last Adam." Christ is engendering a new race of people, one linked not by blood but by faith.

Finally Paul wraps up his argument with a glorious anthem of praise:
"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (15:50-58, ESV)

I have heard supposedly learned people say that the rapture is not taught anywhere but one passage in I Thessalonians. They have never read this passage in I Corinthians, which clearly teaches the rapture. A lot of people, especially those of the more sensitive and educated sort, view the doctrine of the rapture as kind of backward and silly, for whatever reason, I don't know. It is true that the church in large part ignored the rapture for more than 1,000 years. Some of them were more interested in building an earthly kingdom, certainly, but others you wonder why they never address the topic. But despite what some people might like, the rapture is coming, and I am looking forward to it. I hope I get to see it. I know I will be a part of it either way, but I kind of hope I can see it happen with these eyes that I am looking at the computer screen with right now. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 15, Part 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 11, 2007

Paul continues his  discussion of the importance of the resurrection. 
"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For 'God has put all things in subjection under his feet.' But when it says, 'all things are put in subjection,' it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all." (15:20-28)

This section doesn't really need comment. It's pretty self-explanatory, as opposed to the next section: 
"Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" (15:29-32)

Now I try not to shy away from difficult scriptures, but that first one in that section is a doozy. It's clear that baptism does not save even the person who is baptized, so what does it mean being baptized for the dead? MacArthur suggests that this means that people who were saved and baptized because of the testimony of those who have already passed on, perhaps because of persecution. I don't know. Maybe the Corinthian church had some sort of weird ritual that was not Biblical, and Paul was just using the ritual as a point to prove that even their ill-conceived ritual showed they believed in a resurrection. That doesn't seem right as I write it, but I don't know.

Paul also continues his discussion of the meaning of life. He says that if there is no resurrection, then he might as well give up what he is doing and go out and live a life of ease. Why put yourself out? If this is all there is, then you better enjoy it while you can. No point in making life difficult if there is no resurrection. People get the idea that the Christian life is just a breeze and that God wants to solve all our problems. God isn't as concerned about our physical comforts and what we want as we think He is, or as some preachers paint Him out to be. Paul certainly was living proof that God is more concerned about using us in His service, no matter the physical cost, than He is about making us happy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 15, Part 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 10, 2007

I know I am not going to be able to cover this whole chapter in one sitting. It might take three.

First of all Paul defines the Gospel and explains his role in the church and how he became an apostle: 
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed." (15:3-11)

Paul was always troubled by his past, or at least it seems to me. It seems he always brought up the fact that he persecuted the church when describing himself. It's good to know that he was human just like we are. 

Apparently there were some in the Corinthian church who questioned the resurrection of the dead. Paul is very insistent that you cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in the resurrection: 
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (15:13-19, ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fact of the Christian faith. If Jesus did rise rise from the dead, then Christianity is meaningless. God would be a liar. 

Not only that, but I want to spend some time on that last verse. Paul said that if Christianity was just a nice thing that people do, then it is worthless, and there is no point in messing with it. That is not the mindset of most people now. Most Christians believe the exact opposite today. They think that Christianity enhances their lives now, and heaven is just a bonus. That is not the attitude Paul had. Paul said my life is miserable here: I get thrown in jail, beaten, traveling by foot all over the Near East and Eastern Europe (you try walking from Jerusalem to Corinth), and for what? The hope of eternal life with the Lord Jesus. Paul was not sidetracked by seeking "his best life now," with apologies to Joel Osteen.  He saw that the most important thing was seeking to be rewarded in heaven. 

I think I will divide this in three. I had a bad night last night and I am trying to catch up.

Monday, August 10, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 14, part 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 9, 2007

Paul continues his discussion of how church meetings should be conducted during the era of spiritual gifts in the end of this chapter: 
"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." (14:26-33)

I find it interesting that even in the era of spiritual gifts, the words of a prophet were not to be taken at face value. They were to be weighed by the other prophets. God has never wanted believers to be unthinking robots, just doing what they were told. God has always wanted us to think, compare and evaluate what we are told in light of what we know to be true. Preachers who demand unthinking obedience are violating the Word of God. Any teacher or preacher who is afraid of people learning for themselves and challenging what they are teaching is doing his people a disservice.

Next we have a very controversial passage: 
"As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." (14:34-35)

This statement is very clear, but upon careful examination we can see Paul's purpose. In context, Paul is talking about corporate worship. For the most part, it seems first-century churches did very little else besides corporate worship. There were no Sunday Schools, no committees, no Vacation Bible Schools, none of the other programs that most churches operate today. It is one thing for a woman to teach the entire congregation, and it is another for her to take the lead in a class or in a ministry in which not everyone in the church is involved. I think the context limits Paul's instructions to just corporate worship, a general meeting of the entire congregation. A woman is not permitted to exercise spiritual or physical leadership over the entire church, but we are stupid if we fail to take advantage of the talents and the gifts that God has blessed different women in the church with.

Finally Paul wraps up his argument with a little bit of sarcasm: 
"Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order." (14:36-40, ESV)

Paul says that the Corinthians were not the only ones to whom God revealed truth. It is important for us to realize that too. Too often we get too comfortable in our own little circle and get the idea that we are the only ones doing things the right way. God seems to like variety in lots of places, a lot more than apparently a lot of His followers do. There are of course numerous things that are non-negotiable, but when it goes beyond that, it seems the Lord is not as concerned about our differences as we are.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 14, part 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 8, 2007

I may end up dividing this into two, because there is so much here. Yep, I knew I would.

This chapter deals with the facts of life as a Christian in the era of spiritual gifts: "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up." (14:1-5)

Those who try to practice the spiritual gifts today always exalt the gift of tongues as the greatest, but Paul said it was more important to edify the church than to speak in an unknown language.

"Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." (14:6-12)

Paul was more concerned with edifying and helping the church grow than he was with their pride at being able to exercise spiritual gifts: 
"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say 'Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." (14:14-19)

The person speaking the tongue did not know what they were saying, and it was foolishness for a guest who came in to the church. The church in Corinth was apparently proud of the fact that they were exercising these gifts, and practiced them for the greater part of their service. So most of their meetings was just people jabbering in an unknown language. Now Paul does not dispute the legitimacy of their speaking, but points out that it would be better for everyone if they spoke words that would build up the church.

Finally, Paul gives the reason for spiritual gifts: 
"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, 'By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.' Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (14:20-25, ESV)

Notice he begins this passage with a reference to chapter 13 about being children in their thinking. But this passage blows away those who teach that tongues are meant for today. They were meant primarily as a sign for the Jews that the church was a legitimate work of God. Look at every time tongues are mentioned in the book of Acts. There is the day of Pentecost, when the 120 spoke in tongues, and then in every other situation it was a group of people who had never heard the Gospel yet responding to the truth and manifesting their salvation with the gift of tongues.

Tongues were a fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 28:11-12. If you read that prophecy in context, it doesn't seem to be talking about the church. It seems to be talking about foreign powers that will invade Israel. This is an example of the Apostles spiritualizing an Old Testament prophecy and applying it to a New Testament situation. This is a practice the Apostles do quite a bit. Now it is wrong for us to do that. We are to look at the context and determine what the passage means. But the Apostles had a special dispensation from God and a special place of authority in the church, so they could do that. 

I recently heard a "sermon" in which the preacher went on and on about the symbolism in the story of David and Goliath. He talked about how David went down into the water and came up and killed Goliath and said that was like Jesus dying and then being raised to life and conquering Satan. Unless some kind of symbolism is explained in the New Testament, and there are plenty of examples, we should not be making that kind of extrapolation. It stops becoming honest interpretation and starts becoming adding our own ideas to the text. I am even uncomfortable with those who compare Joseph to Jesus. There are many things that seem uncanny in parallel, but nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus compared to Joseph, so I feel (and this is just my opinion, but I think I can back it from Scripture) that to state as a fact that Joseph is a type of Christ is an example of shoddy interpretation of Scripture.

I know that is a long way from the text of our chapter, but oh well. Get your own blog!

Friday, August 7, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 7, 2007

Ah yes. This is of course one of the great passages in the Bible. I memorized this entire chapter when I was a kid, and a lot of things have been said and books have been written about this chapter. It is important, however, to remember that this chapter is only part of Paul's overall discussion of spiritual gifts.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (13:1-3)

Very familiar words, but remember that they are in the context of spiritual gifts. The gifts are not ends in themselves. They must be tempered with and exercised in love. Compare what Paul said about giving his body to be burned with what Jesus said: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) I guess this proves the old saying that you can give without loving but you can't love without giving.

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (13:4-7)

This is a lot easier to read than it is to practice, of course. All these negative things come so easily to our flesh. But a life governed by Spirit-led love will not give in to those temptations and will seek the best for everyone, not just ourselves.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." (13:8-11)

Now if you were just looking at that passage without context, you would say that means that one day in heaven there will be no need for prophecies and tongues and the other. But if you look at the context of chapters 12 and 14, the meaning becomes more clear. Paul is listing the spiritual gifts, and saying that they will pass away "when the perfect comes." I think the fact that these gifts have not been recognized by the church in some 1,900 years tells us what Paul was talking about. 

Church history is an important study. It should not be more important than the Scriptures, but it helps to learn from the wisdom of past believers. From about the year 100 through the late 1800s, you will find no mention of the practice of spiritual gifts such as tongues, miracles and healing in the mainstream church, or even among practically all the fringes. If someone comes up with a novel idea or practice, be very careful. The church has not been perfect through the centuries, but God has always protected His church. God doesn't keep secrets from His children. If He had intended for these gifts to have been exercised, there would have been a consistent pattern of the use of these gifts throughout church history. That is not the case.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 6, 2007

This chapter is the beginning of a long section on spiritual gifts. This is a widely misunderstood area of Scripture. Paul starts off with something that seems fairly obvious but apparently was a problem: 
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus is accursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit." (12:1-3)

Apparently some people in the Corinthian church were opening themselves up to all kinds of influences in their efforts to speak in tongues, even to the point of obvious blasphemy. You shouldn't have to explain to Christians that someone who curses Jesus is not speaking in the Spirit. But apparently it didn't matter to them, as long as they were speaking in a miraculous language. 

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues." (12:4-10)

Notice that Paul does not distinguish between these gifts here, the way a lot of people do today. A lot of people who are not Pentecostal will say that the gifts of tongues and healing are not for today, but the gift of faith and wisdom, etc. are. This is a very broad assumption in my opinion. If Paul had taught that there would be certain gifts that would cease and others that would carry on, or even hinted at it, then that would be different. But Paul always treats all the spiritual gifts the same. Therefore, if you believe that some of the gifts have ceased, then to be consistent you must believe that all these gifts must cease. I guess I have less problem with the people who promote all the gifts than with those who pick and choose them.

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body." (12:14-20)

This passage is in the context of gifts, but I think that it still applies to the church today. God wants us all to work together. The Lord has placed us where we are for a reason, and that reason is not to be abrasive and to create problems. We are to carry forth the work of God with our fellow believers in the church.

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way." (12:27-31, ESV)

Here we have the principle I talked about earlier in a more explicit way. Practically all of Protestantism recognizes that the role of the apostle ended when all the Apostles died. Yet in this passage Paul equates the role of the apostle with the gift of healing with the gift of helping.. I think there are serious problems with apostolic theology, but at least they are consistent in this area. You cannot be double-minded in this area. Either all these gifts apply for today or none of them do.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 11

For an introduction to this series, click here.

August 4, 2007

The first part of this chapter with its discussion of hair and head coverings is frankly a mystery to me. I think we can derive some general principles from this, but there is so much here that is tied up in 1st century Greek culture, and most of that context is lost to us some 1900 years later. Thankfully head coverings and hair are not the issues they were 30 years ago. 

Paul begins the discussion with this: "But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head." (11:3-6) 

Paul says that a woman should have her head covered when she prays or prophesies in the church, while a man should have his head uncovered. Later, Paul makes it clear that a woman's hair is given to her for a covering. Apparently, this was an issue in the Corinthian church, because (and I forgot to say this earlier) chapters 7-15 of this chapter are Paul's response to a letter he received from the church at Corinth, asking him some questions about things. I find it interesting that Paul does not have a problem with women praying publicly in the assembly. Most of our Baptist churches are not as generous in this area as Paul.

Paul continues: "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." (11:7-12) 

This passage is one of the ones liberal theologians will always use to help prove their theory that Paul was sexist. The idea that God has different roles for men and women is kind of blasphemous to our enlightened, modern, 21st Century mindset. But that does not change the truth. It does not mean that men are better than women, any more than it means Christ is more God than the Holy Spirit, since Christ's role is above the Holy Spirit. Now what does "because of the angels" mean? I have no idea. 

"Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God." (11:14-16)

This passage makes it very clear that Paul is talking about hair, and not other physical coverings. There was a lady in the church I attended in Houston who always wore a black doily (that's the best way I know to describe it) on her head. It matched her dark hair and was usually hard to see. There are some people who interpret this chapter that way; I do not. It was never an issue, and so if a lady wants to do that and not make it an issue with those who don't, I see no problem. But clearly Paul is saying that the covering he is referring to here is natural hair, not some additional covering. Once again, as far as nature teaching us about men's hair, and what constitutes long or short, once again, I have no idea.

Next Paul deals with the Lord's Supper and with general eating in the church: "When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not." (11:20-22) 

Apparently these people were making a full meal of the Lord's Supper. Paul does not strictly forbid this practice, but he does condemn the way they were doing it: the rich people in the church were bringing their own food and were refusing to share it with everyone. This is terribly petty and selfish, not the way the church should behave.

After recalling what is written in the Gospels about how Christ instituted the Lord's Supper, Paul says this: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world." (11:27-32, ESV) 

My grandma who just passed away, dear saint that she was, was afraid of the Lord's Supper because of this passage. Most of the time she would not go to communion service. None of us is "worthy" of fellowship with God. This is not what this passage is talking about. We are to treat the Lord's Supper with the respect and seriousness it deserves. We are not to be flippant, but remember that the elements are a picture of the death of Christ for us. And we are certainly not to use the Lord's Supper as a way to show off our wealth and exclude other members of the church, which was exactly what some in this church were doing.