Saturday, July 30, 2016

3 ways to identify a false Teacher

Read 2 Corinthians 11.

The Apostle Paul introduced these Corinthians to Jesus.  He planted this church and taught them.  But false teachers crept in, questioning Paul's credentials and teaching things contrary to God's word.

Paul earned the right to be bold and blunt.  In the second half of this chapter, he responded concerning his qualifications.  Though he utilized no little bit of sarcasm in presenting his case concerning himself, he held nothing back in assessing those who had been wrongfully influencing the congregation.

What false teachers can do to a church.
They were being cunningly deceived by the devil. (v.3a)
They were being led astray from devotion to Christ. (v.3b)
They were being taught "another Jesus", "a different spirit", and "a different gospel". (v.4a)
They put up with it. (v.4b)
They were being enslaved, taken advantage of, and being mistreated. (v.19)

Who false teachers really are.
These were false apostles.
These were deceitful workers.
These were disguising themselves.
These were servants of Satan.

How to identify a false teacher.
1. Are they teaching the Bible as the inerrant word of God, or are they dismissing the Scriptures as inspirational material, but culturally irrelevant and only from human authors?

2. Are they presenting Jesus as the one and only Son of God who died on the cross for the sin of the world, or are they only presenting a social Jesus who went about doing good things?

3. Is church a place where the Bible is taught and the gospel is presented for personal decisions to follow Christ, or is it only a gathering for religious rituals?

To the Galatians who being troubled by false teachers, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed."  (Galatians 1:8)

Friday, July 29, 2016

The everyday battle against our Faith

Read 2 Corinthians 10.

False teachers had swayed the Corinthians from the truth.  Criticism was leveled at Paul in that he behaved one way in person and quite another in his letters.  Evidently, these articulate communicators were influencers, using man-made theories to cause confusion among the congregation.  In rebuttal and to put the congregation back on track, Paul reminded them of the real war.  It was not them against Paul.  It was not one man's view against another's.  This was raw spiritual conflict.

Every believer is confronted with these same challenges every day.  The greatest problem is that most do not even realize they are in a spiritual battle.  Far too many who claim to know Jesus have given ground to the enemy's way of thinking, instead of standing firm in their faith.

1. The weapons of this warfare. (v.3)
Paul wanted the church to know that our fight against the enemies of Christ will not be won by natural means ("the flesh").  Most assuredly, believers can be as educated, articulate, debate, and "make a defense to anyone" who wants to hear the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).  But, spiritual war must be fought with spiritual weapons.  God has already equipped us (Ephesians 6:10-18).

2. The power of this warfare. (v.4)
We "have divine power to destroy strongholds."  The word of God and prayer are not mere religious tokens.  They are indeed the spiritual weapons we have been issued.  The message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).  Without a working knowledge of the Scriptures, without a dependency on prayer, and without communicating the life-changing gospel of Christ we are powerless!  Defeat is the only option.

3. The battlefields of this warfare. (v.5a)
In the ESV, the war takes place in "strongholds", "arguments", "and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God."  If the belief system is not based on the veracity of God's word then it is a false faith.  The spiritual source of all lies and deceptions is the same everywhere.  Jesus called Satan "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).  Revelation 12:9 refers to him as "the deceiver of the whole world."  For instance, there is no conflict between science and the Bible.  There is a spiritual war between some theories (not facts) that rail against what God said.  Evolutionary theory, atheism, astrology, and all mysticism are examples of where this battle rages against the knowledge of God.

4. The victory of this warfare. (v.5b)
The battle is won when an individual brings "every thought captive to obey Christ."  Initially, this takes place when a person renounces every false way to embrace Jesus, and Him alone, for the forgiveness of their sin.  Because we live in a fallen world, surrendering thoughts and overcoming wrong habits to obey the Lord is moment by moment exercise of our faith.  "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that overcomes the world--our faith." (1 John 5:4)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are you ready to give?

Read 2 Corinthians 9.

The Corinthians made a promise to help the poor believers in Jerusalem.  And, Paul had spoken highly of the church for this commitment.  However, nothing had been done.  To avoid embarrassment of Paul and the church, Titus and others were sent to help.  This was not a forceful move to compel them but simply a way to encourage and to facilitate the transport of the funds.

This chapter is coupled with chapter 8 in discussing the grace of giving.  The subject, principles and promises here concern contributing out of generosity toward a project and not tithing to the local ministry.

1. They were not ready. (vv.1-5, 7)
They said they were.  But the truth was the funds had not been collected.  There should be a place in the life of a follower of Jesus to give spontaneously to a need.  The discussion here is different.  The congregation announced a commitment to participate and over time should have already prepared the funds.  The instructions for such readiness toward a project are found in verse 7.
-"Each one"  Every individual should consider their involvement.
-"one must give as he has decided in his heart"  A decision must be made concerning the amount of participation.
-"not reluctant" A believer in Jesus is to be marked by their generous spirit and not resentful, nor hesitant about a willingness to give.
-"or under compulsion"  Since this is over and above regular support of the local ministry, generosity giving is indeed a "freewill" offering.  Not everyone may be able to financially contribute to every opportunity.
-"cheerful"  The Greek word is "hilarious."  There is joy being a part in helping minister to others.

2. They will be reaping.  (vv.6-10)
A farmer who is stingy when planting seed cannot expect much of a crop.  A law of life is "you reap what you sow."  When a person is thoughtfully generous in investing in others, they live with a bounty of returns.  A stingy person worries about the loss of giving.  A generous believer has placed their trust in God.  The Lord supplied the ability to work and the opportunity to earn.  It is all His in the first place.  Since He is the supplier, He is able to "multiply", "increase", and cause us to "be enriched in every way" when we give.

3. They will be rewarded.  (vv.11-15)
The results of giving generously come full circle.  God supplies the funds.  We are to be faithful stewards of what He has provided.  Participating in opportunities to help others is a blessing to them.  They in turn give thanks to God and glorify Him.  They, then, "long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you."  But it all started with the change God made in us because of "His inexpressible gift" to us in Christ.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Putting grace into Action

Read 2 Corinthians 8.

The effects of the grace of God are many.  For example: There is saving grace; that one time act of God when we place our eternal faith in Jesus.  Then, there is sustaining grace as the Lord strengthens us through trials.  Here, in this chapter the Holy Spirit reveals to Paul giving grace.

Contextually, during this time believers in Jerusalem were in great need.  The Apostle Paul let the need be known and was in the process of collecting funds for this project.  Note that the instructions and the principles in chapters 8 and 9 are not referring to tithing but to giving over and above regular offerings to the church. Four times in chapter 8,  Paul attaches the word grace to this type of giving.

Too often grace is left as a theological concept.  The Greek word is Charis and is defined in Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament as "the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life."  In other words, when God does a work of grace in a believer, there will be noticeable evidence.  Grace is active!  Twice (vv.7 and 19) such generosity giving is called "this act of grace."

1. It was the grace of God that moved the Macedonians to contribute to this project when they had great needs of their own.  "in a severe test of affliction,"  "their extreme poverty," "beyond their means."  (vv.1-3)

2. It is the grace of God that motivates believers to respond to the needs of others.
Twice (vv.7 and 19) such generosity giving is called "this act of grace."

3. It is the grace of God that is inseparably links true love to giving.  It was love that caused God, the Father to give His one and only Son to die on the cross for us (John 3:16).  In the case of the Macedonians, "they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (v.5).  In verses 8 and 24, Paul urged the Corinthians "to prove...your love is genuine" by financially fulfilling their promise to give.

The quote is attributed to several and Biblically holds true.  "You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Pain with a Purpose

Read 2 Corinthians 7.

This is not limited to the restoration of an individual but of a congregation.  Paul wrote a strong, corrective letter to Corinth.  As seen in his first letter, the church had become lax concerning morality and confused about several doctrinal issues.  They had become proud of their tolerance of sin and false teachers.  It is evident that dealing with and resolving the problems brought grief.  But as in all good discipline, it was pain with a purpose.

The intent was never merely to vent anger or to rid themselves of wrong-doers.  Proper correction is unifying as it brings people back on the right course.  In this case, they had to confront their sin.

Too many are fearful of hurting someone's feelings.  They fear the repercussions from people more than they fear God.  They choose to protect themselves from the stress and try to keep a pretense of peace more than to obey God's word.  It is only in the confessing and forsaking of sin that one experiences genuine peace with God and with each other.  Every other human attempt is merely a cover-up.  And, like a cancer, sin will metastasize and spread throughout the entire body.

After reading Paul's letter, the Corinthian church "grieved into repenting" (v.9).  Here, then, is the principle: "Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." (v.10)  One type of sorrow results in life-change; the other only results in regret and will kill relationships.

For this to be restorative, all parties must be motivated to do what pleases God and love the people involved.  This is a test.  Are we truly followers of Christ?  Do we truly believe God's word?  Will we humbly submit to each other in order to make things right?

In verse 11, Paul responded to this congregation with seven statements of commendation.
1. What earnestness!  They were not anxious or reluctant in following through on what needed to be done.
2. What eagerness!  They did not hesitate, but moved quickly, to make things right.
3. What indignation!  They became as upset about the sin as Paul was.
4. What fear!  They were alarmed when they realized what they had allowed to happen.
5. What longing!  They possessed a strong desire to take action.
6. What zeal!  They acted fervently.
7. What punishment!  They did what was necessary to vindicate themselves and to correct the problem.

Personal and church health is dependent upon following through when correction is needed.  Though stressful, and even painful, do not miss the outcome.  "Therefore we are comforted.  And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more...I have complete confidence in you." (vv.13-16)

Friday, July 22, 2016

What does it mean to be a temple of God?

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

"We are the temple of the living God." (v.16b)

This is not the first time Paul has written that.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19, he wrote, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you...?"  Believers are indwelt by the Spirit at the moment they place their eternal faith in Jesus (Romans 8:9).  He is the seal and guarantee of our salvation.  God is omnipresent, but this underscores the special relationship true Christians have with the Lord.  It also should cause us to be circumspect in how we live 24/7.

In the first half of this chapter, the Apostle again defended his ministry to the Corinthians.  Paul senses that these false teachers have wooed their affections away from him.  His heart was transparent and wide open to them.  Now, he asked they do the same for him. (vv.11-13).  But this would require some changes on their part.  They would have to break off listening and tolerating those who had swayed them from the truth.

1. Paul's questions. (vv.14-15)
He asked six rapid fire questions to confront them about their behaviors toward those who do not know Jesus.  Notice the key words in the questions: yoked, partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, agreement.  Notice too the descriptions of those who do not share our common faith: unbelievers, lawlessness, darkness, Belial (worthless person or Satan), unbeliever, idols.

2. Paul's quotes. (vv.16-18)
Next, the Holy Spirit guided Paul back to passages from Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 20:41.  God sovereignly chose the people of Israel to be His own representatives on earth.  They were to live like holy people of God.  That means they were not to act like the pagan peoples around them.  Their mission was to be an influence for the Lord and not to be influenced by evil.  The call was to "go out from their midst," "and be separate," "and touch no unclean thing."  Believers are in the world but not of the world.  The world should readily see the difference Christ has made in our lives.  When those without Jesus cannot see a difference in us, there is a spiritual problem.

3. God's promises. (vv.16-18)
With this call to separation comes seven promises to us from the Lord.  Blessings follow obedience.
"I will make my dwelling among them."
"I will walk among them."
"I will be their God."
"They shall be my people."
"I will welcome you."
"I will be a father to you."
"You shall be sons and daughters to me."

4. Our responsibilities. (7:1)
"Since we have these promises..."
-"Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body and spirit..."  First, sin must be confessed and forsaken.  God is waiting for us to agree with Him so He can "cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9)
-"bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."  Once we have dealt with our sin, we are live holy, obedient lives, seeking to please the Lord in all things.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why we do not lose Heart

Read 2 Corinthians 5.

Jars of clay.  That is what Paul called human bodies in 4:7.  Genesis 2 recounts the Creation of man.  "...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."  In this chapter, contrasts are drawn between what we experience now versus what we look forward to after this life.

The immediate context begins in 4:16 and continues into chapter 5.  Here is the definitive Christian perspective of life. Because of faith in Jesus our view of all things changes.  This new look on life gives us hope and causes us to "not lose heart" (4:16).  "So we are always of good courage." (5:6)

1. Our perspective of life.
Our outer self is "wasting away" each year with age.
Our inner self is "being renewed day by day"

Our afflictions are light and momentary; what is seen.
Our future is eternal glory; what is unseen.

Now we live in a tent, an earthly home.
Then, we will have a building, a heavenly dwelling.

Now we are mortal.
Then we will be immortal; "swallowed up by life."

2. Our purpose in life.
"We make it our aim to please him." (v.9)  He created us.  We belong to him.  Our goal is to live in such a way as to please the Owner, as the Lord of life.  We have been entrusted with this earthly life only for a few years.  As in any trust, there is accountability for what we did with what we were given.  Believers will one day stand "before the judgment seat of Christ" for accountability.  What we do this day has bearing on that day.

3. Our position in life.
No matter where we live or our occupation, God has given every believer a commission to be His ambassador to this world.  We understand "the fear of the Lord" (v.11).  We know "the love of Christ" (v.14).  We have been changed by our faith in Jesus into a new person (v.17).  Therefore, we look for every opportunity to share this good news with as many as possible so they too may experience forgiveness of sin and have eternal life.

Our future is secured in Christ.  "He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." (v.5).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

3 encouragements for Christian Soldiers

Read 2 Corinthians 2.

If you know the story has a happy ending, there is less concern for the key character during the threats along the way.  The end of our story as believers has been written down for us.  We know where this world is headed and who will be in charge.  We are safe for eternity and will be rewarded accordingly.  In the meantime, there are stresses, challenges, and threats of every kind.

The Apostle Paul listed some of his personal ordeals in chapter 3.  But with each challenge, he responded with endurance.  Like the prize fighter said, "I am up or I am getting up."  Adversity could not keep him down.  What kept Paul going was that he knew Jesus has already won.

Here, in verses 16, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to draw a comparison with the Roman victory parades.  By faith, we can envision Christ leading us.  Such spectacles were not only marked by tremendous sights and sounds but with smells also.  Laurels, flowers, and burning incense filled the atmosphere with fragrances.  The winners in such military campaigns rejoiced.  But that likewise means that there were losers.  The defeated foes do not celebrate.

Paul took that picture into present tense as the Gospel of Christ is being shared.  "To those who are being saved" the good news of Jesus is a celebration of life.  The aroma is welcomed and refreshing to the soul.  But "among those who are perishing" the message carries the smell of death.  They are repelled by it.   It is an awesome assignment to relate to others God's eternal truth.  That very thought caused the Apostle to ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?"  Sometimes the assignment, especially the negative responses, may be more than one can handle.

Again, if one knows the how the events will all play out at the conclusion, we have hope.
1. "Thanks be to God..."
It is His message, not ours.  It is His assignment for us to tell others, not our option.  It is His responsibility to open hearts as we are faithful in presenting the good news.  It is about Him, not us.

2. "...who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession...."
Living as a believer is not a sometime thing.  It is not only when life goes well.  It is "always", at all times.  Not because of circumstances, but because of our faith in Christ.  We can endure the current battles knowing the victory has already been won.  We need to stand tall in this march of triumph.

3. "...and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere."
Everywhere we go, whether we are aware of it or not, we carry this aroma.  Others can sense from us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2 costly Commitments

Read 2 Corinthians 4.

The Apostle Paul represented Jesus Christ with everything he had.  Living for Jesus and seeking to make Him known carries with it the urgency of life and death.  No one enjoys rejection.  But we also are aware that not everyone will understand and appreciate God's good news.  It is difficult not to take personally such negative responses.

In continuing to defend his ministry in contrast to the false teachers, Paul made two unchanging commitments.
"We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways."
The false teachers crept in seeking influence and personal profit while pretending to represent the Lord.  Peddlers, Paul called them (2:17).  Genuine ministry is straightforward and transparent, with sincere concern for the eternal salvation of others.

"We refuse to practice cunning or tamper with God's word."
One mark of a false teacher is their attempt to explain away the plain truth of the Bible.  They will treat God's word as myths and folklore.  They will dismiss passages they do not like and blame it on the human author.  They will intentionally skip portions of the Bible.  They will want to change the Scriptures and update their teaching to fit modern cultural trends.  They will want churches to be accepting of sin, instead of helping the sinner experience life change.  Instead of teaching the truth, they will want their denomination to vote to give them permission to violate God's word.  Not Paul, not any other true believer!  The word of God is not to be tampered with.  It is to be proclaimed.

These commitments cost him dearly.
Notice the list of things Paul endured in verses 8-9.
1. We are afflicted.  He was often put in a tight spot spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and relationally for his faith in Jesus.
2. We are perplexed.  He faced situations when there seemed to be no way out.
3. We are persecuted.  He had rejecters who pursued him in order to chase him out of their city.
4. We are struck down.  He physically suffered many times, including being stoned on one occasion and left for dead.
Notice also how he handled each of them.
Meanwhile, so many are fearful of just talking about their faith with the friendly next door neighbor.

Why is it that not everyone sees the truth of God's word and embraces Jesus as their Savior?
In verses 3-4, we are given the explanation.  We are not naturally the children of God.  There exists a spiritual "veil" that prevents a person from seeing the truth.  "The god of this world", Satan himself, "has blinded the minds of the unbelievers."  They either refuse to read the Bible for themselves or they look at a verse and it does not make sense to them.  Therefore, without Christ, people will pursue their own self-interests and even self-destructive behaviors.  But when a person becomes willing to know the truth, the Holy Spirit removes that veil of spiritual darkness and the light shines in their hearts.  God's word begins to make sense.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What's on your Resume?

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

The Apostle Paul had zero tolerance for false teachers.  If they attacked him, his ministry, or the message, the Holy Spirit would guide him in a forceful response every time.  Evidently, some such person(s) had influenced the Corinthian church and questioned what Paul was doing.

In 2:17, Paul began his response by indicating that he is not like those challengers who were "peddlers of God's word."  False teachers looked only to profit from these believers.  Many times, Paul had to work to support himself.  Yet, most often he depended upon the prayers and financial generosity of those to whom he ministered.  And, frequently their support lagged.

It does not require much to read between the lines in this chapter to understand the personal attacks that had been launched against him.  These same responses should be for any believer who is serving Christ.

1. His Commendations. (vv.1-3)
Paul was highly educated and trained.  After his conversion to Christ, he joined the local church in Antioch, Syria.  It was this congregation that sent him on his missionary journeys.  He could have mentioned such qualifications and more, but instead, he pointed to the results of his ministry.  The many lives in Corinth, who had been eternally changed, substantiated the veracity of his ministry far more than pieces of paper ever could.

2. His Competence. (vv.4-6)
There is no doubt about the boldness of Paul.  Was this because he was a type A personality?  Was he behaving in an arrogant manner toward the Corinthians?  No.  One who has personally experienced new life in Christ and believes in the absolute truthfulness of the word of God develops an unusual confidence.  Preachers and teachers of God's word may speak with authority.  Where does this come from?  "Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God..." (v.4)  "Since we have such a hope, we are very bold" (v.12).  But this is not self-confidence.  Nor is this the power of a dynamic personage.  Paul asked in 2:16b, "Who is sufficient for such things?"  And, in this paragraph, he explained that our sufficiency to communicate the word of God and serve with such confidence comes not from ourselves but "our sufficiency is from God."  Without dependency upon the power of the Holy Spirit, all ministry efforts will be so much empty religion.

3. His Communication. (vv.7-18)
Apparently, the false teachers were telling the Corinthian believers that they needed to obey the Old Testament Law.  After all, is not that the word of God?  Paul presented a defense of contrasts that is unmistakably clear.  The old covenant is called the law of death ("For the letter kills") because the Law only condemned and covered sin.  The new covenant in Christ "gives life."  The old covenant has been "brought to an end" (v.7), "has come to no glory at all" (v.10), and "brought to an end" (v.11a).  The new covenant has brought more glory, "permanent glory" (v.11b).  Therefore, believers in Jesus with sins forgiven have life, hope and freedom (v17).

Friday, July 15, 2016

4 insights on suffering as a Christian

Read 2 Corinthians 1.

The Apostle Paul often wrote of suffering being a part of following Christ.  To Timothy he wrote that all who desire to live a godly life will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).  Specifically, in this chapter, the hardships to which he refers are not due to our own mistakes, or the griefs that are common to all, but these sufferings are the direct result of our faith in Jesus and our obedience to Him.

Reading Hebrews 11:32-40 should give us pause.  They lived by faith and paid dearly for it.  They were faithful but "did not receive what was promised" in this life.  God has prepared something far better.  The closer we move to the culmination of this age, the spiritual war will intensify and become increasingly blatant.  Some will be killed simply because they have committed their lives to Jesus.  More often, Christians experience personal rejections and suffer relationally and emotionally for their stand on the word of God.

Knowing that those without Christ will spend an eternity in torment for sin breaks our hearts.  Knowing that Jesus is their only hope urges us to share our faith.  When a family member, close friend, or neighbor repels our loving attempts to have such a conversation, it hurts.  This is a small comparison but Paul stated, "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (v.5).  God is with us both in our sorrows and in ministering to us.

He is the "Father of mercies".  Mercy is not receiving what we justly deserve.  All mercy ultimately originates from Him.  Administering such compassion on us requires that God sees what we are going through and responds in our time of need.

He is the God of all comfort.  He comes alongside to console and provide solace to our souls.  Without suffering, there is no need to comfort us.

Here, then, are four insights on suffering as a Christian.
1. The corporate result of our comfort. (v.4)
The Bible knows nothing of a "lone ranger" follower of Christ.  Believers are actively engaged in a local church body.  One of our responsibilities is to encourage one another during times of their suffering.  We are to pass along how faithful God has been to us when we suffered, how reassuring His word is, and how confident we may be in our future hope.

2. The personal purpose in suffering. (v.9)
In a word, the spiritual purpose is dependence.  We cannot make others become believers.  We cannot fix all the world's problems.  We cannot even fix ourselves!  We must unashamedly cast our complete faith on the One who is in control.  " make us not rely on ourselves but on God" and His future plans.

3. The reminder of our hope. (v.10)
If we are not careful, our sufferings can discourage and disillusion us.  Some with insincere faith have given up hope and even stopped following Jesus.  They put their hope in this life, in temporal and/or external blessings in the present.  The true believer never puts their trust in the things of this life.  "On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again."  If not now, He will reward us later.

4. The partnership in suffering. (v.11)
We are not to suffer alone.  Not only do we believers have the Holy Spirit alongside to comfort us, but we have brothers and sisters in Christ who can pray for us.  Paul said this is a part of their "help" to him.  Then, when the answer to our prayers is realized we are able to celebrate together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

5 musts for an effective Ministry

Read 1 Corinthians 16.

The last question that Paul answered concerned their financial giving.  At issue is not their tithe but beyond in responding to a project offering.  Word had come to the Corinthians about the needs of the saints in Jerusalem.  The instruction was to collect those special funds on Sunday, when the church met, and save it up until he arrived.

Generosity is a hallmark of the Christian life.  Regular, systematic, Biblical financial support for the local church ministry should be a given for a follower of Jesus.  In addition, there are times when opportunities arise for capital expenditures or the emergency needs of others.  Such offerings are often referred to as "over and above" one's tithe.  This would include support of those in ministry outside the local church, such as Paul (v.6) and Timothy (vv.10-11).

Reading the accounts of Paul's ministry in Acts and the many spiritual, moral, and practical corrective instructions of 1 Corinthians, one understands how difficult the ministry truly is.  Opportunities?  Many.  Exciting?  Yes.  Rewarding?  Absolutely.  But it is not accomplished without the calling and empowerment of God, coupled with the strong sense of urgency and self-discipline.

Here is how Paul explained it.  "...for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." (v.9)

The adversaries were in every city; some ready to kill him.  Some adversaries were in the church, teaching false doctrines and dividing the believers.  Satan's goal is to distract and derail ministries so they lose any effectiveness in presenting the Gospel.

So, what are we to do in light of the opportunities and the adversities?  The answer is in verses 13-14.
1. Be watchful.  Do not let your guard down.  This is a spiritual war.

2. Stand firm in the faith.  Be confident in the word of God.  It is not up for debate or vote.

3. Act mature.  Immature believers are "tossed to and fro" by other teachings (Ephesians 4:14) and events.

4. Be strong.  Collaborative?  Yes.  Working well with others?  A must.  But a servant of Christ must also be resolute in their commitments.

5. Serve in love.  Paul invested the entirety of chapter 13 on this one point.  Our ministry will be ineffectual if we do not love the people we lead and serve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Is belief in the resurrection Necessary?

Read 1 Corinthians 15.

In the beginning of this letter, Paul said that the preaching of a crucified Christ seemed foolish to the thinking of the Greeks.  It was a foolish teaching and hindered some from believing in Jesus (1:23).  Now, at the end of the letter, Paul answered the disbelief of some in a resurrected Christ (15:12).  This is masterful presentation and pulls together a number of pertinent issues.

The resurrection of Jesus is not an optional doctrine.  It is core to the entire Bible.  This chapter answers a series of questions the Corinthians posed and that apply to every human being.

What is the Gospel? (vv.1-4)
The gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ is to be at the heart of all Christian communications and belief.  The Holy Spirit left no uncertainty concerning the definition.  It is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else.  There is no other Gospel.  Some have tried to substitute acts of human kindnesses for the Christian message.  Woe to those who try to add or detract from what God has made plain.

How reliable is this message? (vv.5-11)
First, the payment and proof of our sins was all in accordance with the prophecies of Scripture.  Genesis 3 and Isaiah 53 are two good examples.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Messiah should have been no surprise.  Next, Jesus showed Himself alive to hundreds of different people in various locations over a forty day period.  Dr. Luke called these appearances "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3, KJV).  Then, quite some time later, Jesus personally appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Paul) (Acts 9).  In a court of law, two or three witnesses would have been sufficient.  In verse 20, Paul calls the resurrection of Jesus a "fact."

Exhibit "A" as to the veracity and the power of the Gospel is the Apostle Paul.  In verses 9-11, he shared part of his own story.  He persecuted believers in Jesus, arresting, punishing, and even oversaw the execution of some.  Yet, on that day when he experienced a personal encounter with Jesus, it changed his life forever.  His salvation was by the grace of God, not as the result of anything Paul was or did.  "....his grace toward me was not in vain."

What has this got to do with me? (vv.12-19)
It is by personal belief in this message that one receives forgiveness of sin, escapes the eternal punishment for sin, enjoys acceptance into the family of God, and has eternal life.  However, if the resurrection is not true, Christians believe "in vain" (v.2), preaching is "in vain" (v.14a), our faith is "in vain" (v.14b), and all work done in the name of Jesus is "in vain" (v.58).  Emptiness.  Going through the motions of religiosity.  Of no real value.

 And, we have no hope of the future.  "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (v.19)  The remainder of this chapter teaches how the resurrection of Jesus (and us) is the basis of our hope in the future: the second coming of Christ (v.23), the establishment of His kingdom (v.24), His reign on earth (v.25), the end of death itself (v.26), and our immortality (v.53).

In the meantime:
1."Wake up!" (v.34)  Why?  "For some do not have the knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame."  It is to the shame of every believer that there are those who do not know the truth and many in the world who have never heard the good news.  Accountability.
2. Go to work! (v.58)  Find a place where God can use you to have a part in spreading this knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus.  Responsibility.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The purpose of spiritual Gifts

 Read 1 Corinthians 14.

The Corinthians were spiritually immature and confused in their faith (v.20).  The Holy Spirit moved upon the Apostle Paul to address the needed corrective issues and to answer their questions.  This is the third chapter in which the use and abuse of spiritual gifts are addressed.  In chapter 12, we read the basics concerning spiritual gifts.  In chapter 13, loving the people to whom one ministers their gift must be the priority.  Here, the purpose of the gifts is underscored.

Not only was the congregation in confusion but so were their church services.  They had become so enamored with "manifestations of the Spirit" (v.12) that, evidently, when they met together chaos broke out.  The reason God gave them such abilities was missed.  The purpose of all spiritual gifts is this: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (12:7).  The root problem, as with most of the issues in this church, was self-centeredness.  The gifts were being high-jacked for some personal benefit, instead of using what God gave them to build up the faith of others.  This is repeated throughout chapter 14.

Therefore, communication in the church must be clear and understood by all.  Otherwise, there is no value others (v.16), only self-expression (v.4).  The proclamation of the word of God in the native language, or with the interpretation of a foreign language, not only edifies the believers but an unbeliever "is convicted...and will worship God..." (vv.24-25).

Speaking in tongues is first mentioned in Acts 2.  People from many nations were in Jerusalem for the annual feast days of Passover and Pentecost.  God empowered some followers of Jesus with the ability to speak in languages they had never studied.  Those present said, "...we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11).   As the pilgrims returned home, the gospel quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire.  Corinth was a major seaport for trade in the empire.  People from many different nations were coming and going in the city.  Presenting the gospel of Jesus and teaching the word of God in that context had some challenges.  Supernatural help with languages was needed for the ministry to foreigners (v.22).  Note how many times they are referred to in this chapter.

As stated in chapter 12, not everyone has the same gifts (12:29-30).  Verse 5 should not be misunderstood.  This desire that all should speak in tongues is the same statement Paul made concerning celibacy in 7:7.  No one thinks God wants everyone to be unmarried.  Further, as is explained, the only benefit of speaking in tongues is for all to understand what was said.  If no one is present who is equally gifted in interpreting, then the person is to remain silent (v.28).  If that qualification is met, then only two or three may speak, each taking a proper turn.  This along with the other elements of worship mentioned in verse 26, are to be conducted "decently and in order" (vv.32 and 40).

Keep in mind that in those days the church did not have a New Testament to confirm what was being taught.  All communications, then, were subject to the confirmation of the other preachers for veracity (v.32).  With the completion of the New Testament, all believers may check the truthfulness of a message for themselves to see if it is from God or not.  Also, remember the Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself.  Jesus said, "He will glorify me" (John 16:14).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The priority of Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13.

Chapters 12-14 are answering questions the Corinthians asked concerning spiritual gifts.  In chapter 12, the Apostle Paul laid out the basics.  Every believer has a spiritual gift and it is to be employed for the benefit of others.  The proper working of each part of the church in using that gift is necessary for the health of the body.  Though some may be more visible than others, all are of equal value.

But there is an overriding requirement for one using their gift.  Without genuine, sacrificial love (agape) for those to whom one in ministering, the gift is of no spiritual value.

1. The categories of the gifts. (vv.1-3)
The list of gifts is often categorized into three groups: sign gifts, speaking gifts, and serving gifts.  In verses 1-3, Paul used an example from each category and proclaimed that unless they are properly used with the motive of love for the recipients each would amount to nothing.  A spiritually effective teacher first must love those learners.  One who serves must do so with love for those being served.  Otherwise, it amounts to nothing more than what an unbeliever might do.

2. The characteristics of love. (vv.4-7)
What is love?  Fourteen practical characteristics are provided here.  Note that seven of them are positive traits, while the remaining seven are stated negatively.

3. The continuation of love. (vv.8-13)
Further, it is explained that all spiritual gifts are temporal, even incomplete.  A point will be reached when they will no longer be needed.  But for now in our service for Christ we have faith, hope and love.  And, "Love never ends."

Why is love the greatest?
One day we will no longer need faith.  Our faith will become sight.
One day we will no longer need hope.  Our hope will become reality.
But forever we will love and be loved by the One who "loved us and gave himself up for us." (Ephesians 5:2)

Friday, July 8, 2016

The ABC's of Spiritual Gifts

Read 1 Corinthians 12.

The next question raised by the Corinthians had to do with spiritual gifts.  The congregation was confused and divided, even believing that some gifts were valuable and others not so much.  Too often we may get sidetracked by the list of gifts in this chapter and miss the basic instructions.

What is the source of all spiritual gifts?
In verses 4-6, it is the same Holy Spirit, Lord and God.  The Trinity endues and empowers the believer with such spiritual ability to serve Him effectively.  This is not be confused with natural talent, personality, or ability.

How does a believer obtain a spiritual gift?
As a gift, it is received.  There is nothing a believer can do to earn it.  The Holy Spirit sovereignly "apportions to each one individually as he wills" (v.11).

Why are we given a spiritual gift?
Verse 7 is clear.  We are to use what God has given to us "for the common good."  A spiritual gift is not for personal benefit.  It is to be employed in the ministry to others.

In explaining what this looks like, the Apostle Paul compared the church to a human body with all its many parts.

1. There is great diversity. (vv.4-6)
Not only are there varieties of gifts but there are various ministries by which these gifts may be employed by individuals.  Not only are there many different ministries but the specific activities of those ministries will vary greatly.  Not every believer has the same gift.  Not every believer has the same calling to serve.  Not every believer uses their gift in the same way.  Expecting all believers to behave the same manner and use their gifts all alike is the opposite of what the Holy Spirit intends.

2. There is to be great unity. (vv.12-13, 25a)
Diversity does not mean divisiveness.  We are one in Christ on the same mission.  There is no room for boasting since we did nothing to receive what we have.  Humility before God and fellow believers recognizes what we do not have.  For a body to be healthy, each of the parts comprises a whole, works together, and needs each other.

3. There is great responsibility. (vv.25b-26)
We are responsible to use our gifts to serve and care for one another.  Preachers and Teachers are not gifted to puff up their knowledge, nor to provide a platform for a personality, but to help others understand the word of God.  Those with serving gifts are not to be known merely for their willing and tender hearts but their tireless activities of helping others in practical ways.  In the church, people must know each other and be involved with each other in order to obey these two verses.  Church is not a spectator sport.

JOY comes when a person realizes what God has given them and uses it for His glory.
Y-you will desire it.
O-others will recognize it in you.
J-Jesus will bless it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When rituals are not Right

Read 1 Corinthians 11.

When the Apostle Paul planted the local church at Corinth, he taught them certain practices of the faith (v.2).  One of them was to celebrate what is now called the Lord's Supper, or Communion.  It is a reenactment of what Jesus did and said in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion.  Such a regular presentation should take us back to the high price that was paid for our sin on the cross.  "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:22)  "...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26b)

Evidently, the congregation maintained the event on the calendar but totally missed the reason why.  They practiced a ritual, went through the motions, and violated the very meaning of it all.  They indeed sinned against others by their behaviors and sinned against God by their lack of confession to Him.  Any Christian practice without a changed life becomes an empty, meaningless ritual of no value.

The word communion speaks of community and unity.  The Corinthians were divided.  Those who were under-resourced left the service feeling humiliated (v.22).  As a result, some of the offenders experienced the immediate judgment of God when they became physically sick and some died (v.30).

What are we to do?
"Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (v.28)
The process begins with self-examination before the Lord.  Is there any sin I need to confess and make right with God?  Is there anything between me and another person that I need to make right?  In the context concerning giving, Jesus said "...if your brother has something against you....First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)

What are we to be celebrating?
1. The past foundation of our faith.
"Do this in remembrance of me."  Take time to reflect and remember what Jesus did on the cross.  The unleavened bread represents the body of Jesus.  The cup represents His shed blood.  He paid a debt He did not owe.  We owed a debt we could not pay.  This is, perhaps, the most solemn and sobering practice of the Christian church.

2. The present proclamation of our faith.
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death..."
We not only look back, but we celebrate how our personal acceptance of that payment on the cross has changed our lives forever.  It is the good news of God.  As Paul explains in chapter 15, the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

3. The future glorification of our faith.
" proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."  Jesus is coming back, just as He said.  It will be a visible, physical, powerful return to this earth.  He will put down His enemies and establish His earthly kingdom.  We will "reign with him for a thousand years" (Revelation 19:6).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Is the Bible relevant to 21st century Culture?

Read 1 Corinthians 10.

Chapter 10 concludes Paul's long answer to their questions concerning Christian freedoms.  We believers have liberty because faith in Christ has cleansed our consciences.  But it is never right to sin against God or other person.  Twice (v.6, v.11) we are told that the accounts in the Old Testament are there for our examples.  By studying those stories and teaching them, we learn timeless principles about God and how He works with people.

When someone makes a statement (as some do today) that Paul did not understand human nature and the culture of the 21st Century, they obviously have never read 1 Corinthians as the word of God.  They dismiss Paul at their own peril.  The same Holy Spirit who was there at the Creation and the Exodus is the One who guided and inspired the Apostle in this writing.

Verse 6 states that we are not to "desire evil."  What exactly constitutes evil behavior?  Previously, in. 6:9-10, a partial list is given.  Here, some of the sinful behaviors of the Exodus are listed.

1. Idolatry.  Everyone worships.  Even a so-called Atheist worships and obeys his own ego and some man-made philosophy.  Replacing the God of Heaven and failing to obey Him alone is the sin of idolatry.  The God of Bible is a jealous God and will not share His glory with anyone or anything else.

2. Sexual immorality.  As clearly explained in chapter 7, sex is to be enjoyed between one man and one woman within a lifelong commitment of marriage.  All other sexual involvements are blatant sins and fall under the judgment of God.

3. Putting Christ to the test.  Pride causes a person to believe they know better than God.  This results in making decisions that violate what God has said.  A sin-filled heart thinks the Lord will not do anything in response.  The Old Testament demonstrates how God may respond.

4, Grumbling.  The Israelites complained about how God led them and the leaders He had appointed over them.  Further, they gripped about what God had provided for them every day.  Their attitudes turned to rebellion.  The Lord does know our thoughts and hears our words.

Such temptations are common to all of us (v.13).  It is hubris for one to say they are not tempted to sin and somehow they live above it all.  Note the word "therefore".
"Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." (v.12)
"Therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry." (v.14)

Take heed.  Be consciously aware of the temptation.  Then, flee.  "God is faithful" and "will also provide the way of escape."  But we must be looking for the way and take it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How to finish Well

Read 1 Corinthians 9.

For several chapters, the Apostle Paul addressed the issue of personal liberties and rights.  Each time the one who is stronger, more experienced, or more mature in the faith is to limit their freedoms for the sake of the weaker believer.  The reasons we would do that is so not to offend or put an obstacle in the path of the other person's walk with Christ.  We have a responsibility to protect our personal testimony and our example of being a true believer in Jesus.

Therefore, according to 8:12-13, we must be considerate in all things that we do.  Otherwise, we may actually sin against another person.

Paul wrote of even limiting his rights as an Apostle.  The case in point here is his right to financial support from the ministry.  He cited multiple examples of how natural and Biblical it is for the minister to be paid for his services.  But, in this case, "I have made no use of any of these rights." (v.15a)

Why would a person voluntarily reel in their freedoms and rights like this?  The answer lies in a person's understanding and commitment to why they are here on earth.  A temporal minded person lives to get all they can for themselves, taking advantage of every opportunity for that goal.  A follower of Christ has an eternal view of life.  We live with the knowledge that our days here are brief.  Therefore, we must live fixed on the real priorities.  Everyone will spend eternity in heaven or hell, depending upon their response to Jesus.  Life's true goal, then, is to live for Christ and take as many people with us as possible.  "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all that I might win more of them." (v.19)

To illustrate this fixed mind-set, the Holy Spirit had Paul compare life to a race.  Races are timed events.  There is a starting line and a finish line.  What does it take to finish well?  Notice the key elements mentioned in verses 24-27.
1. It begins with a Personal Decision.
No one can make this decision for another.  The runner must decide to get into the race and join the team.  One must commit themselves as to why they are doing this.  When a person realizes that they are eternally doomed and that Jesus paid the full and final payment for their deliverance, God's love constrains us to live for Him.

2. It requires Personal Discipline.
"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things."  Do we have freedom and rights?  Yes.  But the runner limits those things in order to run this race.  "I discipline my body and keep it under control."  To finish well, the runner is careful about what he allows in his body and mind.  He maintains a regimen of exercise.  A believer has spiritual disciplines for daily growth.  A runner cannot hope to finish well without such disciplines.

3. It fears Personal Disqualification.
A runner who violates the regulations of the race is removed from participation.  They are still on the team, but they may end up sitting on the bench.  Who does this disqualifying?  We do.  There are no short cuts, no cheating, and no excuses allowed.  The runner for Jesus is fixed on the finish line.  There are rewards awaiting and the Savior wants to be able to say, "Well done!"

Friday, July 1, 2016

Father, may I?

Read 1 Corinthians 8.

The Apostle Paul continued to answer the questions the Corinthians had asked.  This chapter deals with a cultural issue by utilizing several universal principles of God's word.

Corinth was an important port city of Greece.  As a metropolitan center in the Roman Empire, the spiritual beliefs were multitudinous.  On one hand, the Greeks worshipped the pantheon of gods and the Romans added their own group of deities.  At issue was the meat that had been offered to these false gods and whether it was acceptable for a follower of Christ to eat it.  The congregation chose up sides to debate the subject, but Paul presented three important points to bring unity.

1. True Humility. (vv.1-3)
Whenever there is a debate, one side always thinks they know better than the other side.  Most often, at the root of such thinking is pride.  Selfish pride causes a person to demand their rights, creates arguments, and results in divisions.  "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7).  Admitting one does not know everything, and that God does, was the starting point of Paul's instruction.

2. True Theology. (vv.4-6)
The Apostle sets the record straight.  All the so-called gods of the Greeks and Romans were man-made figments of imagination.  Carved images and philosophies of multiple deities possess absolutely no spiritual power at all, period!  There is one God.  In a quick lesson in theology, Paul presented the true God of Heaven in this way:
-"From whom are all things."  He is the Creator.  Concerning Jesus, Paul wrote, "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible..." (Colossians 1:16a)  This answers the ultimate question of where we came from.
-"For whom we exist."  As Creator, this one true God has the claim of ownership.  Everything and everyone belongs to Him.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of each human to live to please the Owner of all things.
-"And one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."  "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."  Jesus is not only the Creator, but the Sustainer of the universe, including us.
There is no other God than this One.

3. True Reality. (vv.7-12)
Every person who comes to faith in Christ brings with them a particular baggage of experiences and influences.  In this case, many who were saved out of paganism abhorred the thought of eating the meat that they once used in celebration to a false god.  It took them back to their sinful days.  Others in the church did not maintain such qualms.  It was merely meat and contained no spiritual attributes.  Both views seemed very real each person.

Notice the resolve.  The one who is not bothered by the problem is admonished in the strongest of terms to limit their freedom for the sake of the weaker brother.  Openly using personal freedoms to the offence of another person is called sin; not only against the brother but against Christ!  This principle may be applied to many activities and practices in various cultures.

"Therefore..."  The point is that a mature believer understands their accountability to others and protects their testimony for Christ.  Never does a mature believer want to do anything to cause another person spiritual harm.