April 5 – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Saturday, April 5, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 – Boast in the Lord

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

Sometimes it's easy to believe that God called us because we have a special gift or a talent. The thing is … God calls us in spite of what we believe to be our gifts and talents.

The church in Corinth was a mess. They were splitting apart and Paul has only begun to discuss their failings. There weren't very many wise or powerful people among them and that was exactly Paul's point.

The call that God places on our lives has absolutely nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with God. It is God who initiates salvation and it is God who puts us to work. Everything that we do on our own is foolishness and when we choose to work without being in God's will, we can never have any confidence that plans will succeed.

God chose the foolish and the weak, the low and despised so that no one could boast in themselves. It is so easy for us to desire to see ourselves as important in the kingdom of God, when in reality, He wants us to become nothing so that the only one who receives praise is God.

It is because of God that we have salvation … righteousness, sanctification and redemption. We have received that through Jesus Christ, not because of anything that we have done or because of how talented or gifted we are.

God chooses the foolish, the weak, the low and despised. That's hard for us to understand and even harder for us to accept. When we boast, we can only boast in the Lord.

April 4 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Friday, April 4, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – Christ is God's Wisdom and Power

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 

         “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”  

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Much as we have today, the Corinthian Christians were more apt to trust in the wisdom of those around them than they were in that of God. This was part of the reason for all of the dissension in their community. They played games just like the political games that were happening in the city.

It is interesting, but as I read through this passage, I find that today's culture is quite similar to that of the Greeks … and of so many others throughout history. Paul was speaking to the Corinthians, but these words are so desperately applicable today … especially to Christians.

In Greece, the individual's pursuit of intellect and strength was valued above nearly anything else. They spent time discussing intellectual pursuits and when they took time off from that, they pursued physical greatness. If they had lived in the 21st century, they would have developed faster computers so they could spend time at the gymnasium. Sound familiar?

But the cross of Christ, the power of the resurrection was seen as foolishness to the outside world and to those who believed, they recognized it for what it was – the power of God.

The message of salvation is impossible to understand for those who look for it in their learned wisdom. You can't understand it by becoming more and more educated or by looking at it from a philosophical standpoint. The world doesn't come to know God through wisdom … it is the simple message that draws humanity to God. It is a very simple message … the Gospel … Christ crucified. The Jews couldn't understand it and Gentiles saw it as foolishness.

To those who believed … to those who believe today, this simple message is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.

April 3 – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Thursday, April 3, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 – Division

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Christian communities are often easily divided. We take sides based on what we believe to be true and who we believe to be the best representative of those things with which we agree. In some churches it is a building campaign that creates division, in some churches it is the style of worship. Other times it is the way money is or is not being spent, and sometimes it is about what the pastor preaches on any given Sunday. Maybe it's the pastor's family or the color of carpet being put down in the foyer. It could be a new sound system or refurbishing the education wing. The pianist plays too loudly on Sunday mornings or the high school Sunday School class is too noisy in their classroom.

There is always something in place which will bring about division and separation and Paul reminds the readers of this letter of the importance of unity. For the sake of Jesus Christ, the things that we say to each other outside the church is of utmost importance. We should be in unity so that people are drawn to Jesus. Chaos among the community of believers is never a good evangelical tool, even if we believe that we are justified in our words and actions. We are never justified if we portray Jesus Christ to the world in a bad light.

As important as that is the need for there to be no division among Christ's church. In the Corinthian church, people were taking sides against each other by proclaiming that they followed different leaders. The most self-righteous of them disclaimed Paul, Apollos and Peter by claiming that they only followed Jesus.

Paul speaks to the absurdity of the divisions in the church at Corinth. He is not responsible for their salvation. He is not their savior. Baptism was not what he did, he came only to preach the gospel. Everything Paul did pointed to the cross of Christ and for the Corinthians to reduce that to political camps disgusted him.

April 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – Thanksgiving

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul tells the Corinthians that he always thanks God for them. In other words, he didn't simply sit down to write a letter to them and all of a sudden spend a few moments in prayer. His love for the people of the Church continuously brings them to mind. As we dig further into this letter and see how much the church in Corinth has misunderstood the gifts they have received from God, it might seem odd that Paul is so thankful, but he goes on to explain that it is because of God's grace given to them in Jesus, not their goodness or lack thereof.

In each verse of this passage, the name of Jesus is lifted up (in verse 5, it is simply the pronoun 'him'). Through Jesus, God has given, enriched, confirmed, sustained and called. It is in Christ Jesus that Christians are in fellowship with each other and with God.

The wealth of Corinth was extraordinary and in this salutation, Paul begins by telling his readers that they are made rich in Jesus Christ. This is very different from what they would experience as part of their every day lives. When the focus is on ever-increasing wealth, Paul diverts it, telling the Corinthian church that the spiritual gifts fill their lives.  They are eloquent (all kinds of speech) and have great spiritual insight (all knowledge). The spiritual wealth poured out on them by God far outweighs the material wealth they know so well.

On the other hand, Paul is about to teach them about the misuse of their spiritual wealth. They have been given great gifts in order to build up the community of faith, but many used those as weapons, rather than mediating them with love.

God called the people of Corinth and gave them grace. He sustained them as they waited for the coming of Jesus and promises to keep them to the end. God is faithful. He will complete the work that he began in each of them … and in each of us.

April 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 – Greeting

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies himself in this letter much as he did in his letter to the Romans by identifying himself as an apostle called by God. He was not called by any church or by any person, but his work is done by the will of God. This is an incredible burden that he has accepted. There is no room for personal ambition or a worldly agenda. It is God's will that causes Paul to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is all-encompassing and all-important.

Sosthenes shows up in Acts 18:12-17. He was the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth and was seized and beaten in the presence of Gallio, the Roman governor because he refused to move against Paul, even though the Jews brought Paul in front of a tribunal for his teaching. Paul calls him a brother now. Sosthenes became a convert to Christianity.

Corinth was a wealthy city. Legend tells us that this was where Jason's Argo was built. It was destroyed in 146 B.C., but because of its location on an isthmus that connected Greece to the Peloponnesus, Julius Caesar rebuilt it in 46 B.C. and soon became one of the greatest cities in Greece. It was a commercial hub; bringing in trade from the north, south, east and the west. Its population was quite mixed and was very cosmopolitan.

The Temple of Aphrodite was located in Corinth; one thousand sacred prostitutes worked from there. It is said that every person in Greece knew what a Corinthian girl was; the city was known for debauchery and depravity. Sin prevailed in this city and Paul's letter on holiness seems quite necessary and appropriate.

Paul came to Corinth on his second missionary journey. We read of his time here and the founding of the church from the home of Aquila and Priscilla and from the local synagogue in Acts 18:1-17. Paul stood in that synagogue and taught of Jesus as the Messiah. When he was forced out of the synagogue, he simply moved next door to the home of Titus Justus and continued to preach. At the end of 18 months, he finished in Corinth and returned to Jerusalem.

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans while staying in Corinth, but this letter was written while he was in Ephesus, probably about A.D. 55.  This church is on the front lines and Paul writes to them as a teacher; one who cares very much for them. He offers practical ways to act as the Church in the midst of sin.

March 31 - 2 Peter 3:14-18

Monday, March 31, 2014

2 Peter 3:14-18 – Grow in Grace

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Peter uses the phrase "make every effort" several times in his letters. This is an intense effort … made with haste and with zeal. Sometimes I believe we would all understand scripture better if we had a clear understanding of the power behind the Greek text, because there are so many possibilities that open up once you read the author's words, rather than an English translation. Other times, the translation is helpful because it lends hundreds of years of scholarship to a particularly difficult interpretation.

However, when we read 'make every effort,' we skip over it. There isn't much impact. But Peter wants us to be zealous about holiness. He urges us to hurry and push forward to a life that finds us to be spotless, blameless and at peace with God. It isn't something to put off until tomorrow or until we die.

In the time of Constantine, baptism wasn't performed on a person until they were close to death because it was believed that if you were to sin after having been baptized, you would never be able to return to a life of holiness. The problem with that thinking was that a person could live as they wished throughout their lives and then be cleansed of all their sin when death approached. They didn't read scripture with quite the same interpretation that we do today. Peter tells us that we are to live in holiness right now and with great zeal.

Peter's quick comment regarding the letters of Paul is actually quite exciting to historians. This does tell us that Paul's letters were circulated throughout the churches. Paul writes to the church at Colossae, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea" (Colossians 4:16). Paul asked that his letters be shared, but this is the first piece of solid evidence that those letters were shared and that the early Church was building itself on the work of the people who were spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We all know that there are people who will never understand our passion for scripture or for the message of God's saving grace. Peter admonishes us to not get caught up in that, but to hold on to that message for our own stability. Be on your guard.

And grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. John 17:3 says, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" and Paul writes to the Ephesians: "…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him" (Ephesians 1:17).

Peter opened this letter by saying, "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (2 Peter 1:2).

Growing in grace binds us in the relationship we have with God. Growing in knowledge of Jesus is absolutely essential for us to live as Christians.

March 30 - 2 Peter 3:8-13

2 Peter 3:8-13 – The Day is Coming

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.  

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

Quoting from Psalm 90:4, Peter responds to those who mock the delay of Christ's return. God's perspective is quite different from anything a person could ever understand. He sees time through the lens of eternity, we see only by the limitations of our own short years. Even the grand scheme of history is but a moment in the vast panoramic timeline that God knows. We must not presume to understand what God will do and when He will do it.

To those same mockers, Peter reminds us of God's grace toward humanity. He is exceedingly patient with us.

"The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness," (Exodus 34:6)

"The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression" (Numbers 14:18).

"But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15).

"Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4)

When the Lord returns, his anger will finally destroy sin, no matter the form that it takes. This is why He takes the time that He takes … He wants everyone to find repentance. He has boundless patience.

Peter then offers a challenge to all of us. Knowing that complete destruction … dissolution … is coming, he asks what type of people ought we be?  Since God comes to destroy sin – we should live holy and righteous … godly lives.

Holiness – remaining separate from evil, dedicating ourselves to God. Godliness includes worship.

We are to remain holy and godly … praying for the coming day of God, not because of destruction of sin, but because we are waiting for the new heavens and a new earth.

Do you pray for the Lord's return?