Jeremiah 1:4-12 "Living Witness"

1 Corinthians 12 – Spiritual Gifts

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The manifestation of Spiritual Gifts like speaking in tongues or prophetic words is, sadly, not something that is very prominent in the denomination that I come from.  In fact, in western culture, these types of things aren’t very prominent at all.  Yet they are a part of the Christian life.  We should not be quick to dismiss such things when they happen.  Neither should we accept them wholesale when things may be in question.

Paul addresses this issue likely because of troubles that arose from the crossover between a person’s life before they put their faith in Jesus Christ and now experiencing the new life that He offers them.  Such “spiritual” utterances were not uncommon in the cultic worship of other gods, however their purpose in the body of Christ is significantly different.

Whereas those who exhibited such gifts in pagan worship were thought to be somehow “superior,” and so could abuse that status, here Paul places the use of these gifts within the body of Christ for the purpose of building up the church.  Like all of what he has been talking about, these too are a part of our freedom in Christ which is always used in consideration of the other.  All gifts, no matter what they are, were meant for edification and building up, not self promotion.

This too is why Paul urges them to desire the “greater” gifts, not necessarily the ones that create a large public display drawing attention to one’s self.

Again, like Paul has continually said, the life of Christ and those included in it is firmly rooted in consideration for others; humble service that is rooted in love.  Paul will talk about gifts and worship again in chapter 14, a bookend to what he calls “the most excelent way,” which is that of deep love for one another as Christ loves them.

1 Corinthians 11 – Continuing Corrections

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Paul appears to shift focus in chapter 11, but he is not moving away from the continuing thought of avoiding bringing shame on the community which would damage the message of the Gospel.

In that light, he begins to address some of the issues that the church in Corinth was dealing with.  The first section, on the proper dress and appropriate place of women in worship, is hard to read for us 2000 years later.  Not only are our cultural contexts different, but we also are missing a piece of the puzzle: what issue is Paul actually addressing here?

A lot of what he is saying, though, comes from the continuing notion of not using Christian freedom in a way that jeopardizes or damages others.  Paul uses language of both dependence of both man and woman, and also mutual independence, perhaps leading to an understanding that it is about more than just “myself” and “my body” at stake here.  We always must consider others in our freedom and not use it to cause them to fall into sin.

What is acknowledged here is that sexuality is a real thing.  Long hair has often been a sign of status, of sexuality, and could even be considered a “private part” in that culture.  Is a woman free to wear her hair the way she wants?  Certainly!  Could doing so, both then and now, perhaps cause men to fall into temptation?  Yes.  Is that her fault?  Definitely not.  Paul is asking for her consideration of her weaker brothers in the same way he encourages people to stay away from eating food offered to idols in previous chapters.

The same is true with the Lord’s Supper discourse.  Likely what was happening was a deepening of socio-economic divides within the church.  Those who were rich and did not have to work would go ahead and begin the meal while the “blue collar” workers would come in later and find the food and drink gone.  This is clearly contrary to many, if not all, of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper.  It is meant to bring unity, not division.  Paul encourages them to check their hearts here.  Are there systems in place that cause divisions among believers?

While some of these words are difficult to read and place into a contemporary context, they are important.  In a culture where “my rights” and “my desires” are so often placed ahead of everyone else, Paul reminds us once again that the freedom we are blessed with in Christ is not for our own benefit, but to be used in the loving, humble consideration and service of all we encounter.

1 Corinthians 10 – Israel's Messed Up Freedom

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As Paul continues his thoughts on Christian freedom, he appeals to the example that is set by Israel’s failures in the past.  While they had the law, their ultimate calling and identity was to be about loving God and loving each other.  All of what they did and what they were was to point to the coming Messiah, something that Paul shows here.  They, however, thought that they were doing right, that they were standing firm, and were deceived and paid the price for it.

While things are different now, in the age of grace rather than the bondage of the law, our response doesn’t change.  We are still called to love God and love each other as well as to live a transformed life.

Therefore, Paul says, flee from idolatry.  What does this mean for us?  Paul is calling Christians to live into their transformed life.  Yes, you have freedom in Christ and forgiveness through grace, but that shouldn’t be a ticket to do whatever you want.  Not everything is life is beneficial to us.

I often liken his comments about food and idols to TV shows.  Are we free to watch whatever we want?  Sure, and we often do.  There are a couple that I would struggle to give up if I was told to.  Does this mean that they are beneficial to me?  No in the slightest.  In fact, they may even be footholds for temptation.  Whether violence and hostility or sexual images, these things can cause great harm to us and potentially to those with us as well.

So often I find myself encouraging people to watch this or that show.  Rarely to I take into account what that person may be going through or dealing with in their lives.  Paul implores us to not cause anyone to stumble once again reminding us that our freedom is not to be used to our own advantage, but rather in the humble, loving, Christ-like service of others.

1 Corinthians 9 – All Things to All People

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Over the last several chapters, as Paul has been addressing specific issues, whether we realized it or not, he has been maintaining the same two themes: appropriate use of Christian freedom, and not being a hindrance to the message of the Gospel.  Now, in chapter 9, he brings it full circle.

Paul points to his own position as one that would offer him a profound amount of freedom.  In fact, understanding the full scope of his freedom could have allowed Paul the excuse to act however he wanted, say whatever he wanted, and most of all, refuse the deplorable conditions that he faced whenever he wanted.

Instead, Paul models the attitude and actions of Christ, not using his freedom for self-indulgence but “becoming all things to all people” in order that the message of the Gospel may advance.  This doesn’t mean that Paul subjected himself to their rules, though he wasn’t under the law, but he respected them for the sake of the spread of the Gospel.

Now, this may sound simple on paper, but Paul points out that it isn’t.  This posture of service and self-denial is not one that comes naturally to anyone.  It takes training and self-discipline far beyond any normal or natural behavior that we may exhibit.

I often think of the mission trips that I have been on.  Places that we went to went to extraordinary lengths to make accommodations for us middle-class kids.  We were there, in a foreign place with a foreign culture, but we were never really there… we always had water, food, and air mattresses to sleep on.  I often wonder how our creature comforts may have impacted the message of love that we came to bring.

What about your neighbors?  Does the way you act / live impact your witness to them?  If we are called to use our freedom to serve one another in love, what does that mean for how we live at home?  At work?

1 Corinthians 8 – Puffed Up

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Reading the middle section of 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to meander through issues in a scatterbrained sort of way.  He’s here and there and back again without any seemingly logical progression.  However, if we take a step back and look at the whole of this section, the same theme continues throughout: “Don’t let the way you act diminish the message of the Gospel.”  Sometimes he talks about this in reference to “outsiders,” here it is in reference to conduct with other believers.

Sacrificing food to idols is archaic practice if ever there was one.  I think this is why Paul frames this in terms of knowledge, not the act itself.  The reality is, in every Christian community, there are those that understand and embrace the freedom that Christ offers and those that are still working that out.  Those that have “knowledge,” meaning they understand the freedom they have, must temper how the act on it so as not to hurt others.  In this instance, some people may know that food sacrificed to a false god that doesn’t exist is fine to eat.  Yet younger Christians who may still be working that out could find it offensive… or perhaps even a temptation to fall back into their former sinful life.

Perhaps a more contemporary example would be the idea that drinking alcohol is not a sinful act.  However, expressing our freedom by drinking alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic causing him/her to fall back into that addiction is wrong, the very opposite of Christ’s call to love.

Christian freedom is always express in love and concern for others.  Knowledge is always expressed through the wisdom of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us use our knowledge to build others up… not to boast and be puffed up.

1 Corinthians 7 – #marriedlife

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Paul would seem ill-equipped to talk about being married, having never been so himself.  In fact, he states often that he sees his position as being better than actually being married.  It is important to understand that Paul is not setting up an argument for people to not get married, or even to get divorced.  Rather, he is continuing in the same line of thinking that he has been for the past two chapters, to stay away from sinning and thus damaging the witness of the church and the message of the Gospel.

All of this is coming in response to the information that Paul heard about the actions of the corinthian church.  Rather than being set apart for the Gospel, as those who believe in Jesus Christ are called to be, they have been behaving in ways that not only damage the witness of the believers but are also detestable to outsiders as well.

His tone also indicates that his greatest desire for believers is to be dedicated to the ministry of the Gospel, having their lives set apart for God and their focus placed solely on Him.  Simply put, Paul says that this is significantly easier for those who are not married.  That said, he also recognizes that being perpetually single is not for everyone.

No matter where we find ourselves in life, there will be trials and difficulties that will come our way.  Being single, or married for that matter, doesn’t change that; neither is a sin.  Paul’s desire for them, though, is that their priorities would be kept straight and that God would be at the center of their lives.  When this happens, even those that are married to unbelieving spouses will see the impact of God’s love and grace on those they love.

1 Corinthians 6 – Going Outside

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It seems like Paul suddenly changes the subject here, moving from sexual immorality to dealing with lawsuits of believers against each other.  However, we will return to that, incorporating all of this together into one overarching subject: How is our conduct impacting our witness?

This is an important question, not because we need to pretend that we have it all together, but because it forces us to examine what we do in and outside of the church.  Do those things damage the message of the Gospel?

In the time that Paul was writing, lawsuits were not simple legal affairs.  There was some significant corruption that plagued the legal system and much of the injustice that took place happens on class-specific lines.  Those who could afford to could buy the verdicts they wanted while the poorer people were left in continual oppression.  When we look at the Gospel message, this sort of class discrimination is completely wrong.

When Paul returns to the subject of sexual immorality, amongst other sins, he draws his warnings about lawsuits into this to again pose the question: Are the things that we are doing damaging our ability to spread the Gospel?  When public perception of the church makes people question the message of the Gospel that we uphold, it should give us pause.

Paul draws this all together in verse 12.  The Corinthian church was pretty free with what it was allowing and even endorsing as acceptable behavior for its constituents.  Ultimately, though, the problem is not behavioral but rather is a weakness in their identity and beliefs.  They are not living into their new identity in Christ and are misunderstanding the freedom that is offered them through His grace.  How does your community view your church?  Is that helping or hindering the Gospel message?

1 Corinthians 5 – Are you Proud?

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Paul warns his audience at the end of chapter 4 that, should the not change, he would be coming to them with a “rod of discipline.”  Here begins some of the reasoning for the need of that rod.  As we move forward here, it is important for us to recognize that Paul is covering some difficult topics, made more difficult by the current cultural trends that are taking place in the world today.  Yet, despite their difficulty, Paul is able to speak both sternly and lovingly at the same time.  This too is the posture that we, the church, should be taking, never losing sight of our continual call to love others as God has loved us.

The presence of sexual immorality in the city of Corinth was not unusual.  In fact, it was quite common.  But the presence of it, and more importantly, the acceptance of it within the church community, was completely out of line.  Paul points out that sin this extreme would not have even been accepted by those outside of the church and yet the people in there were proud.

For Him, this was a blatant abuse of the understanding of Christian Freedom and a total affront to the Gospel.  Why?  Because of the type of sin?  No.  Scripture is quite clear that no one sin is worse than another.  The issue here comes in the pride that has led to more sin rather than transformation in Christ.  Jesus’ call was to “go and sin no more,” and instead, these folks were basking in it.

One thing to note at the end here as well: Paul’s words about judgment are directly pointed toward us as Christians holding each other accountable.  This does not place us in the seat of judgment for others but instead is a call to build each other up.

**One other thing: It is important to note here the way in which Paul talks about Christian discipline.  Yes, he uses words that seem harsh: “Hand this man over to Satan…”  However, the tone of that whole statement is ultimately restorative in nature: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  Christian discipline within the church… and at home… should always be restorative at its very core, upholding the Truth of grace and forgiveness that Jesus Christ brings and the love that He shows to us… a love that we cannot be separated from (even by our own sinful actions), no matter what.

1 Corinthians 4 – Scum of the Earth

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Paul continues to talk about earthly wisdom vs. the wisdom of God.  As he talks, though, his tone almost takes on that of sarcasm.  He has been talking to them about who they are following and what they should be listening for, but he implies that maybe they have it sorted.

They don’t actually “have it all together,” otherwise Paul wouldn’t be writing this.  However, when they look to human achievement and human strengths as the foundation for their faith, they indeed *do* have what they want.  Obviously, though, this will only lead to failure.

Interestingly, though, these words have a lot to do with us in the contemporary church.  So often, we come to worship and live our lives like we already have everything we need.  We put on a good face when we come to church on Sunday and always make sure our houses are clean when guests come over.  A house that appears messy is a source of considerable anxiety to us because it may reflect a life that is also messy… we wouldn’t want people to think that.

But irony behind this is that church is precisely for those who don’t have their lives all put together and it is, in fact, made up of those who don’t either.  We participate in this “stain glass masquerade,” as the casting crowns song so eloquently puts it, and all it succeeds in doing is creating a false image of the church keeping out those whom God loves and wants to hear of love and grace.

Paul’s claim to be the “scum of the earth,” is not a self-deprecating move to create some sort of “false humility,” it is a realization of who he is and how desperately he, of all people, needs the grace of God.

1 Corinthians 3 – Wise Building

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Anyone who has built anything knows that the foundation is the most important part of the structure.  The whole building rests on the foundation and if it is faulty, the whole structure will be affected.

As Paul continues on the theme of earthly, human wisdom vs. the wisdom of God, he leads his audience to the fundamental flaw in their pursuit of human leaders over and above God.  Every building ever made has been subject to flaws and imperfection; every organization with a human leader has failed.  However, when those things find their foundation in Jesus Christ, they will succeed.

Paul points out that, whether they know it or not, the foundation that was laid for the church in Corinth is the Gospel.  It was laid by Paul through the grace of God.  This doesn’t mean that it was laid by human hands, but that God used Paul to lay this solid foundation in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, their pursuit of human leaders and human strength is likened to an attempt at laying a new foundation or building out of materials that simply will not be structurally sound.  It may look nice on the outside, but in the end, the building will be shown for what it is: unsound.

The theme of God’s refining fire is prevalent throughout Scripture.  God’s work in this capacity, often described in the Old Testament as God’s wrath, is actually rooted in God’s deep love for us and His desire to build us up.  To do so, a continual burning away of the junk is needed in the same way that a garden needs continual weeding so that the plants can grow strong and healthy.  As parents discipline their children so to does the Spirit guide us, refining us to deeper maturity in Christ.

Psalm 139 "Who's in Control?"

1 Corinthians 2 – Whose Voice?

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Far too often churches rise and fall on the strengths and abilities of one particular leader.  A pastor comes in with a “new style” or a great ability to preach and people flock to that person.  They want to hear the amazing speaking and style, to be motivated by a great message and inspired for the week.  Sometimes they even ask great questions, drawing out things from familiar passages that people have never heard before, even cutting right to the core of all sorts of relevant issues.

Yet, in those times, the strength of that church rests on human ability, not on spiritual wisdom, and as such, when that human fails… or moves on to a different church, the “power” of the ministry seems to go along with them.

Paul knew this was something the people of Corinth struggled with.  They were prone to following people based on human abilities and characteristics that they exhibited.  It isn’t that God doesn’t work through these abilities, but Paul knew that trusting in them rather than in God, to whom they were pointing, would ultimately end in failure.

The same is true with many facets of the contemporary church.  We want a great “worship experience” which rests on the abilities of the band, the newness of the songs, or the style that we like.  We feel as those these things connect us to God.  The fact is, in the whole of our lives as followers of Christ, it is the work of the Holy Spirit through building our faith that connects us to God, not any human endeavor.

Jesus says that He is the only way to the Father; we are called to listen to His voice.  Paul, I think, asks the difficult question here: “whose voice are you listening too?”

1 Corinthians 1 – True Wisdom

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From the very beginning of this letter, Paul touches on the theme that will be repeated many times throughout his correspondence with the church in Corinth.  Ultimately Paul’s appeal to the Christians there is that they would have the same mind as Christ, who is the wisdom of God.  This wisdom transcends all worldly and human wisdom.  That, however, makes little sense to those who do not understand the nature of the Gospel.

God’s wisdom does not take the strongest, most eloquent, or the most powerful of humankind to further His message and love.  In fact, as is seen with Christ, God often chooses the weak, the seemingly foolish things by worldly standards to show His strength and love.

Paul takes this theme and applies it immediately to the divisions plaguing the church in Corinth.  There had been many disagreements about issues related to theology and the practice of faith, but it also seems that there was an issue of who people felt was best to follow as a leader of the church.  Each of the men listed were champions of the early church.  Paul, a theological giant, Peter, the Rock and Jesus “right-hand man,” and Apollos, an eloquent and passionate speaker.  All were solid choices for leadership.

Yet Paul cuts through it all, getting right to the point: Jesus is the head of His Church.  God’s strength and salvation will not be found in the following of one good leader or in the strength of theological knowledge or eloquent speaking.

It isn’t, however, that God doesn’t use these things, though.  Paul’s emphasis is on their place of importance in our lives.  When we look to these things rather than the cross, we empty it of its power, essentially saying, Jesus’ work is not good enough for us.