1 Corinthians 6 – Going Outside

Read 1 Corinthians 6

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?

Read 1 Corinthians 5

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

Read 1 Corinthians 4

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

Read 1 Corinthians 3

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.

1 Corinthians 2 – Whose Voice?

Read 1 Corinthians 2

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

Read 1 Corinthians 1

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.

Introduction to 1 Corinthians

As we have discussed before in Acts 18, Corinth was one of the major cities in the Roman Empire and the major city both economically and politically in the nation of Greece.  Corinth was also a major religious center, home to the temple of Apollo and the temple of Aphrodite and thus was home to considerable pagan worship.  Specifically, in the temple of Aphrodite, it is said that at times over 1,000 priestesses (who were also prostitutes) served which also made Corinth a center for horrific immorality.

This pagan culture and lack of a moral center took its toll on the church in Corinth as well, leading to a number of moral issues that Paul had to address here in this correspondence.  This is one of possibly four total writings that Paul would have sent to the church in Corinth, two (possibly three) of which we have recorded in the Bible as we know it today.

Apart from issues of immorality that were plaguing the church in Corinth, Paul also addresses a considerable amount of other issues.  The congregation there was likely made up of mostly lower class individuals.  However, with some, more wealthy individuals, issues of socio-economic disparity arose and needed to be addressed.

It also seems that there was some disagreement surrounding the nature of the resurrection of the dead, which was, in part, related to the other issues, but also stands on its own.

While Paul’s writing here does take on rather specific issues regarding a particular congregation, his words can really find new meaning in our culture today as well.  We too live in a culture full of rampant immorality, socio-economic disparity, and in a time when the Church itself is dealing with so many disagreements about theological issues.  Paul’s words here, inspired by God, are incredibly needed.

Romans 16 – Name Dropping

Read Romans 16

Paul almost universally ends all his letters with greetings and commendations to those at or around the intended destination of his letter.  The book of Romans contains the longest list of such people.  One might wonder why exactly this has become part of what we know as Scripture, God’s inspired Word when it seems to be much more personal in nature.

Yet embedded in these greetings and commendations are some final thoughts, conclusions, and warnings to the reader.  They almost feel out of place amongst the lists of names here.

Perhaps though, without saying it directly, Paul isn’t his readers to greet these people, but is actually commending them as those who are trustworthy, warning against others who may not be.  Each of the people Paul names he refers to as being in the “family,” or being hard workers.  In essence, their ‘loyalty,’ as it were, has been proven and they are trustworthy people to seek out.  This might be some of the earliest Christian networking that we know of.

The warning that Paul gives here though is not something that we should lightly pass over.  We are warned repeatedly, throughout Scripture, against those who would seek to divide and obstruct the ministry of the Gospel.  While Paul commends several to those in the church in Rome, he is also commending to us those in the church who are faithful workers, Christ followers, and wise leaders.

Sometimes we fall ito the trap of listening to the loudest voice, or following the person or group with the largest numbers.  Notice, Paul says nothing about these things.  Instead he speaks of those who are battle proven, whose lives have reflected the change that the Holy Spirit has put on their hearts.  Are these the type of people we gravitate toward?

Romans 15 – The Mind of Christ

Read Romans 15

As Paul begins to conclude his letter to the church in Rome, he draws all of his thoughts together by encouraging believers to “have the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.”  This may sound like a tall order, however, he recognizes that this isn’t simply a work of the people that he is writing to, but rather a part of the sanctifying and empowering work of the Holy Spirit on their hearts and minds.

Sanctification is the word that we use to talk about the work of God, mainly through the Holy Spirit, in our lives after we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, responding to the Grace of God, that is not the end of the journey, it is the very beginning.  The Holy Spirit begins the work of transformation, making us more and more like Christ.

Really, this brings Paul’s letter to the Roman church, and God’s plan of salvation full circle.  Ultimately, the trajectory of Scripture is bringing us back around to beginning, to a perfectly restored relationship between God and His people and creation.  This is the “big picture” of the redemptive and reconciliatory work that is God’s plan of salvation.

Part of this will be the redemption of our hearts, which sounds rather obvious.  Paul gives us a small glimpse of what that looks like: having the same attitude of mind toward others as Christ Jesus had.  While this will look perfect when Christ comes again, we can see small glimpses of that here and now.  We are encouraged always to look to the needs of others, to serve one another, and therefore to build them up.  When we take this posture we get a glimpse of true reconciliation.

Romans 14 – Consider Others

Read Romans 14

Throughout the New Testament, Paul teaches about the grace and subsequent freedom that we have in Jesus Christ.  Those teachings are almost always followed by a discourse regarding what to do with that freedom, and what not to do as well.  All of it, however, is ultimately related to Jesus’ command to love one another and Jesus Christ loved them.

Here Paul addresses one of the major themes of freedom and love as it pertains to other believers.  He recognizes the fact that not everyone is in the same place when it comes to the strength and maturity of their faith.  It would be very easy for those who have fully embraced the freedom they received in Christ to tout it in a way that could be harmful to those who are not in the same place and whom the Holy Spirit is still working on.  Wielding our faith and our freedom in this way can be quite dangerous.

While the notion of freedom releases us from the bondage of sin and the law, it is not a license to run roughshod over those in our lives, whether Christian or not.  Paul says very clearly here and in the previous chapter that loving the other is the primary lens through which we act on our freedom.  We are not to judge each other.  Instead, we are called to live in a way that leads to the building up of our brothers and sisters so that together we will become stronger!

At the end of the day, Paul reminds us that our accountability is not to each other, but to the Lord before whom we are all equal.  Therefore, since we are free, let us use that freedom to love and edify each other to the glory of God.

Romans 13 – Government and Freedom

Read Romans 13

It seems like a contradiction in terms to talk about submission to an entity and freedom in the same thought process.  Yet Paul navigates this ambiguity well, speaking into a context in which many people question whether or not to follow Ceasar or not.  To be fair, the Roman Empire was known for the “imperial cult,” or the worship of their current ruler.  This person was raised to “god status,” often times after they died, and were worshiped along with the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses.

In this context, it is not difficult to see why Paul would have to address the place of government in the life of new Christians.  Along with the Jewish influence of wanting to throw off Roman rule, it was a rather tenuous place to be.  Those who didn’t participate in the imperial cult worship risked arrest and possibly even death.

Paul recognizes God the Father’s ultimate authority upon the earth.  No matter who the ruler is, it seems, that person’s power and authority has been given by God and therefore we must honor that.  But when stated like this, it makes no sense to worship that ruler as their power is limited. One wouldn’t worship a governor because their seat was given to them; therefore worship would be directed to one who gave the power.

This is the manner in which Paul sets up honoring earthly authority while reserving worship for God alone.  As a matter of fact, doing this acknowledges God’s sovereignty, places us in a position of trusting His work and His will, even if we don’t understand it.  Despite the political divisions that we see in the U.S. today, Scripture still calls us to honor the authority; which ultimately means trusting God’s choice, His will, and His work.

Romans 12 – What to do now?

Read Romans 12

The twelfth chapter in Romans marks a shift from Paul’s systematic laying out of God’s plan of salvation to discussion on how we are to respond to it.  Paul has talked extensively about guilt in the first couple chapters, followed by a much more extensive discussion on grace up to this point.  Now we come to what is known as “grattitude,” that is, again, how we are to respond to the unmeritted, undeserved, life-changing grace that we receive from God in Jesus Christ.

Right from the start, Paul draws on the imagery from the Old Testament to draw forward the meaning into a contemporary response.  Sacrifice was the way of worship, or repentance, and of relationship with God in the Old Testament.  It was an acknowledgement that something always had to die so that others could live.

Jesus, though, was the ultimate sacrifice, a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world that opened the way to full relationship and reconciliation with God.  No longer to other things need to die, which was never really a true way to salvation, because Jesus died in our place.

This act, then, shifts the paradigm of our response.  No longer to we need to sacrifice, but instead we are “living sacrifices” that are living lives in full response to what God has done for us.

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  Interestingly enough, Paul also draws this forward into a contemporary context; it looks like loving your neighbor as yourself.  It doesn’t look very different from what the people of Israel were called to except that instead of doing it out of obedience to the law we do it out of grateful obedeince to to the love of God that has been shown in Jesus Christ.

Romans 11 – What About Israel?

Read Romans 11

So far, Paul has talked has laid out how God has worked through Israel in working out His plan of salvation for the whole world.  As has been true throughout Scripture, things like disobedience and legalism, that the enemy meant for bad, God had always meant for good, for the blessing of the whole world as His original covenant with Abraham said.

However, that lends itself to the question, “What about Israel?”  If God meant for all of this to happen, was He just using this whole nation of Millions of people over hundreds of years just to cast them aside when the goal of Salvation was accomplished?  Certainly, it could seem this way.

Paul’s words here would seem to bring a difficult conclusion.  After talking about the need for faith, in response to God’s freely given grace in Jesus Christ, as the means to salvation, he then makes some rather confusing statements about Israel’s salvation despite their disobedience.

There are two important things that we need to remember in reading Scripture like this that can seem to be confusing.  First, we don’t read this Scripture in a vacuum but have to take it within its context and also in the context of the whole of God’s Word.  God’s grace is preeminent over all of this and, as those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.

Second, Paul’s concluding statement of this section of the book of Romans speaks very clearly to how we understand (or don’t) God’s work.  Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, Paul affirms that God’s ways are much higher, deeper, and greater than we could possibly understand.  In fact, Paul praises God for that because the same grace that welcomes us into God’s salvation is available to all those who are searching.