The Danger of judging a Book by It’s Cover

Studies in I Corinthians

“The Danger of Looking at the Outward Appearance”

I Corinthians 1:20-31

 

Several months ago a young woman who had been a member of one of the churches I pastored went home to be with the Lord. And one of the things that people loved about her was that she had a real talent for finding things that people had thrown away or lost – old paper clips or thimbles, and pieces of lace and small coins or pieces of string, or key chains, hair rollers, just pieces of junk, really – virtually worthless. But combined in the hands of a skilled artisan like she was they made beautiful pieces of art. At her funeral various friends stood up and talked about some of her adventures, some of them pretty funny, in gathering those items. But in those pieces of artwork there is a tremendous lesson for Christians.

 

Apart from Christ, human beings are just “spiritual Junk” – good for practically nothing, really, but God delights in taking pieces of “junk” like you and me and using them to make something beautiful and useful for His purposes. That “makeover” is usually a slow process – but in time His handiwork can be seen, even in the eyes of those around us. But right at that point a potential problem arises: we can easily begin to take credit for the change and the results of it. And when we do, we begin to act just like the Corinthians did. The Corinthians were making a mistake that is very easy to make – exalting the “artwork” instead of the artist. So in this chapter the Apostle Paul sets the record straight.

 

Now this last section of the chapter he deals with a “clarification” for the Corinthians” about the danger of exalting human wisdom as they were doing. In verses 17 and 18 he had reminded them of the fallacies of human wisdom. And in verses 19 through 22 “the failures of human wisdom”. So now, in verses 23 through 31 he is going to turn our attention to the focus of Godly wisdom and the message of this section is just two-fold: God’s is simple, and he chooses simple messengers.

 

And the first thing he establishes in that regard is the basis of Godly wisdom in verses 23 and 24

 

For Jews request a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom; (23) But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness (24) But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

The philosophy of the unsaved is expressed in verse 22 – wisdom and “signs” to “prove” their various theories about life and living. But, even though it seems foolish to the unsaved, the whole basis of wisdom is the crucifixion of Christ, according to verse 23. Now that statement needs a little elaboration – there are preachers who take this verse to mean that we should never preach anything but the gospel every Sunday. And to try to disagree with that sounds like heresy! But think about it this way: What did Paul preach when he preached Christ crucified? Even a brief survey of his teachings in this one book will show that he preached about all aspects of the Christian life – spiritual gifts, husband-wife relationships, child training, church discipline, prophecy, financial principles – all kinds of things! But if you read all of those things in their context, you will see that they all form the beautiful setting for the even more beautiful jewel of the gospel. And what is the beautiful setting without the jewel it is built to display.  But there is another application too: It is possible to carry Bible teaching to an extreme as well. One critic of expository preaching said that Bible teaching churches are “worshipping the word” rather than the God of the word. And that is certainly something to be guarded against. It is easy to slip into a situation in which Bible teaching becomes just an accumulation of technical knowledge. And this passage tells us that all of our study should have as its purpose the exaltation of Christ. If your study of the Bible doesn’t in one way or another lead you to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Him, you are doing it for the wrong reasons and missing the whole point.

 

There are Christians who can name each one of the pre-exilic prophets and all the kings of Israel and Judah, and speculate in depth on who the anti-Christ’s grandmother will probably be, but who don’t know the first thing about relationships with other believers, or even how to lead someone to Christ. And there are churches that major in that kind of preaching. But those believers are also missing the whole point of Bible study. So the whole basis of Godly wisdom is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and all that it accomplished. But to preach that creates real problems. Look at verse 22 again:

 

To the Jews Christ (and any who demand proof) is a stumbling block. And He throws a monkey wrench into their machinery, because you can’t prove the doctrine of salvation. And to the Greeks (and any who depend on philosophy – foolishness. There are those who judge the value by how hard it is to understand. Along the same line, Eugene Carson Blake, former president of the World Council of Churches said, “we must take the Bible seriously, but we cannot take it literally.”

 

So Paul’s point for the Corinthians (and for us) is that to gather around a man on the basis of his human wisdom is to miss the whole point of spiritual things. No matter how eloquent or educated a preacher may be, they really are just God’s delivery boys. And we delivery boys have an obligation to be the best that we can be, but at the same time, we all need to remember that is what we are.

 

And so, in summary he says in verse 24:

 

But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God.”

 

God’s wisdom is very simple – don’t get sidetracked into a lot of ramifications.

 

Now, going back to our outline, we are thinking about “the focus of godly wisdom.”

 

So now, as we come to verses 23 and 24, we will see the blessings of godly wisdom. And there are two: One of the places where the differences between God and man shows up most is in His priorities in the exercise of His wisdom. And verse 25 summarizes:

 

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of god is stronger than men.

 

This is similar to saying “so-and-so has forgotten more about this or that subject than I will ever learn.” That which seems to be God’s foolishness (the gospel)is actually a statement of His wisdom. And that which seems to be His weakness (the death of Christ) produced what man in all of his strength could not produce.

 

Now having established God’s priorities (how much higher God’s standards are than ours) he goes on in verses 28 and 29 to show His preferences in the use of that wisdom.

 

“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and god has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (28) and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has god chosen, yes and things which are not, to bring to nothing things which are. (29) that no flesh should glory in His presence.

 

In His wisdom, most of His accomplishments are done through ordinary, everyday people – even those whom the world would think are just nothing. And even those few who are “wise” and “noble” and “mighty” realize that those things come from God and are used by God – they know that they are nothing in themselves. And yet our focus is usually the opposite! Many people don’t know that Queen Victoria of England was a devout Christian. The story has been told of a conversation she had with her pastor about this very passage in which she said “I was saved by” an “M” and her pastor said, “What do you mean? And she pointed him to this passage and said “it says “not many”; it doesn’t say “not any” noble are called.”

 

We admire and appreciate the Billy Grahams and the James Dobsons and the Chuck Swindolls of the world, don’t we? But why do they have what it takes to be a spiritual leader? Because they have been sanctified and redeemed and strengthened by Jesus Christ! And here is the most amazing part: You and I are in that same category. Now you might say, “I could never do anything for God the way those men do.” But if you are sincere in saying that, you are exactly where He wants you to be! You see, it is not the people who are literally “nothing” but those who feel that they are nothing that God can use.

 

I believe that the judgement seat of Christ will reveal that the major accomplishments of God’s work will have been done not by those famous men (as much as we appreciate them), but by sincere dedicated men and women just like you who are willing to do just whatever God gives them to do for His honor and glory.

 

The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is our prayer that the studies will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are already a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 

 

 

“The Danger of Wise Men”

Studies in I Corinthians

Lesson Four: The Danger of Wise Men

I Corinthians 1:17-31

 

Some of the saddest and at the same time most dangerous words ever spoken are contained in a famous poem by William E. Henley, which says:

 

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

 

But those words are absolutely typical of our world today – and even, in many cases of Christians! The dominant philosophy of our society today, (and it is at its peak in this generation) is the philosophy of humanism – the idea that man, given enough time and enough money can solve any problem that he might face. And when that kind of thinking invades the life of a Christian or the life of a church, it robs them of their vitality and usefulness to the Lord.

 

But as is so often the case, the word of God dealt with this very problem long before it became so prominent in our society and in our churches. The church in the first century city of Corinth had many advantages and many blessings. It would seem that it would have been a “powerhouse” for bringing people to Christ. It was a wealthy church in a large cosmopolitan city and among its members it had all of the spiritual gifts. But as we have been seeing in the first 17 verses it also had many problems which God knew would be typical of churches in the future (even down into our own day.) So He had Paul write two letters to the church over the course of 3 or 4 years.

 

One of their major problems was this one of exalting men, which we saw in the middle of the chapter. But the conclusion that Paul drew from that is in this last section of the chapter is that a natural outgrowth of exalting men is the exaltation of men in general. Interestingly enough, the men who were being exalted by the Corinthians were all fine teachers of the Word of God. In fact, if you look carefully you will see that the problem was not with the men, but with their followers!

 

But Paul winds up his argument by warning us that this preoccupation with the skills of the messenger can actually cause us to miss the message! Therefore, in verses 17 and 18 he points out the fallacies of human wisdom.

 

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

 

In our last study we saw that an emphasis on a man or a doctrine (he uses baptism as an example, but it could be any doctrine) can actually obscure the message of the gospel. But there is another fallacy of human wisdom brought out in this verse. Notice the phrase “wisdom of words.” Now before we looked at this verse in our last study you might have thought, “how in the world could the doctrine of baptism confuse people about the gospel?  And maybe that same thought crosses your mind now – what could be wrong with wisdom?” So let’s ask ourselves the question, “what is wisdom anyway? What does Paul mean by this term?  Well notice in the first place that it is not wisdom in general he is talking about, but words of wisdom And what he refers to by that is cleverly or elaborately worded statements all about and around the truth of the gospel. Since he chose the example of baptism, let’s use it: clever wording and reasoning about various scriptures can actually confuse the issue of salvation to the point that people can get the idea that they have to be baptized to be saved.   But that is by no means the only example – all around us is false teaching that is based on clever twisting of scripture. All of the cults use the Bible as a part of their false teaching. And even though they don’t use the word as much, all of the liberals use “words of wisdom” from the Bible to establish their views. But the key to the whole thing is that they are putting the wrong emphasis on that scripture.

 

But there is another problem with this human wisdom, and that is that because of that wrong emphasis it has the wrong effect. Look at verse 18 again:

 

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.

 

Here is an interesting phenomenon, and one that you may have experienced: two people, one a believer and another an unbeliever, can hear the same passage of scripture and one be blessed by it and the other confused by it. Or, perhaps more frequently, our unsaved friends just don’t understand what it is we are so excited about with spiritual things. But over in chapter 2 Paul is going to explain this phenomenon in verse 14:

 

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

 

Now that brings us to what may seem like a digression, but it is a necessary and very important one.

 

The “natural” man referred to here is literally the “soulish” man – one who operates only on the level of the soul, not the spirit. But the believer has the Holy Spirit living in him and communicating with his human spirit, and therefore he can understand spiritual things. First Thessalonians 5:23 tells us that human beings are “tri-partite” beings. That verse says:

 

Now may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In John 14:6 Just before the Lord Jesus Christ returned to heaven he promised the disciples that He would send them “another comforter.” And a few verses later He identified that comforter as the Holy Spirit. And He said that the Holy Spirit would remind them of everything that Jesus had taught them, and bring those things to their memory when they had need of them. and true to His promise on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit was given to those first believers. Ever since that time, God the Father has given the Holy Spirit to every person who accepts Christ as savior at the moment of salvation. Romans 8:16 gives us further information about this relationship that we have with the Holy Sprit. It says:

 

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

 

So we might say that the “portal” through which the Holy Spirit communicates with us is our human spirit.

 

Now because of all that, the message of the gospel just seems too simple in terms of the way the world looks at things. In fact, the word “foolishness” here is a translation of the Greek word “moros,” from which we get our English word “moron.” The world’s wisdom says that you have to somehow earn your salvation, and that to say that you know that you are going to heaven is arrogant and conceited. And to preach the simple truth that “Jesus paid it all” is just “foolishness.”

 

In fact, listen to this assessment of the gospel by the founder of one of the cults:

 

“One sacrifice for sin, no matter how great, is not sufficient to pay the debt of sin. The atonement of sin requires humiliation on the sinner’s part. That God’s wrath should be vented on His beloved Son is divinely unnatural.” (Mary Baker, founder of Christian Science.)

 

Or listen to this piece of “wisdom:”

 

Dr. Bill McCrae of Believer’s Chapel quoted Shirley McClain as saying “We already know everything. The knowingness of our divinity is the highest intelligence. And to be what we already know is the enactment of the realization that you are God, a realization that you are divine.”

 

It is as though the gospel seems so simple they have to come up with something that sounds very wise. Certainly the attempt to find God by means of human wisdom has the wrong effect!

 

So those are “the fallacies of human wisdom. But in verses 19 through 22 Paul takes a little different approach. In these verses he is going to deal with the failures of human wisdom.

 

First, we have a quotation in verse 19.

 

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

 

This quotation comes from Isaiah 29:14

 

The story behind this quote was that Senaccharib , king of Syria, Israel’s neighbor to the north, was about to attack Israel. The wise men of Israel said, “lets make an alliance with Egypt (to the south)” But God said (through Isaiah) “Don’t trust the wise men. Don’t make an alliance with Egypt. Trust in me. I will show you how foolish the reasoning of those men is.

 

So Paul, by inspiration, applies this to the Corinthians (and us) – man’s reasoning is not always God’s will just because it seems reasonable. Then in verse 20 there is another example of the failure of human wisdom:

 

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

 

How many scientists today would depend on a textbook written in the 1930’s as an authoritative statement of scientific principles?

 

The simple matter of the passing of time makes the wisdom of men look pretty foolish in many cases, doesn’t it? My mother went home to be with the Lord in 1972 after a long battle with colon cancer. We were given some hope because a new drug was being tested that seemed to be more effective than most other drugs on the market. My Dad even had to sign a waiver saying that if the drug was not successful he would not hold the drug maker liable.

 

In 2001 I myself was diagnosed with colon cancer. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the formerly “experimental” drug had become the accepted standard for the treatment of colon cancer and had been such for a number of years!

 

Think about this quotation from an editorial in the New York Times in 1910:

 

“the traffic problems in our city are increasingly becoming unbearable. To add to the crowded conditions of the streets, it has now come to light through the calculations of Mr. Arnold P. Williams, engineer that if the present rate of increase in the number of coaches allowed in the city continues, the manure will be hip deep in the streets by the end of the decade.”

 

And yet, how long has it been since you have heard of a New York City politician (or any other city) who made the manure problem a platform of his campaign?

 

You see, the failure of human wisdom is that it cannot know everything. It cannot take into account all of the factors that are in the mind of God. And when we look to the minds of men for advice and direction we invest in that failure prone system.

 

Over and over again in scripture God emphasizes the differences between the way He looks at things and the way man looks at them.

 

Isaiah 55:8 and 9 says My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts, says the Lord. (and someone says “in what way are they different?” And God says “my ways are higher than your thoughts and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.)

 

I Samuel 16:7 – “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

 

2 Corinthians 4:18 – “While we look, not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.

 

 

The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is our prayer that the studies will help you to recognize that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is

death, but the gift of God is eternal life. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 

The Dander of Fan Clubs

Studies in 1st Corinthians

Lesson 3: The Danger of Fan Clubs”

I Corinthians 1:12-17

 

Every four years thousands of adults get together in a major city and wear funny hats and yell and scream and wave banners. These activities are known as national political conventions.  And although there is a serious side to them, one of the focal points is to draw attention to one or two men or women of prominence from whom a candidate for the Presidency will be chosen. And there are people involved in these conventions who have devoted literally years of their lives to those men and women and their organizations. Now while those conventions have their good points, there is one thing that stands out about all of them they are built around men and their methods and programs.

 

From a completely different standpoint, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, Tennessee, that is dedicated to the memory of a dead rock singer, is toured by hundreds of people a month – people who have nothing better to do, apparently, than to devote their attention to the memory of a dead man. Now those things may be legitimate in some senses, but when that mentality and philosophy is carried over into the spiritual realm of the church, it can be ruinous to a church!

 

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul is writing about the various kinds of problems that can come into a church and keep it from having Christ at its center. Chapter One is divided into three parts, the first of which is a commendation of the Corinthians in verses 1 through 9. Then the second third of the chapter has to do with a challenge to the Corinthians. And the first part of the challenge has to do with the presence of divisions in the church in verses 10 and 11. Now in verses 12 and 13 he describes the problems with divisions. One problem is that divisions deify men.

 

Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos” or “I am of Cephas” or “I am of Christ.”

 

A comparison of Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts18:24-28 will show  that Paul, Apollos, and Peter all preached the same doctrines. But because all these men had different personalities and emphases and all had visited Corinth, people identified with them. For example, Paul: He was the founder of that church! He was the great reconciler of Jewish customs and Christian liberty. Thus he was attractive to Gentiles as well as Jews. Or think about Apollos. According to Acts chapter 18 he was cultured, polished, and eloquent. And then, as now, people identify with eloquence. (As Bill McCrae as said, the less they understand it the better the sermon was). And Peter. He was one of the original disciples. He was probably older and more mature than the others. He was a traditionalist. And then, probably the most pious group of all, the followers of Jesus. Possibly they felt too holy to be led by mere men. Or maybe they were just imitating His lifestyle. But at any rate, while they were saying they belonged to Him, in effect they were saying He belonged only to them!

 

So divisions glorify men. But not only that, verse 13 points our that they dishonor Christ. And how? three ways: First in His unity. – “Is Christ divided?”

 

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (14) (I  thank God that I crucified none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.

 

The most obvious place that we see this today is the requirement that you must be baptized to join a particular local church. But it is basically a matter of attitude, whether baptism is involved or not. All of this strikes out at denominationalism, because all of the denominations go back at some point to identification with a person or a doctrine rather than Christ. Someone has said that the early church was like a bottle of medicine with many ingredients but no label on it. They practiced baptism, but they weren’t Baptists. They believed in election, but they weren’t Presbyterians, they believed in the Holy spirit, and saw signs and wonders, but they weren’t Pentecostals. In the biography of John Wesley (John Wesley, the Burning Heart) he describes a dream that he had: He went to the gate of hell – and there he saw Baptists, Presbyterians, even Methodists there. Then he went to the gates of heaven – and saw only Christians there. But he recognized people he had known to be Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists while on earth. But listen carefully: We are talking about an attitude here – thus non-denominational groups can be just as guilty. To say that we will only have fellowship with other independent churches is wrong. To say that we will have fellowship only with churches that emphasize teaching (or any method of teaching) is wrong.

 

To base our selection of a church to attend solely on the basis of where the Pastor went to seminary is wrong. The only Biblical position is to say that we will fellowship with anyone or any group that accepts the Bible as the inerrant Word of God defends the principles therein.

 

Now we have seen the fact of the presence of divisions in Corinth and (many other places) and “the problems” that those divisions create. Finally, in verses 14 through 17 we see the proper attitude about divisions.

 

(14) (I thank God that I crucified none of you except Crispus and Gaius,(15) lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. (16) Yes I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides I do not know whether I baptized any other. (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

 

Now listen carefully: Paul is not, and we must not deprecating baptism in these verses. He clearly says that he practiced it (verse 14), (more importantly) Jesus commanded it in Matthew 28:19. And I Peter 3:21 makes clear that the Christian testimony is incomplete without it (“the answer of a clear conscience toward God”)

 

But notice the proper emphasis in baptism in verse 17:

 

. (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

 

 

 

An over emphasis on baptism (or any other single doctrine) can actually stand in the way of the gospel! And verse 15 has already pointed out that it can cause divisions. And incidentally, this is one of the best possible defenses against baptismal regeneration. (belief that a person has to be baptized in order to be saved) First, notice that Paul makes in verse 17 (Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel – two different things) Second, Paul obviously did not baptize everyone whom he led to Christ – so again, there is a clear distinction between the two.

 

It is obvious that there are differences in of preferences among Christians. And it is very easy to “group” ourselves around those who appreciate the same things we do. But this passage very clearly teaches that those “groups” should never cause us to break fellowship or lose appreciation for people in the other groups. So what can we do about those with whom we disagree about peripheral issues?  Two things, basically: First, don’t insist on your rights – Philippians 2:5-11 – it is not a sin to “agree to disagree.”

 

And second, pray for the other side – James 4:1,2:

 

You fight and war . . . yet you have not because you ask not.

 

And remember, God is the only one who can change minds and hearts

 

 

 

The Mudites and the Touchites

Lesson Two: “Divisions in the Church

I Corinthians 1:10-17

 

Have you ever heard the Bible story of “the Muddites and the Touchites? It arose during the first few years after Christ’s return to heaven. Nobody is exactly sure how it all started; it all happened sort of gradually, but it was all based on two of the miracles of Jesus! It seems that back in Matthew 9:27 Jesus healed two blind man by simply touching their eyes, and immediately their sight was restored. And verse 31 tells how the story spread throughout the whole country.

 

But interestingly enough, there was another blind man who was involved in a very similar miracle, and it, too became a well known story. That story is told over in John 9:1-7. And it involved another blind man whom Jesus healed, and the text says that Jesus spat on the ground and made mud, and put it on the man’s eyes, Then He told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and when he did he regained his sight! Now both of those stories are true, and they are recorded in the gospels of Matthew and John.

 

But guess what happened next? The friends of the men whom Jesus had touched and healed heard about the man that he put the mud on and immediately denounced it as a fraud, because everybody knows that Jesus heals blindness just by touching people. So there arose in Jerusalem two great denominations: the Muddites and the Touchites. And to this day their descendants will have nothing to do with each other! (I have to admit, however, that the part about the two denominations didn’t really happen. It is just to demonstrate how easily we Christians can get out of fellowship with each other.)

 

But there is something very important to notice in this facetious story: what were they arguing about? About methods! They agreed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and that he could and did heal blindness, and that God should be praised for it. But they disagreed about how He went about it.

 

From time to time we hear about a church that has gone through a “church split.” And sometimes it is over genuine doctrinal differences. When it is, it is inevitable, and, in a certain sense even good. John makes reference to this kind of thing in I John 2:19 – “they went out from us because they were not of us . . .” (Notice carefully, however, that he was talking about heretics, not just people who disagreed on the color scheme in the sanctuary) But more often than not, it is about something like the muddites and the touchites or the color scheme in the sanctuary.

 

And that was one of the problems the Christians at Corinth were facing: arguments about methods and preferences. And God knew that it would be such a common problem among Christians that He inspired the Apostle Paul to write to them (and us) about it. And it is such an important problem that he devotes the first four chapters of the book to it.

 

By way of outline, in verses one through nine he had begun the letter very graciously with a commendation of the Corinthians. So the second third of the chapter has to do with this impor­tant challenge to the Corinthians in verses 10 through 17 And it has to do with the presence of divisions in the church. Notice first the very unique admonition concerning divisions that he makes in verses 10 through 17.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.

 

First, it was an admonition based on his love for them – note the word “brethren” and the phrase “I plead with you.” He was an apostle – and they knew it. – he could have easily said, “Now cut that out.” But no matter what the problems may be between Christians, it is always better to deal with them from a position of love and respect. But notice also that it was an admonition of authority – note the phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

 

It is interesting to notice the differences between God’s priorities and ours. We would think that only something extremely important – like murder or adultery -would be approached “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And the use of that name does imply that it is important, but notice the subject; disagreements between Christians! Then in the last part of the verse he gives a kind of summary analysis of the problem and its solution: “speak the same thing.” This demonstrates, in the first place, that the problem was largely complicated by talk. Verse 12 fits in with that – “each one says . . .” Now you might be thinking, “what’s so bad about that?” It’s only a little talk, not action.” But in the last part of verse 10 and verse 11 Paul points out the adverse nature of the divisions.

 

I plead with you . . .that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgement.

 

The word “divisions” is a translation of the Greek word “schismata,” often used to describe a torn (and therefore useless) garment. And the phrase “perfectly joined together” is a translation of one Greek word which in Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 to describe the disciples “mending” their nets. And in secular Greek it was used to refer to the “harmony” of a symphony. And that really fits well here. What kind of symphony would it be if every instrument just played its own note? (as in the “tuning up” time before the concert) But people pay money to hear a group of instruments play together.

 

Another aspect of the adverse nature of these divisions is in the use of the word “contentions” in verse 11.  This same Greek word is used in Galatians 5:20 in describing the works of the flesh. And here is a key to the whole problem: using human reactions to spiritual problems! There is a clear statement of this over in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4:

 

For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behaving as mere men? (4) For where one says, “I am of Paul” or another says, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

 

Notice the phrase, “mere men.” “aren’t we all “just men”? No! the believer is a man with the holy Spirit! It is so easy to disagree, isn’t it? And sometimes those disagreements are in areas in which there can be no compromise. But much more often they are about things that really are matters of “preference” or “opinion.” And to let those kinds of disagreements come between us is to tear the beautiful fabric of unity among believers. Later in this letter Paul is going to go into a lot more detail about the solution to this problem – but here is the summary: Ask the Lord to help you with those with whom you disagree! Not necessarily to help you agree with them, but to help you listen to them and see if perhaps you are wrong. It sounds so simple, but have you tried it?

 

 

The Kind of Church that Has Problems

“How to Build a Successful Church”

Lesson 1: “The Kind of Church that has Problems

I Corinthians 1:1-9

 

 

Every so often we hear about a large, apparently “successful” church that just basically falls apart. Sometimes it is because of disagreements within the congregation, or between the congregation and the pastor or some other staff member, sometimes it is a moral failure of one (or more) of the primary leaders. Let’s face it: lots of things can go wrong in churches. And even though many people are surprised when it happens, nobody need be surprised, because the scripture makes it clear that every church member and every member of every church staff has a bitter enemy who is doing everything he can to bring that church to utter ruin. And that enemy, of course is Satan himself. Sometimes we just wish we could go back to “the good days.” Although we know that the good old days were not really all that good either. These are problems that have always plagued the church of Jesus Christ – though they do become more pronounced from time to time. So much so that God saw fit to include in the New Testament two books that dealt with these kinds of problems in the very first century after Christ was on earth!

 

If ever there was a church that had problems, it was the church in the city of First Century Corinth. There was division in the church – strong disagreements to the breaking of fellowship over matters that really were matters of choice. There were problems of sexual immorality, and Christians suing each other in court, and disorders and confusion in their church services and misuse of the Lord’s Supper and pride over spiritual gifts. Naturally, all of these things making a laughingstock of Jesus Christ in he eyes of the unsaved. But interestingly enough, these are the same kinds of problems we are seeing in the church today!

 

But the most significant thing that can be pointed out about these problems is that they were people problems – every one of them could be traced back to individuals who were not what they should have been. And why is that important? Because it is easy for us to sit back and think about what’s the matter with our church, but what we are really dealing with is “what’s the matter with me?

 

So in this series we are going to be looking at the problems in the church in Corinth with an eye to the problems in our own lives. And the first thing we want to think about is the kind of church this was – what kind of church has all of these problems anyway? And you may be surprised at the answer to that question! We have probably all heard about nature of the city of Corinth – a debauched, wicked city. Greek plays had a stock character – “the Corinthian” – who was always a drunk. A common term for a girl of low morals was “a Corinthian girl.”

 

But in the introduction of his letter Paul points out something else about this church that is much more important. By way of outline, the first verses of the chapter have to do with a commendation of the Corinthians. First, in verses 1 through 3 there is the extension of greetings that we find in all of Paul’s letters. And there we find some words about the writers of the letter in verse 1

 

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

 

Paul lists himself as an apostle – this means that the things in this letter carry the authority of Jesus Christ! And Sosthenes was probably his scribe, or “secretary.” Then in verse 2 we see several things about the readers of the letter. And this is what we really want to look at. He refers to them as “the church of God which is at Corinth.” The word “church” is a very familiar, but much misunderstood word. It is a translation of the Greek word “ekklesia.” And the root meaning is “called out ones.” And in the New Testament it always refers to a group of people whom God has “called out” from the world – out of various backgrounds and settings – to be His people. And Acts chapter 2 specifically says that people were added to the church “as they were saved.” So this is one characteristic of the Corinthians – their separation from the rest of world. And this should be a characteristic of each of us who call ourselves Christians. And here is one of the basic reasons we are having all of these problems in the church today: we have forgotten that we have been called out from living like the world lives. Something else to notice here is that this is the church of God. Now Paul was the founder of the church, And Peter had ministered there – one of the original 12 disciples. And Apollos, the most eloquent man of his day, had ministered there too.

 

But Paul doesn’t say “the church of ______________  any of those men. And this gives us a clue to another problem they had (and the church still has it today) and that is the problem of identifying ourselves with men or “movements” or organizations. In fact, this is such a real problem that Paul is going to devote a whole section to it later.

 

So one of the characteristics of this church was that they were “separated” from the world around them. But there is something else here: Notice the reference to their sanctification in the phrase “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This word carries the idea of being “set apart” like the word church. But it also carries the idea of “holiness.” And Hebrews 10:10 says that this is our position in God’s sight! So they were “separated,” and they were “sanctified; but there is a third thing to notice in verse 2: their sainthood. Note the phrase “called to be saints.” So saints are simply those who have been set apart by God (not just those who have gone through some process of canonization, etc. think about everything you have heard about the “saints” of history: now how does your life measure up to that?  And yet that is our position in the Word of God.

 

The writer of the letter is Paul, the readers are the Corinthians, but in verse 3 we find a reminder that ties in with all of this.

 

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

 

Here is just a subtle reminder: “live up to what you have been given.” Think of what you have been given.” Think of their position – and think of their lives! But isn’t that true of us as well? This is one of the key reasons for the key reasons for the problems in the church today.

 

So in Paul’s “extension of greetings” we see what kind of a church has problems; but we also see it in the expression of gratitude which he gives in verses 4 through 9

 

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His son Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

It might seem strange that Paul would express thanksgiving for people he was having to chew out. But the thanks is for to God for their possessions in Christ in verses 4 through 9. And the things that he specifies are the spiritual gifts that they have: Utterance,” and “knowledge” in verse 5 and, in fact “coming behind in not good thing” in verse 7.

 

How grateful the Corinthians should have been! But, as we will see later these very gifts had become the source of pride, divisions, and strife among them – actually ruining their testimony.

Not only their possessions in Christ in this life, but also their prospects for the future with Christ – verses 8 and 9

 

Who will also confirm to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (9) God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord

 

Personal Encounters With Christ

Studies in the Gospel of John

Lesson 56: Personal Encounters with Christ

John 20:19-31

 

Restored relationships are a thrilling thing to see – and especially to experience. And the passage we come to today is the best possible example of that. It will help our understanding of this material if we keep in mind the overview of the chapter. It falls into three parts. In verses 1 through 10 we have The Empty Tomb. Then in verses 11 through 18 we have The Encounter with the Teacher. And in verses 19 through 31 we have The Entrance of Truth.

 

We have looked at the first two sections in our last two lessons. So in this lesson we want to think about that third section, The Entrance of Truth in verses 19 through 31.

 

And the first thing we see is The gathering in verse 19:

 

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled,[c] for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

 

Notice that the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, (but even so, the disciples must have been excited.) By now Mary had delivered her message about their gathering, and Peter had probably reported his encounter with Christ (recorded by Luke in Luke 24:34) the two with whom Jesus had talked on the road to Emmaus would have been there by now. And suddenly they realized that Jesus was in the room, even though the doors were shut!! Everyone there saw Him. And He gave them His usual beloved greeting, “Peace be with you.”

 

Luke says that that they thought that it was a spirit and were terrified – so in verses 20 and 22 He gave them two gifts. The first gift was the sight of Himself – His hands and His side. Luke says that He also took a piece of fish and ate it in their presence. Then they realized who He really was. Verse 20 also records one of the greatest understatements in all of the Bible: “Then were the disciples glad” They must have remembered His words from 4 days before “you will see me again.” (16:26). This is probably what John was referring to in his introduction to the book – “that which we have seen and heard, etc.”

 

That same recognition by individuals today brings assurance of salvation, as in Romans 10:9, “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth.” I said above that Jesus gave these disciples two gifts. The first one was the gift of seeing Him, but in verses 22 and 23 we see the second one: He offered to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 23 Receive the Holy Spirit.

 

Most Bible Scholars say that this was a kind of a “down payment” on the Holy Spirit which they would receive on the day of Pentecost a few days from then.

 

A Surprise in the Garden

Studies in the gospel of John

Lesson 55: A Surprise in the Garden

John 20:1-18

 

The purpose of John’s gospel is to manifest Jesus’ glory.” And this chapter is the ultimate manifestation of it. That manifestation is so great that the most doubting disciple ultimately made the greatest statement of faith of all of the disciples: “My Lord and My God.” Since the book started with “the birth of faith,” it is fitting that it ends with the “Consummation of it.

 

In a nutshell the chapter shows, first “the person of Christ” and second, the triumph of faith in the midst of unbelief – which is the theme of the book.

It will help us understand the chapter if we look at an overview of its contents: In verses 1 through 10 we have The Empty Tomb. Then in verses 11 through 18 we have The Encounter with the Teacher. And finally we have The Entrance of Truth in verses 19 through 31

 

So let’s begin with the empty tomb in verses 1 through 10. And the first thing we see is the discovery in verses 1 through 9. The first discovery was made by Mary in verses 1 and 2: Her entry is in verse 1

 

On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark,

 

Other gospels say other women were with her. John probably singles out Mary because of their personal relationship described farther down. But the bottom line is they hadn’t come to look for the body.

 

But in the second part of verse 1 she discovers an emergency:She saw that the stone had been taken away”

 

“The stone” was like a large wheel that was used on carts in those days. It ran in a trench going uphill, so it would have been very difficult for one person to move it, especially a frightened woman. And the next verses show that she was terrified. Her efficiency, however, is shown in verse 2

 

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him.” – she went for help

 

The fact that she ran shows the urgency in the situation. Her report is in the last part of verse 2: “They” have taken away the Lord out of the tomb” and we don’t know where they have laid Him.”

 

The discovery by Mary leads to the discovery by the men in verses 3 through 9:

 

  On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away (2) (3) Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. (4) So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. (5) And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. (4) So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. (6) Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there. (7) And the handkerchief that had been around His head not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. (8) then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, came went in also; and he saw and he saw and believed. (9) For as yet they did not know the scripture that He must rise again from the dead.

 

Verse 9 explains a lot of the consternation and fear and confusion that we have seen in the foregoing verses – at best the disciples had only heard veiled references to the resur- rection resurrection.

 

Verses 5 through 9 show that just as Mary had, they also ran, but John outran Peter. Many times less demonstrative Christians have more intense interest than it would appear outwardly. But their reactions show that experiences and attitudes vary, but truth comes to all who sincerely seek it.

 

Notice the specific details about the grave clothes in verses 6 and 7:

 

(6) Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there. (7) And the handkerchief that had been around His head not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

 

Grave robbers wouldn’t have taken the time to unwrap each finger and toe and all the other separate body parts in this way. This description fits better with a body “coming out” from the wrappings rather than being “taken out” of the tomb.

 

So that is their discovery of the empty tomb. But in verse 10 we find their departure.

 

Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

 

This may seem like they were indifferent, but these men may have been like Mary the mother of Jesus, when she got the message from Gabriel, she “kept these things and pondered them in her heart. Some deep truths require time for meditation and assimilation, so there is a break in the “action.” But in verses 11 through 18 the scene shifts and we see The Encounter with the Teacher. The setting for the encounter is in verses 11 through 13. Glorious as the appearance of the angels was, it was only “the setting” for things about to come.

 

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked in. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman why are you weeping?” She said to them, because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”

 

So that is “the setting” for seeing the Savior, but in verses 14 and 15 we have the actual sighting of the savior

First she didn’t know who had taken her Lord or where they had laid Him (verse 13)

 

Now when she had said this, she turned and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. (15) Jesus said to her, “woman, why are you weeping, whom are you seeking? She, supposing Him to be the Gardner, said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away (16) Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, Rabboni! (which is to say, teacher,  It seems that the idea of a resurrection hadn’t occurred to any of the disciples, even though He hinted at it a number of times, but probably during His earthly life He was so “human” that something like resurrection just wasn’t part of their everyday life.

 

Finally, in verse 18 we see the spreading of the news:

 

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

 

So thus began the work of spreading the gospel, which, hopefully will continue until He returns to set up His eternal Kingdom!