Archive for Month: February 2016
Avoid Sin for Their Sake
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we’ll be looking at the tenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this chapter, Paul reveals the true reasons why we continue to avoid sin, though we are saved.
Reading: I Corinthians 10
Before we begin this reading, it’s useful to know a bit about the history of Israel, particularly that laid out in the book of Exodus. Many of the references made here are only truly significant in that context.
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
When the children of Israel were led out of Egypt, they all passed through the Red Sea together, and they were all guided by the Lord, who appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
In this shared experience, they were all baptised in the same faith and bound to the larger family of Israel.
3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
All those who wandered in the desert were fed of manna and quail.
4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
All those who were there drank of the water which was brought from the rock which Moses struck. Here we begin to understand the metaphor – all of us are baptised into the same gospel, partakers of the same scripture, and recipients of the living water which will not run dry (that is, Christ).
5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Though they had seen all these miracles, and they were all children of Israel, still there was sin and human weakness. Man will not be truly free of these curses until the final day, when we are given perfect form and brought to be with God forever.
6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
We know that there were idols made in the desert. Many grumbled about Moses’s leadership, despite the signs that were given to support him. These issues are listed to remind us of our plight – we may be redeemed, but we are not yet perfected.
7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
When the golden calf was built in the desert, Moses punished the people by forcing them to drink water tainted with ground gold. When they committed great fornication, the very earth devoured those sinners. This is the example we have – sin and be punished.
9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
Many lost faith, and were punished for their sinful ways by poisonous serpents. In this case, we know that the Lord provided a way of salvation – if you looked upon the staff which Moses carried, you would live, though you would still suffer the pain.
10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
Even Miriam, Moses’s sister, began to grumble about him. The Lord punished them all mightily, though at Moses’s urging he ultimately restored Miriam.
11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
Guard yourself against sin and complacency. When you think yourself holy, you are likely to give in to a number of temptations whose punishments are grave.
13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Remember that the Lord was compassionate to the children of Israel. When they complained about the manna, he gave them quail (after punishing their grumbling). When they built the idol, they were not immediately struck down, but they were disciplined. When they grumbled, they were punished by snakes, but still there was a method of salvation.
So it is today. God does not place temptations in our path, but he allows us to be tempted. Even so, he always gives us a way to resist and/or be redeemed when we fail.
14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
These are teachings which make sense to the wise, who are able to see the patterns and embrace truth. Paul gives us reasons, so that we may judge the truth of his words and find them good.
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
“Communion” literally refers to the establishment and enjoyment of community. We are bound together in our communion of the body and the blood, which we share. This is why many denominations have given communion often – it both binds us together and celebrates our union with Christ.
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
All those who eat of the food of the altar (that is, the priests) are bound in communion with God under the old covenant. We are bound with Christ in the new covenant which he has given to us.
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
While we are bound with each other in the communion of Christ, we may yet be bound with others under their deities. We know that the devils which the others worship are powerless against the Lord whom we serve, but it is still best to be with our own than with others.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.
22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
Recall that ours is a jealous God, who seeks our eternal and complete worship and loyalty. It is best that we act in accordance with this truth.
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
Though all of our sins are covered under the blood of Christ, not all things are good for us to do. It is of little value for us to make greater company with pagans and atheists than with those who belong to Christ – it has been said that we are the sum of the five closest people to us.
In the same way, we should seek out that which is good and right and true. This preserves us against all else, for we are steeped in that which is right and good and useful for us.
24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
Care more for others than for yourself. This principle edifies the whole community of believers.
25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
Take what you get. Better is stale bread from a fellow believer than the richest cuisine from fools and liars.
26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
All things are made by our Lord, and all things belong to Him. He is sovereign over all things in this world, visible and invisible.
27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
If you know that you commune with idolaters, you may eat, but ask not whether the food is consecrated to a false deity. Call it “plausible deniability”, if you wish.
28 But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:
Honor God above all things. This includes food, drink, and all other things. It’s also best not to buy idols and fortune trinkets, for you know the origins thereof.
29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?
All this is less for our sake (because we know that there is no true danger to us from devils and idols) than it is for others. They will see your loyalty and earnestness, and wonder.
30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
It’s a pity that we must be judged so, but it is true. We are ambassadors of our Lord, so we must act in ways that are not pleasant for His sake. Let them know how we love and serve our God, and wonder.
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
This is a key verse that all should know and meditate upon.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
We are saved, but many are still not. We are redeemed, but many are still slaves to sin. We live, yet many are still dead.
Let us act in such a way that they wonder about the God we serve. Let them know that we worship a God who Lives and reigns. In this way, we profit others over ourselves, and many more may be granted the Glory.
Let us Pray
Sovereign and Righteous is the Lord who reigns in the heavens. His might covers all the earth, and even the demons fear his name. Praise be to the Great God, who Lives.
Mighty Father, we know that we are to be ambassadors for you. Though we should do all things in accordance with your will, and we should do all things for your glory, we are yet trapped in a body of sin. Grant us the strength to overcome our weaknesses; show us the way out of all temptations and guide us down that path.
You are the God who is With Us. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings, so we know that we serve one with dominion over all things. Help us to continue in this faith which you have granted to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
May the Lord go before you to lead you,
Behind you to encourage you,
Beside you to befriend you,
Beneath you to uphold you,
Above you to protect you,
And within you to inspire you.
Go in the peace and power of the Almighty God. Amen.
How the Apostles Live
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we’ll be looking at the ninth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth. In this chapter, Paul lays out the case for his Apostleship and the importance of self-sacrifice in our daily ministry.
Reading: I Corinthians 9
Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
This is an interesting question which the scholars of the Church have considered for years: is Paul an apostle? Generally, we think of the Apostles as those who were a) called for a specific purpose of leadership and evangelism by Christ Himself, and b) actually met Christ.
Paul met Jesus at least once on the road to Damascus, when he was still the zealous Pharisee known as Saul, and he was a dedicated evangelist and leader of the early Church. Based on verses like this and the histories recorded in Acts, we think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Here, Paul reminds the church of Corinth about his status, so that they may not question by whose authority he preaches.
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
What is the greatest mark of the Apostles? Surely it is the brethren to whom the brought the Gospel and who remained steadfast in the Faith.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
The Apostles broke bread with the brethren, and shared with them the story of the “Last Supper” (where our Lord Jesus Christ shared the cup of the New Testament with the Apostles).
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
As Peter was an authority of the early Church (though not the Pope, as the Catholics preach), so was Paul.
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
More than half of the book of Acts records the miracles which Paul was given to work.
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
In summary, Paul is reminding the Church at Corinth of how he “sowed churches” but did not profit from them nor demand anything of them but obedience to Christ.
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Paul calls to the Scriptures to verify that what he preaches is not merely his teaching, but matches what is revealed in the Scriptures. It is not merely Paul who preaches, but the Word of God.
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
While the oxen pull the plow or tread out the corn (that is, while work is being done), they will tire quickly if they are unable to feed or rest. In the same way, while Paul and the Apostles spread the Gospel and instruct the brethren, they must be able to sustain their lives.
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
Is Paul demanding all the wealth of the Church? God forbid! Instead, he asks that they support their brethren while they toil in service of our Lord.
This is the basis by which we ask for donations for ministry, and the reason why it is incumbent on us to provide for our toiling brethren.
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
While the Apostles surely would merit great generosity (as they shared with those yet unbelieving the Gospel of Life), they do not demand great wealth for their “services”. This puts them in stark contrast to the likes of Joyce Meyer, the Hillsong church, and their ilk, who demand heavy payment and thus both restrict their messages and undermine the public impression of the Church.
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Since time immemorial, priests have partaken of the offerings. Much of the Levitical law describes the offerings that will be offered to God, and the portions which the priests would be permitted to take. In this way, their focus could remain on things of God.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
If it were not for the Gospel, Paul would have nothing to show for his work. Indeed, the greatest value he received during his time as Apostle was fellowship with the expanding Church.
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
The Good News that we have in Jesus Christ is for all men, regardless of wealth or status (for God is no respecter of persons). In that spirit, Paul preached the word freely and without expectation of any worldly gains. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, which called for offerings to be given in secret and prayers to be offered humbly.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
The Gospel grants us great freedom, for we need no longer worry about the Law which condemns our sins nor fear death and the world to come. Even so, Paul humbled himself as Christ humbled himself – to willingly become a servant.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
He approaches the Jews as a Jew, in full willing submission to the Law which no longer binds him. This allows him to serve them more readily, that they might accept him and receive the teachings that he brings.
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
When he passes among the Gentiles, he does not keep Kosher, because they do not keep Kosher. He approaches them as a fellow Gentile, that he might be accepted and preach to them the good news of Christ.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
This is one of my favorite verses.
What’s the value of approaching atheists as though they both believed the Scriptures and understood the truths contained therein? Or what is the value of approaching Muslims with a BLT and a dog? They will repel you before you are able to share the truth with them.
Instead, approach them based on what they can already understand and receive, so that you might share with them the Truth.
This is one of the big reasons why I have read the Dao De Ching, the Sacred Havamal, and the Annalects of Confucius. If I can speak the Gospel using words and concepts that those around me can understand, then I can show them the greatness of our Lord.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
Mediocrity is not for the Church.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
People who master the guitar tend to apply great effort and focus toward the task, and as such learn a great deal about obtaining success. The same is true of those who study business, or art, or philosophy.
We obtain the same benefits, but we work to master something greater – an understanding and reliance on the Holy Spirit which is given us by Christ. The Donald Trumps and George Soros-es of the world will eventually die and lose access to what they have built, but we who are in Christ will gain everything. Thus, our determination should be even greater than theirs.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Godly living and wisdom is a struggle to obtain and a struggle to live out, but the value is immeasuable.
Let us Pray
I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He who fed the children of Israel manna and quail in the desert, he who brought forth water from the rock. Great is the Lord who Provides.
Teach us, mighty Lord, how we might be as Paul, “all things to all people”. This teaching can be difficult for us, because we are often taught to act and thing and speak and live a specific way. Make us ready to speak to anyone about the hope that we have in Christ.
Further, Lord, we know that You care for the sparrows of the air and the fish of the sea. They do not wonder where each day’s meal will come from, yet we live with such questions and their associated fears. Make us to understand and embrace the provision that You will provide to us, so that we may live without fear in the love which You have for us.
We ask all these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest who has made intercession between us and You.
Go in God’s peace, brethren, meditating day and night on the Word of Truth which has been revealed to us.
Protect the Weaker Brother
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is taken from Paul’s first epistle to the Church at Corinth. In this eighth chapter, Paul addresses concerns about food offered up to idols, and how to deal with issues that might concern those struggling to understand the faith which we possess.
Reading: I Corinthians 8
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
How many of us make claim to some form of knowledge, and feel proud of our insight and wisdom? This pride, as with most pride, builds up the ego while providing little of value to others.
Charity – the application of knowledge to help others – serves us all better. Rather than being proud of ourselves and our great intellect, it is better to put that knowledge into use.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
This reflects Socrates’s reflection on his own wisdom – he did not know much, but he was fully aware of what he did not know. According to the Oracle at Delphi, this made him the wisest man in all of Greece. Unfortunately, a cursory reading of Plato’s records suggests that Socrates let this supremacy go to his head at times.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
Surely it is better to be known as a God-fearing man, who does good and shuns evil, than a man who knows all things. The second is isolated on his mountain of knowledge, while the first is both admired in this world and the next.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
What is an idol? We know that no spiritual creature can compare to the Lord, and we know also that many idols honor no spirit – they serve only to pacify the need for God in the minds and hearts of those who are yet dead.
Nothing sacrificed in the name of an idol can be tainted, because the idol possesses no power. Further, even if the sacrifice is in honor of a real spirit, that spirit cannot possibly surpass the might and glory of the One God, the Father. And if the sacrifice is in honor of some lord, that lord cannot compare the the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we need not consider such things when we receive food, shelter, or services.
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
Not everyone is prepared to understand and receive that truth. This is particularly true of those young in faith – for they have lived long in the shadow of death, and fear its touch. As they grow, they are brought to the realization that the Life which is in Christ is beyond all powers of death and darkness.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
God doesn’t care if you eat food blessed by a Rabbi, a priest, a Cthulhu cultist, or no one. He doesn’t care if you receive charity from a fellow Christian or from a Pagan. His presence nullifies any perceived negative spiritual consequences of such matters.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
It is best that we take consideration for the needs of our weaker brethren, as a big brother watches out for his younger siblings. As much as it depends on us, we should help each other to grow in the faith, not allow each other to wallow in confusion and doubt.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
This principle – that of preserving the brother from encountering that which might confuse him – is especially important in matters we have not yet considered.
Many books now exist speaking about guardian angels and communing with such spirits. We know that the angels which the Lord sends among us will be known, and their messages will be received, for that is their purpose among us. Further, when the Lord sends angels to protect us, we know that their tasks will be fulfilled in accordance with His will. The praise belongs to the Lord, with whom we may speak freely and without restraint, but these books teach prayers to the angels. It is imperative that we protect our brethren from such manipulative doctrines, which may well lead them astray.
I own several texts on witchcraft and wicca, and I was for a time a practitioner of such teachings. This was neither good nor correct, and for a long time I had to resist anything that had a connection to such pagan teachings. I was the weaker brother – it was important that I not even pray silently, so that I could be certain that I was not embracing a pagan trance.
And, while on the subject of prayer and meditation, these things are good and beneficial for the stronger brethren among us. However, if the weaker brother connects meditation to practices and teachings such as Hindu Yoga, we should refrain from talking about such things near him, so that he does not fall into bad teachings.
Suffice it to say, this principle applies to any number of things.
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
It may seem a bit extreme, but Paul was willing to refrain from anything that might cause internal conflict among his brethren. If they were concerned about meat being blessed by a pagan ritual, Paul would eat no meat (which, I assume, he quite enjoyed otherwise).
Let us Pray
Mighty God, who is like you among the heavens? With a word, you lay the mountains low and cause the seas to stir. And, with a word, you calm the storms and heal the sick. Truly you are the One God, the Father Almighty.
And blessed is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being of one substance with the Father, took up the form of a servant, and humbled himself unto death upon the cross. To our Lord be all praise and glory, for his is the Name above all names.
As you sanctify us by the Word and the Holy Spirit, we come to understand many things that were formerly mysteries to us. However, we know that many of our brothers struggle, as the Spirit has yet to reveal these things to them. Teach us and guide us so that we may not cause any of our brothers to stumble – rather, help us to minister to their needs, so that they too might come to a fuller understanding of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We ask these things of you, the Father, by the blood of the Son which has redeemed us, and by the Holy Spirit who abides with us and teaches us all things.
May the Lord preserve you in the Faith which you have received, and may you dwell in the richness of his presence now and forever.