Wake up!

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1 Corinthians 15:33,34 “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”

      When I first read this I thought Paul was referring to crooks and street thugs.  Imagine my surprise when I came to realize that this was directed right at regular ‘church goers’!  Evil company – in the church!  How can that be?

    The Forerunner commentary states: “This well-known proverb is strategically placed in the Resurrection Chapter. In verse 32, Paul reminds the Greek Corinthians of an example of the perverse, immoral morass that they left compared to the liberating and ennobling calling God has so graciously given them. He then verbally punches them in the nose by telling them the company that they keep is destroying them, meaning they are gradually reabsorbing the attitudes and culture of the surrounding world.”  Some churches are toxic and hazardous to the spiritual health of its members!

     One extreme of religious toxicity is when a church becomes cult-like closing off from the outside world and worshipping its ‘prophet’ not Jesus.  So much damage is done within such an unholy assembly.  These depraved fellowships share a characteristic with another widespread emerging mainstream perversion of Christian fellowship -the ‘market driven’ or ‘seeker sensitive’ church in that the Gospel is distorted.  Market driven churches do just as much damage but in a different way.

     Gary E. Gilley in his analysis of how market driven or seeker sensitive approaches distort the Gospel writes; “The premise of all marketing is that the consumer must be pleased; he must be kept happy; he must be given what he needs, or has been programmed to think he needs, if we are to succeed. . . . , the gospel message, altered and distorted in the process? Listen to these words by Wells, ‘The fact is that while we may be able to market the church, we cannot market Christ, the gospel, Christian character, or meaning in life. The church can offer handy childcare to weary parents, intellectual stimulation to the restless video generation, a feeling of family to the lonely and dispossessed — and, indeed, lots of people come to churches for these reasons. But neither Christ nor his truth can be marketed by appealing to consumer interest, because the premise of all marketing is that the consumer’s need is sovereign, that the customer is always right and this is precisely what the gospel insists cannot be the case’ (Wells, p. 82).”

      Cults sink a malignant tap root right into the heart of its recruits sucking the life out of them.  Market driven churches bathe their members in an eroding fake gospel that sickens from the outside in.   Both are expressions of spiritual pathologies that damage the souls of those ensnared.The former pathology is internal – destroying from the inside and the latter works its way into the inner heart through externals first – poison absorbed through the skin!  Both methods will kill a person just as spiritually dead as the other.

     The Forerunner commentary concludes; “The world’s influences are, for the most part, subtle rather than overt. Being familiar to human nature, we find them easy to fall into or return to. What is the problem with the world? Its ruler, Satan, has designed it to lead people to live only for themselves. Therefore, we must fight and resist its attraction, which influences our hearts, because so much is at stake!”  We all must resist the world and its influences upon us.  We can’t look to a cult leader or a celebrity pastor of a ‘market driven’ church to defend out souls. 

    The Bible tells us; “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.…” (Philippians 2:2,13) Only God’s Holy Spirit can do the work in us with our permission.  Be very careful about who you let into your heart and what ‘gospel’ you put your faith in!

     Paul concludes, as all honest preachers do, by waking us up to Jesus Christ; “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:57,58)

     And what is the work of the Lord?  Jesus tells us; “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29)

All puffed up!

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1 Corinthians 8:1-3 “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”

     Knowledge isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself.  Some scholars will tell you that simple geometry demonstrates that as you double the radius of your knowledge the perimeter of what is unknown to you also doubles.  The old adage ‘the more I know the more I don’t know’ rings true if you’re not focused on yourself.

     Matthew Henry point out that nothing makes little knowledge useless more than a big ego; “There is no proof of ignorance more common than conceit of knowledge. Much may be known, when nothing is known to good purpose. And those who think they know any thing, and grow vain thereon, are the least likely to make good use of their knowledge.”

     The early church at Corinth was dealing with the question if it was OK to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Barnes’ Notes sums up the issue;  “Some Christians would hold that there could be no harm in partaking of this meat any more than any other meat, since an idol was nothing; and others would have many scruples in regard to it, since it would seem to countenance idol worship. The request made of Paul was, that he should settle some “general principle” which they might all safely follow.”

     Paul tells us that in Christ Jesus  we have liberty and warns; “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)  When knowledge is used to justify actions that have little or no regard for others, it is of no value.  Worse than that it ‘puffs up’ those that stand on it and trips up many who struggle with it.

     The general principle Paul expresses is this; “For through your knowledge he who has a weakness becomes ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it has weakness, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:11-13)

     There’s nothing selfish about this general principle and that’s why I have trouble with it.  If some of my ‘weaker brothers’ could trip up because of my actions then all my hard earned ‘knowledge’ doesn’t allow me to do as I please even when I know that it’s OK!  Why should I care!  Am I my brother’s keeper?  Paul’s general principle runs contrary to the spirit of Cain which beset not only the early church in Corinth but also besets our churches today.

    We don’t have to worry about meat sacrificed to idols.  As yet this practice hasn’t been ‘re-discovered’ by our society.  That being said, we have plenty of idols and we do enjoy the proceeds of their worship.  Drinking, gambling and hedonistic excess are all idols for western societies.  Having a glass of wine with dinner, buying a lottery ticket or spending hundreds of dollars on a prom dress aren’t sinful – are they?  Yet the hype and cultural expectations we have built around these things and others like them provide us with much indulgence while others stumble over them.

     The freedom we have in Christ comes with a responsibility to ourselves and our brothers.  The extent to which we hang on to our ‘rights’ to indulge in those things that we have liberty in is the extent to which we are in their grasp; “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) We have a responsibility to our brothers to not behave in ways that will make them stumble; “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.…” (1 Corinthians 10:23,24)

     The expression of Paul’s general principle of not doing anything that would cause your weaker brother to stumble is an act of love.  Love trumps knowledge.  Love is the foundation of all truly worthwhile knowledge.  Love is putting away the childish things of self-indulgence and growing up.  A telling mark of ‘edification’ is maturity.   Love matures our faith and conforms us to Jesus Christ; “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:11,12)

     Jesus tells us; “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)

I’m losing weight!

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1 Corinthians 5:9 – 13  “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’ “

     What does this passage of scripture mean?  How do we apply it?  Have we been applying it in our churches?  There are so many questions that arise out of Paul’s instructions on how to deal with blatant immorality in the church. The immorality that he was addressing was indeed blatant; “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (v. 1,2)

   The Forerunner Commentary describes the problem; “Did the fornicator think that his singular actions were affecting the whole congregation? Not only did he not think so, but neither did the whole congregation! None of them, it seems, understood how his sin was having a damaging effect upon them! We, however, must begin to think in this way. We are one body, and what each part does and how he does it affects the efficiency, effectiveness, and purity of the whole. In Corinth it played a major role in puffing up, confusing, and dividing the congregation—jeopardizing the spiritual health of all!”

   Matthew Henry describes how the rot of pride eats away at the integrity of a fellowship; “Spiritual pride and false doctrines tend to bring in, and to spread such scandals. How dreadful the effects of sin! The devil reigns where Christ does not. And a man is in his kingdom, and under his power, when not in Christ. The bad example of a man of influence is very mischievous; it spreads far and wide. Corrupt principles and examples, if not corrected, would hurt the whole church. Believers must have new hearts, and lead new lives.”  Spiritual pride is the deadlier aspect of this problem.


And here’s the real problem.  If a fellowship isn’t mature and committed to the Gospel of God’s Word then it will not have the capacity to deal with sin in its midst.  One of two things are likely to happen.  Spiritual pride will manifest itself as permissiveness as it did among the Corinthians; “. . . a flagrant abuse, winked at by the Corinthians. Party spirit, and a false notion of Christian liberty, seem to have saved the offender from censure.” (Matthew Henry)  Or spiritual pride will manifest itself in the form of a self-righteous mob as it did with the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus (John 8:1-11).

     Thankfully we can examine the Scriptures and see how Jesus dealt with this woman caught in a blatant sin.   The Pharisees as self-styled guardians of the virtue of their community wanted her stoned and wanted to trap Jesus as well.   What did Jesus do?  He had to balance the need to preserve the integrity of the Law and the community who claimed to be living by it. And He had to live out His Gospel message to the world in keeping with His mission from God.  His reply to the Pharisees covered the community’s integrity (and lack of it); “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7)

     His reply to the woman expressed the Gospel to this woman who God sent Jesus to save and had  no accommodation or compromise for sin; “‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10,11)  The Gospel calls us to mercy.  Jesus calls us to confront with love not hate and condemnation.  His Word will do what man made justice and retribution can never do.  We must not idolize our own works and rules and ignore His compassion.   His example precludes such actions.

     If our only response to sin among us is to condemn those struggling with it and purging them with no mercy we are nothing more than a Pharisaical mob professing an ‘anti-Gospel’.  Nor can we ‘wink at sin’ and be permissive because that also injures those whom Jesus has sent to His church for healing.  In a very real way Paul was right in telling the Corinthians to expel the fornicator from their midst because neither they nor the transgressor was getting any good from their association.  Although Paul had the community’s spiritual health in mind, he still holds out hope for the man’s spirit; “. . . deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthian 5:5)  A spiritually sick man can’t get better among those who are just as spiritually sick as he is – the infection just spreads and grows worse.

     Each of us is a temple to the Lord;  “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) .  As the Holy Spirit inhabits us that which is sick and diseased in us is expelled slowly and surely.  Jesus tells us that it is in our own temple that we should start Paul’s process of cleaning out;  “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)  As I cast out the gross fat of my sin and self-righteousness I will be able to contend with my brothers.  But until I lose the dead weight of my own pride in self I am not up to the task.

     For every one of us we must face what John the Baptist accepted; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)  Until the Holy Spirit works in me putting away the evil person within me I am not fit to pronounce any judgement upon another.  Until this process of decreasing proceeds to its completion in me I will share His Word with any sinner as a brother in the fellowship of the hope that Gospel gives us all without condemnation and without compromise!

     Praise the Lord!

Comparing apples to oranges!

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1 Corinthians 2: 13-16  “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 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. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

Today there is so much talk of spirituality.  Many with a fake humility lay claim to ‘their’ spirituality as a hard earned destination they’ve come to after a tough road through life’s troubles. Yet their spirituality is only as deep as their mouth never quite getting to their actions or relationships with others.  How do you spot these fakes?  They are self- centered.  They are selfish.  There is no change in their lives – no transformation.

     The Bible tells us what they are like; “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things . . .  . ”  (Philippians 3:18,19)  Fake spirituality will often praise itself by comparing itself favourably with religion appealing to a false contrast – comparing apples to oranges.  Paul contrasts spiritual wisdom with natural wisdom and compares apples to apples and oranges to oranges. 

     True spirituality comes from God.  Jesus taught Nicodemus about the difference true spirituality makes in a man’s life; “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:3-8)  Nicodemus for all his religious training was a natural man and had trouble understanding what Jesus was teaching him.

     And how do we become ‘born again?  How do we achieve true spirituality?  Barnes’ Notes tells us; “To escape from sin, to be happy in the world to come, it is necessary that man should be changed in his principles, his feelings, and his manner of life. This change, or the beginning of this new life, is called the ‘new birth,’ or ‘regeneration.’ It is so called because in many respects it has a striking analogy to the natural birth. It is the beginning of spiritual life. It introduces us to the light of the gospel.” 

     A person who has been ‘born again’  grows and matures in faith and understanding of spiritual things.  Such a person will appear foolish to the world in many ways but can only be judged by the Word; “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)  Matthew Henry tells us that; “Every faithful minister may humbly adopt Christ’s words. His doctrine is not his own finding out, but is from God’s word, through the teaching of his Spirit. And amidst the disputes which disturb the world, if any man, of any nation, seeks to do the will of God, he shall know whether the doctrine is of God, or whether men speak of themselves.”

     The journey of a spiritual person doesn’t starts with any terrible trials or bad experiences such as ‘going to hell and back’ nor does it end with such a journey.  The journey of a spiritual person starts with being ‘born again’ by accepting the Gospel.  It is a journey of continual conversion ending in being conformed to the likeness of Jesus; “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:11,12)

    When we start the spiritual journey we die and don’t come back.  Being born again is like being born the first time in that your life will never be the same as it was.  Being born again is different from being born the first time in that you are born into the certainty of eternal life not certain death.  Scripture tells us;  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

     Jesus tells us plainly; “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:24,25)

     Praise the Lord!

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