Open Door Doesn’t Mean Easy

Studies in First Corinthians – XXIX

1 Corinthians 16:7-9

“For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.”

In the closing chapter of First Corinthians, Paul begins to write of his future plans, especially his desire to visit Corinth once again. When this is possible, he does not know because he is certain that he is presently in God’s will at Ephesus.

He gives two reason for his assurance: because God has opened a door of opportunity, and there are many adversaries. He didn’t say, “But there are many adversaries, so I think I will give up soon.” He said, “And there are many adversaries, so I will stay.” In other words, Paul saw the adversaries as an opportunity and just as much a reason for staying as God’s open door.

I trust that our mediation on this may put courage into some faltering life, strength into some soldier of the cross, and insight into all our hearts as to what an open door is, and what it demands of us. – Alan Redpath

It is important to remember that the door to Ephesus had not always been open. Just a few years ago, Paul was forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach in Asia. Many things happened before this door was finally opened. Before Paul arrived, God was going to send another preacher to break up the stoney ground. And that is exactly what He did with Apollos. Paul was ready, but he had to wait for the perfect timing of God. Ephesus was shut to Paul because Ephesus was not ready for him.

Not only did Ephesus need prepared, Paul needed some toughening up for the trials that he would face when the door was finally opened. He first had to go to a prison at Philippi and a riot in Thessalonica. Both of these experiences were needed to put spiritual courage in him for the road ahead.

Now Ephesus is ready, and Paul is ready. It is a prepared man and a prepared place. It is always a thrill to step into the place of service which is prepared for you. But when the door finally opens, what will it be like? Will it be overwhelming blessing and a life of mountain top experiences? No! In fact, for Paul, Ephesus was a trial from beginning to end. You can read about all of his adversaries in Ephesus in Acts nineteen and twenty, but he sums it up nicely for us in 1 Corinthians 15:32, “I have fought with beast at Ephesus.”

This is not really what we think of as an open door. For Paul, an open door was not synonymous with ease. It was not ease that Paul was looking for, it was opportunity: opportunity to share the Gospel and opportunity to serve the Kingdom of God.

Look for open doors, not easy doors. Never doubt that God has opened the door because you see adversaries on the other side. He never promised an easy road, but He did promise that when He opens the door, no man can shut it. Walk through the door. Trust in His plan. Seize your God-given opportunity.

In Which Camp Are You Living?

Studies in First Corinthians – XXVI

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

“It’s good to be alive!” This phrase usually expresses the joy of a moment, some fleeting experience. But what does it really mean to be alive in the spiritual and eternal sense of the word? Paul writes of the real significance of life in Christ.

“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:21-22).

Paul points to two camps: in Adam, in Christ. Everyone who has ever lived has chosen to live in one or the other. There is no neutral ground. We are all born into Adam’s camp and most live and die there. However, we can be implanted by the miracle of the second birth into the camp of Christ.

“As in Adam all die.” Adam had been warned that rejection of God’s authority would mean loss of life. But he took the reins in his own hands, defied God’s authority, and promptly died. He didn’t die a physical death at that moment but he died a death much more to be feared. His relationship with God was cut off immediately. The mark of death grew on him in every way.

So begins the story of the tragic breakdown of human life at every level when out of proper relationship with God. Each of us, by the law of heredity, has become involved in this tragedy. As Paul put it, “by the disobedience of one the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:15).

The marks of death are upon each of us today: the stains of sin, of hatred, of all the decaying fruit of the self-life. Unless we move out of the camp in which we were born and into the camp in which we are born again, we will continue in the rebellion, not only in life but in eternity.

“So in Christ shall all be made alive.” Here is the counterattack of heaven. Man, made in the image of God, has chosen the devil as his master and become like him. Now God is made like man in order to rescue him from the rule of Satan. He has come to restore the character of God in man.

It was not necessary. Justice would have been completely satisfied if the entire human race had perished forever. But God is not only just, He is loving! And His love seeks and saves the lost.

The kingdom of death was invaded by a Man who’s life knew no sin. He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin. So as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). He has removed the mark of death and set in its place the mark of life.

In which camp are you living?

The Gospel In A Nutshell

Studies in First Corinthians – XXV

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul is quickly coming to an end of his first letter to the church at Corinth. He has revealed the emptiness of their supposed knowledge and philosophy. He has preached the message of the cross. He has corrected the errors in their practices and doctrine. He has proclaimed the triumph of love. And now he draws out the foundation upon which he has leaned heavily: the gospel.

“I declare unto you the gospel” (15:1).

Nothing else matters if they have not truly received the gospel. Have their lives been changed by their response to the implications of the dynamic message of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Paul demonstrates to them that the gospel he has preached is based upon certain facts. Furthermore, there is indisputable evidence, so there is no excuse for failing to believe and accept it. Not only is this gospel based upon facts, but it has immense personal implications for every person. The awful possibility grips Paul’s mind as he thinks that the Corinthians may have only believed in vain. This depends, for them and for us, whether our faith has produced a proper response.

What are the facts? “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (15:3-4). That is the gospel in a nutshell. It is the simple story of a man who lived in the Middle East about two thousand years ago who was crucified outside Jerusalem. He was buried and He rose again. He wasn’t just any man, He was God manifest in flesh. He died for our sin so that we can live.

These simple facts need each other. If you take anything away, you have no gospel. A cross without a resurrection is no gospel. The death of a sinful man does nothing to impact the eternity of mankind. These things: He died, He was buried, He rose again, are the basic elements of the Christian faith. Twelve simple men, most of them fishermen, could never have turned the world upside down unless all of the facts were true.

Have you believed the gospel of Jesus Christ? It will show.

Orderly Edification

Studies in First Corinthians – XXIV

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Paul describes here a church which may seem unfamiliar to most of us today. If you are old enough to remember a good old fashioned testimony service, his words will make perfect sense. “When you come together,” he says, “everyone has a song, or a teaching, or a revelation. Everyone has something to add to the service.” The people to whom Paul was writing to did not come to church to receive all the time, they came to give.

Paul admonished them to be sure that everything they did was for the edifying (building up) of the Church. Every believer, whether they came with a song, a testimony, a teaching, or a revelation, was contributing to the upbuilding and ministry of the entire congregation. Everyone came to play their part, contributing to the overall health of the body.

What positive contribution are you making to this goal? Every one of us has something to give and no one’s gift is insignificant. We should come to every service prepared to give; give worship to God and give in ministry to the Church body.

It is more blessed to give than to receive. -Acts 20:25

Obviously, if everyone comes bursting with something to say or do, things can get out of hand very easily. Paul uses the remainder of this chapter to bring balance to the enthusiasm of believers to contribute to the service. He begins by correcting certain practices and concludes with a simple summary, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (14:40).

The word “decently” means “with beauty.” The word “order” means “arrangement.” Let everything be done in beauty and by arrangement. This can only be an outflow of a private spiritual life of a child of God. Without a personal relationship with God, you will never come to a service with something to contribute. It is out of that private and personal communion with God that you can come to a service with a song on your heart and a testimony for the Lord that will minister to the Body of Christ.

Love Is

Studies in First Corinthians – XIX

1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:1-3

I imagine love lights up the face of Paul as he dictates the next words of his letter. For twelve chapters he has dealt with issues concerning the low spiritual state and disunity of the Corinthian church. As he said in the beginning, they “came behind in no gift” (1:7), but they were tragically lacking in love. It must have been the climax for him to finally give the answer to every problem they faced: the love of God.

Love remains the answer for us today. In fact, Paul tells us quite plainly in these verses that if we have no love, we have nothing; but if we have love and lack much else, we have what matters most.

The word that Paul uses for “love” (translated “charity” in the KJV) is agape. It means an actual absorption of every part of our being in one great passion. It is used most often in relation to God: “God so loved [agapao] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). This word has little to do with emotion; it indicates love which deliberately, by an act of will, chooses its object, and through thick or thin, regardless of the attractiveness of the object concerned, goes on loving continually, unconditionally, eternally.

It suggests complete self-denial. Loving in this manner means never thinking of self over the object of love. There is only One who has ever lived up to its definition.

It is the only word used to describe God without any qualification or explanation: God is agape. No explanation needed.

Whatever love is, Jesus is. Jesus suffers long and is kind. Jesus envies not; Jesus vaunts not Himself, is not puffed up, does not behave Himself unseemly. Jesus seeks not His own, it not easily provoked, takes no account of evil, rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices with truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.

Love is the one thing that is completely indestructible. It is the most powerful force in the universe. While everything else fades, love lasts. It is not dependent on anything outside of itself. It is not affected by the worth or worthiness of its object.

God is love. Love is. That is the greatest truth you could ever know. To know Him is to love Him.

What Gift Are You Giving?

Studies in First Corinthians – XVIII

1 Corinthians 12:1-12

As we turn to the twelfth chapter, Paul begins to deal with spiritual gifts. These gifts were God’s answer to the divisions and carnality that plagued the Corinthian Church. They are for the benefit, not of myself, but of other people. God gives us the gifts so that we can minister to the needs of others; He gives so that we can give. Spiritual gifts are an answer to division because they were meant for mutual ministry among the Church body.

Diversity is one of the most beautiful things about the body of Christ: different temperaments, personalities, races, social backgrounds, and many others. We are all saved but thank God that we are not all the same! Despite all of these differences we each go to the same source for our gifts:

“Now there are diversities of gifts (gifting, talents, ability), but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations (types of ministry), but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations (expressions of God’s power), but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (12:4-6).

The problem in Corinth was that these gifts were being used in an immature manner for self-promotion when they were meant to be used for the good of the Church body. The Lord desires that each of His children would not only be equipped individually for the journey, but that they would be well able to minister to and profit one another.

He knows how to distribute the gifts, and He “divides to every man according as he will” (12:11). It is not ours to decide which gift we will receive. We are not to complain if someone receives a gift and we do not. We are only asked to use the gift that He has given us to minister to the Body of Christ.

What gift are you giving?

Paul’s Teachings on Communion

Studies in First Corinthians – XVII

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

In this later portion of the eleventh chapter, Paul is correcting the Corinthians for abusing the Lord’s table (the taking of communion). In doing so, he teaches them the purpose and proper observance of communion.

First of all, communion is a remembrance of the past.

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (11:23-25).

We take communion to remember the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The One who gave His life at Calvary is asking that we remember His death and put it at the center of our Christian experience. He who loved us unto death is calling us from busyness and barrenness to wait upon Him and worship Him. He is pointing us back to the heart of the Gospel: the cross.

Paul is sure to bring out the important fact that when Jesus took bread, the symbol of His soon-to-be broken body, and gave it to the disciples, He did not complain. He gave thanks! At the moment when all of the powers of sin and evil were against Him, just before He endured the anguish of Gethsemane alone while disciples slept through the night, just before they hung Him on a tree, He gave thanks! How? Because it was His delight to do the will of the Father.

Taking communion is not only a remembrance, it is a proclamation.

“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26).

The Greek word for “shew” means to proclaim, declare, or preach. Even if you are not a preacher, you preach a sermon when you take communion. You are preaching to the powers of darkness, proclaiming the Lord’s death which has conquered them. You are also declaring a witness to the Lord that you trust His atoning work.

As much as communion is a remembrance, it is also hope for the future.

“…ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26b).

The Word of God emphasizes the hope of every child of God: any moment, and day, the clouds may part and Jesus Christ may come again! We will only partake of the Lord’s supper until that day we have been waiting for comes: the day He returns to take us home.

Finally, communion is a time of self-examination.

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (11:27-29).

Notice he doesn’t say “if we are unworthy.” None of us is worthy to eat or drink the Lord’s supper. He says, “whosoever shall [eat and drink] unworthily.” How do we eat and drink unworthily? If we come to His table without examining ourselves.

Paul is warning us that if we keep coming to the Lord’s table without examining ourselves and repenting of our sins, there is going to come a day when God will judge and punish us. He does not keep anyone from coming to the table, but He gives us a warning that should cause us to come in humility and repentance.

Can I? Could I? Should I?

Studies in First Corinthians – XVI

In a world of increasing darkness and an ever widening gulf between the holiness of God and the wickedness of mankind, it can be difficult for the Christian to know where to draw the line. Of course, the line should not move further from God as the world does. Certainly there must be some principles that we can follow as we make decisions. In the second part of chapter ten, Paul gives us three guidelines for making these decisions motivated by our love for God and others.

1. Live Sacrificially for Others

“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (10:24).

Paul wasn’t suggesting we steal each other’s money. He was teaching that we should all live sacrificially for other people. Because of love, the child of God will be careful to do nothing that would hinder another. His first concern is the spiritual wealth of that person. In every setting: at home, at church, on the job, in school, he is seeking the spiritual benefit of others.

2. Live in Separation Unto God

“What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? 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. 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” (10:19-21).

Paul makes here an important distinction: our fellowship is at Calvary, but our contact must be with the world. Our fellowship is with Jesus, but our friendship is for those who do not know the Savior. In other words, Paul distinguishes between our associations and our fellowship. We associate with unsaved people as we move throughout this world, but we fellowship with the LORD and the body of Christ at Calvary.

It is impossible to belong to Christ and live in the enemy’s camp. Absolute separation unto God is demanded, but remember that separation is not isolation. Separation is contact without contamination. We are to move among the lost, talk with them, work with them, play with them – but always maintain the standard of Christian living.

3. The Glory of God is Our Purpose in Everything

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).

Paul was not suggesting we can make up our mind about the righteousness of an action and, whatever we decide, do it for the glory of God. He was teaching that we should ONLY do that which we CAN do to the glory of God. If an action or decision goes against the Word of God or the Spirit of God, it cannot be for His glory.

Ask yourself these three questions when you need to make a decision:

1. Will it be a stumbling block to others? If the answer is yes, your love for others should stop you.

2. Can God bless this action? If you can’t expect Him to bless it, then don’t do it.

3. Can I do this for the glory of God? In not, then have no part of it.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Studies in First Corinthians – XV

In chapter ten Paul begins to exhort the Corinthians to caution in their Christian walk. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (10:12). The devil’s great objective is to cause the child of God to stumble so that he loses his power in the Holy Ghost. In order to illustrate the importance of caution, Paul draws on the example of the children of Israel in the wilderness (10:1-11).

The first four verses show the incredible privileges of the people of God. With all that God brought these people through, you would think it would be impossible for them to fail. But in verse five, Paul is pointing out their failure: “But with many of them God was not well pleased.”

How many is “many?” All except for two! Only two who came out of Egypt entered into the promised land – Caleb and Joshua.

The others were “overthrown” in the wilderness. What overthrew them? Paul gives us the answer: he shows us four things that spell out tragedy, not only in the times of Moses, but for every believer today.

1. LUST“we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (10:6).

God provided them with everything they needed. Yet they were not satisfied. They asked for something different than what God had given. They asked for something perfectly legitimate, but it was not a part of God’s plan. God knew what was best for them but they demanded to have their way.

One of the first things that will take men away from God is a desire for something other than what He has planned for them. God will always meet us on the level of our desires. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will not withhold it. But if we desire something outside of His will, He will not fight us long to stay.

2. Idolatry“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them” (10:7).

When Moses was taking too long with God on the mountain, the people decided they needed a new God. Aaron set up an idol, pretending it was unintentional, but it was idolatry. The people worshiped the golden calf. They “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (10:7). Simply put, they took sacrifice out of their religion in favor of ease and comfort.

3. Fornication“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (10:8).

The children of Israel were involved in wrong relationship, unequally yoked with ungodly people. They lowered their standards of purity and became guilty of relationships which were completely opposed to God’s will, exposing the true desires of their hearts.

4. Unbelief“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (10:9-10).

How often they complained despite the faithfulness of their God! It seemed hardly a few days would pass from a great miracle before they forgot and were troubled by unbelief. How often in our own life do we fail to trust the leading of God when it takes us through the wilderness?

If you find yourself struggling with any of these today, there is hope!

“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” (10:13-14).

God does not say He will remove the pitfalls. He doesn’t say that He will not permit you to fall. But He does say that it doesn’t have to happen. He has provided a way of escape!

Sacrifice and Discipline

Studies in First Corinthians – XIV

In chapter nine, Paul writes about his policy on financial support to teach on discipline and sacrifice, illustrating a mature use of Christian liberty. Paul had every right to accept pay for his labors, but he set aside his rights to reach a higher goal. He waved his rights so that the Gospel wouldn’t be clouded by greed. He was giving up the good for the best; sacrificing the immediate for the eternal.

The sort of discipline of the body and sacrifice of personal rights Paul speaks of throughout this chapter are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is also evidence to the Christian and to the unbeliever alike of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

Paul vindicates his apostleship by pointing out things that were absolutely legitimate rights, but to which he had said “no” for the Lord’s sake. Within the scope of that test, what counts is not my success, my connections, my blessings, or my skill, but that my heart and life bear the marks of the cross and sacrifice. It will cost you something to follow Jesus.

Paul also speaks of the disciplining of the body. “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others I should myself be a castaway” (9:26-27).

I like the way J.B. Phillips paraphrases it in his Letters to Young Churches, “I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight! I am my body’s sternest master, for fear that when I have preached to others I should myself be disqualified.”

While we are saved by grace through faith, we also know that faith without works is dead. True faith gets into our hands, our feet, our tongue, our heart, and our mind. Simply put, faith is expressed in the physical. If faith in Jesus Christ does not begin to make the whole body move in the will of God, there is no evidence of faith at all. Saving faith disciplines the flesh by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.

Let us all examine our lives for the marks of sacrifice and discipline. Have we left behind certain things to which we are entitled for the sake of the Kingdom? Are we triumphing in our daily walk, not allowing the flesh and its appetites to dominate our life?

Remember, even the Apostle Paul could not do these things if it had not been for the power of the Holy Ghost. Jesus is the only one who could live such a life, and He did. He renounced His rights and brought His body under subjection even unto His death. When we are filled with His Spirit, these same characteristics will begin to work themselves out in us!