Love, Liberty, and Limitations

Studies in First Corinthians – XIII

In the eighth chapter,Paul deals with a controversial question from the Corinthians, “Can a Christian eat meat that has been offered to idols?” The cheapest meat in town would have been the leftover parts from the pagan temple sacrifices. Some of the Christians, with the understanding that there is only one God and idols could not contaminate food, saved money by buying these cheaper meats. However there were other Christians who were offended by this and could not understand why a child of God would have anything to do with something offered to pagan idols.

We don’t deal with this particular issue today but we do need to have an understanding of the principle. What are the limitations of Christian liberty? Paul gives us an answer which should guide us in making personal decisions in areas that may be questionable.

According to Paul, we don’t answer these questions based on knowledge alone. We answer these questions based on knowledge governed by love. As a Christian we do not live our lives unto ourselves, we live them unto the LORD. We must always remember that others will be impacted by our decisions.

If we make our decisions about what we can or cannot do (perhaps I should say “will” rather than “can”), based only upon what we know, we err because there is someone else involved. We must ask, “What example am I setting for my fellow believer? For the new convert? For the unbeliever?”

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak” (8:9).

Paul says that knowledge puffs a man up, making him spiritually conceited and proud. However, love (charity) builds up (edifies) (8:1). If we have knowledge only, we are incapable of judging right. But if knowledge is mastered by love for our fellow believer and a concern for those who do not know the LORD, then that love leads us to think first of others.

We must recognize that our example can be a stumbling block to others. The love of God, put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, must be the deciding factor. Ask yourself: “If I watch this, how would it effect the young people in the youth group?” “If I go there, could it impact the witness I have with my unsaved coworker?” What example are you setting for those who are watching you? And trust me, they are watching you.

If you could make even one step to the cross easier for one person by denying yourself something which knowledge says you have a right to, wouldn’t it be worth it?

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Concerning Marriage

Studies in First Corinthians – XII

In the first six chapters, Paul has dealt with sins that were reported to be commonly known in the Church at Corinth. He now turns to the specific question they had asked of which this letter was a response. The subject of chapter seven is marriage.

Raymond Woodward points out that we should keep in mind that Paul is addressing specific questions and not expounding a complete doctrine of marriage. It is important that we consider what all of Scripture says on the topic.

We also find very interesting language in this chapter not found anywhere else in the New Testament. For example, Paul says, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord” (7:12); and “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment” (7:25). Paul was dealing with issues which Jesus had not addressed. He was giving his judgement on the matter as he was directed by the Spirit and considered the entirety of the Scriptures. We also must answer new and difficult questions regarding sexuality as we are led by the Spirit and guided by the Word.

At first glance, you would think Paul is elevating singleness and undervaluing marriage. He is doing no such thing. He says that it is good for a man not to be married, but he does not say it is better. In other words, it is not sinful for a person to remain single if they keep themselves pure. “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (7:9).

Concerning marriage itself, Paul insists on a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman (7:2). Both the husband and wife have responsibilities and rights which must be respected. Marriage is not an excuse for lust and the satisfying of the flesh. It should be marked by love, discipline, and mutual respect.

Paul also has something to say concerning divorce. If two Christians are married, there is to be no separation. Jesus made only one exception for this (Matthew 5:32) – if one spouse is guilty of adultery, this could be grounds for divorce.

Paul speaks of the power of the marriage relationship for those who have been saved after they were married. He encourages them to remain with their unsaved spouse in order to influence them that they might be saved. As a child of God, the saved spouse is God’s vantage point to reach the unsaved spouse. If your spouse is unsaved, begin to claim their salvation in Jesus’ name!

Paul comforts us regardless of what our relationship status may be with these words:

“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (7:20).
“Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (7:24).

If God has called you to be single, He will give you grace for it. If He has called you to be married, He will give you grace for it. If He called you to marriage and that marriage has led to adversity, He will give you grace for it. If you are recently saved but your loved one is not, He will give you grace for it.

In every instance we are to abide in our calling: submitting to the will of God, depending upon the grace of God, making every effort to bring glory to God…
– Redpath

God’s Property

Studies in First Corinthians – XI

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
– 1 Corinthians 6:15-17

Those redeemed by the blood of Christ are His body. We are the channels through which He works. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” Paul says. Wherever He can find a body surrendered to Him, He has found an instrument through which He can impact the world.

You will find that God always works through a body. “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ…” (Hebrews 10:9,10). We sin in the body. Christ came to earth in a body; He was “manifest in the flesh.” It was in the body that He overcame where we had been overcome. It was in the body that He died and rose again. Now He lives by His Spirit in the body of His people.

The question for every Christian is: Will I take that which is intended for Christ and give it to sinful purposes? If we are joined to Christ, we are enabled by His indwelling Spirit to control the body. But if we give our body to sinful purposes, we become one body with that which is sinful.

This is the constant battle that rages; either the Spirit of God is to triumph and the life of the flesh die out, or that which is of sin and the flesh will control us until the Spirit is no longer effecting us. Everything is lawful for the child of God, but only when properly under the authority of Jesus Christ. What He allows, I will do. What He rejects, I will reject. What His Word tells me is right, I will accept. What His Word tells me is wrong, I will refuse.

However, this is certainly not attainable in the flesh. Paul tells us how to win the battle. He brings us back, once again, to the cross. He is not afraid to expose sin but he always takes it to the cross!

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This is how we stand when on our own we would fall. We are filled with the Holy Ghost! We are bought with a price! We were not “redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Remember that you have been bought. You do not belong to yourself. The flesh struggles for freedom but the spirit takes comfort in these words. If He bought you, if He paid the highest price for you, it is because He finds value in you. If you are not your own, it is only because you belong to Him.

I am God’s property. The feet which once led me into sin now lead me into the presence of God. The eyes which once looked to this world are now looking to my Savior, my help. The tongue which once spoke evil now sings the praises of God. The heart which was once full of fear and darkness is now the temple of the Holy Ghost!

That The Spirit Might Be Saved

Studies in First Corinthians – IX

In chapter five of First Corinthians, we come to a major sin issue that was infecting the Corinthian church. The church was tolerating the sin of a brother and it was destroying their testimony in the world. Not only that, but their tolerance exposed their pride in worldly wisdom and human philosophy. Rather than mourning the sin of their brother, they were patting themselves on the back for being “open minded.”

This was not simply a breakdown in the life of one individual, but the wide influence that sin was having on the life of the church that tolerated it. The purpose for which they existed, to reach the lost, was in danger of total collapse because of the sin they had allowed to remain in their midst.

Alan Redpath paraphrases Paul:

“And ye are puffed up,” Paul accuses them, “you are haughty and proud, so occupied with your discussions and theological arguments that you are closing your eyes to this terrible thing that is going on right in the very center of your church life.”

Paul makes it clear that the church should judge the sin of the offending Christian (5:3-5). We do not judge the world; God will take care of that judgement in the future. We do however judge the conduct (not motives or ministry) of those who are inside the church.

His words may seem harsh: “taken away from among you” (5:2), “deliver such an one unto Satan” (5:5), “purge out” (5:7), and “put away” (5:13). This was the action to be taken regarding the guilty party, however, he was not left to be abandoned. He was, after all, a sinner for whom Jesus had died. The remainder of verse five gives the goal: “To deliver such an one…for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Church discipline is never easy but it is necessary to maintain our testimony in the world and to achieve its ultimate purpose — the salvation of the erring believer. According to 2 Corinthians 2, that is exactly what happened in this case.

If the church allows sin to remain, it paralyzes its witness, takes away the power, and removes the power of the Holy Spirit. An unholy church is a defeated church. The extent to which sin is permitted is the measure in which appetite for the Word of God will depart.

The Christian who is pure is powerful, but the man who is compromising is spiritually impotent. – Redpath

With What Are You Building?

Studies in First Corinthians – VII

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

-1 Corinthians 3:10-16

Paul points out the importance of having the correct foundation AND the correct building materials. Some Christians are building on the right foundation with the wrong materials (works of the flesh rather than the works of the Spirit). The Church will not stand on any other foundation than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet even on the correct foundation, it is possible to use the wrong materials.

Paul describes two types of building materials: indestructible—gold, silver, and precious stones; and destructible—wood, hay, and stubble. In this Scripture we see a clear distinction between salvation and rewards. It is possible for a man’s soul to be saved, but his works, being of no value, to be burned. If his motives are not eternal, but temporal or earthly, he may be saved, but his works will be destroyed. Our motives must be to build the Kingdom for the glory of God.

Build on the foundation with materials that will last the test of time. Build with the brick of submission to God’s will and purpose, even in times of suffering. Put in a doorway of prayer. Open up the windows of praise and worship. Be sure to include the gold of purity and righteousness, the silver of a radiant testimony, and the precious stones of victory over temptation.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians to pay close attention to how they build because they are the temple of God. Let us also be reminded, we are the temple of the Holy Ghost. We are intended to reveal the glory of the Lord.

Every one of us is building. Every moment of every day, we are building. Look in your hands – What are you building with today? Will it last?

Don’t Be A Baby

Studies in First Corinthians – VI

Every born again child of God has within them the Holy Ghost. God’s Spirit has come into our lives to produce His character in us. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Why is it that so little of Christ shows through and so much of my self remains?” We find an answer in the opening verses of chapter three.

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (3:1).

Notice that Paul uses the word “brethren”; he is writing to those who are filled with the Holy Ghost. He classifies these “brethren” into two groups: the “spiritual” and the “carnal”. These carnal Christians have a salvation experience but remain immature, controlled by their flesh.

The carnal man that Paul saw at work in the life of the Corinthians, we see in the lives of many Christians today. Every Spirit-filled believer has within them the capacity to take on the character of Jesus Christ, however this is not always accomplished. Why? Because too many Christians continue to live on the carnal level.

Carnal people lack spiritual growth. Paul calls them “babes in Christ,” saying, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat” (3:1-2). Don’t be a baby! Babies are totally dependent upon other people. They do not walk on their own. They aren’t able to feed themselves. The same is true for the carnal Christian. He cannot walk by himself. She has never learned how to feed herself on the Word of God.

Carnal people hold on to sin and live in constant defeat. They feed their old nature and starve their new nature. Although they have been filled with the Spirit, they continue to be mastered by the flesh. They can’t even enjoy their new fellowship because they are defeated and constantly fighting.

Simply put, carnal people live a life of fruitlessness and worldliness. In many ways, they resemble non-Christians; there is little that separates them. This is not the life God has planned for anyone who is filled with His Spirit.

Raymond Woodward describes plan God has for His children and the dangers of continuing to live the carnal life: “There are two sides to our relationship with God. As our SAVIOR, He gives us a positional relationship of perfect standing before God. As our LORD, He gives us an experiential relationship of progressive growth in God. This relationship can be broken and scarred by sin; once damaged, it can be healed only by repentance; if repentance is not sought, divine discipline may be the result; if repentance is still not sought, the believer will eventually forfeit even his positional relationship!”

As Christians, we are called to live a life of victory over sin and the flesh. We are called to spiritual growth and Christ-likeness. We are called to bring forth permanent fruit. Just as the carnal Christian reveals worldliness, so the spiritual Christian reveals a life of separation unto God.

Jesus Christ, And Him Crucified

Studies in First Corinthians – V

“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2).

Paul had identified a goal for the church at Corinth: “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:5). He knew this group of Christians could not face the challenge of presenting Christ if their faith was based only on intellectual assent. Their faith must stand on the rock of revelation rather than on the sands of human philosophy.

Corinthians would not be influenced by a well crafted argument. Nothing but the miracle of the grace of God revealed in the lives of those who had been transformed by the Spirit of God would impact this city for the Kingdom.

The same is true today. If we are going to impact our communities and our world, it will not be by winning a theological argument (though we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us). The world we live in is far too clever and sinful to be persuaded by a debate that appeals to their intellect alone. What our world needs is the evidence of a life dramatically and completely changed by the power of the cross.

What is the impact of your faith? Do others see in you the miracle of the grace of God? As you live, surrounded by the evil of this world, you have a mission that must be fulfilled, to stand in the power of God. This is possible only as we live in the revelation presented to us at Calvary. We must grasp the futility of anything untouched by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I believe that God is teaching us that nothing less than the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival can ever meet the need of this day. There can be nothing else; no false gods, no misplaced confidence in something or someone, no compromise, no unconfessed sin, no unsurrendered life, no critical spirit, no worldliness, no self can be allowed. For “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

The Light of God’s Wisdom

Studies in First Corinthians – IV

Right through this first chapter of First Corinthians Paul contrasts wisdom and foolishness: the wisdom of men and the foolishness of God, then the foolishness of men and the wisdom of God. It was the wisdom of men that had seduced this church. Division was a plague that was destroying the spiritual health of the people. The remedy for the situation was not philosophy or “the wisdom of words,” but the wisdom of God given through revelation by the Holy Ghost.

The moment any Christian departs from the principle of revelation, relying rather on human intellect for understanding God’s Word, all spiritual authority is lost. If we submit the Word of God to our own intellect and refuse to believe in the possibility of absolute authoritative revelation, we lose the power and authority. It’s not in us; it’s in Him.

If the church in our day is to invade a city for God, then it must get back to a place of absolute dependence upon the wisdom of God.

-Alan Redpath

Each of us is faced with a choice every day. Will we depend upon our human intellect and education to meet the need of the day? Or will we depend on the wisdom of God? Will we trust human wisdom and reasoning? Or will we trust the Spirit to lead and guide us? Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t downplay the importance of reason and thinking. I only intend to question the source: the wisdom of God or the wisdom of man.

Alan Redpath makes a challenging statement, “The moment a man begins to put his confidence in his own mind… in his personal criticism of Scriptures, he is finished as far as divine revelation is concerned.” You must choose the principle on which you will guide your life, on which you will study the Word, and on which you will serve the LORD.

Come to the cross. Take the place of death to self. Glory in the LORD. The Holy Ghost will illuminate the Word in a way that human wisdom cannot and give you understanding.

We Are The Church

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading and studying First Corinthians. There is so much wisdom packed into this letter for the Church today. I have especially enjoyed the timeless applications of these scriptures written by Alan Redpath in The Royal Route To Heaven. Over the next few weeks, I am going to be giving some of my thoughts and reactions as I have studied these Scriptures. It is my hope that in reading these posts you will be blessed as I have by the truths contained in God’s Word.

Studies in First Corinthians

Corinth was a proud and wealthy city. It has been called the “Vanity Fair” of the Roman Empire. In fact, the word “Corinthian” had become synonymous with loose living. The Corinthians were famous for their fleshly appetites, their love for arguing, and the pride of their knowledge.

It is here that Paul plants a seed of the Gospel and works to build a church for approximately eighteen months (Acts 18). Even though the church at Corinth had many problems, there is no doubt that Paul considered these people to be the “ekklesia” (called out) of God. As Raymond Woodward points out, “Paul calls them “sanctified” (1:2) in spite of their many problems. They were genuinely saved (1:4), generously endowed with teaching (1:5), securely established by preaching (1:6), spiritually gifted (1:7), and prophetically alert (1:7-8). Yet they were carnal, and were at risk of forfeiting it all!”

Paul deals with this carnality in the first eleven chapters. He exposes the tragedy of their living in sin and worldliness, and applies the positive remedy of the cross of Jesus Christ. For carnality, Paul prescribes the full message of the Gospel of Christ.

There are many today who do not follow Paul’s example here. We must preach and practice the gospel of forgiveness of sins but it must be accompanied by the gospel of deliverance from sin. We must move beyond pardon to purity!

Rather than lashing out at the Corinthians, Paul begins by lifting them up and reminding them of the glory of their salvation and of the great privileges that are theirs in Christ. He reminds them that they are “the church” (1:2), the “called ones”. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They were to live godly in the midst of an ungodly people. He called them “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). This is what they were in the sight of God, and not them only, but every member of His Church. We are God’s separated, called-out ones to a position of authority; a position in which we know what we believe, live it, and proclaim it.

In verse three, Paul begins to list a few of the things that God has given us for the journey; “Grace and peace” (1:3). There is grace to make me like the Master, grace to give me triumph when I would fail, grace to enable me to glorify God in every situation. His peace brings perfect harmony. It brings balance and unity to every part of my life.

Not only has He given us grace and peace, but we are “enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1:5). We have a message to proclaim! God has given us His Gospel to preach, His Word to live by, and His life to live out.

Finally, in verse nine, Paul completes the list of the Christian’s great privileges: “you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9). The Greek word for “fellowship” here is koinonia, which means having everything in common. This is your victory over flesh and carnality, all He has belongs to you! His victory is at your disposal now. All He asks is that all you have be at His disposal in return.

Let us not forget who we are. We are the Church!

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