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!

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