Friday, July 3, 2020

2 Corinthians 1

Key verse: 2 Corinthians 1:7
Big idea: When we are weak, we can be assured of God's comfort.

Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth century mathematician, physician, theologian and one of the brightest minds in history, wrote: "What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!"[1] He echoed well the theme of 2 Corinthians. It is the book of tensions, that at times seem like contradictions. Human beings are made in the image of God, yet made of dust. We are oh-so-profoundly weak.

Why has God allowed us to be so fragile if we are to be His vessels? Paul was no stranger to it. They had faced the sentence of death and unthinkably immense suffering. Why would God let them get to the brink? Paul says that God brought them to the brink of death, stripped away all of their resources and shattered their self-reliance so that they could learn to trust in the God who raises the dead. In their greatest weakness was the greatest glory.

One of the great mysteries of the Bible is that it is better to be hurt and be comforted by God than to never hurt at all. Our despair is our greatest hope. The pain of a broken heart is the guarantee of the comforting arms of God. But even that is not the sole purpose. God comforts us so that we can comfort others, where His love flows through us and into others. That is the greatest glory of humanity; we are broken vessels, restored by God and then used by God to restore others. Our heartache is the down payment on joining with God in the greatest honor we could ever enjoy. "The pride and refuse of the universe," Pascal wrote so wisely. But what a Savior, who does not just heal us from our weakness. He transforms it into strength.  

Discussion idea: In what ways could it be true that being comforted by God after pain is better than never hurting at all? Why does God use us to comfort others?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would show you how to recognize the ways He has comforted you and pass it to others.

[1] Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises, ed. Mortimer J. Adler and Robert McHenry, trans. W. F. Trotter, Second Edition, vol. 30, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 249.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

1 Corinthians 16:14

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 16:14
Big idea: The cross shapes our everyday lives.

As Paul concludes 1 Corinthians, we have seen the apostle's response to a deeply divided church. Paul offered them a better way: where they could have unity in diversity, each sacrificing their own interests for the interests of others like Jesus had shown them. Love would be their supreme bond, as modeled in the cross, and their supreme hope would be the resurrection life won for them by their Savior. In his concluding remarks, Paul gives a few more basic instructions for Christian living. He tells them how to receive Timothy, how to handle offerings and other miscellaneous matters. But his most important injunction is sweeping: let everything be done with love. 

What if we took that seriously? Let your driving in traffic be done with love. Let the clothes you wear, the food you eat and the things you drink be chosen with love. Pay your taxes, go to the store and go to school with love. How would our world be different if every Christian faced every situation with the question "What would love do here?" There would be a lot less division and a lot less hypocrisy when our concern is no longer with our own reputation. 

I have very few words today, because the point is simple. Just do it. And whatever it is, do it in love.

Discussion idea: What situations or challenges bring out a lack of love in you?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would keep His love in our minds at all times, so we would be quick to love others. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

1 Corinthians 15

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 15:20
Big idea: The cross is not the end of the story. 

For our honeymoon, my wife and I got to tour Israel. We sat on the steps Jesus climbed into the Temple, rode across the Sea of Galilee and saw the mountain where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (or at least where someone decided to put the gift shop). Of course, the most incredible place was the Garden Tomb. There we saw a cave, with a slot on the ground where a stone might block the entrance. We walked inside and turned to the right, where there was a bed carved out of the rock. Of course, the one thing we did not see was the most important thing of all: the body of Jesus. 

Although we have been looking at the cross as the primary theme of 1 Corinthians, the cross is not the end of the story, but the beginning. When He died, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, but on the third day, He rose again. Death could not hold the Author of life, and when He rose again, the new creation began. Just as the first Adam was the beginning of humanity, Jesus as the second Adam is the beginning of the restored humanity. The judgment of our sins is only the beginning of the story, because the life of Jesus gives us hope.

Discussion idea: What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 15:19 when he says that if our hope in Christ is in this life only, we should be the most pitied of all people?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to help you to remember that weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

1 Corinthians 14

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 14:12
Big idea: The cross is our model for ministry. 

Today's chapter is so often used as a debate in a battle about spiritual gifts that we often miss its very practical implications. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for missing the point of spiritual gifts. In what is really an extension of the theme of chapter 13, the gifts of the Spirit are not designed to be used to self-promotion or pride, but to serve others. Any real gift of God is designed to build up the church and that ought to be reflected in our priorities. 

This is not just true of things like prophecy, speaking in tongues, or supernatural knowledge. But the model for how we serve God is here. The question is not what roles will bring us attention or apparent success, but how we can best build up the body as a whole. We do not exist for ourselves, but for one another. Of course, this should not be surprising to us as Christians. Our Lord and Master had all of the gifts and abilities which could be imagined (and probably many others), yet He did not seek to serve Himself, but to build people up.

How different from the way that people normally act. We see others as tools to build us up and make or discard relationships based on their function. Our whole understanding of gifts is hardwired with selfishness. But God has a better plan. The sacrifice of Jesus shows us how a life should be used: it should be spent. Our whole lives are a ministry, so they ought to be like Christ's.

Discussion idea: What is a gift God has given you which you can use to build up others?
Prayer focus: Praise God for letting us be a part of His work. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

1 Corinthians 13

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 13:3
Big idea: Real love is revealed in the cross. 

I ran a search on Google: "What is love?" The top results, from places as diverse as Psychology Today and E-Harmony and are uniform only in their error. The first result from a Christian perspective is 23 items down, under a yoga website, two Jewish ones, a collection of literary quotes and many which I would not repost here (or anywhere else). Wikipedia says: "Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure." Not exactly Shakespeare. defines it as "Baby, don't hurt me, Don't hurt me, no more.", the Jewish website, says, "Love is the attachment that results from deeply appreciating another's goodness" As a sinner without any goodness by nature to love, I am grateful that God does not use that definition.

A genuinely Christian definition of love must reckon with the ultimate act of love in all of history. The cross teaches us that love is the choice of another, not because of who they are, but because of who we are, where we give ourselves away for someone else. Without this kind of love, all of the good works, special wisdom, and miraculous deeds are simply garbage. Even acts of "charity" to the point of giving our life up or giving all of our possessions to the poor can be loveless and therefore worthless. In God's eyes, love is both heart and action. It is my whole person devoted to your whole person. 

That love is patient, kind, rejects sin and rejoices in truth. If you put your name in place of the word "love" in today's chapter, would your parents or spouse believe it? What about your coworkers? Sometimes we try to get by with a cheap definition of love. I once spoke to a pastor's wife who believed that she loved anyone she did not hate, and did not hate anyone she did not desire to go to Hell. The Bible will not accept such cheap definitions. Jesus wants you to love like He loved, and that love gives all that we say and do its significance. 

Discussion idea: Who is someone that loves you? How do you know? How can you show love to another person?

Prayer focus: Praise God that He taught us to love by loving us. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

1 Corinthians 12

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 12:27
Big idea: The work of the cross through the Spirit brings unity in diversity. 

This afternoon, our family was playing in a pillow fort: boys versus girls. Samuel (almost 2 years old) was excited to throw pillows and say "Tak! Tak!"("Attack!"). Anastasia (almost 4 years old) was quick to squeal and call out about how we "have not seen the last of her." She can be a little dramatic. We were playing something which could be called "capture the tiara," but whenever her Mom got it, Anastasia took it back. In a different setting, she might be called a ball hog. 3-year-olds are not known for being team players, which makes it harder on everyone. The problem is that most of us never grow out of it. 

In today's reading, Paul uses one of the most famous metaphors of the Bible: the church is a body. As in a body, there are distinct parts which are all part of one life. The different parts complement each other, and the parts that might seem to be weaker are provided greater protection by the rest of the body, which the stronger parts do not need. The question is never whether all the parts of the body are given equal treatment, but whether each part of the body is allowed to thrive. In our body, God put all of the parts together not for the parts but for the whole. Our unity is in our diversity. If our organs were all identical, there would be no body at all.  If our organs were all disconnected and independent, there would be no body at all.

The apostle tells us that this is exactly how each church should operate. The one Spirit in each of us manifests His work in different ways, but the message is always the same: Jesus is Lord. No part of the body should be arrogant or humiliated, but should all realize that we need each other. The heart should exercise its gift, the lungs theirs, and so on. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body should hurt. When one part is missing or not pulling its weight, no other part of the body was designed by God to fill that role, and there is a strain. Your church family is not an accident. You were carefully placed in that body by God, with a certain job and a certain design. So let's serve one another, for His glory.

Discussion idea: If you stub your toe, is it possible to say, "Well, that sounds like a toe problem to me."? Is it possible for a healthy church body to have one part that hurts without the whole thing hurting?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see yourself as a part of the whole, neither arrogant nor despairing, but in the place He chose with the function He made you for. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

1 Corinthians 11

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 11:24
Big idea: When we take the Lord's Supper in unity, we remember the cross. 

If there is one value that is undervalued in American society today, it is unity. We value loyalty to our team and hatred of the 'enemy.' We value intensity of opinion and certainty of point-of-view. But we do not value the thing that Jesus prayed we would have as He knew He was looking at the last starlight of His earthly ministry. Unity. Corinth had the same problem with disunity, heavy on factions and light on family, they were eager to focus on status and prestige. It showed up in many areas of their corporate life, but the one area that seems to have genuinely angered the apostle Paul was when this division spewed its filth on the Lord's Supper, the memorial ordinance of the cross. 

In other settings, factions are foolish and juvenile. In this setting, it is blasphemy. How can we who have all received the unmerited broken body and poured-out blood of the spotless Son of God then look down on one another? Or despise someone of a different class? In Corinth, the fellowship feast was a bring-your-own food affair. The wealthy were fat and drunk, while the poor nursed empty stomachs and sandpaper mouths. Instead of looking at the others as members of a family, their hearts were filled with contempt. Contempt even while the wine that represented the blood of Jesus, who had born the contempt of the Almighty for their sins, was still on their lips. What absurdity! What blasphemy! "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."

The Lord's Supper must picture the unity bought by the death of Christ. Unity between humanity and God, and unity between people. To eat and drink unworthily, without repentance (and clearly repentance of dividing the body in particular), is to be guilty of the blood and body of the Lord. No light condemnation. So there is a great responsibility here. But there is also a great privilege. We can serve as a living picture of the work of Christ: proof of the ministry of reconciliation. It is not for nothing that He said: "This do in remembrance of Me." 

Discussion idea: Who are some people that are divided from each other today? How can the message of the gospel reconcile them?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you identify the areas in your heart where you look down on others, and help you to overcome them. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

1 Corinthians 10

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 10:23
Big idea: There is no room for any competitors to the cross.

Unlike Romans, which we saw moved forward in a very linear way, 1 Corinthians introduces ideas and then returns to them later, in overlapping cycles. If we synthesize the major issues so far, we can see how they interact. The church as a Temple, where the food is not the animals sacrificed to idols, but the blood and body of Christ as represented in the Lord's Supper, where the united church as His body is the unleavened bread offered up alongside the Lamb. We should not be surprised then when the Lord's Supper is brought back in for today's text. The tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians brings the argument which began in the eighth chapter to full fruition. Chapter 8 had dealt with laying our liberty down for the sake of other believers, not eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols if it might cause someone else to stumble. Then, chapter 9 had expanded this principle to our witness before non-believers: if it interferes with our witness, it is not worth doing. But the summary principle is plain: all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. We must realize that the same temptations that run through the Bible are the ones we face today, but with the promise of a way out.

The Israelites worshipped God in the Tabernacle and the Temple but contaminated it with idolatry. God has recorded their failures as an example for us, so we will not follow in their steps of sin and judgment. Do not miss the point here. The idolatry is not the meat sacrificed to idols; Paul says that if you go to a party, don't ask if the meat has been offered. The idolatry is putting meat ahead of Christ, by eating it when it hurts my brother. It is an idol because I think that what it gives me is worth more than what Jesus has commanded. God is a jealous God and He demands our whole heart.

Brothers and sisters, idolatry is just as dangerous for us as it has ever been. We may not bow down before golden calves or offer up incense, but whenever we let anything in our lives get in the way of the work God has called us to, we have found our idols. Whatever we do, "whether we eat or we drink," it must be for the glory of God. Not offending Jews, Gentiles or the church, but trying to please others. We do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord. 

Discussion idea: What is an idol which tempts you? What personal/cultural preference would you be unwilling to give up for the sake of evangelism and building up your brothers?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would give you the strength to flee the temptation to idolatry by running to Him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020