1 Cor. 9:1-13
Paul is continuing on the theme we left last week, and that is our stewardship of the freedom that we now have in Christ. Last week we ended in chapter 8 seeing how Paul was urging us to think of our freedom as something we lay down in service of the gospel rather than as something we flaunt in service of our rights. Chapter 9 is Paul's way of saying "here's what that looks like for me." Paul isn't just telling the Corinthians (or us for that matter) to do something that he himself isn't also doing.
Specifically, Paul is using the example of how hard he and Barnabas work in both a ministry and apostolic capacity, but also as laborers who earn their income by another means. In other words, they work bivocationally, not because they must, but because they believe it best serves the kingdom. Paul even says that those who do gospel ministry full time should earn a living throgh gospel ministry (v. 14). Still, he did not demand or avail himself of the right.
For me, this hits very close to home. v. 9 quotes the OT Law saying “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Basically, while oxen plowed, they would eat parts of the grain, to nourish themselves as they spent themselves. Some people would muzzle their ox to keep them from eating while they were working and depleting the supply. And Moses' law forbid that practice because it was animal cruelty. Paul is saying that not paying pastors and ministers of the gospel and caring for their material and physical needs is the same kind of cruelty. Paul isn't making the case that pastors should made rich and affluent. Not at all. Just they should be well cared for.
Now, lest anyone think I'm making a play for anything, I'm not. This is such a humbling text to me because I know and have seen pastors who have labored with profound lack. I consider myself very well loved and cared for by the people I've been privileged to shepherd. This is just a passage that makes me so grateful for God's provision, the faithfulness and generosity of God's people, and the privilege to actually serve and lead Generations. I'm not getting wealthy of this, but I know how rich I am, and I'm incredibly grateful.
- I guess a fair question to consider today is, are you giving faithfully and sacrificially to Jesus' church and Jesus' mission?
Generations is in a very healthy place right now financially, so it's nice to say that with no real need right now. :) If you struggle with giving, don't understand why God calls us to give or just want to talk more about any side of giving, please talk to me or an elder or Gospel Community leader.
v. 6-11 - These verses outline some of the characteristics and consequences of being with with fools. We should have a healthy fear of trusting a fool (v. 6), learning from a fool (v. 7, 9), honoring a fool (v. 8), hiring a fool (v. 10) or not learning from our own foolishness (v. 11). To ignore these things is bring harm to yourself and others.
v. 13-16 - Similarly, these verses outline the impact of associate with "the sluggard."
v. 17-21 - Warn against being with quarrelsome and argumentative people.
The bottom line really is that we should fear the impact of having trusted relationships with foolish, lazy and quarrelsome people. Instead, walk with wise, hard working and peacable people. The quality of your life will be far greater.
v. 5 tells us to value correction and criticism. My insecurities and pride make me resistant to rebuke, but Solomon seems to say I need to be resistant to that resistance. I want to be praised and affirmed, not corrected or challenged. But in v. 21 he goes so far as to say that I should be cautious and skeptical of praise. Correction, even if misguided, at least calls me to humility and healthy self-reflection, while praise tends to feed my ego and entrench me in an unhealthy self-assurance.
1 Cor. 9:14-27
The real heart of this passage is v. 19, "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them." Paul's desire for the gospel to permeate everything and reach everyone dictated his strategy for ministry. And this is how we are to think about our own assignments from the Lord, and those he has placed us and called us to minister to. Christians are missionaries. Period. And the question for a good missionary is always how to build relational bridges strong enough to bear the weight of truth. So Paul laid down his preferences, comforts, natural likes, cultural norms, in order to accommodate and serve those he was called to minister to.
This is not relativism or liberalism. We must maintain biblical morality and gospel fidelity, while being flexible with cultural sensibilities. We must serve and honor not-yet-believers by removing unnecessary barriers to the gospel. We tend to be uncomfortable with so much in relating to not-yet-believers, and we want them to accommodate us. Paul says it's the privilege of the missionary to accommodate those to whom they are sent, as long as it doesn't mean sinning or diluting or distorting the gospel.
- What does this look like for you and the people you're called to? In what ways can you lay down personal preferences or "Christian" sensibilities, to earn credibility, build trust, and create an in road for the gospel?
v. 14 - "Blessed is the one who fears the Lord, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity."
Fear of the Lord is a softness to the Lord. It's receptive to him, open to him, not guarded or defensive toward him. Hardness of heart deflects the Lord, and brings destruction and difficulty.
v. 25 - "The fear of man lays a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord is safe."
Here is the other side of 28:14. Fear the Lord, or fear man. Trust in the Lord or trust in man. Those are our options. We will fall into one or the other. And it's far easier and more natural to fear man, to regard man's opinion, to want man's approval. It is quite natural for us to fear offending man who is right in front of us, than to fear God almighty who created us. It's natural... but it's backwards. It's a trap. But taking God at his word, and trusting his promises, his wisdom, his instruction, his design, his ways, is the only safe path.
1 Cor. 10:1-13
This is another passage with a lot of different things. I want to simplify by leaning into v. 12, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." This is Paul's warning corresponding to instruction against idolatry. His references to Israel's wilderness wanderings, and the various failures of God's people to keep God at the center. Whether it was foolishness, sexual immorality, grumbling against authority, or lifeless religious practices, much of Israel got distracted and turned away from the Lord.
The thing about our flesh is that it just never quits. We have to kill it and keep killing it. Every natural impulse we have is to disregard God. We are tragically and pathologically prone to diminishing him, seeking satisfaction in substitutes, trusting in counterfeits and to deceiving ourselves about the level to which those things are happening. Our self-congratulatory thoughts about how we're doing are a clear and present danger. For at the moment of feeling quite good about our spiritual progress, there lurks a self-deceiving temptation toward pride, apathy and pretense which would undermine any progress yo uhave made. There is no greater threat to our spiritual health than the threat of self-deception. We hate to see ourselves as we really are. We will do almost anything to avoid seeing ourselves as we really are. But real repentance and faith will only flow from an honest appraisal of who we really are. Let every one of us take heed lest we fall.
v. 5-6 - In the same way that we fear the Lord, we are have a fear of His Word. We trust his word, his revelation, because it his heart disclosed to us, and it leads us into life and it protects us. Solomon here affirms the reliability of God's word, and warns against adding to God's word. God's word will prove true so any distortion or addition to His word will also be proven false. Hold fast to the word.
Ladies, there is nothing more attractive than a woman who fears the Lord. Period.
Men, if you have a wife who fears the Lord, honor her and praise the Lord. Prioritize this quality above any other.
1 Cor. 10:14-22
So in light of yesterday's passage and our need to be honest and real about our most humiliating and embarrassing selves, Paul says, "Flee from idolatry." One of the tendencies we display in our pretense and image obsessed self-deception, is the tendency to flirt with idolatry rather than flee from it. We give ourselves a lot of latitude to dabble in things, as Paul emphasized in chapter 9 due to our "Christian freedom." But our "freedom" is really a cover up for feeding our flesh. Brothers and sisters, anything in your life that would dampen your zeal for Jesus is a potential idol. Anything in which you hope or trust more than Jesus; anything to which your allegiance and loyalty is stronger than Jesus; anything you won't give up for the sake of Jesus is an idol.
And thought they threaten the Lordship and supremacy of Christ in our lives, we play footsies with them. We sneak around with certain indulgences; we entertain certain impulses; we are gentle in our opposition to sin; tentative in our dealings with our flesh; we want to get as close to idols as possible without entering into idolatry, which is an expression of idolatry in the first place. All that robs us of Christ and the peace and joy and life and freedom that he gives to us, is to be aggressively dealt with, ferociously opposed, violently put to death and decisively renounced. All of that, again, is pursued through humble self-searching, honest confession and deep personal repentance, trusting in the finished work of Christ every step, to redeem and refresh and renew us as we are continually remade in Jesus.
What must you flee from today? Not take steps away, or lean away from, but flee from? What idol do you need to make a clean break from and high tail it out of there?
Proverbs 1 Theme for March: Integrity, Character and Honesty
v. 33 tells us that attentiveness to and application of God's word and wisdom leads to a settledness of heart. When we ignore the Lord's wisdom and instruction allows for fear, insecurity, anxiety and paranoia to debelitate and paralyze us. Disregard for God and disobedience to God leads to an inner anticipation of the other show dropping... we're just waiting for disaster, rather than living into the hope of God's blessing to those who honor him.
v. 7 is an incredible thought really... uprightness and integrity set us securely under the protection of the Lord. Integrity will not keep us from harm, but it will assure us of the Lord's covering us and carrying us through harm. If I'm going ot be in harm's way I'd much rather know that Jesus himself is shielding me from that which threatens me.
If v. 7 tells me that integrity rightly nurtures an expectation of safety in the Lord, v. 21 tells us integrity rightly nurtures an expectation of stability in the Lord. We will not be carried from here to there, displaced continually or uprooted suddenly. It doesn't mean God won't every move is physically, of course, but it means we can have confidence that whatever changing circumstances we may face, integrity of heart saves us from feeling we're being punished. If we're walking in integrity, than anything the Lord is orchestrating in our lives can be understand through the lens of blessing, protection, preservation and what's best for us. Our hearts will remain steadfast and stable whatever external shifts occur.
1 Cor. 10:23-11:1
This text ties up a bunch of thoughts from the last 3 chapters in Paul's letter. We talked last week about the difference between asking "what am I free to do?" and "what does love require of me?" Paul speaks paritcularly about patterns of eating and drinking in the first century, something that Christians had differing convictions on. This brings us back to the social dimensions of exercising our freedom in Christ. And what Paul says is astonishing. We love to compartmentalize life into the spiritual and unspiritual, the sacred and secular, the serious and the frivolous. And Paul erases these distinctions. He brings the glory of God; the infinite worth and beauty and majesty of God; the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ; and he says these things are in play at every moment, in every activity, in every interaction.
This is not to replace watching football with a prayer meeting every Sunday afternoon. And this isn't to forbid family movie night for family worship every night. This isn't to switch out excercise or entertaining guests or yard work or vacation or video games with bible reading, Chris Tomlin playlists and missions trips. This is to infuse real meaning and significance into the everyday tasks we think of as "unspiritual". Every moment now matters. We can wash dishes and discipline children, and print of TPS reports, and play H.O.R.S.E and watch The Lego Batman Movie to the glory of God.
We are invited to enjoin every day, ordinary tasks and activities to eternal purpose and extraordinary significance. We eat, drink, play, work, laugh, clean, watch and rest all to the glory of God. But our hearts must be oriented that way... to honor him by enjoying him and the freedom that he gives in the midst of those every day activities. This is worship. Being shaped by the worth of Christ in everything we do.
- What are you going to do this weekend to the glory of God?
v. 21-24 - Walking in strength of character does not just give us internal rest as we've already seen in the first 2 chapters... it actually gives us physical rest. With a clear conscience comes a settled heart, and with a settled heart comes peaceful mind. Our consciences, hearts and minds, when agitated and restless rob us of peace in every way, and that includes physical sleep.
If you don't sleep well, I wonder if you have an ailing conscience, burdened heart, or troubled mind. Most of us want to avoid those realities for fear of what we might find there, but integrity compels us to patiently press into that which is unsettled in our hearts... so the Lord might comfort us in sorrow, convict us of sin, and bring us back to dependence and repentance that leads to life.
Picking up on the idea above, v. 23 tells us to vigilantly guard our hearts - that is to guard our will, emotions, thoughts, desires and beliefs. We cannot guard that which we are not well acquainted with. A part of how we do this is in the following verses... We cultivate an awareness of our speech, because what comes out of our mouths is flowing from our hearts (v. 24). We pay attention to what we set our eyes and gaze upon, because our hearts can be enticed by the lusts of the eyes (v.25). We pay close attention to each decision we make and the direction of our lives, because they indicate where our hearts are ointing us (v. 26). And anything in any of these areas that move us off the path of integrity we diligently and vigilantly root out of our lives.