Saturday, May 19, 2018

180520 Paul’s Message

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
In writing to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul moves beyond his opening statements. He began the letter by identifying himself as one who was called by God’s will to be an Apostle. He tells us that he is writing to the saints in every place. He has given thanks for the Corinthians. Then he turns to the first of many problems. The Corinthian church was split into several cliques. One of those cliques actually claims to be following Paul himself. Now he begins to help them understand the scope of his message.
The church in Corinth was primarily a working class, or a slave, congregation. The city was an important part of the commercial life of the Roman Empire. The culture of the city was corrupt and ungodly. The city was filled with sexual immorality and religious diversity. There were many questions involving spiritual gifts, marriage, and socializing with idolaters. There was a serious theological problem surrounding the resurrection.
As we read the two letters to Corinth we soon realize that…
The Corinthians, mostly, were not upper-class. Let’s look back to 1 Corinthians 1:26. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Paul reminds them that when they received the gospel there were not many who were of the intellectual upper crust. There were very few people who would be recognized as being important in their community. The church was not made up of people who were influential in society. We need to be reminded that God can use the everyday Joe or Jane as effectively as he can use the wealthy and worldly important people such as rock stars, athletes, and wealthy business people.
In fact, it was God who did the choosing of these people. Whether they were intellectual giants are illiterate workmen, rich and powerful or poor people struggling to live. We need to remember…
Whatever they were was God’s choice. Let’s read on 1 Corinthians 1:27-29. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
God did not watch the development of the church in Corinth and when it finally came together make a decision as to how it would be organized. Instead, God chose — let me emphasize God CHOSE — what was foolish in the world to shame the wise. “What was foolish” represents people not foolish ideas. God passed over the intellectual and the upper class to choose — again I say CHOOSE — the simple people of the world. He chose the weak and disenfranchised. In Corinth, the foolish, the weak, the low and despised was not just the working class. That list also included bond servants and slaves. He did all this with a purpose in mind. Never should a person be able to boast of being one of God’s people. God chooses whom he chooses not whom we chose! He would take the low and despised in the world in order to show that class and wealth are not as important as most people think.
Now, I am not opposed to wealthy people. In fact, I would like to be one. I am just now learning how to do that as I come to the end of my life. At least the last quarter to third of my life.
What they had was God’s gift. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 1:30-31. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Please take note! This passage begins with “because of him” we are in Christ Jesus! Not because of us or our goodness. The Bible says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5).
God does the saving by his own choice and not ours. We should be eternally grateful if there’s any possibility that God chose us! Now I’m not trying to discourage you or make you feel doubt in your salvation. I do encourage you to examine yourselves and see if you are in the faith or not. The Bible records Jesus’ words, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23). This is a frightening passage of Scripture and should cause us to read God’s word with a prayerful attitude so we may know with certainty that we are born again.
God himself, because of the work of Jesus on the cross, and that of the Holy Spirit in our lives brings us into a saving relationship. We are not saved because we are good enough to be saved. Jesus did not come to find good people and bring them into the kingdom. The Bible tells us that he came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10). Jesus said, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). Paul reminds us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15b). Paul is not saying that he is continuing in sin while living out his life serving Christ. He is saying that he set the standard for chief of sinners. He stood there and watched while the Pharisees stoned Stephen to death. He persecuted the church by arresting people who followed Christ. He imprisoned them and even caused many to be put to death! Let me give you a modern example of what Paul was saying when he said I am the foremost of sinners. He is saying that he set the mark! In the same manner that a young athlete might set a record — such as the high jump or the broad jump — and the school would put up a sign proclaiming him to be the best in his category. And as the years went by that would remain the record until someone broke it. Paul did not believe that anyone had broken his record of being “Chief of Sinners”.
Paul’s message was not of human strength. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:2-5. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
When Paul came to Corinth, you can read the record in Acts chapter 18, he came there determined to focus on the message of the crucified Christ! He did not come in his own strength! In fact, he came to Corinth in weakness, fear, and much trembling. He had just confronted the members of the Areopagus in Athens. Before that he had been arrested beaten and imprisoned in Philippi; gone on to Thessalonica where he had to be escorted out of town to keep from being beaten. And then to Berea where once again he found himself being challenged by Judaizers who followed him from place to place. He knew that the message based on human wisdom would fail to produce godly results. So he came guided by the Holy Spirit who demonstrated God’s choosing of Paul as his apostle.
Paul did not want the Corinthian Christians to have a faith based on the wisdom of men but instead to have a faith based on the power of God.
He imparted God’s wisdom. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-7. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
Paul came to Corinth in weakness, fear, and much trembling. Paul did not come to share the wisdom of the age. He certainly did not want to communicate this so-called wisdom that had failed throughout history. In verse seven I believe the King James Bible has the better translation. “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:”
What the English Standard Version calls “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” is better understood (in my opinion) as a mystery.
Exactly what happens to the believer at salvation is really mysterious. We know that somehow we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and have been made alive to God. In a real sense, we have experienced being “born again”. This is something very hard to understand. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus he referred to the wind blowing wherever it wishes and even though we hear it and see its effects we do not know where it came from or where it’s going. Then Jesus compares the process of the wind to the movement of the Spirit in the life of the person who believes in Jesus Christ. The mystery of the gospel is that the second person of the Trinity could somehow be united with a human body, come to earth, live a perfect life, take our sins into his own body and die on the cross to deliver us from sin and to give us eternal life. In most of our considerations, we give the devil way too much credit. The mystery of the gospel was…
Wisdom that is unknown to evil spiritual forces. Let’s read on 1 Corinthians 2:8. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
“The rulers of this age” are not men or women. “The rulers of this age” are spiritual forces dominating the world scene in the background. The Bible tells us that Daniel was in prayer seeking to know what the visions he was seeing meant. He faithfully prayed for three weeks and couldn’t get an answer. As he was struggling in prayer he felt a hand touching him. That hand belonged to an angel that had been sent to give him the answer. The angel told him that he was greatly loved and his words had been heard. He had not gotten an answer because the prince of the kingdom of Persia fought against the angel until the Archangel Michael came to defeat the Persian angel and give Daniel the answer to his prayer (Daniel 10:10-14). Clearly the ruling forces surrounding Daniel were not men they were angels. I hope I don’t go too far when I say that when Paul referred to the rulers of this age he was talking about spiritual forces in high places.
The Bible tells us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). If those forces of evil had understood what was going to happen when they crucified Jesus they would’ve made every effort to stop it.
There is a very memorable scene in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, it is very near the end when the image representing Satan understood that the crucified Christ was then the resurrected Christ. He was now defeated! Again the Bible says “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). The result of his death and resurrection set mankind free from the fear of death. We need to remember that…
God’s gifts are beyond our comprehension. Let’s continue reading in 1 Corinthians 2:9. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
I have a vivid imagination and yet God’s word tells me that no one has seen, or heard, or imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. God’s gifts are beyond our grasp. In this passage, Paul brings forth the prophecy of Isaiah found in 64:4. We will never ever work this all out in our human reasoning.
In order to understand we need to listen. We don’t turn to other men…
Our teacher is the Holy Spirit. Let’s continue reading in 1 Corinthians 2:14. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
No matter how much we struggle we will never understand our Father in heaven. His ways are far beyond ours. In order to truly understand we must be taught by God himself. So we will turn to the words of Jesus found in John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Here Jesus promises that when he goes away the Holy Spirit would come in to teach us all things. We know that a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit came on the church on the day of Pentecost. This was a revelation to the Apostles and to all of those who observed.
In order to give us an understanding…
We have been given the mind of Christ. Let’s look at Ephesians 1:7-10. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God is not stingy! He lavishes his grace upon us making known the mystery of his will! God has a perfect plan and it is now working in the world we live in.
I have often been amazed at the uniformity of belief around the world. It matters very little where a person comes from or what the culture is like, once they become Christian. This common communion speaks volumes. God has arranged the gospel in such a way that it can be understood in the jungles of South America as well as in the modern metropolitan areas of the world. All have sinned and come short of the glory to God! “All” means everyone. You and I along with the billions of people on earth are all in need of the gospel. Because the wages of sin is death. It is absolutely essential that everyone proclaim Jesus as Lord! Have you done that? Today could be your day for coming into the kingdom.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

180506 Consider Your Calling

Acts 18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
7-11 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Corinth, when Paul came to town, was one of the important cities of the Roman Empire. It was a center of commerce and trade. At the same time, it was a center of evil. Corinth had a high place that stood about 2000 feet above the city. On top of that Acropolis was a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex. There were some 1000 priestesses who were, in reality, religious prostitutes. In fact, the city was so corrupt, morally, that it’s very name was a synonym of immorality and debauchery. We will begin looking at the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. Paul was the founding pastor of the church and was deeply concerned about the divisions in the church.
Paul was on his second missionary journey. Let’s look at Acts 16:6-10 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Paul and Silas set out on a long journey that we call the second missionary journey.  On the first missionary tour Paul had been accompanied by Barnabas. Before the second tour started Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement about the makeup of their team. The result of that disagreement was to bring Silas into the picture.
They traveled from Antioch in Syria overland through what is today Turkey. In the beginning, they were simply encouraging the churches that had already been established on the first journey. Then they set out to go into northern Turkey and the Holy Spirit stopped them.
As they made their way through the Roman provinces that we recognize today as modern Turkey and after having been stopped from preaching in those regions they found themselves at Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia urging him to come over and help them. Also, at that time Doctor Luke joined the team! We know that because in Acts 16:10 the pronoun used is “we sought to go” rather than, “they sought to go”. Luke was the author of the book of Acts and from this point forward he is, most of the time, part of the team.
Continuing their journey by boat they crossed over to Philippi where they were very successful in evangelism. First, they led a group of women to Christ down by the river and then, by being arrested, Paul and Silas were able to witness to the jailer and his family. Then they traveled on to Thessalonica, Athens, and then to Corinth.
At Corinth, they met Aquila and Priscilla who were Christians that had come from Rome. They joined with Paul in the tent making business that was his primary support during his ministry. This freed Paul up to preach in the local synagogue. Very soon there was serious opposition.
Even though he spoke to both Jews and Greeks…
He was resisted by many of the Jews. Let’s look at Acts 18:6. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.
This was Paul’s normal pattern of ministry. He would go to the Jewish community first because they had the Bible and an expectation of the coming Messiah. With this serious opposition…
He withdrew from the synagogue. Let’s read on in Acts 18:7. And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue.
During the first 300 years of the existence of the Christian church, there were seldom ever buildings dedicated to church usage. Usually, they would rent a hall or meet in homes. The church in Jerusalem, though it was made up of a very large number of people, met in the temple courtyard for their large group meetings and in private homes for small group meetings.
The synagogues, by and large, were simply beginning places and did not develop into permanent housing for the local church. There is no known building that was set aside as a church meeting place earlier than the year 240. That building is located in northern Syria.
As time goes by in America we are seeing more and more small group churches meeting in homes. In other countries, especially China, house churches are very common. As time goes by Chinese house churches tend to join with one another and rent or construct a building large enough to hold their meetings. Ownership is sometimes difficult to establish in such cases.
As was his normal practice, Paul started in the local synagogue and moved away from it when the opposition grew too great. This brings me to an interesting idea. You see…
Our view of Paul’s ministry has always been that of a fearless champion of the gospel let’s look at Philippians 4:11-13. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
“I have learned how to be content!” Whatever the circumstance everything will be okay. And then that powerful verse, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse is often quoted to encourage us to be bold and strong. So we look at Paul and see him carrying on no matter what the circumstances are.
This is one time that was representative of the many times that Paul was confronted with difficulties. The opposition seems so great and the support so small! He now found himself — the bold faithful apostle of Jesus Christ — confronted by enemies on all sides. Yes, he had great faith and great ability…
Yet, even he needed a pep talk. Look at Acts 18:9-10. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
What a wonderful experience that must’ve been. I can picture the scenario! Our beloved Apostle found himself wondering if he was in the right place. Anytime we are confronted with serious opposition that question has to come to mind. I have felt it many times and have never yet received a direct visit from the Lord. I have studied the experiences in the book of Acts as well as many missionary stories. When I feel discouraged I think of those who have fought their way through to establish ministries that glorified Christ.
So, I see Paul going into his room lying on his bed wondering what to do next. Been there, done that, many times. As he lay there — did he see a form or simply hear a voice? — And he heard the words, “Do not be afraid…”. Now I never would have accused Paul of being afraid! But obviously he was. Otherwise, our Lord would not have told him not to be afraid.
Paul was considering stopping preaching. How do I know that? Because our Lord said “go on speaking” and “do not be silent”! Why would he have said that if that were not what Paul was considering doing? I’m reminded of an Old Testament story found in the first book of Kings. It’s the story of Elijah! He had been very successful in opposing the evil prophets and priests of Baal! He challenged them to a contest. They would prepare an altar with wood with a sacrifice on it and Elijah would prepare an altar. The only stipulation was they could not light the fire they had to have Baal do that! They spent the entire day praying to their God even to the point of cutting their flesh and crying out loud. Elijah spent the day making fun of them. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah constructed an altar, placed the wood on it, placed a sacrifice on it, dug a trench around it, and covered it with water until the trench was filled. Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37) When he prayed that prayer fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, the wood and the stones, and the dust and the water that was in the trench! Then immediately the people proclaimed that Yahweh was God Almighty! Then all the priests of Baal were brought together and killed. Possibly the most successful public conflict between God and Satan was experienced that day.
Now, we would think that after all that Elijah would be on the high spiritual plane for the rest of his life. Instead, he received a message from Queen Jezebel promising that she would have him killed before the day was over! After having defeated 850 prophets and priests Elijah ran from one woman.
He went on 40 days of wandering in the wilderness before he met with God and got it all straightened out and went back on the track God had for him.
Paul’s experience was not that difficult and I’m sure Paul knew the story of Elijah very well. Yet, he needed a pep talk after which he could look back on this experience in Corinth. When he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians…
He wrote the church reminding them. Let’s look at that reminder 1 Corinthians 1:26. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
He wanted them to remember that in those early days there were not many powerful people on their side. There were not many that the world considered important or wise. There were not many of noble birth. But they were successful in their early days as a church. I am afraid we fall into a trap set by the devil that says if we do not have people of influence on our side we won’t make it.
In order to witness to men, we look for Christian athletes. We look for successful entrepreneurs who claim the name of Christ. We think somehow there has to be someone of influence on our side or we will be a failure. We need to remember that Paul not only reminded them of the beginnings he also wrote…
Assuring them. Let’s read on 1 Corinthians 1:30-31. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Look at those amazing words! Not, “because of our abilities”, instead it is “because of him you are in Christ Jesus,”. When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God comes to live in us! Sometimes we have remarkable feelings at the point of salvation other times we simply walk by faith. Because it’s not our strength or our feelings that count! It is Christ Jesus who becomes for us wisdom from God! Righteousness and sanctification and redemption is from God not from us. So we can boast in the Lord and not in ourselves.
We must remember that we have been called by God and not by some human institution. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc. give us an idea of the historical background. What counts is Christ crucified, buried and raised again. For the next few weeks, when I am preaching, we will look at the major themes in the Corinthian letters. We will see Paul developing and growing as a church planter and theologian. There is nothing in the word of God that does not apply to us today. We need to let the word of God speak for itself and bring men and women to salvation in Christ Jesus.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.