Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reading Through 1st Corinthians

I am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The seventh volume of the series is The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, authored by David Prior. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

To me the message of First Corinthians is that the life we live in the present age needs to reflect our “taking up Jesus’ cross as we trust him and live out his example of a God-glorifying, Other–serving lifestyle in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this by viewing our own life as serving others and the Gospel as an extension of Jesus Christ’s life in order to build up the people around us (the church) into what God wants them to be. The only way that this makes any sense is if we are motivated by the truth that we will be resurrected and rule with the ascended Christ in the age to come.

Paul’s “everything for the gospel” motivation is what makes the many seeming contradictions (I am totally free, yet slave of everyone) in his ministry logical and sensible. Sadly many in the Corinthian church did not understand this and were living lives focused on themselves and as if the cross was no longer a daily reality in their lives. 1 Corinthians was written to correct this. First, God has provided everything the church needs to be what He has called it to be. It has God’s gift of leadership, responsibility and all the gifted people it needs to accomplish what God has called it to do.
The practical implications of this ‘glorious hope’ in terms of our vision for the local church are relatively straightforward. It must surely mean that we are unreservedly committed to the church of God where he has placed us; that we are unhesitatingly confident about God’s desire and ability to make his church in that place like Jesus Christ; that we are uncompromisingly certain about the call for us to be holy, as he is holy. 1 Corinthians 1.8-9, 26–27.
However, the church must address the evils within it. It should reflect in its behavior who Christ made it to be. Division and disunity must be dealt with. Christ is the foundation of the church, not any human leader, and so the church should never divide based on devotion to certain leaders. Leaders will be judged based on how they kept focus on Christ. Prideful leaders who will not serve, but try to seize power, should be disciplined severely.
So-called ‘clashes of personality’ often, on analysis, are nothing much more than a failure, or even a refusal, to let God’s love change us in our attitudes to one another. We allow theological differences (instead of the love of God) to determine the quality, openness and depth of our relationships... We part company convinced that the real problem is theological, when in fact we have managed, by our very detachment, to prevent the love of God from bringing harmony and mutual acceptance. We then declare that theological differences are the cause of the schism between us.  1 Corinthians 1.10-17, 30–31.God is overthrowing one of the false standards of the world, i.e. the notion that those who matter to him are the wise, the well-bred, the articulate, the gifted, the wealthy, the wielders of power and influence. Such standards die very hard even in the Christian church. They were a powerful force at Corinth; they stifle the glory of God today. 1 Corinthians 1.26-31, 46.We must beware any tendency to sit back on our haunches and to feel that we have ‘arrived’. We must determine to love God with every fibre of our being. We must link closely with our fellow-believers in the body of Christ, because to have the mind of Christ is essentially a corporate experience: ‘we have the mind of Christ’ (16). As we pursue these priorities, the Spirit will unfold to us more and more of the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. 1 Corinthians 2.1-16, 53–54.Division, rivalry, jealousy arise in the church because certain leaders lord it over the flock and God’s people often love to have it so; it is less demanding, less disturbing. Authority in the church, truly Christian authority, comes from those who lay down their lives for their brethren in service and availability. Any other authority is worldly authority and is to be rejected. 1 Corinthians 3.5-8, 57.These verses in 1 Corinthians 3 urge us to take with full seriousness both the certainty of eternal life and the scrutiny which the Lord will bring to our daily service as Christians. He is passionately concerned for the church, his building (9): it is his temple; his Spirit dwells in the church, in each local church (16). It is not surprising, therefore, that he is prepared to destroy anyone who uses his God-given talents to suck the life out of his church, to destroy God’s temple.  1 Corinthians 3.9-17, 60.We never reach our perfect bliss here: we shall not have perfect health, we shall not have instant guidance, we shall not be in constant, beautiful contact with the Lord. We are still human; we are still in the world; we are still mortal; we are still exposed to sin, the world, the flesh and the devil; we must still wrestle and watch and pray; we shall still fall and fail. There is victory; there is power; there is healing; there is guidance; there is salvation—but we have not yet arrived. We live in two worlds and there must therefore be tension. 1 Corinthians 4.8-13, 67.
The church needs to police itself for the sake of the gospel. Immorality in the church should be disciplined severely to provoke repentance. The church has a responsibility to judge properly those within it, not those outside the church. Believers should be willing to suffer loss before they would bring the name of Christ into disrepute by their behavior. It is better to absorb wrongs than shame the name of Christ with selfish exploitation of one another. Our changed position in Christ should be reflected by changed behavior. Thus, the idea that sexual immorality is immaterial is crazy because it destroys the body, joins Christ to sin and go against our calling and position.
Paul is not satisfied with a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to his daily behaviour; he wants to ensure that what he does is genuinely helpful for his daily witness to unbelievers, for his work in the church and for his walk with Christ. Paul thus wants everything we do to have a positive result on our own lives and on the lives we touch day by day.  1 Corinthians 6.12-20, 96.The combination of asserting my rights and passing judgment on everyone else is one of the most insidious tendencies in the church of God. Both evils should have been transcended through the redemption which is ours in Jesus Christ. Rights have given way to reconciliation and mutual responsibility: passing judgment has been buried with Christ as one of the most destructive and loathsome characteristics of our unredeemed lower nature. 1 Corinthians 6.1-8, 107.
Issues in the church should be handled according to Christ and His Word rather than by worldly means, for example marriage. Paul says that while celibacy may be good for some people or for all people in temporary situations, marriage is good and honorable and its responsibilities should be honored.
Partners deprive each other in marriage by failing to give, especially to give what God wants us to give. Paul here nails any selfishness or inconsiderate excess in the physical aspects of marriage. This whole approach to equality and mutuality in the marriage-relationship was completely revolutionary in Paul’s day, remained so for many centuries afterwards, and continues to be so in virtually every modern culture... Throughout this passage Paul talks in terms of absolute equality within Christian marriage, which was not at all normal in his day. 1 Corinthians 7.3-4, 116.In Christ we are united, we are one. From now on, therefore, Christians must never allow any human category to divide them, especially when others try to bring them into bondage by enforcing such divisions. We all have one Master, one Teacher, one Saviour, one Lord: to him alone we owe our total allegiance. We have been bought with a price (23; the same phrase as in 6:20). With that allegiance we will each find a firm commitment to our present position, a growing flexibility about material things, and a liberating freedom from the countless distractions which confront us in our calling in the world. 1 Corinthians 7.17-24, 132.
We are free in Christ. But, we should use our freedom to love and serve God and others not for self-indulgence. Because love overrules knowledge we should limit our liberty with love for our weaker brothers to avoid leading them to do something for which their conscience would condemn them.        We should follow Paul's example of relinquishing personal rights for the Gospel so that we can be rewarded by God. We should not use our privileged position for selfish indulgence because we will be punished as Israel was. God has provided the way to defeat that temptation.
When a Christian’s character is controlled by love and is growing in true knowledge, he is no longer concerned so much with how well he knows God, as with being known by God. That actually is the proof of true love for God. Any true knowledge does not lead to pride in what we know, but to humility about what we do not know...We must, therefore, each strive to make our whole behaviour constructive by asking ourselves such questions as, ‘Are people brought closer to God? Are Christians strengthened in their faith? Are people glad to have met us?’ When a Christian’s knowledge is radiated and released by love, he is clearly demonstrating that he knows God and that God knows him, i.e. that there is a deepening personal relationship between the two. 1 Corinthians 8, 143–144.The overwhelming impression is of a man (Paul) so utterly dedicated to the gospel, that he was constantly worrying about this drawback and that hindrance. Barrett puts it powerfully: ‘The gospel, which turned upon the love and self-sacrifice of Jesus, could not fitly be presented by preachers who insisted on their rights, delighted in the exercise of authority, and made what profit they could out of the work of evangelism.’ 1 Corinthians 9.1-18, 156–157.Paul’s versatility in seeking to win men of all backgrounds to Christ challenges us to cross the culture-gap between the Christian sub-culture of cosy meetings and holy talk and the pagan culture of our local community. The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds, is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church.  1 Corinthians 9.19-23, 162.The Lord is a jealous God, who brooks no rivals, no comparisons, no alternatives. There are dangers in presumptuousness and complacency, especially the danger of finding ourselves victims of the humiliating fall which inevitably follows all pride. But there is, if anything, even greater danger in compromise, because we smudge the issues and let in all kinds of spiritual counterfeits which confuse the truth as it is in Jesus, as well as being in obvious conflict with it.  1 Corinthians 10.14-22, 175.
We have freedom in our worship. But, worship should be done with propriety and order. The church should honor one another as a people whom Jesus died for when they come together for the Lord's Supper or they will experience the judgment of God for their sin.
That is Christian freedom: being free from ourselves to glorify God by being like Christ. 1 Corinthians 11.1, 177.Paul wants the women to dress normally and naturally in Christian worship. He wants such worship to give glory to God and to make it obvious that Christians have been set free to worship and to glorify God. So he urges the Corinthians: ‘Do not ignore the obvious pointers of creation or of nature. God made us like this. Do not flout all the dictates of common sense and decency in your worship. Let it be Christ-centred and God-glorifying.’ 1 Corinthians 11.3-16, 184–185.Such selectivity in Christian convictions amongst those submitted to the Lordship of Jesus is inevitable. But there is absolutely no need, let alone any propriety, for Christians to sunder fellowship on the basis of such distinctives. When such schism actually penetrates the public worship of the congregation, the situation is scandalous...When those who claim to be Christians love nothing better than empty and profitless arguments about theological niceties, that indicates their real spiritual condition. Such folk are not genuine (dokimoi), they have not passed the test, and their loud claims about theological ‘soundness’ will not impress the Lord on that crucial day when our Christian service is scrutinized. 1 Corinthians 11.17-22, 186–187
Spiritual gifts should be exercised in a way that takes up the cross of Christ. The diversity of spiritual gifts is an expression of the unity in the body of Christ, and should be exercised in loving ways to build up the church. All spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit so that the church can carry out the work of the Head, Jesus Christ. Each person is to use his/her gift for the benefit of the other members of the church. Love is the surest sign of the Spirit's presence and power because it is eternal and brings more profit to the body. Thus, the gifts are important, but only for building the church. This purpose should govern all use of spiritual gifts.
To be truly ‘spiritual’ drives a person neither to ecstasy nor to individualism nor to other-worldliness, but into the life of the local church as an expression of his personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and to his body here on earth. It is there that the implications of what it is to be ‘spiritual’, men and women of the Spirit, will be worked out...To distance ourselves from other Christians is to waver in our allegiance to Jesus as Lord: this is the unmistakable thrust of what Paul now proceeds to unfold in the ensuing three chapters. 1 Corinthians 12.1-3, 195.We need today to point one another with expectancy to Jesus the baptizer as the person who longs to take us all deeper and deeper into the reality of the Spirit’s power and presence. It is not a question of one special experience to be imposed upon all; but it is a reality to be experienced, and that experience can be continuous and daily. This expectant openness to experience the Spirit more and more on the part of every Christian will unite the body in eager dependence upon Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12.12-13, 212.In the love of God there is no place for asserting our rights, despising our gifts, envying our brothers and sisters, or treating them insensitively and boorishly. Such love, in any case, turns us outwards to look to the needs and the interests of others: when we notice that our behaviour or attitudes are damaging or offending another person, love propels us to deal with such inner darkness through the grace of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 13.4-5, 231Whatever Paul means in encouraging the gift of prophecy, he does not suggest that any Christian can be on a par with those original prophets as organs of divine revelation. Any subsequent manifestation of this gift must be submitted to the authoritative teaching of the original apostles and prophets, as contained in the Canon of Scripture1 Corinthians 14.1-5, 235This uncertainty about what God might do with us as his church need not move us, in the face of spiritual phenomena of various kinds, either into childish gullibility or into sceptical rationalism. It does almighty God no service to be constantly spotlighting what some regard as exceptional and extraordinary. Nor is it honouring to him to preclude any manifestation of his power and glory which we find it hard to explain or control...We believe that a supreme miracle happens in conversion and regeneration: why not thereafter? 1 Corinthians 14.37-40, 255
Living out the cross of Jesus makes sense because of resurrection: The resurrection is central to our faith and should motivate us to steadfast, sacrificial service because we know that our present corrupted bodies will be changed to eternal bodies at the return of Christ. It is central to the Gospel,  gives our faith meaning and significance, gives us hope, renews and changes us now. Christ's resurrection guarantees ours and someday we will exchange our fleshly corrupt bodies for eternal ones. This is why we can give up all those rights and freedoms give ourselves over to to God and his work.
Christianity is concerned, not with mere immortality, nor with sheer survival, nor with the transmigration of the soul, nor with reincarnation, but with resurrection from the dead. For Paul, as for all the New Testament writers, this necessarily meant the raising of the whole person from the dead, not just his soul or his body or even his personality. Resurrection is consistently seen in the New Testament as a demonstration of God’s power over death. 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, 258Faith is not created, sustained or increased by looking at ourselves or at others, but only by absorbing the reality and the implications of the resurrection of Jesus...If Jesus rose from the dead, God raised him. 1 Corinthians 15.14-15, 263–264Death … sin … the law—all have been broken wide open in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even now we can experience victory over this trio, but the full fruits of the victory of God through our Lord Jesus Christ are only for the last day. As with all that God has done for us in Christ, this victory is a gift of his grace: thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, now and then. 1 Corinthians 15.51-57, 276
Our belief in Jesus and resurrection is most clearly seen when we care for one another financially and by meeting one another's needs in personal fellowship – Unity and Love!!!
Wherever the gospel is faithfully preached, it always challenges economic vested interests and will make many wealthy and influential people very nervous. The true church has always been opposed, not by the poor, but by the wealthy...The presence of opposition does not mean that we have moved out of the will of God. There were many in Corinth then, as indeed there are many today, who at least intimated that everything goes smoothly when we are properly in touch with the Lord. The New Testament teaches differently. 1 Corinthians 16, 282

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