Psalm 34:8

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sin

Paul speaks very strongly regarding sexual immorality in the Corinthian Church in today’s Bible reading. He says that a man is committing an act that even unbelievers in Corinth don’t condone: he is having sexual relations with his father’s wife.

Paul recommends that the church deal with this individual in a very strict way: remove him from the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:2, 13) and give him over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5). The goal of dealing with this individual is twofold:

  • Deal with the individual, aiming to restore him to fellowship with the rest of the church body
  • communicate with the church body that sin is serious and should be dealt with seriously. Jesus made a similar statement when he said that it would be better to enter heaven maimed or blind than to go to hell intact. (Matthew 5:29–30)

The terms “sexual immorality” and “sexually immoral” appear twice each in English in this chapter. It refers to the sin being committed and the one who is committing the sin. But both of these terms are based in the same Greek root and we derived our English words “porn” and “fornication” from this Greek root.

Normally when we talk of “porn” we mean pornographic literature and images. But the basis of the word is far broader than those two narrow classifications. Here are definitions from two Greek lexicons:

  • to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution—‘to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution.’ [1]
  • fornication, sexual immorality, sexual sin of a general kind, that includes many different behaviors.[2]

In recent years we have seen reports of lawsuits by former church members against their former church for kicking them out of the church. At the core of these lawsuits are libel, slander, and defamation of character. The plaintiff claims that they should be able to live however they want and remain a member of the local church congregation. But based on Paul’s recommendations, the church has a responsibility to deal with sin in order to protect its purity. I believe Paul would say that this can, and must, be done without libel, slander, and defamation of character.

Now, as soon as I typed that next-to-last sentence, I could hear some readers point out (and rightfully so) that the local church, filled with fallen people is far from “pure” and filled with hypocrisy. And I can also hear readers calling out specific (“respectable”) sins that are often tolerated — and even promoted in much of (Western) church culture such as gluttony, lying, and slander to name a few. And I can hear some readers say that “Paul isn’t showing much grace.” Paul already responded to that criticism:

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Romans 6:1 (CSB)

Should all sin be exposed in the church? Judging from Paul’s example, we would have to say no. Paul didn’t single out murder. He didn’t single out lying. He didn’t single out coveting. But he did single out obvious sin that was openly flaunted by a church member.

Look, we all sin. I sin. And you sin. But we must all agree that sin is sin. All sin is wrong. All sin grieves the heart of God. And all sin is to be killed, not simply managed. (Colossians 3:5, Romans 8:12-13)

Application

What sins do you deal with on a regular basis? Are you grieved by them? Do you feel a need to repent of them in order to walk in deeper intimacy with God? Or do you feel that God isn’t bothered with your sin?

Perhaps you need to follow James’ directive:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. James 5:16 (CSB)

Paul is pretty clear in how we should deal with sin: kill it.

Puritan John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers says that we should be killing sin or [sin] will be killing you. John Piper refers to this small book by Owen in two messages, “How to Kill Sin” and “Kill Sin with the Word of God“. I invite you to click those links and listen or read Piper’s messages.

This devotional was originally published August 6, 2019.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 770. Print.
[2] Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) 1997 : n. pag. Print.

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chalkboard, books, and chalk

In today’s Bible reading in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells the church at Corinth that he wants to be a good manager of the mysteries of God. As I read that in the CSB, I thought, that really sounds strange. The ESV translates the word as steward, a word that sounds more applicable. The Greek word here means, “one who has the authority and responsibility for something—‘one who is in charge of, one who is responsible for, administrator, manager”[1]

The bottom line is, Paul says that everyone, including the Apostles, are accountable. One might think that the Apostles are at the “top of the food chain” so to speak in authority. But Paul says that he only wants to be seen as a good administrator of God’s mysteries. He doesn’t really care what the Corinthians — or anyone else for that matter — think of him; he is only accountable to God.

I shared a meme on Facebook a few days ago that took on a life of its own as a “Facebook Friend” took it completely out of context, making it appear to say something it clearly didn’t say. It showed a young lady gleefully saying that only God could judge her. Just below her picture was a picture of Charles Spurgeon saying, “That should scare you.”

Narcissists think that “Nobody can judge me.” So this meme takes it one step further and says that God is the only one who can judge me. Indeed! But they don’t realize the gravity of standing before a holy God to account for their life.

I remember taking a few classes in college on a pass/fail basis. It meant that at the end of the semester, my grade average could be anything from a 100 to a 70 (or whatever the bell-curve worked out to be) and still pass the course. Guess what! I didn’t push myself very hard in those classes. Why? Because there was very little incentive to put in the extra effort. In hindsight, those classes didn’t leave enough of an impression on my mind to be able to remember which classes I took as pass/fail.

In our attempts at self-justification, we must realize that — as Paul did — God doesn’t grade on a curve. A sliding scale doesn’t appear in God’s grade book. It’s either pass or fail. And for all eternity past and future, Jesus blew the curve! So you either score 100% or you fail. It doesn’t matter if you score in the top 10% or even in the top 1%, you still fail! God doesn’t compare us to Hitler. If He did, most of us would be in pretty good shape. God compares us to Jesus! Ouch! So yes, only God can judge us. And that should scare us!

But the Good News of the gospel is that I can have Jesus’ 100% score put in the place of my score. I can score 2% and Jesus turns that into 100% because of what He’s done. Now, I can tell you that this unfair crediting my grade with Jesus’ grade makes me work so much harder than I ever dreamed of in my pass/fail college classes. And my motivation to work hard isn’t in order to receive the 100%. My motivation to work is because I already have the perfect score and I want to please the One Who gave me the perfect credit.

Because Jesus’ perfect obedience has been applied to my account, my motivation to obey God has been turned on its head! I want to spend time in God’s Word. I want to pray. I want to worship. I want to be a good steward of my finances so that I can give more to help further the work of the Gospel in my church, in my city and in the world. I want to tell other people about Jesus. And I want to spend time helping other people to grow in their relationship with God.

Application

Have you ever realized your inability to please God? Have you ever really given up your attempts to make God happy with you? Have you ever asked God to apply Jesus’ perfect score to your score?

Jesus’ perfect score is available for the asking! God isn’t stingy with His grace and His mercy! He lavishes them on us as the Perfect Father would!

If you haven’t turned your life over to God, today’s a good day to do it! And once you’ve done that, watch how He empowers you to please Him. Watch how He gives you new desires to please Him.

This devotional was originally published August 3, 2019.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 476. Print.

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watering can

In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his discussion about the factions that exist in the Corinthian church. He drives home the point that yes, he planted and Apollos watered, (1 Corinthians 3:6) but only God produced the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:7)

If we could summarize chapter three in just one word, it would be growth. We should all work on growing in our faith. Of course, God gives the growth, but we must actively participate in the process. Paul lists a major hindrance to growth is envy and strife. (1 Corinthians 3:3)

In fact, because of the division in the church, Paul says he was unable to address them as mature believers. Rather, he had to address them as babies in Christ — even as unbelievers — because that’s how they were acting.

Paul concluded Chapter Two discussing the two categories of people: Lost and Saved. You’re either one or the other. However, in the past hundred years or so a harmful doctrine has been preached (yes, I’ve preached it, too) in many evangelical churches, adding a third category: the Carnal Christian, defined as a believer who has backslidden. They base the doctrine on the first few verses of Chapter Three. But that isn’t what Paul says! Paul says the Carnal Christian is a Saved person who never grew in his/her faith, not one who lapsed into sin. In fact, lapsing into sin — aka “backsliding” may be a sign that you were never saved in the first place!

Application

For Paul, the Christian life should be on an upward trajectory of growth. Instead, (to mix metaphors) it’s as if the Corinthians walked through the door of salvation and stood at the threshold, never taking steps into the foyer, much less exploring the household of faith. For a Christian to stagnate should be almost unthinkable.

Rick Warren correctly observed that everything that is healthy grows. If a Christian isn’t growing, he/she isn’t healthy. Perhaps, like me, no one said that you need to grow, much less tell you how to grow. For ten years after I was saved I attended church, had some spiritual experiences, occasionally read my Bible (only a couple of favorite books and “inspired finger” verses), and I thought that was all there was until I got to heaven. Perhaps you can relate to my experience.

I pray that these devotionals are encouraging you to pursue a growing relationship with God Who is your Creator and your Father. These devotionals should serve as a springboard to read the Bible for yourself, to dig deep in the Word, and to consider how it applies to your life. Practice the Spiritual Disciplines to grow in your faith. Use these devotionals to spur on your personal Bible reading, not to substitute for it. Feed on God’s Word. Drink its intoxicating truths. Taste and see that the Lord is good and find your refuge in Him. (Psalm 34:8) As you do, watch God give you spiritual growth.

Let me know how I can help you to stay close and stay clean in your growing walk.

This devotional was originally published August 2, 2019.

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Divine Wisdom

Picking up from yesterday, in today’s Bible reading, I don’t think Paul was taking a jab at Apollos, but he highlights his goal in preaching the gospel to the Corinthians. He didn’t want to come in his own strength and wisdom. He didn’t want to come with flowery speech. He said he would rather come in humility in the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s what he did.

In our study on the Kingdom of God in church, we saw that God’s Kingdom doesn’t look like one would expect it to look like. God’s wisdom is similar.

we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7–8 (CSB)

Paul says that unless God had revealed this hidden wisdom, no one would ever know it. (1 Corinthians 2:10) And reading through this section (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), it sounds like something you’d see in the Book of Hebrews where the author demonstrates how everything now is so much better than it was under the Old Covenant.

Paul says, as great as worldly wisdom is, God’s wisdom is far superior because God has hidden it until now. God has revealed — and has freely given to His kids — spiritual wisdom from the very mind of God. And not only that, but we have the mind of Christ! (1 Corinthians 2:16)

Application

I think the more I know of God, the more I need to know — and the more I feel that I don’t know Him. That’s the way it is when you’re trying to comprehend the Infinite when you’re so finite. But the good thing is, God welcomes our questions. In fact, He’s glorified in our searching out His hidden wisdom. (Proverbs 25:2)

I once heard wisdom defined as applied knowledge. Not knowledge itself, but applied knowledge. We know that the fear of God is the beginning of both wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

You might want to try this:
There are thirty-one days in most months and there are thirty-one Proverbs, one for each day. Today is August 1. Read through Proverbs 1. What does that chapter tell you about wisdom? Ask God what He wants you to do about what you read. In other words, how can you apply the knowledge you gain from Proverbs 1?

Each day this month, read that date’s Proverb and ask God to show you something new, something that He wants you to apply for that day.

This devotional was originally published August 1, 2019.

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Paul, Apollos, and Peter preached Jesus rather than themselves.
Image credit: Sweet Publishing

Today we begin reading through Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth is located in Southern Greece and was the city where Paul met Priscilla and her husband Aquilla. The three of them made tents together. (Acts 18:1–3)

Since he only knew of the baptism of John the Baptizer, Priscilla and Aquilla explained the gospel “more accurately” to Apollos in Acts 18:26. We know from Acts 18:24-25 that Apollos was an eloquent speaker and competent with the Scriptures. He also was fervent in the Spirit. He was the poster child for charismatic speakers everywhere. It seems natural that he would develop quite a following among Christians in his day.

But there was a problem in Corinth. Some of the believers attached themselves to Apollos and his teachings while others aligned themselves with Paul. Others thought Cephas (Peter) was the best preacher they ever heard. There’s nothing wrong with having your favorite Bible teachers. But Paul addresses a problem that went beyond having your favorite teacher. Divisions arose around these three men. We might say that the first denominations were begun in Corinth; the math term “denominator” is used in “division”.

Paul speaks very strongly against these divisions, even pointing out that he had only baptized a handful of people in the city. And he quickly points the church to Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross. I believe that Paul was thinking of Apollos and Peter when he said that “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1Corinthians 1:23) In other words, he says that all three of these godly Bible teachers preach the same gospel. In contrast to the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, they’re all on the same page in the message they are preaching.

Paul says, rather than boast in who you’re following, boast in the fact that you’re following Jesus. (Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Application

Whose books do you read? What Bible teachers do you watch on TV? Whose podcasts do you listen to? I’ve mentioned before that we need to be very careful who we align ourselves with. As I said above, it’s ok to have your favorite Bible teachers, but our favorites pale in comparison to Jesus. Or at least they should!

The most popular Bible teachers aren’t necessarily the most Christ-centered in their beliefs, their attitudes, and their behaviors. And not every Bible teacher is on the right side of Scripture all of the time. And if the truth were known — and it should be — some Bible teachers don’t even reference the Bible very often, if at all.

Make sure that above all that you boast in Jesus Christ. He is our focus.

This devotional was originally published July 31, 2019.

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