I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.
Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.
Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.
Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.
Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)
Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.
I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.
The Resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn’t. So what difference would it make if it did or didn’t happen? What if it never happened and the entire Christian movement — from the very beginning — is based on hopeful wishes of Jesus’ Disciples? Would that make much difference?
Paul thinks the Resurrection is a pretty big deal. In today’s Bible reading, he goes so far as to say that if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t actually happen, then Jesus is dead. If Jesus is dead, then Christians are liars for claiming He’s alive when He’s dead. He says that if the Resurrection didn’t happen, then we don’t have forgiveness of sin, and our faith is useless. (1 Corinthians 15:17) Useless!
Paul says that the Christian movement didn’t just arise out of a vacuum. He says that Jesus’ death and His Resurrection were grounded in the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Christian movement wasn’t a new religion invented in the middle of the First Century. Instead, it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It wasn’t just a sectarian branch of Judaism. It was the fulfillment of Judaism! All of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Jesus!
Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe! Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be transformed from strangers and enemies of God to being sons and daughters of God. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be adopted by the most loving Father anyone ever hoped of having. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I have hope for an eternity with God in heaven. And because of the Resurrection, you and I have been given all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)
Spend a few minutes contemplating the magnitude of the reality of the Resurrection. Then spend a few minutes today praising God for the miracle of the Resurrection.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses yet, another problem in the church at Corinth: the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:1-26) He recalls that famous night when Jesus sat down to celebrate the Passover Meal with His Disciples. But when the Corinthians come together to remember Jesus, they are divided. He describes this division in 1 Corinthians 11:20–22.
Instead of remembering Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, some church members celebrate themselves by bringing a private meal and gorging themselves. Others bring (and drink) enough wine to get drunk. All the while others come to remember Jesus and go away hungry. Paul basically says that if you want to gorge yourselves, do it at home!
Remembering Jesus in the Lord’s Supper should be a unifying celebration, rather than a divisive act. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at our church, I invite all believers to participate. We don’t limit it to just our church members. We don’t limit it to just baptized believers. We don’t limit it to just Southern Baptists. We don’t limit it to just Baptists. The Lord’s Supper is one of those times when all believers should be able to lay aside our preferences and celebrate together.
However, I have heard that some churches limit who can participate in the Supper, calling it a “closed communion”. Some churches limit it to just members of that specific church. Others limit it to just baptized believers. I heard of one church that meets on a Tuesday Night to eliminate an embarrassing situation where a visitor or non-member would have to be asked to pass the trays without taking a cup or piece of bread.
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember Jesus. Didn’t He say, “As often as you do this, remember Me“? How could a church depart so far from the very purpose of the Supper? The same way that the church at Corinth! We really aren’t that far removed from the problem-ridden churches chronicled in the New Testament!
The Passover Meal wasn’t just an ordinary, everyday supper. It was an annual celebration of the deliverance of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. As Jesus celebrated the Meal, His “Remember Me” comments pointed out that everything in the Meal — which consisted of more than just bread and a cup — pointed to Jesus.
If you ever have an opportunity to take part in a Messianic Jewish Seder, you’ll see how picturesque the Passover Meal was. I highly encourage you to look into it.
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.’ 
- fornication, sexual immorality, sexual sin of a general kind, that includes many different behaviors.
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
Look, we all sin. I sin. And
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.
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains
 Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)
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!
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.