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.
Paul began talking about spiritual gifts with 1 Corinthians 12. In yesterday’s reading (Chapter 13), he talked about love. In today’s Bible reading, he continues addressing spiritual gifts, specifically how the gifts should be used in the church setting.
The first thing to note is that things were not just a little bit different in the First Century. Today, at least in the US, we have many churches in metropolitan cities, some right across the street or right next door to ours. That wasn’t true in the First Century. We have structures in place — not just the brick-and-mortar kind, but church governing structures — that weren’t in place in the church at Corinth. We have historical differences. We have cultural differences. We have theological differences. Plus, we have the benefit of hindsight. So we need to be very careful about taking our concepts of how things are done in our Twenty-First Century churches and imposing them onto the church at Corinth.
Obviously, the church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward many things, including spiritual gifts. As I have said earlier (and throughout 1 Corinthians), the Church at Corinth had a major issue with narcissism, as well as pride, and a lack of humility.
As I said above, Paul tells us how the gifts should be used in the church setting. He is crystal clear in highlighting the point that when God’s people come together in an official setting, everything is to be done for the good of the church body. Everything. We don’t get to do whatever we want. The church is Jesus’ church. Jesus decides how things are done. Our place is to humbly submit to His design. Or… we can live in disobedience. And that’s not a good thing!
When God’s people come together in an official setting, there is to be order, not chaos. Look at a few of Paul’s comments.
In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air. So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church. What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn,
a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. But everything is to be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:9, 12, 26, 40 (CSB)
In other words, everyone gets to participate. And those who have the same gifts have to take turns. Why? So that everyone benefits.
But I find it interesting that Paul never tells the church leaders to reign in anyone. Paul doesn’t seem to indicate that the leadership should shut down anyone in their chaotic use of their gifts. Instead, the people are to self-regulate. Notice the way Paul says that people should silence themselves, as opposed to being silenced by someone in leadership. Obviously, Paul recognizes that the people have some sense of decorum and humility. But I can see Paul handling things differently if they repeatedly didn’t practice self-control.
But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by
one,so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:28, 30–32 (CSB)
God is generous in giving spiritual gifts. He gives according to His choice of who gets what. No one should be “puffed up” because of God’s choice to give him/her a particular gift. And no one should feel belittled for not receiving one of the “big gifts”. Again, God gives according to His choice. But then again, the focus should be on the Giver, not the gift.
By focusing on the Giver, everyone benefits from the humble, orderly exercise of everyone’s spiritual gifts.
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.
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.