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 talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.
And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but
befilled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)
Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”
Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:
speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)
Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.
In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.
But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.
Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.
So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)
Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.
Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.
So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.
Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?
How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?
How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?
Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul refers to several Psalms (Psalms 14:1-3 and 53:1-3 which are virtually identical) and Isaiah 59:7-8 to show the Old Testament basis that everyone is under the penalty of sin.
I used my Bible software to do an in-depth word study from Paul’s Greek in Romans and the Hebrew from Psalms and Isaiah. This Bible software is state-of-the-art, the best software you can buy, and it has all kinds of language resources including lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries from world-class scholars. Let me share with you some astounding revelations from the original languages:
– No one is righteous
– No one understands
– No one seeks for God
– Everyone has turned aside from God
– No one does good
– No one fears God
It is very clear from my in-depth study of the Greek and Hebrew (and any plain reading in an English translation for that matter!) that Paul leaves no exception to those who are under the penalty of sin. Everyone deserves God’s judgment. Every. One. Of. Us.
You may respond, “But I’m a basically good person. I go to church. I sing in the choir. I write big checks and drop them in the offering plate.” Paul says that religious people are no better than nonreligious people when it comes to true righteousness. He paints a very bleak picture of mankind. But Paul is simply quoting from those Old Testament passages.
The theologians of the Reformation attempted to reclaim the Biblical understanding of Justification in asking how people are made right before God. They said that to understand Justification, you have to begin with another central doctrine (teaching) called Total Depravity.
In this doctrine, they said that the Fall of mankind affects every person to the very core of their being. Because that term “total depravity” sounds like it says that we are completely incapable of any good at all, modern theologian, RC Sproul has named this doctrine Radical Corruption (radical comes from the word for root so he says our corruption extends down to our roots). Taking into account what Paul says in Romans 3, the Reformers said that even our will was affected by the Fall; no one seeks for God. We don’t have to look far for sin influence in our lives; John Calvin said our hearts are idol factories. How true!
So if mankind is under the penalty of sin and every one of us is guilty and deserving of God’s wrath, then how in the world are we to be justified — given a right standing — before God? Paul answers that question, “For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:28 (CSB)
Paul will continue to develop his thoughts on justification by faith over the next few days’ Bible readings.
So where does that leave us? Let me ask, are you right with God? Would you say that you and God are on good terms? What is the basis of your being on good terms with God? Have you depended on your behavior to be right with God?
Today’s reading is pretty clear. None of us really seeks for God. All of us are affected by a radical corruption that has been passed down through the generations from our original parents.
The only hope of any of us being justified — being on good terms with God — is faith alone.
Have you put your faith in Jesus alone?
Or are you relying on your own good behavior to be on good terms with God?
In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.
Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.
Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.
So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.
A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.
When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)
Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.
In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?
Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith
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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 4, we see a familiar passage on Jesus’ temptations. In the first two temptations (Matthew 4:3, 6), the devil begins with, “If you are the Son of God….”
There are three ways that the Greek language conveys conditional (“if“) statements. It would be accurate to translate these two temptations, “If you are the Son of God — and we both know that you are…” or “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan acknowledged Jesus’ deity. He never called it into question. but he did try to get Jesus to submit to his temptations. Three times. And the three temptations are basically the same as the ones you and I face every day: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
And we can fight our temptations just like Jesus did: respond with applicable Bible verses that we have treasured in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), and remember that God is much more to be desired than anything the enemy can tempt us with (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 6:33).
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (CSB)
I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “I can’t keep birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Looking at this and with today’s scheduled reading, it’s good to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. He knows the enemy’s schemes, yet he never sinned.
The next time you’re tempted to some sin — and you resist — don’t accept the enemy’s accusations that you’ve sinned. Being tempted is not