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Holiness

1 2 3 7

In today’s Bible reading, Paul discusses spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts tends to be one of those topics that many Christians feel uncomfortable discussing. And unnecessarily so because Paul’s thesis could be boiled down to just three verses:

A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills. But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 (CSB)

When many Bible teachers teach on Spiritual Gifts, before anything else, he/she normally distributes a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire to the class. After a few minutes, the teacher collects the questionnaires and returns them a week later with a ranking of which spiritual gifts appear strongest in each student.

Sometimes students are a little surprised at the results. But you know something I have never heard? “Wow! I had no idea that was my spiritual gift!” Every time I have taught a class on spiritual gifts, there were no great revelations. Almost everyone responds with a “Hmm. I’ve been doing that for years. I just didn’t know it was my gift.”

That was my mom’s response when she saw her high “scores” for the spiritual gift of Helps. Previously, she was certain that she didn’t have a spiritual gift. But everyone around her knew her servant heart. The Questionnaire simply highlighted that gift that she was already using.

Almost without exception, people realize that they naturally gravitate to the gifts they have. The results of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory simply confirm what the student already knew.

I am confident that Paul never asked a church to complete a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire. Paul’s emphasis wasn’t on the gift(s) that someone had. Those three verses ( 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 ) were all that Paul was really concerned with. Paul’s bottom line was that God manifests Himself in believers as He chooses for the common good of the Body of Christ in order that God would get the glory.

But of course, the Corinthians were more concerned with which gift(s) they had and how much more “spiritual” they were than others because they had a particular gift. As I have said several times about the Corinthians: they (like we) were narcissists; they thought everything was about them.

But Paul tapped the brakes and told them to put God at the center of their discussion of spiritual gifts. And so should we.

Application

The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to equip the church to be the church to do the work of the church. None of the spiritual gifts is about that gift. None. God distributes every gift according to His sovereign design. Believers don’t get to pick and choose which gift they have. If they did, some gifts might be chosen by everyone, while other gifts would only have a few takers.

I won’t ask what your spiritual gift is because if you are living in a growing dependence on the Holy Spirit, you will (super)naturally manifest the gift(s) God has given to you. As you grow in the use of your gift(s), you will (super)naturally do everything you can to help others through the use of your gift(s). Your focus won’t be on your gift, but rather your focus will be on helping other people grow in their faith. And when they work together properly, the spiritual gifts will produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Tomorrow, we’ll see a little more about how this is supposed to work.

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transformation of a butterfly

Paul offers hope for perpetual sinners in today’s Bible reading.

Some will tell you that your sin defines you, that once you discover your “true self“, that’s who you truly are and you should celebrate your true self.

But what if your “true self” is opposed to the revealed Word of God? How do you handle this epic conflict?

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (CSB)

Paul names several sins and says that those who commit those sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s a pretty strong statement, Paul. You’re being very judgmental, Paul. Paul, you’re lacking grace. You need to be more loving, Paul. You need to be more inclusive, Paul. You need to be more tolerant, Paul.

You could write off the Bible as an old, outdated book written by closed-minded men. Or you could say that their statements were culturally-conditioned and therefore don’t apply today. Or you could say that what the biblical writers referred to (eg, homosexuality) wasn’t what is referred to by that word today. Or you could say that the biblical writers didn’t have access to modern-day science that dismisses their theories. Or you could dismiss the authority of the Bible completely, rejecting its claims to be God’s revealed Word.

Or you could repent and turn to God.

Application

Paul gives sinners hope! Paul says that your sin doesn’t define you! Paul says you can change!

Notice that right after Paul lists the sins, he says, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 (CSB)

The clear implication is that you don’t have to continue to do what you used to do! You don’t have to live the way you used to live!

You used to be a drunkard, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be greedy, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be sexually immoral, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be verbally abusive, but you don’t have to be now!

The Gospel Message is one of hope! Grace isn’t limited to getting you into heaven. Grace includes the power of getting heaven into you, to change you from the inside out. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)

This isn’t about behavior change. This is about life transformation from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God.

Are you being washed? Are you being sanctified? Is your life being renewed by God’s Holy Spirit?

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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.

[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.

[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.

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1 2 3 7

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