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Intimacy with God

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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)

Application

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.

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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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Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.
Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

Paul gives us a couple of verses in today’s Bible reading that are perhaps the most misquoted verses in the entire Bible. Many Christians believe — and take comfort — in the idea that God will never give you more than you can handle. But is that what Paul says? Is it what Paul means?

In a word, NO!

This idea stems from a root of self-sufficiency and sounds like the non-biblical statement, “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s non-biblical because it doesn’t appear anywhere in any translation of the Bible. Actually, this statement comes from Deist, Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Both of these statements find their roots in narcissism, the belief that “it’s all about me.” “The universe revolves around me.” “God is obligated to do what I ask Him to do because I’m a believer.” This last statement may not be spoken, but you can hear the murmur under the breath of someone who quotes the statement.

Let me say as clearly and as strongly as I can: God is not obligated to do anything for you, regardless of what you may do for Him. God doesn’t make deals with anyone, even His children. God is not a magical genie!

The fact that God has offered anything good to any fallen creature is a testimony of His goodness, His grace, and His mercy. Until someone embraces this truth, he/she will never fully appreciate the grace and mercy He offers.

What Paul does say in 1 Corinthians 10:12–13 is that none of us is immune to temptation. Hey, even Jesus was tempted! Why in the world would anyone think that they, wouldn’t be tempted? That idea is also rooted in narcissism.

Application

No, what Paul says is that if you think you’re immune to temptation, you better watch out! You will be tempted, but God always provides a way out. You can never say that you had no choice, that you had to fall into temptation. Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” character couldn’t have been more mistaken: The devil can never make you do anything.

If you fall into sin, you and you alone are responsible for making that choice and not taking the way out that God provided for you.

I believe Martin Luther is the one who said, “I can’t stop the birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Temptations will come. You have the choice whether to “cook the thought” and decide to take the bait of sin or to take the way out.

The next time you feel tempted, ask God to show you the way out. Sometimes — oftentimes? — the answer is to preach the Gospel to yourself and realize that your true fulfillment, your true satisfaction, your true happiness can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Would God give you more than you can handle? I would argue that He often does, otherwise, we would have little reason to press into Him, depending on His strength to make it through the storms, the hard times of life.

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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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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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