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Obedience

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells Timothy to guard against people looking down on him because of his youth. We don’t know how old Timothy is. There may have been some concern that this young pastor may not have enough experience or maturity to fulfill his ministry.

There’s a lot to be said about someone with experience in ministry. Years ago as we began our family, we heard someone teach about raising godly children. He had drawn some practical applications from Scripture. But as we pondered what he said, it dawned on us that this man doesn’t have any children. This man isn’t married either. We decided to take what he said with a proverbial grain of salt. Yes, there are truths which any Believer can mine out of God’s Word. Yes, single men can teach a lot from the Bible about raising godly children. But given the choice of a single man with no children and a man with grown, godly children, I’d take the advice of the older man. Most of us probably would.

Obviously, Timothy wasn’t the most experienced pastor, so Paul told him to show himself to be an example of Christian maturity. “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB) Timothy can’t do anything about his age. But he can be an example of how a Believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.

Application

There is an application for all of us here. Yes, Timothy was a church “elder”. But don’t think that there’s a different moral calling for the “ordained” than for the “ordinary”.

All of us are called to live a life of integrity and obedience to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There will always be people younger in the faith than you. Ordained or not, you can show yourself as an example of how a believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.

I’m not talking about putting on a “holier than thou” front. I’m talking about living a genuine life of growing obedience and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. And everyone is called to that.

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exam

I’ve had my share of tests. I’ve done well on many. I’ve done poorly on some. In today’s Bible reading, Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they pass the test of faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Actually, Paul asks the Corinthians two question: 1) Are you in the faith? and 2) Do you see Christ in you? Paul implies that if the answer is no, then you don’t pass the test.

Paul uses two different Greek verbs when he asks the questions. The first verb means “to try to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing.” [1] The second verb means to “try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use.”[2]

Another way to ask the questions might be, “Examine yourself to see if you’re you a Believer” and “Test yourself as to how genuine your faith is.” In other words, Paul asks the Corinthians quantitative (yes/no?) and qualitative (how well?) elements of the tests. It isn’t enough to say, “Yes I’m a believer.” or “Yes, I adhere to certain religious beliefs.” Paul digs deeper.

Christianity is unlike every religion. Religions are based on believing certain teachings and seeking to appease a deity and/or to rid oneself of deficiencies. Some religions add an element of eternity, others do not.

But Christianity is a relationship, initiated by God, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is completely different when seriously compared to every religion out there.

Application

I believe we need to ask these questions on a regular basis. It keeps us on our toes. It adds a present-day application of our faith test.

I mentioned to our church last Sunday that if you were married several decades ago and you have not had an ongoing and growing relationship with your spouse, something is seriously wrong!” If you claim to have been saved for several decades, but don’t have an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus, something is seriously wrong!

Christians often rattle off that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But let me ask with Paul, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” and “If so, then how personal is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.

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Stronghold, castle

If you’ve been around church very long and you’ve heard about “spiritual warfare”, you’ll find one of the key passages on the subject in today’s Bible reading.

Paul says, “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Oftentimes when we run into rough times in our walk with God, prayer is our last resort. Prayer should be our first resort! Why? Because prayer is a very powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts that’s fought mostly in our minds. Unfortunately, we often use prayer as a domestic intercom (“Butler, please adjust the thermostat.”) when prayer is actually a wartime walkie-talkie (“Commander, send reinforcements!”).

Prayer and the other spiritual weapons in our arsenal (Ephesians 6:10-20) are Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Paul says that our weapons are powerful for demolishing strongholds, he isn’t kidding! The word translated demolishing means absolute obliteration. Jesus uses the word to describe the coming destruction of the Temple in Luke 21:6 when “not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”

Our weapons tear down strongholds, defined as “1. a castle, stronghold, fortress, fastness. 2. anything on which one relies. 2A. of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.”[1]

Our WMDs attack the false arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against knowing God. And do you remember what eternal life is? It is knowing God. (John 17:3) Proper use of our spiritual arsenal can affect people’s eternal destinies!

We often think of “spiritual warfare” as fighting demonic forces. But did you notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about using our spiritual arsenal against demonic forces? Of course, I believe in the influence of demonic forces in the life of Believers. But perhaps instead of fighting demons, most of our spiritual warfare has more to do with reclaiming the “thought territory” that we previously surrendered to demonic forces.

Application

A good friend wisely said, “You will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon.” If that’s true, why do we tend to resort to using fleshly weapons? Because those are the ones we are most familiar with, despite the fact that our spiritual weapons are infinitely more powerful. But we need to grow accustomed to using our spiritual arsenal so we are able to deal most effectively with spiritual warfare.

Using our spiritual weapons to win a battle isn’t the end of their use. We also use our spiritual WMDs to take every thought captive that we would obey Jesus.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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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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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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