Here we are again, looking at frequently-occurring words. Today’s word is grief. It appears in one form or another eight times in only four verses (2 Corinthians 7:7-10) in today’s Bible reading.
The Greek word translated as grief in English means “to be sad as the result of what has happened or what one has done—‘to be sad, to be distressed”
If I were to “grieve you”, I would make you sad. If I knew that I made you sad, I would probably regret doing so. I would be sad for making you sad and I would apologize.
But what if I made you sad in the process of correcting you for doing something wrong? I wouldn’t regret it and I wouldn’t apologize (though I may have to apologize for the way I said it).
This is what Paul says in verse 8. He doesn’t regret making the Corinthians sad because it made them do something: they “repented”. They changed their behavior because of their grief, their sadness.
Regret is an emotional response. It’s “feeling sorry” for doing something. You can regret doing something and that’s the end of it. You may even apologize, but that’s the end of it. But then, you can regret doing something and the grief causes you to do something to correct what you regretted doing. If you do something as a result of the grief, you repent. You change your behavior based on a change of your thinking because of your grief.
Paul says there is a kind of regret, a kind of grief that brings about change. That is godly grief. But Paul also says there’s another kind of grief that doesn’t produce change. That kind of grief — worldly grief — simply results in death. In other words, you feel sorry and no change results from it.
When you sin, you may regret the fact that you sinned. You may be very sad and feel a deep sense of remorse. You may be heartbroken in your grief over your sin. But unless your regret produces a change in your mind that produces a change in your behavior, you have only felt an emotional response in your regret.
On the other hand, godly grief produces the life change that God desires. It’s a kind of grief that affects us on a deeper level than mere emotion. In fact, we may not even feel a deep emotional response, but we change our mindset and our behavior because of the godly grief. And that’s what God wants and that’s what God empowers us to do as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power.
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 317. Print.
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.
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?
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)
Today’s Bible reading begins and ends looking at the religious leaders. Dr. Luke says they question the source of Jesus’ authority. When He responds, asking them about John the Baptizer’s authority, they choke. They realized the gravity of His question and feared that “the people” would stone them if they learned the leaders believed that John’s authority was not divine. They refused to answer Jesus’ very pointed question.
At the end of Luke 20, Jesus issues a warning against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. He basically says the same thing in His warning as He does in (Matthew 6:5) that they are receiving the only honor they will ever receive. They want the praise of men and they are getting that. But they will receive no praise from God at the judgment. Actually here, Jesus intensifies His warning. Not only will the leaders not be praised by God, but they will receive “harsher judgment”.
Being a pastor or teacher is an incredible honor. I know that I have been entrusted with declaring the glory of God as revealed in His Word. But with that honor comes tremendous responsibility to be faithful to that task. (James 3:1) I think that’s one reason that I prefer to use a manuscript for my sermons. I want to ensure that I say what I feel that God has given me in the way He has given it. Occasionally I will go off script as I feel God gives me a little more to say.
Those who sit under the teaching of someone else are also responsible: to study the Scriptures daily. (Acts 17:11) While the responsibility of the preacher/teacher is to speak the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11), the hearers must weigh what they hear against the Word. (1 Corinthians 14:29) I am not infallible. If I’m ever wrong in what I say, I need to be humble enough to receive correction from God’s Word, given by a friend. (2Timothy 3:16, Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).
Who do you read? Who do you watch or listen to? Who do you follow on Social Media? You have to be careful! Yes, you can hear God’s voice from a broken, mistaken vessel. But sometimes preachers and teachers can be so wrong that it’s harmful
Please be discerning. Please! If something you hear doesn’t line up with God’s Word, gently and humbly pull the preacher/teacher aside and offer Word-based and Word-saturated correction in love. (Ephesians 4:15) If they don’t listen, take someone else and approach them again. If they still won’t listen, turn away from them and don’t look back. Treat their teaching as you would the teaching of an unbeliever who claims to speak from God. (Matthew 18:15–20)
The key for both the preacher/teacher and for the listener is humility. It’s a trait the religious leaders in Jesus’ day lacked.
Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.
From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.
But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.
As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.
Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)
Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)
Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.
Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)
The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.
It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.
In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.
The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!