Posts Tagged 'Corinthians'

Video Sermon: The Biggest Blunders in the Bible, Part 3

From my corner of Virginia to all my American friends, happy Independence Day!

On today’s VIDEO SERMON, we’re looking a blunder so big, it was causing members of one church to get sick and even die. It’s a lesson on practical and spiritual living. So click away and we’ll learn it together.

The Gospel: Glory

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The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

So far, we’ve look at two aspects of the gospel, a word that simply means “good news.” They were:

Grace. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24 | TNIV)
Power. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | TNIV)

God’s “grace” and “power” are good news to man. In fact, they are better than just “good news,” they are GREAT NEWS! The fact that because of the good news of God’s power contained in His wisdom, revealed in both the Living Word of His Son and within the pages of the Word of God, sinful man’s life is transformed – changed to the point where his sins and sinful past are separated from his person so that God can treat that new man better than he deserves to be treated, which is the good news of God’s grace.

This time, we’ll look at the third and final aspect of the gospel: The good news of the glory of Christ. What did Paul mean when he wrote that? Getting inside the head of the human authors of the Scriptures is the goal of Bible students. To that end, we need to look at the context in which Paul used that phrase.

A troubled church causes trouble

Paul genuinely loved the church located in the Roman province of Achaia, in a hustling, bustling commercial metropolis known as Corinth. It was the center of worship for the goddess Aphrodite, whose temple women – prostitutes, really – were also busy entertainers in the city’s night life. Generally speaking, the people of Corinth were highly educated and prosperous, yet simmering beneath this veneer of sophistication, was a city full of sin. All kinds of sin.

But Corinth was also a place where all kinds of people lived, worked, travelled to, and travelled from. It’s strategic location made it the logical location to start a church, and so on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul went there to do just that.

In Corinth, Paul stayed with Priscilla and Aquilla and he began to make tents because, of course, he had to support himself until the church got up and running. We don’t know a whole lot about these two except that they were exiles from Rome. No matter where Paul went and no matter what he did, something always reminded him about going to Rome!  A year-and-a-half later, Paul left Corinth, the church established. But that wasn’t the end of it.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10 | TNIV)

So before he wrote 1 Corinthians, he actually wrote another letter to correct moral laziness within that church. It was, by all accounts, a very painful letter, which we don’t have. Verse 11 gives us an idea what the Christian culture was like in Corinth:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. With such persons do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11 | TNIV)

That’s some Christian culture, right there! Imagine the sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters and slanderers, drunkards and swindlers calling themselves Christians! And the only church in town not doing anything to straighten them out! That’s what was getting all over Paul’s last nerve. And that’s why he wrote this letter, that we call 1 Corinthians, but was really the second letter he wrote to that church.

Not long after that, the Corinthians were behind a sort of campaign against Paul. The integrity of his motives, of his behavior, and even of his apostolic ministry were all brought into question. Even his courage (10:1,10) and abilities were attacked (10:11; 11:6).

For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Corinthians 10:10 | TNIV)

So you can see that the large church in Corinth was a troubled church that got into trouble, but it was also a church caused trouble.

Paul identified the problem

To his credit, Paul identified the real problem in the Corinthian church. It wasn’t necessarily the shifty characters that made up the “roll of rogues.” Here’s who Paul thought was behind all the problems in the Corinthian church and beyond: The god of this age.

We modern believers, living in the sophisticated 21st century would do well to understand those five words. Satan is God’s great and eternal adversary; he stands opposed to God’s plan at every turn. He has, however, been given temporary and limited lordship over this world. Because of this, the world today is not a good place:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father… (Galatians 1:3, 4 | TNIV)

Satan’s dominion covers anybody who aligns himself with any cause that stifles or compromises God’s eternal purpose. That’s why even the Law, which was given by God to His people, was eventually twisted, abused, and misused by the Jews so that it became a demonic force. And why Saul actually thought persecuting and murdering Christians was a good idea for his religion! He was blinded by “the god of this age,” as so many are today.

If you’ve ever heard anybody say something like this: “I don’t understand the Gospel. I’ve heard it all my life and I still don’t get it,” then you understand what it’s like for a person to be blinded by Satan. If you’ve ever tried to share your faith with the lost and all you get a blank, empty stare back for all your trouble, then you understand with it’s like for a person to be blinded by Satan. The light of God’s glory is shining brightly, but Satan has blinded their eyes so they cannot see it.

You and I as Bible believing, church-going Christians may bemoan the sorry state of the church these days, but the fact is “the god of this age” has made it very difficult for the non-believer to see and hear the Gospel of God’s grace. The problem isn’t all with the church; it’s not with the Bible. The problem is a combination of “the god of this age” and the non-believer buying into his worldview.

The good news of the glory of Christ

So if you, like Paul, are serious about serving the Lord, it’s easy to get discouraged. We’re plagued with our own human weaknesses and imperfections that chip away at our self-confidence. And on top of that, we have to constantly deal with the disinterest and indifference of people to the Gospel, and that makes us wonder if the so-called good news is really all that good! Here’s what Paul wrote about that:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1 | TNIV)

Paul refused to “lose heart” because it was God who gave him “this ministry” in the first place. When Jesus Christ captured Paul’s heart on the dusty road to Damascus, He gave the man a new heart full of mission and purpose. But Paul’s not exception; he’s the pattern! We all have been given a new heart and a mission and a purpose – a ministry to perform for the Kingdom of God. Before Christ, we all lived aimless, self-seeking, purposeless lives. But Christ came in and He gave us something to do, and as we do, we find encouragement and hope.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2 | TNIV)

And that’s how we should fulfill God’s calling on our lives. There’s always the temptation to take the simple Word of God and dress it up; to embellish it; make it more interesting or acceptable to the lost. Thing is, we aren’t supposed to be “clever” in the worldly sense of the word. We aren’t supposed to use worldly means to reach the lost. We are to do what Paul did:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5 | TNIV)

Those two words, Jesus Christ, are what the Gospel, the good news, is all about. Paul and the early church didn’t preach about having a happy marriage or how to succeed in life! They preached Jesus Christ because He alone is the solution to anybody’s problems, and that’s good news. Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Gospel did not have to be accepted by everybody who heard it to be valid. Satan has blinded the lost; veiled their understanding, but he has not harmed the Gospel in any way.

And that gets us to the verse that began this message:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

What is “the gospel that displays the glory of Christ?” What is “the good news that displays the glory of Christ?” Sadly, “the glory of Christ” is what sinful man doesn’t want to see. The glory of Christ is that He is “the image of God.”

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 | TNIV)

The word for “image” is eikon, which is more than just a painting or statue, but rather, “the illumination of its inner core or essence.” What that means is stunning: Jesus Christ, the Man from Heaven, is the very image – the representation – the fulfillment – of the image of God in man. And it is through Jesus Christ that the Christian is being transformed into the exact same image!

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 | TNIV)

Therefore, in Christ, the Christian is restored to the image of God. No wonder Satan has blinded the eyes of the lost! Who wouldn’t want to remade into the image of God?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 | TNIV)

Stewardship: It’s NOT what you think it is! Part 4

pass the plate

Principles of Giving, 2 Corinthians 8—9

All across the world on any given Sunday in churches of every denomination, you will hear a familiar refrain:  “It’s time to receive today’s tithes and offerings.”  Of course, the actual words may vary, but taking up the offering is the one thing Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, etc. all have in common.

We have been discussing “stewardship” and what that means in the life of the believer.  Stewardship is managing the variety of resources God has given us for His glory.  Things like our health, intelligence, temperaments, talents, and ideas are among the things that come standard at birth and are just a few of the things God calls Christians to exercise proper stewardship over.  With this final message on stewardship, we turn our attention to the principles that should govern the stewardship of our finances.

In John’s Gospel, he wrote an interesting verse that forms the basis of this study—

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:17, tNIV)

We may well consider the New Testament to be an exposition of the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul gives certain principles, grounded in grace and truth, governing the New Testament pattern for giving which supersedes the Old Testament pattern, the tithe, which was based on the law, not on grace truth.

The Corinthian church was a large, though deeply dysfunctional church, which Paul loved dearly.  In all, he wrote four letters to them, of which we have two.  In his letters, the Apostle tries to correct wrong behavior, wrong beliefs, wrong practices, and, in the case of these two chapters, to remind them of certain obligations that come from being part of the Body of Christ.  In the preceding chapters, Paul had expressed confidence in his Corinthians friends because they had Jesus living in their hearts.  Now, his attention turns to the collection which he organized among his churches for the relief of the church in Jerusalem.  This offering seems to have been very important to Paul, for he persisted in its collection and delivery in spite of the near-certain danger that awaited him in Jerusalem.   As far as Paul was concerned, a brother’s need was his need, and being part of the Body of Christ obligated him to do whatever he could to meet that brother’s need, as though it were his own.

With chapter 8, Paul introduces the topic of this collection.   This was certainly not the first time the Corinthians had been told about the dire circumstances in Jerusalem.  Paul first mentioned it to them in 1 Corinthians 16:1—4, where he gave them very specific instructions on how to participate—

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.   On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.  If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (tNIV)

But it seems that, for some reason, the Corinthian church was not participating in this worthy project, and so with great tact instead of commands and coercion, Paul teaches and encourages his friends to give as a free and personal response to Christ.

1.  Giving under grace, not under law

In our church, we always worship the Lord in the giving of “tithes and offerings.”  While there is nothing wrong with the phrase, “tithes and offerings,” we must be careful not to transform a useful phrase into a theology of giving that has its roots firmly planted in the Old Testament Law.  For believers, giving is not supposed to be based on anything in the Old Testament but rather our giving today should be based on new principles of grace established in the New Testament.  Nowhere in the Epistles do we read of “tithes.”  In fact, the only offering God seeks from His people is that of the person himself as “a living sacrifice…which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 21:1).

Background

(a)  The Old Testament tithe

Though the idea of a tithe was first seen in the life of Abraham, it formed an integral part of the Law in Leviticus 27:30—33.  On the surface, the Old Testament tithe seemed very simple—

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.  (Leviticus 28:30, tNIV)

But, as with nearly every aspect of the Law, it got more and more complicated with each successive generation; later on Numbers 18:21—32 we discover that the tithe was to be used to support those who were dedicated to serve God.  In Deuteronomy 12 and 14, that same tithe was to be delivered to the Tabernacle, later to the Temple built by David, and it was distributed from there.

However, also in Deuteronomy 14 and 26, we see that there was a second tithe, which was to be collected every third year to help the needy!  In fact, if we read the Old Testament carefully, we will see that in total, there were three tithes, each used to either support those who led Israel in worship, help the poor, and to support the widows and orphans.

In addition to the 30% tithes, the Law also called for mandatory, yet voluntary, giving called “freewill offerings.”  The tithe was what Israel owed God, but the offerings were given out of love to God.  The tithe was a duty each Israelite had to fulfill, but the offerings were to be given spontaneously, as an expression of appreciation to God.  Giving the offering was actually a privilege; it was a practical way to demonstrate not only love but also devotion to God, and it was also a way to further help the less fortunate.

(b)  A new era of grace

As we pass from the Old Testament into the New Testament, we notice some very important changes.  With the coming of Christ, we see the dawn of a new era of grace as opposed to the old era of the Law.  While the Law was never abolished, it is fulfilled in grace, and all believers are responsible to keep the righteous demands of the Law in grace, not in fear.

As previously noted, though, the Epistles never mention tithing in any form.  The church of Jesus Christ has in no way replaced Israel; therefore the Laws that governed Israel cannot govern the church.  For example, we have no central Temple into which we would bring our tithes and offerings for distribution.  However, we do have paid professionals in many of our churches, and, the Epistles do teach that those who preach and teach the Gospel exclusively deserve to be paid for their work.  But nowhere does Paul or any other New Testament writer suggest this is to be done through a tithe!  Pastors are not the equivalent to “priests” of the Old Testament!  So, while we do not see tithing done in the New Testament era, we see something else: freedom in Christ, especially freedom to give of our finances to meet these kinds of needs, not in a legalistic obligatory fashion, but freely and in faith.  Furthermore, while the New Testament does teach meeting the needs of the local church—whether the need of paying the pastor or helping those in need—Paul’s guidelines for giving never mention or imply that the tithe is to be used to measure the Christian’s obligation.

(c)  The New Testament view of wealth

The principles of giving Paul gives the Corinthians are not rules and regulations, but reflect a general attitude toward wealth which we see elsewhere in the New Testament.

  • Jesus taught that believers should not put their trust in wealth and should not consider possessions to be treasures (Matthew 6:19—33);
  • In Luke 16:9, Jesus teaches that worldly wealth is to be used to prepare for the future;
  • Jesus also taught that nobody can serve two masters; the acquisition and preservation of wealth should never be the focus of our lives, if it is then we are demonstrating that we love it more than we love God;
  • John teaches that worldly wealth should be used to help other believers in need (1 John 3:17—18);
  • Paul told Timothy to teach the wealthy that their wealth came to them from God and that the should seek to do as much good with it as they can (1 Timothy 6:17—19).

The overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is that wealth is not a bad thing; it can be a very good thing because it can be used benefit the whole Body of Christ.  However, while wealth is not bad, the love of wealth is a problem because it can lead to many other kinds of evil.  So wealth is to be used, not loved.   And for the believer, the first use of his wealth is to benefit the Kingdom of God.

If we consciously put God first by meeting the needs of others within the Body of Christ, we are really preparing for our eternity.  Conversely, if we put wealth first by using it meet our own desires, we demonstrate that we lack the kind of dedication and commitment God wants and expects from those who call themselves His servants.  How we use our resources, then, is a measure of our dedication to God and a demonstration of the value we place on eternal values.

2.  The key is:  sharing

In the very early church, there were no church building programs to finance, in fact, there were no church buildings to support in any way; there was no Sunday School curriculum to buy, no heat and light bills to pay, no insurance premiums to pay, and no Presbytery taxes!  But the early church did have needs, and as we learn in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, local congregations from all over world gave to meet those needs, even if the need was miles and miles away.  Sometimes the need was merely supporting a local elder who assumed the  role similar to that of “pastor” today; he devoted himself to the Gospel full time, and he was supported by the local assembly.   Other needs included supporting widows, if they needed it.

Essentially, giving in the New Testament boiled down to a very simple principle:  find a need and fill it.   The goal of New Testament giving was simply survival; whether it was giving to help famine victims survive, or widows or victims of crime or to support those who gave up worldly careers to devote their skills to the preaching and teaching of the Word.  The survival and well being of other Christians was why Christians gave.

The Greek word the New Testament uses for “giving” is koinonia, which as we know means most often suggests “fellowship,” but it also means “to share.”  Just as believers share in the new of life of Christ, they also share a familial relationship with other believers, and that shared relationship is best expressed by a mutual sharing of resources, financial and otherwise.

3.  Paul’s approach with the Corinthians

Looking at 2 Corinthians we see how Paul solicited funds.  Note that there was a definite need:  the large church in Jerusalem was starving; they desperately needed funds.  Now note what Paul did NOT do:  he did not hold a rally to raise money; he did not send out “pledge cards,” he did not have a direct mail campaign or a “wear a yellow ribbon” campaign, he did not set up a big thermometer to measure the giving, Paul never had an “every member canvas.”  No, Paul’s approach to fund raising was unique.

(a)  He gave two examples, 2 Cor. 8:1—9

Paul started out by giving a prime example of a church that rose to the challenge of giving:  the Macedonia church.  After he writes so poignantly about how they gave out of their need, he wrote this—

I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  (verse 8b, tNIV)

In other words, the Macedonian example of giving was the standard of giving against which the Corinthians could measure their—not giving—love.  Giving is never about the final amount, it is always about the attitude of the giver.

The supreme example of giving, though, was not another church, but Jesus Christ Himself, who gave all He had to save others.   He was rich, but He became poor, so that others may become rich.

New Testament giving, then, is not based on meeting a predetermined, minimal percentage-of-income.  New Testament giving begins with giving all you have to give.

(b)  Be willing!  2 Cor. 8:10—12

Some time earlier, the Corinthians had promised to give, but now they needed to honor their promise, “according to their means.”   Here is a vitally important factor to consider—

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  (verse 12, tNIV)

Once again, it is not the amount that God takes note of, it is the attitude of the giver; a New Testament giver gives willingly what he is able to give.  The Macedonians, a very poor church, gave all.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave all.

(c)  Giving is about equality, 2 Cor. 8:13—15

It’s not what some call “Christian communism,” but this principle is more like “the Godfather philosophy” of  “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”   It’s also reaping and sowing; if you give when you have resources to give, you will receive when you lack resources.

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.  (verse 14)

(d)  Take action, 2 Cor. 8:16—9:5

Promising to give is one thing, but that promise must be followed by action.  Paul apparently had been “boasting” about the generosity of the Corinthians, but they hadn’t followed through.  Notice what he told them—

For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we–not to say anything about you–would be ashamed of having been so confident. (verse 4, tNIV)

It’s a serious thing to make a promise and not keep it.

(e)  Giving is sowing, 2 Cor. 9:6—11

Sharing with others is just like sowing seed, Paul explained.   This in no way means that if you give $10.00 you will get $100.00 back.  What Paul explained to the Corinthians is a very simple yet profound principle:  a believer cannot outgive God.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  (verse 8 tNIV)

When we truly believe this, we will be set free to give generously without fear that we will somehow be deprived later on of some necessity.   This is the context in which Paul advised the Corinthians in verse 7—

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul was careful not to lay a guilt trip on these Corinthians.  He did not want them to feel obligated to give nor did he want to give them some sort of percentage that he deemed appropriate.  As far as Paul was concerned, nobody knew their personal financial circumstances better than the individual and his God.   So it was up to the individual to give an amount they themselves were responsible for.

(f)  The results of giving, 2 Cor. 9:12—15

The believers in Corinth were lastly reminded by Paul of the encouraging results that would stem from their generous gift.

Paul has already written that their generous giving would enrich themselves, meet the needs of the recipients, but their generous giving would also promote the glory of God by prompting others to praise Him.

How does this come about?  Simply because the Corinthians would be living up not only to their promise, but also to the Gospel, which among other things calls for meeting the needs of the saints (Romans 12:13).   Grace always prepares the way for grace.  When we act in grace according to the will of God, He gets the praise for what we do.  Notice that the praise is expressed less for the gift itself than for the spiritual virtues of the giver expressed in that gift.  It is never about the amount given; it is always about the attitude.

But Paul goes a step further suggesting that the giving will be reciprocal.  The Corinthians gave materially to the Christians in Jerusalem, and now they will give spiritual gifts to the Corinthians, in the form of prayer.

And the circle of giving is made complete.  The church in Jerusalem was in desperate shape, lacking many material things.  The Corinthians struggled in their faith and doctrine and were in need of spiritual help.  The needs of both churches were about to be met because of their obedience in giving.

Conclusion

Paul’s principles of stewardship are simple:

  1. Make your need known to the church.  Pastors and elders are not mind readers.  Paul never hesitated to share his needs with other churches.   The local church exists to meet the needs of its members; we employ a pastor to teach and preach the Word, we support a missionary family, we purchase material to help you learn and grow in the faith and share that faith, but can also meet other needs if we know about them.
  2. Learn what you can give based on your needs.  Sometimes, a thousand dollars is a lot of  money, sometimes it’s not enough.  Each one of us knows what our needs may be and our giving should be based on what we are able to give, not on a preset, one-size-fits-all amount.  We are responsible and answerable to God for how much, or how little, we give.  With freedom comes that kind of responsibility.
  3. Don’t give into manipulation.  Don’t let this church, or some other ministry or some other Christian manipulate you into giving more than you can or should.   Manipulation never glorifies God; our giving needs to be objective, never subjective, arising out of emotional pleas.
  4. We need to practice New Testament giving!  My job as pastor is to teach it, our job as members of the Body of Christ is to take this knowledge and put it to use in a God-glorifying, people-helping manner.

God is totally committed us; so much so He has been giving to us since He gave His one and only Son to save us.  He has never once stopped giving to those who love and serve Him.  We should strive to be that committed to Him.

Stewardship–giving in grace–sets us free, because when we give in grace, we are giving like God gives.  No rules.  No strings.  According to our ability.  What a great way to give!

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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