Friday, July 1, 2022

July 1 - 1 Corinthians 14

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 14:12

Big idea: The cross is our model for ministry. 

Today's chapter is so often used as a debate in a battle about spiritual gifts that we often miss its very practical implications. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for missing the point of spiritual gifts. In what is really an extension of the theme of chapter 13, the gifts of the Spirit are not designed to be used to self-promotion or pride, but to serve others. Any real gift of God is designed to build up the church and that ought to be reflected in our priorities. 

This is not just true of things like prophecy, speaking in tongues, or supernatural knowledge. But the model for how we serve God is here. The question is not what roles will bring us attention or apparent success, but how we can best build up the body as a whole. We do not exist for ourselves, but for one another. Of course, this should not be surprising to us as Christians. Our Lord and Master had all of the gifts and abilities which could be imagined (and probably many others), yet He did not seek to serve Himself, but to build people up.

How different from the way that people normally act. We see others as tools to build us up and make or discard relationships based on their function. Our whole understanding of gifts is hardwired with selfishness. But God has a better plan. The sacrifice of Jesus shows us how a life should be used: it should be spent. Our whole lives are a ministry, so they ought to be like Christ's.

Discussion idea: What is a gift God has given you which you can use to build up others?
Prayer focus: Praise God for letting us be a part of His work. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

June 30 - 1 Corinthians 13

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 13:3

Big idea: Real love is revealed in the cross. 

I ran a search on Google: "What is love?" The top results, from places as diverse as Psychology Today and E-Harmony and are uniform only in their error. The first result from a Christian perspective is 23 items down, under a yoga website, two Jewish ones, a collection of literary quotes and many which I would not repost here (or anywhere else). Wikipedia says: "Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure." Not exactly Shakespeare. defines it as "Baby, don't hurt me, Don't hurt me, no more.", the Jewish website, says, "Love is the attachment that results from deeply appreciating another's goodness" As a sinner without any goodness by nature to love, I am grateful that God does not use that definition.

A genuinely Christian definition of love must reckon with the ultimate act of love in all of history. The cross teaches us that love is the choice of another, not because of who they are, but because of who we are, where we give ourselves away for someone else. Without this kind of love, all of the good works, special wisdom, and miraculous deeds are simply garbage. Even acts of "charity" to the point of giving our life up or giving all of our possessions to the poor can be loveless and therefore worthless. In God's eyes, love is both heart and action. It is my whole person devoted to your whole person. 

That love is patient, kind, rejects sin and rejoices in truth. If you put your name in place of the word "love" in today's chapter, would your parents or spouse believe it? What about your coworkers? Sometimes we try to get by with a cheap definition of love. I once spoke to a pastor's wife who believed that she loved anyone she did not hate, and did not hate anyone she did not desire to go to Hell. The Bible will not accept such cheap definitions. Jesus wants you to love like He loved, and that love gives all that we say and do its significance. 

Discussion idea: Who is someone that loves you? How do you know? How can you show love to another person?

Prayer focus: Praise God that He taught us to love by loving us. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

June 29 - 1 Corinthians 12

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 12:27

Big idea: The work of the cross through the Spirit brings unity in diversity. 

This afternoon, our family was playing in a pillow fort: boys versus girls. Samuel (almost 2 years old) was excited to throw pillows and say "Tak! Tak!"("Attack!"). Anastasia (almost 4 years old) was quick to squeal and call out about how we "have not seen the last of her." She can be a little dramatic. We were playing something which could be called "capture the tiara," but whenever her Mom got it, Anastasia took it back. In a different setting, she might be called a ball hog. 3-year-olds are not known for being team players, which makes it harder on everyone. The problem is that most of us never grow out of it. 

In today's reading, Paul uses one of the most famous metaphors of the Bible: the church is a body. As in a body, there are distinct parts which are all part of one life. The different parts complement each other, and the parts that might seem to be weaker are provided greater protection by the rest of the body, which the stronger parts do not need. The question is never whether all the parts of the body are given equal treatment, but whether each part of the body is allowed to thrive. In our body, God put all of the parts together not for the parts but for the whole. Our unity is in our diversity. If our organs were all identical, there would be no body at all.  If our organs were all disconnected and independent, there would be no body at all.

The apostle tells us that this is exactly how each church should operate. The one Spirit in each of us manifests His work in different ways, but the message is always the same: Jesus is Lord. No part of the body should be arrogant or humiliated, but should all realize that we need each other. The heart should exercise its gift, the lungs theirs, and so on. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body should hurt. When one part is missing or not pulling its weight, no other part of the body was designed by God to fill that role, and there is a strain. Your church family is not an accident. You were carefully placed in that body by God, with a certain job and a certain design. So let's serve one another, for His glory.

Discussion idea: If you stub your toe, is it possible to say, "Well, that sounds like a toe problem to me."? Is it possible for a healthy church body to have one part that hurts without the whole thing hurting?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see yourself as a part of the whole, neither arrogant nor despairing, but in the place He chose with the function He made you for. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

June 28 - 1 Corinthians 11

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 11:24

Big idea: When we take the Lord's Supper in unity, we remember the cross. 

If there is one value that is undervalued in American society today, it is unity. We value loyalty to our team and hatred of the 'enemy.' We value intensity of opinion and certainty of point-of-view. But we do not value the thing that Jesus prayed we would have as He knew He was looking at the last starlight of His earthly ministry. Unity. Corinth had the same problem with disunity, heavy on factions and light on family, they were eager to focus on status and prestige. It showed up in many areas of their corporate life, but the one area that seems to have genuinely angered the apostle Paul was when this division spewed its filth on the Lord's Supper, the memorial ordinance of the cross. 

In other settings, factions are foolish and juvenile. In this setting, it is blasphemy. How can we who have all received the unmerited broken body and poured-out blood of the spotless Son of God then look down on one another? Or despise someone of a different class? In Corinth, the fellowship feast was a bring-your-own food affair. The wealthy were fat and drunk, while the poor nursed empty stomachs and sandpaper mouths. Instead of looking at the others as members of a family, their hearts were filled with contempt. Contempt even while the wine that represented the blood of Jesus, who had born the contempt of the Almighty for their sins, was still on their lips. What absurdity! What blasphemy! "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."

The Lord's Supper must picture the unity bought by the death of Christ. Unity between humanity and God, and unity between people. To eat and drink unworthily, without repentance (and clearly repentance of dividing the body in particular), is to be guilty of the blood and body of the Lord. No light condemnation. So there is a great responsibility here. But there is also a great privilege. We can serve as a living picture of the work of Christ: proof of the ministry of reconciliation. It is not for nothing that He said: "This do in remembrance of Me." 

Discussion idea: Who are some people that are divided from each other today? How can the message of the gospel reconcile them?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you identify the areas in your heart where you look down on others, and help you to overcome them. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

June 27 - 1 Corinthians 10

Key verse: 1 Corinthians 10:23

Big idea: There is no room for any competitors to the cross.

Unlike Romans, which we saw moved forward in a very linear way, 1 Corinthians introduces ideas and then returns to them later, in overlapping cycles. If we synthesize the major issues so far, we can see how they interact. The church as a Temple, where the food is not the animals sacrificed to idols, but the blood and body of Christ as represented in the Lord's Supper, where the united church as His body is the unleavened bread offered up alongside the Lamb. We should not be surprised then when the Lord's Supper is brought back in for today's text. The tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians brings the argument which began in the eighth chapter to full fruition. Chapter 8 had dealt with laying our liberty down for the sake of other believers, not eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols if it might cause someone else to stumble. Then, chapter 9 had expanded this principle to our witness before non-believers: if it interferes with our witness, it is not worth doing. But the summary principle is plain: all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. We must realize that the same temptations that run through the Bible are the ones we face today, but with the promise of a way out.

The Israelites worshipped God in the Tabernacle and the Temple but contaminated it with idolatry. God has recorded their failures as an example for us, so we will not follow in their steps of sin and judgment. Do not miss the point here. The idolatry is not the meat sacrificed to idols; Paul says that if you go to a party, don't ask if the meat has been offered. The idolatry is putting meat ahead of Christ, by eating it when it hurts my brother. It is an idol because I think that what it gives me is worth more than what Jesus has commanded. God is a jealous God and He demands our whole heart.

Brothers and sisters, idolatry is just as dangerous for us as it has ever been. We may not bow down before golden calves or offer up incense, but whenever we let anything in our lives get in the way of the work God has called us to, we have found our idols. Whatever we do, "whether we eat or we drink," it must be for the glory of God. Not offending Jews, Gentiles or the church, but trying to please others. We do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord. 

Discussion idea: What is an idol which tempts you? What personal/cultural preference would you be unwilling to give up for the sake of evangelism and building up your brothers?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would give you the strength to flee the temptation to idolatry by running to Him.

Friday, June 24, 2022