We Never Give Up!

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:1-5:15

WE ARE CHILDREN OF THE NEW COVENANT.

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

“But this is a new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:31-33

Paul described himself as being a minister of this new covenant – a covenant not of written laws as was etched in stone long ago, but a covenant of the Holy Spirit living within us. The old way brought death by defining two choices – obey these laws and live or disobey and die. The new way brings life as the Spirit lives within us and He, himself, changes us, making us right with God (2 Corinthians 3:6-9).

When Moses saw the glory of God, his face shone so bright that the people were unable to look at him. But this brightness soon faded away. With the new covenant, God places a light in our heart that shines for all to see the glory of God.

WE FOCUS ON THIS LIGHT WHEN THINGS GET DIFFICULT.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

We are not like Moses who had to put a veil over his face so the people would not see God’s glory. When we believe in Christ, when we turn to the Lord, the veil is lifted and we can boldly show the light of God for all to see (3:12, 14). When things get difficult, we do not focus on the darkness around us but on the light burning bright within us. His Spirit reminds us of God’s presence and gives us the strength to overcome our troubles – a power not from ourselves but of God (4:7).

Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. – 2 Corin. 4:1

WE NEVER GIVE UP!

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. – 2 Corin. 4:8-9

And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. This is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produced for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:15-18

OUR PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES ARE TEMPORARY.

Paul describes even our physical bodies as earthly tents that will be taken down and replaced by a house in heaven – an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands (5:1). When we grow weary of our present situation, God’s Spirit within us reminds us that He is preparing us for our home with Him. He has made a new covenant with us, we are not alone. When we believe in Him, we walk away from our old self and allow a new light to live within us, bringing glory to the Creator Himself. I now live for him so everything I do and everything I say today is for Him, so that I can reflect His glory for the world to see.

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others…Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:11, 14b-15

We are children of the new covenant.
We are fragile clay jars that contain a great treasure.
We have this light shining in our hearts.
We focus on this light when things get difficult.
We are pressed, but not crushed.
We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
We are NEVER abandoned by God.
We may get knocked down by life’s circumstances, but we are not destroyed.
These troubles are temporary.
Therefore, we never give up.

Today’s Confidence

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:12-24

It is believed that Paul wrote three letters to the Church in Corinth – that there was a letter between what we know as 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. The manuscript of this letter has been lost but it is believed to have been a harsh or severe letter.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was not well received by everyone in the church. Opposition grew against him and he was spoken of negatively while he was away. His authority was challenged and he was forced to defend himself. He left Ephesus in order to talk with the church face to face, but the visit did not go well. Paul refers to this visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1 as a “painful visit”.

Knowing this helps us to understand the tone of 2 Corinthians 1:12-24. Paul is defending himself in hopes that the Church will have confidence in him and trust his authority. Consider how painful it must have been for Paul to be rejected by a church full of people that he had led to the Lord. He loved them and considered them his children.

As we read yesterday in the first half of chapter one, Paul was suffering for Christ. How much more painful for us when we are suffering because of another believer within the church?! Oh how it hurts when we feel the need to defend ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to Paul’s defense in the following verses:

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world and especially towards you. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-13

GOD-GIVEN HOLINESS

Oh the peace that comes with confidence and a clear conscience. At the end of the day if my concern is whether or not I have lived a good life or if I represented Christ well, I will fall asleep worrying. BUT, if I look closely at this verse and focus on the word “God-given” then I know that I do not have to produce holiness and sincerity on my own. I can depend on God and HIS holiness, I can trust in HIS grace to lead me rather than any human wisdom I could possibly come up with on my own.

Humanity. None of us is perfect and neither was Paul, yet he goes on to defend his intentions. He stated he wanted to come for a second visit but was unable to come when he had originally planned to. So did he lie or deceive the church in Corinth? Should they question his word? Should they wonder if his “yes” really means yes or his “no” really means no? If they can doubt Paul’s word, will they doubt God’s word? This appears to be part of the issue of concern for the church. Thankfully, Paul knew that it was in Christ that he stands firm. He is called by God and must respond to God in obedience, even if it changes his earthly plans.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. I call God as my witness – and I stake my life on it – that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-24

SPIRIT-FILLED CONFIDENCE

Because of God, I can stand firm in Christ. He has called me and He will equip me. I am HIS child and it is HIS Spirit living within me that leads me and fills me. When I have confidence I have done the right thing or when I have a clear conscience, I can ask God to protect me from false guilt or unnecessary anxiety.

But what about us? Are we quick to believe the worst about another believer? Do we jump to conclusions or make false accusations? Or do we use the principles in Matthew 18 and take new information directly to our brother or sister in Christ and allow them to clear up any misconceptions or lies?

Thank you, Lord, for whatever lies ahead. Fill me with Your Spirit and remind me over and over again of Your presence in my life today. When the enemy tries to accuse me and attack me with false guilt, may I stand firm in you! When Satan tries to engage me in conflict with another person, may your Spirit guide me in wisdom and grace. Amen.

Tomorrow’s Bread

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

TOMORROW’S BREAD

Former Nazarene General Superintendent, Jesse Middendorf, wrote a Sunday School lesson for the Nazarene curriculum in which he started out with an illustration from World War II. Hitler had forced many 12 and 13-year-old boys into military service during the war. These boys were treated harshly and made to do some extremely inhumane jobs for their country. When the war was over, these young boys were left homeless and without food.

An aid program came to their rescue by setting up tent cities to house the boys. Doctors and psychologists cared enough about these young men to work hard to restore them physically and mentally. They found that many of the boys would wake up in the middle of the night screaming out in terror. So they tried something unusual. Each night they would feed the boys a large meal and then send them to bed with a piece of bread to hold in their hands, instructing them to save it until morning. The boys began to sleep peacefully through the night. Why? Because after years of hunger, these boys held in their hands the assurance that there would be food for them the next day.

Do you ever go to bed with a heavy heart or with anxiety about a specific situation? Do you ever struggle to get a good night’s sleep the day before a big event in your life due to a combination of excitement and nerves? Tomorrow’s unknowns can overwhelm us at times.

TOMORROW’S UNKNOWNS

When I have a big decision to make and I go to bed knowing that God has provided an answer for me, I sleep more peacefully. When I know how the bills at work are going to be paid and I know with confidence we are going to make payroll this week, I sleep more peacefully. But what about those times when tomorrow is uncertain, when I do NOT hold in my hand the “bread” for tomorrow? Paul has a great answer to this question as we read on in his second letter to the Church of Corinth.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And HE DID rescue us from mortal danger, and HE WILL rescue us AGAIN. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It is in those moments when I do not have tomorrow’s bread to hold on to, that my hands are free to hold on to the God of my tomorrows. I stop listening to my fears. I learn how to trust God, which strengthens my faith. I stop relying on my own wisdom, I stop relying on what I have in the bank, and I start relying on God to provide.

TOMORROW’S HOPE, JOY & PEACE

Please allow me to again quote Pastor Ed Heck. His words of faith as he faced his fight against cancer continue to inspire me: “…every single day when I open my eyes and every single night when I close my eyes I’m doing so with this thought and prayer, ‘God, search my heart; keep it clear and clean. Wash me; cleanse me, keep me at the point of brokenness where You are the source of my only hope – today, tomorrow, for as long as you give me life.’

“I know I’ve said this before, but I want to make sure I say it often because it really is true: This – everything happening to and around me – is not about me! It’s really not. It’s about God and what He will choose to do in me, through me and around me.” – Pastor Ed Heck, https://shardsofgraceblog.wordpress.com

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember the Lord is coming soon. – Philippians 4:4-5

I cannot be full of joy if I am worrying about tomorrow. The NIV version says “let your gentleness be evident to all.” If I am worried, grumbling, complaining or pretty much freaking out over what is ahead of me, I am not full of the joy of the Lord for others to see.

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Father God, may each one of us rely on YOU for today’s answer and for tomorrow’s provision. May we rest in knowing that you are all we need. Take away from us the worrying and grumbling and fill our hearts with the peace of knowing we can rely on you. Oh God of all comfort, shower us with your joy today. Amen.

Strengthening the Church

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 14-16

We are always looking to see how we can do things better at work. Over and over again, we ask the question, “Are we meeting our mission?” We focus on organizational health and the importance of having cohesive teams. Paul spent some time doing the same thing for the Church in Corinth. He gave them lots of great advice on how to have a healthy church and how to be the body of Christ. So, as we finish our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, here is Paul’s advice for the Church:

You must show your appreciation to all who serve so well. – 1 Corinthians 16:18b

APPRECIATE YOUR LEADERS

The Church should take care of the financial needs of those called into full-time ministry but those called should not serve for any kind of earthly reward or favor, but should do it for God and for the eternal prize.

The Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it…Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. – 1 Corinthians 9:14-18a

SERVE WITH PURPOSE

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So RUN TO WIN! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

How easy it would be for us to take our eyes off the One who has called us and focus on ourselves or the Church or those around us who disappoint. What a great reminder this morning – I do what God has called me to do because I am compelled by God to do it. If God has called me, He will equip me. God, forgive me when I start simply going through the motions and ministry becomes routine. Lord, I want to run to win, run with purpose, run with my eyes focused on you.

STAND STRONG AGAINST TEMPTATION

I want to drink from the spiritual rock who is Christ. Paul used the example of the people of Israel to encourage the Church to not be tempted by sexual immorality or be tempted to grumble. No matter what comes our way, we can stand strong – not of our own strength but on the solid rock of Jesus.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

USE YOUR WORDS TO STRENGTHEN OTHERS

Paul takes time in Chapter 14 to address the difference between speaking in tongues and prophesying, knowing this would be an opportunity for conflict and disagreement in the church. All of his explanation is based on the idea of making love our highest goal (14:1) – that everything done in the Church be done to strengthen everyone (14:26).

A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened. – 1 Corinthians 14:4-5

If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying?…
For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying…
But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.
– 1 Corinthians 14:9,14,19

I would never want my words to cause confusion or distract others from the worship of God taking place in the sanctuary. Lord, let the words of my mouth come only from YOU, building others up and encouraging them as they walk with you.

Here is some more advice from Paul as he closes his first letter to the Church in Corinth:

TITHE

On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. – 1 Corinthians 16:2a

LET LOVE STRENGTHEN THE CHURCH

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Greet each other with Christian love. – 1 Corinthians 16:20b

Eternal Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

I WANT TO LIVE LIKE THIS…

I wish I was fluent in another language. I wish I could understand and be understood. But even if I could walk around an Olympic stadium and have conversations with every athlete in their first language, the words coming from my mouth would be a loud, raucous noise if I didn’t have love in my heart.

There have been a few moments in my life when the Lord gave me a word for someone else, but I have often wondered what it would be like to have the gift of prophecy. To be able to shed light on someone’s situation or give them a promise to hold onto through difficulties and struggles – this would be great! If I was so wise that I could discern God’s will, His plan for me and for others, and if I had a faith that was so strong that I could move mountains, oh what an incredible life that would be! Yet, if I didn’t have the love for others, it would all be for nothing.

If I could conjure up enough human love to sell everything I have and give it to the poor, and if I would sacrifice my physical strength and health for others – wow, would I have something to boast about. But if I didn’t have the love of God pouring into my heart and out through my actions to others, it would all be for nothing! I do not want love that is man-made or of human effort. I want to love others the way God intended love to look.

I WANT LOVE TO LOOK LIKE THIS…

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

This is the kind of love I want. This is the kind of crazy love I want my life to look like. But I cannot live like this. Just like I do not have the kind of brain to speak multiple languages, or the mind to speak prophetically, or the faith strong enough to move mountains, I cannot produce this kind of love. I try but I fail over and over again. It is the same as the fruit of the Spirit – I cannot produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not who I am…but it is who God is. Praise God, He knows I need his help.

“We have access to the Holy Spirit welling up in us like a spring. Tapping into Him requires deliberation and cooperation so God can love through us. Like me, you’ve probably asked Him to love through you, then fizzled out within the hour. But here’s the catch: we cannot love when we perceive ourselves as unloved. We cannot offer to others what we don’t possess.” – Beth Moore, Children of the Day

“The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.” ― Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

I WANT A LOVE THAT LASTS FOREVER!

Father, fill me with your patience and kindness. When the familiar enemy of jealousy rears its ugly head, GIVE ME YOUR LOVE. When pride, sarcasm and arrogance come naturally to my mind, erase them with your humble spirit. Lord, forgive me for all the moments when I am irritable or in a pouty mood. Give me a heart that cries out for justice for others, but not for myself. When I remember how someone has wronged me, remind me that I have forgiven them and that I am looking forward and not back. Heal my wounds and erase my memories so that ONLY LOVE LASTS FOREVER. Give me the kind of love that never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Amen.

All of the skills and strengths that make us well-known or well-liked here on earth will someday be useless. But LOVE LASTS FOREVER. Our understanding of God’s plan is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only a small portion of the grand picture of life. When the time of perfection comes, all of our partially completed goals will be useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Harmonious Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 11 & 12

Paul continues the topic of relationships in the Church in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. He speaks of the roles men and women play within the Church – how the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3). But he clarifies that we ALL are dependent on each other and should recognize our need for one another. Our relationships should be described as harmonious.

WE NEED EACH OTHER!

But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

So, if love and concern for others is what strengthens the church, and if we all need each other, then Paul goes on to ask a very valid question: Why are there divisions among you when you meet as a church? Why is there more harm than good coming out of your time together? (1 Corin. 11:17-18)

WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.

The Holy Spirit gives each one of us special abilities or spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are given so that we can help each other, not to divide us or for one of us to think we are more or less important than someone else in the body of Christ.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to speak to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

EACH OF US HAS BEEN GIVEN A GIFT.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ…Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary…This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad…

You should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life (LOVE) that is best of all. – 1 Corinthians 12:12,14-22,25-26,31

Lord, forgive us for the divisions that creep into the church and the quarreling that distracts us from what you have called us to do. Lord fill our hearts with Your love so that we may love each other unselfishly. Help us to see that we need each other and that You are glorified when we all function together as the body of Christ. Show us the way of life that is best of all – to love each other with the kind of love that will last forever (1 Corinthians 13:8).

MAY LOVE BE OUR HIGHEST GOAL TODAY!

Missional Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 8-10

“…it is LOVE that strengthens the church” – 1 Corinthians 8:1. What a powerful statement!!! The context of this statement was Paul’s answer to the question of whether or not Christians should eat meat that has been offered to idols, which was a practice in those days. So each believer is faced with the question:

DO YOU LOVE OTHERS ENOUGH TO GIVE SOMETHING UP IF IT IS CAUSING THEM TO STUMBLE?

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9,12-13

Paul spent a lot of time on this topic so it must have been a big concern for the Church in their letter to him. Paul’s answer is summed up in the concept of LOVE – loving someone else enough to abstain from something we have no personal conviction about.

DO YOU LOVE OTHERS ENOUGH TO ABSTAIN?

You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

Wow! I find those verses SO powerful! Paul’s words in some ways convict me and in some ways inspire me. Reread those last two passages if you do not know what I am talking about.

IT’S MISSIONAL! SOMETIMES YOU MAKE A DECISION BASED ON SOMEONE ELSE’S SALVATION.

Sometimes you make a decision in order to prevent someone else from following in your footsteps and consuming something that could potentially destroy them or alter the course of their life. Paul gives each of us a decision to make. What is more important – your freedom to do as you please or someone else’s salvation? He encourages his readers to live a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He challenges them to aim for harmony among believers, building each other up and never tearing each other down.

When I am with those who are weak, I share in their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

GOD CALLS US TO ACT IN LOVE, NOT CONDEMNATION.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. – Romans 14:13-23

Please fill us with your Spirit this morning, Heavenly Father. We want our lives to glorify you! Nudge us if something we are consuming or something we are doing or something we are saying would hurt someone else this morning. Guide our words and our actions so that we can be used by you to build someone else up today. Lord, there are many different points of disagreement between believers in the church right now. Help us to get our hearts focused on you so that we can always live in harmony with each other? We love you! Amen.

Intentional Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 7

LOVE EACH OTHER THE WAY GOD INTENDED

Paul continues to warn the church to run from sexual sin, only he brings his advice in chapter 7 into the context of the marriage relationship. God created sex for the marriage relationship but Paul makes it clear that we can also sin within that relationship if we do not love each other the way God intended.

The Church in Corinth writes Paul a letter with their questions and he answers those questions first based on what He knows God has commanded and second based on the wisdom the Lord has given him. Let’s look at Paul’s advice based on direct commands from the Lord:

Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.

Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows – it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:1b-11

Paul goes on to speak from the wisdom God has given him. He instructs those who are believers but whose spouse is an unbeliever to remain in the marriage relationship. If the unbeliever insists on leaving, let them go, but perhaps it is through your love for your spouse they will find salvation in Christ (7:12-16).

LOVE EACH OTHER INTENTIONALLY

Paul speaks to those who are married and to those who are single and says – God has given you a special gift (7:7). To those who are married, God has given you the gift of your spouse. To those who are single, God has given you the gift of freedom from many of the earthly responsibilities that come in a marriage. His advice for everyone is to live in such a way that we are able to serve the Lord with our best, with as few distractions as possible (v.35). So if you are single, God has given you the ability to give yourself wholly to Him. If you are married, live in that relationship the way God intended (sexual relationship included) so that you do not create distractions for each other but that you enhance your spouse’s ability to serve God and they do the same for you (7:32-35).

We have talked about sexual sin for three days now. It is not the most comfortable subject to discuss, but I believe necessary. The enemy tries to destroy the meaning and purpose of sex, perverting what God intended for good. When we mess up in this area, we are missing out on God’s perfect plan for our lives. It is how reputations are stained, expectations are misaligned and marriages are destroyed. Paul has spent several chapters teaching on this subject and so here we are in our chronological journey through the Bible in 1st Corinthians talking once more about sex. It is one of those things we have to understand in order to avoid Satan’s attempts to let it destroy us and break apart what God has joined together.

SO WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT SEX? Not the most comfortable discussion to have, but if we do not know what we BELIEVE, it will be the very thing that pulls us away from God.

I believe Paul’s best advice for all of our relationships is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. If we define love for each other the way God defines it, we will build each other up and make each other better servants of Christ. If we let selfishness and quarreling into our relationships with each other, we become a distraction from God’s purpose for our life and for the lives of those around us, spouses included.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no records of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…

Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13

Let’s pray right now for that kind of INTENTIONAL LOVE…

Run From Sexual Sin

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 6

DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT THOSE WHO DO WRONG WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive or cheat people – none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that.
But you were cleansed;
you were made holy;
you were made right with God
by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Society condemns teen pregnancies while Hollywood romanticizes sexual promiscuity. Stigmas are placed on individuals with sexually transmitted diseases but expectations push teenagers and adults toward sexual activity through all forms of media. No wonder abortion rates are so high and chlamydia is the largest breakout of any infection in the history of our nation.

Society punishes those who commit a crime against another person but ratings show that Americans love to sit and watch programming that glorifies violent crimes. Each show tries to outdo their competitors by creating a more horrible and shocking crime scene than the week before.

Our society is no different than ancient societies who were entertained by death and by the perversion of sex. Paul addressed issues of sexual sin within the church as well as many other sins that would keep them from experiencing ALL that God had planned for them.

OUR BODIES WERE NOT MADE FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

RUN FROM SEXUAL SIN!

No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

How many times have I agreed that sexual sin is wrong but then spent hours “entertained” by movies or television shows that use topics of sexual immorality or drunkenness in an attempt to make me laugh? I can argue that I would never be tempted to follow the examples of the actors or characters, but it is more about the slow fade or breakdown of our society’s moral standards – sadly both inside and outside of the church.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Paul says, “Run away from sexual sin!” May we, as the body of Christ, heed Paul’s warning and start eliminating what the enemy intends to use to harm us. May we, as the temple of God, protect our minds from all that glorifies sin and fill our minds with what glorifies God. May we go back to what we learned at the beginning of 1 Corinthians and allow the Holy Spirit to make us who God created us to be. May holiness be a result of the seed God is growing.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

The Temptation of Pride

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 4 & 5

The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished…Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:5,18

One of the saddest things to watch is when someone in leadership messes up. Whether it is politician or a pastor or simply a highly respected individual in the church or community. So often we watch someone, who has been blessed in SO many ways, start thinking SO highly of themselves that they have an affair or are caught in some kind of ungodly or illegal behavior.

Pride is so dangerous and Satan loves to convince us that we are invincible and that we deserve what we want – “no one will know, you can do anything, you are powerful and can make your own choices.” The lies of the enemy take hold and our own arrogance causes us to fall into the trap.

What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? – 1 Corinthians 4:7b

You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us! – 1 Corinthians 4:8a

…you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. – 1 Corinthians 4:10b

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF THE CHURCH

Paul warned the church of how destructive their arrogance and pride was becoming. He cared about these believers and he wanted them to serve God and not their own selfish ambitions. He knew they needed accountability in order to stay focused on the gospel and not on themselves. Paul’s words of instruction and warning to the Church in Corinth are helpful for all of us to listen to as well.

Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. But I will come – and soon – if the Lord lets us, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit. – 1 Corinthians 4:18-21

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you – something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so PROUD of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship…

Your BOASTING about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? – 1 Corinthians 5:1-2,6

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF A BELIEVER

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

This is difficult to read. Where is grace and forgiveness within the family of God? I think it takes wisdom from God to handle a situation when a member of our church family continues to sin. It takes both love and strength to protect the congregation while also doing what we can to extend grace as we help a brother or sister turn from their sinful ways or addictions. We cannot use Paul’s words as permission to push someone away in disgust but instead to allow leadership to lovingly handle a situation. Remember, it was also Paul who said: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should GENTLY and HUMBLY help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” – Galatians 6:1

A verse we studied when we looked at the book of Genesis comes to mind this morning. This verse warns us of Satan’s schemes to pull us away from God’s plan for our lives.

You will be accepted if you do right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. – Genesis 4:7

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF OUR NATION

There is a famous recording of another Paul – Paul Harvey. In this 1964 recording, Mr. Harvey is warning America that sin is crouching at the door. If Satan could have our ear, he could convince us to live a life of generational sin that would change America as we know it. Sadly, what Paul Harvey described in 1965 is what we are experiencing today, whether you are listening to the original recording or the more recent edited version that is being passed around social media.

Lord, forgive us for thinking too much of ourselves instead of depending on you – as individuals, as the Church, and as a nation. Lord, heal our land and bring our eyes back in focus on you. Help us to recognize pride and arrogance in our own hearts. Give us wisdom in the Church to handle those inside the church who are continuing in sin – in love and in strength, protecting your congregation while doing what we can to turn a brother or sister from their sinful ways. We worship you in confidence, knowing that you are more powerful than the attempts of the enemy and you have equipped us with your Spirit for any battle that comes our way. We love you, Lord. Amen.