Several years ago, I injured my shoulder…I had a “felt need” here in the front and so I worked that “felt need” hard.
Nothing changed, even though I was motivated by my need.
Turns out that my real need was not in the same area as my felt need.
The shoulder problem was largely a result of an imbalance in the way I exercised.
I had neglected some muscles and this imbalance led to injury, pain.
Felt needs are often loud…but they don’t always align with our actual needs.
In Acts 20 Paul was speaking to the leaders at Ephesus (a church in Turkey) about his two and half years of working with them…he said..
“I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Paul was saying he gave them the balance of what God has revealed in Scriptures.
He didn’t pick a topic here and there…but he took them through the key beliefs, values, and behaviors as revealed by God
The goal of this:
- Know truth
- Learning to love truth
- Live in line with the truth
- All this in order that they might…BECOME….more like Christ over time…who is the “Way, truth, and life”
People of faith, and love, and courage, and kindness…people who live more like Christ.
So, for this year and the next we are working our way through many of the NT letters…we do this on Sunday mornings, in daily devotionals and in small groups.
All this so that we will have a wider grasp of key Biblical beliefs, values, behaviors…so that we will become more like Christ over time.
In fact, for many years, we have been moving back and forth from OT to NT…in a systematic way to better shape our lives around the full counsel of Scripture.
We have been intentional…but we have not been in a hurry…this is a lifetime pursuit of becoming like Christ.
We don’t want to merely pursue current cultural trends or even our own felt needs.
By all means try to learn according to felt needs(it tends to be motivated learning)…but we must not just focus there…because it can lead to life imbalance
There are real needs that impact our lives and our culture at large…that we can miss if we only chase felt needs.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT BECOMING A BIBLE SCHOLAR: The goal is not to master Scripture but to be like Christ.
*If you know one thing and do it…you are far advanced to one who knows a thousand things in the Bible and doesn’t do any of them.
*Even more importantly…if you are growing in actual Christlikeness…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control…you are on track for the real purpose of knowing God’s word.
Let’s move on…back to our messy friends at Corinth.
The church at Corinth was made up of believers who were maybe 3 to 5 years old in their faith…it was a church of “Christian toddlers”
No wonder Paul was worried about them…he was like “Dad” (he called himself their father)…who had gone off on a business trip and left the kids in charge of themselves.
You might say…Paul is a bad parent for leaving the kids unsupervised
But he is planting lots of churches and he doesn’t have the luxury of installing seasoned leaders everywhere…he has to go with what he has.
And these new believers don’t have the luxury of “growing up slowly”…the 5-year-old believers…ARE the Sr. believers…
So, Paul tells them “you need to grow up in your faith now.”
Like the stories of 15- and 16-year old’s lying about their age and going to war in WWII.
Or in the extreme…Calvin Graham who at age 12 left elementary school to join the Navy to go to combat.
He was wounded in the battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific and received the Bronze Star and Purple heart.
His age was eventually discovered and he was discharged…so he married at age 14 and became a father the next year…later went back and joined the Marines.
Some situations require people to grow up fast…WWII
And such was the case in the early church.
But Imagine…these new believers had no Christian parents, grew up in a non-Christian culture, not even a bit of Sunday school remnants in their past to draw on.
And yet they were in charge of the church.
Sure, Apollos came and taught…he was an expert in Scripture but he himself had not been a believer for long.
And Paul was going to send Timothy to help develop them.
But the local church leaders were not mature in their faith…and it appears in their lives overall…because the way they treated one another was often immature.
So…it was a bit like a “Lord of the Flies” version of church life…a bunch of kids in charge…and the result was often very messy.
But loves and God saves and God uses messy people.
Paul judged the bad actions by his kids at Corinth…because he loved the people and the church…and good parents are not passive about bad actions and attitudes.
But he was patient…he knew his own past was “messy” to say the least…he judged their actions…because he had vision for who they could be.
Let’s look at this week’s mess in Corinth…and some life principles from that mess.
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!
This is probably not talking about criminal charges…it’s mostly about believers who are petty and selfish and are taking their personal offenses to the local small claims courts
“His grass is taller than the neighborhood covenant allows…make him mow it.”
“He owes me money…make him pay.”
“He slandered me in the Corinthian Daily News…I’m going to sue.”
Paul does here what Paul often does…he does some “cognitive reframing”
“Don’t you know we will judge angels…how much more the things of this life.”
Our destiny as Christ followers is not evolution into a new species but transformation into full sons and daughters of the creator of the cosmos.
We are destined to reign with Christ…we will someday fully be what God has originally designed for us to be.
We will somehow, participate as “judges” of the cosmos…including of those powerful spiritual beings called angels.
Paul doesn’t unpack this…because it is an illustration of a point…not the point itself.
The point is…since our future destiny is so magnificent…don’t live these petty diminished lives now.
Get your eyes out of the mud and look up at the stars.
Like Lewis famously wrote:
“we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea”
Stop being petty Paul writes…you can start living out of your future destiny now…and the more you do, the happier and freer you will be.
And…then he reframes it even further.
7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.
You are taking each other to court to win…but the fact is you are completely defeated.
Your desperation to win and to push yourself to the front means you are perpetually losing.
You still don’t understand how life works…Christ did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for others.
Why not be rather wronged? Why not be rather cheated?…Christ allowed himself to be crucified.
**So, this is not a rule…that you can never take someone who claims to be a Christian to court…civil or criminal.
This is about the petty, petulant, childish hearts of these believers.
If you find yourself in a situation where you think you need to take someone who claims to be a Christian to court…it ought to start one to one, then slowly and gracefully involve others and eventually the church at large. (as outlined in Matt 18)
But don’t miss the primary point here.
When you live trying to “win” your way over others…you are going to perpetually be a loser in what matters most.
Next, he casts vision for what God has already done in their lives.
They are not perfect…but God has done significant work.
He draws their attention to what God has done…so they will see what God wants to do.
Paul’s pattern is “rebuke/correct” “Cast vision/encourage”
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.
This list of sins is representative not comprehensive.
These were some of the sin patterns that were most prevalent in first century Corinth.
Paul is not saying that “sinners” can’t be saved…or that the saved never sin…but that unsaved sinners will not inherent the Kingdom of God.
This is who you were…but not who you are.
“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…so you now are his kids…act like it”
Even though our sanctification(being changed into the image of Christ) is ongoing…it is presented as something already completed in the past.
This is Paul showing that our salvation…justification and sanctification together is a completed thing from God’s perspective.
Even though we are living it out day by day…for God It’s a done deal.
*SO…this is what you were but this is who you are now.
Be who you are…not what you were.
Paul has his hands on two dials here:
- “Why you are still doing that? (correction)
- “Don’t you know who you are now?” (vision)
Many times in my life…parents, coaches, leaders and friends have used these two dials to help me.
- “Terry, this is not good…why are you still acting this way”…correction
- “Terry, God has changed you…you are more than this.”…vision
I (we) need ongoing correction and vision in balance…to grow up in our faith.
Next, Paul, the master “reframer” is going to address some of their dumb ideas regarding having “arrived” in their faith.
It is common for the more immature to believe they are more mature than they are…to think that they have arrived.
While a sign of maturity is a growing awareness of how much more there remains to know and to become…to understand they are always going to be “arriving” not, in this life…to arrive.
Pride is the hallmark of immaturity
Humility is the hallmark of maturity
Let’s read it…then discuss what for me has been a very helpful passage over the years
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both.
In English translations there are quotation marks that are not there in the Greek.
But these are helpful additions to express Paul’s intent.
Sometimes if you are repeating what others have said that you don’t fully agree with…or that is true but out of context… you might use what is called…“Air quotes”
If Paul were speaking this…he would add “air quotes” for us…but it’s highly likely his readers there in Greece wouldn’t need them.
Because they heard this phrase all the time “All things are lawful for me.”
It was both a Corinthian bumper sticker…and an adopted catch phrase for this toddler church.
“Christ has set us free from the law…so all things are lawful for me.”
True…but also very wrong in this context.
We do not have to keep the OT law in order to be right with God…but since we have been made right with God…we now want to please him even more.
The Romans had their own set of twisted logic, it went like this:
“If I sin, God gives grace…let’s sin more so we will enjoy more grace”
“Are you crazy…We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer”
“Who wants to return to slavery after having been freed from it?”
So here he writes…“You say ‘all things are lawful’ …but that is the wrong question. Is it helpful?”
“Will it help me with what my life is now all about…love God, love people…live free”
*You are about to run a race and you ask the official in charge:
“Can I wear heavy boots, and fill my pants with rocks”
“Uh, Okay…it doesn’t break any rules.”
But very stupid if you actually want to win this race.
“You say ‘all things are lawful’ for me…but I say… “since I am free, why go back into the sin-slavery of my old life.”
“Is it okay, if sit in this jail cell in the dark, dank, stink of this prison?”
So…they are again, childish in their faith…thinking they are wise and grown up…but actually immature as revealed in the way they think about their lives.
They ask the questions that children ask…
“Why can’t I?”
“Do I have too?”
Versus the questions of the mature?
“Is this best?”
“Does it help with my life vision?”
“Is it good for me and others?”
Then there was another 1 Century slogan…one you might find on t-shirts (or togas) in the Coliseum during concerts and sporting events.
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.”
The idea is…“you have a stomach…it exists to process/enjoy food…so eat up.”
And…by way of implication “You have sex organs…they exist for sex…so have sex!”
Again, we see the thinking of the childish not the mature.
For the child…my body is for me to do what I want.
For the mature…my body, my physical strength and life…is for me to take care of those I love…honor those I cherish.
Here’s his response to their childish slogan.
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
That is not why God has given you a body…it is yours to honor God with…not to indulge yourself.
This is not anti-pleasure…this is about the path to using the body as it was designed to be use.
Irony…people who live this way (seeking to honor God with their bodies)…also experience more bodily pleasure than they otherwise would.
While evidence and experience demonstrate that those who pursue unbridled bodily pleasure…experience less of it over time.
Here’s some more background on this passage:
There were three temples in Corinth at this time to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite….more appropriately the goddess of lust.
One of the activities of worship to Aphrodite was to engage in sex with one of the many temple prostitutes.
This was the culture these Corinthian toddler Christians came from and still lived in.
Many, as Paul wrote…had lived immersed in this lifestyle…and as we know now…it is not easy to escape the gravitational pull of old habits…even after becoming a Christian.
So some were still living with one foot in the church and one in the temple of Aphrodite.
Look at how Paul grounds our present bodily experience in eternal reality.
“God raised Christ’s body from the dead and he will raise ours as well.”
The body is not meant to pursue pleasure or to avoid it(two common imbalanced philosophies of the time).
But we are to live in our bodies now with our eyes on its ultimate destiny.
The purpose for our bodies is to Honor God by loving others…neither to pursue or avoid pleasure…but to experience joy as we live the great commandment.
Then he gives some enormously practical advice for dealing with the temptation to use our bodies for wrong purposes.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The verb he used indicates habitual action “Keep on fleeing…make it habit to run from this.”
He is talking specifically about sexual sin…which was prominent and so devastating in 1st Century Corinth and in 21st Century Wichita as well.
He is not indicating that sexual sin is the worst of all sins but rather it affects the body in ways that other sins do not.
Culture has attempted for generations to make sex into nothing more than a physical act…eating, drinking, sleeping, sexing.
But humans are always unable to rewrite reality with their philosophies.
Reality is such that God has made sex between a coventantly committed man and women, his ideal for sex, to be a powerful, spiritual reality.
When we monkey with his design…the wheels fall off.
That this clearly evidenced by the sexual brokeness all around us.
So when a person becomes a follower of Christ…they fall under a new chain of command.
They no longer live to obey their own bodily nature…they now live to please Christ.
The old command structure was to live in bondage to bodily desires…the new command is to live in the realm of freedom.
So, to take your body…that is now in sworn allegiance to Christ…and allow it to be used for sexual sin is to violate the very purpose of your body.
Earlier the “Church” was said to be the “temple of the Holy Spirit”…the place where God dwells in power.
Here, individual Christian bodies are said to be the “Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Both, are of course, true.
Verse 20 is short…and power packed.
“You are not your own, you were bought with a price…therefore honor God with your body.”
We live in our bodies…it is with them that we honor God and love others in actionable ways.
Since you were bought by Christ’s death and resurrection…now go honor God with how you live in your body.
You belong to Christ…what you do with your body must be done under his Lordship (command)
There are wide implications for this…but here, this is especially true in the realm of sexuality.
This matters and it matters a lot.
To avoid sexual impurity that is all around…is not to be a prude…it is simply to enjoy freedom.
It’s neither harder or easier for us now versus them then…ongoing freedom has always required diligence, community, faith…a desire for something larger than temporary bodily pleasure.
This about “living free.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”…we can live in that freedom.
God’s desire is for you to be free.
Whatever he says “no” to is because of a much better, more beautiful “yes”
The image our culture has of the Christian God is that he is largely just “against stuff”
But in fact Scripture stays that God is “light”…light is the presence of something…dark is the absence of light.
So, if God is against some “dark” thing…it is precisely because that dark thing cannot exist in his beautiful light.
Darkness hampers freedom of movement. You bump into things, fall off of things. Evil uses darkness for its purposes.
Darkness hides color (Everything turns to shade of grey)
It is upon us to learn to love the light…which means we will learn to unlove the dark.
Flee from temptation…run from it.
But our “running is not just from it is to.”
In one of his letters to Timothy…Paul wrote this:
Flee the evil desires of youth, AND pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace,.
2 Timothy 2:22
- “Flee” evil desires
-Paul said “of youth” because Tim was young
-To an older man he would have said “flee the evils desires of age”
We must continually “RUN FROM” evil
- “Pursue” …Righteousness, faith, love and peace.
We must continually RUN TOWARDS the good.
So we are not just supposed to run from sin…we are to run towards Christ.
See how he has taken the problems between believers (their lawsuits) and demonstrated how it comes down to realities within believers our hearts and habits (what we are running from and who they are running to)
On Military Bases and Post there are signs with FORCE PROTECTION LEVELS(terrorist threat): Normal, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta
-I can’t remember when it has been “normal”…long time
-Normal means no threat here…Delta means “bombs are going off”
What is the current Force Protection level at Mcconnell (I was just there)? I don’t know.
I think Bravo, but the problem is we soon become adjusted to the raised threat level…immune to its ability to heighten our awareness and preparedness.
Pretty soon Bravo doesn’t raise the threat it just becomes the new “normal”
I spoke last week of a church equivelant of a “Delta threat level”.
1 Cor. 5:5 a “hand this man over to Satan” us where a severe level threat response was needed.
But it should never have gotten to that level.
The purpose of Paul’s teaching in his letters was not that there would be more “Delta” level response in the church (not for more “handing over to Satan” but that there would be more “normal” level response.
Less need for church discipline…because of more church discipleship.
They come from the same root word.
When the church is “running from and running to” the right things…in Community (telling truth and casting vision)…then the need for severe response becomes infrequent and ideally…non-existent.
What if the guy from last week (Delta level guy, sleeping with his mother in law) had been dealt with at a much earlier stage?
What if his small group had enaged him at threat level Alpha or Normal.
Maybe he would have never gotten to Delta…the “hand over to Satan” stage.
Asking ourselves and each other the questions:
“Is this helpful? Is this going to help me live free? Is this in line with my eternal destiny”…allows us to be a church that deals with issues at a much lower threat level.
This is the ideal…and it is too difficult an ideal…we can live there…it is not beyond us.
But we must run from sin and its bondage and towards Christ and his freedom…we do this in community.
I have been asking my friends the past couple of weeks… “How can I help you move to the next level in your relationship with Christ? What is holding you back?” “Here’s how you can help me.”
If enough of the Corinthians had been asking “normal” or “Alpha” threat level questions in trust relationships…they would not have needed the “Delta” response.
DON’T LEAVE HERE BEING OR FEELING GUILTY:
If you been involved (or currently are) in sexual sin…be free, and be forgiven.
Remember what Paul said after his dark list of sinful behaviors… “This is what you were…now you have been washed…forgiven.”
Mess up/Fess up/Move on…move on to freedom.
Sin is a habitual liar…it will never keep a single promise it makes.
Guilt can lie as well…it can tell you that you cannot be forgiven…even when, you are in fact, already are in Christ.”