Paul’s last words in 1 Corinthians

I received some good advice many years ago: “On any given Sunday, only one or two people really get it. Don’t be discouraged by the masses, instead focus on the one or two people that will truly get what you’re saying.” Today, I ask you this question: will you be one of the few that get it? Will you apply God’s Word to your life and be changed? We have finally reached the conclusion of the book of 1 Corinthians. We are about to wrap up this multiple month study. My prayer is that as we conclude this book we will all “get it.” In 1 Cor 16:13-24 Paul will suggest that love is the remedy for church ills. In this passage, Paul provides three elements of spiritual maturity.

  1. The Exhortations of Spiritual Maturity(16:13-14). In these opening two verses, Paul unveils five moral exhortations: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” These five exhortations are all present tense imperatives demanding continuous action. Therefore, we must recognize that God’s commands are not good advice. They are not optional. God’s commands are not like a cafeteria where we can pick or choose what we want. All five commands are incumbent upon the believer. The first four commands employ military metaphors to encourage resoluteness in the faith, while the final command summarizes the previous four.
  • Be on the alert.This command is a warning to watch out for those that seek to bring about division. Paul urges the Corinthians to be watchful regarding danger from inside as well as outside the church. Most of the problems in Corinth, and in most of our churches today, arise from within the congregation, so we must be especially alert. The expression “be on the alert” sometimes occurs with anticipation of the Lord’s coming, so that may have been in Paul’s thinking as well. We should expect the return of the Lord at any time, and our behavior should reflect the Lord’s values and should not be characterized by deeds of darkness.
  • Stand firm in the faith.This is a military image that urges the Corinthians “to hold their ground” and not retreat before an enemy. The command to “stand firm” has already served as the bookends for chapter 15 (15:2, 58). The phrase “the faith” here probably denotes both the body of Christian teachings and our own personal relationship with the Lord. Since there are many temptations out there that can cause us to depart from the faith we need to be vigilant and stand firm. Are you standing firm in the faith or are you like shifting sand?
  • Act like men and be strong. These next two commands should be taken together. The verbs are frequently combined in the Old Testament to exhort God’s people to have courage in the face of danger, especially from one’s enemies. The word Paul uses for “be strong” is in the passive in voice, meaning “be strengthened.” We cannot strengthen ourselves; that is the Lord’s work. Our part is to submit ourselves to Him. General George Patton summed it up well, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

The fifth and final command is the glue that holds the other four together. In 16:14, Paul exclaims,

  • Let all that you do be done in love. Paul makes his point especially clear by framing this letter’s closing: “Let all that you do be done in love” (16:14), and “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus” (16:24). This love involves both love for the Lord (16:22) and love for one another (16:24). Paul earlier challenged his readers with the fact that “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (8:1). Love is the greatest motivating force for ethical behavior. The old saying is still true that “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”

[What does love look like in the body of Christ? We don’t really have to speculate because Paul paints a picture of it for us in the next six verses.]

  1. The Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity(16:15-20). In these six verses, Paul shares five characteristics of spiritual maturity: service, submission, friendship, hospitality, and affection. All five of these are essential aspects of growing to maturity in the Lord and in our relationships with God’s people. In 16:15-20, Paul writes, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” 

Let’s now consider the five characteristics of spiritual maturity.

  • Stephanas and his family were Paul’s first converts (“first fruits”) in Achaia, the province in which Corinth stood (1:16). They had given themselves selflessly to serving the Corinthians. They were probably loyal to Paul and may have been the source from which he received some of his information about conditions in this church. Verse 15 states that the household of Stephanas “devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.” The King James Version translates the verb “devoted” as “addicted.” I like this! They were serving in ministry so consistently, so regularly, that it was like an addiction; they were hooked on ministry. That’s not such a bad addiction, is it? Could anyone accuse you of this?
  • The Corinthians had a problem with submission to authority. They were competitive, stubborn, and even arrogant at times. Many in the church wanted to do their own thing. Verses 16-18 would have encouraged them to appreciate some less flashy servants of the Lord. Submission is not earned by holding an office; it’s earned by godly character and service. There’s no indication that Stephanas was a pastor, or even a church officer. He was apparently just an ordinary Christian with extraordinary love. But he deserves as much respect as pastors and elders. Mutual submission is a key theme of Spirit-filled living. All believers are to submit to each other (Eph 5:21). Service, not status, should be the basis for honor in the church. Are you submitting to the various servant leaders in our church? Do you esteem them above yourself? Do you seek creative ways to honor them?
  • Apparently, when the financial support for Paul’s missionary work dried up, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus bailed him out. But even more meaningful is the fact that they “refreshed” his spirit. One of the finest compliments that can be paid of another Christian is to say that he or she is refreshing to be around, picks up your spirit, and encourages you to keep going. I know a lot of people in our church who are like that; I always feel better after being with them. They are a blessing to everyone they come in contact with.

Let me ask you: when you enter a room, is there more joy, peace, and love than before you arrived? When you leave, is the atmosphere and attitude better? Do you refresh your fellow-believers or bring them down? And let me ask another question: when you experience refreshment from other believers, how should you respond? Paul says, “Such people deserve recognition.” Thank them. Write them a note. Give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you.

As a leader in our church, I occasionally have people tell me that they like our worship services but are not making friends in our church. They tend to assume it is the fault of our church. I used to take this personal until I began to notice a trend. Those individuals that approached me with this grievance didn’t want to be involved in a small group, an adult class, or in any type of service. It quickly dawned on me that that problem did not lie with us. It has been well said, “We don’t find friends, we make them.” Mobberly is a wonderful place to cultivate lifelong friendships, but we must invest in the body in order to reap the benefits.

  • Aquila and Priscilla opened up their home and hosted a church. According to the New Testament, this dynamic ministry couple lived in at least three different cities—Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome—and in all three places they had a church in their house. Furthermore, it was at their house that Paul stayed during his very first visit to Corinth, probably for more than a year and a half. There may be no greater tool for ministry than the Christian home. Because the home is a testing ground for the power of love and acceptance, it serves as a living demonstration of God’s love for those seeking to be part of God’s family.

By the way, as we consider these characteristics of spiritual maturity, it is worth noting that the entire household of Stephanas is recognized in 16:15. Parents, children learn love and service in the home, and they learn the lack of love and service there also. They learn hospitality as they see their parents practice it; they also learn to hold on to their stuff tightly as they watch parents who do that. As a parent, are you helping your children learn through observation and practice how to live out these characteristics?

Affection. Paul sees the custom of the holy kiss as a proper corrective to the cliquishness and bickering that characterized the church at Corinth. It could also serve as a remedy to the tremendous personal isolation that so many feel today. Why, then, has this custom of kissing one another on the cheek all but passed from the church? First, it faded because it was liable to abuse. Some people had trouble distinguishing holy kisses from other kinds. Second, it faded because the church became less and less of a fellowship. In the little house churches, where friend met with friend and all were closely bound together, it was the most natural thing in the world; but when the little fellowship turned into a vast congregation, and houses gave way to cathedrals, intimacy was lost and the holy kiss vanished with it. The kiss, of course, is not the important thing; a hug, or a warm two-handed handshake, or an arm around the shoulder can express the same feelings, and in some cultures might be more appropriate. The key is the love and intimacy that the gesture symbolizes. Who needs a hug or a holy kiss from you today? How will you communicate your love to others in the body of Christ? Love is the remedy for church ills.

[We have considered the exhortations and characteristics of spiritual maturity, but now Paul closes this passage and the entire book of 1 Corinthians with…]

  1. The Mark of Spiritual Maturity(16:21-24). Please notice that this third and final point is singular, not plural. In fact, in these four verses, Paul boils down everything that he has said in this passage and in this letter to a single word: LOVE. First, however, he provides a note in 16:21: “The greeting is in my own hand—Paul.” This verse indicates that this letter, like most of Paul’s letters, is written by a scribe. In our day, this is akin to an executive that dictates a letter to a secretary but signs it and adds a brief note at the bottom. The point is this: Paul picks up the quill and signs off this letter with a personal touch.

In 16:22, Paul’s personal touch is a verse with a curse: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.” This verse is rather sobering! The word “accursed” means “devoted to destruction.” The question is: does Paul have in mind temporal or eternal destruction? Most scholars argue for the latter; however, there is no contextual reason to assume that Paul is now all of a sudden discussing unbelievers or false teachers. Rather, it seems that he is still addressing believers. True to form, some of the Corinthians do not love the Lord. Lack of love for the Lord refers to factiousness, self-seeking, strife, and carnality that practically denies one’s love for Christ. In this context it means lack of obedience to Him in such things as exalting human wisdom over the wisdom of the cross, tolerating incest, attending idol feasts, dividing over spiritual gifts, and abusing the Lord’s Supper. Those that fail to love the Lord and other believers will face God’s curse. This probably is exclusion from fellowship in the local church. The opposite of this is “Maranatha,” an Aramaic word that means, “Our Lord, come.” This is similar to John’s final words in Rev 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Paul now prepares to close the book of 1 Corinthians. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Paul concludes this strong but loving epistle with a prayerful benediction of God’s grace. This is the very same way that he began his letter: “Grace to you” (1:3). What a wonderful reminder that people need the grace of God, for without it they are hopeless. The most loving act that we can perform is to show people God’s grace. First, we must share God’s grace in salvation. This means informing people that God’s love is not based on our own merit but on Jesus Christ’s merit. We receive salvation the same way that we would receive a Christmas gift. We simply open up our hands, receive it, and then express gratitude. We must also be messengers and dispensers of grace to those who are believers. This means not only do we proclaim God’s grace in salvation, but we exemplify God’s grace in being gracious.

Paul’s parting words are found in 16:24, “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” The last sentence of the letter, written in Paul’s own hand, reaffirms his love for all the Corinthians—despite their failings, despite their arrogance. Although Paul knew some pretty ornery people in the Corinthian church, and some of them made his life difficult, he sends his love to all of them.

Paul wrote thirteen letters, yet this is the only one that he ends with an affirmation of his love for his readers. It’s amazing when you think of the church to which he expressed it. This was the church that resisted him the most, that was the most fractured in its love life. But he says, “I love you,” not just in himself but because of the relationship with Christ that has transformed his life. Out of that he can express his love for the church, because he knows that’s the only kind of love that lasts, the only kind of love that makes a difference, the only kind of love that’s tough enough to survive in the face of the personal rejection and insult he has experienced from this church.

Who do you need to express love to today? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to come alongside of? Who do you need to serve or to reach out to? Our church will advance when we show love for one another. As Jesus said, “All men will know that we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another” (John 13:34-35, paraphrase).

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Taking care of God’s family – Lord’s Supper

The most powerful title or position I’ll ever hold is “Dad.” I absolutely love being a dad to my three children. It is a privilege and a joy. I concur with Bill Cosby who said, “Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.” As a father, the greatest gift I can receive is when another person blesses one of my children. Similarly, the most hurtful thing anyone can do to me is to hurt one of my children. If there is anything that is capable of bringing out my wrath, it is this. What is especially hurtful is when one of my children hurts another one of my children. Worse yet, when one of my boys hurts his little sister.

Did you know that God the Father feels the same way I do? He absolutely loves being a dad. He cares about each of His children in the deepest way imaginable. But what grieves Him is when one of His children hurts another one of His children. Worse yet, when one of His children who has been given much dishonors one who has little.

We will discover that God will not tolerate divisions and distinctions within His body—the church. The reason is simple: God is dead serious about His body. In 1 Cor 11:17-34, Paul provides three exhortations for us to follow.

 

  1. Include the entire body of Christ in worship(11:17-22). In these first six verses, Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for being divided. Paul begins this section in 11:17 with sobering words: “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.” The conjunction “but” serves to contrast the worship events of 11:17-34 with 11:2-16. Ironically, the very equality the Corinthians were misusing in 11:2-16 was resolutely denied when it came to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. This is confirmed by the use of the verb “praise.” In 11:2, Paul praised the Corinthians because they remembered him in everything and maintained the teachings he passed on to them. But in 11:17 (cf. 11:22) he does not praise them on account of their class divisions (see 11:18). Instead, he declares that they “come together not for the better but for the worse.”

The verb translated here “come together” (sunercomai) is used five times in this passage (11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). Elsewhere, the verb refers to either coming or going with one or more persons (i.e., to travel together with someone). Additionally, sunercomai is used in sexual contexts to describe coming together to unite in an intimate relationship. Hence, with more than a sprinkling of irony, Paul repeatedly describes the Corinthians as coming together in one location, knowing full well that their eating was anything but “together” as a unified body. Thus, the very ritual that was intended to celebrate the gospel and symbolically act out their oneness in Christ had become an occasion for splitting the church on the basis of status. This explains why Paul stated that the Corinthians “come together not for the better but for the worse.”

Paul now explains this problem further in 11:18: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” The phrase “in the first place” is emphatic since no “second” follows. First and last on Paul’s mind are the “divisions” that are taking place in Corinth. It is for this reason that Paul cannot praise the Corinthians. Instead of treating one another with brotherly love and acting as the family of God, there are divisions among them. What Paul has in mind is a division between those who have more than enough to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper and those who have insufficient quantities. This is evident from the contrast in 11:21-22 between “one who is hungry” and “one who is drunk.” In 11:22, Paul identifies a group within the church as the “have-nots,” whose members are humiliated by the actions of their counterparts. This deeply grieves the heart of God for God is dead serious about His body.

As in 11:18, Paul explains himself further in 11:19: “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” “Factions” or “divisions” can have a positive side. They serve to clarify whom God approves as faithful and who are not. God’s approval (dokimoi) contrasts with what Paul had written earlier about being disapproved (adokimos; 9:27) by God. Thus, “the approved” are those who behave in a Christian manner and thus stand out from the ones who do not. Mature Christians will become evident in times of crisis.

The indictment of 11:17-19 is expanded in 11:20-22. Yet, before we read these verses we need to make sure we understand how the Corinthians are abusing the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper was usually part of a meal the early Christians shared together—the “love feast.” In Corinth, instead of sharing their food and drinks, each family was bringing its own and eating what it had brought. The result was that the rich had plenty but the poor had little and suffered embarrassment as well. This was hardly the picture of Christian love and unity. They were eating their own private meals rather than sharing a meal consecrated to the Lord. Furthermore, some with plenty of wine to drink were evidently drinking too heavily.

Now with this scenario in mind, read Paul’s words in 11:20-21: “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” Paul provides a glaring contrast in these verses. Instead of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthians devour their food while the poor go hungry. The idea here is not eating first, but refusing to share food and drink. Furthermore, the grammar suggests that the “devouring” took place during the meal itself. Thus, the wealthy members of the Corinthian church were guilty of gluttony and drunkenness while the poor went without (11:21). This notion can also be supported from the customary practice at Greco-Roman banquets where wealthy hosts—those with homes large enough to host the communal meal—would have assigned the biggest and best portions of food to the more privileged.

Nevertheless, Paul did not tolerate what was socially acceptable in ancient Corinth.

He closes out this section in 11:22 with a series of rhetorical questions, creating a strong rhetorical appeal. Paul exclaims, “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.” Paul is grieved at the behavior of the church; therefore, his words are flavored with a righteous indignant anger. The response of the Corinthians should be repentance. Whatever the precise circumstances, a meal designed to express unity was being so abused as to highlight the disunity of this church. The cliquish behavior of the Corinthians reflected significant social and economic differences; thus, members who brought nothing with them to the meal were being humiliated and going hungry, while those who could bring plenty to eat and drink, enjoyed their own food without sharing it. What should have been an inclusive community meal had become an occasion for simultaneously private meals. This was an affront to Christ and His gospel.

I wish divisions and partiality were problems only in first-century Corinth, but I am sure they are alive and well in the 21st century at Mobberly. Do we prefer certain people over others? Do we gravitate toward those who have money or are successful by the world’s standards? Do we only want to socialize with those who are like us? Why do we struggle so to reach out to those who are different than we are? Our prayer must be that we will not allow any kind of prejudice, whether social, racial, generational, or cultural, to control our attitudes toward anyone in the body of Christ. We must always remember that God is dead serious about His body. [As a loving and impartial Father, God calls us to include all of His children in worship.]

  1. Recapture the significance of the Lord’s Supper(11:23-26). In 11:23-26, Paul gives a brief theology of the Lord’s Supper. In doing so, he reminds us to remember that the Lord’s Supper pictures Christ’s self-sacrifice on behalf of His people. Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” Twice in these verses, Paul urges the Corinthians to remember the death of Christ. By partaking of the bread and the cup, we remember that Jesus Christ took our hell that we might have His heaven. It is His “body on our behalf.” The Lord’s Supper is God’s way of getting us to keep the cross of Christ central in the life of the church. We use the Lord’s Supper to draw close to Jesus in gratitude for what He has done for the entire church through His cross. As we draw near to Him through His Supper, He will draw near to us.

Many couples renew their marriage vows on an anniversary of their wedding. Some couples plan large celebrations; others simply renew their vows before each other. Either way, this act declares a confirmation of original vows and a commitment to continued faithfulness. But we can also think of the new covenant with the tenderness and devotion of renewed marriage vows. Unlike a human marriage, however, the new covenant represents God’s declaration of His devotion and commitment, even though the other covenant partner, His people, had not remained faithful. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us in spite of ourselves.

Paul closes this section by stating, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:26). The proclamation of the Lord’s Supper is to show forth the Lord’s death until He comes. By means of the Lord’s Supper the Corinthians are to show in a physical way the death of Jesus and what it accomplished for their salvation and corporate fellowship. The result should be that the Corinthians will not overindulge themselves, despise and shame others, or allow brothers and sisters to go hungry. To do less is the epitome of selfishness.

A well-known painting of the Vietnam Wall depicts a young widow and her daughter standing at the wall, reaching up and touching the name of the husband and father who died. The reflection in the polished granite is not of the mother and daughter but of the husband and father reaching out his hand to touch theirs. That is the Lord’s Supper. We arrive at the table and reach out our hands to take the bread and the cup. In response to our act of faith, Jesus touches us. The significance of the Lord’s Supper is this: We remember Christ and proclaim Him because He laid down His life for us. If you have never believed in Jesus Christ’s person and work, please do so today. [Our loving and impartial Father wants us to remember and proclaim the great sacrifice of His Son.]

  1. Judge yourself to avoid God’s judgment(11:27-32). In this section, Paul warns us against abusing the Lord’s Supper. In 11:27-29 he writes, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” The opening word “therefore” (cf. 10:12; 11:33) indicates that Paul is now resuming his main discussion from 11:22. Furthermore, he is drawing a conclusion from what he has said and giving an explanation to his teaching. Since the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of Christ’s death (11:23-26), eating and drinking “unworthily” is unconscionable. The word rendered “unworthily” (KJV) or “unworthy manner” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) is not an adjective describing the condition of the one partaking of communion, but an adverb, describing the manner in which one partakes of the Lord’s Supper. The sin of the Corinthians, for which divine discipline was imposed, was related to the manner in which the Lord’s Supper was observed.

The Corinthians are not commanded to examine themselves to see whether or not they are Christians, but to see if they are properly discerning the body of Christ. There is likely a double-entendre in 11:29 with the reference to “the body,” referring literally to Jesus’ physical body “which is for you” (cf. 11:24), and the church as the Lord’s corporate body, which was being divided by the Corinthian attitude (cf. 11:17-22). In other words, one who treats fellow believers poorly fails to discern that they are members of Christ’s church, His body. One may also fail to discern the significance of Christ’s death since by His death He created a people; and therefore one who mistreats fellow believers at the Lord’s Supper reveals that he or she has little understanding of why Christ died.

Practically speaking, this means that if you are not in fellowship with another believer strive to resolve the schism in your relationship before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. In Matt 5:23-24, Jesus told His disciples not to worship God until you have first reconciled with your brother. Fortunately, Paul provides a supplementary note when he writes, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). It’s not always possible to attain this, but God’s goal is that there not be any outstanding balance in your fellowship bank account. Instead, we are to pursue peace.

Paul now applies the general truths of 11:27-29 specifically to the situation at Corinth. In 11:30 Paul writes, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” The judgment here is physical and it is progressive: weakness, sickness, death. The word “weak” refers to illness of any kind (depression, anxiety?) while the term “sick” refers to weakness and on-going poor health. The verb “sleep” refers to the death of a believer. Paul is dealing with illness as a physical divine judgment; but not all illness is. These verses apply only if and when the problems of weakness, sickness, and death are problems resulting from divine discipline because of unconfessed sin.

It has been said, “God has been known to give ‘dishonorable discharges.’” In other words, eventually, God says, “Enough is enough. Your time is up!” Why does God do this? For the simple reason that He loves us and wants to ensure that we are in fellowship with Him. Since pain gets our attention, He uses pain. “Sometimes Christ sees that we need sickness for the good of our souls more than healing for the good of our bodies.” But even when He resorts to this form of discipline, He does so because He loves us. God is dead serious about His body.

Paul continues his argument in 11:31-32 with two powerful truths. First, in 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” Paul clearly states that the Corinthians will not be judged if they judge themselves. His logic here seems to be: Judge yourselves so that the Lord will not have to. Our goal must be to judge the sin in our own lives before God has to expose it. We must humble ourselves before we are humbled or humiliated. I don’t know about you, but I have enough issues in my life to keep me busy.

Yet, we are so good at judging others. Some of us look down on people who listen to worldly music, watch R-rated movies, drink alcohol, dance, play cards, spend money on things we wouldn’t buy, etc. The ability to see sin in others and ignore it in your own heart is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Pharisee, and being a Pharisee is so easy. It’s great to make rules to guide our own behavior, but when we extend those rules to everyone around us, we’re in danger of becoming pharisaical.

A second truth is found in 11:32 where Paul writes, “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” The verbs “judged” and “disciplined” are both present tense verbs indicating on-going activity. This suggests that the goal of God’s discipline is remedial. This is the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is for the good of another; punishment is to extract a pound of flesh. God disciplines us because He is a loving Father (Heb 12:5-11). He desperately wants our good.

One man asked his middle child how he knew the father loved him. He was shocked with his response. He said, “Dad, I know that you love me because you always discipline me.” This is the fruit of fatherhood. God knows our biological children will never mature apart from biblical discipline. Likewise, God disciplines us so that we will mature spiritually. Apart from His discipline we will never mature. And if we are not disciplined, the Bible indicates that we are illegitimate children (Heb 12:8). Hence, we should welcome discipline as a sign that a loving Father cares about us.

Scripture speaks of three levels of God’s chastening, or discipline:

  • Plan A—Internal Chastening. In this level, God deals with us in our hearts and nobody knows it is happening except us. If God is disciplining you at this moment, that is the best way to have your problem solved. One of my daily prayers is, “Lord, humble me so that you don’t have to humble me.” If you and I can come to the place that God puts his finger on something, and you can say, “Thank you, Lord, for loving me this much,” you are judging yourself. If this level of discipline is not effective, God moves to…
  • Plan B—External Chastening. In this level the consequences of our sin become obvious because God’s discipline goes public. This is where Jonah ran from the Lord, and God chastened him. He was not weak or sick. Plan B led to being swallowed by the fish. Had Jonah not surrendered to God’s will the second time, God had another plan. If this second level of discipline fails, God will up the ante.
  • Plan C—Terminal Chastening. In this level, God calls the believer home prematurely.

The proper course of action from the Corinthians should be to honor and respect their fellow believers. Paul concludes this passage in 11:33-34 with these words: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.” The verb “come together” harkens back to 11:17 and serves to bracket this unit. Paul then provides a direct answer to the issues raised in 11:21. Instead of some gorging themselves while others go hungry, each should share what they have, and all should eat together. In this way the Corinthians reflect the unity of the body (“they judge rightly,” 11:29), and avert the judgment of God.

The phrase translated “wait for one another” more likely means “welcome one another.” If the Corinthians merely “wait for one another” the problem at hand is not corrected. The crisis in Corinth is that the poor are without food. The rich “waiting” for the poor to arrive and then partaking together will not remedy this difficulty. Fortunately, this translation issue is ironed out when it is recognized that when ekdechomai (“wait for”) is used of persons, it usually means “to take or receive from another” or “to entertain.” In this specific context, it seems appropriate that Paul’s command should be translated, “Care for one another!” “Receive one another warmly!” “Grant one another table fellowship!” “Show hospitality to one another!” Thus, in this context Paul is perhaps instructing the Corinthians, as his summary statement, to receive each other as equal members of the body of Christ.

The command to “eat at home” connects to Paul’s first warning that the Corinthians are worse off for having gathered together (11:17). If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay at home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.

Paul’s words in Rom 12:10 sum up this entire passage: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” God is dead serious about His body, so may we live out the Scriptures in obedience to Him.

 

Finishing well

What do you think of when you hear the following names: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard? What about Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom? Most people think: How in the world could these people let themselves do this? Why did they give up so much for so little? What would make them compromise their dreams? These are all legitimate questions since these three men and three businesses self-destructed. Each of these experienced so much success, yet in the end they failed.

 

The former New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Now Yogi is no theologian, but he unknowingly expressed one of the greatest principles in the Christian life. It matters little to have the lead at the beginning; what matters is how you finish. Victory is won at the finish line, not at the starting blocks. Moreover, the Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it is a marathon that requires endurance and a lifetime commitment to keep running with the intent of finishing strong. The cliché, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over” also serves to remind you and me that even if we have fallen far behind in the Christian race there is still time to finish well.

 

In 1 Cor 10:1-13, the apostle Paul is going to warn us about the dreadful and severe consequences of sin. He is also going to challenge us to avoid sin and persevere in our Christian lives. Paul will argue that there is a very real possibility that many Christians will not finish their Christian lives well. In 9:24-27, Paul shared that he strived to keep himself in check because he didn’t want to end up being disqualified from the prize of God’s approval. What he considered a possibility in his own life he now presents as a sad reality in the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament. Paul gives us a major history lesson, with the express purpose of getting us to learn from the past. Someone has said, “If history teaches us anything, it is that history teaches us nothing.” In other words, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. In these 13 verses, God is going to say, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Two spiritual realities will reinforce this idea. First:

 

  1. ALL of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges(10:1-5). In 10:1-4, Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been blessed with the same spiritual blessings as Old Testament Israel. As we will see in this passage, this is also applicable to us as well. Paul explains, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” These four verses clarify that the Israelites that left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years were saved. They had observed Passover, which was an act of faith, and had come out of Egypt, a picture of salvation. Paul even used the Passover Lamb of Exodus 12 to describe the benefit of the cross of Jesus Christ to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:7). The saved status of the Exodus generation is also seen in the use of the word “all,” which is used five times in four verses. Paul states: “ALL were under the cloud; ALL passed through the sea; ALL were baptized into Moses; ALL ate the same spiritual food; and ALL drank the same spiritual drink.”

 

Like Israel in the Old Testament, we too have received many spiritual privileges. In the same way that Israel was “under the cloud,” we have experienced God’s protection and guidance. In the same way that Israel “passed through the sea,” we have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24). In the same way that Israel was “baptized into Moses,” we have been “baptized into Christ” (1 Cor 12:13). In the same way that Israel ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). In the same way that Israel was “followed” by Christ, Christ follows us (Heb 13:5).

 

To what degree do you revel in the spiritual privileges that God has given you? Can you honestly say that you are awed by the fact that God saved you? Do you ponder the wonder that out of all the people in the history of the world, God chose of His own initiative to save you?

After unloading the spiritual privileges of God’s people, Paul transitions into a startling contrast. In spite of Israel’s redeemed state and numerous blessings (10:1-4), Paul writes in 10:5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” The word “nevertheless” emphatically brings out the contrast between how many were blessed (“all”) versus how many with whom God was not pleased (“most of them”). This declaration is an obvious understatement of great proportions. Over two million people came out of Egypt, yet only two adults (Joshua and Caleb) were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rest were “laid low”…as in six feet under! Literally, their carcasses were scattered across the wilderness. These individuals were tragically disqualified by death. They did not go back to Egypt and get “unredeemed.” The blood of the Lamb, which had taken them out of Egypt, was irreversible. They did not lose what they had, but they lost the reward God wanted to give them.

 

The best example of this is Moses. Obviously, Moses was saved, yet on account of unbelief (Num 20:12; cf. Jude 5), he did not finish well. If this can happen to Moses, it can happen to you and me. We must humble ourselves and take God’s warning very seriously. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

[So, while ALL of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges, we will now learn further that…]

  1. Many of God’s people experience great spiritual failure(10:6-13). In 10:6-11, Paul draws himself, the Corinthians, and all of us into the story. There’s a warning given to “us” collectively. Paul is going to summarize five stories from the 40 years of wilderness wandering that show a pattern of disqualification. He’s going to tell us that it is important for us to understand these Old Testament accounts, because we stand accountable as Israel did. Look at the first statement, in 10:6: “Now these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” Now look at 10:11: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” These bracketing comments are setting the context for the history lesson that unfolds in 10:7-10. Paul wants us to see ourselves here because there’s a danger that we too might fall into sin like Israel and be disqualified from our reward.

 

Before we look at the four sins in 10:7-10, it is important to note the source of all four of these sins—craving evil things. The “craving of evil things” in 10:6b was an episode that took place about a year after the Exodus (Num 11). Israel had been given the law, they had built the tabernacle, and they had begun to travel. Do you know what the evil things were that they craved? Fresh vegetables! They were sick and tired of manna, and they wanted to go back to Egypt where there were cucumbers, garlic, and onions. We may laugh at this, but how often are we guilty of “craving” a new car, a larger home, a new partner, a new wardrobe? In light of eternity, these cravings are on par with cucumbers, garlic, and onions. Seriously, in eternity, what difference will it make what kind of car I drove or how large my home was? What difference will it make how successful I was in my job? Who will ask me what material possessions I provided for my children? Will I even care about those things? The answer is “NO!” Yet, Paul wants us to know that craving evil things can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

Let’s now look at the four sins Paul mentions in 10:7-10.

(1) Idolatry: In 10:7, Paul writes, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” The idolatry that Paul is referring to took place during the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (Exod 32). While Moses spent forty days on the mountain, the people became fearful and restless. They started to distrust that God even existed, and they asked Aaron to create an alternative god for them. In great weakness, Aaron gave in and created the golden calf. The result was an orgy with eating and drinking. Similarly, the Corinthians were guilty of idolatry through their temple feasts (10:14-22).

 

For you and me, idolatry is putting anything or anyone in God’s rightful place in our lives. Anything can become an idol, but I want to focus on making our Christian experience an idol. We can create religious idols because we are fearful of intimacy with the living God of the universe. The busier we stay in Christian activity, the less we have to deal with Him. So success in ministry can be an idol. Love relationships in the body of Christ can become an idol. A concern for a healthy self-image can become idolatrous, because we don’t believe that God Himself can be enough. So we end up demanding that our Christian experience and activity fulfill us—give us meaning and purpose. Then it becomes an idol. Paul wants us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

(2) Immorality: In 10:8, Paul writes, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.” The sexual immorality of God’s people continued through their wilderness wandering. Later in their progress through the desert, the Israelites practiced immorality when they participated in one of the Moabites’ religious feasts (Num 25:1-9). Like the Israelites, the Corinthians were also guilty of sexual immorality. One of their members was having an affair with his step-mother (5:1-2), and others had to be commanded to flee sexual immorality (6:18).

The Corinthian church wasn’t the only church to struggle with sexual immorality; we do as well—in thought and action. So here are some ways to guard yourself against sexual morality:

  • Stay honest with your spouse. Even though it may be difficult, tell your spouse when you are struggling with sexual temptation.
  • Monitor your marriage. Beware of child-centered marriages. Invest, first and foremost, in your spouse.
  • Recognize that work can be a danger zone. Baltimore psychologist, Shirley Glass, has studied adultery and has determined that 25% of women and 44% of men have affairs. Of those men and women that do have affairs, the majority of them have their affairs with a coworker.
  • Beware of the lure of the Internet. Use various safeguards to keep yourself from succumbing to on-line sexual sin.
  • Commit to an accountability relationship. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has studied 237 instances of Christian men (most are Christian leaders), who have experienced moral failure. He found one common factor: not one of the 237 had accountability relationships with other men.
  • Spend time in God’s word. Everyone has 96 15-minute periods of time every day. All of us have seven days in each week.

Paul wants us to know that sexual immorality can keep us from finishing well. We have seen this again and again in the Christian world. Thus, Paul exclaims, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Persevere in your marriage vows. If you are single, stay pure and wait on God to provide you with a spouse. The consequences can be severe when you take matters into your own hands. However, if you wait on God, He will reward you with a greater sense of intimacy with Him.

 

(3) Testing God: In 10:9, Paul writes, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.” In Numbers 21, the Israelites tested the Lord Jesus Christ by taxing His patience. They continued to complain, even though He faithfully provided for them (21:4-9). His provision of manna and water was inadequate from their point of view, and they despised it (21:5). As a result, God destroyed them with serpents! Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would pick that way to die. God used snakes to destroy His people because they tested Him in the wilderness. God does not look kindly on a lack of faith.

 

Like Israel, the Corinthians had given evidence of being dissatisfied with God’s provision. First, the Corinthians were disgruntled with God’s servants (1 Cor 1:12). Second, the Corinthians repulsed God with their sinful arrogance (4:18; 8:1). Third, the Corinthians indicated dissatisfaction with the Lord’s Supper by participating in pagan feasts (10:14-22). Fourth, the Corinthians were divided over class distinctions (11:17-34). We can test God in similar ways as well. When we do so, we risk the chastening hand of God. Paul wants us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

(4) Grumbling: In 10:10, Paul writes, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Tragically, the image of grumbling characterizes the whole wilderness experience of Israel (Exod 15 through Num 17). And this sinful behavior began one month after the Exodus. Sadly, God’s people grumbled incessantly for a period of two years, and then God decreed that all those twenty years old or older will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. They will be made to wander in the desert until the last rebel is dead (Num 14:26-35).

Paul’s deliberate link with testing God (10:9) demonstrates that grumbling is particularly associated with putting God to the test (Exod 17:2-3). Specifically, it seems that the episode Paul is reflecting upon is the Israelites’ grumbling about food. On these occasions, God’s anger was particularly kindled against them (Num 11:1; 14:2-4). In Num 11:1-3, God sent fire that consumed some of the people on the edge of the camp. If this is the occasion Paul has in mind, Paul adds that God executed His wrath by using an angel, a fact that Moses did not mention in Numbers. However, the translators of the Greek OT used the same term, “the destroyer” (olothreutes) to describe the angel who executed the Egyptians’ first-born on the night of the Exodus (Exod 12:23; cf. Heb 11:28).

 

In Numbers 16, Israel also grumbled against both Moses and Aaron. This resulted in a man by the name of Korah leading a rebellion where nearly 15,000 died. How would you feel if today’s newspaper reported that the military had executed 15,000 people? Suppose the victims were not criminals, foreign agitators, or political radicals, but ordinary citizens who were protesting the way their country was being run. Such a possibility seems unthinkable. Yet, in Numbers 16 we read that God responded like that to ancient Israel. He took the lives of 15,000 of His chosen people because they were complaining about the way He was caring for them.

The theme of ingratitude for all the blessings that God had given them marks this section. God’s people wanted more. His presence, His provision, His availability, and His power weren’t enough. Can you relate? Have you ever thought about the fact that when you grumble and complain, either against God directly or against those to whom He has delegated leadership over you (like parents, teachers, pastors, bosses), you are really questioning His wisdom, His grace, His goodness, and His righteousness? May I encourage you to cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Pick your friendships wisely. Later, in 1 Cor 15:33, Paul will warn, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

 

Many Christians believe that every Christian has a guardian angel. I’m not sure that we can argue this from the Scriptures; nevertheless, undoubtedly various angels are protecting us from spiritual and physical harm. Yet, there comes a time in the lives of certain rebellious believers when God “pulls the plug” and assigns a death sentence! Instead of dispatching angels to watch over us, He assigns the destroying angel to take us home to heaven early!

The last two verses of this section (10:12-13) give a wonderful summary. In them are balanced an important warning and a hopeful word of encouragement and grace. In light of all that Paul has said, he challenges the Corinthians with these words in 10:12: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Those who have great beginnings may still fall and ruin the latter days of their lives. The child of God who thinks he has arrived is being set up by the devil to be knocked down. Those on the mountain top are the most vulnerable to attack. The taller they are, the harder they fall. The higher you are, the farther the fall. Elijah was on the mountain when he defied the prophets of Baal. The next day he ran across Israel as fast as he could, away from the painted face of Jezebel. He went from one magnificent, climatic victory to dismal defeat. There he sat under the juniper tree, defeated and discouraged. God came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He went from bravery to shrinking cowardice. Are all the breaks going for you? Even so, you must believe, “It could happen to me.”

Fortunately, we can choose to avoid disqualification and finish well. Paul closes this passage in 10:13 with these powerful words: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Before we look at this verse, we must keep in mind that the Greek word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can also be translated “testing.” Practically speaking, this term could be translated “temptation and testing.” Every temptation is a test; every test is a temptation.

 

In 10:13, we can see three principles about temptation:

  1. Temptation is common to every person, so there is no temptation that is unique. In the Greek, the three words translated into our English, “common to man” are actually pressed into a single term. A more literal reading would be, “No temptation has seized you that is nothuman” (anthropinos, i.e., manlike). No one can hide behind the argument that his sin is unique and so he can be excused. It is impossible to be in business and not be tempted to sacrifice people for profit. Government workers can be regularly tempted to forfeit integrity for promotions. A mother of preschoolers will be tempted by this culture’s priorities to think of herself as a victim of her family’s needs.

 

  1. God controls the context of our temptation. We’ve all seen load-limit signs on highways, bridges, and elevators. Knowing that too much strain can cause severe damage or complete collapse, engineers determine the exact amount of stress that various materials can safely endure. Posted warnings tell us not to exceed the maximum load. Human beings also have their load limits, which vary from person to person. Some people, for example, can bear the pressure of trial and temptation better than others; yet everyone has a breaking point and can take only so much. In this verse, Paul promises that God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tested or tempted beyond what you are able. Yet, we must draw on God to deliver us. Mother Theresa (1910-1997) once said, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

 

  1. God personally and providentially provides a specific way of escape. The use of the definite article (“the”) with both “temptation” and “way of escape” points to a particular way of escape that is available in each temptation. Paul did not mean there is one way of escape that is available regardless of the temptation. His point is: Look for the escape route! There is a way out! Overcoming temptation is not a matter of simply sitting down on a sofa with a box of chocolates and telling God to make the way of escape from whatever sin is tempting us. We are responsible to do our part as well. In 10:13-14, Paul states that we discover God’s saving plan in the key words: “bear,” “stand up,” and “flee” (10:12-14). Paul wants us to be victorious. He wants us to persevere through our tests and temptations. He is for us!

 

Paul is telling you and me that we must learn from our fathers—from Israel. We don’t have to repeat their mistakes. We can be obedient to God and finish well. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you begin, it only matters how you end.

Living for God’s approval

  1. Living for God’s Approval (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

On June 28th, 1991 I watched one of the greatest displays of strength and endurance I’ve ever seen. The location: Las Vegas. The setting: Caesar’s Palace. The event: Donovan “Razor” Ruddock vs. “Iron” Mike Tyson in a scheduled twelve round championship bout. This was a much-anticipated fight because it was the rematch that followed their highly controversial bout. In their previous brawl, the referee stopped the fight because Tyson was pummeling Ruddock.

Well, in the rematch Ruddock was out to prove that he deserved another chance. Ruddock and Tyson were pretty evenly matched in the first three rounds, but in the fourth round Ruddock suffered a broken jaw. Most people expected him to favor his jaw and fight soft, but not Ruddock. He came out fighting round after round after round against, at that time, the world’s greatest fighter and most devastating puncher. He fought eight more rounds after the broken jaw and actually finished the fight stronger than he began! The fight went the scheduled twelve rounds and Tyson won by the judges’ decision.

Although Tyson won this fight, I believe the real winner was “Razor” Ruddock. Why? Because he endured to the final bell and finished well. He overcame many obstacles and saved his best fighting for the final rounds. I want to encourage you to be a Razor Ruddock. This will require enduring to the end and finishing well.

This raises the questions: “Why is endurance so important?” “Isn’t my perseverance guaranteed?” Well, if we are to take seriously the numerous warnings and exhortations that are presented in the New Testament, we had better consider the possibility that our endurance is not so certain. While our salvation is quite certain and totally secure, our success in our Christian lives and ministries is not. That’s why the Scriptures teach that living for God’s approval requires finishing well. I’d like to take us to Paul’s famous words in 1 Cor 9:24-27. In this passage, Paul coaches us to run and fight for the prize. This simple training tip will help us live for God’s approval by finishing well.

In 9:24, Paul tells us to run the Christian race with the intent to win the prize at the end of the race. Paul writes, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?” Paul begins with the question, “Do you not know?” Now whenever Paul uses this question he is confident that his readers already know the answer. This passage is no exception. Paul’s audience knows that in any race there can only be one winner. Fortunately, Paul uses plural verbs and the exhortation is not “you” singular but “you” plural. Paul is saying, “You all run in such a way that you all may win.” The prize is offered to each and every believer. Unlike a foot race, we’re not competing against each other. Every Christian can win the prize. That’s good news because there will always be someone faster, stronger, or smarter than us. But that’s okay, because you and I are running against opportunities God gives us, not what He gives other Christians. We are competing against ourselves.

The running metaphor works like this: When a person believes in Jesus Christ he or she becomes a runner in the Christian race. So if you are a Christian, whether you like it or not, you are a runner. Paul finishes 9:24 with these words: “Run in such a way that you may win.” This is not an apostolic suggestion or a divine option. Instead, Paul issues a command, “Run! Don’t walk. Don’t stop. Don’t sit down. Run because you can win the prize!” After all, the point of entering the race is to win the prize. The prize does not represent salvation. Salvation is a free gift; the prize is an earned reward. Paul is not discussing salvation in this context. He has been writing about his ministry as an apostle (9:1-23). Understood properly, then, the prize that Paul is speaking of is a reward that may or may not accompany salvation. The Christian’s prize is the honor and glory of eternal rewards. It is the joy of hearing Jesus say, “Well done!” (Matt 25:21, 23) This is the amazing grace of God. We receive salvation as a free gift and then the Lord blesses us on top of that with temporal and eternal rewards for faithfully serving Him. What a God!

So what does faithful running look like? Who are those who run in such a way that they may win?

  • Christians who finish their lives still growing, still serving
  • Senior saints that persist in daily prayer until the Lord calls them home
  • Husbands and wives who stay faithful to each other “until death do us part”
  • Young people who preserve their virginity until marriage, in spite of crushing peer pressure
  • Pastors who stay passionate about ministry until their last breath
  • Church members who weather the rougher patches and remain joyful, loving, and faithful

Today, you may be thinking, “I’m not running well. In fact, I’m barely in the race at all. What should I do?” The answer is: recommit to win God’s race. As long as you are in the race, run to win. Don’t just run to finish, but to win. No one just happens to make a comeback to win. Not when he is far behind. Only by believing it can happen, and with a renewed resolve to win, is a comeback accomplished. If you find yourself far behind in the race, don’t give up. Keep on running. You can still win. Don’t quit. Living for God’s approval requires finishing well.

In 9:25, Paul commends the commitment of athletes who will sacrifice everything to win a temporal prize. Listen to these words, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” The phrase translated “competes in the games” comes from the Greek word agonizomai. We get our word “agony” or “agonize” from it. So Paul is talking about some heavy-duty sacrificial striving here. Verse 25 also tells us that competing for the prize requires “self-control in all things.” What does it mean to “exercise self-control in all things?” Well, remember that Paul’s analogy is training for the Isthmian games. All of the events in these games were one-person individual sports. Hence, these athletes could not coast in their training; rather, they had to go all out! What did this require? It required many months and even years of sacrificial discipline and rigorous self-control. These athletes kept a strict diet. They made sure they got the proper amount of sleep each night. They trained daily for their particular events. They performed strength and cardiovascular exercises. They often abstained from drinking and immorality. They ate, drank, and slept succeeding in their particular event.

Why did these athletes go to such great lengths? They did it to obtain a “perishable wreath”—a paltry vegetable crown of celery. Of course, this crown eventually withers away. It is here one day and gone the next. Most people don’t remember who won last year’s championship. This is old news. Next season is coming up. The question becomes, “What have you done for me lately?”

Next time you drive past a soccer, baseball, or even football practice, consider the effort they are putting into the practice. If they did this because their lives were threatened we might understand. What is difficult to grasp is that they do this voluntarily. All for a trophy that will be kept in a glass case and soon forgotten in this life and most assuredly not remembered in the next. They voluntarily wanted to play, and they will torture themselves in order to win.

Now if athletes are willing to undergo this type of discipline and self-control, how much more so should we as servants of Jesus Christ? For unlike the athletic crown, our victor’s crown will affect us forever and ever. Paul states that our reward is “imperishable”—it is eternal! This means it does matter whether we gain or lose the prize. Hearing Jesus say “Well done!” is no small matter. Think about that for just a moment. Only what you and I do for Jesus Christ will last. And it will last and last and last. Forever is a long time. And we only have 70 or 80 years to invest in eternity. That is why I pray like Jonathan Edwards, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!” We must run and fight for the prize, for living for God’s approval requires finishing well.

I realize that very few people would say self-control is one of their greatest strengths. Yet, Paul tells us that self-control is necessary if we are to win the prize. So may I ask you: In what area(s) of your life do you need to exercise self-control?

  • Do you need to exercise self-control in your media intake? Do you watch too much TV? Do you play too many video games? Do you surf the web for too many hours?
  • Do you need to exercise self-control in your leisure? Do you spend too much time working out? Does your hobby come in the way of your relationship with God and your family?
  • Do you need to exercise self-control in your friendships? Are your friends more important to you than your God? Are your friends keeping you from being all that God wants you to be?
  • Do you need to exercise self-control over an addiction? Is food a drug to you? Are you a Christian glutton? Do you drink or smoke too much? Are you addicted to sleep? Do you need to repent for laziness? Paul says, “NO” to flabby Christianity! The Christian life demands discipline!

Now again, let me clarify that the Christian life is NOT a race to achieve entrance into heaven. We are saved by grace, not by effort or discipline or obedience or good works or anything else we do. We are saved by believing, not by achieving. We are saved for good works, not by good works. Still, the Christian life is a race, a race to accomplish what God put us here for, a race to present ourselves approved unto God, a race to finish in a way so as to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Living for God’s approval requires finishing well.

In 9:26-27, Paul is going to tell us how to avoid losing in our Christian race. He puts it like this in 9:26, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air.” Verse 26 begins with the word “Therefore.” Paul often uses this word to reflect on what he has previously said. He has just stated that “the prize” lasts for eternity. Therefore, he writes that he doesn’t run aimlessly, for only those headed toward the finish line qualify for the prize. Now, imagine the following cross-country meet. The runners take their mark; the official fires the gun and the runners all head in different directions! A sun lover runs toward the west, another fond of the mountains runs toward the east, and the third heads toward the sea. This would be ludicrous. Only those headed toward the finish line qualify for the prize.

Paul also states that he isn’t a boxer who merely beats the air. Seriously, some of us are great shadow-boxers. We make loud noises about our faith when we’re in church, but when we get out into the real world—the boxing ring—we never land a blow for Christ. In fact, many of us are so ill-prepared that we are a sitting duck for the sucker punches landed by those who deny the faith! Yet, Paul informs us that only those who stay in the ring, duke it out, and make every blow count qualify for the crown. Like Paul, we must be motivated by the gripping thought of standing before Jesus Christ and giving an account of our earthly lives. We must have a purpose and a goal to please the Lord. Living for God’s approval requires finishing well.

In Alice in Wonderland there is a scene where Alice asks Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice says, “I don’t much care where…” and the cat replies, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” Alice says that she just wants to get somewhere, and Cheshire Cat tells her, “Oh, you’re sure to do that if you only walk long enough.” We are certain to end up somewhere. The important question you must ask yourself is, “Where am I going?”

Paul concludes this paragraph by expressing a sincere fear that he himself could fail to win the prize. Instead of running aimlessly or shadow-boxing (9:26), Paul makes this contrasting statement, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” With the judgment seat of Christ in mind, Paul writes, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave.” The word translated “discipline” literally means “to strike under the eye” or “to beat black and blue.” Paul beat his body into submission doing all that he could to ensure his success. He deliberately knocks himself into unconsciousness, so to speak, thus bringing his body into slavery.”

Most people, including many Christians, are slaves to their bodies. Their bodies tell their minds what to do. Their bodies decide when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, when to sleep and get up, and so on. An athlete cannot allow that. He follows the training rules, not his body. He runs when he would rather be resting; he eats a balanced meal when he would rather have a chocolate sundae; he goes to bed when he would rather stay up; and he gets up early to train when he would rather stay in bed. An athlete leads his body, he does not follow it. It is his slave, not the other way around.

In his book Your Own Worst Enemy, social psychologist Roy Baumeister talks about an experiment with college students who practiced walking with a book on their head in order to improve posture.

These students not only learned to stand up straight, they also began eating better, studying harder, and sleeping more — without specifically focusing on progress in these areas.

Baumeister says that small improvements pave the way for big improvements.

Leadership coach Penelope Trunk agrees: “Self discipline snowballs.” Mastering one area makes it easier to master others.

Maybe that’s why Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave…” He knew that small victories in self-discipline pave the way for greater victories.

If you need to develop discipline, and (like most) you have a number messy areas to choose from, start with the easiest, not the toughest.

Put the proverbial book on your head and begin walking straight.

Many of us hate the word “discipline” as much as “self-control.” Yet, Paul says both are necessary. However, being disciplined in your Christian life doesn’t mean being straitlaced, sober, and sad. It means measuring everything you do by the goal of pleasing Christ. Discipline means asking yourself, “Is what I’m doing now going to help me win my Christian race later?” If you struggle with discipline, consider a workout routine and partner.

Whether we realize it or not, each of us needs a spiritual workout partner or coach. We need to be pushed, stretched, and held accountable. If we don’t have someone like this in our lives, we will never be all that God intended us to be.

We need a workout partner or coach so that after serving Christ we will not be dealt a black eye of disqualification. Now the question that looms before us is: What did Paul mean by the term “disqualified” (adokimos)? To be “disqualified” simply means “disapproved.” It means “not standing the test.” Paul’s fear was not that he might lose his salvation, but that he may not persevere in his Christian life and ministry. The context of this passage and the rest of Paul’s writings bear this out. In Paul’s mind there’s a difference between acceptance and approval. Acceptance is the result of a one-time act of faith. Approval is the result of ongoing faithfulness. God promises us His unconditional acceptance, but He does not promise us His unconditional approval. As a father, I will always accept my children but I may not always approve of their behavior. This is also true in our relationship with God.

Paul’s ultimate goal was the approval of Christ. As Paul’s death was quickly approaching, he had these words for young Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8).

The phrase translated “I have fought” (agonismai) is one word in the Greek. Interestingly, it is a form of the same word that was used in 9:25 that was translated “competes according to the games” (agonidzomenos). Both of these passages deal with the doctrine of eternal rewards. Another interesting tidbit is: 1 Corinthians was one of the earlier books that Paul wrote and 2 Timothy was the last. What is the point? Paul finished his course because he kept his eyes fixed on the prize. Paul realized that living for God’s approval requires finishing well.

In the 1986 NYC Marathon, almost 20,000 runners entered this famous race. What is memorable about it is not who won, but who finished last. His name is Bob Wieland. He finished 19,413th. Dead last. Bob completed the NYC Marathon in…are you ready for this?—4 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes, and 17 seconds. Unquestionably, the slowest marathon runner in history. Ever! What makes Wieland’s story so special? Bob ran with his arms. Seventeen years earlier, when he was serving as a solider in Vietnam, Bob’s legs were blown off in battle. When he runs, Wieland sits on a 15-pound saddle and covers his fists with pads. He runs with his arms. At his swiftest, Bob can run about a mile an hour, using his muscular arms to push his torso forward one step at a time. Bob Wieland finished four days after the start. What did it matter? Why bother to finish? Here’s why: there is great reward in just finishing the course.

Today, like Ruddock and Wieland, we can finish well. If we follow the example of the Apostle Paul and countless others, we can finish well. Therefore, my challenge for all of us today is to live for God’s approval by finishing well.

 

Taking care of God’s bod

As of October 2006, there were three times as many professional tanning parlors in the U.S. as there were Starbucks. In 2013, about 20 percent of high school girls and 5 percent of high school boys had sought out some form of indoor tanning at least once in the previous year, according to the latest poll. This represented a drop from 25 percent of girls and nearly 7 percent of boys who had done so in 2009. On their own, these numbers may not seem surprising or even noteworthy. But they become dangerous when placed in the light of a recent medical discovery. Since 1975, the occurrence of melanoma—the most lethal form of skin cancer—has doubled in the United States among women ages 15-29. The World Health Organization is also taking notice. It estimates that 60,000 people die each year around the world because of excessive UV exposure, and urges youths under the age of 18 to avoid indoor tanning.

But many experts fear that teenagers will not change their behavior, even in the light of such dangerous consequences. In a Time magazine article from last August, two 16-year-old girls were interviewed. One girl said, “All the girls who are really tanned all through the year—they’re the popular girls. Guys are always complimenting girls on their tans.” Another girl who visits a tanning parlor several times a week acknowledged that she is willing to risk her health for short-term rewards. Her rationale, “It may make my skin wrinkle a little bit earlier, but I’m going to look good while I can.”

Short-term pleasure leads to long-term disaster. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sexual immorality. For a few minutes of pleasure, countless men and women will throw their lives away. Just think for a moment about the potential consequences of sexual sin: loss of fellowship with God, divorce, disease, pregnancy, guilt, estrangement from family and friends, psychological and financial loss, damage to one’s reputation, and countless others. Indeed, there is no sin in this life with such brutal consequences. This reality ought to keep us from sexual sin. Yet, if we are honest, most of us assume that we will be the exception to these consequences. Honestly, we believe that these things will never happen to us. So we go on our own merry way, sinning. Therefore, the apostle Paul uses another approach in helping us overcome sexual immorality. He uses a positive affirmation: “Your body is God’s body.” In 1 Cor 6:12-20, Paul provides two ways that we can honor God with our bodies.

  1. Refuse to be mastered by your body(6:12). In this opening verse, Paul shares a principle that governs this entire passage. He argues that he and the Corinthians have certain freedom in Christ, but these are to be used for our good and God’s glory. Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” In this verse, Paul seems to be adapting and qualifying (“but”) a saying for his own purposes. Twice Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me.” There is a sense in which this is true. God’s world is to be enjoyed. Everything created by God is good, including sex. Yet, sex outside of marriage is not profitable and can lead to being mastered. Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to feel free to enjoy God’s world. But he does not want them to press their freedom so far that they do damage to themselves. Immorality breaks marriages, shatters homes, brings agonies of guilt, and damages usefulness beyond repair. We are free, but sin still has serious consequences. We must constantly ask ourselves questions about what is expedient. Will what I am planning help my health? My emotional state? My spiritual sensitivity? My understanding of God and His Word? Will it damage someone else? Will it damage another person’s conscience? Will it affect the church’s testimony?

Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. Suppose a skydiver at 10,000 feet announces to the rest of the group, “I’m not using a parachute this time. I want freedom!” The fact is that a skydiver is constrained by a greater law—the law of gravity. But when the skydiver chooses the “constraint” of the parachute, he is free to enjoy the exhilaration. God’s moral laws act the same way: they restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom. [God wants to be glorified in your body and He wants the best for you, so He urges you to refuse to be mastered by your body. For your body is God’s body.]

  1. Refuse to dishonor God with your body(6:13-20). In these eight verses, Paul argues that sexual immorality is an offense against God the Father (6:13-14), the Lord Jesus Christ (6:15-17), and the Holy Spirit (6:18-20). In 6:13-14, Paul argues that sexual immorality is an offense against God the Father. He launches into this discussion by explaining the two ways to a man’s heart: food and sex. He writes, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” This passage is not about food; it is about sexual immorality. Nevertheless, Paul contrasts the two to emphasize how God values the human body. Unfortunately, many Corinthians did not believe in the resurrection of the physical body, so Paul devoted an entire chapter to this doctrine in 1 Corinthians 15. Here, he simply insists that food and the stomach are temporal, but the physical body is eternal. Paul states that our bodies are designed for the Lord. We can no longer talk about “my body.” Your body is God’s body. And God will one day raise your earthly body. This means what we do in our bodies in this life matters greatly to God.

In the following verses we will be especially reminded that the sexual revolution was not invented in the 21st century. Believers in this first-century church in Corinth also had to struggle with how to be faithful to God in a totally permissive society. In 6:15-20, Paul will use the rhetorical question, “Do you not know” three times. He is going to urge you and me to live out what we know. In 6:15-17, Paul will explain that sexual immorality is an offense against Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!” Three times in this one verse, Paul uses the word “members.” He reminds us that the moment we believed in Jesus Christ we were grafted into His body. We are now members of Christ. Hence, it is unthinkable to Paul that we would ever be sexually immoral. Since we are members with Christ, we take Christ with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

You may be saying to yourself, “Paul is talking about paying a prostitute for sexual favors. That’s disgusting. I would never do that. There’s no love involved—just lust. But there’s no way you can compare that to the relationship I have with my boyfriend or girlfriend.” Fair observation, but I don’t think it releases you. Even though there is undoubtedly a moral distinction between a one-night stand with a street-walker and a passionate interlude with a steady date, sin is still sin. I don’t think anyone would want to argue that since armed robbery is worse than shoplifting, petty theft is OK. Yes, it is true that Paul is addressing the specific issue of prostitution in 6:15-16, but the theme of the whole passage is clearly broader. The Greek word for “immorality” (porneia) deals with all kinds of sexual immorality.

In 6:16-17, Paul continues his argument and writes, “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.’” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” The word “joins” or “unites” (NIV) is used in each of these verses. The Greek word was used for gluing. An immoral man glues himself to an immoral woman. A believer, on the other hand, should glue himself to the Lord. Why do you think the word “glue” is used of sexual relationships? After all, aren’t many sex acts purely physical, without any real personal involvement? No. Paul says it is impossible to have a physical-only sexual relationship. There is no such thing as casual sex, inconsequential sex, or recreational sex. The sexual act is such an intimate act that it involves and affects the whole person. And he quotes the Old Testament to prove his point. In Gen 2:24, God says of the sexual act, “the two will become one flesh or one personality.” We dare not dismiss sex as inconsequential. Your body is God’s body. When you have a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse, you glue yourself to another instead of God.

The last three verses bring tremendous encouragement about the resources God has given us to live a life of sexual purity. It starts with two warnings in 6:18: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” Verse 18 offers the first command of our passage: “Flee immorality.” It is a present imperative and should be translated, “Keep on fleeing” or “Make it your habit to flee!” The Bible’s advice for avoiding sexual immorality is simple: stay as far away as possible from the persons and places and things likely to get you in trouble. Real men and women run! They don’t stand in and fight. How can we go about guarding ourselves from temptation? The following commitments will definitely help keep us pure.

Watch television and movies selectively. It is nearly impossible to watch anything on network or cable TV without being bombarded by sexual content or images. In 2006, Time magazine reported a 96 percent increase in TV scenes with sexual content in the past few years, according to a survey of programming from a broad sampling of shows. When you go back and see the reruns of “Cheers,” “Seinfeld, and “Friends,” you can see the steady increase in overt and covert sexual material. Now zero in on shows out today and you wonder how much more gratuitous can it get. And we tend to anesthetize ourselves to it. Thus, if you are going to watch TV, do so with a purpose. Do not just aimlessly channel surf. When you go to a theater, make sure you’ve read the reviews on the movie you are going to see. When you go out of town on business trips, it is wise to watch TV blocking out the adult movies in the hotel room.

Monitor your Internet use. Internet pornography is the most insidious sin of our day. Every man, woman, and child is vulnerable to Internet pornography. The Justice Department estimates that 9 of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have been exposed to pornography online. Software Company Symantec found that 47 percent of school-age children receive pornographic spam on a daily basis. And representatives from the pornography industry told Congress’ COPA (Child Online Protection Act) Commission that as much as 20 to 30 percent of the traffic to some pornographic websites is children. We must always be on guard! Wise parents do not allow their children to have their own computer in their room. It is also appropriate to have your computer in a visible part of your house. Additionally, it is wise to put a moral filter on all computers through www.xxx.church and www.covenanteyes.com.

Find an accountability partner. It is nearly impossible to stay pure without having an accountability partner. Every Christian needs a godly person of the same sex to ask the hard questions. One such question is, “Are you feeling attracted to anyone at work, church, or anywhere else?” The goal must be to answer this question honestly. It is better to feel a twinge of embarrassment than to find yourself in an emotional or physical affair. If your accountability partner knows who you are attracted to, he or she can help keep you away from that person at church. Your accountability partner may also help by encouraging you to change jobs or change offices to flee a person who has a grip on you. Note: In accountability relationships, it is wise to occasionally ask, “Have you just lied to me?” It is so easy to justify immoral behavior in our own minds or just flat-out lie to save face.

In 6:18, Paul is putting sexual sin in a category all its own. All the sins in the world are put in one column and sexual sin is put in another. All sins are outside the body except sexual infidelity, which alone is a sin against one’s own body. While immorality is not necessarily the worst sin, sexual sin is unique in its character. Like a malignant cancer to the body, immorality internally destroys the soul like no other sin. Therefore, we must flee from it. If we allow ourselves to succumb to immorality, we will be guilty of destroying our own body and the bodies of other partners. We must purge ourselves from the sins that do bodily damage.

Paul closes our passage in 6:19-20 with the crux of his argument: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” There are three important points in these last two verses. First, we are a temple of God. In 1 Cor 3:16-17, the local church is called the “temple.” Here, the same Greek word (naos) is used of the individual Christian. The term used in both passages for “temple” is not the word for a pagan temple, or even for the Jewish temple structure and grounds; rather, it refers to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place for the people of God in the Old Testament. Paul is saying that God Himself is resident within us. Your body is His mailing address and P.O. Box. He dwells in YOU!

You would probably never consider committing an act of sexual immorality in a church sanctuary, right? But the fact is, as disgusting as that would be, it would be no worse for a Christian than committing the same sin anywhere else. A church building is never called a Holy of Holies, but the believer’s body is. What a difference it would make if we lived with this realization. If the body is a house for the Holy Spirit it should only be used for the very best purposes. We should not allow anything or anyone to spoil it or misuse it. We should keep it in good condition. The Christian is to have a certain “pride” in his or her body. It is a sacred house, a dwelling place for God. To glorify God is to acknowledge God, to bring Him honor, to get others to see how glorious He is.

The best place for sex education is the home. The second best place for sex education is the church. Sex education in the church might begin by seeking to cultivate a deep awareness of the indwelling presence of God.  This is a far greater motivator than the scare tactics that Christians have used down throughout time. The best motivation is to encourage Christians to seek a greater good—God’s glory.

The second word of good news is in the middle of 6:19: We have been given the Holy Spirit as a gift. We have received Him, and He lives inside of us, ready to help us in our battle against sin. One of the words for Holy Spirit in the New Testament is parakaleo, which means “counselor” or “helper.” We have been given a divine resource in the battle against the flesh and against sexual sin. We don’t have to be in bondage, because we have the power of the Spirit of God within us to supernaturally help us resist temptation. It is possible to live a life of sexual purity, especially as we rely on the Holy Spirit who gives us strength to abstain from our fleshly lusts.

Finally, we have been bought with a price, and we’re not our own. Paul’s image does not picture a slave being sold to a god and being set free, but being transferred by sale from one owner to another. Formerly, we were slaves of sin, now we are slaves to God (Rom 6:16-23; 7:6). Your body is God’s body. So we have no right to pervert or misuse our bodies sexually, because they don’t belong to us to do with what we will. We’re not the masters of our bodies anymore. Your body is God’s body. Verse 20 teaches that we have been purchased by God at tremendous cost, the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us. And that blood has cleansed us from sin. In light of this great purchase price, Paul commands us to glorify God through sexual purity, out of gratitude for what Jesus did. This means to show God off, to make Him look good.

So we have the privilege of living lives that honor God physically, emotionally, relationally—in every possible way. Being sexually pure does affect our relationships with each other, but ultimately it’s about the Lord. He is the only one to whom we owe adoration and ultimate obedience. This is an amazing reality—God can be glorified in the choices we make in expressing our sexuality. The Lord is honored when we resist sexual temptation. And He is also glorified when we express our sexuality in beautifully appropriate ways, in the marriage relationship. The call in this passage is to renounce dishonoring God with our bodies, and to rejoice in and to embrace what we’re called to, in glorifying God with our physical bodies. And God is committed to working in us to make us sexually pure, consistent, integrated, whole people.

But you may say, “Wayne, this is an impossible expectation. We live in a sexually saturated society. Lower the bar. Give me something realistic to shoot for.” My flesh might like to, but the Bible will not permit this. Instead, the Bible exhorts us to strive for perfection.

One of the greatest examples of a man of purity and conviction is former NBA player A.C. Green. At 6’9” 224 pounds, Green is the epitome of strength and stamina. He holds the NBA record for consecutive games played. He is an “iron man.” More importantly, Green was an iron man in his sexual purity. He married at the age of 38 as a virgin. In the fast and loose world of the NBA, where gorgeous young women are a constant temptation, that’s a remarkable record.

During his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, A.C.’s teammates said he’d never be able to keep his vow to save sex for marriage. “We’re going to give you six weeks,” they told A.C., according to a Sports Illustrated article. “You’ll see this girl come into the Forum. You’ll start getting your paychecks.” A.C. has seen plenty of girls and paychecks—and remained abstinent all along. “Abstinence before marriage is something I very much believe in,” A.C. says. “Responsibility is the main issue, being responsible for the decisions that you make, realizing that every decision has a consequence.” Green said, “I made the decision as a teenager to be abstinent. I wanted to take control of my future. It wasn’t a popular decision then, just like it can be an unpopular decision now. It doesn’t always make me more friends. But the friends I have are true friends. True to themselves and true to me. We know each other’s goals and dreams and we encourage each other to achieve them. It isn’t easy. But every single day I say ‘yes’ to abstinence, it becomes that much easier. If you make a decision, and you practice it, that practice turns into a habit and the habit becomes a lifestyle.”

Today, Green has his own ministry that teaches abstinence in the public schools. If A.C. Green can be sexually pure living life as an NBA player, by God’s grace, we can remain pure.

Now there’s a final issue we must touch upon. It comes in the form of a question: What should I do if I have already blown it? I’m sure many of you wish you had heard this truth earlier, or perhaps even more did hear it and wish you had obeyed it. A message like this can bring painful memories to the surface and perhaps a great deal of guilt along with it. Married person, if you’ve already committed adultery; men, if you are in bondage to pornography; women, if you are living a fantasy sex life through soap operas or romance novels, let me suggest three important things you can do.

  1. Confess the sin; God is able and willing to forgive you. The first and most important one to confess to is God Himself. Sin against God is so much greater than the sin against anyone else that the other victims pale into insignificance. The question of confession to others besides God is a difficult one. However, I do believe it may be wise to write a letter to those people you have been sexually immoral with and state 1) I have sinned against God. 2) I have sinned against you. 3) Will you please forgive me? After writing such a letter, sever all ties with this person. This may bring the closure that you need.
  1. Purpose in your heart to quit now. Some people are tempted to say, “I’m already guilty. I’ve blown it. What difference does it make now? One more act of fornication isn’t going to make me any worse.” Don’t kid yourself. Sexual sin is cumulative in its damaging effects, much like carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide stays in a person’s system for a long time, with the result that a non-lethal dose can sometimes kill because of the accumulation of poison in the system. A second act of immorality is not a freebee—it compounds the sin of the first one, spreads the cancer a little further, and eats away at a little more of one’s personality and spirit. The only way to deal with such sin is immediately, radically, permanently, and in complete dependence upon God. Covenant with God that you will never let it happen again. Ask Him to give you strength. Become accountable to someone.
  1. If not guilty yourself, be willing to forgive others who are. “But you don’t understand, Wayne, my wife’s infidelity was a breach of faith so traumatic I will never be able to forgive.” “My husband’s addiction to pornography has been so degrading I will never be able to trust him again.” I have just one question for you: “How much has God forgiven you?” Was this sin in the life of your husband, wife, child, closest friend, any worse than the cumulative sins you have committed? And has God forgiven you? You may not think you can forgive, but the Lord can change your heart. Forgiveness is not just a feeling; it is a decision to do what God does for you every day!

Sexual allurement is extremely enticing and powerful. It promises nothing but pleasure and satisfaction. But it rarely delivers what it promises. It claims to be real living but is actually the way to death. I want us to take a few moments this morning and individually do business with God. No one knows your heart but you and God. If you need to confess something to God, if you need to flee, or if you need to forgive, now is the time to make a commitment to do exactly that.

Humble by choice

This is a busy time for our high school seniors. Many of them are applying to different colleges and universities. This can be a very competitive process. Consequently, we tell our young people that before they apply to a particular school, they need to find out what the admissions committee is looking for when they evaluate prospective students. Is it grades? Test scores? Personal references? Work experience? Extracurricular activities? Creative ability? All of the above? Whatever it is, you’d better know what it is and you’d better make sure you’ve got what they want before you turn in your application.

What sort of people does God look for when He gets ready to populate heaven? If heaven has an admissions committee, what qualifications do committee members look for? God’s admission committee is different than any other that we have ever considered, for God’s thoughts are not like our thoughts, nor are His ways like our ways (Isa 55:8). What types of people does God choose for His family? God chooses those that have nothing to brag about. In1 Cor 1:26-31, Paul is going to pull the rug out from underneath us and turn our thinking upside down. First, he is going to tell us that…

  1. God’s choice eliminates self-esteem(1:26-29). In 1:26 Paul writes, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” Paul begins by taking the Corinthians back to their spiritual roots. He reminds them of who they were not when God saved them. The word “consider” is the first imperative in this book. Thus, this is a key verse. Paul commands the Corinthians to consider or contemplate their calling. The word “calling” refers to their position in the world when they first believed in Christ. This issue of calling is important to Paul (cf. 1:1, 2, 9, 24). He believes that in order to become a Christian you must respond to God’s call. Likewise, if you are a Christian today, it is because you have answered God’s call.

Since Paul will have some difficult things to say, he addresses the Corinthians as “brethren” (cf. 1:10). He then shares with his readers “that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.”

First of all, the Corinthians were not academically elite (“wise”). They were not wise according to a worldly standard. There were some from the educated classes in Corinth, but most of the people in the church were uneducated.

Second, the Corinthians were not political movers and shakers (“mighty”). The word translated “mighty” referred to the ruling class of a society. There were some in the church who were politically involved in the city, but most of the church members in Corinth had no influence in Corinth’s political power structure.

Finally, the Corinthians were not from well-to-do families (“noble”). Not many had what the world calls “good breeding.” By and large, most of them were from the lower ranks of society, including the slave class.

What Paul is saying to the Corinthians is, “You know what sort of people you were when God called you out of sinful darkness into the light of salvation. You know that He didn’t accept you as His child because you were brilliant or wealthy or powerful, because most of you weren’t at all. And those of you whose lives were defined that way were saved in spite of those positions, not because of them. If anything, they were obstacles between you and God’s grace.” The reality is that position and wealth and influence really can be hindrances, keeping people from the sense of need that leads to salvation.

In a sense, Paul holds up a mirror and says, “Take a good look. What do you see?” If the Corinthians were honest, they didn’t see many impressive people. They saw ordinary men and women from unimpressive backgrounds whose lives had been utterly transformed by Jesus Christ. There is an important message here if we care to receive it. God prefers losers. When God calls people to His family, He intentionally chooses those whom the world rejects. He prefers the weak over the strong, the forgotten over the famous, and the nobodies over the somebodies. He starts with the people the world chooses last. He actually prefers to choose the weak instead of the strong.

It’s not as if God intends to take equal numbers from every social class in the world. And it’s definitely not true that God populates the church from the upper classes but sprinkles in a few from the lower classes. The opposite is closer to the truth. God populates His church with the rejects of the world and then sprinkles in a few wealthy and powerful people. He prefers losers. God deliberately chooses the forgotten of the world and He prefers the company of the poor. He loves to save the uneducated, the foolish, the addicted, the broken, the downcast, and the imprisoned. In short, He specializes in saving those whom the world counts as nothing.

Before we move to our final point this morning, I wonder if there might be someone here asking the question, “If God chooses down-and-outers, is there any place for the famous, the wealthy, or the brilliant in the family of God?” The answer is definitely, “Yes!” Notice carefully that 1:26 does not say, “Not any of you were wise, not any were influential, not any were of noble birth,” but rather not many. Thank God for the letter “M.” Thank God for the athletes, musicians, and actors who have become Christians, but God’s Word tells us we should never expect the Church to be filled with such people.

Have you forgotten your calling? Memory can be a blessing or a curse. In the spiritual life, it can be very healthy to remember what life was like before we met Jesus. If you remember where you started, you’ll appreciate much more the grace of God that has brought you to where you are today. Do you remember where you came from? Do you recall what you were doing when God saved you from yourself? God chooses those that have nothing to brag about.[Now that Paul has reminded the Corinthians of who they were not, Paul goes on to inform them of who they were.]

In 1:27-29, Paul transitions with a strong contrast. He writes, “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” Three times in 1:27-28, Paul writes that “God has chosen.” This is the doctrine of sovereign choice—the biblical doctrine of election. These words mean exactly what they seem to mean. If we have a problem with them, the problem does not rest in the Greek text or the English translation. We may not like the idea that God chooses whom He will save, but that’s exactly the meaning of these words. There are no naturally born children of God; all are adopted. They are children by choice, never by accident. Ultimately, we do not become Christians because of an independent decision we have made; rather, even the initial part of our becoming believers comes as a result of an inner call from God, rooted in His love and undeserved grace (cf. also 7:20).

Consider the implication of the text. When the world throws a party, the beautiful people are always invited. They rent a nightclub and hire a security team to keep the ordinary people out. Only the “in crowd” makes it past the rope line. Helicopters circle overhead and the paparazzi strain to a get a picture they can sell to People magazine. It’s all about who shows up and who is wearing what kind of dress, and trying to match this man with that woman. That’s how the world throws a party. But God does it differently. God chooses those that have nothing to brag about.

God chooses people that no one would invite to a party. He includes those who would normally be excluded. He does this so that He can subvert, invert, and convert human values. He shames the wise, He shames the strong, and He “reduces to nothing” (NRSV) the things that are impressive to our world. Why does God do this? God chooses the despised so that no man or woman can boast before Him. God is a jealous God and will not share His glory with anyone (cf. Isa 42:8).

Mensa is an organization whose members have an IQ of 140 or higher. Several years ago, there was a Mensa convention in San Francisco, and several members lunched at a local café. While dining, they discovered that their saltshaker contained pepper and their peppershaker was full of salt. How could they swap the contents of the bottles without spilling, and using only the implements at hand? Clearly this was a job for Mensa! The group debated and presented ideas, and finally came up with a brilliant solution involving a napkin, a straw, and an empty saucer. They called the waitress over to dazzle her with their solution. “Ma’am,” they said, “we couldn’t help but notice that the peppershaker contains salt and the saltshaker pepper.” “Oh,” the waitress interrupted. “Sorry about that.” She unscrewed the caps of both bottles and switched them.

This is how God works! He likes to shame those who are wise and strong. God used trumpets to bring down the walls of Jericho. He reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 to rout the armies of Midian (Judges 7:1-25). He used an ox goad in the hand of Shamgar to defeat the Philistines. With the jawbone of a donkey He enabled Samson to defeat a whole army. And Jesus fed over 5,000 with nothing more than a few loaves and fishes.

God does these types of miracles to humble humankind so that no one can take credit for anything! Augustine, when asked what were the three most important virtues, replied, “Humility, humility, humility.” Truly, that is God’s heart for you and me. He wants us to daily recognize that we have nothing to brag about before Him. Rather, we are completely indebted to Him.

[God’s choice eliminates self-esteem…but now we will also see that…]

  1. God’s choice demands Christ-esteem (1:30-31). Paul closes chapter one with these words:“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31so that, just as it is written, ‘LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD’” (1:30-31). It is “by His doing” (lit. “of Him”) that you are “in Christ Jesus.” He is both the source and the cause of the Corinthians being in Christ. The believer is described here very simply as one who is “in Christ.” You know, you can’t be any closer to something than “in it.” That’s our position as born again believers. God the Father sees you and me as a part of His Son. This is just one of many reasons a believer can’t lose his or her salvation—the believer is one with Christ.

This phrase (“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus”) explains the previous verses: “If things that were not have now become something, it is due to God alone.” The crucified Christ becomes the manifestation of God’s wisdom, which here refers to God’s long-established plan for the world’s salvation (cf. 1:21; 2:7; Eph 3:10). In Him, believers receive true wisdom: the wisdom of the cross and all its benefits—right standing before God (“righteousness”), moral cleansing (“holiness”), and rescue from slavery to sin (“redemption”). These three words describe the fruit of God’s wisdom in Christ. Let me explain.

We’ve been given God’s righteousness. God is perfectly righteous because He is totally as He should be. He can’t vary from His rightness. And when we trust His Son, He shares His Son’s righteousness with us. He makes us right with Him, right within ourselves, and right with other people.

We’ve received God’s sanctification. We’ve been set apart and made holy, both positionally and practically. This is the daily manifestation of the Christ-like character that has been placed into us. The character of Christ is gradually revealed in us more and more the longer we’re in relationship with Him, as we learn how to handle life according to God’s wisdom. We’ll become more patient, more loving, more insightful, and more courageous. It’s a wonderful lifelong process.

We’ve received God’s redemption. To redeem means to buy something back. God, through Christ, has purchased us from the power of sin. It’s because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross that we have eternal life. God chooses those that have nothing to brag about.

Paul writes because of these wonderful gifts, we can boast. Christians can properly boast, not in their own achievements, but in the Lord (1:31), as in Jer 9:24, the verse Paul quotes here. This quote interestingly follows a verse that declares, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches” (Jer 9:23). And those are precisely the three categories Paul has enunciated in 1 Cor 1:26.

However, please note that in Jer 9:23 the Lord is Yahweh, but in 1:31 it is Jesus. Paul is saying, “We can boast but we must boast in Christ.” May our boast be not in what we do for Christ but in what Christ does for us. When it comes to salvation we contribute nothing but the sin that makes it necessary to be saved. God does the rest. God chooses whom He pleases, and He does so by choosing those whom the world overlooks. The reason God does what He does is to demonstrate that He alone is the source of our salvation. Thus, if we believe what this passage teaches it will change the way we look at ourselves, and it will change the way we talk about ourselves. Some of us talk so much about ourselves that we hardly talk about the Lord at all. Our real problem is the vast difference between our view and God’s view.

Now, you may be thinking this is a nice sermon, but it further demonstrates that I will never amount to anything. Even though I am chosen by God and included in His plan, I still feel like a nobody. If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. I want to assure you that God has you right where He wants you. If you feel average, weak, and foolish, God can use you. Those people that He has used the most are those that have plenty of sin and weakness.

Noah: Rejected from society. Built an ark for 120 years and had no converts.

Abraham: Offered to share his own wife with another man, not once but twice.

Joseph: Ostracized by his dysfunctional family; possesses a prison record.

Moses: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator, even stuttering at times. Murderer.

David: Affair with his neighbor’s wife; murdered her husband to avoid charges.

Elijah: Prone to depression—collapses under pressure.

Jeremiah: Emotionally unstable, alarmist, negative, always lamenting things.

Hosea: Wife became a prostitute.

Peter: Aggressive, hot-tempered fisherman, loose cannon who denied Christ.

Ordinary people of faith can do extraordinary things for God if they eliminate self-esteem and put on Christ esteem.

How to handle hate

Life is filled with choices and every choice has consequences. In grammar school, a student who befriends an unpopular boy or girl will lose friends and be made fun of. In high school, a student who refuses to give up his or her virginity will lose dates and be laughed at. In the workplace, if you live a life of integrity you’ll be passed over for a promotion. In the senior years, if you invest your time and money in the church you’ll miss out on various memories and material possessions. In the political realm, if you’re vocal about your favorite candidate, there will be those who disagree with you. In the spiritual realm, if you follow Jesus Christ, you will be hated. That’s right: HATED! Whether you like it or not, the Bible is clear that Christians will be hated and rejected by the world.

In John 15:18-16:4, Jesus explains why the world hates Christians. Naturally, I recognize that this will not be welcomed as a “feel-good sermon.” However, it does feel good to know that Jesus warned us in advance. As you reflect on Jesus’ words, ask yourself: Have I adopted a cultural Christianity or a cross-centered Christianity? Today, Jesus will say: It’s better to be loved than liked. In other words, it’s better to experience Jesus’ unconditional and eternal love than to win a popularity contest and be liked by the world.

In 15:18 Jesus declares, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”The particular form of the word “if” (ei) assumes something is true. Jesus is saying, “If the world hates you—and it does.” There is a certainty in Jesus’ words: “You will be hated! You can count on it!” Jesus then reminds His disciples that the world hated Him first. The NASB margin note offers a better rendering: “Or (imperative) know that.” Jesus is commanding His disciples to remember that He was hated from the time of His birth to the time of His death. Think about this: Jesus’ life began with King Herod attempting to kill Him. Jesus’ life ended in a death of sheer hatred. He was crucified at the wishes of His own people—the Jews. Thus, we must not be surprised by hatred. The word “hate” (miseo) is used seven times in the first eight verses (15:18-25). It is the dominant word in this passage. Jesus’ point is: Friendship with Me comes with a hefty price tag—the world’s hatred. Jesus wants you to be forewarned. In some circles, you will be public enemy number one.

There are three main reasons why the world hates Christians. First, we are no longer identified with the world. In 15:19 Jesus says, “If you were of the world [and you’re not], the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Jesus insists that His disciples are no longer “of the world.” They may be “in the world,” but they are not “of the world.” Those who are “of the world” are loved by the world. But the world’s love is fleeting. You can be “loved” one moment and rejected the next. Just stop and think about all the people that the world has loved: O.J. Simpson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Mike Tyson, and George W. Bush. These were household names. They were popular and influential, but now they are nothing. That’s how the world’s love is; it grows cold, oh, so quickly.

The world’s love is also conditional. If you want to be “loved” by the world, you need to do what the world does. Through God’s grace and protection alone, I was able to survive these temptations relatively unscathed. But the reality is the world wants to watch Christians falter and sin. When we participate in their behavior, it makes them feel better about their sin. However, Jesus insists that He chose us out of the world for the purpose of salvation and service. It’s better to be loved than liked.

A second reason why the world rejects Christians is we are identified with Christ. In 15:20 Jesus says, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Jesus calls His disciples to “remember” (mnemoneuo) that they will follow in His sandals. As followers of Jesus, we can’t expect to have an easier time than He did (cf. 15:18). When our lives truly reflect His character and calling, we will experience either rejection or acceptance from people around us. As Paul says, we will smell either as the aroma of death or life (2 Cor 2:14-16). For most people, we will be aroma of death. Nevertheless, there will always be a remnant that loves Jesus and will love us.

It is worth pointing out that many Christians assume they are being persecuted for Christ, when in reality they are just “Christian jerks” who invite persecution by being obnoxious offensive, and argumentative. We need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to be angry (James 1:19). We need to truly listen and not interrupt people. We need to talk less. We must especially avoid becoming belligerent with people. Many Christians are not sensitive or respectful. Hence, we bring on a lot of our own persecution. In this passage, Jesus is speaking about disciples who are persecuted for His name.

A third reason why the world rejects Christians is they are ignorant of God. In 15:21 Jesus says,“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The world will persecute Christians because they don’t know God. There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Our persecutors don’t know the one true God. They persecute us on account of their hatred of Christ. Jesus is saying, “Don’t take it personally—persecution is not your fault! Persecution is ultimately directed against Me. Instead of becoming angry with unbelievers, we need to pray that we would have compassion for them. Do you realize that many unbelievers have never read the Bible? Many unbelievers don’t even own a Bible. Do you understand that many people only know the name of Jesus Christ as a curse word? Did you know that your neighbor, classmate, and coworker may never have heard a clear presentation of the gospel? The reason that they don’t know God is because they are ignorant. (I do not say this in a disparaging way.) Although the world may choose to reject Christ, we are accountable to share Christ with them.

Sadly, many Christians tend to verbally chastise unbelievers for godless living and then look the other way when believers are guilty of godless living. This is completely backwards. Unbelievers are not held to the same standard that Christians are. Unbelievers are supposed to sin; it’s a part of their job description! If I was an unbeliever, I would be sinning to my absolute heart’s content. I would be a world-class sinner. I would live for myself. But I would certainly hope that someone would love me enough to share the good news of Christ with me. While I would most likely rebel against the message, it would be helpful to know that someone cared enough to share it with me. May we seek to be more tolerant of unbelievers and ratchet our expectations for professing believers. The world doesn’t want the church to judge them; the world wants the church to judge their own. Gandhi once observed, “I might be persuaded to become a Christian … if I ever met one.” Gandhi was impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and he wanted to see evidence of a Christian living out Jesus’ teachings. May our lives showcase Christ.

Having mentioned the world’s ignorance about God, Jesus spends the next four verses explaining why the world doesn’t know God. In 15:22-23 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His words. Jesus puts it like this: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.” Jesus isn’t saying that men and women would have been innocent if He had not come or spoken to them. The world was already sinful and rebellious before He appeared in the manger at Bethlehem. Christ’s coming highlighted sin in human hearts; He pointed it out so people had less grounds to claim ignorance. Therefore, to reject Christ and His words brings greater condemnation. Ever since the Fall, the world has been sinning against Light, but never had the world sinned against so much Light! The world is robbed of its excuses when it confronts Christ.

In 15:24 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His works. Jesus says,“If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Jesus performed all kinds of miracles. He healed the sick, He cast out demons, He fed thousands, He calmed the sea, and He raised the dead. Yet, the world rejected His works. In some cases, the world even attributed Jesus’ works to Satan (cf. Matt 12:24). No matter what Jesus said or did, the world chose to ignore Him and rebel against Him. Sadly, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have not persuaded most people that Jesus is God. Consequently, the world stands condemned for the rejection of Jesus (John 3:18, 36; Rom 1:18-3:20).

In 15:25 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected the Old Testament. Jesus says, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’” The ultimate reason for the world’s rejection of Jesus and His revelation of the Father is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus quotes from Ps 35:19 or 69:4. The latter is the more likely source for the quoted words, since it is cited elsewhere in John’s gospel (2:17 and 19:29) in contexts associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. Furthermore, Ps 69 was widely regarded as messianic. Jesus is saying: The world has rejected the Old Testament and My very words and works. This has resulted in their rejection of God.

Jesus’ words could prove to be overwhelming, so He brings up the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection, the Spirit provides comfort, encouragement, and strength. Jesus teaches the disciples that they still have a responsibility to provide a witness to the love and truth found in Christ alone. Although it is important to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44), it is also critical to proclaim Christ as well. Christians need to exhibit both life and lips. After all, our lives are not godly enough to persuade anyone that we are different from Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and moral people. This is why a verbal witness is so critical. As we work for the State and teach in public schools, we must find creative ways to proclaim Christ. This can be as simple as hosting an off-campus Bible study or inviting students or coworkers into your home. If you want to share Christ, there are always ways to do so.

In 16:1-4, Jesus discusses the topic of persecution. However, these verses don’t refer to worldly people in general, but to hostile religious leaders. In other words, the biggest enemies of Christians are not atheists, agnostics, humanists, or liberals. Those who are seeking to persecute and kill Christians are religious zealots and leaders. In 16:1, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.” “These things” refer to Jesus’ words in 15:18-27. The only other instance of the verb “stumble” in John’s gospel is 6:61 where it includes the idea of no longer following Jesus. It appears to have the same sense in this context. Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble (skandalizo) in their discipleship after His departure because the events that would follow took them completely by surprise. Jesus’ point is that, apart from His warning, their faith would be shattered and they would give up in defeat. Remember, they were still going to be scattered that very night (cf. Luke 22:31). While they may have stumbled initially, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the disciples did not fall away; instead, they became emboldened to preach Christ.

Jesus informs His disciples of the consequences of persecution in 16:2-3: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” Those who will expel Jesus’ disciples from the synagogue are referred to in 15:21-25. Being put out of the synagogue means more than merely lacking a place to worship. It means the loss of the entire circle of friends who attend the synagogue. It is a social persecution. But, even death will be the lot for some of these men. In fact, we know what did happen to them. Ten of the eleven were killed for their faith. Paul was murdered by Nero; Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down; and James was beheaded. These deaths were performed by leaders who claimed to be doing God a favor. All except John, it appears, died martyrs’ deaths. John, the writer of this gospel, died in exile for his faith. These verses were fulfilled in the days of the early church when the Jews believed they were on God’s side, though they put Christ to death and persecuted the disciples. However, these verses also seem to have an extended relevance to today. Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted and martyred by zealous Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The reason that religious folks persecute and kill Christians is because they don’t know God. Their religious motives do not spring from devotion to the one true God, but to their religion.

Jesus concludes in 16:4 by saying, “But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The way Jesus states this verse makes clear that future persecution is a certainty, not merely a possibility. Jesus spoke these words to prepare His disciples for inevitable persecution. Rather than destroy their faith (cf. 16:1), persecutions had the potential of deepening the disciples’ trust, if they remembered Jesus’ prediction. Over the course of His earthly ministry, persecution intensified. By the time Jesus died and raised, persecution was at an all-time high. This type of persecution has continued in many parts of the world today. Undoubtedly, intense persecution will come to the United States, most likely in my lifetime, certainly within my children’s lifetime. We must remember the words of Jesus and guard ourselves from growing spiritually soft. If we don’t strengthen ourselves, we will be swept under the tidal wave of persecution. So be bold, be strong, and trust Christ. It’s better to be loved than liked.

So how can we counter the hatred and persecution of this world order? How do we prepare ourselves to stand strong for Christ in the days to come? The following three principles will help us apply this passage to our lives.

  • Reflect the love of Christ.We must learn to love the world when we are hated and persecuted. We must continually avoid the temptation to fight back and be combative, harsh, and vindictive. When we behave in this manner, we lose our witness. We must recognize that Jesus’ love is the only proper response to hate and persecution. Only He can soften hearts and cause our enemies to be receptive to Him. A man was working a crossword puzzle and asked, “What is a four letter word for a strong emotional reaction toward a difficult person?” Someone standing nearby said, “The answer is hate.” A lady interrupted and said, “No, the answer is love!” Everyone is working that same crossword puzzle, but the way you answer is up to you. When you and I display the supernatural love of Christ, God is glorified, and we may even have the privilege of influencing our enemies for Christ.

It is also important to express love for our fellow believers. One of the reasons that Jesus exhorts believers to love one another is because we will need each other’s strength to combat the world system. Unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends will turn against us on account of our faith in Christ. When this happens, we will need the strength and security of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Heb 10:24 NET). This will enable us to persevere in our Christian fruitfulness.

  • Read about the persecuted church.One of the ways to cultivate Christian perseverance and boldness is to read about our courageous brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Take an opportunity this week to read through the websites of Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com/persecution.com) or Open Doors USA (http://www.opendoorsusa.org/www.opendoorsusa.org). Commit to pray for a persecuted country (e.g., North Korea, Sudan, China, India). Ask the Lord to give you holy boldness to follow in the examples of these brothers and sisters. As you read about the lives of these modern day heroes of the faith, you will grow stronger and stronger in your faith.
  • Revel in persecution. It’s been said, “Prosperity has often been fatal to Christianity, but persecution never.” Instead of dreading persecution, learn to revel in it. In Luke 6:22Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Jesus promises those who suffer for Him both temporal and eternal rewards. Consequently, it makes sense to pay the price in this life and experience Christ’s pleasure and joy in the life to come.

A soldier goes to Ranger School in the Army in order to become a member of the Army’s elite corps of shock troops who spearhead the attack on the battlefields. To be able to meet the rigors of combat the soldier is put through intense training that pushes him to the very limits of his strength and will. When he comes out of those weeks of suffering and stress he is a different person. He is a Ranger. None of the process is pleasant or easy. But all of it is necessary. The same is true for believers. We are God’s shock troops in a hostile world. To serve in His army we must have strength of character which cannot be gained by reading books. It must be learned by living it. Thus, persecution and suffering have been proven historically to be blessings from God. It has been through this that faith has often grown stronger and more souls have been won to the Lord as Christians have responded with the boldness of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness all the way to death.

Centuries ago, a wealthy, young Christian was in love and engaged to be married. He had everything going for him. But he lived in the Roman Empire and the emperor had declared Christianity to be an illegal religion. Saying, “Caesar is Lord,” like everyone else, would have made him politically correct, but he would not say it. Instead, he said, “Jesus is Lord.” He was, by virtue of his faith in Jesus, guilty of treason. As the story goes, this young man was arrested in a crackdown against Christians. While awaiting execution in the arena, he wrote love letters to his fiancée. They were beautiful, passionate letters assuring her of his great love for her. But the two were never married, for in A.D. 269, the young man was put to death for being a Christian. His name was Valentine, and the day of his execution was February 14. Valentine’s Day is not about chocolates, hearts, roses, and jewelry; it’s about a man of God laying down his life for Christ. St. Valentine understood: It’s better to be loved than liked.