Preparing for tomorrow, today

3 Tomorrow’s World (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20)
It’s been said, “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Bible and people.” If this is true (and it is), it only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever. Think about it: God’s Word will last forever…people last forever…everything else disappears. In light of this sobering reality, how should we live? We should live our life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ and ask, “What difference will my life make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we work for or worry about won’t matter in three weeks, let alone three months or three years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ. In 1 Thess 2:13-20 Paul says, “You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” In these eight verses, we are challenged to give thanks for two of God’s blessings.
1. Thank God for the work of His Word (2:13-16).
1 Thess 2:13-16 serves a transitional role in this letter. In 2:12, Paul’s focus shifted from the behavior of the missionaries (the primary subject of 2:1-12) to that of the Thessalonians. Now, still focusing on the Thessalonians, he picks up and develops further a point touched on in 1:6: the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel in spite of severe suffering (2:13-14). This reference to suffering in turn sets up what he will say in 2:17-20 (where his focus again shifts from the Thessalonians back to the missionaries).
In this first section, Paul thanks God for the response of the church to Scripture. In 2:13, Paul pens a lengthy but potent verse: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Paul states that he and his coworkers “constantly” thank God for the way the Thessalonians responded after they preached the gospel to them. The word “constantly” (adialeipto) is an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13; 5:17; and Rom 1:9. In each passage it has to do with some aspect of prayer. He thanks God that they “received” God’s Word. The word “received” is an objective external response that refers to “the hearing of the ear.” It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God. The word translated “accepted” is a subjective internal response that refers to “the hearing of the heart.” This word is used of welcoming a guest into your home. It is a picture of warm hospitality. The point is: it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life. “Performs its work” is energeo from which we get our word energy or energize.
How frequently do you thank God for people who have received and accepted the gospel? During this past week, I have been reminded to thank God for how He is constantly touching people and reaching people with His Word. Do you need to express thanks for some people you know who have trusted in Jesus? Why not write down several names on a 3×5 card or a Post-it-Note and then daily thank the Lord for these individuals and pray that they continue to grow?
Before we move on to 2:14, we need to further apply 2:13. As a church family, how can we grow in our response to God’s Word?
o Pray for a deeper appreciation for the Word. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once said, “The Bible is God’s best gift to man.” It is easy to nod our head at this statement, but it is harder to live out its truth. It’s been said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.” The little difference is attitude. If you’re not really excited about the Word, pray that God will deepen your appreciation. Specifically, pray that you will treasure God’s Word like Job who said it was worth more than his daily food, or David who said it was more valuable than fine gold, or even the Psalmist who said it was more valuable than sleep. If the preaching of the Word bores you and you can’t seem to stay awake and engaged, don’t just keep sleeping through sermons and devotional times. Pray that the Lord will give you an insatiable hunger and zeal for His Word.
o Work hard in your study of the Word. James 1:21 tells us that the Word is implanted in us the moment we believe in Christ. Yet, we still bear a responsibility to read and study God’s Word. We can’t pawn this responsibility off on busyness or any other excuse. Have you ever played chess? If I really wanted to learn how to play chess, I could ask a pro to teach me. I could also check out Chess for Dummies at the local library. Easier still, I could go online and study various websites on how to be a chess champion. So why don’t I? I haven’t made the decision to do so. Perhaps you have never chosen to read and study the Word. If so, you are without excuse. (I say this with love and compassion.) We have every opportunity in this day and age to learn the Bible for ourselves. Today, ask a fellow believer to study the Bible with you. Plug into a Sunday class or small group where the Bible is taught. Visit a website that will teach you more about the Bible. I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com. But do something today! You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
o Apply what you hear and learn in the Word. It is not enough to appreciate the teaching of God’s Word; we must apply it in our experience to make it fully effective in our lives. After all, what makes the Bible unique from all other books is its inherent ability to transform lives. Those who read and apply the Bible will see their lives transformed like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Think of it this way: What if you took food into your mouth, chewed it up, and never swallowed it? The food would be of no benefit to you. It might taste good, but its nutrients would not be absorbed into your system. If you do not digest your recommended daily intake of food you will eventually die.
This principle is also true in the spiritual realm. Are you on spiritual life support? Do you have a head full of Bible knowledge and feet empty of Bible obedience? If so, get your feet in gear and obey what you read. One of your goals ought to be to consistently model Christ in everything you say and do. Personally, I find that one of my most challenging ambitions is that my wife, Karen, would be able to honestly say that I am the godliest man that she knows. If the one who knows me best can say that, I know I am making progress in applying the Scriptures and modeling Christ to others.
In 2:14, Paul further explains that he is thankful for the Thessalonians because they willingly accepted persecution for the sake of Christ. He writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Christian life is no manicured bed of perfumed roses. It’s not all plain sailing into an orange sunset. The church at Thessalonica became “imitators” of other churches by undergoing suffering. The exact nature of the persecution is not stated. It may have been persecution by the local government. Perhaps it consisted largely of persecution from former friends, discrimination in the marketplace, and even violence that went unnoticed by the magistrates. Regardless, belief in Christ and God’s Word attracts persecution. The term “countrymen” refers to fellow Thessalonian Gentiles.
In our context, it could mean the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the Word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith. If your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your children, or your friends reject your faith, how will you respond? Will you boldly carry on even though you may not please them? It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when we are constantly trying to please people. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” If those closest to you criticize you, will you take it on the chin like a spiritual man or woman? People constantly hurt by what others say about them are usually distracted and ineffective. It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when wearing a thin skin.
If you struggle with being a people pleaser and having thin skin, I have two suggestions for you.
(1) Seek to hang out with bold believers. When you observe a brother or sister that is fearless, you will become emboldened. It is nearly impossible to spend time with a bold believer and not have some of their courage rub off on you. If you don’t know any bold believers, get to know some bold unbelievers and learn how they share their message with others.
(2) Study the persecuted church. When you read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, you will find yourself challenged and inspired to be bold for Christ. I would encourage you to get on the mailing list of Voice of the Martyrs. They have a very helpful weekly e-mail called “VOM—USA News & Prayer Update.”. These tools will help you to be bold for Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:15-16, Paul pens two very controversial verses directed toward Jews. Although the purpose of these words is illustrative, these verses have caused some to insist that Paul is anti-Semitic. However, before arriving at a decision, read Paul’s words for yourself: “[The unbelieving Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” Paul says that some first-century Jews were responsible for instigating the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has a long history of rejecting the prophets God sent to them. Finally, it was the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica who instigated the riot that led to Paul, Silas, and Timothy being run out of town. It was also the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Paul’s efforts to share God’s good news about Jesus with the non-Jewish people.
So in these verses Paul is not talking about all Jewish people of all time, or even all Jewish people of his time. This passage is a condemnation of some of the Jewish people of a particular time in a particular place, specifically the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and opposed the early church in the first century. What Paul is saying here is that those Jewish people who were engaged in the activities he lists here are under God’s judgment. He’s not talking about all Jewish people everywhere, because Paul himself is Jewish, and the Christians living in Judea who were suffering were also Jewish.
Tragically, horrible evils have been justified toward Jews from a misinterpretation of this passage. This is not God’s heart, for God loves the Jewish people—they are His chosen people. Nevertheless, we can’t exonerate those who reject Christ. Paul makes it clear that the Jews who are hostile to Jesus are heaping judgment on themselves and their hostility will one day be answered by God. It is important to understand that God’s wrath isn’t referring to God losing His temper and flying off the handle in anger. Paul is talking about God’s justice to those who oppose His work in the world. Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows at their faith. He is not gleefully invoking dire disasters on them, but grieving over the effects of their misdeeds. We must thank God for the work of His Word. Why? Because God’s Word changes lives!]
2. Thank God for the work of His followers (2:17-20).
In this second section, Paul specifically expresses his joy over the Thessalonians. In 2:17 he writes, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Paul fervently loved his Thessalonian converts, but persecution forced him to leave. The words “taken away” (orphanizo) means to make an orphan of someone. Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. Perhaps you have observed on film some of the horrible scenes from World War II when Jewish fathers and mothers were “torn away” from their children and sent off to different locations, sometimes never to see each other again. Imagine the inner pain! Paul’s pain is comparable to these families. Consequently, he is “eager” and possesses “great desire.” The term “desire” is the word used for lust in the New Testament. It almost always has a negative sense. The point being, this is a strong word to describe Paul’s love for this church.
Do you have this type of love for your church? It has been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some Christians must really love the church.” Seriously, do you love God’s people? When you are separated from this body, do you ache or do you breathe a sigh of relief? Are you attending church to merely fulfill your religious obligation or do you truly love God’s people? If this church family was taken away from you, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you even care? Pray that God increases your love and commitment to His church.
In 2:18, Paul shares a very intriguing verse. He writes, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.” Exactly what did Paul mean and how did Satan stop him? It is likely that Paul is referring to some kind of ongoing problem that kept him from returning to Thessalonica. We can’t be sure of the precise details, but we know that Jewish opponents followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry. This verse informs us that not all of Paul’s plans worked out.
One of the primary reasons for this is that Satan “hindered” him. The word “hindered” is a military term used for the destruction of roads and bridges in the face of the enemy’s advance. That’s right, Satan hindered Paul and he can hinder you and me. However, we must recognize that God permits satanic opposition. In fact, Satan can’t touch our lives or our ministries apart from God’s permission. Constable writes, “How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God’s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times.
Sometimes, as in Acts, they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul’s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God’s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so (Job 1-2) If Satan cuts up one road, then God will create another. If the devil closes a door, God will open a window. We must always recognize that wherever God is at work, Satan and his demons are surely present.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).Yet, instead of being frustrated by this, we need to be complemented because we are a threat to hell. If we aren’t doing much for the Lord, Satan will leave us alone. You may face opposition at work or from a critical colleague or from a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse. Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel. We must always recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against satanic rulers, principalities, and powers (Eph 6:12).
Paul concludes in 2:19-20 by explaining (“for”) why he is so eager to see the Thessalonians: “For who [not “what”] is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!
Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return.” The Thessalonians are the crown, and the result at the Bema will be rejoicing or exultation. But what did he mean by this? In view of Paul’s use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s crown) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev 4:10), Paul undoubtedly had in mind a personal crown or reward that believers will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord for faithful ministry. Though, in this passage the apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages.
In these two verses, Paul and his coworkers call the church at Thessalonica our “joy.” Paul concludes this passage the way he began, with thanksgiving. These new believers are Paul’s hope. He is confident in their faith and obedience. The Thessalonians are also a source of joy and spiritual delight, not only in the present time but in the future, at the return of the Lord. Paul also calls these believers his “crown of exultation.” Paul did not say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgment seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart.
In his letters, Paul often pictured these rewards as “crowns.” It is the word stephanos from which we get the names Stephen and Stephanie. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games. One of Paul’s rewards in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
In 2:20 Paul declares, “For you are our glory and joy.” The word “you” is emphatic in the Greek—“you and especially you are our glory and joy.” The word “glory” (doxa) means “fame” or “renown” that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, “Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.” It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ. “On that day, believers and holy angels alike will be glad to see those who have come to know the Lord Jesus, but those who have had a part in the spiritual birth of individuals will experience an even greater joy. A woman may be pleased that have a major of joy when her sister has her baby, but nothing rivals the joy that is hers when she becomes the mother of her own baby. There will be an incredible fullness of joy at the judgment seat for those who are spiritual parents.” Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom?
This leads to a very fascinating question: Does it make any difference what local church you attend? I would argue that it makes an eternal difference because of the biblical significance of team ministry and corporate rewards. In the West, we are consumed with individual performance, but in the Scriptures, God makes it clear that He cares about the church.
By way of analogy, the National Football League each year “crowns” a team the Super Bowl Champions.
All team members receive, among other things, a ring commemorating their participation on the championship team. Whether or not they actually played in the last game (or any game), all are rewarded. All that matters is that each player was on the team. Of course, it is hard to imagine a player who does not contribute in some way to a championship team, especially as the whole group embraces its quest together. Corporate rewards, as a possibility at the judgment seat of Christ, will mean that some of the believer’s rewards (or loss of rewards) will be based on the corporate faithfulness and works they all accomplished (or neglected) together. This in no way compromises individual responsibility. Indeed, a “most valuable player” exists in the Super Bowl analogy. Individuals can be rewarded for both his/her own efforts and the entire team’s results.
So both individual and corporate rewards are significant. We need to impact people individually and corporately with the gospel. You may be serving in a ministry next week. As an individual, you have served behind the scenes, invited your neighbors, prayed, and prepared for your responsibilities. Next week though, you will also be teaming up with the one of the greatest groups of people ever assembled. You will be a part of what God is going to do simply because you’re a part of the MBC family. And you will reap whatever rewards come from this next week because of your partnership with this church.
This principle is applicable for youth, college, and adult ministries as well. It matters what your church believes. It matters how faithful your pastors are. It matters how zealous your ministry partners are. It matters how unified your body. It matters in this life and it will matter for all eternity.
What difference will your life make in 10,000 years? How will you wish you had spent your few years on this earth? Live your life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.

 

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Giving and going

One of the most familiar plays in basketball is called “give-and-go.” The “give-and-go” is a basic offensive play in which a player simply “gives” the ball to a teammate and “goes” to the basket. The goal is to break free of one’s defender, receive a return pass from a teammate, and score a basket. The great thing about the “give-and-go” is that anyone can run it, regardless of size, strength, or experience.

The “give-and-go” is not only a great basketball play, it is also an excellent play for the church to run. If we are to score for the kingdom of God, we must master a critical “give-and-go” play. Coach Paul is going to the chalkboard to design a “give-and-go” play for the Corinthians to utilize. I would like us to imagine that we are in a locker room while Coach Paul draws up this play. As we listen to his words, may we prepare to execute the “give-and-go” play that he has designed to score points for God’s kingdom? In 1 Cor 16:1-12, Paul will challenge us to “give-and-go till glory.”

 

  1. Give to the Lord’s Work(16:1-4). In these first four verses, Paul shares his practical philosophy of giving to the church. He writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.” In these four verses, Paul provides six guidelines as to how we should give. But before I share with you these biblical guidelines, you must accept the Bible’s premise: you and I don’t own anything! Our home, cars, possessions, and money all belong to the Lord. We are merely stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us. If you accept this premise, you will not have any problem with anything that I will say. If you do not, this could be a very long message.

 

Guideline #1: Biblical giving is not optional but mandatory (16:1). The word translated “directed” is a strong word that is frequently translated “command” or “order.” Paul is speaking with apostolic authority and calling for the church in Corinth to do what he has already directed the Galatian churches to do. Generous financial giving is one of the key characteristics of a mature Christian. This ties in rather nicely with the previous verse (15:58), where Paul commands the Corinthians to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It’s like he’s saying, “Speaking of giving yourselves fully, let’s talk about financial giving…”

 

Guideline #2: Biblical giving starts with meeting the basic needs of believers (16:1, 3). Typically, when a pastor preaches a message on money, it’s in order to generate pledges for the annual budget, buy land, or build a new building. This is to be expected. Such matters concern most congregations at some point in their church history. But that is not where biblical giving begins. It begins with a heart that cares about the basic needs of other Christians for food, shelter, and clothing. That’s what the collection here in 1 Corinthians 16 is all about—sending a gift to Jerusalem so the believers there can survive (16:3). Their financial plight was due to famine, persecution, and economic sanctions against them, making it difficult for new converts to hold anything but the most menial jobs.

 

The above guideline indicates that we who are wealthy (every American, from a world perspective) have an obligation to help the poverty-stricken believers in the inner city as well as the persecuted church in foreign lands. Such support should never be treated as optional. Instead, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ should be an essential part of our financial giving. When you think about giving to others, think about all God has given you. This ought to compel you to give generously to those who are less fortunate. May you “give-and-go till glory.”

 

Guideline #3: Biblical giving is the believer’s #1 financial priority (16:2). Notice that giving is to be done “on the first day of every week.” This implies that people got paid once a week in the first century, and that’s why they are encouraged to give once a week. If you get paid twice a month I’m sure God will accept your giving twice a month. The important point is that you give on a regular basis.

Tragically, many Christians don’t give at all, and often those who do give do so sporadically. They might give two months in a row, skip three months, give one, and skip two more. Some people don’t give when they are on vacation, sick at home, or snowed in. Some don’t give if they miss the offering plate. Imagine standing before the Lord and explaining why you disobeyed His command to give: “Lord, I could never find a pen before the plate got there.” That’s crazy! We don’t think that way about anything else. If my house payment comes due while I’m on vacation, I don’t say, “Well, that’s no big deal, my mortgage company will understand. I’ll pay my mortgage next month.” No way! Those of us who are wise pay our house note before we go on our vacation. If we are that serious about our house, should we not be equally serious about the God of the universe?

 

Today, you may need to reevaluate your financial giving. God’s Word is clear from cover-to-cover, we are to give to the Lord first, not last. This implies that giving to the Lord’s work should take place before other obligations are met. Every once in a while I hear someone say, “Well, I had to take a pass on giving for a couple of months because we had some unexpected medical expenses, house expenses, etc.” I don’t think Paul would buy that. If we would give the first part of our paycheck, then maybe we wouldn’t get into those tight spots in the first place. That’s the point of the Old Testament prophet, Haggai, who told the poverty-stricken Israelites that God was putting holes in their pockets because their financial priorities were amiss. Giving should come before bill paying, before pursuing hobbies, before eating out, even before repaying debt. Does giving have this priority in your life? If so, I can assure you that God will meet all of your financial needs.

 

Guideline #4: Biblical giving is every believer’s responsibility (16:2). Still in 16:2, we read “each one of you is to put aside and save…” Notice that Paul doesn’t excuse the poor, the slaves, the pastors, or the large family with three kids in college. Giving is every believer’s privilege and responsibility. We are all to be involved in giving regularly, whether we have a lot of money or we’re impoverished, whether we’re children or the most senior adult.

 

I believe that we must help our children learn when they are very small how to give back a portion of what they have to the Lord. We gave our kids an allowance to teach them to tithe, not to just give them money. Our children give at least 10% of the money that they earn. Karen and I committed to this at the beginning of our marriage and we have never thought about giving less than 10%. Furthermore, it is important to communicate the importance of giving to your family. We want our children to understand where our money is going. We also want their input because we value them and want them to have ownership in the giving process. As parents, we bear a huge responsibility in raising our children in the Lord. Since Jesus talked about money more than any other subject, how can we fail to instruct our kids in giving to the Lord? If they learn to give, they will be blessed in every sphere of their lives. More importantly, they will please the heart of God.

Unfortunately, many of us have erroneously assumed that if we don’t have a lot of money or are in debt, we don’t have to give. Nothing could be further from the truth! The greatest examples in Scripture of sacrificial giving come from those who are in the midst of poverty and persecution. God wants and expects us to give in spite of our circumstances or lack of wealth. A while back, a student approached me and said, “I am in a truckload of debt. Should I give to the Lord even though I am in debt?” “Absolutely,” I responded. “The quickest way to get out of debt is by giving to the Lord, not by holding back what is rightfully His.” I then explained to this young man that the Lord will honor even a meager attempt to prioritize giving.

A man once said, “I don’t believe in giving. I can be a good Christian without giving. After all, the dying thief never gave anything.” To which his friend replied, “Well, there is one difference between you and the dying thief: he was a dying thief; you are a living one.” Are you a living thief? If so, don’t continue to rob God. Begin giving to the Lord’s work today. Don’t delay; give today.

Guideline #5: Biblical giving should be proportionate (16:2). Paul says that a believer’s giving should be “as he may prosper” or “in keeping with his income” (NIV). In other words, the more we are blessed, the more we should give. There are two ways one can approach this matter. If you are giving a set percentage of your income, let’s say 10%, as your income rises your giving will automatically rise proportionately. But a more generous approach to proportionate giving is to increase the percentage of your giving as your income increases. In the case of a substantial raise, you will still be left with more than you had before the promotion. The issue is: where does your heart lie?

 

“What do you think of the tithe?” Since I know that there are questions on this subject, let me attempt to answer this debated question. The New Testament does not advocate flat 10% giving. The tithe was an income tax system in the Old Testament. There were three tithes—two tithes per year for two years and on the third year an additional tithe of 10%, making it 30% for that year. The tithes for the third year were for the poor. Tithes are always in the plural, not the singular. In addition to this you are to give “offerings.” Israelites gave both tithes and offerings. All this was done for the national entity of Israel. A national entity needs an income tax system, so that was the purpose of the tithe. The New Testament does not command tithes for the church. The idea for the church is an offering of proportional giving or as God has blessed the believer financially. There is no percentage in this system of giving.

 

With that said, my personal conviction is that 10% of one’s income is a good place to start for most people. Yet, I acknowledge that some people may need to build up gradually before taking a step of faith. That’s fine. Giving is ultimately a matter between the individual believer and God. However, I believe the tithe is one of the greatest misnomers in Christianity today. Many well-meaning Christians assume that if they are giving 10%, they are doing great. I would suggest that the vast majority of American Christians can and should give far more than 10% of their income to the Lord. Sadly though, many Christians are more concerned with their standard of living than their standard of giving. For many of us, prosperity has become a greater test of character than poverty. So the issue is: how has God prospered you? To what degree do you want to express your gratitude to Him for all that He has given you?

One Sunday afternoon, a family was driving home from church. The father was complaining, “That church service was awful. The sermon was too long, the music was too loud, and the building was too hot.” His son in the back seat replied, “I don’t know, Dad, I thought it was a pretty good show for a buck.” This illustration would be far funnier if it wasn’t so true. Often, those who give the least complain the most. There are at least two reasons for this: (1) God will not let stingy Christians experience joy and contentment. (2) Those Christians who give sense great ownership and personal responsibility for the church and their own lives.

Guideline #6: Biblical giving should not be motivated by pressure (16:2). Looking again at 16:2 we see that the apostle is asking that the collection be made each week so that there doesn’t have to be a fund drive when he arrives. He is in Ephesus as he writes this letter, and he has plans to come to visit Corinth in the future. He knows that his credibility and charisma is such that he could generate a huge offering with his personal presence. But he doesn’t want them to give under that kind of pressure. He says in effect, “Do what you’re going to do before I arrive.” Pressure, of course, works. Countless churches and ministries have funded vast building projects through high-pressure fund-raising efforts. But everything that works isn’t necessarily right.

 

In addition to the above six guidelines, there is a concluding principle that has more to do with how offerings are handled than with how they are given.

Biblical givers have a right to expect integrity and accountability from those they give to (16:3-4). Verses 3-4 explain that it is the responsibility of every congregation to entrust its funds into the hands of trustworthy members. Paul doesn’t say, “Give your money to me and I will handle it for you.” Instead he urges the church to choose their own representatives to disburse the gifts.

In light of all that we have considered, I challenge you to either continue or begin giving generously and cheerfully. Not only does gracious giving please the Lord, but there are also legitimate personal blessings as well.

[We have seen that we are called to give to the Lord’s work. Now we will be exhorted to…]

  1. Go to the Lord’s People(16:5-12). In this section, Paul shares his own travel log and that of two of his coworkers. These verses explain how Paul and his ministry partners were willing to go to minister to believers and unbelievers alike. Paul writes, “But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.” There are at least five observations worth making from these eight verses. First, Paul had plans and goals to share the gospel with unbelievers and build up the church (16:5-9). Even before Day Timers, Palm Pilots, and Blackberries, Paul had a schedule mapped out. He didn’t just trust God and sit on his hands. He took initiative and moved forward with holy ambition. Do you have a plan to share Christ and build up His body? If not, why not? Today, make a holy resolution and write down the names of three unbelievers and three believers. Then develop a game plan to share Christ with these individuals.

 

Second, Paul submitted his plans and goals to Christ. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “wherever I may go,” and “I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits” reveal Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Although he had plans and goals that he wanted to accomplish, he was always striving to make sure that he was doing what God wanted him to do. Are you willing to relocate and change jobs if God calls you to? Would you be willing to take on a new ministry? God longs for willing hearts.

Third, God eventually opens a door of ministry for faithful believers. Admittedly, sometimes it takes many years but God has a way of blessing our meager efforts. In 16:9, Paul writes “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” This “open door” in Ephesus brought great evangelistic fruit. However, with the fruit there were many adversaries. This is to be expected. Where there is light there are bugs. When God pours out His blessing, Satan sends adversaries to destroy God’s work. If you are a pastor, elder, deacon, or ministry leader, you must learn to expect opposition. It is important then to recognize “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:13).

Fourth, Paul values ministry partners. In this section, he spends three verses talking about Timothy and Apollos (16:10-12). In the passage that follows he will mention five more valuable coworkers. The point is: Paul recognized how important other ministry leaders were to his ministry and to God’s kingdom.

God uses teammates (brothers and sisters) to help us to accomplish His purposes for our lives. More importantly, He uses the purposes He works in us to accomplish His kingdom agenda in the world. Have you expressed gratitude to God for all that He has accomplished in your life? Have you said “thank you” to your Christian teammates?

 

God wants us to work on the “give-and-go” play He has designed for us. Today, will you commit yourself to fulfilling God’s plans for your life? Will you submit yourself to Him in the areas of giving and going? Will you seek to ensure that your life will make an eternal impact?


 

Live with the future in view

Do you like Star Trek? Are you a “Trekkie?” If so, you have probably seen Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. You may recall a conversation between Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and an aspiring young Starship commander facing a difficult and dangerous test. Kirk uttered these powerful words: “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Although no one would accuse Admiral Kirk of being a great theologian, he nailed it on this point! How we deal with the reality of our inevitable death radically affects how we deal with our lives in the present. We could say, “Live in the present with the future in view.”

In 1 Cor 15:50-58, Paul concludes his glorious resurrection chapter. These closing verses are a climactic song of victory, a kind of symphony. (A number of composers down through the ages have set this text to music. Brahms’ Requiem and Handel’s Messiah quote from it.) It’s a symphony in three movements. The first movement celebrates the future transformation of our bodies while the second movement celebrates the future termination of sin. The final movement celebrates the future compensation of our work.

  1. Celebrate the future transformation of your body(15:50-53). In these first four verses, Paul explains that an earth suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. Paul introduces this section in 15:50 like this: “Now I say this, brethren [believers], that flesh and blood [one’s physical nature] cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Paul makes it clear that you and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

Paul has explained that our earth suits are unsuitable for heaven. That’s the problem! What’s the solution?

In 15:51, Paul grabs the reader’s attention with the word “behold.” It is a dramatic word, for it is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. In our contemporary vernacular, we could translate this Greek word “look” or “listen.” Paul continues “…I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” This verse “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” is often posted as a motto in church nurseries; however, I do not think that Paul has in mind diapers. On the contrary, he has physical bodies in mind. Paul speaks of a “mystery,” however, he does not have in mind a Sherlock Holmes tale. Rather, in the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles. The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the second coming of the Messiah, so Paul is not referring to either of these events. The “mystery” is what is called the rapture of the church. The rapture is a newly revealed truth. Paul informs us that there will be a generation of Christians that will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed!

 

It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said, “There are two certainties in life—taxes and death.” While taxes are certain, death is not certain for the believer. The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

 

A little boy asked his mother what death was like. She said to him, “Do you remember when you fell asleep in the living room? Your father picked you up in his big strong arms and took you to your bedroom. When you woke up, you found yourself in another room. Death for the Christian is like that. You go to sleep in one room and wake up in another.” Thus we do not need to ever fear death, whether we sleep or take part in the rapture. We can have supreme confidence that we will be with Christ.

Paul continues his description of the rapture in 15:52a and explains that the transformation of our bodies will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet.” This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. So Paul is saying that this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis. In other words, what happened to The Incredible Hulk on TV is not the pattern for the transformation of raptured saints.

 

The reason that the rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed. For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].” Some (i.e., posttribulationists) equate this “last trumpet” with the seventh or last trumpet of Rev 11:15-18. This does not seem valid. Other trumpets will sound announcing various other events in the future. However, believers living in the church age will not be on the earth, and those trumpets will not affect us. The fact that Paul included himself in the group (“we”) living at the time of the rapture shows he believed the event could take place in his lifetime. If he had believed the tribulation precedes the rapture, it would have been natural for him to mention that here. In these verses, Paul insists that one day we will be given new bodies that will be indestructible. These bodies will never fail us. They will be immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul calls us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

[Paul has challenged us to celebrate the future transformation of our body. Now he says…]

  1. Celebrate the future termination of sin(15:54-57). The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. In 15:54-57, Paul writes, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP[Isa 25:8] in victory. ‘O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING [Hos 13:14]?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses emphasize a sting operation. I don’t know about you, but I love a good “sting.” You may recall the movie The Sting where Robert Redford and Paul Newman conned a con man. Everyone likes to see justice served.

 

The great New England preacher of the 19th century, Henry Ward Beecher, once pulled off a pretty slick sting in the pulpit. He entered Plymouth Church one Sunday and found several letters awaiting him. He opened one and found that it contained a single word in large letters, “FOOL.” In the worship service that morning, quietly and with great dignity, he announced the incident to his congregation with these words: “I have known many an instance of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I have ever known of a man signing his name and forgetting to write the letter.” That was a burn—a royal sting!

 

But the greatest sting in all of history, and I say it reverently, is one pulled off by Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won, or so he thought. But in fact, in that very event, His crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. And at His second coming, when He resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. That will be the ultimate sting in all of human history. Jesus will STING the STINGER. He will REAP the GRIM REAPER. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.

 

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die. As Peter Joshua said, “When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.”

 

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat; as near as an auto accident; as near as a stray bullet; as near as a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

 

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. Again, Paul exclaims, “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. What that means is that every morning when we wake up, it’s Easter morning. It means that we can continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! We have the “victory” through our Lord Jesus Christ! Robert Louis Stevenson once said“The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life.” May you and I be filled with gratitude today for all that the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us. Live in the present with the future in view.

[What an appropriate place to end this beautiful resurrection chapter, and indeed, the entire theological portion of this epistle! But Paul is not quite through. He’s never through when he has only provided the doctrinal facts, even such profound and far-reaching facts as these we have seen today. He is never satisfied until he has written, “THEREFORE.” Paul is intent on telling us how these truths relate to our daily lives. And so we come finally to…]

 

  1. Celebrate the future compensation of your work(15:58). Paul concludes his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. In 15:58, he answers the concerns expressed in 15:1-2 with these motivating words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage. The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior. This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, to say the least. Yet, despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. My prayer is that the Lord continues to give me this type of love for you and vice versa. Together, we are “beloved brethren!” Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

 

After affirming his readers, Paul launches into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

 

  1. What we should be. Paul commands us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Yet, Paul says, “Get a grip on the resurrection and on God’s final plan for believers, and you will not be so readily shaken.” We will be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

 

  1. What we should do. Paul urges us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

 

  1. My own heart is blessed when I see individuals in this church giving themselves fully to the work of the Lord. I’m not talking about our pastors; they get paid for being good; I’m talking about people who are good for nothing. Such members serve God out of the love and gratitude of their hearts. I’m literally amazed sometimes when I see men and women who work fifty plus hours a week then devoting hours to working in Kids Blast, kid’s choir, or teaching a children’s small group class. I’m likewise amazed when I see a mother with three or four children keeping house, serving as a taxi driver, holding down a part-time job, and then, on top of all that, volunteering in Women’s Ministries, prayer ministry or serving in other areas. That’s something of what it means to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
  2. What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urges us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” One summer, I worked as an apprentice to a handyman. It was back-breaking work. And the exhaustion actually felt good. I learned a lot that summer and it has not been in vain the rest of my life!

 

  1. That’s the way it is when you’ve exhausted yourself in meaningful work for Christ. Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul is saying it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Have you ever heard of Epaphroditus? Paul mentions him in Philippians 2, calling him a “dear brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier,” but a few verses later Paul adds that he “almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Phil 2:25, 30). Epaphroditus is not the patron saint of many in the church today. Many more voices are calling out, “Pace yourself, take care of your family, abandon the rat race, smell the flowers.” You know, there’s nothing wrong with any of that advice, and every one of us needs balance in our lives, but time has a way of getting away from us and we may one day end up wondering, “What difference did I make?” Of all the work a person can throw himself into, work for the Lord is the one kind that we are assured is not in vain, because the resurrection and the transformation lie ahead for all believers.

 

Because of the certainty of the resurrection, we’re confident that our lives will count. The hope of the resurrection keeps us from despair and feeling useless. We know that the things we invest our time, energy, and resources in, if they’re done for the Lord’s glory, will accomplish something. Nothing will be wasted. That is tremendously motivating.

 

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. You might say to me, “I attend church, I am reading my Bible, I am praying.” That is all wonderful! But that does not suggest that you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life. It has been said, “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.”

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.

Getting what we paid for

My wife and I are very careful about how we spend our money. Some call us cheap, others call us frugal; I like to call us shrewd stewards of the Lord’s resources. Yet, over time I have noticed something rather discouraging. In my attempt to save money, I buy inexpensive items that quickly break down or fall apart. Whenever this happens, I tend to say, “You get what you pay for!”

However, this worn-out cliché does not always prove true. Occasionally, I buy brand-name goods that fall apart while the el cheapo merchandise lives on. It’s rather frustrating and unpredictable. Hence, I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you pay for. This is true in other areas of life as well. Hollywood can spend millions of dollars seeking to produce the latest and greatest movie, only to watch the movie bomb in the box office. At the same time, a small-time producer can spend peanuts producing a flick only to see it become the latest rage. In the world of sports, it is all too common to see an athlete sign a ridiculously lucrative contract only to be injured or have a sub-par season. Simultaneously, a rookie can sign the league minimum and have an explosive year. You can’t always judge a movie by its budget or an athlete by his salary. Furthermore, you can’t judge a servant of Christ by his pay or lack thereof.

Take the apostle Paul, for example. He chose not to receive payment from the church at Corinth. Instead, he established a church in this sin-hardened city at his own expense. He served them freely so that the gospel would have an open door to travel through. Paul’s personal sacrifices brought about great results for God’s kingdom. Likewise, we have been called to have a godly work ethic as ministers of the gospel. Some of us will be paid, others will serve as volunteers. Yet, we are all called to represent Christ and to offer Him our lives. We will learn that proclaiming Christ demands paying a price. In 1 Cor 9:1-23, Paul is going to share with us an autobiographical sketch of his ministry. In doing so, he will exhort us to follow his example. First, Paul will argue that…

  1. We must relinquish our individual rights(9:1-14). Paul builds a lengthy argument for ministers being paid. I know what you’re thinking: I picked the wrong day to come to church. Well, believe me when I say, this is as awkward for me as it is you…probably more so. Nevertheless, I will proclaim God’s Word as faithfully as I can. In 9:1, Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians of his apostolic identity. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” Paul’s four rhetorical questions all expect a positive answer, and they become increasingly specific. Certainly he enjoyed the liberty that every other believer had. Moreover, he possessed the rights and privileges of an apostle. The proof of his apostleship was twofold. He had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-22) on the Damascus road (Acts 22:14-15; 26:15-18), and he had founded the church in Corinth, which was apostolic work (cf. Rom 15:15-21).

In 9:2, Paul continues, “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” Although some may have doubted Paul’s apostleship, that should not be the case with the Corinthians. They themselves were the proof that he was an apostle. If the Corinthians deny Paul’s apostleship they deny their own existence. Paul, therefore, takes the opportunity to work that issue into his discussion at this point, hoping he can nip it in the bud. He explains that the Corinthians are the “seal” of his apostleship. A seal in the ancient world was a warm blob of wax into which a signet ring was pressed to seal a letter or package. It was an assurance that the contents had not been opened; it showed who owned the contents; and it showed the genuineness of the contents, that it was sent by the right person. Paul is saying that the Corinthians are his work in the Lord.

If you are a Christian, it is critical that you have your own “seal” of people you have impacted and influenced for eternity. Like Paul, our goal must be to see lost people trust in Jesus Christ and then grow to maturity in Him. In light of eternity, nothing else will matter.

In 9:3-14, Paul shares his apostolic rights to make his living from the gospel. His argument is based on a barrage of rhetorical questions. This seems to be Paul’s way of going for the jugular in a natural and persuasive way. By using this device, he presents rationale for his financial support. Yet, in the end, Paul will conclude that it is best for him to forgo these rights in Corinth (9:12b). But in the present discussion of receiving support for his ministry, how could accepting money from his converts hinder the progress of the gospel? There are several possible answers to this question: (1) Some people might not believe the gospel if they knew it would lead to financial obligations. (2) Others might see a contradiction between Christ’s grace being free but becoming a Christian not being free. (3) Paul perhaps did not want to become a “slave” to a patron donor who supported his ministry and who could then control the content of his preaching (“money is power”). (4) Paul wished to dissociate himself from other religious hucksters in the ancient world, some of whom made a good living from flowery rhetorical appeal.

 

Paul lives what he preached: proclaiming Christ demands paying a price. Unfortunately, the Corinthians assumed that “you get what you pay for.” Since Paul was serving for free, some questioned his credentials. In Corinth, orators, teachers, and philosophers were well paid. It was unthinkable that someone like Paul would not receive a paycheck. So Paul builds an air-tight case for remuneration and then insists that he will not make use of his rights. For Paul, proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

In 9:3-4, Paul writes, “My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink?” In the context, “the right to eat and drink” is a figurative reference to financial support. It means to “eat and drink” at the expense of others. Six different times the word “right” is used in this chapter. It’s a very central issue. Paul is saying that he had a legitimate right to receive financial support from the people to whom he ministered.

Paul continues his argument in 9:5-6 by raising two other issues: “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?” All of these questions expect a positive answer. Paul states that apostles have the right to be married and to cease to work.

Now, in 9:7-14, Paul is going to give five reasons why he has the right to be supported by the churches to whom he ministered, why he shouldn’t have to work at a trade to earn a living, so he can devote his energy to study, prayer, preaching, and teaching. He begins with an appeal to common sense in three illustrations from everyday experience in the workplace. “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” Paul is pointing out that soldiers don’t fight all day and then go to civilian jobs at night so that they can pay for their food, lodging, clothing, and armaments. No, the government provides all the necessary resources for them to function as a soldier. Paul makes the same point about farmers. You don’t plant a vineyard or cultivate crops for somebody for free, and then take a night job to subsidize the farming work. You expect that if you work hard in the vineyard or on the farm, you’ll be paid, perhaps in kind with some portion of the crops. He makes the same point about shepherds who care for flocks or sheep owned by other people. At least they have the right to have some of the milk. In the same way, a Christian worker has a right to expect benefits from his labor.

In 9:8-10, Paul uses the Scriptures to back up his point. Paul writes, “I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.’ God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.” Paul demonstrates a most unusual use of God’s Word. Quoting the Old Testament law regarding the treatment of oxen, he noted that Deut 25:4 commanded God’s people not to muzzle the ox while it was in the process of threshing. Instead, God commanded that the ox be allowed to eat the grain. If God cared so much about the animals who served His people, how much more must He care for the people who serve them?

If something is true on a lower scale, it is certainly true on a more important, higher scale. In other words, if mere animals are given the right to eat as they are working in the fields, certainly human beings made in the image of God have that same right. In fact, God is more concerned about getting across a principle for human beings in this text than He is about getting across a principle for animals.

Several times Paul asserts that the Old Testament was written as an example for New Testament believers (cf. 10:6, 11; Rom 4:23-24; 15:4). This is an important reminder that the Old Testament is of great benefit to each and every one of us. We should read it frequently and look for opportunities to study and preach from it. Perhaps the price that you need to pay in proclaiming Christ is to spend some time studying the Old Testament. After all, the Old Testament makes up ¾ of your Bible. In order to proclaim Christ, we must be familiar with His Bible and that of the apostle Paul.

In 9:11-12, Paul appeals to the inherent fairness of it. He argues, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” Spiritual things are intrinsically more important than physical things. The former will last forever whereas the latter are only temporary. Consequently, those who benefit from spiritual ministry should physically support those who minister to them (cf. Gal 6:6). In spite of this spiritual principle, Paul surrenders his rights because proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

Now, in 9:13, Paul makes a reference to Old Testament Jewish history and custom pertaining to the temple: “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?” This refers to Old Testament priests and Levites. The concept of paying God’s servants is not a New Testament notion; rather, it goes back to the Old Testament. Paul saw his gospel ministry as priestly service (cf. Rom 15:16).

Paul closes out his argument in powerful fashion by stating: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (9:14). Paul explains that the Lord Jesus taught the same right for servants to be paid (Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7). Case closed: full-time vocational servants have the freedom to be paid.

Like Paul, our staff are not asking for a raise. But there is something to think of here: I want our staff to always be free from the distraction of money. I would also suggest that there are other ways we can honor those who serve. An encouraging email, letter, or phone call would mean the world to any of our leaders. There are other creative possibilities as well (e.g., child care, providing services, etc.).

[Having argued vigorously for his right to the Corinthians’ support, Paul now proceeds to argue just as strongly for his right to give up this right. This section gives the reader a window into the apostle’s soul.]

  1. We must fulfill our individual calling(9:15-23). In these nine verses, Paul explains that his passion for lost people and for preaching the gospel consumes him. Consequently, he will go to any and every length to share Christ. In 9:15, Paul writes, “But I have used none of these things [i.e., financial provisions]. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.” These are certainly strong words! Paul actually felt it was better to die than to receive any financial support from Corinth and lose out on freely boasting in the free offer of the gospel. This idea of boasting is used in Paul’s Bible—the Old Testament, of glorying in God. So when Paul uses the word “boast” in his writings, he isn’t talking about personal accomplishments. He is talking about what the Lord has done through him in spite of his weakness.

Why is Paul so adamant that he should not be paid for preaching the gospel? If he has the right, why not capitalize on it? He explains his reasoning in 9:16-17 (note the two uses of “for” that begin each verse): “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.”

Paul says that he cannot legitimately boast in his ministry of preaching, because God ordered him to do it. He states that he is “under compulsion” (9:16) and has been entrusted with a “stewardship” (9:17). There is an irresistible call of God on his life, and he can’t take any personal credit for doing it. He is a man on fire for God! Hence, Paul says “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (9:16). The word “woe” occurs frequently in the Old Testament prophets to denote coming disaster and even divine judgment. Paul felt the weight of severe consequences if he chose to forego preaching for another profession. Since God dramatically called Paul to preach, he had to proclaim the gospel. There was no reward in simply doing what God had called him to do (cf. Luke 17:10).

This leads Paul to raise a question in 9:18: “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” Paul’s “reward” is demonstrating love to people by freely preaching the gospel. His highest pay was the privilege of preaching without pay. Of course, Paul also believes that his loving service will be recognized in the future by his Lord (cf. 3:12-14). However, Paul recognizes that we do not get rewarded for our calling in and of itself, only for the manner in which we fulfill it. Thus, Paul sacrificed much and served well so that he might one day be rewarded for his service.

Ultimately, what I want us to see is that Paul’s spirituality is evidenced by his willingness to sacrifice his rights for the sake of the gospel. One such right is that of having a full-time ministry. Let us be very careful not to assume that God’s servants can be more effective by ministering “full-time.” The great apostle Paul chose to serve in “part-time” ministry, for the sake of the gospel. I don’t think anyone would argue that Paul could have been more effective if he had been serving full-time. Likewise, there are many people in our church who could be in full-time ministry, but they are incredibly effective and fruitful in part-time unpaid ministry. Such people never ask to be paid and faithfully serve year in and year out. They have the reward of offering the gospel for free. Additionally, they will be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ for faithfully serving the Lord. Proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

[Paul now moves from the subject of giving up his right to financial support to giving up cultural rights.]

In 9:19-22, Paul is going to describe his passion to do whatever it takes to win lost people to Christ. Paul explains, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Six times in this paragraph Paul states his desire to reach the lost. He reaches the lost by adapting his methods according to the group he tried to reach. Paul goes after anyone and everyone: (1) Jews; (2) “those who are under the law” probably includes Gentile God-fearers and proselytes to Judaism as well as ethnic Jews; (3) “those who are without law” refers to Gentiles apart from any Jewish influence; and (4) “the weak” most likely refer to Christians with weak consciences. Paul must therefore be using “win” in the broader sense of winning to a more mature form of Christian faith.

Paul’s missionary principle, of course, has practical applications. For missionaries it means learning the local language and customs to make the gospel understandable in the local environment. For those doing inner-city work it means ministering in a way that does not patronize the inner-city mentality. For those in campus ministries it means bringing to college students a message that challenges them in an academic environment and shows that Christianity is not anti-intellectual. The applications of “being all things to all people” are endless. I have known of people who share Christ in bars, homosexual clubs, and Mormon churches. If Christianity is to make a mark in the 21st century, fresh and radical methods will need to be pursued. As Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the US once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Why does Paul go to such great lengths to win lost people? He tells us in 9:23: “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” The work of the gospel was the great axis around which everything in Paul’s life revolved. He made it such so he might share in its blessings.

Paul still has in mind what he said in 9:17-18. He is looking for reward. Paul lives in the way he does to become a “fellow partaker” of the gospel. The thought continues the ideas of 9:12-14. He does not “share” the financial blessings of the Corinthians. But he expects to get a “share” in the rewards of the gospel eventually. He might turn down rewards from particular congregations, but he expects that God will compensate him for that which he has lost. To become “a partaker of the gospel” means to receive its ultimate reward: to gain “the prize” that Jesus gives.

 

The designer of the famous yellow smiley face received a mere $45 for his work. Harvey Ball, a Massachusetts commercial artist, created the simple yellow face in 1963 as a morale-boosting campaign for two firms that had recently merged into the State Mutual Life Assurance Companies of America. Because Ball never copyrighted his design, he received no proceeds when the cheery icon appeared countless times worldwide. In 1971 alone, 50 million buttons were sold. After Ball’s death in April 2001, his son, Charles, said in an obituary that his father was never bitter about the small amount of money he earned from the smiley face and never regretted foregoing a copyright. He considered his greatest achievement not his famous logo but the bronze star he received for his heroism during the Battle of Okinawa.

As wonderful as that bronze star is, Jesus Christ promises us eternal reward for faithfully proclaiming Him. One day, we will stand before Him in a glorified body and He will evaluate our lives. My prayer is that when you see Him face-to-face, He looks you in the eyes and smiles a big smile and says, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Whenever you see a smiley face, please remember your life in light of the judgment seat of Christ. Proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

 

 

Overcoming the impossible

WHEN THINGS SEEM IMPOSSIBLE
Mobberly Sunday School, December 21, 2014
Exodus 14:1-31

This week we’re going to fast-forward past a number of events in Moses’ life and take a close look at the most celebrated story in Moses’ life: the crossing of the Red Sea.

Here’s the story. Pharaoh had finally given Moses permission to lead the people out of Egypt, but once they started on their journey, Pharaoh changed his mind. He realized he had just lost the services of tens of thousands of slaves. Without that pool of free labor, his own people would have to go to work. So, Pharaoh assembled his army and set out after the Israelites.

The Israelites had come to the bank of the Red Sea, and had set up camp at a place called Pi Hahiroth. All of a sudden they noticed the army approaching–more than 600 hundred chariots in full pursuit. They began to realize they were facing an impossible situation, with no possible means of escape. In front of them was the Red Sea; behind them was the Egyptian army. They had nowhere to turn. It appeared their only options were to be killed in battle or drown trying to swim across the sea. Seemingly they had painted themselves into a corner and things looked absolutely hopeless.

And guess what. They were right where God wanted them to be.

Today we’re going to look at how you can deal with situations that seem to be impossible. Some of you here today are facing a Red Sea in your life: things look hopeless and you don’t know what to do – could be health-related, job-related, child-related, or other situations in your life. There are five spiritual truths in this story that you can hang on to, and I guarantee these five principles will get you to the other side of the Red Sea.

When faced with an impossible situation, the first thing you need to do is…

1. Recognize God’s Purpose for your problem.

The events in your life do not happen by accident; God is in control of everything. He had a purpose for bringing the Israelites to the Red Sea; he has a purpose for the Red Sea you face, too. He wants to accomplish two things: he wants to make known his glory to others (v. 4) and he wants to teach you to trust him more (v. 31). The Bible says…

(v. 4) But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.

You know how this story ends. I don’t think I’m giving away any surprises when I tell you that eventually the waters of the Red Sea part and the Israelites walk through to safety. That was God’s plan all along, because as a result of this experience, the Bible says…

(v. 31) And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

This Red Sea you’re facing serves a purpose. God can use it to glorify himself and to strengthen the bond between you and him. You can come through this ordeal with faith stronger than you’ve ever had before. This is God’s purpose in your life.

(Example of God using circumstances) I recognize God’s purpose in the situation.

As you face the Red Sea, remember that God has a purpose for you: to glorify Himself and to teach you to trust him more. Secondly, as you face the Red Sea we must…

2. Regain God’s Perspective on the situation.

When the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptian army approaching in the distance, do you know what their immediate response was? They panicked. The Bible says…

(v. 11) They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that your brought us to the desert to die?”

It is amazing that this would be their attitude, considering how they had witnessed the power of God in Egypt. But they had already forgotten about that and now they were convinced that this was the end. They went to say…

(v 12) “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

I suppose they’re right. It would be better to be a slave in Egypt than to die in the desert, but God didn’t intend for them to do either. He had plans for them–plans greater than they could imagine. Of course, they weren’t going to die in the desert. The Egyptians didn’t intend to kill them; they intended to take them back to Egypt and make them work. And you get the impression from reading this story that if Moses held a vote, the majority would have chosen to go back to Egypt right then.

This shows how we have a tendency to lose God’s perspective on a situation. Too often, when we’re confronted with an impossible situation, rather than meet it head on, we take the easy way out. We say, “We don’t want to face the Red Sea, and we don’t want to face Pharaoh’s army, so let’s just go back to Egypt and resume our lives as slaves.”

God doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want you to settle for second best. He doesn’t want to run from the crisis, he wants you to meet it head on–with courage and the conviction that he will see you through.

Homer Hickham was a young kid growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town in 1957. In those days, in that town, young men didn’t have many options. If they didn’t get to a college on a football scholarship, they ended up working in the coal mines for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, Homer was hopelessly non-athletic, but he loved science. Homer had a passion for building rockets. He and some friends began conducting experiments, trying to develop rockets that would fly. As the experiments became successful, the boys began to believe in the possibility of winning the state science fair–which could lead to college scholarships and a ticket out of a life of coal-mining. Homer’s dream fell apart when his father was injured in a serious mining accident. Homer had no choice but to quit school and go to work. It’s what his father expected him to do, it’s what the principal of the school expected him to do, it’s what most people in his life expected him to do: forget the dream, take the easy way out, go to work in the mines.

Homer’s dad was a miner and loved being a miner, but Homer had different interests. He wanted to design rockets, but this dream seemed to be hopelessly out of reach. He found himself facing a decision: he could either remain a “slave” in a dying coal-mining community, or he could look at life from a different perspective–that he was destined for greatness. Homer made his choice. As soon as his father recovered from his injury, he quit the mines and went back to school.

He entered and won the state science fair, then took his exhibit to the world’s fair in Indianapolis and won again. He was offered a full college scholarship. Today, Homer is a NASA engineer. There was a time when things seemed hopeless, and he was tempted to “go back to Egypt,” but he learned to look at life from another perspective.

The Red Sea you are facing is not the impasse that you think it is. It may be tempting to take the easy way out–to settle for second best–but God has a better idea. He wants you to look at the big picture; he wants you to look at life from His perspective. He will get you through any impossible situation.

Thirdly, as you face the Red Sea, you must….

3. Rely on God’s Promise.

I once heard a motivational speaker ask an audience, “If your success was guaranteed, wouldn’t you be willing to endure just about anything? If you had an iron-clad contract stating that if you dig ditches in the rain every day for 6 months you will have complete financial freedom–wouldn’t you be willing to dig ditches?” The answer was obvious. Of course you would.

We can endure just about anything if we know the outcome. However, one of the most difficult aspects of facing a Red Sea is dealing with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. When you’re facing an impossible situation, it looks like everything is falling apart, like there is no chance things will work out the way they should.

When you’re facing a Red Sea you’ve got to rely on God’s promise. What is his promise? Moses spoke to the people…

(v. 13-14) “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

God promises us two things.

• He promises the problem will be completely eradicated. “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.” We have a tendency to put a band-aid on our problems, to sweep them under the rug, to get them out of the way for a few days. God promises to remove it once and for all. Also…

• He promises to fight for you. Without his help the Israelites didn’t have a chance, and neither do we. We need him in the battle. He has promised to be there for us, to fight on our side.

To get to other side of the Red Sea you have to learn to rely on his promise. What does it mean to rely? Once again, let’s look at verses 13 and 14. Relying on God’s promises involves three things.

1) Fear not. The words “Fear Not” appear in the Bible more than 50 times. This means that you can choose to not be afraid. Of course, no one ever chooses to be afraid. Fear just pounces on you. But when it pounces, you can choose to reject it. Moses also said…

2) Stand firm. Don’t compromise your integrity. Don’t give up. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Stand and face the situation.

3) Be still. Of course, “be still” doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Moses is not talking about your body; he’s talking about your heart. Being still involves blocking out all distractions and placing your focus on the promises of God–or even better, focusing on God himself. Remember this: the peace of God can’t hit a moving target. If you want your heart to be filled with God’s peace, your heart will have to become still long enough to receive it.

As you face the Red Sea in your life, with the enemy closing in from behind, rely on God’s promise to see you through. Also, you need to…

4. Rest In God’s Protection.

When the Israelites first began their journey they were led by a cloud by day and a fire by night. When they arrived at the bank of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army began closing in, the cloud moved behind the Israelite camp, between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The Bible says…

(v 20) Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

God had not yet performed the miracle that would deliver the Hebrew people; that would come later. Until then, they could rest in God’s protection.

There is an interesting verse here. It says…

(v. 19) Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.

The angel withdrew. How do you think the Israelites reacted when they saw the cloud begin to float away? Undoubtedly, like you and I are prone to do, they thought, “There it goes. We’re sunk. God is leaving us now and we’re on our own.” It may have appeared that way at first, but the cloud moved behind them and protected them during the night.

As you face any impossible situation in your life there is something you need to keep in mind. No matter how bad things seem, things are not as bad as they could be, and the reason they’re not as bad as they could be is because God is preventing things from getting that bad. The phrase, “Things could be worse” is usually the set-up for a joke. But I’m not joking when I say that if you look at your situation with the eyes of faith you will see how God has kept his hand on you, in spite of the difficulties. He’s protecting you now until the day that he parts your Red Sea.

In 1960 a Cuban Christian named Armondo Valladares was arrested for “offenses against state authorities.” Specifically, he was caught praying in a church. Immediately, Valladares was sent to prison and for the next 22 years was subjected to the cruelty and torture that is common in Castro’s prison system. He was expected to die there. The government didn’t plan to release him and the Christians in Cuba had no hope of seeing him again. Things looked hopeless. But God protected this man. He survived. Christians and human rights organizations throughout the world lobbied for his release, and finally, in 1982 Valladares was set free. Until the day that the Red Sea parted, God protected Valladares from his enemies; he kept him alive. He emerged from prison with a bold faith and a powerful testimony.

God is protecting you, too. Rest in his protection. And as you face the Red Sea, you also need to…

5. Reach for God’s Power.

This is what God said to Moses…

(v. 16) Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

God wants to deliver you from the impossible situation you face. He wants to part the Red Sea for you. For it to happen, you have to stretch…you have to reach for God’s power.

This staff that Moses carried symbolized God’s power in his life. When God first called Moses, he told Moses to throw down the staff and the staff became a snake. He told Moses to pick it up and it became a rod again. Moses and Aaron each used their staff to bring plagues upon Egypt. The staff was waved over the Nile and Nile turned to blood. The staff was stretched over the streams and the plague of frogs was sent. The staff was struck on the ground and a plague of gnats swarmed the land. The staff was stretched to the sky and hail was rained upon Egypt. And on and on. The staff wasn’t magic, but it symbolized the power of God.

God was saying to Moses, “You hold my power in your hand. If you’re willing to reach, you will again witness a miracle.”

God’s power is available to you, too. If you’re willing to stretch, you will experience a miracle. Getting to the other side of the Red Sea requires you to reach–to move in faith like you never have before, to trust God more than you ever have before, to take a bolder step than you’ve ever taken before. I don’t know what seemingly impossible situation you face today, but I know this: if you reach for God’s power, he will supply it. He will get you through to the other side of sea.

CONCLUSION

Are you facing the Red Sea? Are there situations in your life that seem impossible? Remember: it only seems impossible to you. God has a plan. It may be something different than you ever could have imagined, but he has a plan. He will get you to the other side. And when he does you can be sure that others will see his glory in your life and your relationship with him will be stronger than ever before. You’re not on your own. You don’t have to fight the army and you don’t have to conquer the sea in your own strength. You only have to reach for God’s power.

God’s goals – Philippians 3:12-21

The famous English sculptor Henry Moore was asked a fascinating question by literary critic Donald Hall. “Now that you are eighty, you must know the secret of life. What is it?” Moore paused ever so slightly, with just enough time to smile before answering. “The secret of life,” he mused, “is to have a task, something you do your entire life, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.”

I like this! Moore recognized that the secret of life is pursuing a task that you can’t possibly pull off. Unfortunately, as Christians, we can find ourselves lulled into complacency because we don’t stretch ourselves to achieve God-sized goals. Stop for just a moment and ask yourself: “Am I currently doing anything that requires divine intervention?” If the truth be known, most of us would do just fine without God’s enablement. All the tasks that we do on a daily basis don’t seem to require His assistance. Of course, I would suggest that this is precisely the problem! We may not have God-sized goals. It is even possible that we may not have God’s goals at all.
In Philippians 3:12–21, Paul imparts the secret of life. He is going to call you and me to an impossible task that can only be pulled off by God. This great task is pursuing intimacy with Jesus Christ, which leads to significance, purpose, and joy in this life and in the life to come. Thus, Paul urges you to set your earthly goals on heavenly gains. He provides two training tips which will help in this endeavor.

1. Pursue God’s prize (3:12–16). In this section, Paul likens the Christian life to a race in the isthmian games. The goal of such a race is to win the prize (usually a wreath). The metaphor of a race does not represent salvation, rather it depicts sanctification. In other words, those who enter this race are believers who are called to spiritual maturity—knowing Christ intimately and passionately. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become so preoccupied with the tyranny of the urgent that we miss what is most important. It’s so easy to become victims of the loudest or latest commands. Everyone has a plan for your life. But you have to decide what matters most. Paul, whose focused life made him a literal world-changer, shares his personal experience in 3:12–14. He writes, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that [lit. “if I may even”] I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is quick to assert that he has not yet reached the goal described in 3:10 and 11—the prize of knowing Christ and being rewarded by Him. Twice he acknowledges this: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect” (3:12) and “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet” (3:13). It is a relief to realize that even Paul did not reach perfection in this life. He did not feel like he had arrived. If this is true of Paul, how much more is this true of me? Paul has a humble dissatisfaction, a holy discontentment. He doesn’t compare himself with other believes; he compares himself with Jesus Christ and recognizes that he has a long ways to go! Thus, Paul says twice, “I press on” (3:12, 14). This present tense verb (dioko) is often translated “pursue or persecute.” It is a strong verb that is used figuratively here of one who daily runs swiftly in a race to obtain the prize. The prize (3:14) is referred to as “it” in 3:12 and 13. The prize refers to the goal of knowing Christ that also results in eternal reward. Paul strives to “lay hold” (katalambano) of this great pursuit because Christ “laid hold” (katalambano) of him.

God’s goal is not just to “get you in the door.” He is not merely looking to “save” you and provide you with “fire insurance.” Instead, He is working to transform you by moving you toward Christ-likeness. God saved you, not just for heaven; He saved you so that you would be of earthly good. God has called you TO something. He DOES have a plan for your life. His plan will lead you to joy, fulfillment, contentment, and eternal blessing. God’s great goal is for you to pursue the prize of intimacy with Christ and eternal reward. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Thank you, Wayne, for theses spiritual platitudes, but tell me how to adopt the mentality.” In 3:13, Paul shares two specific ways you can pursue God’s prize: First, choose to forget what lies behind. Past successes are just that—PAST. Yet, it is easy to live in yesterday and revert to what Bruce Springsteen calls “the glory days.” You know, those days in high school or college when you were really something (or at least thought you were). It’s easy to fixate on past successes in your marriage, family, professional life, or spiritual life. But in our world, it’s all about, “What have you done for me lately?” This is true at work. You can’t be satisfied with a great year in 2014; your boss expects even greater things in 2015. As a teacher, I can’t rest because I taught one decent lesson. You most likely expect me to come back Sunday after Sunday and do the same thing again and again and again. As believers, we can’t rest on our laurels.
We also can’t get bogged down in our past failures. Perhaps you gave away your virginity at a young age, divorced your spouse, neglected your children, or rebelled against God’s Word. It is easy to beat yourself up over issues from your past and assume that God can’t possibly use you. This is a lie from Satan that only results in discouragement. You need to know that all of your past is forgiven, forgotten, forever. Consequently, it’s never too late to press on in Christ and be who He wants you to be. God can make a great finish out of a slow start. Ultimately, there is no past defeat so devastating as to exclude us from going forward in the present; there is no past success so great as to exempt us from going forward to more victory. Thus, we must consciously refuse to dwell on the things which lie behind us. Past failures will keep you discouraged; past successes will keep you apathetic or complacent. Both are not from God.

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than four minutes. Within two months, John Landy eclipsed the record by 1.4 seconds. On August 7, 1954, the two met together for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?” As he turned to look, Bannister took the lead. Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!” What a great reminder to you and me. Don’t look back unless you’re planning on going there. May we press on in Christ and not look back.

The second way you can pursue God’s prize is choose to reach forward to what lies ahead. The word for “reaching forward” (epekteino) speaks of stretching out or straining forth, as a competitor in a race. This word pictures the body of a runner bent forward, his hand outstretched toward the goal, and his eye fastened upon it. Paul is using this athletic metaphor of the ancient isthmian games where a runner would intently strain and win his race. Upon crossing the finish line he would be called up by the president of the games to receive his prize, possibly a laurel wreath, which was the symbol of victory. In this passage Paul is reaching forward and pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a heavenward call of Paul to Christ Jesus Himself and the promise of eternal rewards. Paul longs to hear Jesus say “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21).

In 3:15–16, Paul transitions from his own personal experience to apply an exhortation to the church. He writes, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [mature], have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” The “therefore” (oun) ties back into 3:10–14 and emphasizes the theme of spiritual maturity. Paul’s exhortation is: Keep living to the same standard to which you have attained. Apply what you know. Persevere in your faith. Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Take a baby step this week. Just be obedient one day at a time. We are all at a different place in our spiritual growth. However, as individuals and as a community, we are called to press on and pursue Christ.
As I reflected on these verses this past week, I was deeply challenged and convicted. I have a thimble’s worth of love and care for others compared to the Lord’s endless oceans of love and care. That is why I find so much comfort and encouragement in 3:15. When believers’ minds are set on other pursuit and goals, God will reveal it to them. He will make it clear. I just need to learn to leave it in His hands. What a comfort to know that when believers get off track God will point it out to them so that they can once again press on. Of course, certain believers may choose to ignore God and rebel against His authority, but He is capable of dealing with them. His love is eternal and constant.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was asked by a reporter to rank his priorities. He responded, “I believe in God, my family, and McDonald’s.” Then he added, “When I get to the office, I reverse the order.” I sure appreciate Kroc’s refreshing honesty. What a rarity! If you are honest, perhaps you would have to acknowledge that work, family, marriage, or a hobby is your top priority. Regardless, as we conclude this section, Paul wants you to remember to pursue God’s prize—intimacy with Jesus. When you focus on Jesus, He tends to grant you His grace in every area of your life. It’s all about putting first things first. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.

[You must pursue God’s prize because this is what you were created for. Moreover, Jesus, and Jesus alone is the only pursuit that will completely satisfy you. Paul’s second training tip is…]

2. Imitate godly leaders (3:17–21). Scholars often wrestle with how this section connects with the previous. However, a careful examination of these verses makes it clear that one strategic way we can pursue God’s prize and grow to Christian maturity is through the influence of other believers. We desperately need each other. In 3:17, Paul writes, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul commands the Philippians to follow his example. He issues similar exhortations at least eight other times throughout the New Testament. While this may sound arrogant to you, Paul understood the importance of providing a real life, flesh and blood example for other believers. One of the great dangers in Christian circles is that no one wants to be a role model. We fancy ourselves with the mentality of many contemporary athletes: “Just let me do my thing, but don’t expect me to be someone for others to look up to.” If you are a Christian, you don’t have that luxury. You are either a good example or a bad example. You can’t opt out of being an example. I like what Paul does here. First, he says, “Follow my example.” But he doesn’t stop there. He is not seeking to produce Paul clones. He’s trying to produce Jesus-look likes. So, he again commands the church to “observe” (skopeo) others who live out Christ-like lives. (The “us” includes Timothy and Epaphroditus.) Paul is smart. He doesn’t want all the imitation focused upon him; he wants to make sure that the church recognizes that there are many godly examples that they can learn from. Are you also able to share the wealth and say, “There are a lot of other godly men and women in our church?”

I have two important questions to ask you: (1) who are you following? (NOT JUST ON TWITTER) If there isn’t another brother or sister that you’re presently following, I can assure you that you’re not growing spiritually to the degree that you should be. There needs to be another believer in your life further along than you are who you imitate. This is how you will mature in Christ. (2) Who is following you? Are you able to say to your spouse, your children, and your fellow Christians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ?” I hope so. This is critical. However, the safe answer is to limit your example to: “my spouse, children, and grandchildren.” But this may be myopic. The average American has a sphere of influence of 250 people…some less, some more. This means that God likely desires you and me to impact and influence far more people than we currently are. How will you fulfill the influence that God has given you?

In 3:18–21, Paul gives two reasons (“for,” 3:18, 20) why it’s important to imitate godly examples. First, in 3:18–19, he draws upon ungodly examples and contrasts them with the godly examples in 3:17. Paul writes, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” Before we look at these ungodly examples, it is important to humbly acknowledge that we cannot be certain of the identity of these people. Many commentators think that this group was the Judaizers, whom Paul has already warned against in 3:3. The problem with this view is: The people in 3:18–19 seem more inclined to loose, licentious living than to the legalistic, ascetic practices of the Judaizers. It seems clear that Paul is warning about people who turned the grace of God into licentiousness, taking their freedom from the Jewish law off the deep end into supposed freedom from God’s moral law. Hence, it appears that Paul is writing of yet another group the Philippians must be wary of. It seems to me that Paul is speaking of professing believers who have walked away from the church. Paul is deeply concerned about these people and about the influence they could exert on the church at Philippi. He weeps over these unbelievers and shares five descriptive characteristics that contrast with true believers.
1. False professors are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul is not talking about doctrine here; he is referring to the walk/lifestyle of these people. It is also worth pointing out that Paul says these individuals are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” not “enemies of Christ.” This suggests these individuals may seek to identify themselves with Christ, but diminish or distort what the cross represents.
2. False professors are those “whose end is destruction.” These individuals never believed in Christ alone as their Savior and consequently are headed to eternal judgment.
3. False professors are those “whose god is their appetite.” This sinful characteristic is not just a reference to gluttonous behavior. It can refer to the unbridled pursuit of any physical gratification (an appetite for sex, money, power, etc.). Their God does not reside in the heavens but in their body. This is a graphic way of saying that they live only for the temporal pleasures of this life and their lives are enslaved to gratifying their lusts.
4. False professors are those “whose glory is in their shame.” This is a description of those who are proud of their excesses (e.g., drunkenness and promiscuity). It is glorying in their sin and their independence from God. It is a lifestyle that says, “I don’t need you, God. I call the shots. I have my freedom.”
5. False professors are those “who set their minds on earthly things.” This is the summary statement. These individuals put their heart and hope in the things of the world. Instead of setting their earthly goals on heavenly gains, they set their earthly goals on earthly gains.
The point of 3:17–19 is that people matter. In fact, your relationships can make the difference in whether or not you are rewarded by Christ. What will keep you from gaining a heavenly prize? If you are not following godly examples, do so today. Don’t let anyone take your prize.

The second reason that it is important to imitate godly examples is: Heaven is your home (3:20–21). Paul states: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” We are aliens and strangers just passing through this life. Our “citizenship” (politeuma) is not on earth, it is in heaven. Thus, we ought to live lives that portray our position in Christ. A year and ½ ago, Karen and I went to England. In order to get in, I had to have a passport – from the United States. I was reminded many times while I was there that I was a guest – not a citizen. Similarly, it should be clear to you and me that we are citizens of another country—a heavenly one! This should compel us to live for Christ and to set our earthly goals on heavenly gains.
In the meantime, as heavenly citizens we should be eager for Jesus’ return. The phrase “eagerly wait” (apekdechomai) speaks of zealous anticipation. In classical Greek, this word has the idea of a child standing on tiptoe waiting for his daddy to come home from work at the end of the day. What a picture! I don’t have kids that do that anymore – but sometimes, my dogs come to greet me! As believers in Jesus, we should have this same type of childish fervor. Like Paul, we should have a radical fixation on Christ’s return. If we love Christ’s appearing, He will one day reward us with the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8).
Additionally, we have the promise and expectation of the glorious transformation of our earthly bodies.
We are on our way to our eternal homeland where we will receive our eternal bodies. In that day there will no longer be any trials, tests, temptations, or sins. Furthermore, our body will not experience weakness, sickness, or decay. On the contrary, we will be given glorified bodies just like Jesus! Right now we are caterpillars creeping slowly across the sidewalk, unaware that one day we will be butterflies flying into the heavenly realm. Since this is our glorious future, it should have profound implications for our present.
At the foot of one of the Swiss Alps is a marker honoring a man who fell to his death while attempting to climb to the top. The marker gives his name and then this brief epitaph “He died climbing.” This should be the epitaph of every Christian. We should be able to say with confidence as we slip from this world into the next that “we died climbing” as we pressed onward toward the prize of grabbing hold of Christ Jesus and living like Him.