Uncomfortable Truths – 1 Corinthians 3.10-23. RBT Notes, 6th November

Fields or buildings, Paul’s point is the same in v.9: the church is the place for growth, change and development. The church is something living, a body of believers belonging to God, where He has appointed gifted and qualified leaders, and where all things are done for the glory of Christ. The church is therefore infinitely important and precious to God. No one, and especially, no leaders, should ever abuse it.

And yet the pride of men intentionally or unintentionally works against all of these truths, and blocks the work of God. Pride in our lives, our traditions, our comforts and our views, gets in the way of what God purposes to do. Pride opposes or fights over leaders, pride breeds exclusivism and lovelessness, and pride ends up dividing and discouraging churches. Pride is the Devil’s energy unleashed against the work of God, the church.

So Paul gets to work with the Corinthians. He is the appointed builder, who had laid solid Gospel foundations with them. But now he sees the false teachers the Corinthians so love as nothing but rookie builders, trying to win them by big promises and through even bigger personalities (v.10). He reminds them that a day is coming when “their work will be shown for what it is” (v.13). Even though the Corinthians have so far missed spotting the dangers, God has seen this shoddy “ministry” so-called, and will call them and all false teachers to account. And some will be saved with nothing to bring them any reward in the Lord’s sight – “as one escaping through the flames” (v.15).

Sometimes we fails to see how serious the Gospel-call is, and how high the stakes are as we seek to live for Christ. Paul reminds us that discipleship matters more than anything else: we are indwelt by God’s Spirit, and share His Spirit together as those in His temple, the church. We dare not be halfhearted about our salvation, or play dangerous games with the church: God guards His people jealously (v.17).

Uncomfortable-truths-and-uncomfortable-lies-300x201These truths are a call to take an honest look at ourselves. Do we revel in our supposed wisdom, or do we humble ourselves to trust in the apparent foolishness of the cross (v.18)? Do we place importance on our own assessment of ourselves, or on God’s (vv.19-20)? Do we recognise that we belong, body and soul, to Christ (v.21)? God knows and reveals the answers to these questions: are you clear about them, yet?

The Growing Gospel – 1 Corinthians 3.1-9. RBT Notes, 5th November

Paul has been presenting great truths about our salvation. The Gospel is the revelation of God from heaven, in His power and wisdom. The Gospel makes us mature and wise, as those united to Christ. But, Paul’s deep concern over the Corinthians is that their behaviour is instead showing that they are worldly, and childish (v.1), living out the opposite of their calling. Although they flatter themselves as being very wise, Paul tells them that in fact, they are hardly ready for more solid spiritual food (v.2). What is the proof of this immaturity? Their endless divisions among themselves (vv.3-4).

How sad and dangerous to be excited about the servants, but not the Master. And how sad to fight and divide over servants, and so fail to be united in the service of the Master. But that is what is going on in Corinth, and it has been a discouraging feature of churches ever since. The church must wake up to this dangerous immaturity, and repent of it, while there is time.

Paul shows the foolishness of this behaviour by taking a farming analogy (vv.5-8). It is God who creates life from a tiny seed, and oversees the development of the plant. And Gospel workers, what do they do? The very necessary but very unremarkable and unmiraculous work of sowing and watering. And that is all. They don’t have special powers, so they don’t deserve special allegiance. Paul spells it out in v.9, but adds a twist: not only does he underline that the Apostles are God’s servants, but he adds that Christians are God’s field. And so they are the ones God is growing. They better believe it, and they better yield to the work of God’s Spirit.

God is the miracle-worker. He alone is worthy of praise and obedience. And the church is called to honour Him together, in committed and mature unity. Can we? Will we? It starts with prayer for a new resolve, and it works out in attitudes and behaviour to fellow ChristiAns. And it always aims at the glory of God.

Wisdom for Life – 1 Corinthians 2.6-16. RBT Notes, 4th November

The Gospel sounds foolish, and the church – those who believe it – therefore looks foolish. Don’t believe appearances, warns Paul. Those who believe the Gospel aren’t actually foolish or immature, they are the ‘mature’ (v.6). And those who embrace the Gospel discover that it is God’s wisdom (v.6).

Even speaking of the Gospel as being ‘wisdom’ and believers as ‘mature’ seems to give us a pat on the back, doesn’t it? It makes us sound as if we or the Corinthian Christians are rather clever. So Paul clarifies: the Gospel is God’s wisdom, not ours (v.7). It is the truth of God gifted from heaven, to save a perishing world. The truth of God in Christ is so unexpected, so strange, that Paul points out that the supposedly wise and powerful of this world ended up crucifying Christ, and not honouring Him (v.8). And we, of course, are no wiser than they.

But God is wise, though, and He has prepared a mighty salvation for us in Christ. And notice, that as Paul uses this verse from Isaiah 64 in v.9, he is gently refocusing our attention, to the fact that the best is yet to come (a focus Paul will develop more and more in the letter). Paul’s overriding concern is to teach us that this Gospel wisdom is not something we grasp in our own strength or intelligence, but something which God gifts us by revelation.

“No one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God” (v.11). The world doesn’t, nor does the church; except, of course, unless the Spirit works. And He will, bringing Gospel truths to us (v.12). His Gospel is a Gospel of grace, and His revelation is entirely through His grace, as well. And Paul says next that his ministry is entirely centred on speaking God’s words in the Spirit’s power (v.13).

And this is all he does. This is simple but Apostolic ministry. There are no frills, gimmicks or extras, but just a sincere dependence upon God’s Spirit to transform lives through His Word. This is the commission for every Bible teacher. And the commission of every Christian is to receive those words. This is the great division between the lost and the saved (vv.14-15). Unless we are taught by the Spirit we cannot be the children of God. But if we receive His ministry, then we have the very “mind of Christ” (v.16).

Please reflect on that. We are so easily distracted and discouraged in the Christian life. We forget what is important, and what is essential. This is essential, says Paul. Remember that the Gospel is God’s truth, and that believing it is God’s way of salvation. Yes, the best is still to come; but the best in this life is found in receiving the Word of God.

Empty Boasts, and full ones – 1 Corinthians 2.1-5. RBT Notes, 3rd November

Every good preacher believes what he teaches and preaches. In fact, if he doesn’t he’s a hypocrite. And where the Spirit of God is at work, every church believes the Word of preacher brings to them.

So it must be with Paul and Corinth, as well as with ourselves and our preachers. Chapter 1 finishes with the great rallying cry of Jeremiah: “let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (Jer.9.24, 1 Cor.1.31). The boastful Corinthians need to come back to the grace of God in the the Gospel as their boast and delight. Paul is taking this medicine himself, too. He wants them to know that the grace he is teaching them is the grace he himself delights in, and relies upon. Now he shows them how he is boasting.

Comedy and Tragedy theatrical mask on a green background

Paul gives us his ministry testimony: his eloquence and wisdom were nothing compared to the skills and tricks employed by the powerful speakers of his day (v.1). He was a scared man when he first arrived in Corinth, feeling his inadequacies deeply (nothing to boast about there, v.3). He had one plan, and one plan only, to know Christ and Him crucified, and to preach this Gospel with a total reliance upon the Spirit of God to take hold of his ministry to bring salvation and growth to believers (vv.2,4). By setting the truth of the Cross before this proud, boastful city, Paul was relying upon God to own His truth, and to bring glory to His Son, by drawing sinners to Himself.

And this is what God did in Corinth, and is doing today, all around the world. God is changing the naturally boastful hearts of self-centred people, to turn them towards His astonishing, humble love in Christ, and to make them new. Paul wants nothing from the Corinthians except a renewed love for the Lord Jesus, and a new, humble boasting in Him and His Gospel.

What do we want for ourselves? We are continually hunting for things to boast in, about ourselves, and our achievements. Give it up, says Paul. Here is our boast, it is God’s grace in Jesus. And this is where God’s power is. Don’t miss it, and don’t waste your life by boasting in anything less.

Before the Cross – 1 Corinthians 1.18-31. RBT Notes, 2nd November

When we put our faith in people to bring us to God, we are in trouble. That is the case for the pagan world, with its wise men and philosophers. It is equally the danger of the church, and of the Corinthian church, with its factions rallying to different apostles and leaders. No, says Paul; go that way, and you are going the way of the world, and away from God.

imageThis part of chapter 1 is Paul’s challenge to our worldly way of seeking out human power and what appears to be impressive, and the reassertion of God’s power and wisdom through the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross looks and is foolishness to a dying world, but it is God’s power for believers (v.18). Paul reminds the Corinthians that a world full of apparently wise people only ends up failing to discern God (vv.20-21). In this supposedly wise (but actually foolish) world, God has set His own message of the Cross. This message will always be controversial, mocked and opposed. Those who believe it will discover that this ‘foolishness’ and ‘weakness’ are in fact God’s wisdom and power (vv.22-25).

How much we need to remind ourselves of this. No wisdom gets us to God, only God’s wisdom can bring us to Him. This is His achievement in the Cross. And it is never something we ourselves have worked out, or deserve any credit for realising. In fact, read vv.26-30: when we are tempted towards Corinthian boasting in ourselves, we need to remember that we really aren’t anything special, and are maybe even some of the weak and foolish God has chosen to shame the wise and strong (v.27). Out trouble is that we think far too little of ourselves, and our danger is that we think often far too little of Christ, and the wonder of His Cross.

Here’s a recommendation: if you are proud, and are troubled by it, take the medicine of v.30: reflect on who Jesus Christ is, and all the riches of God’s grace offered to us in Him. Pause, meditate, reflect, wonder, praise, confess and commit. Before Him, there can be no boasting. And in Him there is true life.

Grace for all, to change all – 1 Corinthians 1.1-17. RBT Notes, 1st November

This letter is a love letter. But not that sort of letter. There is nothing sentimental, and nothing schmaltzy, about how Paul writes to the Corinthians. This love is tough, unsettling and to the point. But with the toughness there is plenty of tenderness, as well. Paul has some hard things to say about life in the Corinthian church, yet no one can accuse him of not being transparently caring, too.

Take the first nine verses of chapter 1. Paul asserts his God-given authority (v.1), and straightaway affirms his fellowship with the Corinthians, as those set apart by God in Christ as holy people, and called to a life of ongoing holiness. This is their and every Christian’s calling: we share one identity and one pursuit as Gospel people (v.2). Whatever hard things Paul is going to say to them – and God is going to say to us – we need to know that we are one in the life of Christ Jesus.

Verses 4-9 are all the more stunning the more you appreciate just how far the Corinthians are from living out their calling as holy people in Christ. The more we learn of their pride, their immorality, and their lack of love, the more we see Paul’s humble affirmation of them as fellow Christians – these the people who are causing him so much heartache! He knows that have received grace in Christ, and have the riches of gifting and wisdom (vv.4-7). He is confident also that God will complete His good work, to see them all safely to heaven.

These words are so stunning that some readers think that this is all heavy irony! Afterall, the Corinthians are proud of their wisdom, childish in their display of their gifts, and some are doing all they can to risk their Christian life through ungodly living. But there is no irony here. Paul isn’t being snide or sarcastic: he is doing precisely what we often find so difficult. He is swallowing his frustrations and refusing to accuse or berate these too-often immature Christians. He is recognising God’s grace in these believers, and he is celebrating God’s grace, despite the pain that these Christians have caused him.

The lesson for us is clear: sometimes we need to swallow our difficulties with others and instead thank God for His grace in their lives. Yes, they have a long way to go, and yes, they have caused us problems. And yes, God is their Saviour, He indwells them and He loves them. So we learn to thank Him for His grace, and to treat them as our family in Christ.

And now Paul can speak the truth in love. He is devastated that a church who share Christ can be so divided over their earthly leaders. The quarrels Paul has heard about leaders dismay him, and destroy their unity (vv.10-12). If Christ was crucified for them, and if they were baptised into His life, then they need to start living together under His Lordship, not dividing over human loyalties (vv.13-17). Whatever authority Paul has, it was only given him in order to exalt Jesus, and the message of His Cross. He longs that they would grasp that, and embrace Jesus and each other. May God give us the grace to do the same.