Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

Study 16 – 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Idols and believers

Discussion Question

What has been a highlight for you in this series of Chaos to Christ?

Background

We reach the end of the 1 Corinthians 1-10 – Chaos to Christ series and I hope that Paul’s letter has highlighted the need to find our foundation on the cross of Christ. Our faith in Christ does not make us proud or bold to do whatever we want but we respond to the grace poured out on us with a sober approach to life.

From chapter 7, Paul has been looking at some specific things that concerned the church in Corinth and pointing them to the freedom they have in Christ. It is, however, a freedom to express love toward one another and to engage in our ministry here on earth rather than freedom to do as we please. In the previous section (10:1-13) he showed us how the Old Testament gives us example after example of how people fail to live rightly before God and that we are to learn from their mistakes. He singled out idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling as three horrible actions of any believer. Back in Chapter 9, Paul talked about how his freedom allowed him to cross into the lives of others in order to win them to Christ. He said that he was willing to become all things to all people so that by all possible means some may be saved. Paul now continues this theme and concludes that he is worth following in this because he is following Christ’s example.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”c

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Sometimes something that is nothing is really something (14-22)
  • It’s not all about you (23-24)
  • Seeking the good of others so that they may be saved (25-11:1)

Sometimes something that is nothing is really something (14-22)

“Therefore, my dear friends…I speak to sensible people…” It feels at times that Paul is speaking down to the Corinthians like they are school children who know nothing but we see an example here of how Paul writes optimistically to his audience. They are more than a distant church, they are dear to him, he cares about how this letter is received, and he has hopes that they will read it with their brains engaged and ready to think about what is said. I hope this is how we address one another in Growth Groups and church services.

“…flee from idolatry.” In Chapter 6 Verse 18 Paul commanded us to flee from sexual immorality as a most intimate of sins. He listed idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling as the three examples of the Israelites failing in their faithfulness.

“…judge for yourselves what I say.” Paul is not saying that they can make up their own mind what is right or not, but to listen to Paul’s argument and examine whether he is right or not – ie, it’s not a call to one’s own opinion but a call to use their intelligence to detect truth from lies or false argument.

“…the cup of thanksgiving…” This would be the Lord’s Supper. The method of conducting the Lord’s Supper has varied over the centuries but the principle at the heart of it is bread and wine that is shared in thanksgiving for the death of Christ for us. Our response to God’s mercy must be thankfulness if anything! Perhaps our ongoing thankfulness for the cross is our way of fleeing grumbleness!

“…a participation in the blood of Christ?” While the wine and the bread remain always simply wine and bread, and while Christ’s death on the cross was paid once for all (Romans 6:9-10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a communal event that means something. It is not nothing. Paul expands on this in 11:27-29.

“…because there is one loaf…we are one body…” We are the body of Christ – this is a metaphor to express how important the church, the gathering of God’s chosen people in the name of Christ, is to God. We are more than a collection of people with a common interest. And when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we visibly recall and give thanks as a community for the death of Christ for us. It is his actual sacrifice for sins that we are remembering. Our God requires sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. But we remember a sacrifice that has already happened and give regular thanks for it. Even though a living thing is not slaughtered with the blood spilt before our eyes, we are still recalling the one true sacrifice made for the forgiveness of sins. Paul, in this letter, wants us to learn that the cup and bread of thanksgiving has real meaning. It is important to announce before Communion that all are welcome who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and if not, to withdraw from the celebration and think of what the cross of Christ means.

“Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” Leviticus 7 has background information on this. The eating of the remaining meat from the sacrifice was to be done at the sanctuary. There was a meal involved during the sacrifices in Israel.

“Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything…?” So, this is where we need to have our ears open and our brains on to ‘judge’ what Paul is saying. He is not about to contradict himself. In 8:4 Paul affirmed the truth that God has no competition. There is only One God and every other so-called god is nothing. He is not about to change that claim. But what he will say is that if you are to participate in a sacrifice to another god, then you are actually doing something!

“No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons…” There is no other god to sacrifice to and the food offered to idols is just meat that we are free to eat, but we are not to think that these sacrifices don’t mean anything! There is evil behind false religion. Just today I received in the mail a flyer highlighting how Christ’s return is just about to happen, giving bible passages and current affairs as proof. They do not read the bible correctly and they are deceived greatly with their conclusions and I wondered how a person can be so convinced of a lie that they are willing to print quality flyers and deliver them in their area (I realise others might say the same about our faith but…). There is more than ignorance lying behind the lies of false religion or heretical doctrine. There is a spiritual warfare invisible to us but manifest in the actions derived from lies.

“…both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” It appears that people in the church in Corinth were dabbling in both for some reason. Perhaps their participation in the Lord’s table (being more than a wafer and a sip of drink, see 11:20-21) was merely one meal to them and the sacrifice to demons another. Or perhaps they had sincere involvement in the Lord’s Supper and all the while participating in pagan rituals – whether they were trying to maintain multiple religions is difficult to conclude. The point remains that these rituals, both the Christian meal and the pagan meals, have significant meaning behind them and they are not nothing!

“…trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?” By participating in the meal of Christ and the meal of a demon, this means something to God too. We are to have no other God but one. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. We are to be devoted to God and not share him with anything else. The Lord’s jealousy may have brought his discipline on some as we read in 11:29-32.

It’s not all about you (23-24)

“I have the right…” Verse 23 is very reminiscent of 6:12. The slight difference in the two verses is helpful. Not everything is constructive. Back in Chapter 6, Paul was concerned about sins that take hold of a person and have master over them. Now in Chapter 10, Paul wants us to think of how our actions can be harmful to other Christians. It is not all about us!

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” This is the centre principle of this current passage. Love others as Jesus has loved you! Knowing our freedoms is one thing, but applying those for the benefit of others is another.

Seeking the good of others so that they may be saved (25-11:1)

“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions…” This returns us to the earlier principle that the meat is just meat and don’t worry about it. If you are not participating in the meal to demons then don’t let it bother you. He quotes from Psalm 24:1 but see also Ps 24:1; Ex 9:29; 19:5; Job 41:11; Ps 50:12; 1 Ti 4:4.

“If an unbeliever invites you to a meal…” The scenario given by Paul highlights the freedom of Christians to go anywhere and eat anything with anyone – being all things to all people. The food is just food as long as you want to go there and eat it. But if the fact that this meat was sacrificed to a pagan god comes up then this has now become a highlighted issue. While it was not an issue, it was no issue at all. But now, in this scenario, that the meat has been labelled as sacrificial meat, then the topic becomes important. The person noticing this and drawing attention to it needs to know that this is not ok.

“I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” Paul has been wanting us to follow his logic and judge for ourselves if he is right or not. If we are free, then we are free! If meat is just meat then it’s just meat. If someone else thinks it is something spiritualy harmful or evil, then their perspective does not change what that meat is. But the wise and loving thing to do in response is to care for the conscience of the other person. In other words, their conscience does not alter what that meat means to you BUT it does alter what you will choose to do with that meat.

“If I take part in the meal…” This meal is a simple meal at a friend’s house. They have made the meal and you are thankful to the eternal God for this meat and the company you eat it with. This is not a sacrificial meal as part of a pagan festival. If it were, then the principle that Paul is teaching us would apply too – it’s just meat, but you are clearly engaging in a sacrificial ceremony to a demon – so why would you do that! Once the meat has been declared as a sacrificial offering, our mission mind teaches us to approach the beautifully juicy and wonderfully cooked up meal differently.

“So…do it all for the glory of God.” Our stomachs and our Christian freedom will not be our God. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:19-27? We shall not allow our body to rule over us but we will say no to this meat for the glory of God. In every decision we make in this life, bring it under the filter of, “how will this bring glory to God?”

“Do not cause anyone to stumble…” This is the core teaching of Paul here. It doesn’t matter what you think of what’s in front of you, we always look out for ways to love others. Paul called it a sin to cause someone to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

“…whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…” These three categories fit neatly with Paul’s earlier description of those under the law, those not under the law and those who are weak. The whole church of God are not weak but those within the church of God who may stumble over their own level of understanding.

“…even as I try to please everyone in every way.” Sometimes the rules or guidelines get complicated. While Paul is free to be all things to all people (9:22), he is teaching us that we also need to be aware of how this freedom affects others. While being like one NOT under the law, will he be causing a weaker brother to sin?

“…so that they may be saved.” Keep this as your guiding principle and everything will be ok. Paul’s aim in life is to expand the kingdom by all possible and permissible means. His aim is not to be self serving and exercising his right to freedom.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” What a great sentence to conclude this series with! From the chaos of following the ways of the world and thinking like mere humans (3:1-4), Paul has taught us to think and act like Christ in all things. He said this early on by putting his and our focus on the cross of Christ (2:2). And as he has been talking to us about Christian freedom, rights and responsibilities for growing the kingdom of God he reminds us that we are not just following Paul’s methods – we are following the very mind and nature of Christ. He was free from all and nobody owned him (9:19). He expressed his freedom to enter into our world and become one of us for the sake of saving as many as possible (9:20-23) and he did not allow even his own body to get in the way of saving people but lay down his life for us (9:24-27) and so in all of this, Jesus Christ did not seek his own good but the good of many that they may be saved (10:33; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:5-11).

What did we learn?

In all things, do it for the glory of God, showing love and care for those around you SO THAT they may be saved. Our teacher is Paul and our model is Christ. So, engage your mind to explore the wisdom of God and turn from chaos to Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: What is your understanding of the Lord’s Supper?. It is clear from this passage that the cup and bread of thanksgiving was practiced by the first generation of Christians and it is important to have a right approach to it. Here are a couple of points to make.

  • The Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples on the night before his death was the Jewish Passover meal – something that any practicing Jew would observe annually.
  • Jesus repurposed this Passover meal to no longer remember the Exodus where God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, to now remember his death on the cross to rescue sinners from sin and death. The Exodus was a foretaste and shadow of what the cross of Christ has become for all believers.
  • It is one of only two sacraments that we observe in church life: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is a visible sign or ceremony which articulate a true spiritual reality (my attempt at a definition). They are observed in and by the church because they exist in scripture and are endorsed by the Lord himself.
  • The details of how the Lord’s Supper are to be performed are varied and customisable as long as it adheres to the teaching of Christ and of St Paul – see Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 10-11.

Topic B: Flee from idolatry. As Paul expands on this point he directs us to be conscious of what other people think when it comes to eating meat. But he also reminds us that the things that people dedicate their life to (through sacrificial meat as an example) may be driven by evil forces out of our sight. When we dabble with anything that takes our minds off glorifying God, we move toward idolatry. Paul said in another place that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Can you see areas of life where you are not fleeing but leaning toward idolatry?

Topic C: Not my good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. We saw how this is modelled to us by Paul and ultimately by Christ. The kingdom of God is defined by other-person-centredness. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist for the good of the other. Christ gave up his eternal throne in order to enter our world and save it. Christians are called to lay down their lives for the sake of the kingdom (see Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:24). None of us, by nature, live for the sake of others. Pray for God’s help to mature you in this knowledge and wisdom.

Study 15 – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Warnings for believers

Discussion Question

What use is the Old Testament?

Background

Paul’s letter about Christ centeredness has progressed to discuss Christian freedom and the possibility of being disqualified from the faith. Even though Paul is aware that he is no longer under the law of Moses, he remains under the law of Christ which is love. He is no man’s’ slave but he will ensure that his own body and intentions will be subject to him for the sake of the kingdom. It is God who saves and we now have an obligation to live for the kingdom and not for ourselves.

Paul talked briefly about the danger of being disqualified and now, in Chapter 10, Paul uses the Old Testament to highlight how we can fall into the same traps as the Israelites did. We are free in Christ but we have an obligation to love God and his kingdom values.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”b 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ,d as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)
  • Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)
  • The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)

Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)

“…ignorant of the fact…” Perhaps an early stage of foolishness and ungodliness is ignorance. Paul has said previously that love builds up while knowledge puffs up, but here he puts back in balance the need to know things. It’s knowledge applied in love that we need. Not love out of ignorance or a life living in ignorance.

“…our ancestors…” The word for ‘ancestors’ as the NIV  puts it is actually ‘fathers’ in the Greek. I have no idea why the NIV would go with ancestors. One could be tempted to say at this point that Paul is showing us that his readers must be Jews. But he teaches in Romans 9 that the true Israel are those who have put their trust in Jesus. Most of us reading this blog will not be Jewish and yet we are able to think of Abraham and Moses as our ancestors. They are our forefathers of the faith.

“…our [fathers] were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” We are taken back to the book of Exodus. As Moses lead Israel out of Egypt, they were all lead by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21-22; 14:19-24; 40:34-38). The LORD travelled with Israel in the cloud and met with Moses on the Mountain and in the Tabernacle in a cloud. This was the presence of the LORD in visual form. And as they left Israel, famously they walked through the Red Sea which had been parted for them by the power of God (Ex 14:15-31). The were lead personally by God and were delivered by the power of God from their captors.

“They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Any study on baptism needs to branch out beyond the book of Acts and listen to how it is described in the whole of scripture. Notice firstly that this is called a baptism into Moses. This helps us think of baptism as an allegiance event. As the people followed Moses through the sea, they are aligning their future with his. They are all the one community. They are Moses’ community. John the baptist was not baptising people as Christians but as Jews. He called people to come back to the LORD and be part of the true community again. Only after the resurrection do we get anybody being baptised into Christ. The baptism that Paul is talking about is not only about the sea but is about the cloud also. They moved from slavery to freedom by these two means. Following the LORD into their deliverance. Please note that, although both clouds and seas are made up of water, no Israelite was sprinkled or drenched for this baptism. A water ritual can be used to represent a baptism but a baptism is not by definition a water ritual. I do admit that, in a poetic way, the people went down into the sea and came up saved, but this should not be pushed to the point of misunderstanding the meaning of baptism. The people, young and old, were baptised as they put their trust in God through Moses.

“…spiritual food…spiritual drink…spiritual rock…that rock was Christ.” Paul is highlighting an example of how the stories of the Old Testament point forward to Christ. The historic story of Israel is more than an ancient account of how God was good to them. The story of Israel is the story of Christian faith. As they ate food and drank water supplied to them miraculously in the desert, nourishing their bodies, they became an illustration to us on our own dependance on God. Fifteen hundred years after Moses, Jesus would stand before a crowd and say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). He says this in the context of declaring that all those who put their trust in him will be accepted and have eternal life. The Jews in Moses’ day physically ate and drank miraculous food which fed their physical bodies. But Paul says, their story is an illustration of the Christian story.

“…God was not pleased with most of them…” The book of Numbers illustrates how an entire generation failed to enter the promised land because of their disobedience and lack of faith.

As we leave this paragraph, notice how Paul uses the Old Testament as a teaching platform for Christ and the church. The whole bible is an unfolding story that points forward and backward to Christ. The technical term for this is Biblical Theology. This is not to be confused with Theology that is biblical – since all good theology must be biblical. No, this is a term which describes the historical revelation of the world’s salvation through Christ. Every Christian must devote some time to understanding Biblical Theology otherwise they will not approach the bible in the way that the bible is presented. Every Growth Group leader ought to have a grip on this. It can be studied easily through the God’s Big Picture book and the course that we run from time to time at this church. It can be accessed and studied via the Introduction to the Bible subject of the PTC course run by Moore Theological College External Studies. And the writer of this blog would be more than happy to walk people through this important – essential – tool for opening up the scriptures.

Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)

“…as examples to keep us from…” The books of Narnia by CS Lewis and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan are examples of entertaining narratives which point to a deeper spiritual lesson for Christians. The Old Testament, while historical and real for the nation of Israel and surrounding countries, carries deep spiritual lessons for Christians who are saved by grace. As Israel needed to put their trust in God and not allow the dangers around them, nor the temptation to leave God in pursuit of happiness elsewhere, we are to learn from their story about faith in the God who saves, who protects, who promises and who delivers. The failings of the people of Israel are warnings to us too.

“…from setting our hearts on evil things…” This describes finding our treasure in anything other than God. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).

“Do not be idolaters…” No other god but the LORD right? And yet this command/basic expectation goes beyond idols and statues. Paul is going to make a big deal about this from Verse 14! The Corinthians, and we, need to be reminded not to be idolaters. Anything that takes us outside of true doctrine is idolatry – it captures our hearts and leads us to sin. Paul uses an odd verse in the Old Testament as his proof. Exodus 32:6b is quoted: “afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Verses 5-6a state clearly the actions of idolatry – the making of a false god and the offering of sacrifices. But Paul points to the real evidence of giving ones’ heart to anything that is not truthfully God. An idol is nothing, but denying your heart to God and desiring fulfillment elsewhere ruins the soul.

“…should not commit sexual immorality…” Paul has already dealt with this issue back in Chapters 5 and 6, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” (1 Cor 6:18). We are not simply flesh and bones, biological animals that can take pleasure as we feel the desire. We are God’s people who walk in the light, with love and self-control as a goal. Our goal can be described with more words than that but sexual immorality is a clear indication that the flesh is winning. In Numbers 25:1-9 we read of the event that Paul refers to where 23,000 Israelite men died in one day! As you reread that event, you can imagine using this as a self-discipline guide to quench one’s immoral desire. Nothing breaks the mood more than someone entering the room with a spear to pierce you and your lover through the heart! When Paul says, flee from sexual immorality, you can see how this account in Numbers illustrates the seriousness of sin.

“We should not test Christ, as some of them did…” Notice how Paul continues to draw a quick line between their faith in Yahweh and our faith in Christ. Paul sees such a strong tie here that it is Christ they were testing! The example Paul gives for this is found in Numbers 21:4-9. Notice too that the remedy for their sin was to look to a pole that Moses was instructed by God to make – much like we look to the cross for forgiveness (see John 3:14-15). We’ve moved from idolatry, to sexual immorality, to putting the LORD to the test.

A note on ‘the LORD’ and on Christ being tested by Israel. Some will ask something like, is the LORD in all capitals a reference to Jesus Christ our Lord? An excellent question with a layered answer.  Jesus Christ is eternally begotten of the Father and he is the name that is above all names. When we refer to Jesus as our Lord, we are declaring that he is the boss and ruler of all things. King of kings and Lord of lords. When the Old Testament writes LORD in all capitals, it is a signal to God being called Yahweh. The Trinity is veiled in the Old Testament (not absent!) and God does not operate or behave in separation from Himself. Our God is Three in One. When they disobey and grumble against Yahweh, it is the Lord and the Father and the Spirit whom they put to the test.

“And do not grumble…” Discontentment is verbalised when we grumble. Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:6-7 describes godliness as a means to contentment for we do not come into the world with anything and we do not leave it with anything. But faith in God, true faith, will increase our contentment in all circumstances. What do we need if we have Christ? The New Testament is filled with illustrations and guidance on how to come to Christ and find life. Blessings and suffering are put into the same category with God since both lead to godliness when viewed through faith in Christ. Paul takes us to Number 16 and 17 where the Israelites grumbling was a major disappointment to God. The destroying angel came in the form of a plague on the people. It is perhaps the same destroyer as killed the firstborns in Egypt during passover (Ex 12:23). See also 1 Chron 21:15. An angel of destruction is allowed by God to complete this deed of death. The bible has much to say to us about angels but not enough for us to know everything and it is wise for us to not become obsessed with such inquiry (Col 2:18;  Hebrews 1-2; 1 Tim 1:3-4).

Let’s learn how the Old Testament, even being an historical account, instructs us much like any narrative instructs us beyond the storyline. If God’s anger is fanned by devoting ourselves to other loves, through sexual immorality and through discontentment, then let’s be warned by that. Although our sins are dealt with at the cross, he is the same LORD who deserves our lives.

The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)

“These things happened…and were written down as warnings for us…” It should be clear to any reader of the bible that it was not written down in order to preserve a culture’s history and traditions. Rather, the sins of individuals and nations are recorded as warnings for us. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL scripture is God breathed and is USEFUL for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. This means that every page of scripture can do any one of those four things.

“…on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” In Biblical Theology we can place the history of the whole world into a few basic stages or ages.

  1. Creation to The Fall (Gen 1-3)
  2. The Fall to Abraham (Gen 3-11)
  3. The Promises to Abraham to Moses (Gen 12-Exodus 19)
  4. The Covenant with Moses at Sinai to David (Exodus 19-2 Samuel)
  5. The Covenant with David to the Exile (2 Samuel 7 – 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles)
  6. The Exile and return to Jesus (Ezra – the Gospels)
  7. The Resurrection of Jesus to Christ’s return (Acts – Revelation)

This 7th age is the culmination of the ages. The coming of Christ and his work of redemption is the culmination of all the ages before this. We live in the Now-but-Not-Yet age. The Kingdom of God has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and all who put their trust in him are declared the people of God and yet we await his final return to conclude even this age. Ephesians 1:9-10; Mark 1:15; Galatians 4:4.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Have you heard about the Preservation of the Saints? If you have then you may declare that God does not lose any that he has called. If you are a Christian then you cannot fall. Well, the method that God uses to prevent us from falling is called warnings from scripture! God has waken us up in Christ and we are called not to slumber and fall back to sleep! Of course, Paul may be talking also about falling into sin and so we must be awake and sober minded with regard to the traps of this world. Either way, the Christian walk is an eyes-wide-open walk.

“No temptation…what is common to mankind.” I love this sentence. It humbles me. I know that any experience that I may face, either a triumph of mine or a failing or an experience of suffering, I know that I am only one in a few billion people who have shared this experience in some way. Yes, we are all individuals and unique, but we are all humans with the same drives and thought patterns and so on. Why else do we have personality types and so on in Psychology. Because we aren’t that different you and I. Nobody can turn to God and say, well nobody has felt temptation like I have. I’m only human and you can’t blame me cause if you’ve been through what I’ve been through then you’d understand why I am like I am or behaved like I behaved. Well, a temper tantrum is a temper tantrum. Sexual sin is sexual sin. Humans have been doing it for generations. Every sin you can imagine, you can be the Israelites have a story about how they fell into it!

“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” We are all sinners. But God is quite aware of what we go through a) he created us b) he has watched us all our human lives and c) he became one of us and was tempted like us. God is also Sovereign and able to protect us. The question is, will we exercise our wisdom, discipline, self-control and watchfulness to flee from immorality and put to death the misdeeds of the body. In short, it is not God’s fault that we sin. Adam and Eve had it in them to say no. But sin is strong and we are easily beaten. We must never blame God for our sin.

“But when you are tempted…” We will be tempted.

“…he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This is a clear message from scripture. Treat it like a challenge or a dare”: God dares you to be pure and to say no to sin. Let me quote 1 John 1:8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

What did we learn?

All of Scripture has been given to us for our learning on how to be righteous. The culmination of this lesson is that we need a Saviour and He has been provided. We do not ignore the Old Testament because in them we find many examples and illustrations of how to stay pure and walk humbly with our God. He has found us and delivered us. Let’s listen to him through all of his word and take up the challenge to say no to sin.

Now what?

Topic A: Do you know how the bible fits together? A course on Biblical Theology is an essential for every Christian. This can be done formally, informally and even one-to-one. If you are unsure of what this is all about, please ask your leader, or one of the ministry staff or search for (as a good example and summary) a podcast by Nancy Guthrie interviewing John Woodhouse on the book of 2 Samuel. Here is a link to it…
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/help-me-teach-the-bible-john-woodhouse-on-2-samuel/

Topic B: Idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling. What a variety of categories. Take some time to explore how these three areas affect our lives and how we are tempted in them. For larger groups, you may want to divide down to more intimate groups for this discussion.

Topic C: Knowing the faithfulness of God. He is faithful in calling us and saving us and growing us in our maturity in Christ. We are challenged in this passage to be faithful ourselves but let’s not lose sight of the faithfulness of God toward us. He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We are to be aware of our sins and also aware of his forgiveness. We can keep moving forward in holiness when we know that our failings do not equal our eternal damnation.

Study 14 – 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Living the work of the gospel

Discussion Question

What does it take to be great at something? For example, becoming a specialist doctor, or a concert musician. Do you have a story of becoming great at something?

Background

Early in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated that he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified. He was distressed by the wavering ways that the Christians in Corinth were behaving and thinking and his antidote was to remind them of the gospel and how central and important it is to us all. In Chapter 8 and the beginning of Chapter 9, we were challenged to put aside the things that we feel we have a right to for the sake of the gospel. No-thing is more important than loving others with the love flowing from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once we are established in the faith because of our knowledge of the gospel, we must pursue life with others in mind before ourselves. Paul says, for example, that if eating meat will cause a fellow Christian to sin, then he would choose never to eat meat again.

Martin Luther, German reformer, in his treatise titled, “The Freedom of a Christian” , wrote, ““A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” This is something of what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

What did you see?

Structure

  • All things to all people – Submit your life to the gospel (19-23)
  • Like a serious athlete – Submit your body to the gospel (24-27)

All things to all people – Submit your life to the gospel (19-23)

“Though I am free and belong to no one…” A great starting point for Paul’s discussion is to note that nobody owns him. He is not working for a sales company, not bound to some higher order except of course to God himself. He is not bound to the Jewish legal system nor the Pharisees nor his own mother. But this allows him freedom to work out who to serve and how. We’ll see now how he lives out his freedom and what drives him.

“…I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” He will expand on what this means by example in the following verses. His attitude is to submit to people around him with rules and regulations that they feel are important. These regulations mean nothing to Paul in his Christian freedom but for the sake of winning people over he will not become a stumbling block for them. His practice is to see what he ought to abstain from or adhere to in order to bridge relationships and therefore preach the gospel. The maturity in this is that he is willingly submitting to the rules of others without demanding his rights. He is free to do this.

“To the Jew…to those under the law” If you’ve read your bible, it is not difficult to imagine what he means by this. If he is reaching a Jewish community or even attending their synagogue, he will pray like a Jew, dress like a Jew, eat like a Jew. Evangelism 1: make peaceful contact with others. Evangelism 2: win them through words and action.

“To those not having the law…” Just like the previous example, he is referring to the Law of Moses, or the Old Testament and everything flowing from that to do with the old Covenant. He does not mean to the lawless criminals. He is not telling us to break the law and infiltrate the underground to save some through criminal activity. But his freedom in Christ means that he is also not under the law (Verse 20). So he is not disqualified in any way here. But he may cross boundaries that he is not familiar with and crossing boundaries that mean something to some is perhaps his point in all this. We use the phrase ‘cross-cultural mission.’ Anytime we thoughtfully move from our familiar ways in order to walk beside another group for the gospel is cross-cultural mission. Other religions, other ethnic groups, different classes, different ages.

“…though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law…” So, when he says he is free in Verse 19, there is a clause here and that he does not live life in rebellion against God. But there is a distinction made here between the Law of Verse 20 and the law of God in Verse 21. So what is the difference? He defines it as Christ’s law which is helpful but still incomplete. The rule is to love God and love others. God’s kingdom is an ‘other-person-centred’ Kingdom and it is a Jesus above all else Kingdom. This is the law. Galatians 6:2 says that if you carry one another’s burdens then you fulfill law of Christ, and James 2:8 refers to the command to ‘love your neighbour’ as the royal law. We are no longer under the law but we remain in the order that God had created for us all and that is to love.

“To the weak…” If you are not under the law because of the freedom of Christ and yet you are still compelled to this or that, the New Testament describes this category as weak. It also says that the weak ought not be put down but looked after. 1 Cor 8:9-13 and Romans 14 describe this category and how to love one another as weaker and ‘stronger’ Christians. Paul is modelling in Chapter 9 what it looks like to be the stronger Christian and withhold your Christian rights for the sake of others.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Followed correctly, this sentence helps us to push boundaries for the sake of the gospel. We do not need to conform in one way or another but are free to ask, “what if we did this differently” or “do we really need to continue such and such”? Reaching people for the gospel is the goal. It is important not to make the systems and church operating procedure or the church culture that we know and love the goal. This Verse does not mean, however, that we become like everybody else in the world so that nobody would ever even know that we were Christian! There is intentionality in Paul’s words, rather than passive assimilation.

“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul is already a saved man, sins paid for, guilt removed, chosen, loved, adopted and sealed with the Holy Spirit. But to not participate in the work of the kingdom would be a sign of disqualification. We never earn our way to heaven, but we are all called to be disciple-making disciples. The reward we receive for honouring the King is eternal life. This is the gift given to us sinners who have turned to Christ – eternal life (Romans 6:23). In this life, and perhaps in the next (perhaps), we each have different capacity for service in the kingdom. We all ought to consider our opportunities for the gospel and pursue them – not comparing others with ourselves but knowing God and who God has made us. Paul demonstrates his passion to doing everything in his power to serve the King.

This passage, including what comes next (Verses 24-27) may raise the question of rewards in heaven. There is enough language in the New Testament to infer that their might be different responsibilities given but that the reward (singular) that we receive is eternal life. That is a free gift unearned and undeserved. But what we do with this new hope that we have is to tell the world. Be part of the mission. To refuse to get on board is a sign of disinterest in the King. This just makes no sense. (For a brief comment about rewards in heaven, I found this article to be simple and direct: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-what-are-the-rewards-in-heaven-jesus-talks-about/ )

Like a serious athlete – Submit your body to the gospel (24-27)

“…in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Paul is not inferring that the Christian life is a competition with only one winner. But the example of an athlete who is not interested in second place – that’s a good metaphor for how to dedicate ourselves to the work of the gospel.

“…strict training.” Athletes think carefully about what they will eat, when they will sleep, when and how they will exercise and test their ability. They will get a coach to help them refine their technique. They will abstain from things that distract them from their goal of winning. They want their bodies to be the best they can possibly be in order to win. Paul is an intentional preacher and missionary. He will not let leisure and self-indulgence rule over him. He is for Christ and for winning others to Christ.

“…crown that will last forever.” This refers to eternal life and not a special reward above and beyond that. See the final paragraph of the last section. The principle that Paul is covering here is the principle of active faith. We are running a race here, so get in the race. This world is full of distractions which last momentarily. But the kingdom of God is forever! A day will come when this world is behind us. We will not simply visit heaven – it will be our eternal home. Why do we keep settling for this world as our own? It is a difficult thing to lay aside sin and the things of this world that entangle us, but by faith, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can be disciplined and put the things of this world in its rightful place. They are distractions and temporary joys.

“…someone running aimlessly….a boxer beating the air.” Intentionality, focus, thoughtful about all things. We need to be Christians with the lights turned on! We cannot mature as followers of the crowds. We must grow to know Christ, and know how he has gifted us to serve in his kingdom. How can you be more effective for the gospel? I am not trying to burden anyone with anything they are unable to carry – but we do share a tendency for slothfulness that we need to beat out of ourselves.

“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it a slave…” Paul’s own body that he lives in is not his master but he will rule over it. Churches used to talk about Christian discipline. The disciplines of prayer, bible reading, going to church, being watchful of the pleasures of this life, even exercise and diet and sleep. These are all good things that drive us to have the mind of Christ. The easy path is to watch TV all night and eat take-away food until we fall asleep on the lounge. But how Christian is that? I would argue that it is giving in to the sinful passions of the flesh. We must not allow ourselves to be slaves to our bodies but we have the Spirit who teaches us to say no to sin and yet to righteousness. We, therefore, can make our bodies slave to us.

Titus 2:11-14 (esp 12) is a good passage on this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

“…so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” When taken out of context to the whole bible, this can look awfully like our salvation is hanging from a thin thread and we can miss out if we have not been keen enough or good enough. Can we be disqualified? Paul illustrates the Christian life like it is being in a race. The illustration does not mean that if you lose the race then you do not receive eternal life. The purpose of the illustration is to say that if you are in God’s kingdom, qualified by God himself (Colossians 1:12), then run the race like a champion. We are free in Christ but do not take this freedom for granted. Be Christian. Be a missionary Christian. Paul will not take pride in his ministry as if he somehow is good enough for God – he will live a disciplined life, living for the kingdom.

What did we learn?

Christianity is about choice. We can choose to get in the game, running the course until Jesus returns or takes us home, giving everything to God and serving him with our time and bodies. Or we can do the fun-run of life like everybody else – going with the flow, keeping to ourselves, holding fast to our own likes and culture and basically not participating in the kingdom work of evangelism. We have all been blessed with the gospel and also our bodies, our time, our wisdom, our knowledge, our personalities and each of these can be used for winning people for Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: Being self-aware of your gospel gifts. We are not all Billy Graham or St Paul but God has equipped each of us with gifts that we can use for the spreading of the kingdom. What is your personality type, and current freedoms and skills enabling you to do for the work of the gospel?

Topic B: Being the master of your own self. Time management, health and Christian growth are three things that require discipline to see improvement in. Are there areas in life that you could take more control over? Are there areas of life that you can see you are weak in? We cannot stop death and there are many things out of our control. But what could you take more control over for the sake of the gospel?

Topic C: What cultures do you see need crossing for the gospel. Every culture that is not your own is one that you need to build a bridge between in order to get the gospel across. We don’t want people to first have to be anglo and white before they become Christian. What cultural gaps do you see you can and need to step into in order to speak about Jesus?