Category Archives: Law

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?

Study 12 – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The believers conscience

Discussion Question

What’s something that you will happily never eat again for as long as you live?

Background

Since Chapter 1 Verse 10 Paul has been issuing the Corinthian church members with ways that they are thinking like the world and not like people who God has called to be holy. They are a people set apart by God to be used for his glory and yet they have behaved like little children who think they know better than their parents. Topics covered have included wisdom of the world verses wisdom from God, the abuse of Christian freedom and how to consider our commitments in this world, especially marriage.

We now move to the topic of Christian freedom in the context of what we do because of what we believe. You can imagine after reading Chapter 8 that, in Corinth, it would be easy to buy meat from the markets that has been sacrificed to a false god. Or that eating in the very place that the sacrifice was made was part of the city’s norm. That scenario may seem foreign to our own culture where we have no awareness of religious ritual behind the food we buy and eat. It’s not quite the same as some meats being labelled as Halal but it may be tied to restaurants we can enjoy a hearty take-away meal from which are decorated with religious statues. Some in our church may also be able to talk about the meals made in their homes of origin which are linked to idol worship. Because of our long Christianised background, however, we may not feel any issues around this subject and so applying it will be tricky.

As a side note, if the subject of halal food becomes a major talking point, it can be helpful to know a little on the subject – here is what I found on the Islamic Council of Victoria’s website. It seems to me that halal meat is not meat sacrificed to any god but is prepared in a way that is kosher (halal) for Muslims.

Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.e

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Be careful that our theology does not trump good relationship (1-3)
  • Check off our points of theology – what do we know? (4-6)
  • But check also our understanding of others – what do they know? (7-8)
  • And so refine your application based on theology AND relationship (9-13)

Be careful that our theology does not trump good relationship (1-3)

“Now about…” Paul appears to be responding to questions asked by the church (see 7:1)

“…food sacrificed to idols…” Our world is very religious. All around us are festivals, traditions and practices performed regularly because of a deep-seated belief system. It may not be organised religion. The church in Corinth were subject to buying meat in the markets that were left over from animal sacrifices. Paul gives the advice later in Chapter 10 Verse 25, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience…”

“We know that “We all possess knowledge.”” Where Paul gets this line from is curious. It could be a line from the letter they wrote to him and he is quoting back to them. It could be that it’s not a quote at all but a line from Paul that shouldn’t be in quotation marks (they don’t appear in the Greek). It could be a mixture of both given that Paul writes in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” He exclaimed earlier in the letter of 1 Corinthians that they ought to have someone wise enough to make good decisions over simple matters! And that they have the mind of Christ (2:16). Knowledge is a major theme in the bible which becomes wisdom when applied correctly. The fear of the Lord (knowing his character and supremacy) is the beginning of wisdom (reacting in reverence and respect). Now, everybody in the world possesses knowledge, but the context of what follows in Verses 4-6 implies that this is about knowledge of truth. We have brains and our brains are fed by the knowledge of God through his word.

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” We have here what appears to be a battle between two goods: knowledge and love. Knowledge in isolation (with your head stuck in the books or listening to sermons and debates) results in pride because we know things. It gives us confidence to speak in areas that we may not even have much experience in. Remember how arrogant the character played by Matt Damon was in Good Will Hunting? Love, on the other hand, is a word that describes care and empathy. Paul will write the great chapter on love toward the end of this book (Chapter 13) where he describes love as patient, kind and it is not proud or self-seeking. It is not opposed to knowledge though because love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). It was once said that if the church in Corinth could understand and digest 1 Corinthians 13 then all of their issues that Paul tackles in this letter would have been solved. Love builds up. It is other person centred and is for the best of the other person.

“Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” As we read the bible, one tool to use is looking for repetitive words. See how often Paul uses the word know! (Just wait till we get to the next sentence!) What could Paul mean by ‘think you know something but you don’t know’? Could it be that Paul is a little sarcastic here? Are his hearers being accused (again) of boasting in their knowledge as if knowledge is power? Let me rewrite Paul’s words as: If you are proud of your knowledge and like to tell people what is true, have you really grasped what it means to know. Knowledge does not lead to power but to wisdom. The Greek says something to the effect of (in it’s clunky fashion) “If anyone thinks “they know” about anything, they don’t know as it is necessary to know.” It seems that knowledge is not considered a place where you land but an ingredient to living – ie wisdom and relationship. Let’s be surprised by the next sentence shall we?

“But whoever loves God is known by God.” Are you still taking note of how the word ‘know’ is used? Here it is not about what we know but about Whom we are known by! Knowledge, in this verse, is not about facts or theory or doctrine but about relationship. We are known by God if we love God. Now, take this too far and you can become someone who thinks they love God but they don’t even know who he truly is because they have abandoned the truth of the bible and fallen in love with their own idea of God. So, knowledge leads to love. Or knowledge is applied in love. And isn’t being known by God the most important treasure? He sees us. He knows us. He cares.

We can easy turn bible reading and Growth Group into an activity of knowing our bibles when it is important for us to know ourselves, know one another and know and be known by God.

Check off our points of theology – what we know (4-6)

“So then…we know that…” Getting back to the issue they wrote about (food sacrificed to idols) Paul begins to check off the things that we do indeed know.

“An idol is nothing at all in the world…” To someone, an idol is everything or one of the most important things, because it represents or embodies a god or spirit or luck or ancestors or I don’t know. But to those who have come to know the living God, an idol is just a clump of wood, clay or shaped metal. Do you think your pencil sharpener has power over you? Well neither does an idol. That is good Christian doctrine and I love how Isaiah 46 compares a nothing idol to the everything God.

“…and that there is no God but one.” And we have now a doctrine that is unique to the Abrahamic based faiths (of which Islam is one). We believe in one God. Christians believe that God is in three persons – it is a truly Christian belief and one that is very important. Deut 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Israel were informed by revelation that God is one. He is not just the God of Israel but the God of creation and therefore the universe.

“For even if there are so-called gods…” Paul recognises that many believe in this god or that god or those gods. We use the word god to describe those with ultimate power and authority. It can be one being or many. It is an english word to describe an idea. It is not a name but a title. That title can be given by us to anyone or anything, because it is just a word. But the reality is this: is there truly an author of life who is sovereign (king) and to whom we should be thankful AND has this being given us knowledge to know him? Who is right about their religion? Well, who is getting their knowledge from God?

“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live;…” This is what we believe. Our belief is based on eye-witness reports, of profound events reported, and on a consistent word that has been written over thousands of years by an army of authors. The evidence is astounding. But this is what we believe. And notice how the Nicene Creed can be heard in this verse? We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

“…and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” The doctrine of the Trinity is tricky, only because it is unique. But why wouldn’t God be unique? At a glance, Paul seems to be saying that there is only one God and we know Him as Father – plus and in addition to the one God, there is this guy named Jesus who is quite significant to us all and therefore we call him Lord – not God. BUT who else can you describe as ‘through whom all things came and through whom we live’?!! The Father is the eternal God, creator of everything – we come from him and all things are made through Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Trinity is tricky, but it is a simple word to describe pieces of a puzzle that the bible hands to us. Some have said that the Trinity makes God confusing and why would God present himself in a confusing way? But God is God and it is amazing that he is complete in Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally united and other-person-centred. God is not nor ever lonely.

Now these are the things we know theologically. And praise God that we know so much about him! We don’t live in ignorance and we are not left to guess and wonder who is out there and is he or she or it or they looking after us? Are we even on their mind? This world is confusing and crazy and it makes no sense!!! Until I open up the word of God and am told to “be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

But check also our understanding of others (7-8)

“But not everyone possesses this knowledge.” Not everyone has been blessed with this clear understanding of the living God and the comfort of knowing that our God is not in competition with other people’s so called gods. For some, the world of many religions is a confusing place. But let’s read on to see who Paul has in mind…

“Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god…” Well, this has narrowed the market somewhat. We are thinking about people who have come out of a world/family/tradition of offering meat to idols and it is fixed in their minds as something significant. “Their former lives as pagans, in which they believed in the gods, continue to inform their experience in the present.” (Gordon D. Fee, The Epistle to the Corinthians, 1987, p378) Gordon also says one page later, “The fact is that their former way of life is woven into their consciousness and emotions in such a way that they old associations cannot be thus lightly disregarded. For them to return to the place of their former worship would mean once more to eat as though it were truly being sacrificed to the god.” Paul is specifically addressing the issue of food offered to idols but it may cross over to the greater issue of anything that seems like a ‘stumbling block’ to weaker brothers and sisters. Romans 14 has much more to say on the broader topic than what Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 8.

“…and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” What is defiled? Their conscience. The principle here is that if you believe something to be wrong for you then it is wrong. It is not because your conscience is like the law but we have a moral obligation to be obedient to what we know to be right. If, in your heart, something seems wrong for a person of God to do or not do, then we must stop and talk to God about it before proceeding. Anyone could do a word-search in bible to read every verse containing ‘conscience’ and be rewarded for it. 1 Corinthians 4:4 says that a clear conscience does not make you innocent. A guilty conscience, however, is almost the same as sin. It is the internal boromoter of righteousness, which falls short of God’s final judgment but is our real-time boromoter that needs to be listened to none-the-less. A ‘weak’ conscience, then, refers to someone’s own guiding principle being too sensitive and not ready for Christian freedom.

“But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” Christian freedom teaches us that food does not bring us closer to or further away from God. Someone said to me recently that eating well and losing weight is good for the spirit – I think they said that it is spiritually important. This verse disagrees. I think they could have substituted the word ‘spirit’ with ‘self-esteem’ and that makes more sense. But there is no food, even food sacrificed to so-called gods, that will exclude you from the kingdom of God and no food that will bring you closer. This message has two applications 1) it teaches us not to worry about what food we do or do not eat for any spiritual reasons and 2) it teaches us that we are equally free to NOT eat something that we have a clear conscience to eat. If we are no worse off if we DON’T eat the food, but our weaker brother or sister will be better off, then let’s not eat!

So, our doctrine does not teach us to do whatever is lawful but directs us to love our neighbour and love God. In this chapter so far we have heard Paul say love God and be known by Him; know your neighbour and love them.

And so refine your application based on theology AND relationship (9-13)

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” We may very well have rights. But it is not our right to insist on our rights and follow through with them. I think that knowing you are free to do something and proclaim something to be right, but holding your tongue or not participating in your right out of love for somebody else for their benefit, is humility. In living freely, we may lead somebody else into their own type of sin. So, we walk slowly and it is also our freedom to say no to perfectly good things for the sake of other people which is way better.

“…sees you eating in an idol’s temple…” This does sound funny to my ears. Like, why would you even want to do that! You can picture a scene where everyone is welcome to come and feast on some really good food, at a great price, with no prior ceremony to the gods needing to be present at but that you know everything you eat has been sacrificed to an idol earlier that day. So, you’re just going out for dinner but it just happens to also be a place of worship for some. It’s not just that you are attending this feast but that you are one of the many in the church who are ‘dragging’ weaker Christians along with you and telling them that it is totally fine to do this. But Paul says you don’t understand what you are asking the weaker person to do.

“So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” What kind of destruction is this? Eternal? No, because Christ has died for this person. They are, like all who Paul is writing to, called by God to be holy and the church of God. They are saved by the blood of the lamb and there is therefore no condemnation. But their conscience is being defiled (Verse 7) and their weak conscience has been destroyed. Be careful not to import too much into one word. They are being damaged by the work that you are doing in them. Let’s remember too that we are keeping track of the use of the word ‘know’. And here, what they know is destroying somebody else rather than building them up. The antidote? Love! Love builds up but knowledge puffs up.

“…you sin against Christ.” Being unwise with our knowledge does worse than make us look foolish – it leads to sin. Christ died for them and you can’t even remove yourself from a meal for their sake.

“…I will never eat meat again…”  What’s something that you will happily never “eat” again for as long as you live?

What did we learn?

We see here some simple doctrine yet profound about the God we worship – Father, creator, with Jesus Christ our Lord, and the mediator of all creation! And yet how we apply our doctrine must flow from the love that the doctrine produces. Being a person who loves the word but does not demonstrate love for their brother or sister is a person who has not learned properly.

Now what?

Topic A: The relationship between doctrine and love. It is not enough to say that we read the bible to grow our theology or doctrine. But it is not sufficient to say that if we love then we don’t need theology. The bible feeds our doctrine and our doctrine produces faith and love. If it does not feed the latter then it is useless.

Bible → Doctrine → our way of life, love and faith

While on this topic of modelling the relationship between the bible and doctrine, the following flow is also wrong.

Doctrine/how we think → What the bible says

What the above means is that we do not understand what the bible says by starting with what we already know about God, the world and ourselves. The bible feeds and forms our doctrine and not the other way around. For example, we do not hold firmly to something like, “nobody (sinful man) can see God (holy) and live” and then struggle with any time that the bible describes encounters between God and man. Rather, we consider every word of scripture in its context and see the whole bible as an unfolding story that points us to Jesus – God in the flesh! It may seem obvious to say that the bible feeds doctrine and not the other way around but I am convinced that this is really most people’s approach to reading the bible until they learn to stop and listen to what the bible is saying and being ready to change and grow each time we read it.

Topic B: What things can we happily do without for the sake of another person’s conscience? Applying the text with comparisons is tricky since we need to grasp the lesson fully in order to view how broad the application is. You’d have to find an activity that, to someone else, was associated with false worship. It is not about offending people but about encouraging others to participate in something to their own spiritual hurt. I wonder if allowing people to continue to honour Christ with where they worship or how has some weight as long as it is not a limited practice forced on to all. There is no need to ‘cross yourself’ in church but some have this activity associated with the worship of Christ ingrained into them. To force such a person to stop may fit this area – while careful instruction over time would be a wiser choice.

Study 9 – Luke 16:1-17:10 (16:1-15)

The One You Serve

Context

Jesus has much to say to the crowds who are surrounding him. To each audience, he speaks a word that is meant for them. While his teachings are for us also, the purpose of each lesson has a different problem in mind. His teachings come sometimes in parables and sometimes as metaphor and sometimes in straight talk. He aimed to teach but also for his audience to think hard to learn his message. We are told to make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. We are told, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (14:35) His teachings in this week’s section can be tricky to understand, however it will pay for us to have ears to hear and time to meditate on his purpose for teaching each part.

Read

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6 “ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

17 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

Observation

This entire section has some very puzzling statements – shrewdness with money, a disjunct statement about divorce, a faith that moves mountains and so on. A shorter study should focus on either 16:1-15 or 16:19-31. However, a theme is spread across 16:1-17:10 regarding good management, duty and our rightful service to God. We’ll step through the passage to uncover the various pieces.

Structure

  • 16:1-13 – Money as a means, not an end.
    • 1-2 – The dishonest manager is busted
    • 3-7 – What the manager did
    • 8-13 – Jesus teaches on the parable
  • 16:14-17:10 – Watch yourselves
    • 14-18 – The evil of justifying yourself
    • 19-31 – The story of a rich fool
    • 17:1-4 – Watch yourselves
    • 5-6 – Faith is faith, no matter how small
    • 7-10 – Watch yourselves part 2

16:1-13 – Money as a means, not an end.

This section uses Verses 14 and 15 to transition into the next section. So, when studying 16:1-13, you may want to include those next two verses as well.

1-2 – The dishonest manager is busted

“There was a rich man…” There is a timeless attraction to ‘the rich man’ who sums up success in this world. The rich man in this parable, however, is not the focus of the story, but the manager who is entrusted with the rich man’s wealth. We’ll get onto another ‘rich man’ in Verses 19-31. The main characters change but the question of how you deal with your (or someone else’s) possessions is present.

“…whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.” Here is the problem to the story, what will the rich man do and what can the manager do with this predicament. He was accused of mishandling the rich man’s property. He was unfaithful in his job. When the manager is confronted, he doesn’t show that he was not wasteful but looks for a way out of his punishment.

“Give an account of your management…” This is probably a very revealing line. Jesus is taking our minds to think about what we have done with the goods that we have. What kind of a manager have you been? The manager is put on the spot and needs to think or act quickly.

3-7 – What the manager did

“My master is taking away my job…” The manager has an internal dialogue in Jesus’ story. He lays down his options and he thinks he has three: 1) get a real job! But he is not a labourer. 2) Become a begger! But that seems below him. 3) See this rebuke as an opportunity. He win his way into people’s hearts.

“…when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” He may have made an enemy of the rich man, but he intends to make friends and influence people with what he’s got. With the power still in his hands, he calls in two debtors and gets some money back for the rich man.

This manager is either a) returning less money to the owner and so making the owner look bad and generating friends for the manager, b) stripping away any excess interest and taking the final money back to a more reasonable value that equates with Mosaic law (commentators have looked long and hard into this and make a case here but not proven), or c) the manager removes his own commission from the rate so that everyone wins, except him, but he gains friends beyond this job. No matter which view, the motive of the manager is clear: to lesson the burden of the debtors and so create a better standing with them.

The first debtor owed, according to Darrell Bock’s commentary, over three year’s salary and the second debtor owed about 8-10 year’s salary for the average laborer.

8-13 – Jesus teaches on the parable

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Since this is a story focused on the manager, and that the master stands in place of judge, his response needs to be treated carefully. It appears that Jesus is saying, good job, to the shrewd manager.

‘Shrewd’sharp powers of judgment; astute; clever. Often the same word in the Greek is translated as wise, but with particular sense of exercising foresight – acting now in preparation for what is to come. See Luke 12:42; Matthew 7:24; 10:16; 24:45; 25:2, 4, 8, 9.

So, what is Jesus getting at then? The parable itself concludes with the statement in Verse 8a. Jesus’ response to the parable is found in Verse 8b.

“The people of the world are more shrewd…than people of the light.” The two people groups are not hard to understand. Those who live for this world only, compared with those who have had the light of Christ shine on them. But what is Jesus’ accusation of them? It seems to boil down to this: People of this world are very good at forecasting their future and making clever deals to place themselves well. They show worldly wisdom. The people of light, on the other hand, can be accused of not being so clever with their own future – eternal future that is! Imagine what we could do in this world if we could allow ourselves to believe that we will outlive our money and possessions! We may then actually begin to be more shrewd with our possessions and use them for kingdom growth! I accept that Jesus has phrased this lesson in a confusing way. But I hope that boiling down to a) Jesus is praising the cleverness of the manager who saw the writing on the wall, b) he used the money to leverage the best outcome, and c) the people of the light have a vastly different view of the future than the people of this age. So, be a bit shrewd, wise with our possessions.

“…when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” We must not believe that this verse means, win friends and you win eternal life. No. The future for us is eternal in Christ Jesus. So, use your resources here on earth with the kingdom in mind. Gaining friends is about doing good. Don’t do evil with your money! Don’t hoard it! Spend it generously on others. But this does not earn you eternal welcome in the kingdom of God. Rather, it is what is expected of someone who is born again into the kingdom.

“…worldly wealth…true riches.” Our interest is in eternal riches. Not coins stored in heaven but in the value of heaven itself – eternity at peace with God. Perhaps Jesus aludes a little here to all of our possessions on earth being borrowed possessions. How are you handling that? If the answer has anything to do with greed, dishonesty and untrustworthiness, then this is not the nature of someone who will inherit eternal life.

“You cannot serve both God and money.” So, what seemed confusing at the beginning with talk of shrewdness and dishonest gain has all boiled down to this simple and trustworthy saying: you cannot serve both God and money. Money is not evil, but worshiping it is. Our possessions provide us with potential for the kingdom of God. What are we doing with our borrowed money? How are we investing it for the future kingdom? It is an good act of worship to give all of you money, in thought, back to God and ask Him for wisdom, knowing what our future is, on what to do with it.

16:14-17:10 – Watch yourselves

The transition occurs in Verse 14 to move from this discussion of money and onto the Pharisees and their worldly view of things.

14-18 – The evil of justifying yourself

“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others.” It is too common these days to hear people affirm exceptions to rules as if it is ok in your case to do xyz – anybody in your situation would have done the same. The question in a Christian’s mind ought always to be something like: what is the right thing to do here. The Pharisees are now accused by Jesus of being able to find loopholes to justify their actions. Like when someone says they do not ‘honour their mother and father’ because they decided to give their time or money to God.

“…but God knows your hearts.” We can justify our actions a million times over but God knows our hearts and the intentions behind our thoughts and actions. It’s useless to think that we get away with things – even poor judgment – because nobody saw it or noticed or was hurt by it. God knows. Deut 8:2; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron 28:9; Ps 7:1-; 44:21; Prov 21:2; 24:12; Jer 11:20; 17:9-10; Acts 1:24; 15:8)

“What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” This should not be understood as God finding everything we like or love as detestable. The insinuation is that ‘people of this world’ love things which are detestable to God. We love the praises of one another. We celebrate evil. We love money! Wealth! Riches!

“The Law and the Prophets…” This is shorthand for The Old Testament. Sometimes the Psalms are included in this phrase. In the Jewish tradition, the Law refers to the first 5 books of the bible and the Prophets refer to everything else. The Law establishes who, what, how and why of God’s good promises, and the Prophets defend God’s actions in the context of blessings and cursings coming from the Law. Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets speak about Him (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-47; see also 2 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:10-12)

“…everyone is forcing their way into [the kingdom of God].” This is best to be understood as everybody is justifying their own right to be in the kingdom. In context, Jesus has spoken about the narrow door which is the only way and yet many are trying to get in through other means. And in the immediate context, Jesus is moving to make the point that people are reinterpreting the scriptures to show that their evil hearts are in the right. They are modifying or re-interpreting the Law of God to make their works righteous before God. But Jesus says…

“…easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” Heaven and earth will indeed disappear, but at the command of God at the final trumpet (Rev 21). But no man will bring about either the new heaven nor a different law. Many Christians get stuck in this area, trying to work out then, which laws do Christians still keep and which are contextual to the Jews. This approach ignores the idea that the Law of Moses is much more than ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ – they are expressing the character of God, the outworking of grace, and the difference that holiness makes. The Pharisee will ask “what is lawful?” while the Christian will ask, “am I trusting in the goodness of God in every way?” What follows is just an example of how people can rework the word of God to justify their own desires, but we must remember what Jesus said in Verse 15: “God knows your hearts.”

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery…” This is a very sensitive issue which I am nervous to write only briefly about, fearing that I may be misunderstood. Here are some thoughts to help you develop your own understanding in this area.

  1. Jesus is laying out this statement in the context of Pharisees justifying their own decisions and calling themselves righteous. God knows our hearts. The question is more about why we come to a conclusion on the topic of divorce and remarriage more so than what your conclusion is. Are we wishing to justify our decisions or are we seeking to serve God and love him first (see Luke 14:25-27; 1 Corinthians 7).
  2. God allowed divorce of marriages to occur lawfully. This does not mean that he praises divorce. It is God’s desire that a marriage be a commitment for life (1 Cor 7:10-11). However, God has permitted divorce in cases where there are no other options. If God hates divorce (NB that this is a very poor, incorrect translation of Malachi 2:16), it is not because it is unlawful, but because it demonstrates the brokenness of humanity in sin. Deut 24:1ff.
  3. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John Chapter 4, he did not degrade her for her multiple husbands/partners but led her to a new life in him.
  4. If a man or a woman is in a marriage and entertaining the idea of loving somebody else, this is already adultery and they should repent and ask God to strengthen their commitment. Matthew 5:27-28.
  5. The scriptures endorse commitment that consists of an other-centred love for one another. Remember the wife of your youth. Do not neglect the wife of your youth. Rejoice in the wife of your youth! Proverbs 5:18.
  6. Jesus’ statement in Luke 16 is a comment on a divorce-for-the-purpose-of-remarriage situation. A man cannot divorce his wife purely on the basis of no longer being pleased by her and then seek a new marriage.
  7. While God’s design for marriage is to be permanent in this life, domestic violence is unacceptable and everybody should have a safe home to live in. Anybody who feels unsafe in their own home ought to seek help.
  8. The staff at our church are available to discuss this important issue with anybody (especially members of our church).
  9. Most importantly, the goodness of God begins and ends with grace. The world that he created is under the curse of sin which includes a strain on relationships (Gen 3:16) and our first priority is to be reconciled to the God who pours out his mercy on sinners. He is the God of relationships and the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about repentance and forgiveness. This last point applies to all readers in whatever situation they find themselves in.

19-31 – The story of a rich fool

I will not go into the details of this parable but make a few simple statements.

  1. This parable is very different to others that Jesus tells. He does not introduce it as a parable (the kingdom of heaven is like…). He also rarely, if ever, gives characters in his parables names. He calls people farmers and rich men and labourers but he names the poor man Lazarus.
  2. Lazarus means: God is my help. He is probably named because the poor man does not trust in his riches but in God.
  3. It is interesting that Jesus seems comfortable to use imagery of the after-life that is found the Jewish traditional writings we call the apocrypha. That is to say that we don’t need to take Jesus’ imagery as revealing anything new or literal of the afterlife but he is using existing Jewish writings to make his grander point. He adopts well known language to make his spiritual point.

17:1-4 – Watch yourselves

We can be in the wrong by leading others into sin and we can be a stumbling block in allowing people to be restored through forgiveness. Paul talked about using our Christian freedom only in the context of loving others and not causing others to stumble (Romans 14). We must also watch our self-righteous judgment on others and not allow for forgiveness to repair relationships.

5-6 – Faith is faith, no matter how small

The question from the apostles (Luke refers to them as apostles since he writes after the resurrection), may come because Jesus has instructed them to forgive over and over again!

Faith is not like muscle growth. It is about the object of our faith. Jesus is not declaring that we can have super-powers if we have enough faith but saying: you are putting your trust in God, so trust in God. Even small faith is still faith in a huge and mighty God.

7-10 – Watch yourselves part 2

Finally, Jesus puts our discipleship in the position of humbleness rather than privilege. We will follow Christ because he is LORD of all, not because he deserves us to be in his kingdom.

Meaning

“Watch yourself” is quite a brief but ample summary of this section. Christians may very well mismanage their borrowed wealth by failing to view it with eternity in mind. Likewise, the Law of God, or the Scriptures, point us to the heart of God and reveal the heart of mankind. It must not be misused to justify our own sin. God is our help and our faith in him will help us to act with clarity for the future, and humbly for today. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Application

Topic A: My money is borrowed from God. As the manager in Jesus’ parable was in charge of looking after the rich man’s property, we have been given all things by God. The truth of this is communicated right through the Scriptures as we learn about the God who made everything from nothing and who makes a nation who were slaves to be a great nation with many blessings. We too, can look at our bank balance and our net worth and declare in an act of worship that all things belong to the Lord. Then, we can begin to treat our possessions, not as ours, but as assets of the Lord that we are managing. Job 1:21.

Topic B: Ideas on being clever with money. The shrewd manager was praised for being wise and clever with his money – he was NOT praised for being dishonest. With that in mind, what are some ways that we can use our money for the good of others and the building up of the kingdom of God?

Topic C: Do the means justify the ends? Almost conversely, Jesus states that we can try and justify our actions by saying that all is done for God or that God’s word does not strictly forbid it, etc. The character of God does not change and these are displayed in the character of the Christian as fruit of the Spirit who lives within. Pray for God to look at your heart and lead you into righteousness. You might use Psalm 139:23-24 to base your prayer around.