Category Archives: Maturity

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 10 – 1 Corinthians 2:6-8

A gospel vision

Discussion Question

In this study we will focus on a small section of text that talks about having a clear vision. Share some stories or illustrations of what it means to have a clear view of something.

Background

We are several chapters into the book of 1 Corinthians but this week we take a pause and reflect on what is at the heart of the solution for the people in the church of God in Corinth. We have read how they were divided and quarrelling over who is the best teacher, and they have been rebuked for thinking and behaving just like people outside the church do. What they needed was a stern letter from someone who can turn their heads and hearts back to the foundation of their faith: Jesus Christ and him crucified. The letter began with a description of who the church in Corinth is, not because of what they have done but because of who they are in Christ. They are called the church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be his holy people, who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, receivers of the grace of God in Christ, enriched in every way in Christ, lacking no spiritual gift, eagerly waiting for Christ to be revealed, being kept firm till the end in order that they will be blameless because of their fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord. And all that in just the first 9 verses!

So, the antidote to the problems in the church is to stay focused on the truth about Christ. We will look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 to encourage one another to do just that.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-8

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What did you see?

 

  • Question 1: What can we say about the meaning of maturity from this passage?

 

“We do […] speak a message of wisdom (God’s wisdom) among the mature” The ‘we’ in this sentence could be Paul and Sosthenes or to all those who know the gospel and speak it in truth. The latter is a smoother understanding because Paul is talking to the Corinthians about not being divided but united in their devotion to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not listen to the wisdom of the world but we do listen to the message from God. The mature here are all who receive the message of wisdom from God. This is a beautiful insight into the concept of maturity. Anyone who grows up ignorant of the message of wisdom from God is not maturing in truth. They lack a vision for why we are here. A plant cannot mature unless it feeds on the very things that it was made to live off. A person cannot mature unless they give attention to the wisdom of God – namely Christ.

 

  • Question 2: Paul says that we speak and that we declare something. What is it that we declare?

 

“…a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” This mystery is described here as firstly hidden for a time but secondly was always provided for us since before time began. So, God had a plan, and he laid the plan before Genesis 1:1, and his ultimate plan was kept a mystery even though it was meant for our glory! The word “glory” has a sense of revealing something that is real. Just as we mature because we are designed to grow up into something, our glory is that thing that we are destined to grow into. Like a painting that has been kept hidden from view while the artist is at work but on the day that it is revealed, we see it in all its glory! So, the thing hidden, the mystery, was conceived before time began and is purposed for our own goal and fulfillment.

 

  • Question 3: How does this passage describe those who are not maturing?

 

“…not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing…” A fundamental reality to maturing in Christ is to listen to the word of God and critique the world that we live in from that and not the other way around. Sin has distorted our understanding and our relationships and we do well to keep in close connection to the word of God. “this age” refers to all human history as we await the return of Christ. “The rulers” could refer to some kind of spiritual forces (as in Ephesians 6:12) but is best read as all those influential in this world since they operate under the wisdom that this world understands.

 

  • Question 4: What is the ultimate illustration of why this world has it so wrong?

 

“…None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Imagine that the governing bodies of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day looked on him and understood that he was the glorious eternal Son of God and simply worshipped him! No crucifixion that day! Instead, they looked him in the eyes and spat on him.

So what?

This world is divided neatly between those who understand the wisdom of God, who is Christ, and desire to learn more about him and their future; and those who do not understand the significance of Christ. The difference is not about simply knowing the name of Jesus, but about matching him up as the key to really understanding life. Maturing is about knowing Christ, who is the secret revealed to those who are being matured and brought to glory as destined and designed by God. Therefore, a life apart from Christ is a life that is coming to nothing.

Now what?

Topic A: Explore Colossians 2:1-4 and compare it with what we’ve discussed in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

Topic B: Explore Ephesians 1:3-10 and compare with what we’ve discussed in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Topic C: In what practical ways do we declare God’s wisdom? Brainstorm how we teach one another the wisdom of God which is Christ. Are there any endeavours we put energy into (as a church or as individual Christians) which do not promote or support the ongoing work of preaching the gospel and making Christ known?