Category Archives: Mission

2 Samuel 3:6-4:12

How the Kingdom of God grows

A note to leaders: This section covers two chapters. This would take too long to cover in detail in one study. A decision is needed to look at the whole two chapters superficially or one of three sections (scenes) in a little more detail. Each scene looks at the reaction of King David to three types of offerings to the King and how exactly does the House of David grow stronger and stronger (2 Sam 2:1). We see, in the first scene, a man who crosses over to the kingdom of David and peace is made between him and the king. In the second scene we see a loyal member of the king’s court who is damned because he does not understand the nature of the kingdom. And the third scene similarly sees judgment paid on those who think that good can come out of wicked means.

So, will you draw out those three lessons broadly and look at the whole two chapters? Or will you choose one of the three scenes and cover that as a group?

Discussion Question

It is better to do right and not to have than to do evil and have it all.

Background (Context)

Once king Saul had been killed in battle, David inquired of the LORD and was directed to go up to Horeb. He went up as the LORD had directed him and was anointed king over Judah. Saul’s cousin, Abner, placed a son of Saul (Ish-Bosheth) as king over “all Israel”. He initiated a division in the nation that went against the wishes of God. The battle between the house of David and the house of Saul lasted a long time but David’s house grew stronger. We enter Chapter 3 with the message that David’s kingdom will flourish but what will become of Abner and the kingdom under Ish-Bosheth?

Read 2 Samuel 3:6-4:12

6 During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. 7 Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

8 Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! 9 May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath 10 and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

12 Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.”

13 “Good,” said David. “I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.” 14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.”

15 So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. 16 Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back.

17 Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 18 Now do it! For the Lord promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’ ”

19 Abner also spoke to the Benjamites in person. Then he went to Hebron to tell David everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do. 20 When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. 21 Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

22 Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.

24 So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! 25 You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”

26 Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. 27 Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.

28 Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. 29 May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.”

30 (Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)

31 Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” King David himself walked behind the bier. 32 They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also.

33 The king sang this lament for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
34 Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered.
You fell as one falls before the wicked.”

And all the people wept over him again.

35 Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!”

36 All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. 37 So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.

38 Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? 39 And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!”

4 When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed. 2 Now Saul’s son had two men who were leaders of raiding bands. One was named Baanah and the other Rekab; they were sons of Rimmon the Beerothite from the tribe of Benjamin—Beeroth is considered part of Benjamin, 3 because the people of Beeroth fled to Gittaim and have resided there as foreigners to this day.

4 (Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)

5 Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. 6 They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away.

7 They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. 8 They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.”

9 David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 10 when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! 11 How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”

12 So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

Scene 1: Crossing over to the kingdom of David (3:6-21)

  • Beginning: Abner is all about Abner (6)
  • Problem: The line drawn between Abner and Ish-Bosheth (7-11)
  • Quest: Abner comes to David (12-16)
  • Resolution: Abner in the Kingdom of David (17-20)
  • End: David and Abner at peace (21)

Scene 2: A wolf in sheep’s clothing (3:22-39

  • Beginning: A servant of David returns from battle (22)
  • Problem: Joab rejects the new peace agreement (23-27)
  • Quest: David rebukes Joab for his revenge (28-30)
  • Resolution: David teaches all the people to mourn (31-35)
  • End: Everything the King did pleased the people (36-39)

Scene 3: Using wicked means for a righteous kingdom (4:1-12)

  • Beginning: The news of Abner’s death reaches Ish-Bosheth (1)
  • Problem: The anxious king over and anxious nation (1)
  • Quest: Opportunists kill Ish-Bosheth and report to David (2-8)
  • Resolution: The King who trusts in the Lord to deliver (9-11)
  • End: Ish-Bosheth is buried with Abner (12)

Scene 1: Crossing over to the kingdom of David (3:6-21)

Beginning: Abner is all about Abner (6)

Notice how Ish-Bosheth isn’t even mentioned in this description. Abner is a political warrior aiming to position himself well in the land. He may not be king, but we’ll see that he regarded himself as good-as.

Problem: The line drawn between Abner and Ish-Bosheth (7-11)

In Abner’s position, he took one of Saul’s concubines. Saul was not longer alive of course. Ish-Bosheth’s question in Verse 7 seems reasonable except that it was a step too far for Abner. He had served Saul and had created this kingdom for Ish-Bosheth, who had done nothing. Why should Abner be denied this small thing? How dare Ish-Bosheth!

Abner decides to remove the kingdom from Ish-Bosheth and hand it to David. He even admits that David was promised the Kingdom by God (V9). He is likely to have been present with Saul when Saul declared such a thing (see 1 Samuel 24:20). In that same passage he would have noticed the kindness of David compared to the little he has gained from Ish-Bosheth.

Quest: Abner comes to David (12-16)

Abner came to David with the offer to bring Israel over to David (see how Abner feels he has the nation under his spell?). David accepts but quickly takes the lead in the agreement: “I will make an agreement with you.” He asks for his wife Michal to be returned to him but then doesn’t wait for Abner to organise it, but sends a message to Ish-Bosheth directly on the matter. Michal and David had loved one another and their marriage is a tragedy – all because of the wickedness of Saul.

Resolution: Abner in the Kingdom of David (17-20)

Abner goes around all of Israel speaking to the elders and calling them to make David their king. He is like an evangelist telling others of the goodness of coming to David. When he arrived back in Hebron, David sits him down for a feast that David had prepared. The once enemy of David was now being treated at his table.

End: David and Abner at peace (21)

Abner proposes to assemble all of the elders at once so they can set David as their king and David sends him away in peace. The future of David as the one king of Israel looks to be here. The strength of David’s house had been growing and it was about to be complete. The path? Through peace made between enemies.

Scene 2: A wolf in sheep’s clothing (3:22-39

Beginning: A servant of David returns from battle (22)

Joab returned to Hebron having fought in the fight for the House of David but he had missed the agreement and discussions make between David and Abner. If he had been there he would have had something else to say.

Problem: Joab rejects the new peace agreement (23-27)

Joab spoke his mind to David but we get no response from David. Later, David makes it clear to all of Israel that he did not betray Abner. Joab accuses Abner of being a lier and conspiring but it is Joab who kills Abner in a deceptive manner. Rather than accept the peace made, Joab strikes down Abner, both for the kingdom but also from revenge for his brother. Joab may be serving in the House of David but he does not have the same motives of David. What will David do when he hears what happened?

Quest: David rebukes Joab for his revenge (28-30)

David prays a curse on the family of Joab. They reflect all of the curses that God promises to those who do not obey his commands. David’s hope is that his kingdom would not be connected to Abner’s death in any way. David totally disapproves of what Joab did.

Resolution: David teaches all the people to mourn (31-35)

Notice the repetition in these verses of ‘all the people’. David directs the people and even Joab to mourn for the loss of Abner. The King leads the way in the mourning, it is not a show and the people followed his directions. The King’s lament asks if Abner really deserved to die like the wicked. The people try to ease the King out of mourning but he insists on grieving Abner completely.  

End: Everything the King did pleased the people (36-39)

‘All the people’ are convinced that David is a good king. Everything he did pleased them. Abner did not bring all Israel over to David in his life but ‘all the people’ present grew deeper in their loyalty to David. He proved again to be a good and righteous king.

In Verse 39, David gives us a snapshot of his kingdom. He has people in his kingdom who are too strong for him. If the kingdom is to be given entirely to David, he will not be able to restrain the likes of Joab, Abashai and Asahel. He calls on the LORD to protect and grow the kingdom.

Scene 3: Using wicked means for a righteous kingdom (4:1-12)

Beginning: The news of Abner’s death reaches Ish-Bosheth (1)

The scene changes from Hebron to the kingdom of Ish-Bosheth which, to this point, is ‘all Israel’ apparently. Abner had been killed before he was able to bring all of Israel to serve David as King. The son of Saul hears the bad news that Abner died in Hebron. Perhaps he did not hear of all the details and is left to wonder and worry about the future.

Problem: The anxious king over and anxious nation (1)

We are told that he lost courage and all Israel became alarmed. What do people do when anxiety and fear overtakes them? They fight or flee. It seems that Ish-Bosheth lost his courage and became weak. What will be the response of ‘all Israel’?

Quest: Opportunists kill Ish-Bosheth and report to David (2-8)

Rekab and Baanah are introduced in Verses 2-4 with a great deal of backstory and gap-filling. Mephibosheth is introduced here and we shall hear more about him later in the book.

As we read of what Rekab and Baanah do, two stories come to mind. The first is the most recent of Joab killing Abner and being cursed by the king for his treachery. The second is of the messenger at the beginning of the book who came to report the death of Saul (lying that he himself killed him) and was killed for his evil treatment of the LORD’s annointed. So, as readers, we must surely expect David to not like what they have done. And yet we still wonder if he will still be a righteous king.

Resolution: The King who trusts in the Lord to deliver (9-11)

David begins his response to these two men with the declaration that he has come to know that the living God is the one who delivers. He does not trust in the craftiness of men to do his bidding but in the deliverance of the LORD. He is a righteous King and a just judge.

End: Ish-Bosheth is buried with Abner (12)

The evil men were made a spectacle of. David making it clear once again that his kingdom is not growing through evil ways but growing by the providence of God. It is, after all, the LORD’s kingdom. David buries Ish-Bosheth with Abner – an show of kindness to the son of Saul.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Kingdom of God welcomes those who turn to the King. It is a Kingdom of forgiveness and peace and will not grow through unrighteous means. The LORD will welcome enemies but reject those who do not understand what the Kingdom is about.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Rejoice that we rebels are welcomed to feast with The Lord Jesus in peace. The image of Abner eating a feast prepared for him by David, his once rival and then sent out to gather in the rest of the tribes of Israel is a glimpse of the church of Christ who are forgiven and sent out to tell all that Jesus is King and Saviour. Have you understood this grace offered to you?

Topic B: Unable to forgive. If forgiveness were easy then everybody would be doing it. Abner had been welcomed in and made peace with the Kingdom of David but Joab was unable to accept this change of heart. Joab was cursed by David for his failure to forgive and was later taught how to mourn for the death of his enemy. Forgiveness is hard, yes. It was not an easy thing for Christ to forgive you and me either. But it is the nature of the Kingdom of God and the King whom we serve.

Topic C: Accomplishing good through unrighteous means. Rekab and Baanah expected to receive blessings for bringing down the King’s enemy but they did it by unrighteous means. We are not driven to stab anyone in the name of Jesus but are there other ways that Christians can be tempted to expand the Kingdom through evil ways? Lying? Stealing? Measuring the church by number of people on seats rather than souls saved?

Study 16 – 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Idols and believers

Discussion Question

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

Background

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

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

Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you see?

Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not all about you (23-24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn?

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

Study 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?