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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 13 – 1 Corinthians 9:1-18

Supporting the work of the gospel

Discussion Question

While there is free-to-air television, paid streaming services are thriving in business. What is going on there? Can you think of other examples where you might be inclined to pay more money for something that you could get for a lot cheaper or even free?

Background

In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul quoted the Corinthians as saying, “I have the right to do anything.” Since then, Paul has discussed sexual immorality as a sin that must be avoided and marriage as a haven for sexual morality but in no means a human right. Then in Chapter 8 he spoke about the freedom to eat whatever you like as well as the freedom to abstain from food for the sake of a brother or sister. So, although there is freedom, there is also wisdom, responsibility and morality.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:1-18

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”k Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Paul’s claim to apostleship (1-2)
  • It’s his right to be looked after (3-12a)
  • But he did not exercise his rights (12b)
  • It’s a command of the Lord (13-14)
  • But he will not make full use of his rights (15-18)

Paul’s claim to apostleship (1-2)

“Am I not free?” Free from what? Or free to do what? Paul has been talking about Christian freedom and how we are to not treat it as a right but as a freedom – meaning we are equally free to abstain from whatever it is that we are free to do! So, what is Paul free from or to? It could refer to his freedom in Christ, just as his readers are free in Christ. Or it could refer to his freedom from general work to do gospel ministry. The content of what follows seems to be an argument from Paul on how he should expect better treatment from some just as other apostles are treated with respect and financial assistance. There could be a double meaning here because on the one hand he is free to make wise godly decisions and yet he is not free because others are holding back their generosity toward him. Yet, he will conclude, even if he was given the choice, he would prefer not to be assisted by the Corinthians to do what he is obligated to do. What a confusing way to start Chapter 9. He continues to ask rhetorical questions which imply the answer: YES and yet they imply that perhaps the reader isn’t as clear on the answer as Paul would want them to be. Let’s move on.

“Am I not an apostle?” Answer: yes! But again, the implication is that Paul isn’t so sure that his readers know this like he knows it. Words can have multiple meanings until they are used in context and then their meaning becomes clear(er). ‘Apostle’ simply means ‘sent one.’ Paul is using the word as a unique reference to a select bunch if men personally selected by Jesus and sent by Him to spread the good news. While Paul is no different to any other sinner who trusts Jesus for his salvation, he has a special role in the history of that salvation. But Paul is not like every other Christian because he is an Apostle. He is free like every Christian and he has the duty of an Apostle. The Corinthians are being reminded of this. Here are some bible references to increase your knowledge of Apostleship: Luke 6:13; Acts 1; 2:42-43; 4:33; 9:27; Romans 11:13; 1Cor15:9; 2Cor12:12; Eph 2:20; Eph 4:11; Rev 2:2.

“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Paul’s apostleship is not based on human election but by personal invitation of our Lord. Note that Paul is laying out some credentials on a basic agreement of the church: that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our King. If you do not think Jesus to be Lord, then join a different church. And Jesus had personally met Paul (Saul) and called him to be an apostle – a sent one. Acts 9:27; 2Cor 12:12;Gal 1:1; Galatians 1:11-24; Gal 2:8; and the first verse of almost all of Paul’s letters!

“Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” Paul’s credentials also include his converts. The church in Corinth exists because of his work there. The irony unfolding in this passage is that Paul is free in Christ and yet compelled to preach the gospel. The church were seemingly mistreating their father in the faith. Even when they praise Cephas and boast in him, they fail to love the apostle they owe their eternal life to. Paul is not just an Apostle – he is their Apostle!

“Even though i may not be an apostle to others…” Paul hints here that some may question his validity as an apostle. Being an apostle was a

“”For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” His work in the Lord has resulted in saved souls. Imagine an Apostle with no disciples? God’s work through us is a seal of the work that we do. Gifts and church office are secured by Christians seeing God at work through those talents or according to the office held. If Paul could not name a single convert, you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone of his credentials – but he has churches from multiple cities as a seal of his work in the Lord.

It’s his right to be looked after (3-12a)

“This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.” It’s unclear whether ‘this’ refers to what he has just said in Verses 1 and 2 to defend his position as an apostle and true worker of God, or if it is what follows after this sentence. It probably doesn’t matter in the end because he is making a two part argument that depends on one another. 1) he is an approved worker in God’s kingdom who the Corinthians, if anybody, ought to recognise (Verses 1-2); 2) doesn’t he have as much right as any of the other apostles?

“Don’t we have the right….?” Verses 3-6 remind us of this issue of what our rights actually mean in Christ – all things are permissible…and an apostle has freedoms too. IF Paul wished to, he should be able to marry a believing woman who can partner with him in mission but it seems that his readers are critical of what he is or isn’t allowed to do. We should recall the earliest chapters where the issue was about which is the best leader – Cephas was listed there too. And we should recall chapter 7’s discussion on the place of marriage and Paul’s decision in Christ to remain unmarried. It appears that some in judgment over Paul were placing restrictions on his freedom – restrictions that only Paul is free to place on himself.

“Who serves as a soldier…plants…tends flock…?” Three examples given to clearly illustrate that a worker is not deprived of some goodness in the work also. The real issue that Paul has with the church is getting sharper as it seems like they were not respecting him nor caring for him in his work.

“For it is written…” Paul abandons human logic and refers to the word of God. These are not exclusively different from one another as the word of God is the wisdom of God – but it appears through the wisdom of this world as foolishness – especially at its core. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 which Paul easily applies as illustrative of a greater principle: don’t be an uncaring master – let the worker have joy in the work.

“…sown spiritual seed…reap a material harvest from you?” Although grace is free, the messenger needs to eat.

“…shouldn’t we have it all the more?” Paul is not simply saying that he is an apostle but he is THEIR apostle. Why, after receiving the gospel of eternal life from Paul, are the Corinthians happy to provide financially to legends who have no direct dealings with them and neglect their own father in the faith?

But he did not exercise his rights (12b)

“…we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” Paul’s priority is to preach Christ crucified. If demanding financial assistance got in the way of the message, he denied his right to ask for it. But the time has come for the church in Corinth to grow up and receive a lesson on generosity, thankfulness and responsibility.

It’s a command of the Lord (13-14)

“Don’t you know…?” Paul takes them again to the word of God to remind them of the principle that has been established long ago by God. Lev 6:16, 26; Dt 18:1.

“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Paul has taken the Old Testament command and directly applied it to the New Testament equivalent of the priest. In the Old Testament, the priest received and moderated the sacrifice of atonement for the people – and he taught the law to the people (Lev 10:11; 2 Chron 15:3; Jer 18:18; also Ezek 22:26; Micah 3:11). Now see the description of Paul’s office in Romans 15:16, “[God] gave [Paul] the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The preaching of the gospel is a priestly duty. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 uses the same Old Testament reference of the ox to declare that people who oversee the affairs of the church are to receive payment for their work. It is a command of the Lord.

But he will not make full use of his rights (15-18)

“I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.” It is odd that Paul who would elsewhere say let anyone who boasts, boast in the Lord and not themselves. Yet he is ‘proud’ (perhaps?) of his service to the Lord that has not required financial help from various places including Corinth. So, if he is not trying to coax money from them, what is his purpose of writing this? He explains in Verses 16-18 that he is concerned only about preaching the gospel and is compelled to by his own conviction that he is preaching the God’s message of salvation and so, he simply wants his readers to observe this approach to his ministry and grow themselves up because of his example. That is, he does not teach them in order for them to cough up the dough – but to inform them of the reality so that they can learn to respect the gospel, see the true worth of what they have received and learn to be more mature in their treatment of others.

“…I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach.” Whether they support his work or not, it won’t matter, because he will keep preaching until he dies. He will not stop and wait to receive support. He will keep preaching and keep watching the work of God active in the lives of people.

“…and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” Just as the proof of Paul’s ministry is in his converts, there is also evidence of his own salvation and true service because it is the work itself that is his reward.

What did we learn?

The bible provides plenty of information to lead us to Godly, wise decisions and practices without treating them as law. The principle of giving for the work of the gospel is clear from Scripture. Yet, it ought not be demanded of people to give. Let the gospel bring new life and let the word of God convict true converts of how to respond to God. The gospel does not cost money and it ought never be a chore to share it and preach it. Recipients of grace are faced with the wisdom of God on how to treat those who, by the testimony of their own work, are called by God to preach the gospel.

Now what?

Topic A: The call of God to be a preacher. Some say that you need to be called by God to enter the ministry and some say that this is an unbiblical use of the word ‘calling’. The bible definitely uses the concept of being ‘called by God’ when talking about salvation. Every born again Christian has been called by God. The bible also describes bible teachers and preachers as being gifts given by God for the church (Ephesians 4). But Paul doesn’t use the word ‘calling’ to describe an overseer or preacher but rather that their lives and abilities lend themselves to this role and that they prove themselves to be fitted for such a task as they get on with the job of preaching and teaching. Paul, of course, describes himself as being ‘called to be an apostle’ but this is different to the topic of being called to be a preacher.

Topic B: Giving financially to the work of God. After reading this passage, giving financially to the work of preaching the gospel ought to make sense. The hope is that every believer will prayerfully and wisely decide how they are able to contribute – when, where and how. If wish to have a mobile phone then we pay for a phone plan. If we wish to own or rent property then we pay for that too. If we want to eat, we usually give money to someone for that. How do we consider being recipients of good bible teaching and of sharing the gospel in the local area and across the globe?

Topic C: Never being a hindrance to the gospel. Paul would not let an issue like money stand in the way of getting the gospel out. He was compelled to preach and would be damned if he stopped. What ways can the spreading of the gospel be hindered? Are there changes we or you could make to allow the gospel to go further?

Study 11 – Luke 18:31-19:27 (19:11-27)

The Time is Coming

Context

It was Peter, back in Chapter 9 who declared that Jesus is God’s Messiah. In that same chapter, Jesus forewarned his disciples on what to expect when they go to Jerusalem (9:22, 44). Jesus and his twelve disciples have been travelling toward Jerusalem for these past 9 chapters. A common theme in this travelling narrative has been about what kind of a person will choose to follow Jesus. Now, in Chapter 18 Verse 28, Peter declared that he and the disciples had left everything to follow him. He made this announcement because Jesus watched a rich man choose wealth ahead of the kingdom of God. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” said Jesus, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

As Jesus and the twelve come close to Jerusalem, is there an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus when he calls?

Read

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Observation

I suggest reading the whole passage as a Growth Group to get the big picture and then focus in on either 18:31-43; 19:1-10; or 19:11-27.

Growth Group Leader Tip: think about how much context and info is needed to deliver to your group in order to let the group discuss your selected text for themselves. As leaders, we are trying to encourage group discussions and, when the discussions have landed well, praise the group and let them know that they have done a good job. What 20% material do you need to provide in the form of context, recapping and orientation and discussion guiding SO THAT your group speaks for 80% of the time?

Structure

 

  • 18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

 

      • 31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying
      • 35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

 

  • 19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

 

    • 1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus
    • 5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner
    • 8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God
  • 19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards
    • 11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages
    • 15b-19 – The faithful servants
    • 20-23 – The bad servant
    • 24-27 – Rewards and punishments

 

18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying

“…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” That there is a remarkable statement! The disciples are given notice that they are about to witness the fulfillment of generations of prophecies where God promises to come to Zion and redeem it! What parts of the bible is he referencing? Well, that’s like looking at a cup of tea and asking which part has the tea flavour in it!!! The most interesting and jaw dropping lesson that a Christian can do is to sit under a teacher of Biblical Theology (God’s Big Picture is an example of this teaching) and get a handle on how the entire bible speaks of Jesus. Sometimes, the prophecies are clear and obvious (2 Samuel 7) but often the lessons are part of a greater theme that travels across the whole bible. Three key features emerge when reading all of the prophets:

  1. The ultimate solution to the problem of sin and judgment in Israel and all the world is for God himself to come and do something about it! (Malachi 3:1)
  2. When God saves, it will be through the line of David. (2 Samuel 7)
  3. This king who is promised will be a suffering servant. (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53)

One thing is certain, when the prophets spoke the word of the LORD in the Old Testament, they were not simply telling Jews how to be Jewish! They were proclaiming the works of the LORD, the sinfulness of man, the coming judgment and need to repent, and the promise of a saviour greater than Moses, David and Elijah.

“He will be delivered over to the Gentiles…” Gentiles is synonymous with Nations. In the story of God’s salvation plan (the Old Testament), the nations represent the rest of the world that lives outside the boundaries of the promised land of Israel. They were not living in direct blessing as Israel was. When God was angry with Israel, the ultimate judgment was being exiled from Israel into all the nations. When Jesus gets handed over to the Gentiles (Pilate and the Romans), this is yet another strike of shame and judgment illustrated in the person of Jesus. When he dies on the cross, he is undergoing the shame and judgment that God would deal out on Israel.

“They will…kill him…he will rise again.” We’ve been saying that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and knew that this would mean his death. The accounts of Jesus present us with a man who knew the future and knew why he was walking directly into it. He also knew that what he was accomplashing was not just an example to others of laying down your life for love but that it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. We put our trust in Jesus as LORD for such a deep and well founded bunch of reasons. The more we know about this man, the more convinced we become of who he really is.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden…” Peculiar that although they were told bluntly with their own native language what was about to happen, with no obscure riddle or parable to veil it, and yet the meaning was hidden from them. Are we being told that they didn’t understand because of their own blindness or are we being told that even direct communication can be made muddy by the work of the Spirit? If the latter, then God may very well be protecting them and the mission of God while also laying out the plans for later revelation. Mark 9:32 gives the impression that they were confused by Jesus’ words and that they were too frightened to ask him about it. They later understood all too well what he meant (Acts 2:23).

As we leave this paragraph, notice that we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and he knows that he must go to Jerusalem to conquer the grave but his disciples are blind to see all that he is talking about. The next story Luke gives us is of a blind man who saw more than all the crowds did.

35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

“As Jesus approached Jericho…” In the next story we will see that he arrives in Jericho where we meet Zacchaeus. Jericho was the famous location where the people of Israel first entered the promised land and defeated the city by marching around it and blowing their trumpets. I see no importance to the mention of this city other than to locate us about 27km outside of Jerusalem and on our way to see Zacchaeus.

“…a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” Incredibly, the moments that Jesus heals blind people, are often paralleled with stories of the disciples or the Pharisees being blind even though they see.

“They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”” Well, it may not seem like much but this is a pointed moment in the story. See, the crowd refer to Jesus as the Jesus of Nazareth. This is no big deal at all. Of course, everyone knew that this Jesus was a teacher and healer but he is given only an earthly name. Jesus was a common name and so the Nazareth is added to be specific. We’ve just left the last paragraph telling us that Jesus is this ‘Son of Man’ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament! Notice how the blind man refers to him!

“Son of David, have mercy on me!” This blind man must have heard all the reports about Jesus and believed in his heart that this man is the promised descendant of David. This is a Messianic title (Luke 20:41). David was the king of Israel – God’s anointed king. His throne was promised to endure forever (2 Sam 7). The man does not name him Jesus of Nazareth as he was told, but Son of David. He cries out for the Messiah to stop and show him mercy and healing. The legend of Jesus as a healer was well known.

“Lord, I want to see.” When asked by Jesus what he wanted, he declared that he wanted to see. He did not doubt that Jesus was a healer. If Jesus willed, then he could be healed.

“…your faith has healed you.” Not the amount of faith but the object of his faith. This man believed who Jesus was and that Jesus could heal. We are told that if we believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he was raised from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). This man believed that Jesus was the son of David – the Christ – and that he could heal with his will.

“When all the people saw it…” Notice this theme of the crowd beginning to see who Jesus is rather than just the blind man receiving sight. As readers of Luke’s account, we can see who Jesus is, who sent him, what he has come to do, what he is about to do in the story, how people ought to respond and what Jesus has to offer: the Kingdom of God.

19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.” Luke mentions this town for a second time and yet tells us that Jesus is passing through. Obviously he is heading to Jerusalem – we get that! But his encounter with the blind man and now with a tax collector seem almost too wonderful to be acts of ‘passing through.’ We have learned that those who have eyes to see (and ears to hear) will see that Jesus is the Christ who has come to show mercy and conquer the grave. Now, we will see the story of how the kingdom of God is open to all sinners and what a sinner will do once they have ‘seen’ Jesus.

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus…” The blind man was not named but we know this little man’s name. He has gone down in history as a brilliant example of the response of a saved sinner. He will show us that God is not looking for good people but that once you are saved you will no longer regard the things of this world the same again.

“…he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” Jesus has spoken against rich as a hindrance to the kingdom of God (Luke 6:24; 8:1412:16ff; 16:19ff; 18:24-25). Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector, presumably having a network working below him. Tradition tells us that his position leant to dishonest gain but he is referred to as a sinner because of his workings with the Roman empire to collect taxes for them. When he is converted, he says IF I have cheated anybody. Not an argument for him being an innocent man but only as corrupt as he was expected to be in his occupation. We need to be able to see ourselves in this character without turning him into some Mafia thug.

“…he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see [Jesus]…” I’ve often wondered why the height of this man is important or even why climbing a tree was significant. It makes for a cute story and good children’s illustrations but what is Luke telling us this for? Although wealthy and powerful (money brings power), he was noticeably short. Not an impressive man. He was not a fast rolling Tom Selleck kind of guy or impressively awesome like King Saul was described. He was a nobody who had money. A sycamore tree was very common (1 Kings 10:27). Finally, and probably most importantly, Zacchaeus was keen to meet Jesus and went out of his way to get a look. He was beyond curious. When Jesus came near, Zacchaeus went to meet him.

5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner

“…[Jesus] looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’” It seems like Jesus knew that this sinner was ready to become a Christian. Zacchaeus was curious and made a move but Jesus already knew him, calling him by name, and said, it’s time that we spoke. What an amazing picture of a Christian’s conversion moment. It’s not that we come to Jesus but that he comes to us. He sees us from afar. He knew Zac before he was even born. Ephesians 1:4.

“…the guest of a sinner.” Jesus did not come to save the righteous but sinners. How often we fall into the headspace of the people in this story though! We may get that God saves sinners and we are all sinners, but what about THAT guy?!! No, God shows no favouritism.

8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord…” The ‘But’ in Verse 8 ties Zac’s response to the remarks of the people in Verse 7. Although they were poo-pooing what they were seeing, Zach says No way man! I’m changed and I’m for the Kingdom of God now!

“…half of my possessions to the poor…” Remember the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-15)? Zach has put money in its place! He is not selling everything but he has taken his account and shown generosity – radical generosity. Like, maybe instead of sitting on $1M, he will now live of $500K, or whatever. If he was a very wealthy man, then 50% of his wealth is probably still a good amount to live off – practical and still able to continue to do good in his position.

“…I will pay back four times the amount.” His repentance is certainly not half-hearted. What a turn-around for this guy! What a difference Jesus makes to people! We cannot serve both God and money.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…’” It is not his generosity that has saved him but this is the outworking of his faith. All of his hope is in Jesus now. His hopes and desires are for God and his Messiah. He is no longer to be called a sinner but a son of Abraham. His title and reputation in the sight of God has been changed.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He is like the shepherd who travels to find his sheep. Our God is compassionate and abundant in mercy. We remember that Jesus also said that this Son of Man will arrive in Jerusalem to be handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked and killed and three days later rise again. Salvation will be via the cross but salvation will be personal too, like this intimate story of Jesus and a lost sinner. Zac was lost, but now he is found.

19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards

11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages

“While they were listening…” I think it’s kinda cool to picture the teaching of Jesus happening in the presence of Zacchaeus, in his house, knowing that he is approved by Jesus because of his faith. This story is not a Zacc attack.

“…because…people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Jesus is about to reach Jerusalem and many thought that, if Jesus is the Son of David, then this is the time for God to fulfill all prophecy and usher in the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the whole world will be in awe and come from the ends of the earth to see the Messiah ruling. Jesus is going to show them that the fulfillment will not happen so neatly.

“…A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” As the parable continues, it seems clear that Jesus is the appointed king. But, to map the details too neatly onto Jesus becomes tricky. Parables are like an artist’s impression of something and is given to make a point. In history, Herod the Great travelled to Mark Antony to receive his kingship over the Jewish region. So, the hearers would understand this principles of this parable. Jesus, however, left which place to be appointed King? Which servants in the place that he left, did he leave a task to be good stewards? This parable is dealing with the time between Jesus first and second coming. Before His kingship is totally realised, he will leave his stewards to manage in his absence.

“But his subjects hate him…we don’t want this man to be our king.” Historically, Archelaus was appointed ethnarch, rather than king, of Judea, Samaria and Idumea because the Jews sent a delegation to Augustus protest his rule. This is true of Jesus’ kingship and will be a reality when he arrives in Jerusalem. Although he is destined to be the King, he will be rejected and mocked and sent to the cross to be killed – eliminated from kingship.

“He was made king, however, and returned home.” Jesus will not be stopped as king and his kingship is a reality now (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; Rev 3:21). His crowning moment was at the resurrection (Romans 4:1). His return is the second coming. Recall the parable of the shrewd manager who had to give an account of his management. This parable shares a similar tone. The emphasis, in this parable, however, is on the servant who failed to be faithful.

15b-19 – The faithful servants

“…he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money…” The ten minas that ten of his servants had received was about 4 months worth of wage. Not an amazing amount. On Jesus’ return, he first deals with the servants that he had given responsibility to manage while he was gone.

“Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” The first servant has doubled the kings property. His reward is to be given the command of ten cities. Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…”

“Sire, your mina has earned five more.” The second servant increases the kings wealth by 50% of what he received and is rewarded with a proportion worthy of his stewardship. He is still congratulated. This reward is not a punishment but a proportional reward. Do we get different rewards in heaven (I hear people asking in Growth Groups)? What the rewards in heaven equate to is unclear and not important. We know that all Christians are promised to be co-heirs with Christ to share in His glory. What else could we want on top of that?! The language of rewards and great rewards is an earthly way of motivating us to persevere in the faith. In this life, Christians will seem to not gain much or any credit for their works. But they do not go unnoticed by God. We are not saved by grace in order to be slothful for the kingdom. God has saved us in order to mature fully in Christ. Be for the kingdom and be active for the kingdom. Whether we double what God has given or if we are small workers in the kingdom, we are sure that the God who graced us with salvation will continue to bless us in the age to come.

20-23 – The bad servant

“…here is your mina…I was afraid of you.” This poor servant has done nothing with the King’s riches. He will also be judged for his slothfulness due to his disengagement with the king’s work. He gives a pathetic excuse for doing nothing for the king.

“…you wicked servant!” It is true that a person is either for Jesus or they are against Him. Many who believe they are safe because they believe in God will be judged as wicked by Christ because they did not pursue Him, serve Him, love Him, or know Him.

“Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit…” Remember that a parable is a story in it’s own right – obeying it’s own storyline rules – that we don’t need to pair everything up with everything else – that is not a parable but allegory. Having said that, I wonder if a disciple of Christ who loves Jesus but doesn’t know how to grow the kingdom, is shy to speak with people, feels inadequate to evangelise, but invests in their church and in others who are gifted to expand the gospel – would that fit the scenario of the servant who at least put the mina in the bank?

24-27 – Rewards and punishments

“Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas…even what they have will be taken away.” He is no longer treated as a trusted servant at all but is treated like the wicked. Can Christians lose their salvation? A true Christian reveals their conversion by their response to serve. The false Christian – one who mimics the saved without actually having a renewed heart – will reveal their true colours too by what they do. Their fruit will prove their faith. The Holy Spirit encourages us to persevere through the word of God as we are encouraged with rewards and warned of consequences. Some may read this parable and declare that the last servant has not lost their salvation but is simply shamed in the kingdom. Well, I suspect that this is not the case but that this parable is given as a warning to us to invest in the kingdom of God and not to be lazy or wicked.

“But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king….kill them in front of me.” The kingdom of God will not be established when Jesus enters Jerusalem. At that point he will inaugurate his kingship and return to his throne to intercede for us. But when he returns, he will reward his faithful servants and remove all of his enemy. We live now in that time between the first and second coming – where Jesus Christ is King, and we are left to be faithful while we await his return.

Meaning

Jesus of Nazareth, born and lived 2000 years ago, is the appointed King of God’s kingdom as foretold by the prophets. He is the Son of David who has come in the first place to invite people into the kingdom of God. The first stage is to go to the cross. The true servants of God – his disciples – you and me – are given responsibility to manage what is his. The faithful will be rewarded while the wicked will be rebuked and excluded from the kingdom. We are to be like the blind man who, although he did not see Jesus, he knew who he was. We are to be like Zacchaeus who, although had worldly wealth, surrendered it all to Christ in joy because he was lost but now is found.

 

Application

Topic A: Calling Jesus LORD. The crowds were referring to Jesus as the man from Nazareth. But the blind man referred to him as the Messiah (Son of David) and Lord. Where are you with Jesus. He is still a strange figure of history, is he a character in the bible stories, or is he, in your mind, the Son of God, King of kings and LORD of Lords? When did you come to see that? In what ways do you acknowledge this in your life?

Topic B: The faith of Zacchaeus. This little man expressed his joy in becoming friends with Jesus by making radical reductions to his worldly wealth. He didn’t get rid of everything, which is a helpful bit of detail, but he was radically generous. I wonder how far we can stretch our generosity as a direct response to belonging to the kingdom of God?

Topic C: The work of a king’s servant. What is it that Jesus left his disciples to do while he was gone? Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:47-48 give the leaving commands of Jesus to his disciples. The teaching of the kingdom of God which is about Jesus being king, calling people to repent and enter the kingdom today and to testify across the globe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Well, where do you find yourself in that order? What is your plans for serving Christ with this call?