Category Archives: Repentance

Study 15 – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Warnings for believers

Discussion Question

What use is the Old Testament?

Background

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

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

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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

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

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

What did you see?

Structure

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

Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn?

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

Now what?

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

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

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

Study 7 – 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Study 7 – 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Discussion Question

“How did it come to this!?” Can you think of any light hearted stories of how a small thing grew into something big or massive?

Background

From Chapter 1 Paul has been talking to the church of God in Corinth who are called by God to be his holy people. They already have every spiritual blessing and have heard and received the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And yet, they were a church divided because they celebrated and boasted about particular church leaders. Paul has reminded his readers that there is no wisdom on earth that compares to the wisdom of God and that wisdom, although it looks weak and foolish, is the cross of Christ.  Human leadership is about humble submission to Christ as our head and wise service to those entrusted in our care.

Paul reminds them that he will be visiting soon and continues in this chapter as he raises the alarming issue of the Corinthian sexual ethics.

Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,,  so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”  

What did you see?

Structure

  • 5:1-5 Outlining the case of incest and Paul’s verdict
  • 5:6-8 Jesus transformed you yeasterday.
  • 5:9-13 Judgement of sin inside and outside the church.

Outlining the case of incest and Paul’s verdict

‘It is reported’ – Paul here is moving on from the previous discussion of wisdom and leadership to address a new topic that has been testified to him.

‘there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife’ – The language here suggests that this is unlikely to be his mother, but more likely that it could be a step-mother or a mother-in-law.  Almost certainly, the reason for committing this deed is financial… a wealthy step-mother / M-i-L might remarry into a different family and take her wealth with her.  It also provides good explanatory power for why the description in verses 10 and 11 includes the sexually immoral as well as those whose financial morality is corrupt (‘greedy and swindlers’).

‘and you are proud!’ – Instead of calling out this man (see Lev 18:8, 20:11) and expelling him from the community, Paul is utterly shocked at their complacency.  Not only has pride set in to this Corinthian church, but an incredible insensitivity towards sin! In their arrogance they are deadened to the sinfulness of this man and their complicities in failing to call a brother out of his sin!

‘you should have gone into mourning’ – The actions of this man reveal his heart… that his will is for what he desires and not for the things of God.  As Paul later says – he path is headed towards destruction. We should mourn the brother who turns from God towards such wickedness.

But there is an element in here also of mourning for the community.  We get these pictures in Ezra 10:6 and Nehemiah 1:4 of mourning for the sinfulness of the exiles… Ezra 10 is particularly helpful. Ezra mourns their sin corporately, he calls for repentance individually and corporately, and those who continue with their foreign wives are excluded from the community.  In the same way the Corinthians ought to mourn the sin of their brother and their sin, they ought to repent of his sin (incest) and their sin (pride -> insensitivity to sin), and if this man does not repent and leave his illicit relationship, they ought to remove him from the community.

‘For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit’ – Paul here, carrying the full weight of apostleship which he has outlined in Ch 3 and 4, outlines his verdict that the wicked man should be removed from the Corinthian fellowship.  Paul’s use of the Spirit here can be confusing in verse 3 and 4 – what he is suggesting though is that the communication and reading of his letter is a tangible way in which the Holy Spirit uses him in communicating his apostolic ministry in their midst.  i.e. God is using him to speak the words that the Corinthians need to hear, so they might repent of their sin and turn back to God.

‘hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord’ – Paul’s judgement is that if this man is unrepentant, he needs to cast out of the Corinthians church for his own good. ‘Over to Satan for the destruction of flesh’ refers not to putting him to death, but rather to turning him back to outside the church where God is at work – to the realm of Satan.  This is done with a view to revealing to this man his sinfulness and his need to turn from evil to Christ. The hope is that he will see his sin and will put to death his sexual immorality. The hope is that he will trust Christ as his saviour and listen to him as his Lord, that he might turn and be saved on the last day.

Jesus transformed you yesterday.

‘Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.’   –  The expulsion of the wicked man is not only good for this man, Paul argues, but for the Corinthians as well.  The warning here in verse 6 is that the Corinthian church is in danger of becoming stale bread. By failing to call out sin in one instance, they danger themselves of becoming calloused towards sin as a whole.  The command is that by removing the wicked man; calling sin, sin, and declaring it’s unsuitability within the church – they free themselves from the tainted yeast and become the fresh bread that they were meant to be.

‘For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ –  Why stand against sin?  Why ferret it out of the church so seriously?  Because while the sin deserved our death (Passover), Jesus took that punishment for us.  This means we need to understand the severity of sin… it is really, truly worthy of death.  But we have been saved by Jesus – not to continue in wickedness, but to embrace a new life, by the Spirit of sincere trust in Jesus and the truth revealed by him (see wisdom of the last 4 chapters).

Judgement of sin inside and outside the church.

‘not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters’ – Paul’s previous letter had met with some disagreement or confusion… (historically, we don’t have this letter)  and Paul now seeks to clarify in this letter. The Corinthians are to engage with people who are immoral who are outside of the church.  The entire world outside the church engages in acts of immorality fitting with being people who neither listen to nor care to hear God. The Corinthians are to engage with this world… holding out the gospel of Jesus, the wisdom of the cross.

‘But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”’ – However, a distinction must be made with how we operate with those who claim the name of Jesus.  Jesus isn’t just saviour… but he is Lord also. And he calls for us to continue to amend our lives in following him.  This leaves no room for those who persist in sinfulness, unrepentant. The responsibility of church leadership is to point out sin and to call for Christians to repent and continue to amend their lives in line with Christ.

Our business is not to judge the morality decisions of those outside the church… they will make poor decisions which don’t align with Christ, because they do not have the Holy Spirit.  Ours is the responsibility for ourselves, to continue to heed the message of the gospel – to strive to align our life with that of Christ and for us to encourage all of those who are in our care to stand against sin and to strive to live as Christ would.

Now what?

Sin matters in the Christian life!!  We are called to ferret sin out of our lives and to conform our lives to the mind set of Christ.  Christian leaders need to lead those in their care to continue to do so… and in the case of gross, public, unrepentant sin, they may need to remove someone from fellowship with Christ, so they may see their sin clearly and may be caused to repent.

Topic A: Soft on sin. The Corinthians let their pride get in the way of calling out the sexual immorality of the wicked brother.  What kind of things might be taboo topics that we would refuse to call out each other about? How might we engage with those kinds of topics with one another helpfully?

Topic B: Ethics and Engagement with the outside world. A friend of yours, Emily, is not a Christian, but sympathises strongly with the values that she was raised with in a Christian family. “Christians need to tell people in our society to get back to the morals that we used to have and everything will be better.”  Where does Emily get this right and wrong according to this passage? How might you engage with her view point and point her to Christ?

Topic C: Sexual immorality. (Personal reflection ONLY) Taking your step mum as your wife to keep the money seems pretty crude… and yet sexual immorality still rears its head in our modern society even amongst Christians.  Where do you feel most vulnerable to sexual immorality? What are 3 measures that you might put in place to flee it? What is 2 things which are great about Jesus’ vision for sexuality that you think is so much better than our societies view? Who is one person that you can be honest with and can pray with in being accountable regarding sexual immorality?

Study 8 – Luke 14:25-15:32

The Decisive Disciple

Context

Entrance into the kingdom of God is described as narrow and those who enter it will not be those who presume on God but those who hear the words of Jesus and follow him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law have been fueling their disapproval of Jesus while the crowds listening to him have been growing. Jesus has spoken about the coming judgement that pivots around him – if you are not for him then you are against him. He has come to bring division in households rather than peace. As our series title suggests, “On Board With Jesus”, means being a disciple that has made a decision to be for Him.

Read

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Observation

Structure

  • 14:25-35 – Counting the cost of discipleship
    • 25-27 – The principle given: such a person cannot be my disciple
    • 28-30 – The principle illustrated 1: Building a tower
    • 31-33 – The principle illustrated 2: Fighting a battle
    • 34-35 – Salt that is not salty is no longer salt
  • 15:1-32 – God the Father rejoices when a sinner comes home
    • 1-2 – The issue raised: Jesus welcomes sinners!
    • 3-7 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost sheep
    • 8-10 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost coin
    • 11-32 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost son
      • 11-24 – The lost son
      • 25-32 – The bitter son

We will spend most of this article on Luke 14:25-35 with some small commentary on Luke 15:1-32. These two sections make a great double-sided lesson: Discipleship is Costly, but God the Father is cheering for you! For the sake of time, it is recommended to choose one of the sections for study rather than try to get through all of it.

14:25-35 – Counting the cost of discipleship

What we see in these verses from Jesus is his description of what we might call the cost of discipleship. He lays out the principle and uses two illustrations to show what he means. Then finally gives us the ultimatum: a disciple is like salt: when it has no qualities of salt, can you still use it like salt?

25-27 – The principle given: such a person cannot be my disciple

“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus…” We are really used to this background by now in Luke (4:42; 5:15; 6:17; 7:9; 8:4, 42; 9:37; 12:1). Luke not only mentions the crowd support or curiosity but also the reminder that Jesus is travelling (to Jerusalem Luke 9:51).

“…and turning to them he said…” Jesus addresses the whole crowd now. He has spoken to the disciples with the crowd listening in before but now he wants everyone to hear. He doesn’t want numbers, he wants commitment. We recall the excuses given in 14:15-24 for what else was more important than coming to Jesus. This teaching follows directly on from that. If people in the crowd are contemplating their allegiance to Jesus, Jesus wants them to know what a commitment means. He begins with a huge challenge!

“…If anyone come to me and does not hate….even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” Bible reading principle: if a statement in the bible appears to directly contradict another clear teaching, then we must look at the two statements again and listen to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us. 1 John 4:20 condems hatred of others (brother and sister) as a sign that they do not love God. Luke 14:26 has the meaning of “loves more”. That is, whoever loves father, mother, wife and children, brother and sister and even your own life MORE than you love God, you are not worthy to be a disciple. Look at it this way: the bible uses two words to describe commitment: love and hate. We use hate almost always to mean that you wish something were dead! But the bible uses it also as a description of choice. “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated (Malachi 1:2,3; Romans 9:13). Our love for God must exceed our love for our family. Abraham left his home in obedience to God’s instruction to go to another place that he had never seen. He took his wife and servants with him BUT he denied them the comfort and security of staying in the home that they knew. He loved God more than he loved his family – but he did not stop loving his family.

“…take up their cross and follow me…” The hearers of Jesus don’t know yet that Jesus himself will carry his own cross to his own death. BUT they do know what the reference is regarding since crucifixion was a common death sentence. It was a hugely shameful way of dying. The whole process was humiliating and even after death, your family would be ashamed to speak of you. Following Jesus is akin to leaving the security of being respected and loved in this world and committing to being different and choosing to be at odds with the world. Little did Jesus’ hearers know that he was not speaking figuratively altogether. He would literally take up his cross. Many of the disciples died serving the mission of Jesus. All of us must be baptised/buried and reborn into a life of commitment to Jesus.

“…cannot be my disciple.” Stop and breath in this warning. See also Luke 9:23.

The principle Jesus has laid out is this: following Jesus means a 110% commitment to him above all other things. A disciple ought to be aware of this before they go any further in following Jesus. The cost of discipleship is that Jesus comes first.  Following Jesus comes with a warning label: beware the cost of following Christ.

28-30 – The principle illustrated: Building a tower

“…first sit down and estimate the cost…” It is important to acknowledge that following Christ comes at a cost. Many projects in life never begin because the cost is known and is too much. If anybody begins their walk with God before knowing what’s at stake, they may come to a time quickly when they choose to ignore God and put family first.

“…enough money to complete it.” When we match this illustration with the gospel, the expense on our behalf is simply perseverance – keep the faith. To run the race as though you will reach the end. Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:24; Gal 5:7; Heb 12:1; 2 Tim 4:7.

31-33 – The principle illustrated again: Fighting a battle

“…first sit down and consider whether he is able…” This second parable begins very similar to the first and so does have the same principle in mind: know what it will cost you to follow Jesus. Will the king act foolishly without calculating the risk or will he be wise and work out how this will play out for him.

“If he is not able, he will send a delegation…” Here is where the second parable differs from the first. The calculation results in failure. The sums do not add up: he is outnumbered 2:1! An army stronger than his is coming. Remember the parable of the strong man and the stronger? Two kingdoms are going to war and one of them is vastly outnumbered. But, what if there was a way to diffuse the war and so you did not have to go at all. The first king avoids defeat but it comes at the cost of a kind of surrender.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” We need to reconcile the difference between the two parables while allowing Jesus to say: in the same way! What did the king give up? His pride. His self-sufficiency. His self-made triumph over the enemy. He surrendered to someone greater than he. Is Jesus not teaching us that the cost of discipleship includes surrendering to Christ?

34-35 – Salt that is not salty is no longer salt

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” This reminds me of the joke: What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk! What do you call salt that is not salty? Can it actually be called salt? It’s dead salt. It’s expired. It’s ex-salt. We are not to be ex-salted (could not resist that!) If comes to Jesus to be included in the kingdom of God and yet remains in their own kingdom here on earth, aren’t they forfeiting their inheritance? If a king goes to battle on their own and loses to the enemy and dethroned, they are no longer a king are they? A disciple, by definition, is someone who aligns their life with Christ. It is no longer they that live but Christ that lives in them (Galatians 2:20). Salt has qualities that make it salt. Without those qualities, it is no longer desired or used as salt.

A note to bible readers: keep the meaning of the text as your goal and read the text in its context. Jesus talks of salt in other passages and sometimes that will shed light on what we are reading here, but Luke has given us enough to go on. A disciple must be a disciple or else they stop being a disciple. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot be a part time disciple. Darrell Bock, in his commentary on Luke writes, “Failure to pursue discipleship can indicate that faith is not really present, even though it was thought to be.”

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Rather than just a random tack on to the end of his lesson, Jesus is indicating what is really required. Many ears will be present that day to hear Jesus speak but they will not really hear. They will continue to travel with him for a while before scattering and giving up on him. The moment of Jesus’ trial and execution will be too much for the best of the disciples. Jesus’ warning is concluded with this call to listen.

Meaning of 14:25-35

Jesus is not interested in great numbers but in great commitment. Better a few that will take up their crosses to follow than a great multitude who will not give their life to Him. Following Jesus comes with a warning label: followers will lose themselves in order to gain eternal life.

15:1-32 – God the Father rejoices when a sinner comes home

In contrast to Jesus’ warning about discipleship, He expresses how excited God is when a sinner repents.

1-2 – The issue raised: Jesus welcomes sinners!

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” Remember the previous verse (14:35). Who are the disciples who will have ears to hear? Answer: the tax collectors and sinners. This couplet is shorthand for “everyone that the Pharisees and teachers of the law would consider unworthy for the kingdom of God.”

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Conversely, the Pharisees and teachers of the law do NOT have ears to hear. They say this as though it is an evil accusation but this is actually the gospel! And it is the theme of the rest of this chapter. Jesus will answer their mutterings with a celebratory YES!

3-7 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost sheep

“…more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God is ecstatic over the right choice of a sinner to repent! We must never be slow to come to him and say sorry. He is not seeking self-righteousness, so why do we overlook grace and keep pursuing what we cannot obtain! 1 Timothy 1:15 – Christ Jesus came into the world to SAVE SINNERS! (and I am the worst!). Jesus will not respect those who feel that they have nothing to repent over. The parable of the prodigal son from verse 11 teaches this exact lesson.

8-10 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost coin

“…rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The lost coin parable has the same message as the lost sheep story. Notice that the searcher looks high and low for their precious thing. We hear a reference to God not being alone in the kingdom of heaven. The angels will rejoice with God. The angels were thought very highly of in the first century (Hebrews 1 illustrates this by arguing that Jesus is better even than angels). Creatures as special as the angels will be amazed when a lost person is found.

11-32 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost son

Commonly referred to as the Prodigal Son story, it is actually a story about two sons and the love of the Father. He has equal love for both brothers but the one who was lost is then found, while the one who presumed on the Father and grumbled against him remained outside of the banquet celebration.

11-24 – The lost son

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filld with compassion…” The love of the Father and the quickness of forgiveness is important in this story.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the model of a repentant prayer. Jesus’ theme here is that he is not looking for righteous people but he is looking for those who are ready to repent.

“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again…” Like the lost sheep and lost coin stories, this is a story of the lost son. The parable is brought closer to an emotional connection of relationships rather than lost possessions. But the conclusion remains: God is ready to celebrate when we come back home to him and REPENT! He welcomes sinners and eats with them (Verse 2).

25-32 – The bitter son

“Meanwhile, the older son…” The parable turns to look at the heart of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They believe that they have been faithful to the Father but actually they do not know Him and are unable to understand the celebration that is necessary.

“Your brother has come…” Notice how the relationship is emphasised in this story. There is no care from the Pharisees and teachers toward the lost sinners. But Jesus says that these are your brothers!

“…refused to go in.” The nature of those who do not enter the kingdom of God is an unwillingness to enter. Two wills are required, the will of the Father and the will of the sinner. Either of them missing will result in failure. The doctrine of election and predestination expresses that this is true and that even our own change of will is an act of grace on God’s behalf. But God does not force our wills against our own willingness. Notice in the story how the Father goes out to plead with the older brother.

“But when this son of yours…” The older son does not see his own relationship with the younger brother but labels him as a son of yours.

“My son…this brother of yours was dead and is alive again;he was lost and is found.” The Father will not allow his first son to disown his own brother. The story ends with the Father making the same statement as the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin. What was lost is now found. We don’t hear another word from the eldest son since the parable is a lesson for them. How will the Pharisee respond? Given their history and what lies ahead for Jesus at their hand, probably just what the parable gives: silence.

Meaning of 15:1-32

God the Father welcomes sinners and eats with them! He has not come for the self-righteous who do not hear the call to repent. He has come to seek and to save the lost.

Application

Topic A: “Hate” as “love less”. Explore what Jesus means when we are to hate our family and even ourselves. What does this look like for you? Can you share how you have seen this play out in your life? Perhaps you can describe a situation where you are unsure how to apply this which your group can help you with. What does it look like to put Jesus first in life?

Topic B: It’s time for some perseverance. The builder of the tower may have started to build but ran out of resources. Those around him laughed at him. Do you feel like someone who has started out as a disciple but is feeling the difficulty now? Let your group encourage you to keep listening to Jesus who is barracking for you. How can you encourage someone to keep on growing in the faith?

Topic C: Being the king who surrenders. The gospel says that we are all doomed to destruction if we try to go to battle on our own apart from Jesus. Repentance means admitting that you cannot do this on your own. Have you ever had a moment of true repentance? It is a very healthy practice to repent regularly. Using the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments as a guide for your thoughts, you can come to Christ and confess that you fall short of his glory but give thanks and praise knowing that a repentant sinner means more to God than a thousand proud Pharisees.