Category Archives: The Word of God

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 12 – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The believers conscience

Discussion Question

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

Background

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

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

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

Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

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

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

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

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

What did you see?

Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn?

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

Now what?

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

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

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

Doctrine/how we think → What the bible says

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

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

Study 6 – 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Leading Believers

Discussion Question

Who would you say is or was the boss in your family growing up? Discuss your answer and reflect what that meant to you.

This question is set to bring out the link between relationship and authority. Our families are not perfect and yet they shape us so profoundly.

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. Paul was resolved to know nothing except that message. Now, Paul gives his final words on the topic of wisdom and of Christian teachers and preachers.

Read 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

What did you see?

Structure

  • Judge me like this – as entrusted to pass on God’s wisdom (1)
  • Is the preacher/teacher trustworthy? (2-5)
  • Is it God’s message that they carry? (6-7)
  • It is not a glamorous job to be a slave to God’s message (8-13)
  • Not your warrior but your Father in Christ (14-21)

Judge me like this – as entrusted to pass on God’s wisdom (1)

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us…” I’ve placed Verse 1 on it’s own in the chapter as it appears to hold all the ingredients of what Paul wishes to expand on. He begins with instructing how they ought to regard or consider him and Apollos (the immediate context suggests Paul and Apollos (see Verse 6) but it could instead refer to Paul and Sosthenes who co-authored this letter) and will change his word to judge as the paragraph continues. We all judge things throughout our day and we judge people in the sense that we see them in certain ways. So, if we are not to regard Paul or Apollos as in competition with one another, how ought we regard them? Are they nothing? Are they nobodies? If we all have access to the Spirit of God and therefore the wisdom of God, what is the point of the apostles and of the church preachers and teachers?

“…as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” Paul will go on to expand on these three elements further: being entrusted by God, that it is God’s message that he carries and that of being a servant of Christ. The Greek word used for servant is that of an assistant and not the word for slave. That said, I find that the context Paul gives us introduces the whole concept of someone who works on behalf of someone else’s household or kingdom. Paul is not building his own church but working for Christ and his church. So, let’s hear Paul first of all talk about being entrusted with the mysteries of God before he returns to the topic of being a servant, steward and assistant in God’s work.

Is the preacher/teacher trustworthy? (2-5)

“Now it is required that those who have been give a trust must prove faithful.” This makes sense – common sense. If you are asked to do something then you need to prove yourself able to do it. The NIV seems to play with the english word entrust and so includes the word trust in Verse 2. Compare with other translations you’ll find the word steward which was used in Verse 1. So, if you are given a job to do, to take care of something, then you need to be able to take care of it!

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court…I do not even judge myself.” The weight of Paul’s duty is not to please, satisfy or be approved by people – not even himself! There is a higher responsibility. He is a servant of the gospel which does not mean that he is a servant to the body of Christ but to Christ himself. It takes a high level of maturity to be able to say in truth that you do not care what others think of you but you care very much what God thinks!

“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” When Paul says that he doesn’t even judge himself, he knows that even he is not who he is serving in his ministry of preaching God’s word. We live in the age of justify yourself  and that is all that matters. As long as you are true to yourself then you go for it! But Paul is not satisfied with that. Being right in our own eyes only matters for earthly things. But being right in God’s eyes is another matter. What an amazing sentence in the bible that is probably rarely or ever a memory verse.

“It is the Lord who judges me.” A word of dread and joy. The former because who can stand before God and live? The latter because, in Jesus we can! But the context is about preaching and teaching. Paul wants to know whether God is pleased with his messages because it is God who has entrusted Paul with the message. Paul does not primarily want churches to love him (that would be a bonus) but for God to be pleased that he is carrying the gospel in truth.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes.” A person’s ministry may not be truly understood as valuable until we all reach glory and see what difference it made. Likewise, the damage a person does in their ministry may not be apparent until the last day. Either way, the end of times is the timeline we need to work towards. The ministry of preaching the word does not depend on each individual sermon but on the work overall that is being done. Note well that we are reminded of the Lord’s coming in this verse.

“He will bring to light…expose the motives of the heart.” Whether a preacher is trying to build up their kingdom or God’s will be plain to see at the last day. Teachers in the church will either be trustworthy servants of God or they will be teaching with a selfish motive.

“At that time each will receive their praise from God.” There’s almost a double meaning here. Once the true motives are revealed, judgment will fall and if a preacher is to be praised, then let God sing praises on the last day. If a preacher/teacher is seeking praises now, then their motives are skewed.

So, Paul firstly teaches us that people in teaching positions in the church must take their role seriously and know that this is a task given to them by God and so they are to treat God as their boss and not the church whom they teach. A good and faithful servant will get this balance right and will not abuse their power or place but humbly pass on the message that one day they will be judged for.

Is it God’s message that they carry? (6-7)

“I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit…” It sounds like Verses 1-5 are aimed at warning the teachers but Paul says this is for the hearer’s benefit that he says this. Paul and Apollos were both responsible for the planting and growing of the message of the gospel in Corinth. Paul is saying that he and Apollos both see themselves as servants of Christ entrusted with God’s message.

“…so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.”” Paul and Apollos shaped their message to not go beyond what is written (in Scripture). This must mean going beyond the meaning of what is written rather than the exact words that are written otherwise they would stop being teachers and be simply bible readers. Paul is not quoting Scripture here but using a well known saying – this is either very ironic or it expands on what he means when he says don’t go beyond what is written. There is a message of God which Paul refers to as the mysteries of God. This is the message that he teaches to us and the church in Corinth. But he is not going off-book to bring in more to the gospel or another gospel or a greater wisdom etc. God has given him a message to preach and that is what he will preach. Using all the language at his disposal without modifying the message.

“…a follower of one of us over against the other.” This traces Paul’s discussion back to Chapter One when he talked about division in the church because each followed a different teacher. They are both preaching the same message from God.

“…puffed up…what makes you different…what do you have that you did not receive…why do you boast…” A person can boast about being muscly but they can’t boast about being big and muscly as if they had anything to do with their height. A person can’t boast about the music of their favourite artist as if they wrote the music and performed it themselves. A Christian cannot boast about their knowledge about Jesus and the gospel as though they invented it or forged it or whatever. An amazing preacher may have been able to formulate a brilliant phrase or illustration that encapsulates the gospel, but they cannot claim to have invented the gospel. The church in Corinth is the church of God because God called them and saved them and sent his message to them and put his Spirit in them. It is God who grows and saves. No church on earth can boast as if they have a monopoly on the gospel.

So, Paul says that this message that he teaches is not from himself but he is sticking to the gospel that God has passed on to him and he encourages the church in Corinth to think the same way. Their faith is no greater than any of the other churches scattered around the globe.

It is not a glamorous job to be a slave to God’s message (8-13)

“How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!” Paul’s sarcasm in Verse 8a is popped by the reality that if the church was really a shining light of wisdom in this world (instead of holders of the foolishness of the cross) then Paul would be able to walk tall and without fear in this world too. But instead, he carries the mystery of God to preach and teach which is the foolishness of the cross. He has to hold back his glory for a later date.

“…God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession…” There are a few ways to interpret this verse but I believe it refers to the unique and called apostles of God who saw the risen Jesus and declare him to the world to be the living word of God, Lord and Saviour. The word apostle simply means ‘sent one’ and can be used in many contexts. The NT points to the living disciples plus Paul and perhaps Matthias as the apostles who were specifically called to testify to the world about Jesus. They have come on the world stage at the end of the line of prophets and wise men and Paul paints a picture of them trailing at the back as if they are not important at all. Rather than thinking of them as influential or of noble birth (1:26) or wise in the world’s eyes, the apostles, like Paul and Peter and John, are a laughing stock to the world and even sometimes in the churches.

“…a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” On the scale of great things, angels seem more impressive and important that Paul feels. It seems to Paul that when he took on the gig of being an apostle – sent by God to proclaim the great mysteries of God – he didn’t get an impressive car or private jet or endless financial support from around the world, nor even an angelic security team to guard and watch over him – he gets the same sandals and all sorts of receptions from towns. His job is to proclaim a message that most people perceive as foolish.

“We are…but you are…” In the list of examples in Verses 10-13, Paul illustrates what it is like to be an apostle. His job is humiliating and his strength and response to everything thrown at him is to love and grow in the power of the gospel. He is trying to shame the Corinthians for thinking that their church and faith ought to look impressive because the apostles have not shown them or taught them to think like that! The world wants flashy buildings and awesome speeches that influence and make change – we preach Christ crucified.

I will not step through Verses 10-13 as there is nothing difficult to understand but putting these things into practice and learning from Paul’s attitude is hard and worth time to consider. Although I do not take space talking about it here, it would be worthwhile talking about them and fleshing them out in any Growth Group study. What does your heart desire? To live comfortably and be important? Or to serve the message of the gospel and live for the kingdom of God?

Not your warrior but your Father in Christ (14-21)

“I am writing this not to shame you…” Paul’s sarcasm in Verse 10 has the potential to offend his readers and ignite anger in their hearts toward him.

“…but to warn you as my dear children.” Despite being disappointed in their division and quarrelling and misguided love, Paul really cares for this church and this is the reason he writes to them. If he didn’t care he would not have written the letter. The key here is to observe the relationship at work and not apply this as “tough love is always fine”. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

“…ten thousand guardians in Christ…I became your father through the gospel.” Remember that Chapters 1-4 is about WISDOM and is addressing the issue of division over whose leader is best. Even, says Paul, if there were a billion legends to listen to out there, not many return the love and affection. It’s one thing to have gurus who you listen to but quite another to have a relationship with a father in the faith. Paul reminds them that he has a heart for them.

“…imitate me.” How can Paul say on the one hand “who is Paul” but now say “imitate me”? These are not contradictory statements, they are simply two different things to say for two different reasons. The reason to imitate Paul is because Paul is for them and points them to the cross and to God the Father. He does not say imitate me because I am the Messiah!

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.” Again, the application of Paul’s argument in these chapters is not for us to go it alone in the faith but to see the relationships that are made and that are forged on the gospel. We do not build a church so that the church be great. Jesus has established the church and brought together sinners redeemed by his blood and created a church family. Paul calls them brothers and sisters and dear children and he has a son in the faith named Timothy and he can commend that young man to them and say, listen to him because he has the same heart for the gospel as should be evident in Christian men.

“He will remind you…” Timothy will testify that what Paul preaches in his letter is exactly how he lives.

“Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you…how these arrogant people are talking…” Paul has been hearing reports about the happenings in the church (1:11). With Paul absent, people have stepped up and perhaps leading others away from the teachings of Paul. The letter has told us about the quarreling over which leader is better and of the importance in Corinth for influential and noble leaders.  It’s like the dominant leader has left and there’s a vacuum that needs filling.

“…but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” This refers to the powerful message of the gospel and not of some supernatural power. The gospel changes lives so that we stop behaving and thinking like mere humans (3:3) and we learn to think like a person who has the Spirit of God within them and like someone who has the mind of Christ (2:16).

“Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” This is a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious. I think this speaks a little into the area of accountability though. Sometimes Christians want some sort of accountability and, often young men, want to have a space where they can be forced to air their sins and temptations and have someone be stern with them. Although accountability is a good thing (the scriptures tell us to spur one another on and to lead one another away from sin) but the style and approach seems immature. A gentle word is good and helpful. A strong arm only makes sense when we speak of a parent guiding a very young child in the world. But we are meant to grow up and learn to distinguish the difference between right and wrong. Our church family are for the support of gentle spirits to guide us, support us and grow us (and mutually the other way too!) and we don’t cultivate a culture of strong arming people to do what is right.

What did we learn?

The work of the preacher/teacher is not nothing. Rather than being superior and the reason we go to church, our leaders are gifted by God to teach the message of God and not depart from what is written. They ought not to be leaders who we only relate with via Podcast but to have a vested interest in the church community that it speaks into. They are workers for Christ, entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ and labouring for his glory and not their own. Church leaders did not die for the church but they are given to the church for the benefit of its people. We see a love from Paul to the church and a desire from Paul that the church regard him with love and respect also – as one worth imitating.

Now what?

Topic A: Being entrusted with the mysteries of God. By now, we should be aware that the power of God is not seen in great preaching or supernatural gifts or huge emotional experiences but in the message of the gospel being revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. That is, if you understand the gospel and truly understand the grace of God then you have the Spirit living in you and you hold the key to eternal life! As part of a bible believing, Christ centred church, this can get treated like common sense. We ought to stop and praise God for showing himself to us and also ask God to help us to be trustworthy with the gospel.

Topic B: The message comes with a messenger. We see the message at work when we know the messenger. Paul is able to say “imitate me” and he is able to say “find out not only how […] people are talking, but what power they have.” It’s not just in a message but it is in what the message is doing in the messenger. What is the message of the gospel doing in your life? Would people frown at you when you tell them that you are a Christian?

Topic C: Fools for Christ. Go through the list in Verses 10-13. This list is a description of Paul’s experience and so not everything will apply to every reader. That said, how does the list challenge you?