on a twisted church (sermon summaries 12.3.06)

The snow stopped, the parking lot is plowed, and we are back to our regular schedule, Praise the Lord! Did I mention we don’t do snow?

This week we began 1 Corinthians with the message previously scheduled for last Sunday afternoon. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, in the midst of very successful ministry in the Roman province of Asia (see Ac 19). While there, news came to him of difficulties in the Corinthian church. These were addressed in a letter which is now lost. But the difficulties continued so Paul wrote a second letter which is preserved for us as 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with various difficulties, discovered either by way of bad reports that came to him, or by way of questions asked by the Corinthians.

The first issue Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians is the issue of the party spirit that was dividing the church. Our message was entitled, “Great Opposition in Corinth“. Our proposition: “Conflict and division in a church are evidence of a failure to fully accept the implications of the gospel.” Paul begins by stating the problem – the division is around well known Christian leaders, Paul, Apollos, Peter, even Christ are set up as heads of ‘factions’ in Corinth. In arguing against this kind of spirit, Paul points out that the preaching of the cross is the power of God, therefore let us glory in the cross, not men. He also points out that the wisdom of God, manifested in the cross, is incomprehensible to the world. The world is ‘natural’, we are ‘spiritual’ [or we should be], but the Corinthian problem is that they are ‘carnal’, and act like men who don’t understand the wisdom of God, though they should. Since we are spiritual, we should have the mind of Christ, and if we did divisions would disappear. We would not unduly exalt men, and men would not unduly exalt themselves, pastoral (and even apostolic) leadership would be viewed as household slaves who serve the living word to God’s people. The only solution to this problem is humility of mind and submission of spirit. Paul closes the section by warning them that they can have him come with a rod or with gentleness, the difference in approach depends entirely on whether they will adopt humility of mind and submission of spirit now … or later.

Our second message was from 1 Cor 5-6, “Struggling with Immorality“. Three issues are dealt with in these two chapters: the man who had his father’s wife, lawsuits among believers, and the problem of harlotry. In some ways all these problems may have been interrelated. Our proposition: “Spiritual immaturity can produce grievous spiritual blindness that allows astonishing levels of wickedness.” The first evidence of spiritual blindness was the toleration of the man who was at least living with or perhaps even married to his step-mother. The church was puffed up, tolerating this man’s sin, and thinking of itself as doing the right thing, hence the idea of blindness. Paul said, “don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” [The first of 7 ‘don’t you knows’ in the two chapters.] Paul’s judgement is that they ought to know better, you can’t tolerate that kind of sin in the midst without it having a corrupting influence. The second issue, the lawsuits, involves ignorance of the relative status of believers and unbelievers in the universe and the damage done to the gospel witness as a result of the lawsuits – don’t you know, Paul asks, that saints will judge the world and angels? Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? You are qualified to make judgements between yourselves, unbelievers are not qualified to judge you. You were such, but now you are something different. The last issue is the issue of actual immorality of some with harlots – they appear to have been under the impression that since the body will be destroyed anyway, and the body has physical desires, there was nothing wrong with indulging those desires in any way convenient. Paul says they are blind, they aren’t realizing that physical union also involves spiritual union and they are joining Christ and the temple of the Spirit with harlotry, a grave matter of spiritual confusion and spiritual blindness. The question in all of this is if the blindness is merely ignorance or if it is wilful self-deception. I tend to suspect the latter. The way Paul asks the “don’t you know” questions implies that they surely ought to have known, by the indwelling conviction of the Holy Spirit or even by natural human conscience. In any case, the cure for this kind of blindness is to open your eyes and see the truth.

The last message dealt with 1 Cor 7, the great marriage question chapter. The title was, “Answering Questions Concerning Marriage“. The questions apparently came from the Corinthians themselves and perhaps involved some of their Greek background and philosophy that considered the physical body and its drives to be evil. In any case, Paul deals with the marriage question in a number of ways. First, at a basic level, one reason for getting married is simply ‘on account of immoralities’. In other words, one function of marriage is to protect from the temptations to immorality, so married couples should make certain to give themselves physically to one another on a regular faithful basis, in order to minimize physical temptations. Paul turns from the basic question to deal with questions that apply to a whole host of categories: should I get married, should I stay married, if my marriage ends, what then? In general, Paul urges contentment with one’s state, including for the single the possibility that they remain single in the ‘present distress’ to devote themselves to Chirstian service with less entanglements. But Paul recognizes that not all are given such a gift by God (i.e., to endure long singleness without experiencing great temptation) so many (perhaps most) should marry. For those in marriages, the prime directive is to stay married, even those married to unbelievers, unless the unbeliever wants to depart. In such cases, the believer is no longer bound by the marriage and should not fight the breakup if the unbeliever departs. The final admonition about marriage is given to the widow – if she remarries, she must only remarry ‘in the Lord’, i.e., to a believer. This admonition is legitimately applied to all, but here is applied to the widow. All in all, Paul’s teaching is to encourage the fullness of marriage and the fulfillment of the marriage vows, both physically and temporally. Be thoroughly committed to your marriage through thick and thin, never yielding to the blandishments of the world around you.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3