Holy Life, First Love– Revelation 2:1-7, 12-17


Holy Life, First Love
Revelation 2:1-7, 12-17

Everyone has their favorite stories about churches that have suffered through problems.  Some of these stories would be funny if they were not so unfunny.

  • In one church, a leadership disagreement got so heated that a deacon’s wife went up to one of the elders in the foyer before church and whacked him with her oversized purse!
  • One church decided to use a praise team.  On the first Sunday for the praise team to lead worship, someone cut every mike cord with scissors.
  • An elder of a new store front church got so mad after a meeting that he shot the preacher and then burned down the building.  (Newport News, Va)

All of these stories are true, and you could probably add to them. Obviously, there is absolutely nothing funny about churches having problems.  But then, the one constant in church life is church problems.

Every church we know about from the New Testament had problems.  In fact, the reason that we know about churches, like Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae is because they had problems and an inspired writer like Paul wrote them letters to help them through the problems.

Thus, if there were any problem free churches in the first century, we wouldn’t know about them!  But God wants us to learn from others mistakes.  And so He has revealed many things to us in the Bible.

In this and one more lesson, we will be talking about the problems in the church as found in Revelation 2-3.  These letters were written by Jesus to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  These letters address problems within these churches.

The format with each letter is essentially the same.

  • Jesus identifies himself in some unique way.
  • He mentions the strengths and the problems that he finds in the churches.
  • He calls them to faithfulness and makes them a unique promise if they will respond.

If we closely compare these letters, a unique characteristic reveals itself—the strength in one church seems to correspond with a weakness in another church.  We will look at churches that seem to share something in common in their strengths and weakness and make an application of our situation as God’s church today.

Pergamum: Home of Satan and the Nicalaitans.

Read Revelation 2:12-17

Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and a very important city in many ways.  It was a center of learning and home to a huge library; our word “parchment” comes from the name Pergamum.  It was also a center of religion, housing a massive altar to Zeus.  This altar sat on a terraced hill on a large platform surrounded by colonnades, and it looked like a giant throne.  Sacrifices were burned continually on the great altar, and the column of smoke was visible for miles around the city.  Perhaps it was this great altar that causes Jesus to say, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” (2:13)

Jesus has some wonderful things to say about the church there.  He says that they were remaining faithful to His name despite great hardships that even included the martyrdom of the faithful Antipas.  While we know nothing about this man or his death, Jesus credits the church for not pulling back from faith when they saw Antipas died because of his faith. Pergamum was a church living the faith in a very difficult place for faith, and Jesus commends them.

But the Lord’s condemnation to Pergamum is as blunt as his commendation had been glowing.  While they faithfully held to Jesus’ name, they also held to the teaching of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans.  It seems likely that the problem is one rather than two.  There are two sides to this coin, one ancient and one modern.

  • The ancient side of the coin. Jesus first mentions Balaam the prophet who was paid by Barak of Midian to curse Israel (Numbers 22-25).  God stopped Balaam with a talking donkey and a fierce angel.  But Balaam told the king that God Himself would punish Israel if Barak send women into their camp to seduce them and introduce idolatry. (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11)  That is exactly what happened and so we see 24,000 Israelites die.
  • The “modern” side of the coin.  Jesus doesn’t mention Balaam as simply a history lesson.  I Pergamum there were false teachers known as the Nicalaitans.  We know nothing about this group other than what is said here and in the letter to the Ephesians. There were evidently teaching God’s people to make concession to idolatry and sexual immorality.  Jesus warns that the same fate that befell Israel in the time of Balaam would happen to them if they did not repent.

What was the problem in Pergamum?  While they remained faithful to Christ despite persecution, they made concessions to the immoral culture around them.  Led by the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, they adopted the immoral, pagan values of their world.  Perhaps they did this to better fit in their world and lessen their persecution. Or maybe it was just more fun.  But while they remained faithful to Christ, they were not faithful to His call to be holy.

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge we face today.  How do we remain faithful to the name of Christ and to His call to be a holy people?

Pergamum was a wicked city, today is not the most immoral age the world has ever known.  But Satan attacked them, and he attacks us.

There has been some moral slippage during my life time.  There was a time not long ago when our nation at least gave lip service to a moral standard based upon God.  Things like homosexuality and adultery were crimes as well as sins.  Today, they are not even seen as morally wrong.

But the world has always been the world has it not?   Christians are called to holiness because God is holy, not because the world makes it easy.  The call to be holy despite the immorality of the world is seen throughout the NT.

  • I Cor. 1:2 Paul calls the Christians in Corinth “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
  • Ephesians 5:3 To the Christians at Ephesus, the writer says “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”
  • In Colossians 3:7-8 Paul points to the sinful behaviors of the culture in Colossae when he says “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”

The world is the world; it operates from a totally different moral perspective.  In our multicultural world, not everyone will believe in God.  What is more, not everyone who does will make moral decisions based on their faith.  And we should not expect anything different today.  Our job is not to make the world live by God’s law; our job is to made sure the church does!

The big church problem in Pergamum was that the church was taking on the look and feel of the world in its moral behavior.  That continues to be a big church problem among God’s people today.  This willingness for the church to accept the moral standards of the world can be seen in two different ways.

First, like the Nicolaitans, there are some today who would have us think that we don’t need to stress so much over moral choices.  So some churches have made denominational resolutions to accept sinful lifestyles as legitimate choices.    After all, this is the twenty-first century; we don’t want to be perceived as narrow or mean-spirited.  And so we let the world, rather than God, set the churches standard of morality.

Now understand that we are talking about God’s standard of morality based on His character and revealed in scripture.

God’s standard stresses a need to return to holiness.  What we are calling for is the church, this church, to stand against the prevailing spirit of the age and commit to upholding God’s standards of truth.  I think we are committed to that; I think we also could do a better job.

Second, the greatest danger we face is not open acceptance of the poison of the world’s immorality. It is rather the more insidious problem of secret sin.  Too many Christians struggle with demons like alcoholism, adultery, pornography, greed- the list goes on.  We know that these things are wrong, and yet pressure from the world seduces us, and we embrace them.  Caught between our Christian belief that these things are wrong and worldly, we have a fascination for sin.  We often use our emotional energy to hide rather than confront our sin.

Paul calls us to arms, to battle sin in our lives.  Read Ephesians 5:11-17

The way to break the power of secret sin is to bring it in to the light. If you are struggling in the dark, find an elder, find a trusted Christian friend and confess. The only way to overcome hidden sin is to stop hiding it.  The power of forgiveness begins with confession and is sustained in accountability.

The Letter to Pergamum

The church in Pergamum has been called “The faithful church that was unfaithful,” “The church at hell’s headquarters,” and “The church in the Devil’s backyard.”  Its unique challenges can be summarized in the title “The church in sin city.”

This letter declares that it is not easy to be a Christian. Jesus is still looking for those with enough courage to hold firm, who will not deny the faith regardless of the consequences.  Jesus is also looking for those with enough love to confront others who teaching does not conform to the divine standard. The Lord does not tolerate compromise.

This letter challenges us to “overcome.”  Overcome our lack of conviction; overcome our unconcern and our timidity.   The power of forgiveness begins with confession and is sustained in accountability.

Ephesus: The Other Side of the Coin

Read Revelation 2:1-7**

The city of Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor and one of the principal cities in the Roman Empire.  Like Pergamum, Ephesus was a center of pagan religion, being the home of the magnificent Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Unlike Pergamum, Ephesus was also a center of trade and one of the wealthiest cities in the world.  Paul planted the church in Ephesus, and he spent three years working there, by far the longest stint he spent in any one church.

This letter also mentions the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.  Read 2:6

Unlike the Christians in Pergamum, the Ephesians successfully “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” 2:2

They didn’t fall for the false claims of the false teachers; they were commended for their ability to know and practice truth.

But, this church was condemned for forgetting their first love.  They hated false doctrine and immorality, but their desire for truth was not motivated by love.  They hated what they should have hated; they did not love what they should have love.  What was this first love?

William Turner suggests two possibilities:

  • Maybe their initial excitement of salvation had gradually been replaced by the mundane matters of doing church. It was their busyness in the details of church and no longer Jesus whom they loved.
  • Maybe their desire to preserve orthodoxy and stand for truth had led them to be unloving towards others…and therefore God.  When you are focused on issues, it is easy to forget to love and serve others.

Whichever of these seems more correct, the basic message is the same. Here was a group of people who were better at being against what was wrong than they were being for what was right.  They needed to return to their first love.

Have we lost our first love?

No spiritual problem is as hard to detect as a diseased heart, but neither is any spiritual problem as hazardous to our spiritual health.  Unless a faulty heart is repaired, death is inevitable.

The two greatest commands are, love God and love others.

The mark of true discipleship is to love.

We show our love toward God by loving each other.

Is it possible that we have left our first love?  Are we critical of church practices in front of non-believers or visitors?  Are we critical of Jesus’ church in front of fellow Christians?  Does it make us feel better to put others down?  Having the right view was not enough for them (Those in Pergamum).  If they did not return to that love, Jesus would come and remove their lamp stand from its place.  In other words, they would cease to be his church.

SUMMARY:

Here are two very different letters to two very different churches united only by the common mention of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. In these two churches, we find two very real warnings to the church today—

  • We must never give up our identity as God’s holy people. We cannot allow the world to set the moral agenda or expect the world to clean up its act.  We are called to be holy…and to call others to holiness.
  • We must never get so focused on orthodoxy that we forget to love one another. The church that fails to love is never a church that follows Christ.

These problems are connected by more than just a mention of the Nicolaitans. So often the more Christians stress morality and holiness, the less we seem to stress love and grace.  It is almost as if one makes the other unimportant.

God calls us to be people to love and grace. God also calls us to be holy people.  We must learn to be both of these—a holy people of love.  Only when we are both are we truly the people of God.

 

 

 

Life Is Unfair

Life is Unfair

Psalm 37: 1-9

The problem: the wicked prosper.

The solution: the wicked will be punished.

The Problem: The Wicked Prosper

Have you ever noticed that when a person lives with injustices long enough, especially if he or she lacks divine perspective, that person eventually becomes cynical.  We can handle suffering and mistreatment as long as it eventually passes.  But if the pain persists and the hurt isn’t relieved, we become cynical.  And if we do not have faith to get us through such injustices, we will start shaking our fist at God and declare God is not fair.

Read Psalm 37:1, 7, 12 and 14.

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”  It’s not fair.  Haven’t we all been jealous of someone else at some time in our lives?

The Problem: The Wicked Prosper

Solomon addresses the same issue in Ecclesiastes.

Read Ecclesiastes 1:2; 3:6

Sometimes, even those in positions of authority are evil.

Listen as Solomon sighs: Ecclesiastes 4:1

There is something in us that longs for justice.  If someone is oppressed there should also be some to comfort them.  But the oppressors have all the power on their side.  It’s not fair.

Solomon later complains about the oppression of the poor. Read Ecclesiastes 5:8; 8:9

Read Ecclesiastes 8:4

God’s Word Version reads: “There is something being done on earth that is pointless.  Righteous people suffer for what the wicked do, and wicked people get what the righteous deserve.  I say that even this is pointless”

People keep getting dealt a raw deal in life year after year, and they say, “Life is Unfair”  Eventually they grow cynical.

The Solution: The Wicked Will be Punished

The flip side.  Psalm 37:1-2; 9-10; 12-13 and 20.

Injustices will have only a temporary reign, and the day is coming when God will right all wrongs, when he will punish those who have lived wickedly and rewarded those who have lived righteously.

Luke 16:25 “But Abraham says, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things: but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

We need to keep in mind that God’s books are not always balanced in this lifetime, but that they will be balanced, and all wrongs will be righted.

Read Psalm 37:34-48

Summary:

We need to maintain our faith in God.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

We can only change our reaction to the world around us.

The only way to live through it all, the miseries and unfairness and injustices that life has to offer—to trust in Jesus, to trust in God, and to depend on His word.

We need to live through it all, the miseries and unfairness and injustices that life has to offer—to trust in Jesus, to trust in God, and to depend on his word.

If we don’t take care of the present, the final outcome may not be what you want. If you want to spend an eternity with God, then the time to worry about that is right now!

 

Life is Unfair: so…

Maintain your faith: Prepare for the future.

A Vision of Christ: Revelation Chapter 1

A Vision of Christ: Revelation Chapter 1

What does Jesus look like?  This has been a question for centuries.  When artists try to paint a picture of Jesus, they often do so with an eye to the familiar.  The Europeans paint Him as a white man, long hair and a beard.  Others paint Him as a Middle Eastern Man, curly hair, in rough clothing.

The book of Revelation is very interested in giving us an accurate picture of Christ.  No, there are no snap-shots from His family album, but there are amazing word pictures.

The Faithful One, The Resurrected One, The Ruling One, the Loving One, the Glorious One, and the Coming One.

The church at the end of the first century desperately needed to see Jesus.  There was some confusion about who the real king was and who was God.

You see, during the time of Octavian or Augustus Caesar, some came to see a man as god.  At his death a statue was place of him in the Pantheon and he was proclaimed as god.

No one really took all of this seriously until Caligula insisted on being worshipped while being alive.  The soldier who killed him said, “Caligula discovered that he was not a god!”

But at the end of the first century, the cult of emperor worship became very serious.  Domitian declared himself “lord and god” and demanded that all worship him.

The Jews were given an exemption because of their known monotheistic stance. However, Christians had no exception, and they steadfastly refused to worship Caesar.  And so, Domitian launched a world-wide effort to eradicate the church.  Thousands died.

About seventy miles southwest of Ephesus was the tiny prison island of Patmos; there in exile was the apostle John, the last living apostle.

He was spared martyrdom by Domitian, but was banished to Patmos to shut him up.  One Sunday morning, John was visited by a friend he had not seen in some sixty years. This friend said, “write what you see” and then held back the curtain for John to see.

Jesus revealed to John just the message that the church needed to hear.  It is also a message that we need to hear today.

Today we begin to look at what Jesus revealed to John in the Book of Revelation.  We won’t learn what every image means’ we won’t try to prove every theory false.  But what we will do is to look at the sweeping story of the victory of the Lamb.

Two Foundational Facts:

First, the book was written to a specific historical situation.  John goes out of his way to put everything into historical context.

1:1 Read “must soon take place”

1:3 Read “the time is near”

The way to approach any study of the Bible is to always understand what it meant to its first hearers.  If we make any text mean what it could have meant, then we have missed the point.  To see this book speaking about thousands of years from its writing misses the point.

John is writing to a hurting church that desperately needs a word from God.  This book must mean something to them.  It is written to them for a reason.

Second,  the central figure of the book is Jesus Christ.  It is a “revelation of Jesus Christ.”  It is both a revelation by Him and a revelation about Him.  Jesus is the point!

Eugene Peterson, in his book Reversed Thunder, makes this point about Revelation.

“Revelation is, in the first place not information about the bad world we live in or a report on the first century church under persecution. It is a proclamation by and about Jesus Christ.”

  1. a.      Chapters 2-3: Christ dictates the letters to the seven churches of Asia.
  2. b.      Chapter 5: Jesus who is the Lamb worthy to open the scroll.
  3. c.       Chapter 12: Christ is the male child that rules the nations.
  4. d.      Chapter 14: Jesus is on Mt. Zion, rising on clouds to execute judgment.
  5. e.      Chapters 17, 19: Jesus is “the King of king and the Lord of lords.”
  6. f.        Chapter 22: The book closes with a benediction in the name of Christ.

James Stewart, in the book of The Gates of New Life gives us this analogy of 1:5, 6.  (READ)

  1.  Jesus Loves Us
  2. Jesus released us from our sins by His blood
  3. Jesus had made us to be a kingdom and priests
  4. To Jesus be the glory and the dominion forever

Who is the heavy in the Apocalypse?  Who is represented by beasts and dragons?  Oh, I could spend time on that too.  But who is the hero of the story?  There is no doubt!  This book is about Jesus.

Interpretive Keys

There are to interpretive keys that control how we will handle the book.

  1.  First, it must mean something to the persecuted church at the end of the first century.
  2. Second, it must focus in Christ.  And interpretation that shifts focus off Christ is false.

If fact, these two points actually merge into one—what this persecuted church needed to see most was a renewed vision of the glory of Christ.  That’s how John begins.

The Vision of Christ

What does Jesus look like? What vision of Christ are we to take with us and think of when we think of Christ? Read Revelation 1:12-18

First, we see Christ’s authority.  (1:13) His attire is not that of the common working man, but of royalty.  His robe is tied with a gold sash.  Royal robes are secured by gold.  Jesus is presented as a king.

Second, this vision speaks of Christ’s purity and holiness. (1:14) His head and hair are white as snow.

White is a symbol of purity; it will have that significance several times in this book. So when we look at Jesus we see purity, holiness.

Third, this portrait of Him proclaims Christ’s vision. (1:14) His eyes are blazing fire.  Hebrews 4:13 says: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Could Jesus see what was going on with the early church?  Did He know that His people were suffering?  John here assures the church that Jesus does see; His eyes penetrate all.

Fourth, the vision stresses power. (1:15)  The metal spoken of is metal that has strength and endurance.  His feet will trample all those who dare to oppose Him.

His voice was powerful and majestic, like the sound of the waves on the sea.  When the Lord speaks, men should listen.  His voice carries the power and weight of authority.

Fifth, this vision of Christ points to the judgment of Christ. (1:16)  This is not some good news; it was the Lord’s Word of judgment on His enemies.

Other times in Revelation we have this reference again. In chapter 2, concerning false teacher, Jesus says “Therfore repent.  IF not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth”  Rev. 2:16

In Revelation 19, the sword comes from the mouth of Christ to destroy His enemies.

Jesus Christ has not forgotten about justice.  So Christians, in all of your distress and trouble, do not worry, the God of justice has not forgotten you.

Sixth, the vision speaks of the deity of Christ. (17-18)

“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.  And not only is He alive, but He now controls the realm of death, for He has the “keys of death and Hades.”

It is Christ and not Imperial Rome who holds the power of death and Hades.  He has the power to release the spirits of those who died for their faith.  Death would not destroy them, and Hades could not hold them.

Jesus is also saying that He has the power to cast unbelievers into the realms of death and Hades, as is evident later in Revelation.  What He wants these early Christians to know and apply is His deity.  “Do not be afraid!”

Even though it appears that the world is ruled by Rome, it is Jesus Christ who is the real ruler.

And so as the church face extinction because a megalomaniac proclaimed himself lord and god.  It is the vision of Christ that should give them strength and understanding to withstand the persecution and trials they are dealing with.

And as we look at Jesus, we too should gain strength.

Can you see His portrait?  Look upon Him.

  1. Jesus has all authority
  2. Jesus is pure and holy.
  3. Jesus’ vision sees all and so He knows all.
  4. Jesus’ power can trample all who oppose Him.
  5. Jesus’ judgment trumps the judgment of this world.
  6. Do not be afraid, Jesus is deity and He holds the power of death.

Summary

Some are uncomfortable with the concept of a powerful Lord who punishes evil.  They prefer the Jewish carpenter, the pale Galilean, the gentle Shepherd. When evil comes into your life, however—when the world turns against you and hope flies out the window—you need someone who knows your problems and heartaches, someone with the power to do something about it.

Revelation tells us that that Someone we need is Jesus.

Simeon–Looking for Jesus

 

Simeon—Looking for Jesus

Luke 2:25-35

The only things we are told about Simeon are those things which matter most to God—things which pertain to his faith and his character, things which tell us about his relationship with God.  We are told that Simeon was just and devout—he was a man who loved God deeply, so much so that God was able to use him in a wonderful way. Read Luke 2:26-27.

Today, those who look for Jesus will find Him.

Simeon was waiting for something.  In fact, he had waited for a long time for this moment.  As Mary and Joseph came into the temple area, Simeon reached out and he took this baby Jesus in his arms, and he must have experienced that same feeling grandparents have when they first hold that new grandchild.  There was such joy and excitement.  Simeon burst forth in praise to God because this wasn’t just any baby.

Read Luke 2:28-32

Read Matthew 13:45-46

The pearl is so spectacular that the merchant realizes that nothing else really matters as long as he had that pearl and so he sold everything to obtain it.  For Simeon, seeing Jesus was all that he wanted in life.  With his own eyes and with his own arms he held the Messiah, to him, that was the Pearl of Great Price. Nothing else really mattered anymore.

More than anything else, Simeon wanted Jesus.

Read Luke 2:34-35.

Wow, thanks Simeon. We appreciate the uplifting words.  Remind us not to invite you over for cake and ice cream at his first birthday!

Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that His (the baby’s) life will involve as much pain as it will joy.  The sword that will pierce Mary will inch its way even deeper into her heart as Jesus experienced rejection, rejection that will eventually end at the cross. 

These words prepare Mary for the grief that she must carry.

Read John 1:10-11.

When God came to tell us the truth about our sinfulness and our need for Him, it wasn’t appreciated by everyone.  And so Simeon says that people will stumble over Him. Many people would turn away from Jesus. 

Simeon knew that God wanted to bless us, to save us, but that salvation would come at a great cost.  That salvation came through a baby born in Bethlehem, and it was going to cost the life of that child.  And unless this baby dies, there is no joy for us. 

The joy that Simeon experienced and shared with Mary and Joseph wasn’t just the excitement of holding a newborn baby.  It is a joy that is centered on knowing and believing that, in spite of who we are and what we do, there is a God who loves us and has sent his Son Jesus so that He could rescue us from our sins by dying for us on the cross. 

The sword that pierced the soul of Mary resulted in the greatest joy that we can ever possibly know.

Like Simeon, have you found Jesus? 

 

God was a Carpenter: Mark 6:1-3

 

God was a Carpenter

Read: Mark 6:1-3

Was Jesus serving His heavenly Father as He worked in His earthly father’s shop?

When Jesus was 12, and His parents find Him in the temple, what did Jesus say?  “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  (Luke 2:49)  Did that just apply to that moment, and the moment He went back to Nazareth and built a house He was not doing God’s work? 

Jesus did His best, and so served God. 

We don’t serve God by going to church!  We serve God by living for Him in every context of life. School, work and play, we need to do our best, and so serve God. 

Read: Ephesians 6:5-8

Secular becomes Sacred when it is done for the glory of God.

Read: Ephesians 4:28 “working what is good”

Why are you working ?  Why are you doing the things you are doing?

The Glory of the Ordinary

Jesus came into this world in an ordinary fashion (minus the virgin birth).  He was born to two poor parents.  He was a baby, and He did things that a normal baby would do.

Read Isaiah 53:2 

Jesus looked ordinary; there was nothing special about the way He looked.  It was because of this that the Jews couldn’t imagine that He was in any way extraordinary.  “What did they expect?”

Who does “Sacred” work?

Mothers who raise their children to be Godly.

Husbands who work and still serve their wives and children.

Christians who are always there to encourage and lift others up.

People who can hug and squeeze your hand.

Those who constantly and earnestly pray.

Those who give liberally for church programs.

Those who show us a Godly marriage.

Those who work among the lost and are an example of honesty, integrity and purity.

Those who look after the elderly.

Those who can sit and listen. 

The Significance of the Incarnation

Jesus’ working as a carpenter tells us of God’s desire to reach out to us.

Only though His willingness to be like us do we have the opportunity to be like Him.

Hebrews 2:14-18. 

Summary

God became a carpenter so that as we serve others, we can serve Him.

God became a carpenter so that out of the ordinary, we can be made to be of great value simply by dedication on your part to use your life and serve God—not just one day out of the week, but day in and day out. 

God became a carpenter so that He could bring us into the church.  He could talk with us and know us intimately. 

God came, to die for us—to take on our sins.  

 

The Cross is at the Center: I Corinthians 15:1-5

What should be the Focus of Our Faith?

The Church. Certainly scripture stresses the church as the beautiful bride of Christ. It is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:23). But, as important as the church is, it is never presented in scripture as the focal point of the Christian faith. Rather, it is the redeemed body of believers who meet together to help us focus on the part that matters and to share that message with others. 

Ethics. Our world is in great need of some basic ethical and moral teaching. All around us, we see the tragic results of lives lived outside the boundaries of God’s commands and precepts. And though I believe the Bible teaches a standard of morality that will enrich our lives, that is not at the very heart and center of the gospel message.

Doctrine regarding such matters as church organization or worship. Doctrine is important. It is important that we believe the truth which is based on God’s Word. But when the quest for correct doctrine becomes the focus of our faith, the part that matters, then what one believes assumes greater importance than the person in whom one believes. Seeing doctrine at the center causes the church to divide over a large variety of differences and disagreements. As important as correct doctrine is, it is not in itself the part that matters.

Tradition. Tradition is an important part of our religious experience. We have a set pattern of doing things that gives stability to our religious expression. Certainly we strive to base that tradition on scripture, but to focus on religious tradition as the center of religious experience is, of course, a very dangerous thing. Tradition is important, but it is certainly not the part that matters.

Emotion. We need to understand that man is an emotional being and the expression of emotion in religion is a very important thing. Many have made the mistake of trying to exclude emotion from religion, and that’s wrong. Others have reacted against the coldness of formal ritual and have tried to focus all of religion on their emotions. To them feeling good about God is the focus of their faith. But having a subjective feeling-based religion can carry us away from God. Emotion is not the part that matters.

What matters?  Read I Corinthians 2:1-2.

Read again, I Corinthians 15:1-8.

But what is the gospel? The word “gospel” means “good news”, but what is the good news?

“When I came to you, I preached the gospel, and here’s what I preached – that Jesus Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day”

Why does Christianity have a Cross?

The Cross Reminds Us How Awful Sin Is

The cross tells us why God cannot live in peaceful coexistence with sin. It’s a truth that God has tried to show us from the very beginning. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It always has been. James said, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).

The Bible gives us account after account of how that principle holds true.

God wants me to see the ugliness of sin so he has left me a record of our shameful history so I can see what sin does to people. But having done all that, enough still hadn’t been done. So God looked around and to show us how terrible sin is, to show us how utterly disgusting and repulsive it is, God “spared not his own Son”. And as I hear the sound of spikes echoing in my mind, as I think of what God had to go through on that tree because of my sins, I begin to realize just how awful my sins are.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:21

The Cross Shows Us How Great God’s Love Is

The awfulness of sin could only be countered by an infinite divine love. John said, “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us.” (I John 3:16). Who taught us what love is? Jesus did. How did he do it? By giving up his life for us. John further writes, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” (I John 4:9).

The Cross Shows Us How Involved God Is In Our Human Predicament

In Matthew 1, Matthew said of Jesus when he was born, “And they shall call His name

Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23). 

Jesus Christ is “God with us” in our human predicament of pain and mortality.

God loved us so deeply that he was required — not by any external compulsion but by love alone — to become God with us. To embrace us in our mortality.

The Cross Shows Us How Sin Is Overcome

The ultimate human problem is sin. It’s what separates us from God and makes it impossible for us to enter heaven. Nothing impure, defiled, or unholy can enter God’s presence, so there is no way I can go there to be with him. No way, that is, unless my sin can be removed.

And removing sin and its effects from a human heart is similar to trying to remove a crack from a pane of glass. It can’t be done!

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Summary

Isaac Watts’ wrote these words in a song that we often sing:

When I survey the wondrous cross

on which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss

and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord that I should boast

save in the death of Christ my Lord

All the vain things that charm me most

I sacrifice them to his love.

Have you been broken by the cross?  Have you bowed down before the cross?  Have you been changed by the cross?

 

Guidelines for Worship

Please open your Bible and begin reading I Corinthians 14:1-25 before you read the blog.
Guidelines for Worship

One of the things that Paul is going to tell us is that praising God is not the primary purpose of our time together. A second thing may surprise you is that Paul is going to say something about worship which opens the door for more acts of worship than we traditionally have acknowledged. We have traditionally said that there are five acts of worship, and only five – singing, praying, taking the Lord’s Supper, giving and preaching. I would suggest to you, based on I Corinthians 14 that there are at least six acts of worship. Furthermore, in this congregation, we engage in all six of those acts of worship every Sunday. Do I have your attention yet?

The Governing Principle in worship is Edification

Read I Corinthians 14:1-6

Paul indicates there was nothing wrong with the Corinthians wanting spiritual gifts. But if they wanted to have any spiritual gift, Paul said it should have been prophecy. As I said last week, a prophet was someone who proclaimed God’s truth. It was similar to our preaching today, except they didn’t have to study the Bible and prepare their messages.

But the reason that prophecy was the more significant gift because it was able to accomplish some things that tongues were not. The words that Paul uses over and over in this passage are the words “edify” and “edification”.

Speaking in tongues in a typical worship service in Corinth had no edifying value at all.

Remember that speaking in tongues meant to speak in foreign languages. Whenever that happened, they couldn’t speak to men (unless it was a language they understood); it provided no instruction, no edification. The only thing it could accomplish was to speak to God who understands all languages. 

The Corinthians, however, were more interested in something that was mysterious than something that was edifying. They didn’t care that nobody could understand them. Their concern was only for the excitement of speaking mysteries in the spirit. They didn’t care that the mysteries had no meaning to themselves or to anyone else.

There must be understanding for there to be edification.

Read I Corinthians 14:6-19

Eight times in this section, Paul uses the word “understanding”. Because just standing up here preaching doesn’t do any good unless somebody understands what I’m saying.

This should be common sense for us, but Paul says it just doesn’t make any sense to say things in front of the congregation that nobody can understand. But that’s exactly what was happening in Corinth.

First of all, if a musical instrument does not give a clear and distinct sound, nobody will recognize the music being played.

Second, Paul says a bugle call must be understandable.

Third, Paul says the same thing is true in everyday language. Unless you are speaking the same language as someone else, you can’t get your point across.

The purpose of our gathering is not merely to praise God. It is to edify one another.

Our worship should not hinder our work of evangelism.

Read I Corinthians 14:20-25

The misuse of tongues was having an adverse effect on the evangelistic outreach of the church in Corinth. Any unbelievers who attended a worship service where tongues were being misused would not be led closer to Christ. Instead, he would be “turned off”. In fact, Paul says that hearing strange languages being spoken without an interpreter may lead him to the conclusion that everybody in the church had gone crazy.

Application

Read Hebrews 10:24-25, then 26-27.

The writer’s point is that the Christian walk can be tough. We need each other’s support to make it. To avoid being deceived by sin, we need to meet together so that we can encourage one another toward love and good deeds. You see, one of the best ways to avoid sin is to be active in Kingdom service.

Everything we do in our worship needs to be tested by this rule in I Corinthians and Hebrews – are we truly edifying one another? Are we truly encouraging one another to be more active in serving God? Are we truly encouraging one another to live out our faith in a hostile world? Are we encouraging one another to serve in love? Are we encouraging one another to follow the example of Jesus Christ in our homes, in our workplace, in our neighborhood? Are we encouraging one another to speak up for Christ?

So let me ask you, “Who are you going to encourage this morning?” Because if the answer is “no one”, then I’ll be the first to tell you that you might as well have stayed home, because you didn’t truly come to worship.

 When Paul is asked about what is appropriate to do in the worship assembly, he asks two very pragmatic questions:

Is what we are doing serving the purpose of edifying, strengthening, encouraging, and comforting the other Christians who are present?

Is what we are doing going to make it clear to any non-Christians who are present that “God is present in this place”?

 

Problems in Corinth: Love—The Most Excellent Thing

Problems in Corinth: Love—The Most Excellent Thing

I Corinthians 13:1-3

For those of us who are Christians, we are especially concerned with agape love – an unselfish, committed, sacrificial love – because that’s the kind of love that defines our God, and the kind of love that should distinguish us in this world.

John writes in his first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8).

But, throughout history, it seems that the church has found it difficult to be loving. It is easier to be doctrinally correct than it is to love. It is easier to be active in church work than it is to love. And yet the supreme characteristic that God demands of his people is love.

The night before he died, Jesus said to his apostles, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

I Corinthians 13

If love is that important, then it makes sense that we need to spend at least a little bit of time in I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” of the Bible. Paul is writing to a group of Christians who are not very loving toward each other. Rather, they were a selfish bunch of folks who did a lot of fussing and fighting because everyone was doing his own thing for his own good, with little or no regard for others. 

They had plenty of spiritual gifts in the church, but Paul closes out the 12th chapter of I Corinthians by saying, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” (I Corinthians 12:31).

Love is more important than miraculous gifts.

Read I Corinthians 13:1 

Paul says that speaking in tongues without love is the same thing as playing a cymbal solo. If you could speak 500 different languages but you didn’t say anything in love, then what you said was just noise.

Love is more important than preaching.

Read I Corinthians 13:2a

The gift of prophecy was one of the greatest of the spiritual gifts because the prophet proclaimed God’s truth to people so they would know and understand it. Paul himself was a great prophet. But a preacher who doesn’t have love is of no value.

Love is more important than knowledge.

Read I Corinthians 13:2b

Paul says that even if you know it all – if you know everything there is to know about nuclear science; if you know everything there is to know about medicine; if you know everything there is to know about philosophy and psychology and theology and every other kind of “ology” – if you know it all, you are virtually omniscient, but you don’t have love, then it’s worthless.

Love is more important than faith.

Read I Corinthians 13:2c

We’re told in the Scripture that faith is so important that it is impossible to please God without faith. And I suspect that all of you here this morning have faith.

I’m sure you believe that God is the creator of this world. You may believe that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son, and that He came into our world and lived a sinless life, and that He died and was buried and rose again on the third day. You believe that He is now at the right hand of the Father, and is preparing a place for us, and that one day He will come again.

But without love, faith have no value.

Love is more important than generosity.

Read I Corinthians 13:3a

And Paul says if giving is done without love in your heart, it is a worthless sacrifice. Because people give for all kinds of reasons. Some people give out of guilt.  

Some people give to impress other people. Some people give because they think that God is waiting in heaven to zap ‘em if they don’t. Some parents give elaborate gifts to their children in order to try to make their kids love them. 

There are a lot of reasons why people give, but Paul says that none of them are good reasons. 

If love is absent from our lives, then our giving is empty. The motive for giving should always be love — love for God and love for God’s people.

Love is more important than martyrdom.

Read I Corinthians 13:3b

 How deep is your commitment? Are you willing to lay down your life for God, if it came to that? But Paul is saying that even if you go to church every time the doors are open, if you read your Bible faithfully, if you pray, if you do all the things that a Christian person ought to do, but there’s no love behind all that, then it’s worthless in God’s sight.

Summary

When the world sees us acting like our Father, they’ll know whose family we belong to. “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As we have talked today, there may be some of you who have thought to yourself, “I wish my brethren would treat me like that.” If that’s your response, then you’ve missed the whole point of the lesson because the response Jesus wants you to have is to say, “I want to be a brother like that.” I want to live in a way that there’s no mistake about it. People will know who my Father is.

 

Proper Use of Freedom

 Scripture Text: I Corinthians 10:14-33
The Proper Use of Freedom

A Review of Chapter 8 and 9

Chp. 8 Paul said that for a mature Christian, the meat itself wasn’t a sinful thing.  We know that an idol isn’t something real, and so the meat is just meat.  Or liberty allows us to eat.

But we must ask ourselves, How it would affect other Christians? What about those who just came out of paganism?

And so Paul lets us know that there are some things that we are free to do, but we need to be careful about how our actions affect others.

Chp. 9, Paul gives up some things.  In verse 14 he says “those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (Verse 12) “Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.”

We see this principle used in the marriage union.  One person often gives “things” up because there is something more precious to them than getting what they want all of the time.

Paul would give anything up to preach the Gospel.

Chapter 10, Flee Idolatry

Read I Corinthians 10:14-22. Can we eat a meal with non-Christians who view the meal as worship to their god?

When we partake of the Communion, we are announcing to one another and to the world around us that this is who we agree with, this is who we have something in common with.  When we as Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are sharing together in the blood of Christ and sharing together in the body of Christ.

For the Christians in Corinth to share a table with idolaters was to identify with the, to share something in common with the idol and with all those who sacrificed to it.  There was nothing innocent about it.  And so it is totally inconsistent for Christians to participate in any expression of worship that exalts something else as Lord.

A Christian cannot “drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons:…”

Principles for Using Christian Freedom

Read I Corinthians 10:23-24.  Our concern needs to be for one another.  I need to be sensitive to my brother in Christ and not do anything that might cause him to fall away from Christ.

Read I Corinthians 10:25-27. If it doesn’t bother my conscience to buy meat in the market, then buy it and eat it. 

Read I Corinthians 10:28-29. If you’re with someone who’s making a big deal about where the mat came from, then don’t eat it.  Don’t argue about it. 

Read I Corinthians 10:31-33. My life is not all about getting to do what I want to do.  My life as a Christian is about one thing, glorifying God. His glory is to be our life commitment.  Everything else pales by comparison.

Application for Today

Christians are not simply islands unto themselves who live an “every-man-for-himself” kind of life.  When we are thinking about what to do, the weaknesses of those who are new to the faith or who are immature in their faith must be taken into consideration. A person who is committed to Jesus Christ can never ride roughshod over the ideas or feelings of someone else for whom Christ died.

Paul addressed this same issue in Romans 14:5-6 when he wrote about observing “holy days” or holidays. He said, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike.” In other words, some people observe holidays and some people don’t. So what’s the solution? “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.“

Maintain a respect for one another even through the differences.

Summary

If the Bible settles it, great!  If not, then consider: How will it affect your brothers and sisters in Christ? Will it cause any of them to fall away or lose their faith because of your actions? What about you, will it draw you closer to God or take you further from him? Will it bring God glory and honor, or will it serve to dishonor him?

Our commitment to Jesus Christ demands that we balance our Christian freedom with our responsibility to one another and our responsibility to God. 

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

 

Cool to be gay?

Homosexuality: Cool to be Gay?

Sam Dilbeck tells this story: While substitute teaching a few years ago, I noticed two girls surrounded by an entourage of nervous boys.  Intrigued, I waited to see if any of the boys would have enough courage to engage the girls.  Finally a few of the boys did.  They talked for a few minutes with a lot of awkward grins, hushed giggles, and hair twisting.  I listened to their discussion and was appalled.  The girls were trying to convince the boys that they were lesbians, not because they were, but because it was cool.  That was in 1997, the year Ellen came out as the first openly gay lead character on primetime television. 

Now, over a decade later, the influence of the homosexual agenda on American (and global) culture cannot be ignored.  As the homosexual lifestyle gains acceptance, how should Christians react?

Overhauling Straight America

A decade before those sixth grade girls played chic lesbians, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen outlined a strategic plan to change America’s perception of the homosexual lifestyle.  “The first order of business is the desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights…You can forget about trying to persuade the masses that homosexuality is a good thing.  But if you can get them to think that it is just another thing with a shrug of their shoulders, then you battle for legal and social rights are virtually won.”  (Kirk and Pill “The Overhauling of Straight America” 1987)

The Kirk-Madsen strategy contains six steps for normalizing homosexuality.

  1.  Talk about “gay” and “gayness” as loudly and often as possible.
  2. Portray gays as victims, not aggressive challengers.
  3. Seek to give protectors of homosexuality a just cause.
  4. Control the image of homosexuals and make them look good.
  5. Make opponents of homosexual activity look bad.
  6. Raise money for their homosexual overhaul.  They estimate that 10-15 million practicing homosexuals could raise a war chest of $20-30 million. Their plan also advocates soliciting funds from individuals and corporations that are sympathetic to the homosexual agenda.

TROY HAS FALLEN

This strategy has entered mainstream America like a Trojan horse and eroded her moral sensibilities.  Today, anyone who opposes same-sex activity is vilified and labeled “homophobic.”  Few people possess the courage to stand against their agenda—not in politics, not in the media, and not in the culture.

Even among Christians, gayness is growing more acceptable. The liberal theology of postmodernism calls into question the absolute condemnation of homosexuality.  Spencer Burke, a postmodern theologian, laments the inability to question Biblical teaching, “What to earn a place on the… (Christian) black list, admit your uncertainty about homosexuality as a Biblically condemned sin.”

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is an unacceptable practice before God.  God presided over the first marriage.  He then gave the first command to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth”  Genesis 1:28

In the Law of Moses, God clearly condemns homosexuality.

Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 “”If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

God’s attitude did not change in the millennia after the Law of Moses; the New Testament writers describe homosexuality as “against nature” and “unrighteous.”

Romans 1:26-27 “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

I Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, not thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

God’s view is the same today as it was then.

Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

When we examine the historical evidence, we can see the Christians are far from being homophobic or advocates of hate-speech.  Americans have the right and obligation to speak out about an unhealthy, unproductive, degenerate lifestyle that erodes the moral fabric of our society.

NOTHING NEW

Homosexuality is not a new lifestyle; it has always existed as a moral issue.  In America today, advocates of homosexuality have elevated it to a divisive political issue.  Some insist that homosexuals have the “right” to marry, to adopt children, and to be accepted as normal by society and law.  They shout “hate crime” when Christians teach that homosexuality is sinful. 

Hiding behind Love

In our postmodern culture (postmodern: nothing can be said to be true, or right, or just), the term situational ethics seems to rear its head regularly.  We don’t have to look much further than the local newspapers or TV shows to see it.  There may be not a banner that floats across the screen alerting you of what is going on, but we see it practices broadly.

Did you know that a man by the name of Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991), once an Episcopal priest, is often given credit for pioneering the modern situational ethics model?  As a matter of fact, the magic carpet that he rode, which America seems to have jumped on with him, was rooted in a misunderstanding of the love of God.  It was Mr. Fletcher’s misunderstanding that as long as love is a person’ intention, then whatever the end is, the person is justified. He inappropriately pulled this philosophy from 1 John 4:8 where the apostle of love writes, “God is love.”

Love is a short, for-letter word with significant ramifications.  However, it’s also a word that has come to have different definitions as we, as individuals, have grown and matured. 

As a child, we would use the word as a response to someone taking care of us.  This was a term of appreciation and gratitude.

When the teen years hit, the word took on a meaning more of feelings as, perhaps, we told that crush, “I love you>” 

On the wedding day the word love became synonymous with the commitment we devoted to another person.  Surely it encompassed the feelings too; however, from that moment on, “I love you” goes far beyond feelings. When we became parents, love as used with our children meant that we had to make some pretty tough decisions about rearing them, but always with their best interests in mind. 

While love can definitely be an emotional response and a word of affection denoting a commitment, it is at times used as a reason for doing something.  For instance, when we discipline our children, the reason is love.  When a mother cares for her family, or a father goes to work, the motivation is love. 

However, when it comes to the arena of morality, do we ever use love as a measure to making decisions about issues like euthanasia or in deciding if something like lying is appropriate or not?  Some do, and it’s their “love” that drives them to rationalize what the correct answer is.”

Although love is wonderful and the Bible definitely speaks of the love of God towards us as the motivating factor in sending His Son to die on the cross (Jn. 3:16), the question remains, “Is that the determining factor for what is Truth? 

The answer is both “yes” and “not completely.”

In the book of 1 John the word love occurs 46 times.  We see John writing about the love that we are to have one for another, God’s love for us, and the love we are to have for God.  If we study the concept completely with in the book of 1 John, specifically in 1 John 5:3, we read, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.” 

When studied in context, it doesn’t take us long to understand that John was not saying that love was separate from God being our standard.  Actually, he reiterates that our love for God and His for us involves us keeping Him as the measure of right and wrong.  He is to be our standard when it comes to the decisions that are easy and the decision that are difficult.

So, was Joseph Fletch correct when he came to his conclusion that as long as love is our motivation, the outcome will be correct?  Only if that love is consistent with the source of love—God.  Even with love as the motivation, if the action itself directly contradicts the inspired Word of God (homosexuality, euthanasia, lying, etc.) and thus violates the very nature of God, it is wrong and is sin. 

There are many activities and behaviors that hide behind love; however, that doesn’t mean God accepts sin just because some try to justify it.  This is one situation where love is not the answer.  Love for God and Truth is the answer.

Sifting Through the Rubble

Religious leaders attempting to adapt the Church to modern culture want to accept aberrant behavior as normal.  This includes finding ways to sanctify homosexuality.  Truly, Troy has fallen, but what can be made of its ruins.  

Pandora’s Box has been opened and will probably never be closet on the homosexual agenda.  Like adultery, fornication, divorce, drunkenness, and a host of other sins, homosexuality has come out of the closet and become a visible part of a decadent society.   

We must be Christians. The Christian response to sin has been the same since the cross.  We cannot give people a reason to vilify us through rude and abusive behavior toward practicing gays (I Peter 3:16). 

 We must become friends to the sinners like Jesus (Matthew 11:19).  We cannot ignore or treat them as repulsive.  Instead, we must confront their sin with the compassion of Christ.  Repentance is vital to their salvation, and we must do what we can to help them leave the clutches of sin and cleave to the Savior (James 5:20).

We must teach people about the dangers of sin—not just homosexuality, but all sin (Romans 6:23).  We must be passionate about renouncing sin and proclaiming the Word of God “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

We must teach our children/grandchildren about the destructive nature of sin and seek ways to protect them from its grip.  But at the same time, we must show them how to be merciful, patient and forgiving.  We cannot instill the sin of hatred and prejudice in the next generation.

It took a couple of sixth grade girls to show how well the Kirk-Madsen plan has overhauled American thinking on homosexuality.  Like any sin, homosexuality affects our culture, just as it affected the culture of the first century. 

While the mechanism of its influence has changed, its results have not. Today, the world still needs Jesus and Christians are His ambassadors to the world.  We must stand opposed to sin while reaching out with the power of grace.  May we have the strength to confront the sin, compassion to accept the sinner, and the wisdom to convert souls.

Think Magazine, April 2009.  Writers, Sam Dilbeck, Joe Wells and Luke Griffin sited.

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