July 2: Allowed or Helpful?

1 Corinthians 10:23-24. “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

Paul is quoting the Corinthians back to the Corinthians again. Their argument was “all things are lawful.” In essence they were saying, “We’re super spiritual and we have spiritual knowledge, and we know that we are free and not under the law, therefore we can do anything we want.”

And Paul does not dispute this logic. But he does say it is short sighted. It is not helpful. It falls short of your union with Christ, and Christ living through you. It falls short of the law of love.

Yes, Corinthians, you are free to eat the meat sacrificed to idols. No, you are not under the law. Yes, everything is yours to enjoy- the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (10:26). But, more importantly, you are free to love and seek the good of your neighbor (10:24). That is what “to live is Christ” really means. We give up our rights for the sake of the other. For the sake of the church. Our mission is to build up others. To build up the church. Our aim is to be helpful not just correct.

But we must do that within the framework of the individual consciences of each believer. Do we want all Christians to have a strong conscience? Yes. Do we want Christians to not be bound by petty scruples? Yes. Do we want all Christians to stop obsessing about being right all the time. Yes. Do we want all Christians to be known for what they are for, more than what they are against? Yes. Do we want all Christians to stop policing each other and asking questions about where they got their meat (insert your own modern example here)? Yes. Please God, yes. But this takes time, and patience, and gentleness, and grace.

Christian, you must learn this incredible truth: you are free in Christ, but your freedom is bounded by love. Because without this love you are not truly free- you will be in bondage to your own selfish desires. Therefore, we must learn to use our freedom as an opportunity to be a servant. A slave even. A slave to one another and so to Christ. We must seek the growth and transformation of that other believer. You know, the one in your small group, or Sunday School class. The one you are discipling up close, or the one who is watching you from afar.

Isn’t that what Christ did for you? He gave up his rights for your good. He died for you while you were still a sinner (Rom. 5:8). He came down to your level and saved you. And ever since that day he has gently guided and taught and transformed you into his likeness with great care and patience. That is the Christ that is in you, using you to do the same for others.

Are you living your life in a false “freedom” that allows you to do whatever you want? Or can you see yourself using your freedom to love others and help them grow in Christ? Are you the Christian with a “weak” conscience? Do you try to force your scruples on everyone else? Can you think of an example of something in your life that is “allowed” but not “helpful” to your church community, friends, or family? How does your union with Christ empower you to live a life of freedom bounded by love?

 

 

 

 

 

July 1: Participation With Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 

Here in the midst of telling the Corinthians how to avoid idolatry, Paul, once again, takes them back to their “participation” (koinonia), or union, with Christ. We often translate koinonia as fellowship. But it is much more than just hanging out after church or going bowling with the youth group. It is a partnership, sharing, or participation.

Paul has been dealing with the issue of idolatry. To participate in idol worship it to participate with demons. The meat and the idol itself are nothing or neutral. But to participate in the ritual at the altar is to participate with the Spiritual Forces of evil.

In the same way, to participate in the cup and bread of the Lord’s Supper is to participate with Christ. The cup and the bread are neutral- they do not magically become the actual body and blood of Jesus. But in the same way as at a pagan temple, to participate in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper is to have true spiritual communion with Christ.

When it come’s to the Lord’s Supper there are usually two contrasting views:

  1. Transubstantiation: the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, and Christ is re-sacrificed for our sins each time we participate. This keeps forgiveness “up to date” if you will.
  2. Memorial: the bread and wine (or grape juice if your a good Baptist) are just symbols of Christ’s death for us in the past. Forgiveness has already been achieved and the Lord’s Supper is a reminder of what was accomplished for us.

Paul is offering us a third way of seeing the Lord’s Supper, one that connects us to our union with Christ. We might call it a Participation view. The Lord’s Supper is a participation (koinonia) with Christ and his death, and it is a participation with the Body of Christ. It is far more than just a symbol or a remembrance (although it is those things). But it is also not a re-sacrificing of Christ which imparts grace upon us anew.

1 Corinthians 1:9. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship [koinonia] of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

You see, we are already in koinonia with Christ because we are in Christ. We have fellowship, communion, partnership with him by our union with him. The Lords’ Supper does not bring us into koinonia with Christ, as if we have lost it and need to regain it over and over again. We can never lose it because we are in Christ.

But union with Christ also means that Christ is in us. He is living his life through us. And that is what is happening at the Lord’s Supper. We are expressing, or living out, our koinonia with Christ, the koinonia that we already have. How?

First, by sharing Christ’s experience over and over again. To share the bread and cup is to share in his death. How is that even possible? It happened 2000 years ago. Each time we take the bread and cup we are connecting our mind, soul, and heart to Christ and his sacrifice. Each time we take the bread and cup we are saying that we will live sacrificially for others. For Christ. We are sharing in a death to selfish desires and the idols of our hearts. Jesus is in us and we are his temple, but our minds and hearts wander. We need progressive sanctification and mind renewal. The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual grace that renews our desires, commitments, and affections, and our actions.

Second, through our koinonia with the Body of Christ. When Paul says is it not a participation in the body of Christ, he is using a double meaning – it is a participation with the bodily death of Christ but also the church body. Notice also his use of the word one three times in verse 17. Paul is calling for unity in the church. For love and grace. For the stronger and the weaker to serve one another. He is calling for them to live out horizontally what they have vertically. Union with Christ should result in union in the church. The Lord’s Supper will maintain that unity through our shared experience and common story.

“To live is Christ” is to share the experience of Christ and the Body of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a shared spiritual experience with Christ and the Body that renews our minds by faith. It is much more than a symbol. It is a spiritual experience of our union with Christ. Reminding us that we are in Christ by his death, and that Christ is alive in us seeking to love the church and serve her with his (your) whole life.

How have you seen the Lord’s Supper? Do you participate? Do you see it as a sharing in the death of Christ? Do you see it as unifying you and the church? What attitudes do you have regarding the Lord’s Supper that might need to change?

 

June 30: Flee You Fools.

1 Corinthians 10:14. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Back in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul told us to flee sexual immorality. Do you remember his argument? Because we are one in spirit with Christ, and because we are the body of Christ, when we participate in sexual immorality we bring Christ into that same relationship. Our bodies are an expression of Christ. Our spirit is the Spirit of Christ. We were purchased by Christ for the glory of God. We are the temple dwelling of God. Therefore, there is no casual sex.

And there is no casual worship.

Just as our union with Christ logically forbids our union with a prostitute (or any sexual immorality), so too our union with Christ forbids our union with an idol.

Do not be fooled. Yes the idol itself is nothing (see 8:4). But there is a spiritual power behind the idol. It is a demonic power. It is the power of the Enemy who seeks to draw you away from faith in your union with Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:18-20. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 

This is why Paul says “run away, fast and far.” There are spiritual forces at work that want to destroy you and me, and the church. Therefore, we must continuously be running from this danger.

So Paul’s question is, “Should someone who is united to Christ spiritually also be united to demons spiritually?” Jesus’ love, but also his authority, demand loyalty to him alone. Oh and by the way, let the Israelites be an example to you. When they tried to worship Yahweh alongside other gods, their hearts were divided and their kingdom collapsed.

So what about us today? What idolatry are we meant to flee? The idols of sex? Money? Power? What about family or friends? What about your morality or law keeping? Maybe your victimhood or anxiety? Your introversion or your extroversion? Your christian nationalism or politics? Education? Looks? Brains? Authority? Control?

An idol is anything that takes God’s place in our heart and affections. It’s anything we look to above Christ for our self-justification, self-identity, and self-actualization. They are often good things that we make into ultimate things.

In Paul’s day these idols had names and big temples. Today we keep them nameless and hidden from plain sight. We don’t speak of our idols. In fact, most of us can’t even identify what our idols are because we are so spiritual blinded by them.

Your idol’s temple is you. The cella (inner room where the idol sat) is deep in your desires and motivations, and wrapped up in your hurts and insecurities. But Jesus is already occupying the cella of your life by the Holy Spirit (6:19). When we casually worship all of these other things, we are serving two masters at once. But union with Christ simply will not allow this to continue. Christ will have his place. He will fight for your heart. He will forceably bind and remove the strong man and then plunder his house (Mark 3:22-27). In fact, he already has. And he will continue to battle for what he has purchased by his own blood.

The demons behind your idols are real. And they really are defeated. But not fully and not yet. That day is coming. Until that great day “to live is Christ” means that we cannot participate or fellowship (koinonia) with both demons and Christ in the cella of our heart. So flee idolatry. Run. Do not argue with it, examine it, weigh it, or play with it. It’s a disease. It’s a strong man seeking to destroy you. But take heart. Christ is stronger still. He has bound you in grace and forgiveness and perfect love. Submit to it and be free.

Can you identity the idols of your heart? Of your culture’s heart? In what part of your life do you need to run away from an idol? Can you see how good things can become ultimate things that seek to replace Christ in your affections and identity? How can union with Christ allow you to flee idolatry today? How can his perfect love make these lesser “gods” melt away in your heart?

 

June 29: A Way of Escape (yes it’s possible).

1 Corinthians 10:13. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Paul’s warning to the Corinthian believers at the start of 1 Corinthians 10 could leave them (and us) thinking that there’s no hope. How could we ever avoid the destruction that he talks about? Am I putting Christ to the test? Am I doomed? Can I escape?

Thank God for these reminders in verse 13.

Paul reminds us of God’s covenant faithfulness. God is faithful. 

He will never abandon us to our own devices. He has made a covenant with you and he will bring it to completion. Christ is the completion of God’s faithfulness to us; his death and our union with that death. In a very real sense God has already destroyed us for our sin and faithlessness. This happened when we were crucified with Christ.

Paul reminds us of the normality of our temptations. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. 

You are never facing a special temptation beyond what any other human faces. All of our hearts are idol making factories. We are all sexually tempted. We all put Christ’s grace to the test every day. And don’t even get me started with grumbling. We all have “misplaced desires, misdirected passions, and self-deceptions and illusions” that we fight every day (Anthony Thiselton, 1 Corinthians).

Paul reminds us that no temptation is irresistible. He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. 

Listen, the only way a statement like this could be made is if there is a supernatural power at work. How can Paul say to all Christians at all times that they can resist all temptations? Because the ability to resist must be founded upon something beyond ourselves. And that is Christ and his indwelling life in you and through you.

Christ has solved the temptation problem for all believers for all of time. You do not need anything beyond what you already have to resist temptation. Anytime we think we don’t have the ability to resist, we are believing the lie of the Enemy. Anytime we seek, or even pray for, a greater power to resist temptation, we are failing to believe that the life of Christ, that we have inside of us, is already the greatest power we could ever ask for.

God does not tempt us to sin, but he does allow or let us be tempted. Why? Because it allows us to trust in the finished work of Christ again. It allows us to seek the love and grace and forgiveness that he has already placed inside of us. It allows us to depend on Christ our Savior each day. It allows us to image Christ in that dependency and in our faith as we bear up under the temptation.

By the way, some people use this verse to say “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Usually they are speaking of our trials. But this verse is speaking, in context, about the temptation to sin- idolatry, sexual immorality, testing Christ, grumbling (see 1 Corinthians 10:6-12). The truth is, God does allow us to face sufferings beyond what we can handle. This level of hardship, beyond what we can handle, is what turns the suffering into a temptation to sin- to seek an idol, or grumble, or test Christ, or sin sexually. The suffering may be beyond what you can handle, but the temptation to sin will not be beyond what you can escape. That is God’s promise.

Paul reminds us that there is always a way to escape and endure. But with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Our escape comes by faith. Faith in our union with Christ. You are in Christ. Therefore, you have already escaped. Christ is in you. Therefore, you can escape. You can escape by beholding Christ. By trusting his glory and beauty to far outweigh anything else that would draw you away. You can escape by finding joy in the love and acceptance he gives. You can escape by looking ahead to your glorious transformation into Christ’s likeness. And you can escape through death and resurrection in God’s timing. All of these truths allow us to endure the temptation as we find the way out by faith.

Escaping and enduring temptation is a process and it is never easy. And clearly we can even choose to not escape. This is our freedom- not freedom to sin, chase idols, and test Christ. Rather, freedom to escape and endure temptation or not.

How did Jesus endure temptation? How did he escape sin? Yes, he was God. But in his humanity he looked to the love of the Father and his future glory with the Father. He depended on Dad. He let the love of Dad sustain him. He submitted to the good will and way of God. He looked ahead to the “joy set before him.”

“To live is Christ” is to still face temptations of every kind in every place. But it is also to have the power, by faith, to escape those temptations. It is not a guarantee that our situation will change or the temptations will cease. It is a guarantee of love and forgiveness and grace that will power you through those temptations. Even if it means you have to take up the cross, like Christ did, to escape.

How often do you rely on your union with Christ to empower you through temptations? How can 1 Corinthians 10:13 comfort and encourage you today? How does Jesus’ work on the cross make it possible to escape not just punishment, but also temptation to sin?

 

June 28: And Now A Warning.

1 Corinthians 10:5. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Paul starts 1 Corinthians 10 with a beautiful reminder of who we are in Christ. We are ALL baptized into Christ, and we have all participated with Christ by eating and drinking the spiritual food and water which is his own life. He shows us our identity by connecting our experience as the church with Israel’s experience. They were the people of God, now we are the people of God too, having been brought into the New Covenant with Israel.

But then comes the warning in our verse above. Not a warning from smugness. But a warning from fatherly love.

Just because you are in Christ does not mean that you can’t begin to live a life that displeases God. And it doesn’t mean you can run after idolatry, sexual sin, or fleshly selfishness without facing the displeasure of God. These things are simply incompatible with the life of Christ inside of you.

Let me pause and try to be very clear. Because you are in Christ, YOU, by your very nature, are pleasing to God. But, your behavior can still be self-promoting and self-seeking. Our position in Christ is always secure, but our condition can be a train wreck at times.

Remember, that’s exactly the way the Corinthians were living. The ones who were “strong” and “spiritual,” and even had the right answers, were offending the “weaker” Christians and creating huge divisions in the church. Some were even mixing Christianity with idolatry and sexual immorality and calling it freedom. Then the “weak” Christians were being shamed into similar practices. It’s in the middle of all this mess that we find Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:5, and his comparison of their sin to Israel’s sin in 10:6-12.

We must not take this warning lightly. Notice Paul’s language – they were overthrown in the wilderness. Why? Because of their idolatry, sexual immorality, and putting Jesus (Yahweh their guide) to the test. Oh yeah, they were also overthrown in the wilderness for their grumbling.

1 Corinthians 10:9-10. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Our freedom in Christ does not magically prevent these sins in our life. We have all seen Christians succumb to these things. Um, let’s be honest, we have all seen ourselves succumb to these things. If you think you haven’t – Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (10:12).

You may be thinking that you have never put Christ to the test. But anytime we take Christ’s grace for granted. Anytime we presuppose that he will just forgive us and move on. Any time we choose to grumble, complain, doubt, or worry about God’s provision. Anytime we transfer our anger onto Christ. Anytime we blame others without seeking reconciliation. Anytime we slip into trusting anything other than his love and grace (idolatry). Anytime we act upon our bodily desires with no regard for their spiritual connection. Yes, you have put Christ to the test. And so have I. 

But here’s the glorious truth of “to live is Christ:” Christ will pass that test because he has passed that test already. If we have Christ is in us, may we never put Christ to the test. But since we are in Christ, when we do put Christ to the test, he has already passed that test. He already forgiven you, loved you, filled you with his grace and power.

And here’s the second glorious truth of “to live is Christ:”

1 Corinthians 10:13. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Because Christ HAS passed the test, you CAN pass the test each and every day. God is faithful. He will provide the way of escape and the ability to endure it until that escape comes. How do I know? Because he already has provided the ultimate escape and the ultimate endurance through Jesus Christ himself and your union with him.

Do you find yourself taking grace for granted? Putting Christ to the test? Have you allowed grace to empower holiness in your life? How can the truth of your union with Christ serve to remind you that you are pleasing to God and that your life needs to be pleasing to God?

 

June 27: Drinking From The Rock.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4. For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Everyone who left Egypt received the blessings of leaving Egypt. All were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all ate the spiritual food and drank the spiritual water (they were spiritual because they came from the Holy Spirit miraculously).

Everyone that came out of Egypt was baptized into Moses. That is, they were identified with him and with the covenant that God made with Moses.

In the same way all that are baptized into Christ are one with Christ.

Galatians 3:27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Every Christian is born again by the Spirit. They are baptized by the Spirit into the New Covenant. They are identified with Christ forever.

Paul is working hard to connect Israel’s experience to ours as Christians. Israel’s experience physically, becomes a picture of our experience spiritually.

  • Israel went through the Red Sea to escape Egypt and enter freedom. The Church enters freedom from slavery to sin through the baptism of the Spirit.
  • Israel was led by the cloud, which was the manifestation of Yahweh. The Church is led by the Spirit of Christ who is Yahweh.
  • Israel ate the life giving spiritual bread and drank the life giving spiritual water provided by God in the wilderness. We “eat” the life giving Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. We drink the Living Water. We participate spiritually in his life through union with Christ. All of this is represented in our lives through the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist (which Paul will talk about in just a few verses).

And then there’s the Rock.

For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Paul may be playing off of a rabbinical legend of the time that said a literal rock full of water followed the Israelites around in the wilderness. At the very least he is using a type or picture of Christ. Paul is saying that the rock that gave water to the thirsty Israelites was a picture of Christ. The story is actually quite amazing. Let’s take a minute and read it:

Exodus 17:1-7 (NIV) The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” 

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The people are dying of thirst and grumbling against Moses. But Moses tells them that they are grumbling against God himself. Notice that Moses is facing death; the people are going to stone him at any moment. How will God step in?

The LORD (Yahweh, and also Jesus) says that he will stand “by the rock at Horeb.” It literally says “I will stand ON the rock.” For Yahweh to stand on the rock would be how he identifies himself with the rock itself. The rock will represent Yahweh.

Strike the rock.

Can you see what just happened? The rock becomes the substitute for the people and for Moses. The rock was struck in place of Moses, sparing his life. The people should have been struck by God, but instead the rock was struck. And out came the water that would save their lives.

and the Rock was Christ.

Christ was struck in our place wasn’t he? And out came the life, the Spirit of life, that would save our lives. If and when we, by faith, drink of that life like drinking water from the rock.

We are being reminded of our identity in Christ. Who are we? What is our spiritual history? Like the Israelites of old, “to live is Christ” means that you are baptized into identity with Christ. You have by faith drunk the water of Christ’s life. You are alive in him, by him, and through him. This is good news!

Next comes the warnings. But for today, let’s soak in the good news of our identity in Christ. Refocus. Have you forgotten who you are over the past few days? How does Christ the Rock that was struck for you encourage you today?

June 26: Eternal Glory

1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Christ in us guarantees eternal life– Christ’s life lived out through us forever and ever. We are guaranteed a resurrection of both spirit and body and thus an eternal soul. As Paul puts it, our wreath will be imperishable. We are going to live with God forever. All of this is possible because of our champion- Christ Jesus. He has won for us our victory and has become our hero.

This greatest of truths is the reason and power behind Paul’s strategy for living. A settled strategy of placing himself in servanthood underneath all others. A strategy for protecting the weaker conscience of others so as not to offend and lose them to their own destructive path. A strategy of living in incarnational love.

What is it that allows us to give up everything for the good of others? What is it that allows us to place ourselves lower in status? What allows us to go without?

Paul’s analogy is athletics; a good one for his time and place because the Isthmian Games were held in Corinth (sort of like the Olympics). The runner and the boxer will do what it takes to win. They will go without comforts and keep their eyes on the prize. They will discipline their body and keep it under control. And they did all of this to win a garland that would wither and fade away. 

*Warning: there is some language in this clip.

But what about us? Our lives are fading away. We are dust. And yet, we will receive a crown that never withers or fades. We will receive an eternal weight of glory far beyond anything we give up, set aside, or lose in this life for the gospel’s sake. This crown, this glory, is Jesus Christ himself and our life together with him, the great lover of our souls.

“To live is Christ” is not the easy life. It is hardship freely chosen. Paul chose spiritual, physical, and emotional trials just like a professional athlete chooses to put their body, mind, and soul through great rigors to win the championship. Christ did the same for us. Death has been reversed by his resurrected life. This truth should never make us more complacent or lazy. It should make us self-disciplined and determined. Determined to win…by losing. By setting aside our rights in order to journey with others, even through their weaknesses, to Christ’s freedom and abundant life.

Are you living for future glory or present glory? How can the truth of a future with Christ empower you today to live for others in their weakness? How does the vision of Christ your crown motivate you to live in self-discipline now? What might need to be different in your life for you to live that way for Christ?