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Friday, March 4, 2016

1 Corinthians (Lesson 14)

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Established November 2008
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4

1 Corinthians                                                                    (Lesson 14)

Before we begin this week’s Bible lesson, I want to take the time to thank each one of you for your faithfulness; for showing up here regularly with your Bibles open and your spirit receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  You are appreciated.

I also want to take the time to recognize and to welcome the new visitors from:  Belgium, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Macedonia (FYROM), Mexico, North Mariana Islands, South Africa, St. Lucia and Switzerland to HBS.  Thank you for visiting HBS.  I pray you’ll return often. 

Just so you know, the most recent Bible lesson always appears first in line and the older lessons follow in sequence.  Every lesson is stored on this website in the archives. 


Four words sum up the church-related issues at Corinth, Greece:

1.      Divisions:  Paul begins to address this problem at the beginning of his letter because it was the most serious concern within the church.  Paul said there must be unity for Jesus Christ alone has saved us, and we who trust in Him are one body.  Paul goes on to say while leaders in the church may have different tasks to perform, they are all working toward a common goal.
2.      Leaders:  The divisions, which existed within this church, were based on certain personalities; men whom the Corinthians chose to follow as their leader.  Paul is ready to show them that leaders are merely servants (4:1); those who think of themselves as belonging to a particular group need to be reminded that all the leaders in God’s church belong to them; they don’t belong to the leaders.
3.      Pride:  The Corinthians boasted in their leaders.  They didn’t boast about themselves.  It was all about the status and success of their leader.  Paul attacks this notion by pointing to the kind of people God chooses (the weak, the foolish, and the nobodies) to shame the wise, so that He may nullify the things that are.  The things of God (the cross and the gospel specifically) are foolishness to the world, and the things of the world are foolish to God. 
4.      Wisdom:  In Corinth a person’s social status was determined to a great degree by their intellectual prowess and not by their wealth.  If they were well educated (trained) as a persuasive speaker, they were even more highly esteemed.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that divine wisdom is beyond the understanding of the natural (unsaved) individual, no matter how deep their thoughts.  God’s wisdom is revealed only to Believers through His Word and by His Spirit.

In chapter 3 Paul got right to the heart of the matter.  He was not able to speak God’s wisdom to the Corinthians because they were too immature, too unspiritual (carnal in their thinking and in their living) to learn from it.  Evidence of their “carnality” was demonstrated by their inability to absorb Paul’s earlier elementary teachings (milk). They looked upon these with scorn because they were too simplistic.  Not only is the carnality of the Corinthians evident in their lack of spiritual growth, it is manifested in the factions which exist in this church.  There’s no unity; these people are all over the place with their beliefs. 

At 1 Corinthians 3:18, 3:21, and 4:1 Paul uses the word Let.  With this word, for the first time, Paul calls upon the Corinthians to do something; to change the way they behave.  He challenges them to stop deceiving themselves and to become fools (v18).  Paul says, “Stop boasting in men.” (v21).  He said to view Apollos, Cephas, and Paul in the proper way:  as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (v4:1).

In verses 3:18-23 Paul called the Corinthian church to repentance, even though the word “repent” isn’t found anywhere in this passage, it’s unquestionably implied.  For those of you who are not familiar with the word, repent simply means to stop and “turn around,” to “change direction.”  Paul is calling for the saints in Corinth to “change” the way they act and think regarding human wisdom and regarding their factious leaders. 

Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 3:21.

Here our Apostle Paul calls the Corinthian church to a second act of repentance.  You won’t find the word “repent” anywhere in this passage either, but there’s no mistaking the implication when he instructs them to forsake boasting in men.

1 Corinthians 3

21: So then let no one boast in men.  For all things belong to you,

22: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter) or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you,

23: and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.  (2 Cor 10:7; 1 Cor 11:3)

Let’s look at verse 21.

1 Corinthians 3

21: So then let no one boast in men (whether that is Paul, Peter, Apollos, or anyone else).  For all things belong to you,

Starting with verse 21, Paul begins to apply the principles which he affirmed above.  Since human wisdom is fruitless, let no man boast in men, whether that is Apollos, Cephas, or Paul (v1:12).  Their statements, “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Apollos,” and “I am of Cephas,” reflect the disunity within this church.    

In the Old Testament it was common among the Jews to fall-in behind different leaders, such as Hillel and Shammai of the last century BC and the early 1st century AD, who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought (Jeremiah 9:23-24).  But here Paul is clearly addressing the Greek problem of boasting in their leaders.  The Greeks were known for following such renowned people as:  Pythagoras, Zeno, Democritus, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. 

In like manner, the Corinthians had set themselves up above Apollos, Cephas, and Paul, their teachers, boastfully deciding, each for himself, who was the greatest.  The pupil was actually sitting in judgment of the teacher; who happened to be God’s servant.  Paul rebuked this behavior saying:  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you (v22).

Let no man boast in men; for all things belong to you (v21).  It isn’t a question of personalities at all, even though one may appear to outshine or out-do one or the other: “he has such nice hair,” “he has whiter teeth,” “this one’s so cute and he speaks so eloquently: he moves me when he preaches,” - kind of thing. 

It isn’t about one’s personality at all; it is all about the message, the revelation of God’s Grace, committed first to our Apostle Paul, and now to each Believer by the glorified, Lord Jesus Christ.  The message is the thing and not the messenger (Romans 10:14-15). And God has given each Believer, not just the leaders, ample resources so that they can speak His message of salvation to others.

Some time ago Federal Express ran a commercial mimicking the movie Tom Hanks starred in where he was stranded on a deserted island for five years.  The FedEx employee in the commercial looked a lot like Tom Hanks.  The gist of it is he didn’t open this package the entire time he was on that deserted island, intending to deliver it when he was rescued.  After his rescue, he drove up to a suburban home and rang the doorbell.  A lady came to the door.  The FedEx employee explained what had happened to her package, why it was so late in coming, and then handed it to her.  The lady looked at him and said, “Thanks.”  Now after five, long years, the man was more than a little bit curious about the contents of the package so he said, “If I may ask, what’s inside it?”  The lady said, while opening up the package, “Oh, nothing really, just a satellite telephone, a GPS positioning device, a first-aid kit, water purification tablets, a compass, and some vegetable seeds.” 

Like this commercial, the resources we need to accomplish the good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10) are as near as near can be.  When you believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, trusted in Jesus’ finished work of the cross, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).  This means the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave lives within each true Believer.  In addition, God has given us His written word to instruct and guide us, so that we can effectively serve Him in building His Church:  (Psalm 119-105; 2 Timothy 3:16; Titus 2:12). 

But God’s not done; each Believer has been gifted with abilities and talents specific to them.  The long and the short of this means Apollos, Cephas, Paul, Wesley, Darby, Scofield, Charles Stanley, and Les Feldick are all gifts of God to His church, but so are you.  There is no one like you on this planet and there is no one like you in the Body of Christ.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made and the Church needs you (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:18-30). 

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.”  Erma Bombeck

In verse 22 Paul builds on his teaching that God can use different leaders to teach you.  Instead of picking a favorite teacher for yourself, and closing your door to all the others, as it were, you need to realize that every servant of Christ belongs to you.    

1 Corinthians 3

22: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter) or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you,

Paul is yours.  He’s the Apostle to the Gentiles.  He suffered countless hardships for the Gospel; the one with a logical mind.  He preaches sound Church Age Doctrine and proclaims it boldly.  He belongs to you, you don’t belong to him.   

Apollos is yours.  He speaks eloquently and powerfully.  He has a way of taking a thought, shaping it, and delivering it that’s unique to him alone.  He is yours.  You don’t belong to him.

Cephas is yours.  Peter’s unique in that he’s one of the original twelve.   He’s one of three who saw Jesus transfigured.  He dined with, listened to, walked the land with, and conversed with God in the flesh for three years.  He was the one who boldly proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  Being a fisherman, he’s a bit rough around the edges but he speaks the truth honestly and plainly.  He doesn’t mince words.  Cephas is yours too.  You don’t belong to him.

Paul goes on to say, the world is yours.  When you are walking in fellowship with the Lord, everything that you see, touch, and experience is a gift from God.  Everything that happens in your life, in this world, is for your spiritual benefit.  It could be said the world is God’s showcase filled with examples and illustrations to help you learn and grow spiritually.  The world is yours given to you from God the Father; it’s a gift.  Accept it; use it to build the rewards that can be yours at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Life belongs to them too.  This is in reference to the new life in Christ Jesus.  The Corinthian Believers were once the walking dead, if I may use that very familiar term, as unsaved men and women.  But they have been made alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)… (Ephesians 2:1-6).  In respect to this, they are not to live for themselves, but for Jesus Christ who has given them new life (Romans 12:1-3).  The old life is gone; a new life has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17).  However, God’s Grace does not give the saved individual liberty to continue indulging their carnal appetites (Romans 6:17-19, 22).  The grace of God teaches the true Believer to say no to sin and ungodly behavior (1 Corinthians 3:16). 

Paul had this to say on the subject:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Paul says they also own death.  The death of Jesus Christ was for their benefit.  Jesus cancelled out the sin-debt for all mankind at the cross.  The curse of death has been removed for those who believe.  Our Apostle Paul writes:  “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?  O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”  (1 Corinthians 15:55).  Paul also said:  God gives us the victory (over sin and death) through (faith in) our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57b).

Realistically speaking, the only thing death does for a Believer is usher them into the presence of Jesus Christ.  This is one of the reasons Paul said:  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).  Weighing the benefits of staying behind or being with the Lord, Paul knew the greater benefit was to be with the Lord in heaven for eternity. 

The other thing this church owns is things present.  We could spend countless hours discussing all that this means.  Suffice to say it means everything, all the people, all the situations, all the events, all the experiences; these are all for your blessing. 

You mean my bad back or this fellow’s migraine headaches are a blessing?  Yes, I do.
Scripture says, And we know that God causes (what) all things to work together for good (now read carefully) to those (true Believers) who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Once again, all means all my friends.

The trials and tribulations you’re about to endure, in the midst of, or just coming out of, are meant to serve you; you own them.  All these things are working together for your greater good.  If I may illustrate, from the moment I stepped off the bus at the Naval Training Station where I reported for basic training, I realized that the life I knew before was gone.  I was ready to re-board the bus and head back home within minutes.  But that wasn’t going to happen. 
The chief goal of basic training is to break an individual down, get rid of all the old bad habits and instill good ones.  It’s also about removing a person’s individuality and molding them into a member of a fighting team, working toward one common goal.  This is all epitomized in these words from my Drill Instructor, “There are three ways to view any situation, the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way.  You will choose the Navy way each and every time.”  This process of change was lengthy and required the suffering of each and every raw recruit, but it was necessary.  In retrospect, I’m a better person today for it.  This brings to mind a Bible verse:  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).  All things present are yours, and God, through all of it, is transforming you, conforming you, into the likeness of His Son. 

Then Paul says things to come belong to you.  The following is an incomplete list to be sure because I can’t foresee the future and Scripture gives us few details about what life after we leave here will be like.  A few of the things to come that are yours as a true Believer are:  your heavenly position (Ephesians 2:6), your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:0), eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23), rewards for responsible service (1 Corinthians 3:14-15), no more death, pain, sorrow, or tears in heaven (Revelation 21:4). 

Last, but hardly least, on Paul’s incredible list of things we own is this:

1 Corinthians 3

23: and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.  (2 Cor 10:7; 1 Cor 11:3)

You belong to Christ.  Therefore, you Corinthians should not “feel” as if there’s a need to belong to any particular earthly leader, whether that is Apollos, Cephas, Paul, or anyone else coming up the road...  You belong to Jesus Christ by redemption:  you were bought at a (costly) price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Therefore do not become enslaved to men and their particular philosophies, in other words.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and don’t lose sight of the Main Thing.    
God’s Grace alone has brought you into this marvelous relationship.  Christ belongs to God means this from the following Scriptures:  The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand (John 3:35), whom He appointed heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2).  Christ belongs to God tells us in part that Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things, was born of a virgin, redeemed us at the cross, and is now the first begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5); He’s the Head of the body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:18). 

God the Father and Jesus Christ are one, inseparable.  Likewise those who have trusted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are one with Him and nothing can remove them from His hand (John 10:28; 1 Corinthians 6:17). 

All Christ has belongs to us as co-heirs (Romans 8:17); all Christ is we will be one day (1 John 3:2); where Christ is there we too will be for all eternity (John 14:1-3; Romans 6:23).

(To be continued)

[Published weekly on Friday]

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