What Is Paul Talking About? Part 4

During the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood.This sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 9:16-27.

Words of Focus: I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.

I mentioned in my sermon a few weeks ago when I started this series on 1 Corinthians that I didn’t really want to preach on these readings. 1 Corinthians is an intimidating book. Paul covers a lot of issues that the Christian church was dealing with in Corinth. We are removed from the original context and culture of this letter by a couple of thousand years. It is easy to read through 1 Corinthians and be left scratching your head wondering, “What in the world is Paul talking about?”

Yet I have discovered that 1 Corinthians, while written to a different group of people at a different time, has a lot to say to the Church today. And I suppose I should not be surprised by that. After all, God’s Word is always relevant. It lasts forever. Mankind hasn’t changed much either. We are still, by nature, sinful and selfish. We still need to hear the message of Christ crucified.

And that is the message that comes through over and over again in 1 Corinthians. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to resist the wisdom of the world and to seek unity with each other in the body of Christ. To achieve these purposes, Paul keeps going back to the message of the cross. He goes back to the Gospel. That’s why I believe that the theme verse for 1 Corinthians is found in chapter 1, verse 18. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 cor christ crucified

What have we learned in the past few weeks about the power of Christ crucified? Because of Christ crucified for us, we know that…

  1. How we treat our physical bodies matters because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit and have been bought at a price.
  2. How we live our daily lives matters whether we are married or single, buying or selling, mourning or rejoicing. In all things, the cross must remain central.
  3. How we treat our fellow members in the Church matters because we are all members of the same body united in Christ.
  4. Today we will learn that because of Christ crucified for us, how we treat unbelievers matters that by any means we may save some and share with them in the blessings of the Gospel.

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 9, our reading for today. Paul is continuing the discussion he started in chapter 8 on the freedom of the Christian. Because of Christ crucified, a Christian is indeed free regarding many matters of daily life including what we eat and drink, what we wear, how we spend our time, whether we marry or stay single, and so on. Yet Paul cautions Christians not to be selfish or prideful in our Christian freedom, but rather to use our freedom to love and serve others and put their interests before our own.

Martin Luther’s definition of Christian freedom which summarizes Paul’s teaching is helpful here.1. A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. 2. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Well, which is it? It is both. A Christian is free from the condemnation and demands of the Law, yet a faith which is active in love will willingly submit to others and serve them according to the Law. The Gospel frees us from worrying about our performance in keeping the Law, knowing that Christ has performed everything perfectly for us already. The Gospel not only frees us from sin but also frees us for service.

And in the first part of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul presents himself as an example of a Christian who willingly gives up many of his rights and privileges in order to serve others. For example, Paul gives up his right to be paid for his work as an apostle and preacher. He gives up his right to take a wife. Important: why does Paul do this? It’s all for the sake of the Gospel- that others might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. As he says in verse 12, “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”

Notice that Paul is not boasting here. Yes, he is using himself as an example, but not as an opportunity to promote himself, but rather to promote Christ. “For if I preach the gospel that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Paul has been given a task by the Lord Jesus himself to proclaim the gospel, and Paul is simply following both the desires of his Lord and the desires of his own heart. Paul’s passion to preach the gospel reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:9- “The word of the Lord became in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I grow weary of trying to contain it, and I am not able.

For the sake of the gospel, Paul was willing to give up his own habits, preferences, and rights so that nothing would keep people from responding to his preaching of the Gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. By this humble approach, Paul aimed to win as many as possible for the Gospel.

Paul then gives 4 illustrations of how he adapted his mission strategy to win different groups. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. Paul was able to adapt to any culture and people in order to present the Gospel.

What might this look like today? Well, in order to reach the Spanish speaking people, you would become a Spanish speaking person and learn their culture. It was less than hundred years ago, when churches in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod were debating whether or not to hold worship services in English rather than only in German in order to reach the growing majority of people who spoke English. To teach the Gospel to children, you proclaim the Gospel in a way that they can understand. The same with teenagers and the elderly.

Important: this does not mean that the Gospel itself must be adapted or changed or watered down in any way due to people’s religious or cultural tastes. God still saves people the same way, and he chose to do so through the preaching of a message that was foolish and weak.

Again, Paul’s flexibility in accommodating himself to all people was governed by that one overriding purpose. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. Every aspect of his life is to be adapted to the needs of others so that they might come to faith in Christ.

The changeless Gospel also empowers you to sacrifice your own rights, tastes, interests, and preferences so that others might hear the message of Christ in all its power.

OK, apparently the only right we actually care about is the 2nd Amendment since that's the only picture I could find.

OK, apparently the only right we actually care about is the 2nd Amendment since that’s the only picture I could find.

Do you see how counter-cultural this is? The world around you is telling you to pursue your own interests, and rights, and desires above all else. Satisfy your cravings. Be the master of your own fate, the ruler of your own life. Here in the United States of America, we have many freedoms, and we are encouraged to use that freedom selfishly. “It’s my right!” we cry. “I am entitled to the pursuit of happiness above all else!” “I am free to do what I want! Don’t tread on me!” These are the anthems of American culture where individualism trumps all else. It is the wisdom of the world. And your sinful, selfish nature eats that message up.

But it is directly opposed to the wisdom of God found in Christ crucified which values weakness over strength, self-sacrifice over self-pleasure, giving up rights rather than demanding them.

Paul recognized this and that is why he stresses in verses 24-27 to run the race with your eye on the prize. 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. This running requires self-discipline. It requires killing your sinful nature daily through confession and repentance, dying and rising again to a new life in Christ crucified. To follow the crucified Messiah means that we must take up our own cross daily, die to self-interest, and serve Jesus. It requires, as it says in Hebrews 12, that you lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

You see, Jesus himself became all things to all men. He did not seek his own rights and privileges. He did not have to leave his throne in heaven and humiliate himself as a human being. He did not have to accommodate himself to a sinful world which had rejected him. Yet he ate and drank with tax-collectors and sinners, accepted water from a Samaritan woman and engaged in conversation with her, and healed the daughter of a Gentile woman- all for the great purpose of seeking and saving the lost.

But Jesus went even further in becoming all things to all men. All mankind is sinful, so Jesus became sin. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. On the cross, Jesus became the worst of sinners. He became a liar to save the liars. He became a cheater to save the cheaters. He became a murderer to save the murderers. He became a gossip to save the gossips. He became a sex addict to save the sex addicts. He became every kind of sinner that you might receive his righteousness.

jesus became sin

Jesus was free to come down from the cross at any time. But he endured the cross, despising its shame, that you and I might receive the prize that is imperishable- forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus became all things to all men that the whole world, including you, might be saved. It’s all about Christ crucified, foolishness and weakness to the world, but those who are being saved, it is the very wisdom and power of God for salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Praise God, who Himself became human like us in order to save us! Strengthen us, O Lord, to serve others in all things, so that all people might come to know the power of Your death and resurrection. Amen.

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What Is Paul Talking About? Part 3

During the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood. This sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 8.

Words of Focus- “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1a

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we continue today with part 3 of a 4-part sermon series on 1 Corinthians, a letter that can cause some misunderstanding and confusion as to what in the world Paul is talking about, hence, the title of this series.

Let’s begin by reviewing the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was a church divided over many issues. Remember that they were all recent converts to the faith. Christianity had not been around for very long at all. Therefore, these Christians were wrestling with their new faith and the implications that it had for their everyday lives. 1 Corinthians reveals to us a people trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said that his followers should live “in the world, but not of the world.”

1 cor christ crucifiedThroughout this letter, Paul encourages the church to greater unity with each other and that unity was to be centered on the message of Christ crucified- foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved, the very power of God. For Paul, the cross changes everything. It changes how we think, how we act, how we talk, how we live. Paul uses the message of the cross to navigate through the many issues that the Corinthian Church was dealing with.

We see the implications of the cross in our reading for today from 1 Corinthians 8. The issue that Paul is dealing with in this chapter, and really, chapters 9 and 10 as well, is eating. In Chapter 7, Paul addresses concerns and questions about marriage and the single life. Now he is switching to another concern that the church had most likely written to him about. They wanted to know if they should eat food that had been offered to idols.

Now concerning food offered to idols… What exactly is going on in Corinth?

In the city of Corinth, there were many temples in which pagan ceremonies and sacrifices would take place. Many of the Christians in Corinth would have most likely participated in these ceremonies before they converted. Outside many of these temples, there were large courtyards and eating areas. The ceremonies and sacrifices would not take place in these areas. However, the food that had been offered as a sacrifice to the idols was served for people to eat.

Many of the Corinthian Christians, while not participating in the ceremonies and sacrifices, would have still been invited to these courtyards by their pagan friends for meals and even birthday or wedding celebrations. And apparently, many of the Corinthian Christians regularly participated in the social events in the temple courtyards, which would include eating the food served, food which had originally served the purpose of idol worship. Some Christians thought this was fine. They knew, they had “knowledge,” that the idols were false gods and figured that meat was meat. Eating that meat would not harm them. Others did not share that view. They thought that eating the food sacrificed to idols implied worshiping that idol. They were unable to separate the food from idol worship, and so when they participated or saw other Christians participating, it would cause their faith in the true God to be weakened or even destroyed.

The church was seeking Paul’s advice. How do we live in the world but not of it in this situation?

life together knowledge loveRight away, in verse 1, Paul lays the foundation for his response. “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. In other words, even though some of you Christians have more knowledge than others, your knowledge is causing you to be prideful and selfish to the detriment of the church. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. Paul is differentiating between selfish pride and sacrificial love. Love, in all cases, trumps knowledge, as Paul will make clear later in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-2 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

What we see going on here in 1 Corinthians 8 is a discussion about Christian freedom. Because of Christ crucified, a Christian is free from the condemnation of the Law. The Law can no longer condemn them. But are there limits to Christian freedom? We know we are not free to sin, but what about those things that the Law does not forbid or demand? We see this discussion take place in several of Paul’s other letters, especially concerning circumcision. Was a Gentile Christian required to still be circumcised? Paul ruled “No.” A Christian is free to remain uncircumcised.

So many of the Gentiles in Corinth, those who had knowledge, argued that they were also free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. So keeping in mind this phrase, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” let’s see what Paul had to say about this issue.

First, Paul affirms the “knowledge” of those who would eat the food sacrificed to idols. They argued that they could do so because they knew the idols were false gods. And Paul agrees with their knowledge. We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

In other words, Paul does not have a problem with Christians eating food sacrificed to idols because those false gods do not exist and cannot exert and power. There is one God and one Lord. A Christian is indeed free to eat the idol-food on these grounds.

However, Paul continues, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. The “weaker” Christian is more easily offended by any participation in anything associated with paganism and idol worship. By eating the food, they would stumble in their faith and pick up their old pagan practices and beliefs.

Notice how Paul does not try to educate the weak so that they have all knowledge. “Come on! Quit being so weak, you big babies.” He knew that they were infants in the faith and needed to be treated as such. So he instead instructs all Christians, especially those who considered themselves wise or strong, to act in love, a love that builds up others in Christ.

agnus day knowledge lovePaul knows that “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Food or drink for those in Christ Jesus was a matter of no importance. But if a person’s faith was at stake, then Christians do not act according to freedom and knowledge, but rather, according to love. “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weakFor if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? Paul goes so far to say that a person who values his personal freedom more than his brother in Christ that he is sinning against him. He is being selfish and prideful. And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Do you see how for Paul everything centers on unity in the faith, the body of Christ being built up? Paul then puts himself forward as an example. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. If Paul became aware that something as inconsequential as food was nevertheless ruining his brother, he would become a vegetarian for eternity. Why? “Because that’s my brother.” Without question, his brother’s eternal welfare is far more important than food.

Could you say the same? I already threw some of you off when I mentioned being a vegetarian. “Sorry, but if it comes down to my brother or sister in Christ or a bacon cheeseburger, I’m going with the cheeseburger.” But what can we learn from 1 Corinthians 8 since we obviously do not have the same issue regarding idol-food and pagan temples?

Well, I think we can go back to Paul’s foundational verse. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Rather than insisting on our own way out of selfish pride, perhaps a Christian’s first question before acting should not be “What am I going to get out of this?” but rather “How does this benefit my neighbor, especially my brother or sister in Christ?” Again, this is a radical change in thinking. This is foolishness to the world. Rather than seeking personal pleasure at all costs, a disciple of Jesus seeks the welfare of others at all costs, even if it means personal sacrifice on their part.

Martin Luther, writing on Christian freedom, put it this way. 1. “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to all.” 2. “A Christian is a perfectly free dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Well which is it? It’s both. A Christian is not to take pride in their freedom or their knowledge and rub it in people’s face, but rather use that freedom and knowledge in love and service toward others.

Examples: A Christian is perfectly free to enjoy drinking alcohol; however, someone who works extensively with alcoholics would refrain from drinking in their presence, lest they cause their brother or sister to stumble. They would not throw their Christian freedom in their face. (I did make the point in my sermon that I would not apply the same principle to “teetotalers.” There is a huge difference between someone who wrongly interprets the Bible and an alcoholic.) You would not invite a gambling addict to accompany you to the casino.

This may sound just like common sense, so let me try this principle out. Just because you can do something, does not mean that you always should. And how do you determine whether you should or should not do something? Love for others is the guiding principle, not selfish satisfaction. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The Lord wants his church to be built up as a community, and that can only happen when its members display unselfish love for one another.

Such love will be patterned on the example of Christ who died for the weak. See here we are again, rounding back to Paul’s main theme: Christ crucified.

Paul doesn’t set out to prove his knowledge. “I decided to know nothing among you except Christ crucified,” he says. And “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ who provides the perfect example of one who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others. In the sight of God, there is no one who is more superior to anyone else. There is no one righteous, not even one. We are all deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment. All of us, in our original state of sin, had no knowledge of God. But he knew us. And he loved us, even though we are unlovable. God shows his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Here’s the more amazing part: while we continue to sin and act selfishly and fight amongst ourselves, God still loves and forgives us through Jesus.

Rom-5-8 while still sinnersWe are all in the same boat, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all sinners saved by nothing else but the amazing grace of God poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit through the death of Jesus. It is that knowledge, the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for you and for all people, the knowledge of Christ crucified for you, which inspires your loving attitude toward others. It’s all about Christ crucified. If Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for the weakest brother, shouldn’t you be willing to forgo certain luxuries out of loving consideration for your brothers and sisters?

That is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 8. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, once again we are challenged by your words for us today. We see that without your help and strength and your grace, we are nothing and can do nothing right. Send us Your Holy Spirit to encourage us and enable us to love sacrificially as you have loved us through Jesus. Keep us from selfish pride and build us up into a church known for its love. Amen.

What Is Paul Talking About? Part 1

corinthian commentaryDuring the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood. This is the first sermon in the series based on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

I have to confess. I did not originally want to preach on this text. In fact, for the following 3 weeks, our Epistle readings will be from 1 Corinthians, and I really wanted to avoid them. They are not easy passages to preach on. They deal with some difficult subjects. Then I thought, “Well, if I am intimidated by 1 Corinthians, then surely I am not alone. And it is kind of my job to help make God’s Word clear to you, and I’m sure I would benefit from preaching on 1 Corinthians, and maybe I’m just being a big baby about it. So without further ado or explanation, this is the beginning of a 4-part series on 1 Corinthians entitled “What is Paul Talking About?” This is a question I often ask when I am reading through 1 Corinthians, so I thought it was quite appropriate.

One reason why 1 Corinthians can be difficult to understand is because of the specific context in which it was written. As with all books of the New Testament, the author is writing to a specific group of people with a specific purpose in mind. We are not the original intended audience for 1 Corinthians. And yet, as I research more about the purpose of 1 Corinthians and the context of the people in Corinth, the more I realized that there are many similarities between the ancient city of Corinth and our setting today.

That’s also when I realized that I needed to preach on 1 Corinthians. In this letter to the Christian church in Corinth, Paul deals with the struggles of those Christians as they fought for their new identity in Christ. I believe 1 Corinthians is one of the best books of the Bible in helping Christians understand Jesus’ words that we are to live in the world but not of the world. What does that mean? How do you do that? 1 Corinthians helps us out.

city of corinthThe city of Corinth was an important and influential city in the Roman Empire with a strategic location in that it was a hub for travel either by land or by sea. It was a large city by ancient world standards, becoming the largest city in Roman Greece with a population of approximately 100,000 people. Corinth was an important center for Roman culture, but it had quite an unsavory reputation as a city with lax morality.

The city of Corinth had strong ties to the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, specifically the erotic type of love. As such, Corinth was known to be a center for prostitution. The temple to Aphrodite would actually employ temple prostitutes as part of their religious ceremonies.

Corinth was also known for religious promiscuity, in other words, religious pluralism. Along with Aphrodite, there were many sanctuaries and statues dedicated to other gods. Many philosophical movements were well represented in Corinth as well, and we will be taking a closer look at some of those worldviews in the weeks ahead as they apply to each of the readings. Remember that Paul is addressing specific problems that the church was facing from the culture. In order to understand 1 Corinthians, we have to understand the culture.

1 cor christ crucifiedI believe Martin Luther sums up well Paul’s purpose in writing his 1st letter to the Corinthian church. He writes in his commentary: In this epistle St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be one in faith and love, and to see to it that they learn well the chief thing, namely, that Christ is our salvation, the thing over which all reason and wisdom stumbles.” Paul was promoting unity in the church, and that unity was to be centered on the message of Christ crucified. Therefore, I believe the theme verse of 1 Corinthians is in chapter 1, verse 18: For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For Paul, it was all about the cross and being united to God and to each other through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Alright- That’s enough of an introduction. We haven’t even gotten to today’s text, so let’s turn our attention to chapter six. Starting in chapter 5, Paul starts to address specific issues facing the Corinthian church. He deals with the sexual immorality of a man who is committing adultery with his father’s wife, most likely the man’s step-mother. In chapter 6, Paul begins by addressing the Christians who were suing each other in court, and he encourages them to seek unity with each other within the context of the church and not to use the court system.

Then we get to verse 12. “All things are lawful for me.” Paul is most likely quoting a saying that was being repeated by some in the Corinthian church who were taking their Christian freedom too far. They claimed that their relationship with Jesus was a matter of the spirit, whatever they were involved in physically would not really affect their life with Christ. This grew out of the Greek world’s philosophy of dualism: that spirit is good and important, and that the material or physical world is not good and is unimportant. In other words, the spirit is good. The body doesn’t matter. This led many people to feel that they can go ahead and indulge their body’s appetites without restraint, assuring themselves that it doesn’t really matter because “it’s what’s inside that counts.” Corinth was notorious for its “if it feels good, do it” approach to life.

feels goodDoes this sound familiar at all to you? I believe that is the prevailing worldview in our culture today. If it feels good, do it. Seek pleasure above all else. And I also see a separation of body and spirit in our world today, as if they are completely distinct. Many people describe themselves as “spiritual” and seek spiritual well-being, but their beliefs are not really connected at all to life in the body. Even phrases we sometimes use to soften death speak to this separation of soul and body and make the body unimportant. “That’s not really grandma. That’s just a shell.” As if our bodies are merely temporary housing for our soul or spirit, which is who we really are. And so, it doesn’t really matter what you do with your body because it doesn’t affect your soul or spirit.

There were some Christians who were justifying their practice of engaging in prostitution by appealing to this very argument and to Christian freedom. “All things are lawful for me.” And later on, Paul quotes them “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other.” The intended meaning there is again, that it doesn’t matter what I do with my body. It is just going to be destroyed anyway.

Paul pulls back the reins on their definition of Christian freedom. Yes, a Christian is free from the curse and condemnation of the Law, but as he says in Romans 6, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Freedom from the law does not equal freedom to break the Law. “All things are lawful” but not all things are helpful or beneficial for you. “All things are lawful” but I will not be enslaved by anything. In other words, Paul is telling them that now that they have been freed from sin by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are willingly enslaving themselves to sin, in this case, sinning with their bodies.

Paul then goes on to show both how the body is important and how sexual immorality is wrong. And note here that is not just talking about prostitution, but any sexual activity outside the boundaries of marriage between man and woman.

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. The Biblical view of the body is that it is important and essential to who you are as a human being. You are not fundamentally just a soul possessing a body. You are fundamentally body and soul. That is how God created you- from the dust of the ground and with his life-giving breath. Your body is created by God and is to be honored. After all, the body is not just going to be destroyed. It is going to be resurrected on the Last Day. We will not live forever as disembodied souls. We will be raised to new life as body and soul just as Jesus himself rose from the dead in his body.

Not only that, Paul continues, do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? In your baptism, you were united to Jesus. He is the head of the body, the Church, and you are its members. Paul will pick up on this analogy later on in 1 Corinthians as well. It is one of his favorite analogies to describe the relationship we have with Christ and with each other. Since you are united to Christ and His Holy Spirit dwells in you, Paul reaches the logical conclusion to sexual immorality. Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! But that’s what you are doing! Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Paul calls sexual immorality an abuse of the body and of the sexual union which God created for our good. Not only that but it violates the very holiness and presence of God. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? Now that their bodies had become the Spirit’s residence, the Corinthians could not live for themselves.

temple amusement parkI like how one author sums up the competing viewpoints in this passage. It asks of you two question. Do you believe your body is a playground? Your body as a playground implies that our mission in life is to satisfy our own desires above all things. Or do you believe that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit- to be used for God’s good purposes? Your body as a temple implies that you are a child of God and should live accordingly.

We know where Paul stands. You are not your own. You were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body. I don’t know if there is another New Testament saying which brings together in compact form both the essence of the Gospel and its implications for Christian life.

For starters, there is the pure Gospel message. You were bought at a price. What was the cost? You were purchased not with gold or silver, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus, and with his innocent suffering and death. God’s grace for you did not come cheaply! It cost God the Father his one and only Son. He gave up His body for you. Through his death, you have been redeemed and rescued from slavery to sin and Satan. This is not just Good News; it is the best news.

Therefore glorify God with your body. Paul says “body” here because he has been talking exclusively about the body. He could just as easily have said “Therefore glorify God with your life.” This is the response to the Gospel. This is not a conditional statement. God’s grace has already been given to you. You were already bought at a price. You are free. But Christian freedom does not mean indulging in sinful pleasures. You have died to sin and been raised to new life. You now belong to God that you may serve him in holiness and righteousness, as God originally intended for his creatures. The Gospel not only frees you from sin, but it also frees you for service.

There is an allegedly true story from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?” “Yes,” he said. “And to say whatever I want to say?” “Yes, anything.” “And to be whatever I want to be?” “Yep.” “And even go wherever I want to go?” “Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, thank you for paying the price for my redemption. Give me strength to resist temptations to sin. Help me to see my body as a temple of Your Holy Spirit and glorify You in all things. Amen.

 

 

How Should a Christian Vote? Pt. 3

Election Day is tomorrow! So let’s draw some conclusions! If you would like to read Part 2, you can click here.

I have spent a lot of time laying the foundation of the Lutheran understanding of church and state. Let’s begin by reviewing what has been said so far.

The Bible teaches that God works in two different ways here on earth. He works in His right hand kingdom, and He works in His left hand kingdom. The right hand kingdom is the church. What is God’s purpose in the church? Justification- that all mankind would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. How does God accomplish His purposes in the church? Through His Word of Law and Gospel. However, the Gospel always predominates in the church.

God’s left hand kingdom is the state. God has established human authority in this world and has given earthly governments the power to wield the sword- to punish wrong-doing. What is God’s purpose in His right hand kingdom, the state? Justice- that good behavior would be rewarded and evil behavior be punished. The state should be concerned with good order. How does God accomplish His purposes in the state? Through the Law. The Gospel has no place in the state. The Gospel belongs to the church alone.

Remember that both church and state belong to God and matter to God. And while they must be kept distinct, they do not have to be kept separate. And while they can cooperate, they must never be confused. In Part 2, I described a book called Christ and Culture which explains different ways that Christians have tried to reconcile church and state. Martin Luther’s explanation of the Two Kingdoms of God falls best under the category of “Christ and Culture in Paradox.” Christians live with a foot in both church and state. We recognize the primacy of the church and the Gospel, but we also can have something to say about the state.

After all, we are involved in “Left-hand Kingdom” stuff all of the time, even in the church. Schools fall under the category of “state” as do voters’ meetings. Both have to do with human authority and establishing good order. It may surprise you to know that the Bible does not endorse one form of government over another. Democracy is not a God-given right. God can work through dictators and republics and empires. The Church of Jesus has been able to survive and thrive in any form of government.

That being said, we are blessed to live in the United States of America in which “We, the people,” have an opportunity to vote for candidates and laws that we feel best represent us and our values.

However, can we truly “Vote the Bible” as some Christians claim? What does that look like? Are you really casting a vote for God when you check one candidate or the other? How much freedom does a Christian have in the voting booth? What can help guide the Christian who seeks to be active in the state by casting their vote?

Let’s turn to Martin Luther again. Luther has this great quote on Christian Freedom: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” There’s another one of our lovely, Lutheran paradoxes. What does this mean? As people living under grace, freed from the demands and condemnation of the Law, we are not obligated to anyone or anything. Christ is our one and only Master. However, as people who have been given a new life in Christ, we have also been given a purpose. We are not here on our own, and we are not to live for our own benefit. We live for the benefit of our neighbors.

So the only guidance that we get from Scripture in terms of voting is the “law of love.” You have been freed from the demands of the Law. Salvation is yours. Eternal life is yours. You are secure in Christ’s arms forever. You have nothing to worry about or fear. You are free. And it is because of this security and freedom that a Christian can then turn their attention to their neighbor and their neighbors’ needs.

This turns voting in our elections on its head a little bit. Most often, people vote for the candidate that they believe will be better for themselves and their own life. They want a candidate that will ensure their own future. The union worker votes for the candidate that will defend the power of the union so that they can keep their job and be secure. The rich business owner votes for the candidate that they feel will best protect their assets and wealth. Voting is mostly self-serving. Voting actually exercises power over other people. Your vote is an attempt for you to get your way. (If anyone actually tells you that you shouldn’t try to impose your beliefs in the public sphere, ask them if they vote in elections. That’s exactly what voting is- trying to impose your beliefs and opinions on others.)

As a Christian, we are liberated from this self-centered way of thinking. Our future is secure. Christ is Lord. He is in control. So as Christians go into the voting booth, they are free to vote not for themselves and their own way of life, they are free to consider “Which candidate or law best serves my neighbor?”

Granted, we can answer this in several ways. First of all, we have to ask “Who is my neighbor?” All people in this world are our neighbors. However, I think we can narrow this down a little bit more. Who does God seem to have the most concern for in this world? God, over and over again, says that He cares for the downtrodden: the widows, the orphans, the poor and sick. In other words, God is concerned that those who are lowest in society also have justice!

Again, there are many different opinions on how we can help the downtrodden. Some people believe that the government should be more involved. But if giving is forced, is it really giving? Others feel that help for the lowliest in the world are best served through the generosity of others. But what if people are not generous enough, and those who are in need still don’t get the justice they deserve? There are no easy answers here, and I am not going to give you my own opinion.

However, I believe that one issue cannot be ignored by Christians. If we are to look out for the lowliest in the world, those who cannot defend themselves, then we must turn our attention to the lives of the unborn. Who is more helpless than a human being in the womb? And yet, these human beings are being destroyed, and they cannot speak up for themselves. For me, the sanctity of human life and the horror of abortion have become the number one issue when it comes to voting. I hope and pray that someday the abortion laws in this country will be reversed, but for now, I will vote for the candidates and laws that I believe will limit abortion as much as possible. At the same time, we cannot rely on the government to right this wrong. It has to be done in relationship, and that is where the Christian carries the most influence. It is about educating others about the sanctity of human life, which means that Christians must be informed on this subject. Click here to read an article by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute. This helps clarify some of the issues on abortion. Again, if we truly live by the law of love as Christians, caring for our neighbor, I do not believe that we can ignore the horrors of abortion.

So now you have a basic framework with which to sort through some of these issues. We have to be careful to maintain the distinction but not the separation of church and state. Our goal is not a “Christian” nation. Our goal is a just and moral nation. But how do we determine morals? As Christians, we believe in a divine moral law-giver. God establishes morals and justice and values, so in that sense, yes, we can vote “Pro-God.”

I’m going to leave you with a few more links and helpful material on these issues.

Here is a great summary of what took me three, probably confusing, posts to write.

Basically the government rules by the sword, punishing the evildoer to keep law and order; that is to keep everyone from turning on their neighbor. And the church has the Gospel, not compelling men to believe but by granting faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. So, for example, a political candidate who wishes to legislate belief in the Gospel (using the sword of the state) is mixing the two spheres by which God reigns in creation.

So, the Gospel does not compel you to pick a Christian candidate. If it did, and anyone who preaches this is preaching a false Gospel, you might end up electing an incompetent politician (though he remains a Christian). Rather the Gospel frees you from any law in picking a candidate except the law of love. Your neighbor is your chief concern in choosing a candidate; who will best serve his interests.

This is no easy task in a fallen world. You have your first article gifts to be discerning about who you vote for (First article refers to the first article of the creed which confesses God as creator of all things, including giving you a brain). So, you can pray discernment from God as you weigh each candidate or even political party. Yes, that means being an informed voter or you are not serving your neighbor.

For more information on the HHS mandate which limits religious liberty, check out this website provided by our church body, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. http://www.lcms.org/freetobefaithful

I also promised to talk about the “pro-Israel” part of the church marquee sign that I saw in town. To be brief, there is no spiritual or Biblical reason to “vote for Israel.” This is a purely political issue. For a better explanation, read this.

Finally, I encourage all of you to keep Psalm 146 in your hearts and minds on Election Day.

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,

in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;

on that very day his plans perish.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

6 who made heaven and earth,

the sea, and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever;

7 who executes justice for the oppressed,

who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

the Lord loves the righteous.

9 The Lord watches over the sojourners;

he upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, to all generations.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

Don’t Look At Me!

Alright, this is my last post reflecting on Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus+Nothing=Everything. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as evidenced by the four posts dedicated to it. It was neat to read how a popular Evangelical pastor rediscovered the true Gospel message and how it has changed his life and his ministry. Many of the people who influenced him in his journey were Lutheran theologians, and as I read his book, I could see the Lutheran influence in his discoveries. (The only thing he is missing is Lutheran sacramental theology, but I can’t ask for everything.)

Tchividjian’s main purpose in this book is to recover the true message of God’s Word from a person-focused center to a Jesus-focused center. He recognized that much of popular evangelical theology focuses on what Christians must do and how they can improve instead of focusing on God and what He has already done through Jesus. Tchividjian refers to this teaching as “performancism” which is just another word for “legalism.” Legalism has been present in the church ever since Bible times. One of the temptations in legalism is to read yourself into all the Bible stories and make them about you.

For example, in the story of David and Goliath, a “me-focused” interpretation would be to place myself in David’s shoes and talk about how I can defeat my giant enemies with God’s help. To take it even further, the five stones all represent some sort of spiritual attribute that I can use to knock down giants. A proper, Jesus-focused interpretation of this story recognizes that David defeating Goliath points forward to Jesus’ battle with sin, death and Satan. Like David, Jesus stands in the place of His people and takes on the enemy that we could never defeat by ourselves. David caught off the head of Goliath. Jesus crushed the head of Satan. Just as David was chosen and anointed by God to be the leader and king of his people, Jesus was chosen and anointed by God to be our Savior and King.

A proper understanding of Scripture means that we will come to realize that the Bible is not primarily about me and what I must do, but rather it is about God and what He has done and continues to do for me. That doesn’t mean that we cannot learn anything about ourselves and the Christian life through stories like David and Goliath. But these stories are first and foremost about God, specifically God the Son, Jesus Christ. Tchividjian gets at this in his book:

The gospel doesn’t take you deeper into yourself; the gospel takes you away from yourself. That’s why Paul reminds the Colossians (and us), ‘You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). The gospel frees us to realize that, while we matter, we’re not the point…The gospel causes us to look up and out, away from ourselves. It turns our gaze upward to God and outward to others, both to those inside the church and to those outside it. The gospel causes us to love God and to love others, which of course is how Jesus summed up the entirety of the law.

And some more from Tchividjian:

Reminded of the gospel, we’re reminded that sin enslaves by making us big; the gospel frees by making us small. Our self-esteem culture would have us believe that the bigger we become, the freer we’ll be. But the gospel turns that on its head- the smaller we become, the freer we will be. We begin to decrease; Christ begins to increase. The world says the more independent you become, the freer and stronger you’ll be; the gospel says the more dependent on God you become, the freer and stronger you’ll be.

This is true freedom. A proper understanding of the Gospel means that we do not have to be plagued by guilt as we look inside ourselves and see, not moral improvement, but sin. The gospel points us away from ourselves and toward Jesus. Legalism and “performancism” leaves us open to accusations of hypocrisy because we point to ourselves and pat ourselves on the back at the improvement we have made. When we grasp the true Gospel message, we can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t up to my performance. We can tell Satan who wants to accuse us in our sin through other people “Don’t look at me! I am not the standard. Look at Jesus! I am perfect because of Him only.” And when God looks at you, He sees you through the lens of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t see your works or your lack thereof; He sees Christ’s works, his life, death, and resurrection, for you.

What a great promise! I encourage all of you to read Tchividjian’s book and rediscover the Gospel message for yourself. I will leave you with one last quote.

Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it from others, because your identity is in Christ, not in your place. Now you can spend your energy going to the back instead of getting to the front, because your identity is in Christ, not in your position. You can also spend your life giving, not taking, because your identity is in Christ, not in your possessions. All this is our new identity- all because of Christ’s finished work to us in the gospel.