Talking About the Table

(Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 & 11:17-34 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh wrote about a personal experience of his in an internet study:

“A few years ago, my parents spent a year in Taiwan, where my dad taught in an American school, and my mother assisted. They came to know a young Chinese man whose name was Johnny. He did not know English very well, and my dad agreed to teach him—from the Gospel of Matthew. Johnny was saved at chapter 16. Over time, they got to know Johnny quite well. He began to speak of having them over for dinner, and that he had something very special to serve.

“One evening, my dad and Johnny were walking home and were passing through an alley when a dog began to bark incessantly. Johnny finally yelled something at the dog in Chinese, and suddenly it was quiet. As they continued on, my dad pressed Johnny to tell him just what he had yelled at the dog. Johnny told him that he told the dog to shut up or he would eat him. Johnny was serious. As Johnny began to speak more often about the meal he planned to serve my folks, it came out that the special dish was a dog. As politely as they could, my folks explained that in America we looked at dogs as our friends, and so we would not think of eating one. That seemed to put the matter to rest.

“What we eat really does matter a lot to us, doesn’t it? When one of our children was asked to spend the night at the home of a friend, our daughter had one important question to ask: “What are we having for dinner?” The answer to this question was usually the determining factor in her decision. The Corinthians seemed to have divided over what certain people ate for dinner. Some Corinthians felt they were free to eat any meat whatsoever, even meats offered to idols. They were so liberated in their thinking and behavior that they had no scruples about eating idol-meats at a meal that was part of a pagan religious idol worship ritual. Other Corinthians were much more particular. In fact, some were so sensitive on this matter that they would not eat anything without first knowing its origin. Every meal must have been like an inquisition, with the host being grilled (pardon the pun) concerning the origin of the meat being served.”

<Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/19-table-talk-1-cor-1014-33 on 5/4/17.>

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 = How to get the rite wrong: practicing it in a worldly way.

CONTEXT = One problem Paul dealt with i/t Corinthian church was how they messed up the faith by combining it w/ their old idol-worship.

COMMENTS = Paul makes his point abundantly clear: FLEE FROM IDOLATRY (14).

Historically, there has always been a temptation to combine Christian faith with other faiths or worldly things.  If you want to impress someone with your vocabulary, this problem is called SYNCRETISM.  (Think of “synchronizing your watches.”)  The problem is, our faith is not modular: you can’t keep the true faith by taking out the bits you don’t like or adding bits from other sources.  We received an entire word of God and a whole faith; it’s a package.  Syncretism was the general issue. In this case, the specific problem was Christians eating meat from the market that had previously been a sacrifice offered to an idol.  Enquiring minds wanted to know: Was the meat tainted spiritually?  Were people sinning in this practice?

A more contemporary example: a church I formerly served was offered money for assistance for paying heating bills by a local service club.  We all knew the money had been raised by selling liquor and gambling tickets.  Was the money tainted spiritually?  Would we be sinning by accepting it?

To begin to answer the question, Paul compared eating the Lord’s Supper with eating meat offered to idols.  By the way he handled this controversy, Paul teaches us something about the Lord’s Supper.  Paul made his point by…

Characterizing his opposition as wrong = I SPEAK TO SENSIBLE PEOPLE (15).

Characterizing the nature of the rite: PARTICIPATION IN THE BLOOD & BODY OF CHRIST (16).  In the Old Testament system, the people who offered the animal sacrifice on the altar shared in the meat from the slaughter of the animal (18).  Then he offers a negative example: those who offer sacrifices to idols are not participating with Christ, but with DEMONS instead (19-21). Verses 19-20 clarify that there is no reality to an IDOL; it is not ANYTHING.  So eating meat offered to any idol has no intrinsic spirituality.  Verse 21 = However, Satan is the “Father of all lies” according to Jesus, so DEMONS are the unseen reality behind the falsehood of all idol-worship, even the kind we do.  The bottom line is we are not to corrupt our faith – including our practice of the Lord’s Supper – by combining it with anything evil or worldly.

Characterizing the effect of the rite on the BODY as unifying: ONE LOAF…ONE BODY (17).

Characterizing violation of the Lord’s Supper as arousing the LORD’S JEALOUSY (22).  This is Paul’s way of returning to the idea of being SENSIBLE PEOPLE.  He’s urging his readers to use their brains and think about what they’re doing, and consider the effects.  God does not want to share you with an idol; discipline will result if we persist in idolatry.

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 = How to get the rite right.

CONTEXT = The way the Lord’s Supper was handled in Corinth was a rite gone wrong.

COMMENTS = The specific problem was that their rite (ritual) was abused as an occasion for PREJUDICE instead of fellowship.  The wealthy members abused their poor brothers and sisters in the way they practiced the Lord’s Supper.  They brought “gourmet” food and refused to share it with the poor; they probably said it was too good for them.  They began the meal before sundown, excluding working folk still on the job.  (A large percentage of the Church at that time were in slavery.)  They were also guilty of drunkenness and gluttony, treating the Supper as a pagan rite.

A result was that the rite drove them apart instead of building UNITY.  Paul used two words:

DIVISIONS (18) = When our focus is on bias, competition and/or dispute, DIVISIONS result.

DIFFERENCES (19) is actually an emotionally stronger word having the same root as our word “heresy.”

This was a serious problem.  Verse 22 is a strongly-worded rebuke.  V. 27 = it was a SIN against the Lord Jesus Himself.  Vs. 29+34 = they brought the Lord’s JUDGMENT on themselves.  V. 30 = His judgment was manifest in sickness and death among them.

They needed to make their rite RIGHT.  Step #1 = They needed to keep the Supper as they’d RECEIVED it (23).  Get back to basics.

Step #2 = they needed to keep it in a way that valued EVERYONE equally as members of the BODY OF CHRIST.  Paul had some practical suggestions on how to achieve this:

WAIT FOR EACH OTHER (33) = wait until after sundown so the working folk could come.

IF ANYONE IS HUNGRY, HE SHOULD EAT AT HOME (34) = the fellowship around the meal is more important than the meal.  If your tummy rules you, quiet it by snacking first.

Understand your motive; examine yourself to know why you’re at the table at all (vs. 28+29).

Appreciate the fact it is always better to obey God than be condemned with the world (30-32).

Why is this important?

The answer is simple.  This is a matter of life and death, just as 1 Corinthians 11:30 made clear.  That is the truth because there is more to this table than bread and grape juice, more even than symbolism.  This table is our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is what Jesus taught before His death:

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”  Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.” (See John 6:51-57.)

The Lord’s Supper is for all who have truly trusted in Jesus and have received, by faith, the gift of life.  Your years of experience in church, your titles, your awards, your contributions; none of those things matter.  In this moment, what matters is what is real in you.  If you are a participant in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this table is the way He has chosen for you to remember Him.  Honor Him with your actions in these next few moments.

Participate or refrain, but in either case, choose the right thing and in so doing, honor Jesus Christ.  There is nothing else that matters in this sacred moment.

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Wage War on Weariness #4

 

What do we do when we are wearied?

To help you be “hip” I am to the latest social trends, I read an article in this morning’s Kansas City Star entitled, “The Ash Wednesday Selfie Trend has Christians Debating: #ashtag or Not?”

LISA GUTIERREZ wrote, “Believe it or not, Ash Wednesday selfies are an official trend now. But religious leaders want people to think twice before posting.  People post selfies of their ash-marked foreheads all over social media.

“But is that appropriate? Should piety be so public?  The debate grows each year as Ash Wednesday selfies become more prolific in kicking off the Lenten season.

“The Catholic News Service recently explained where the lines are drawn in the debate over ash selfies.  Pro: Sharing photos of your ashes shares the meaning of the day with the world and is a modern way to evangelize. Evidence: Some priests and ministers do it.  Con: The solemn reminder of the day — that humans are made of dust and to dust they shall return — is diminished and lost in smiley, happy tweets.

“Ironically, some people couldn’t participate because they gave up social media for Lent.

“Religious leaders advise people to ask themselves why they are ash-tagging. To show off? To share the meaning of the day?”

<Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article135664333.html on 3/1/17.>

Perhaps the most important strategy in dealing with weariness is to LAUGH.  An Ash Wednesday selfie may be taking it a bit too far, but finding something to laugh about during our weary days is the most immediately effective “medicine” one can find!

REVIEW

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.
  3. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.
  4. Focus on the basics: prayer and the word.
  5. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours.

NEW

  1. Share your sorrow.

Galatians 6:2 reads, CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS, AND IN THIS WAY YOU WILL FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST.  What does this mean?

The CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS part is an obvious enough concept, but difficult to fulfill.  The Gk word for BURDEN originally envisioned a heavy weight someone was required to carry a long distance.  Eventually, it came to mean any ordeal or hardship a person could experience.

How can you CARRY a BURDEN you know nothing about?  That’s a rhetorical question: the obvious answer is you can’t.  Why are we so reluctant to share our burdens; to get help?  To one degree or another, we all value our independence and privacy.  These values can become detrimental if taken too far.  Pride is another aspect of human nature that gets in the way of getting some partners to help shoulder our wearying burdens.  At one point or another just about every one of us has trusted someone and seen that trust betrayed in some way.  This will naturally make us reluctant to trust again.  The line between being independent and being stubborn is pretty fine and we are probably the least qualified person to judge ourselves.  When you say you don’t “want to be a burden” you are directly violating this command!

None of these things are great reasons – nor are they good excuses for refusing to share our sorrows.  They buy into the myth of self-sufficiency that owes more to ancient Greek philosophy than to biblical teaching (see v. 3).  We must remember our human nature is not our best side; we are to live according to the Christ nature within us.

The point of the phrase IN THIS WAY YOU WILL FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST means two things.  The first is to gently instruct us that sharing our burdens is not optional.  It is a command to those who follow Jesus.  We fulfill the LAW OF CHRIST when we trust one another and share our burdens.  We are all priests: this is what priests do.  The second is to command us to carry each other’s burdens.  This willingness to support one another is not an option, it is mandatory.

I wondered what Paul meant by THE LAW OF CHRIST.  What LAW, exactly?  A couple of ideas: One, in context, the LAW to which he refers here must be the Law of Sowing and Reaping, as found in vs. 7+8.  We sow good seed when we share our burdens and help others carry theirs.  Second, from the Gospels we learn Jesus’ teaching that every act of obedience came down to two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31).

  1. Spend your sorrow on service.

How many times have you observed or heard someone testify that their own spirits were lifted when they offered themselves in service to those who were worse off than they?  I believe that is both human and divine nature.  It is a good deed when we turn our sorrows into service.  It is a good motive for service.

There is an excellent example of this in the Bible.  In Luke 22:7-38 we read about the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples.  In that context, we read about something Jesus said to Peter, a warning He gave Peter: “SIMON, SIMON, SATAN HAS ASKED TO SIFT YOU AS WHEAT.  BUT I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU, SIMON, THAT YOUR FAITH MAY NOT FAIL.  AND WHEN YOU HAVE TURNED BACK, STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS” (vs. 31-32).

Jesus expressed His support of Peter: “I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU.”  Even though He knew Peter’s faith would fail him (and He said so in the next two verses), Jesus prayed for Peter to resist the temptation to deny Him.

Jesus instructed Peter as to what he was to do after he repented: “AFTER YOU HAVE TURNED BACK, STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS.”  Just as He knew Peter would fail, Jesus also knew Peter would repent.  That’s why He instructed Peter in advance as to what he must do.

Peter was to spend his sorrow, his regret over denying Jesus, on strengthening his brothers.  This is nothing less than turning a bad experience into good by using it to motivate and relate to other believers who face similar struggles.  To STRENGTHEN means to “confirm” or “establish.”  Jesus is enlisting Peter’s help in re-establishing the faith of His followers after His resurrection.  Peter was leader at that time.

In John 21:15-23 we read about how Jesus appeared after His Resurrection for the purpose of reinstating Peter to his status as His disciple.  That passage describes Peter’s first step in “turning back” as Jesus had commanded at the Last Supper.

  1. Invest in wellness.

“Wellness” is a word that is not found in the Bible but is used in our own time to convey a desirable emotional and physical state of well-being.  Because all truth is God’s truth, we can use the term “wellness” in this sense; the follower of Christ using wisdom in how they treat their body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

The entire Bible book of Proverbs is a storehouse of wisdom.  Chapter four particularly praises the value of wisdom to motivate God’s people to seek it.  Here are a couple of verses that show the relationship of wisdom and wellness: MY SON, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I SAY; TURN YOUR EAR TO MY WORDS.  DO NOT LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT, KEEP THEM WITHIN YOUR HEART; FOR THEY ARE LIFE TO THOSE WHO FIND THEM AND HEALTH TO ONE’S WHOLE BODY. (Proverbs 4:21-22)

The connection between wisdom and wellness: people who are wise will enjoy health.   This is not, primarily, a promise that wisdom produces health, but more commonly, an affirmation that those who are wise are characterized as being healthy because wise people seek health.  They treat their physical self as another resource that needs to be used wisely, according to God’s command.  The verse promises that the two are interrelated.  Wisdom and health are found together.  Add faith and that is the entire package!

We know that the body will not survive into eternity, the soul (or spirit) will.  For now, however, as long as we live in this world, we know that we are not a soul separate from a body.  Body and soul exist together and only God can separate them.

We affirm that wellness is a proper goal for a follower of God, the Giver of the wisdom we just read from Proverbs.  We also affirm that wellness is both a defense against weariness and a cure for it.  Wellness is one of those things in life that you have to spend to make more.  This means that we need to spend more time and energy on improving our physical and emotional selves in order to build up a tolerance against weariness.

This work must continue, even when we are weary, because we know that a healthy body leads to a healthy soul and vice-versa.  We can’t have one without the other.  We are a whole person and we need to act like one to overcome weariness.

I am not advocating any one strategy for wholeness.  I’m not here to sell you vitamins or convince you to become a vegetarian.  I’m trying to convince you of two truths: It is divine wisdom to care for yourself, body & soul.  Wellness is a strategy for preventing & overcoming weariness.  The more you invest in wellness, the more strength you will have to overcome weariness.

Richard Wurmbrand tells of a legend that Moses once sat near a well in meditation. A man stopped to drink from the well, and when he did so his purse fell from his girdle into the sand. The man departed. Shortly afterwards another man passed near the well, saw the purse and picked it up.

Later a third man stopped to assuage his thirst and went to sleep in the shadow of the well. Meanwhile, the first man had discovered that his purse was missing, and, assuming that he must have lost it at the well, returned, awoke the sleeper (who of course knew nothing) and demanded his money back. An argument followed, and irate, the first man slew the latter.

Whereupon Moses said to God, “You see, therefore men do not believe you. There is too much evil and injustice in the world. Why should the first man have lost his purse and then become a murderer? Why should the second have gotten a purse full of gold without having worked for it? The third was completely innocent. Why was he slain?”

God answered, “For once and only once, I will give you an explanation. I cannot do it at every step. The first man was a thief’s son. The purse contained money stolen by his father from the father of the second man, who finding the purse only found what was due him. The third was a murderer whose crime had never been revealed and who received from the first the punishment he deserved. In the future, believe that there is sense and righteousness in what transpires even when you do not understand.” (100 Prison Meditations, pages 6–7)

Like Moses in this story, our weariness can compromise our ability to see life from God’s perspective.  I can depress us and draw a shade over the light.  Faith is where we stand, utterly convinced that God is for us.  Nothing in this world, including weariness, matters so much as that.

Are You in Championship Form?

Please read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, manifest in the self-discipline of a heaven-bound disciple.

  1. Life is like an athletic contest: we’re “in it to win it.”

The PRIZE in the game of life is eternal life.  The difference between an athletic contest and the game of life is that in life, all of us can win; while in a game at the arena, ONLY ONE GETS THE PRIZE.

Paul is getting at the athlete’s motivation, his will to be the winner.  As followers of Jesus, our motive is to receive the prize of eternal life by beating our only opponent, Satan.

Thus motivated, the athlete competes by committing his/her entire self to the contest; they RUN IN SUCH A WAY AS TO GET THE PRIZE.  To win THE PRIZE, the athlete must compete within rules, demonstrating superior skill or ability.  If the athletes are equal in these areas, then two other factors decide the contest.

– One is the will to win. Who wants it more?

– The other is training. Who has trained harder?  Training is difficult and tedious.  One must keep the goal in sight to faithfully prepare.

The CROWN is a symbol of God’s reward for spiritual maturity.  Paul noted that in his day, athletes competed FOR A CROWN THAT WILL NOT LAST.  The winner of an athletic contest received a crown woven out of laurel or celery leaves. While wearing a salad on your head may not sound like much of an honor to us, the wearer of that crown was treated like “king for a day.”  Regardless of what your trophy is made out of, it will not last.  Our faith tells us that everything in this world is temporary.

Another important difference between disciples and athletes is that a we follow Jesus FOR A CROWN THAT WILL LAST FOREVER.  The only things that will last beyond this life are the things God does through us, the sacrifices we make in order to follow Him.  The believer has his/her eye on a PRIZE that will endure longer than human history!  We survive the tedium and trouble of this life to “win” eternal life.

We sacrifice it all for the sake of the cross.  We don’t do this to earn salvation, for we can’t: it is a gift from God, an act of grace.  BUT, that grace makes us part of God’s team and we from then on act and think and talk and train as a member of His team, the Church.

Self-discipline increases our confidence of salvation.  Here’s another place where the athletic metaphor doesn’t fit as easily.  In an athletic contest, athletes who violate the rules are disqualified.  They lose.  In the game of life, people reveal who they are by the way they play.

Paul wrote about being DISQUALIFIED in this sense – allow me to paraphrase – “I am in strict training and play by the rules because after I have gone through this life wearing the uniform of God’s team, I don’t want to be found to be playing for the enemy’s team.”  Paul had repeatedly taken a stand for Jesus and it cost him plenty.  How sad would it be if his actions proved that was never real?

Like an athlete, we choose to play the game of life in a way that shows we are on the right team.  When we do that, when we train and play and live by God’s rules, then we are wearing the right uniform.

  1. Winning the game of life requires self-control.

STRICT TRAINING is made necessary by a will to win.  All this athletic imagery was potent to the Corinthians, people who hosted athletic games second only to the Olympics in Athens.  This was familiar terminology to them.

Serious athletes do not merely step onto the field to compete.  Instead, they have prepared to compete by lengthy and intense training of mind and body.

Similarly, serious and maturing followers of Jesus exercise spiritual discipline, focused on God.  In our case, STRICT TRAINING includes prayer, Bible study, fasting, stewardship, etc.  We are in training for heaven!

Self-sacrifice is one exercise of self-control.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, I DO NOT RUN LIKE A MAN RUNNING AIMLESSLY; I DO NOT FIGHT LIKE A MAN BEATING THE AIR.  Real training has purpose; it contributes to realizing the goal.  It has intelligent form and function; it is planned to be particular preparation.  This is another aspect of the Fruit of Self-control; it is keeping ourselves moving toward the realization of our purpose, winning the PRIZE.

Self-control happens as we submit to God’s control.  A dedicated athlete sacrifices himself in training and in competition.  He doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of winning.

Similarly, as Paul wrote, I BEAT MY BODY AND MAKE IT MY SLAVE.  The word BODY here can stand for “human nature,” all the things that this world says is important but aren’t, the things that can distract us from keeping “our eyes on the prize.”  Paul was not going to let a temporary and petty thing like his body get in the way.

The Original ‘No Spin Zone’

(Please read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

The truth is better than ‘spin.’

“Spin” is a slang word that describes an attempt to change someone’s feelings about a thing by changing the words you use to describe or designate it.  It is a favorite tactic of the “politically correct” crowd – the “secular orthodox” – to influence public opinion.  (Have you noticed people don’t “think” anymore, they “feel?”)

It works on people who don’t think for themselves.  Here’s an example in a story told by Anne Watson.

Her great uncle Ed was a country lawyer by day and a moonshiner by night.  One day, a man came to Ed’s office and asked for his help with a criminal case – the sheriff had charged him with theft for stealing a pig.

“Oh,” said Ed.  “Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” his new client answered.

“OK,” Ed said, thinking.  “Where is the pig now?”

“In my smokehouse.  I got no money to pay for it.”

“Give me half the pig,” Ed said, “and I’ll get you off.”

This was done that night and the next morning, Ed and the pigstealer appeared in court.  When the charge was read, Ed’s defense consisted of the following statement; “Yer Honor, they ain’t any more of that pig in this man’s smokehouse than there is in mine!”

Making a lie more acceptable is what “spin” is about.

The prevailing culture in America is very dependent on spin.  Part of the problem is that spin is being used to widen the gap between the culture and the Church.  The influence the culture exerts on the Church is growing as critics and skeptics become louder and bolder.  What are we doing?

On the one hand, the Church has resorted to “spin,” the practice of hiding unbiblical teaching behind deceptive language.  Some churches have bought into the new orthodoxy of political correctness and have tried to hide the fact by pasting churchy-sounding words on the outside or adapting biblical concepts to approve their agenda.

Other churches have done the opposite – they have retreated into traditions and legalism, angrily rejecting all change and avoiding any dialogue.  The anti-church elements of our culture love this response.  Why?  If they get the Church to appear more antique and ill-mannered or force it to withdraw entirely, they have succeeded in silencing her.

What are we to do?  This has been on my mind and heart more than usual this week.  This morning I want to suggest a response to you, one that avoids either of the two extremes that are killing the Church in America.

In short, I suggest that the most precious thing the Church has to offer our communities and our country is Jesus Christ.  Every dialogue, every confrontation, every collision, is an opportunity to tell unbelievers the good news about Jesus.

There are two things we must do.

One, keep it simple.  Don’t allow the truth to be killed by qualifications or complicated by compromises.

Two, keep it true. Firstly, that means true to the Bible.  Without apology, the Bible is our objective but personal revelation of what is absolutely true.  The culture wants to deny that absolute truth exists.  We will not allow that.

Secondly, that means true to the social context.  As we will see, there are a set of appropriate and effective behaviors in the context of the Church and another set in the context of the world; they are slightly different.  Context also takes in our immediate surroundings and the persons involved.  This is not complicated, but it does require some sensitivity and benefits from some forethought.

Fortunately, we have an example set by the Apostle Paul.  He sets forth this position in 1 Corinthians 2, where he wrote to a troubled church and explained in plain terms what he intended to do with them.  Let’s take a look.

  1. The Apostle Paul dealt in the truth alone.

What Paul wanted to avoid was diluting the Gospel by resorting to spin doctoring.  He wrote, I DID NOT COME WITH what we might call worldly words or wits.  Paul explained this decision in three ways, the first being ELOQUENCE (1).  This is personal social power, interpersonal assertiveness accomplished with word plays and/or charisma.  He vowed not to rely on SUPERIOR WISDOM (1): rhetorical tricks or lies, exercises of mental assertiveness.  Finally, Paul eschewed  WISE AND PERSUASIVE WORDS (4), which can be understood as reliance on learning, reputation, education.  This is Paul’s advocacy for the purity and simplicity of the Gospel, not for “dumbing down” the intellectual content of the Gospel.

Instead, Paul told the Corinthians the plain truth.  This claim is also developed in three parts.  First, I PROCLAIMED…THE TESTIMONY ABOUT GOD (1).  This was Paul’s personal testimony of what God has done in his life and what he’d witnessed in the churches.  Second, I RESOLVED TO KNOW NOTHING… EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED (2).  This is a matter of keeping our focus where it belongs: on Jesus.  Third, he came to them WITH A DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT’S POWER (4); he had relied on God’s power, not his own.  There are at least three ways the Holy Spirit’s power is revealed in the personal experience of followers of Jesus.

“Conviction” is the work of the Holy Spirit on unbelievers to convince them of their sin and their need for repentance and salvation.

“Salvation” is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It was accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice and fully rendered in the empty tomb.

“Sanctification” is the work of the Holy Spirit on believers to draw them into deeper spiritual maturity; to make them more like Jesus Christ.

In this way, Paul demonstrated humility and focused on Jesus, not himself.  Here the Apostle used a pair of phrases.  The first is WEAKNESS (3). In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul referred fondly to his weaknesses as opportunities for God to demonstrate His strength.  The second is FEAR AND MUCH TREMBLING (3), a

common biblical phrase for trust in God, not self.

Do these two personal descriptions sound anything like the feelings you have when you think of witnessing or standing up for your faith?  If so, you’re in good company!  The Apostle Paul felt that way too.  Remember, it’s not about you anyway.  It’s about God in you!

Interestingly, Paul’s detractors said the similar things about him.  We learn this from the way he addressed their accusations in 2 Corinthians 10:10; FOR SOME SAY, “HIS LETTERS ARE WEIGHTY AND FORCEFUL, BUT IN PERSON HE IS UNIMPRESSIVE AND HIS SPEAKING AMOUNTS TO NOTHING.”  I guess they didn’t read the first letter, especially this passage.  The truth is, Paul could have preached assertively, exercising his obvious intellect.  Instead, he chose to preach the way he did so that he would not undermine the security of their conversion. This approach is in continuity with his teaching in the previous chapter: 1CT 1:27. BUT GOD CHOSE THE FOOLISH THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE WISE; GOD CHOSE THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE STRONG.

Paul affirmed that the Gospel, all by itself, has the power to change lives.  It needs no adornment.  He explained his preaching and leadership style as having this objective: SO THAT YOUR FAITH MIGHT NOT REST ON MEN’S WISDOM, BUT ON GOD’S POWER (5).  If you and I do what we can do, we get the glory, but it’s not as big a deal.  If you and I do what only God can do, God gets the glory and it’s always a big deal.  Faith founded on a person is shaky; faith founded on God is steady.

As the apostle affirmed Romans 1:16, I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, BECAUSE IT IS HE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES: FIRST FOR THE JEWS, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.  Any statement is more likely to be true if it points people back to God; if it glorifies Him.

  1. In our collisions with contemporary culture, we must stand on the truth alone.

What do we have to offer to the world around us?  Nothing less than the truth and nothing more than the truth.  The truth we have to offer is this: Jesus Saves Sinners.  Skeptics and critics will try to disprove or disavow any one of these three truths, but compromise here makes faith false.

How do we offer t truth to the world around us?  Two ways: in context and in compassion.

Paying attention to context can mean asking, “Which kingdom are we in? We are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our primary behavior is love.

Our code of conduct is the Bible.

The aim of our code is to help each other find God.

Within our walls, we encourage discussion but don’t tolerate division or interference.  Differences of opinion must be resolved on the testimony of the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.  Individuals submit to the authority of God as determined by the church as a whole.

We are, secondarily, citizens of the United States.

Our primary behavior is civility: mutual respect.

The code of conduct is the law.

The aim of the code is justice; equal opportunity to decide our own outcome and jointly decide the outcome of the country.

We realize that our American culture is an immigrant culture and as such it is always in tension, always being redefined.  Our faith, however, does not have be lead around by our culture.  We don’t have to submit to the latest trends and follow their fads.  When culture and law contradict God’s word, we stand firm on God’s word.  As Paul did, we stand firm on the word of God.  Whenever outsiders demand compromise, compliance, or silence, we must decide with Peter and John that it is better to obey God rather than men (see Acts 4:18).

In regard to compassion: start with positivity & love.  Note Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman: He established a conversation and began a relationship before He confronted her sin (see John 4).  Paul and the people of Athens (see Acts 17).  He used one of their landmarks as a symbol of what was wrong with their godless culture and presented Jesus as the solution to the problem they denied having.

Remember this universal statement of human nature: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Peggy Noonan was a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan and has remained an advocate for conservative politics to this day.  Way back in 1992 she wrote an opinion piece for Forbes magazine entitled, “You’d Cry Too if it Happened to You.”  I heard this portion of the article quoted on the radio last week. It impacted me, so I looked it up on the Internet to share it with you.

“We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: ‘She’s going to have a baby.’

“The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

“But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

“The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (‘We disapprove’) and the particular (‘Let’s go help her’). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between ‘official,’ disapproval and ‘unofficial’ [service]. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.”

<Retrieved from http://www.peggynoonan.com/47/ on 4/29/16.>

Noonan’s point is that in becoming more “tolerant,” our culture has become less caring.  We spread our approval further but have become miserly with our love.

I mention this to restate the point of this message: The truth is better than ‘spin.’ To love in deed and in fact is better than loving in words.  And THAT is what the Church has to offer that the world does not have.  TRUE LOVE.