What IS Real

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and 18-20 in your favorite Bible.  Me, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20 of this year; just over a month ago.  In its wake, Maria left the island of 3.4 million people without clean water and electricity.

Nine days after the hurricane, a storm of another sort arose on Twitter.  President Donald Trump responded to criticism for the federal response, twice faulting San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

I will not weigh in on the tweet shots fired across the ocean between these leaders.  Frankly, that would dignify an exchange that should never have taken place.  But there are two things to be learned.

First, we are reminded that even people who share the same goals can disagree.  The important thing is that the right to disagree does not endow anyone with the right to be disagreeable.  Let’s be honest: whether we are communicating in person or by any other means, respect and honesty are essential, not negotiable.  This is especially true in the church, which is supposedly populated by people who are committed to a higher standard of love and relationships.

Second – without taking sides – I like what Mayor Cruz wrote: “I have only one goal and it is saving lives, and I will do and I will say whatever needs to be said or done to be able to do that.”

Here’s what I like about that quote: she called for a restoration of perspective.  Part of what we must do to keep the number one thing number one is to push aside pettiness and personalities to pull together toward God’s perfect will.

Paul wrote this letter to a divided church.  They were feuding about several things, some of which were very petty and one of which was a dispute over personalities.  The people were dividing into camps over who their favorite preacher was – Paul or Apollos.  It concerned Paul enough that this was the first issue he tackled in this letter.  We’re going to take four Sundays to carefully study this passage and learn what God reveals to us about real church life, how we are to conduct real relationships.

  1. Realistic Identity = Who are we

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Worldliness is a sign of immaturity (1-4).  Paul referred to the recipients of this letter as INFANTS IN CHRIST.  They survived (but did not thrive) by “feeding” on spiritual MILK.  They were not ready for SOLID FOOD.

MILK is a metaphor of basic beliefs about salvation.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” When you are feeding an INFANT, MILK is the logical choice of foods; it is the introductory food.

SOLID FOOD is a metaphor of deeper biblical truths.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do now that I am saved?”  If you are feeding someone more mature than an INFANT, you begin to switch out MILK with SOLID FOOD.

To put it another way, Paul wrote, “You weren’t ready before and you haven’t matured enough since then.”  The problem is not the cuisine per se, but the fact that the choice of cuisine was dictated by their immaturity.  This is the situation Paul was talking about when he wrote to his associate, Timothy; For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This letter is addressed to a church, but we see the same predilection toward subtle selfishness in our culture: look at the “experts” in media, the popular voices.  They advocate self-satisfaction, self-centeredness, and self-help.  But this is also manifest in the Church when people prefer sermons and Bible studies they can safely ignore, servings of short and soft and non-challenging pap.

Paul offered three signs of immaturity as examples.  This particular set often results in divisions in the church.

– JEALOUSY is competitiveness where cooperation ought to exist.

– QUARRELING is taking a simple difference of opinion to a more emotional level.  A quarrel can only happen between people who insist on “winning,” though there are no winners.

– ACTING LIKE MERE HUMANS, too willing to split into parties and/or to idolize leaders.  (Paul and Apollos served the Corinthian church together (18:1-28).  They did not encourage this party spirit in the church.  Some church folk pushed that agenda and chose up sides.

Even sincere and maturing Christians still struggle with their human nature.  The Corinthian church folk who politicized their pastors were not operating in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, they were guided by sinful and self-centered desires.  They were “Functional Atheists;” believers in word not in deed.

What the NIV translates as WORLDLY is literally “fleshly.”  It is sin, the opposite of a life that is heavenly and spiritual.  Real life is lived with God in focus, following His way.

Paul called these people his BROTHERS AND SISTERS, so his aim is not cutting them out of the church, but ordering them to grow up and not just grow old.  He wanted to talk to them about deeper matters of faith, but they were frozen at a level of immaturity; they weren’t growing.  Getting frozen at a level of immaturity is a common problem because we get lazy or resist change or prefer our secret sins.  Refusing to grow betrays that our human nature is in charge, not the Holy Spirit.

An aspect of worldliness is being wise in your own eyes, not in God’s (18-20.)  DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES is a key insight into sinful nature: it is an act of self-deception before it is deceiving others.  “Wise in your own eyes” is a biblical phrase that condemns the sin of pride; in this case, pride in your big brain.

– Proverbs 26:12 = Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

– Isaiah 5:21 = Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE refers to the humanistic cultural norms of our current time and place.  The paradox is that all of us have to become FOOLS in the eyes of the world in order to become WISE in God’s eyes.

Paul quoted a couple Scriptures to prove that paradox.  God knows our hearts better than we do, so even self-deception won’t fool Him at all.

– Job 5:13 (v. 19) shows that God is not fooled; He recognizes which people who claim to be wise are merely being crafty.

– Psalm 94:11 (v. 20) warns that the plots of worldly wise people end in futility.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The immediate application is delivered in v. 21: SO THEN, NO MORE BOASTING ABOUT HUMAN LEADERS!  Paul’s pastoral concern was for the end of all divisions in that church, starting with the division over which pastor was “true leader” of the church.

Nobody comes to church spoiling for a fight.  Mostly, we come to avoid fights.  We come to get away from the world and its deep divisions, wars and violence.  It is our sincere hope that church will be the kind of place the Bible describes, a refuge from the strife caused by ungodliness.

And that is what it is until someone brings worldly (read “ungodly”) attitudes inside.  I don’t believe we are hopeless in the face of such people.  God wants unity and He wants all of us to safeguard the unity the Holy Spirit creates in our midst.

If we won’t sacrifice self on the altar, if we won’t swallow our pride and more than a few of our words to keep the peace in order to enjoy that peace, we must do it for the rest of the world.  The world outside these walls hungers for a light, an example to follow, a guide to lead them out of the sorrows and isolation that sin creates.

If we won’t do it for ourselves or the world, let’s do it for Jesus.  He surrendered His life on the cross to make the idea church a possibility.  Why should we hesitate to do what He asks of us?

Here’s how it works.  We stick up for each other and we stick together.  We make peace a priority over rights and will and all forms of self-interest.  Then watch life become more real than ever.

Coming up – parts two to four of this series of messages:

a. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

2. Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We begin with a good foundation (10-15).

b. We can be faithful builders (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

God delivers us from death to Himself.

An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:

Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread

Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!

Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”

With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/foodjokes/pizzajokes.html

It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament.  One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics.  The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.

In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way.  He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have.  What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”

To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin.  Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.

  1. We are delivered again and again (8-11).

This is obviously a personal section of this letter.  Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf.  It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way.  Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.

His TROUBLES were personal.  This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.”  Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God.  Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.

His TROUBLES were profound.  People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others.  People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.

Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.

UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).

DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.

SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him.  Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.

The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things.  Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:

THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.

Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support.  We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings.  Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.  The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.

The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them.  This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.

  1. We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)

WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4).  The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort.  It means “one who stands alongside to help.”

JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5).  (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.)  THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us.  As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.

Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about.  Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.

We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things.  Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:

SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).

IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).

IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).

YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).

OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).

The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things?  I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance.  Did I want to be delivered from the flu?  You betcha!

But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems.  Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?

Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?

Let’s be honest.  The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror.  Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.

God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son.  People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering.  They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.

Our Unveiled Faces

(Please read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I use the NIV.)

(The following is an abridged of the AP article cited.)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — “A granite monument of the Ten Commandments that has sparked controversy since its installation on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds was moved early Tuesday.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court decided in June that the display violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.” A contractor began removing the monument shortly after 10:30 p.m. Monday.  The state paid a contractor about $4,700 to remove the monument.

“Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus said said the monument was removed under the cover of darkness to avoid disturbing workers at the Capitol and to keep protesters from demonstrating while heavy equipment was used to detach the 2-ton monument from its base.

“Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012.  Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue depicting Satan, a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

“The original monument was smashed into pieces last year when someone drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed. A new monument was erected in January.”

<Retrieved from http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/workers-removing-ten-commandments-from-oklahoma-capitol/ar-AAf8wUL?ocid=ansmsnnews11 on 10/09/15.>

This is another of those situations where the world is unwilling to face the truth.  Today we’ll look at a similar situation, where the children of Israel were unwilling to face God, not even the derived glory of God as it was reflected on the radiant face of Moses.

MESSAGE: God provides everything we need to reflect His glory – direct attention to Him – in our daily living.

CONTEXT: In the preceding passage, Paul once again rose to the defense of the ministry of himself and the other apostles.  He did this by reminding the Corinthians we live under the New Covenant a situation which reveals more of the glory of God than even Moses himself knew.

  1. Moses’ veiled face as a symbol of the old covenant, sin, and death.

Starting in verse 7, the Apostle Paul writes to show that the greater glory shone on the face of Christ, rather than on the face of Moses.  This refers to an extraordinary historic incident in Exodus 34:29-35:

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.  Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.  When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.  But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak w/t Lord.

The point of this account is to stress the glory of God.  Even the reflected, derived, radiance of God’s presence was so great that the Israelites found it unbearable to behold.  In the Bible, a radiant face is one way to know God is with someone.  For example, in Matthew 17:2, we are told at His Transfiguration, Jesus’ face SHONE LIKE THE SUN.  In Matthew 28:3, the APPEARANCE of the angel atop the stone rolled back from Jesus’ tomb WAS LIKE LIGHTNING.

Paul makes use of this incident as a symbol of all that Jesus Christ replaced.

– THE MINISTRY THAT BROUGHT DEATH refers to the Second Death, the spiritual death that is the outcome of a life devoted to anything but God (see Romans 6:23; 8:6; Ephesians 2:2; 4:18).

– ENGRAVED IN LETTERS ON STONE refers to the contrast made in 3:3 between THE LETTER FROM CHRIST…WRITTEN…ON TABLETS OF HUMAN HEARTS, not on TABLETS OF STONE. It also reminds us of Jeremiah 31:33, where God promised to put His law IN THEIR MINDS and WRITE IT ON THEIR HEARTS.

– CAME WITH GLORY, SO THE ISRAELITES COULD NOT LOOK STEADILY ON T FACE OF MOSES, BECAUSE OF THE GLORY, FADING THOUGH IT WAS. The accounts in Exodus imply the radiance of Moses’ face was an effect that diminished after time; it was a temporary thing, not mentioned again.  However, in contrast, the radiance of God’s glory is of greater brightness and lasts for all eternity.

What word do we use for someone who comes to understand the truth?  “Enlightenment!”  The exciting promise of this passage is that all of us who believe reflect the glory of God in our faces!

Verses 8-11 elaborate on the greater glory of the new MINISTRY.

– THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT is EVEN MORE GLORIOUS. This is true in both quantity (the glory of the Spirit is eternal, the glory Moses reflected was only temporary) and quality (the unreflected glory is obviously brighter, more inspiring than the glory reflected on Moses’ face).

– THE MINISTRY THAT BRINGS RIGHTEOUSNESS is more glorious than THE MINISTRY THAT CONDEMNS MEN. This is a point Paul makes often in his letters; the Old Covenant existed to identify and condemn sin.  The New Covenant provided salvation and the Spirit to result in people made RIGHTEOUS in God’s eyes.

– Though he will make one more comparison, Paul pauses in verse 10 to summarize his argument: There is no comparison between the old and the new. The GLORY of the new is so great that it is as if there were no light shed under the old system!

– THE GLORY WHICH LASTS is GREATER than the GLORY that faded away. What Paul demonstrated with these repeated contrasts is that the New Covenant is the completion of the Old.  The New transcends the Old in every way.

2. Our unveiled faces as symbols of the new covenant and the Christ-like life we live right now.

We exercise our faith boldly.  Compare the timidity of the Israelites with our boldness.  In verse 12: THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE SUCH A HOPE, WE ARE VERY BOLD.  Our boldness does not come from ourselves, but from God.  We don’t let people push us around because we are on God’s side.

The glory of God coming off the face of Moses frightened the Israelites (v. 13).  As we read, they would not face him until he was veiled and the glory dimmed.  Knowing their own hearts, they dared not be exposed by the glorious light coming off Moses’ face.  Sinners in the presence of God fear judgment.

We read the Bible with understanding.  Compare the veil of their misunderstanding with our unveiled understanding of the word of God.

Verses 14+15 state: THEIR MINDS WERE MADE DULL…THE SAME VEIL REMAINS WHEN THE OLD COVENANT IS READ…EVEN TO THIS DAY WHEN MOSES IS READ, A VEIL COVERS THEIR HEARTS.  (see Romans 11:7-8, 25). Paul uses the historic veil on Moses’ face as a symbol of the willful ignorance of the Jews.  Since they continue to reject Christ as Savior, they cannot understand the truth.  He refers to Moses throughout this passage because his opponents took pride in having Moses as their authority figure.  In a way, they hid behind his name.

This verse also reminds us of something important about God: His justice.  When people continually reject Him and sin against Him, these decisions solidify into character, the person’s way of life.  God does not force Himself on anyone.

But there is hope, and its source is revealed in verses 14+16: BECAUSE ONLY IN CHRIST IS [the veil] TAKEN AWAY…WHENEVER ANYONE TURNS TO THE LORD, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.  Jesus Christ gives the Holy Spirit to His people.  The Holy Spirit imparts “illumination” (understanding) of the word of God.  This is how the VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.

We live in the Spirit, being transformed in the image of Jesus Christ.  The SPIRIT brings FREEDOM (v. 17).  It is this FREEDOM that makes it possible for us to be bold.  People who are not free do not tend to be bold.  This is the key verse to this passage and a summary of a great portion of all that Paul taught in his letters.

Follow Paul’s chain of reasoning: our FREEDOM exists so we can be TRANSFORMED into the likeness of the Lord (v. 18).  The VEIL over Moses’ face was not a sacred object, but a barrier between them and the glory of God.  It was a concession made to their fear.  This is why Paul uses it to represent the incompleteness and inadequacy of the Old Covenant, and worse, the willful disobedience of Israel.

It is infinitely better to be UNVEILED in the New Covenant than to be veiled in the Old.  WE…WITH UNVEILED FACES, ALL REFLECT THE LORD’S GLORY.

– BEING TRANSFORMED INTO HIS LIKENESS (see 2 Corinthians 4:6).  As disciples, our goal is to increasingly become like Jesus, who is the glorious likeness of God.  This is primarily a spiritual transformation but it is also manifest in our mental, moral, and emotional aspects as well.

– WITH EVER-INCREASING GLORY. Of course, this is not our glory, but God’s.  Our lives are supposed to more and more draw attention to God, less and less to self.

– WHICH COMES FROM THE LORD, WHO IS THE SPIRIT. All the persons of the Trinity are in view here.  The glory of God the Father is reflected in God the Son and we, in turn, reflect his glory (in the way that a series of mirrors can reflect light).  This reflective power is not our own, however.  It is supplied to us by the Holy Spirit.  By choosing to grow in our faith we effectively polish our mirror surface to produce a greater reflection.

A recurring problem in Paul’s ministry was caused by Jewish Christians who taught falsely that observing the particulars of the Law given through Moses was necessary for salvation.  They would attempt to throw their weight around in the churches to convince others to share their convictions.

To Paul, this was nothing less than surrendering the freedom Jesus Christ died to obtain for us.  It was worse than foolish and false, it was blasphemous.  This passage is one of many places where his teaching is directed at these false teachers.

I think these false teachers did what they did because they were sincerely or insincerely wrong.  Some of them were sincerely but wrongly convinced that as Jesus was the Jewish Messiah that the full weight of the Law must still be in force.  Others were being false – misusing the Law- twisting it for personal gain and advantage.  Jesus reserved His strongest rebukes for people who wielded the letter of the Law to violate its spirit.

Kenneth L. Chafin wrote the following comment on this passage: “The Old Covenant became the religion of struggling to impress God with one’s goodness, of endless rules and regulations governing every conceivable area of one’s life, of outward conformity and worrying about appearance, of spiritual pride and competitiveness.”  (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 223.)  One trouble with legalism is that it is superficial.  It is possible to change behavior without changing the heart.

We who follow Christ are indeed bound to a moral standard, but it is a greater and more complete standard than the complicated code of the Old Testament and the layers of interpretation the Jews had added to it.  Jesus Himself taught that there were only two commandments and both of them were based on love.  He reduced the entirety of the Law given through Moses to love for God and love for neighbor founded on love for self.