ELDERS AND AUTHORITY

It seems stage to me that a question of how much authority the elders have in the local church or if the preacher has any authority would ever arise.  Perhaps that whole question is somehow tied to the subject of authority as it relates to husbands and wives or men and women in general.  Any discussion of authority from the standpoint of Christians should start with Jesus statement in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  It was out of that authority that Jesus laid out the greatest commission for us as his disciples.  Our mission on earth is to make disciples of his wherever we go and among whatever group of people we may find ourselves.  We baptize those who would become disciples then teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.

Since Jesus has all authority, anyone else that has authority in any situation must have it delegated to them by Jesus and must operate under the authority of Jesus.  One area where Jesus delegated such authority was to preachers in preaching the word of the Lord.  Paul told Titus in Titus 2:15 to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”  It wasn’t that he carried authority by an office.  But in preaching the word and in exhorting or rebuking those to whom he preached, he was to speak with all authority.  Two other jobs mentioned by Paul to Timothy and Titus for the evangelist were to set apart elders and deacons in the church based on the qualities that were described and to rebuke an elder or elders who went astray in their work. Too often in churches everything imaginable has been done to remove any kind of authority to those who preach the word.  Even in what he preaches it is too often thought that they should preach whatever the elders tell them to preach.  Strangely, I’ve never seen anything like that in the Bible.

But what about the elders and their authority in the local church?  The elders are spoken of  in three different ways in the New Testament that each give insight into their work.  They are often called “Elders” or “Presbyters” which related to age or maturity in the faith.  It probably also went back to elders in the synagogue or even elders who led in a city or area. The second word is “Shepherd” or “Pastor”.  Probably the best description of a shepherds work is found in Ephesians 4:11-16 where they are challenged along with the Evangelist, and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.  Shepherds follow Jesus as the good shepherd that goes out to help and rescue the sheep.  The third word is the word, “Overseer” or “Bishop”.  All three of these words are used in text like I Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:28.  The overseer is looking after the souls of those who are part of their flock.  Another word that is applied to the shepherds at times that is also used of many others is the word “Leader”.  In I Timothy 5:17 it says, “The elders that lead well are to be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”  The King James translated this word as “Rule” which led some to think of the work as ruling over the church.  It is the same word used of the woman who is to “Guide” or “Lead” or “Rule” the house in I Timothy 5:14.  Quite often the word leader in Hebrews 13:7,17 is applied to the elders.  Notice what they say.  Verse 7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  Verse 17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  In verse 7 the leaders were preachers who had spoken to them the word of life and are now dead since they were to consider the outcome of their faith and imitate them.  In verse 17 it may well be elders since they are leaders and the people are to submit to them.  In both cases it could be the apostles who would have spoken to them the word and have been leaders they were to submit to.  In that case some were now dead and others were still alive.  The truth is, it likely refers to all of them and is more generic to refer to all leaders in the church.

Think of any church where you have been a member.  Who are the leaders in that church?  In reality since leadership is influence, everyone there is a leader in some way to someone. But think deeper on the matter.  Who are the leaders for you?  Probably whoever teaches the Bible class you attend would be a leader for you.  It may be a friend that has been there for you.  It might well be a teacher or person who has helped your children.  Leaders come in all sizes and shapes.  When one Christian brings another person to Jesus they are their leaders.  When we encourage and help a person with a problem we are serving as leaders.  So, to think of elders as leaders is right but to think of them as the leaders or only leaders is ridiculous.  Remember Paul challenged the young widow to marry, have children and lead her home.

I certainly believe that elders are intended to be leaders in the body.  But I fear the picture that we have too often drawn of them as a board of directors meeting together to make decisions on everything that relates to the body of Christ is not one that comes from the Bible at all.  How many times have you heard someone pray that our elders will make wise decisions?  How many times have you ever read anything in the Bible that even came close to the notion of elders making a decision?  Some wish to turn to Acts 15 as the apostles and elders met in Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas to discuss whether or not gentiles who became Christians had to be circumcised and keep the Old Law.  First, this is apostles and elders.  Second, we aren’t given the notion that these were elders of one local church.  More likely they were elders from a multiplicity of churches that were in Jerusalem at the time.  Third, God was speaking through inspired men to the group telling them what God was telling them on the matter.  We don’t have that kind of situation now.  One might turn to Acts 21 when Paul came to Jerusalem bringing an offering for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem and met with the elders one of whom was James, the Lord’s brother.  They made a decision together that Paul was to go to the temple and pay for some men’s vows and make offerings himself to show the Jews who were Christians in the area that what they had heard of Paul’s preaching wasn’t true.  In this case, one would be hard pressed to think that the decision made by the elders was a good one.

The leading and decision making of elders is intended to be in areas of judgment and application of that which the Bible teaches.  It is not the job of elders to determine what the Bible teaches for the whole church.  For too often I hear of some group of elders meeting on some Bible topic and coming to the conclusion that this is what the elders believe on this matter for the church to follow.  Every Christian is a priest of God (I Peter 2:5,9).  As such every single Christian is under obligation to read and study God’s word for themselves.  Preachers should preach and teach the word in ways that correct wrong notions and help others understand.  But no one has the right or ability to give an official church teaching on any matter.  We must study for ourselves, grow, learn and apply what we learn to our own lives.  If what I understand doesn’t agree with others, we need to talk and try to come to a better understanding.  But no one has the right to bind their beliefs or conscience on anyone else.  We will be judged by the word of the Lord, not on some person’s understanding of the word.  It is certainly good and right for elders to study and pray together to try to come to clearer understandings of God’s word and His will for us.  But it is not their job to determine the official right answer to what the Bible says.  I’ve been preaching and working with elderships now for over fifty years.  I’ve seldom seen all the elders agree on any doctrinal matter over which brethren have differences and that is on a whole lot of things.  I even believe that one of the reasons God wanted a plurality of elders was so that there wouldn’t be such agreement.  It shouldn’t affect their work.  Because they aren’t there to agree but to look after the souls of the people and help them grow.

Many years ago I remember having a lengthy conversation with Brother Gus Nichols about a concern I had.  Where I was preaching at the time we had just had a well known preacher to come for a revival and some of the things he said were just strange.  I asked Brother Nichols about some of the things the man had said and he offered this advise.  He said this brother was a good man, but he was fearful of people taking things he said and misusing them so he was constantly reaching conclusions that he had never run by anyone else and about which he refused to have discussions with anyone that might disagree so he didn’t get the help he needed.  Brother Nichols turned to me then and said, “Leon, any time you are studying and you arrive at a conclusion that is extremely different from what most have understood on the text through the years, run it by others, privately to get their input and advise before you preach it to the crowd.  You will avoid lots of wrong notions by doing so.  We all arrive at some ideas on our own that if we could see from another person’s point of view we would know it was a mistake.  We need each other.  Never get the idea that you alone have the whole truth on anything.”  It was great advice then and still is.

The Lord’s church has one infallible authority and it is Jesus.  His word to us is meant to be studied and understood by all his people.  We are all priest of God and all have been given the Holy Spirit to help us and enlighten us to better understand.  But we need each other to help, encourage and correct us when we miss something.  Don’t ever allow anyone else or any group of people to become the official interpreters of God’s word for you!  That would include elders, preachers, Bible teachers or Christian schools.  It would also include preachers schools, papers or churches.  When we put anyone else in such a place it turns us away from Jesus as THE AUTHORITY and gives the place to someone else who doesn’t deserve such a place.

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THE CHURCH IN HER HOUSE

It is extremely difficult to read the teachings of the Bible about the church or local congregations of God’s people and not picture them as looking like the church where we worship on a regular basis.  The fact that most of us today meet with others in a church building and the congregation is often made up of several hundred people, makes it difficult for us to picture the church in the first century meeting in different people’s houses.  Most of the time the church was necessarily pretty small because the home where they met didn’t have room for lots of people.  Think about the church where you worship and ask yourself, how many homes would it take to have all the people meeting in different homes from week to week worshiping the Lord?

Then consider different times in the Bible that people are spoken to and then the phrase is added, “And to the church that meets in your house.”  In Colossians 4:15 Paul had been discussing different people who had sent greetings to the church which included Aristarchus a fellow prisoner, Mark the cousin of Barnabas, Jesus who was called Justus, Epaphras, who was one of the members from Colossea, and Luke the beloved physician along with Demas.  Then verse 15 says, “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea and to Nympha and the church in her house.”  At the same time Paul wrote the letter to Colossians he also wrote the Book of Philemon which was to a family in that same city.  “To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house.”  This demands that there were at least two churches meeting in that city, one in the home of Nympha and the other in the home of Philemon and Apphia his wife. Or that Nympha lived in Laodicea and her home was where the church there met.

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in different cities to whom Paul wrote and just about every time the phrase is added, “And to the church that meets in their house.”  One example is Romans 16:3-5 where he praised them as fellow workers and those who risked their necks for his life.

Think about some of the questions that we struggle over in different congregations today and try to imagine that same discussion if we were picturing the church as one meeting in someone’s home each week.  People wouldn’t be sitting in rows with everyone’s eyes pointed toward a stage where a song leader or prayer leaders or the preacher would stand on the stage to preach or lead singing or prayer. Imagine the church meeting in your house.  How many could you get into your living room to meet each week?  Even if you had a much larger house than most it is highly unlikely that more than 50 people could get into the space and in most homes it would be more like 20.  Passing the communion wouldn’t be very similar to what we see on Sunday.  It would likely be the woman of the house producing the bread she had prepared and baked along with the fruit of the vine to be passed from one to the next for each person to participate.  Most likely the one who shared the message of the Lord wasn’t standing behind a pulpit at the front but if they stood at all it would be in front of the chair where they had been sitting and more likely they remained in the chair and talked about God’s word and will for their life in that position.

Imagine discussions like Paul had with the church in Corinth in I Corinthians 11 or 14 with the scene being played out in someone’s home with 25 people instead of picturing a large building with 500-600 people meeting together to worship.  Does it give you the same image you had before?  Think about in chapter 11 with the whole discussion of wearing a covering or veil to pray or prophesy or the discussion of taking the Lord’s Supper together. Or picture the scene in chapter 14 where the primary discussion was about the whole church coming together in one place and that the primary concern was whether what was being done would build up the church or not.  Think of the discussion of prophets speaking and taking turns with no more than three at a time and the others staying silent while one spoke.  Or imagine the tongue speakers in that setting and the command to no more than three at a given time and then only if there is someone there who could translate what was said into the language of the people.  Imagine in this same setting when he told the women to keep silent in the church and said it wasn’t permitted for them to speak but if they would learn anything they were to asked the men at home.  Have you ever had or been part of a small group that gathered in a home to study and pray together?  How formal was it?  Did everyone talk or only one or two people speak the whole time?

What the Bible teaches is certainly applicable to our time and situation.  But if I never actually go back and imagine the situation when the message was first given I’m likely to have things in my mind about the instruction that wouldn’t have fit the ones it was originally written to at all.  If the instructions wouldn’t fit the people first addressed in the letters, then my understanding is wrong.  The different letters were written to actual people and churches about present challenges or problems.  My job is to see how what was said to them will apply to our time and situation.  Try to imagine them having a discussion about who can rightly pass the communion trays to the people.  First you would have to explain what communion trays were to them.  Second the notion of it taking something special to pass it from one person to another wouldn’t have made any sense to them, any more than saying in your house that one can’t pass the bread around unless they are family members or even male family members.

God’s word applies to all people in all times under all circumstances.  But it was written to specific groups of people in a small window of time.  So always start with the question of what this would have meant to the people originally addressed.  Then how does it apply to our time and situation?  To reverse the order is to leave yourself drawing conclusions from the text that isn’t really there.

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THE ROYAL LAW

There are tons of different laws found in Scripture but only one that is called the royal law.  There must be something very special about this law for the Holy Spirit to lead James the brother of Jesus to refer to it as the royal law.  That would mean it is kingly or from God on his throne.  Look at what this law is.  “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).  Jesus declared this to be the second greatest law of God with the first one being to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  It was first stated in the Book of Leviticus, from which we don’t usually get lots of things that apply well today.

In the context of this verse James had been discussing the assembly of Christian and how we treat different people that come to the gathering of Christians.  He said that in some places they were showing lots of partiality toward those who came in dressed well and showed by their appearance that they had money or were well to do.  He declared that if one came into the assembly dressed like they had lots of money and we showed them the best place to sit and tried our best to make them feel comfortable and accepted, but someone else came in dressed like they had little and we didn’t treat them with that same love and acceptance then we were showing partiality and were judges of evil thoughts.  As James continues this discussion he adds this, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.  For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’  If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.  For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy trumps over judgment.”

Jesus in the great Sermon on the Mount said for us to “judge not that we not be judged.  For with the same judgment we judge others we too will be judged.”  It is obvious Jesus isn’t saying that there is not any kind of judgment that we are to make since he also said for us to judge with righteous judgment.  But our judgment of people must be based on mercy, love and without partiality.  It is very difficult for any of us to treat everyone like we treat the ones who love dearly.  For example, have you noticed how much further you are willing to go with your grandchildren or even great grandchildren, than you are other children that may be around.  It is easy because of relationships to overlook things that someone else does that we really care for, but be extremely bitter about another person doing the exact thing.

When we make judgments about people around us we are doing what comes naturally.  But if are making that move and simply following the plan of action you’ve become used to, you are likely headed to being judged at the hands of God.  Think of God’s standards on how we should judge each other.  First, it should be based on love for the other person, even though we may not know them, may not agree with them and may be tempted to feel contempt for them.  Jesus showed us the example of loving us and paying the price for our salvation even when we are living in sin (Romans 5:5-9). He said that even when we were his enemies he loved us.  Second, it should be based on mercy.  Our feeling for them can’t be based simply on the fact we don’t like their attitudes, politics or beliefs on different matters.  If we make judgments without mercy we will face the judgment of God on that same basis, without mercy.  Can you even imagine what it would be like to face God’s judgment without mercy?  Third, our judgment of others should be done only after a close examination of our own thinking, motives and actions.  Jesus said it like this, “With the same measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Fourth, judgment should always be done without any partiality.  It is difficult.  We all tend to judge those we like or have a relationship with in much lighter ways than we do those we either don’t know or don’t like.  But our pattern is to be Jesus and he loved all of us even when we were living in rebellion to him. Finally, our judgment must be from a heart to do whatever God tells us we ought to do.  An attitude of “I will obey the commands of God that I agree with but his grace will have to cover me in those areas I don’t agree with” won’t cut it.  The truth is such obedience isn’t obedience at all.  It is simply doing what we like to do anyway.  How would you feel as a parent if your children only obeyed the things you told them if they agreed with them?

Judging actions is easy.  Judging motives is extremely difficult and only God can do it well.  It is certainly right for us to look at deeds, or actions and declare “that is wrong and you ought not to do it ever again.”  But when you move a step further and say, “I know why you did that.  It is because of your racism, hatred, or prejudice” we have moved into an area that is slippery when wet.  Remember the apostle Paul saying that “No one knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit that is in him.”  I believe he was right about it.

Imagine what a different world we would live in if you could disagree with another person over something significant and instead of attacking each other, you sat down and calmly talked about the things on which you both agreed and disagreed.  Imagine a world where we really did believe in freedom of speech that would allow a person to say what they thought and then be asked politely to explain and defend their statement rather than simply being rejected as not having good sense for saying something others so strongly disagree with.  Imagine what it would be like if you could disagree on different issues and continue being good friends or even brothers and sisters in Christ who respect each other.  I believe that is the world God longs for us all to live it.  I suspect heaven will be like that and I suspect in hell there will be shouting, screaming, fighting, fussing, name calling and hatred running rampant.  Which place would you like to live?

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WHAT NATURE TEACHES

Most of the teachings of the Bible are straight forward and pretty easy to understand what is being taught.  There are some occasions, especially in the writings of the apostle Paul when he is obviously dealing with some situation in a local church and gives them answers on how to handle the problem when it is extremely difficult to grasp what all is going on.  One of those times is in I Corinthians 11.  This whole segment is about problems in the church.  Actually Paul deals with two major problems in the chapter.  Both the topics really are tied to acceptance of people where they are.  Think for a moment about the situation in Corinth at this time and both the problems tend to take on a different light.

Corinth was a city that had been largely settled by the Roman government as a retirement place for soldiers.  So you had a large population of Roman officers and often the slaves that went with them.  It was a place that Rome had given lots of interest in because of their proximity to two large bodies of water.  As far back as the reign of Nero there was an attempt to build a canal between the two bodies of water which was over a mile in length.  Nero visited Corinth on more than one occasion.  It was also a place with a large population of slaves.  Some estimates are that near seventy percent of the population were slaves.  Two things that were affected strongly by that reality are that slaves were not allowed to have legal marriages and that wearing the veil was a privilege and sign that one was married.  A third reality that affects a lot of what was happening is that at the top of Acrocorinth was a temple to Aphrodite and the Persians had set up a fort type arrangement on the top with a garrison of soldiers.  As a part of the worship to Aphrodite there was a population of priestesses who served as prostitutes for the area.  Like any city of that time or most other times with this kind of population there was an established aristocracy which lived in great luxury and a world of extreme poverty with a relatively small population of those between those groups.  Besides these there was also a fairly large segment of Jews who had a synagogue in the agora, which was something like a town square.  Also it is vitally important to remember that the church at this time was meeting in the homes of members of the church.  Often  there were more wealthy members who would invite the people to come to their home to worship God regularly.  So, when we consider what was happening when they came together to worship it wasn’t in some church building or even some large rented hall.  Instead you must think of meeting to worship God in someone’s living room and how things would go there.

Think of the first problem dealt with.  He started the discussion by commending the church for their memory of him and maintaining the teaching he gave them.  As a foundation for the discussion he said, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short.  But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”

What is the world is going on in the church that led to this whole discussion?  Truthfully, we don’t know for certain.  It could have been the case that among those converted to Christ were slaves who had been with the same man as her husband for years and with whom she had children, but who by law wasn’t married at all.  So, when she was converted and came into the assembly, if there were Romans there who were not slaves but of the more elite crowd, it would have been objectionable for her to wear the veil that indicated she was married.  So, when such women prayed and prophesied in their gatherings there were objections because they were not wearing a veil, showing she was married and devoted to her husband, there would be a problem.  Several of the things that Paul used to appeal to the people would have been true in Corinth at that time, but not true in most other places even then and certainly not true today, much of anywhere.  While it was a shame and disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut short or her head shaved then, it isn’t today and so that whole appeal is lost.  Most likely the reason these were disgraceful then was that it associated those who did so with the priestesses for Aphrodite.  The other thing would have been whether or not as the church they would follow the Roman law that slaves’ marriages weren’t recognized or would they accept them as married because they were committed to each other before God?  It also seems to have been a part of the whole thing that somehow the women praying and prophesying were not demonstrating submission toward their husbands and this led to objections.

In light of the situation and customs, accepted norms in Corinth, Paul pleaded with the Christian women to wear the veil and wear their hair long to show submission to their husbands and not cause undue problems in the church.  In the church there are tons of things that are far more important that correcting all the social and political problems in the area.  You are there to strive to lead the people out of the world of sin and death into a right relationship with God.  As a result, Paul, for example didn’t confront many of the social problems of the time, such as slavery, even though it is awful.  Saving their soul was so much more important that solving the problems around their customs.  Many problems socially would be solved through people coming to Christ but it would be through the change of people from their hearts rather than a political or social solution.  Imagine living in an area where all the gang members, prostitutes and drug pushers wore red shirts and black tennis shoes.  While there is nothing wrong in wearing either a red shirt or black tennis shoes, in that place it would be wrong for a Christian to wear such since it would identify them with those involved in all such activity.

Wearing a veil and long hair wasn’t some norm that would be bound on people everywhere in all times.  But the principle that is involved does apply to all time.  We need to be aware of the customs, traditions and basic ideas in the area where we are and not do things that will hurt the influence of the church while trying to do right.

Notice in verses 11-12 there is a corrective statement that is vital.  “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God.”  Lots of things are true in the world and even in the Bible in history that do not fit God’s design for those in Christ.  In the Lord we need each other and are dependent on each other.  As Paul would say to the Galatian Christians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, we need to be conscience of norms in any given area and not do things that will bring shame and disgrace on the people of God.  We also must not try to bring into the church all the worldly standards around us.  In Christ all people are accepted and loved where they are with view to helping them become all God wants them to be.  It seems obvious that Paul was more concerned about the reality a couple was committed to each other and to God than that they could meet some strange legal requirement to be married that was intended to discriminate against slaves.

It is important to notice Paul didn’t condemn the women for praying and prophesying in the presence of men in some kind of gathering of Christians.  He did point to their being sensitive to the thinking around them and put the salvation of the people ahead of everything else.

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IS IT HELPFUL

It isn’t unusual when my wife Linda and I are talking about something for her to jump topics in midstream and leave me hanging on, wondering who or what we are talking about now.  I sort of believe that it is a feminine thing that she can be on one topic and switch to something entirely different without the slightest hint that we are now headed in a different direction.  But, when I am reading the writings of the Apostle Paul, I sometimes get that same feeling, so maybe it isn’t just a female thing but just active minds that can do such.

In I Corinthians 6 Paul was discussing the problem of members of the congregation taking one another to court over some differences rather than solving them inside the congregation.  He pointed out that they would judge the saints and angels so surely we can solve trivial matters inside the congregation rather than having to spread our difference before the world.  Right in the middle of that discussion, he launched into the discussion of how the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom and list several ways one can be unrighteous.  He pointed out that some of them had been involved in such ungodly living but they had been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God.  Immediately after that point, he switched again and gives us this verse: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.”

The ESV that I’m reading from puts the phrase, “all things are lawful for me” in quotation marks each time it is found in the book indicating they believe that it is a quotation from the Corinthians.  The “but” that Paul adds is his response to their saying.  Later in I Corinthians 10:23 he does the same thing again with the quote from them.  “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”  In the Book of I Corinthians, more than any other of Paul’s writings you find times when the translators believe he is quoting from things that the Corinthians said and then he gives his answer to it.  It is a great study to use newer translations such as the ESV or the updated NIV to see the text that they have with quotes around them indicating they believe they were quotes from the people in Corinth.  In most of them it is largely agreed by Bible scholars that they are correct in the thought.  But there are several other times that aren’t in quotes that many believe were also being quoted because they don’t seem to fit the things that are normally said by Paul.  But I want to focus on this one for this article.

What did they have in mind with the statement “all things are lawful?”  When you look at the different context in which it was used it seems to have been applied either to eating different foods, in particular those that had been offered to idols or that were taken of in the idols temple as a part of some gathering that Christians might have attended or to freedom to conduct oneself sexually in whatever way that they desired.  Here in chapter six he tied the quotation about all things being lawful to the quote “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.”  Notice that Paul’s response to the second quote was, “And God will destroy both one and the other.”  The fact that he immediately turns to talk about sex and especially sexual relations with a prostitute indicates that what they were trying to justify with the quotes was immoral sexual behavior.  Think about the fact that just before this in his list of things that are unrighteous and will keep one from inheriting the kingdom of God were sexual immorality, adultery and men who practice homosexuality.  He sees them reacting to his point by declaring that all things are lawful and the food for the stomach and the stomach for food.  Obviously their thinking was to apply that to sexual organs are meant for sex and so how it is done or with whom doesn’t matter.

Notice how he reacts to the quotes that were obviously accepted sayings among them that they felt were powerful truths.  He didn’t turn to attack the sayings, but added a “but” each time he quoted it.  Even if all things are lawful that doesn’t mean that it is all helpful and even if it is lawful it doesn’t make sense to become dominated by the things of the world.  His deeper answer on the sexual applications was, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”  The very thought that our body and life is all about what we eat and having sex with someone is to miss the real point of life itself.  God didn’t make the body simply for some pleasure.  Instead the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us and we are no longer our own, but are bought with a price so we should glorify God in our body that is his.  He pointed out that when a man was joined sexually with a woman or for that man another man, he becomes one flesh with them.  For a Christian to take the body that belongs to Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit and join it with a prostitute makes no sense.  It should never happen.

What is amazing is that in the same church there were other members who went in a completely opposite direction and extreme.  Remember the chapter breaks were added hundreds of years later and if you continue reading Paul’s thought is continuing in 7:1 when he said they were saying, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  So some members thought sex and the body were meant for each other and however or with whomever it was done didn’t matter while others were saying once you become a Christian there should be no more sex at all, not even between a man and his wife.  So Paul answers that side by saying that sexual relations in the marriage actually helped people not to get into immoral relationships.  Instead a wife needed to know her body belonged to her husband and a husband needed to know his body belonged to his wife and that it would be a form of fraud for them to withhold themselves sexually from each other.  Abstaining from sex should only be done by mutual consent for a short time with full intent of coming back together as husband and wife.

Think of how many things in life we tend to justify based on some saying that has been passed down from one generation to another, often without much examination.  Every  notion should be held up to the word of God itself to see if it fits with the teaching of the Lord or should it be rejected as from the devil himself?  Being an old saying doesn’t necessarily mean it is a truthful saying.

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HERE I AM, SEND JOHN

There has never been a time when God wasn’t involved in sending people on a mission for Him.  In Isaiah 6 the prophet, in the year King Uzziah died, saw God high and lifted up in the temple.  The Seraphim were declaring, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory.”  Isaiah was so moved he cried out “Woe is me.  I am undone.  I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  God sent one of the seraphim to touch his lips with a coal of fire from the altar.  Then Isaiah heard God saying, “Who will go for us and who can we send?”  Isaiah responded, “Here I am, send me.”  But if you think through the Old Testament you can think of tons of times when God sent different people on a mission for him.  He sent Jonah to Nineveh.  He sent Jeremiah to his own people.  He sent Amos to Israel from his Sycamore farm.  He sent Samuel to Saul on different occasions and to David on others.

In the New Testament, Jesus called twelve men that he named apostles who were ones he sent on a mission for him.  They were to be his ambassadors to the world.  We speak of people being missionaries, even though the Bible never uses that word, the idea is to send people on a mission for the Lord.  Sometimes God sent people on a mission in some very strange ways.  He sent Joseph to Egypt by allowing his brothers to sell him to a band of Ishmaelite’s who carried him to Egypt and sold him as a slave to a man named Potiphar a soldier in the Pharaoh’s army.  He was lied about and sent to prison for several years, even though he hadn’t committed a crime. But it was all getting him ready for a mission God had for him to save his people from famine.  He sent Daniel and his three friends as Jewish boys to Babylon where they were trained in all the ways of the Babylonians.  Daniel spent his life on God’s mission for him in this strange land.  When Babylon was captured he became a leader among the Meads and Persians.  He worked as an advisor to the rulers of Babylon but God had him on a mission to that world all the time.

In the New Testament one of my favorite discussions on the whole concept of sending is in the Book of Acts chapter 8.  Persecution arose in the church in Jerusalem.  Stephen was the first Christian to be stoned to death for his faith in Jesus.  But his death led to persecution that pushed many of these new Christians in that city to go to other places sharing the good news of Jesus.  “The disciples were scattered and went about preaching the word.”  As one illustration he told about Philip, who had been a deacon in Jerusalem going to Samaria and preaching Christ there.  He had a great work in Samaria and many were converted to Christ, among them a magician named Simon.  He needed some further teaching a little later but became a disciple nonetheless.  Then God sent him out into a deserted area to meet an Ethiopian who was returning from Jerusalem to his home land and was interested in God.  He met him, taught him the gospel and baptized him out in the deserted area.  Then God sent him to Caesarea where he would live for the rest of his life as far as we know.  He married at some point and he and his wife had four daughters whom they brought up to be workers in God’s kingdom.  All of them became prophets of the word as well.

Sometimes we don’t get sent to the places we would like to go.  Think of Jesus casting the demons from the man called Legion.  After he was saved, healed and changed, he wanted to go with Jesus and be one of the apostles or at least a traveling missionary with him.  Jesus instead told him to go back to his own people and tell them what great things God had done for him.  It probably didn’t seem nearly as glamorous to go back home and talk to people who knew his past.  But it was God’s call on the matter.

There are some places God sends all of us.  If we are married he sends all of us to our home and family with a mission to live for him among those whom we love and who love us.  If we are parents we are all sent to our own children to bring them up in the ways of the Lord.  It never makes sense to neglect the family God gives us to go and work with those with whom we have no real connection.  If you are working around people every day in some industry or job situation, you can be certain God has sent you to be among them as their missionary to show them what God has done in your life and can do in theirs.

There are two huge points that everyone must learn if they are to be effective as God’s “Sent ones” into the world.  First, the message we try to deliver must be demonstrated by the way we live everyday.  To try to tell others how to live for God when I’m not living it serves to push people away rather than draw them toward the Lord.  Our actions always speak louder than our words.  We must “BE” first and then “TELL”.  The second absolutely necessary thing is that if I am God’s messenger I must tell his word.  Influence is powerful.  But the gospel message has to be shared with people for them to learn it.

If we aren’t living and telling the message of the Lord where we are now, with the people we now know and love, then the prospect of our doing so in a different part of the world with different people is extremely slim.  I wonder how the Lord feels when people talk about what they have done in some part of the world away from here but do nothing about reaching the ones whom they are around every day.  I wonder how God reacts when we constantly talk about what we are going to do once we get to some area or place where we believe God wants us to go, but we make no effort to reach out to the people who are all around us right now.

God is calling you to be one of his sent ones.  If it is to the other side of the world, make preparation to go and do what he has called you to do.  But don’t wait until you get there to begin telling others about His love and grace for them.  Your mission is always right in front of you, should you decide to accept it.

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WALKING BY FAITH

Which way is guiding and directing your life?  It is impossible to walk in both ways as the same time.  It would be like trying to drive down I-40 west and I-40 east at the same time.  It is altogether possible for you to go in either direction but impossible to go in both directions at the same time.  In the same way, it is impossible to walk by faith and by sight or appearance at the same time.  If you were guessing what kind of discussion was going on when the Spirit led Paul the apostle to record that phrase, “For we must walk by faith and not by sight” what would you think was being discussed?  I think if I had no idea what was being discussed at the time and simply thought to myself what kind of thing would arouse such a point it would be living the Christian life and being a person of obedience to God.  I might even think it was a discussion of how to become a Christian.  But if I look at a concordance to see where the phrase is found in the Bible, I will find it is in 2 Corinthians 5:7 and that it makes up the entire verse, not just a segment of it.

The discussion that led to making this statement actually began back in chapter 4 and verse 16.  “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  This led immediately into the discussion of the death of a Christian and their eternal home in heaven in chapter five.  “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

As Paul is writing this letter he has gone through lots of rough seasons in his life.  If you read chapter four as a whole and then chapter eleven as he described all the beatings, shipwrecks, arrest, imprisonments and rejection he had gone through as a Christian it is obvious his life hasn’t been easy.  It would have been a normal question to ask Paul, how in the world he kept from getting so far down and discouraged that he wanted to give up.  His answer was that he was anticipating a far different and better life beyond this world and time.  He expected to lay aside this old body and enter into glory with the Lord in a very different world.

Look closely at the verse which declares we walk by faith and not by sight as it sets between two verses that say the same things.  “For we are always of good courage.  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  Paul, of all people, had been given a glimpse beyond this life and into eternity.  In 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 he described how he had been caught up into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words, unlawful for a man to utter.  He didn’t know whether that was in the body or out of the body, only God knew that.  But it had deeply affected him.  He isn’t in these verses discussing the eternal home after death and the resurrection.  At that point we will have new bodies that are immortal and incorruptible.  He is here describing the eternal home between our death and the resurrection, when will will leave the body behind and our inward man will go to the home of the soul.  As long as we are at home in this body, we are absent from the Lord.  It was a far better thing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.

To walk by faith and not be sight means that we live our lives anticipating at death being with the Lord and enjoying his presence.  It is certainly true that the Lord is always with us in this life.  But it will be a much fuller presence with him when we leave the body and our inner being is there in the presence of our God all the time.  How can we live in such anticipation of being with our Lord even though absent from the body?  We walk by faith and not by sight.  We can’t see it now.  We don’t even have visions of what it will be like now.  But we trust our loving Father that it will be a wonderful time and place where he will lead us by eternal fountains of water and God will wipe all tears from our eyes.  When we walk by sight, we see, bombs, wounds, bloodshed, mistreatment of people and immoral godless behavior all around us.  It often seems to get worse with every passing year.  I choose to walk by faith and not by sight.  What about you?

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