December 1, 2017 Bible Study — Three Things Remain: Faith, Hope, And Love

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    I love this section of 1 Corinthians and I am so glad that these three chapters are all on the same day, because Paul uses all three to make his point. Paul transitions to his discussion about gifts of the Spirit by pointing out how we can recognize whether the Spirit is working through a person or not. He tells us that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” unless the Spirit is working through them. Now. Paul is not referring to those specific words (otherwise, how could he have written the first part of this?). What he means is that no one through whom the Spirit is working will express the thought that they believe the former and the only way that someone can truly believe the latter is if the Spirit of God is working in and through them. From there Paul goes into the meat of his message on gifts of the Spirit. We cannot emphasize enough the idea that there is no gift of the Spirit which every believer has, except for the gift of love (I will come back to this). Not only do we all have different gifts, but we should not think ourselves better than others because of the gifts which we have which they do not AND we should not think ourselves inferior because of the gifts they have which we do not. Both of these are the flip side of the same sin. “I am not as good as you…” is the same sin as “I am better than you…” That sin is believing that we know better than God what He needs in this world.

    Paul does tell us that there are some spiritual gifts which we should desire over others. However, those gifts are not the “flashy” gifts. He does not quite tell us what gifts we tend to seek which we should not, but just before going off on the importance of love he lists some gifts which are usually highly rated. However, Paul clearly tells us that, while it is wonderful to speak in tongues, we should desire other gifts more than speaking in tongues. Then he spends the entirety of chapter 13 telling us how wonderful love is (he is not wrong). Paul tells us to eagerly desire the greater gifts. Those greater gifts are those which will remain for eternity and those are but three: faith, hope, and love. Let us continuously pray to the Spirit that He give us more faith, more hope, and, especially, more love. All other gifts only have value and meaning as they serve the ends of those three. I want to have the faith that can move mountains and raise the dead. I want to possess the hope which will allow me to joyously embrace suffering the way that I read martyrs for the faith have done. But above all, I want to love strangers so that I would without a second thought sacrifice my life so that they might live. I fall far short on all of these, but I pray that God’s Spirit will transform me to that state.

November 30, 2017 Bible Study — Eating Meat Offered To Idols

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Corinthians 9-11.

    Paul makes the case that those who do the work of the Church, particularly pastors and preachers, should be paid by the Church. However, he also presents himself as a model of someone who refuses payment for doing the work of the Church. The Church should be prepared and willing to pay those who do her work, but there should be some (a relatively small number) who do so purely from the joy of doing so. I will also note that while Paul never accepted any financial support from the Corinthian Church, he does mention receiving such support from other Churches. It is also worth noting that it appears that the Corinthian Church provided financial support to some people who supported Paul’s ministry in other ways.

    Paul goes on to talk about eating food offered to idols, but he offers a guideline which can be useful in many areas. Paul accepts the premise of those who say that their freedom on Christ means that they are free to do anything. This reminds me of when I was preparing to make jalapeño mead. My friends told me, “Just because you can does not mean that you should.” Now, it turns out that jalapeño mead is delicious, but the advice they gave me is what Paul was saying here. Just because you are free to do something does not mean that it is not a bad idea to do it. Paul goes into a little more detail in his advice concerning meat offered to idols, and, as I said, this advice applies elsewhere as well. First he tells us that eating meat offered to idols as part of a service worshiping an idol is communing with the worshipers of that idol in the same manner as we commune with our fellow believers when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. You cannot be part of the body of idol worshipers and part of the Body of Christ.
    However, this prohibition does not extend to buying meat offered to idols. Many people believe that if you eat meat which was sanctified as part of worship you are taking part in that worship and acknowledging the power of that idol, even if you are unaware of doing so. Paul says that such thinking is nonsense and by that logic everyone who eats anything is acknowledging God’s authority over them since everything that is was created by God and belongs to Him. In this instruction on buying meat offered to idols Paul is telling us that we are not responsible for the actions of those with whom we purchase things (there is a caveat to this which is covered in Paul’s third category of eating meat offered to idols).
    Finally, Paul covers the circumstance of what to do if we are invited to eat with a nonbeliever, who in this context is assumed to be an idol worshiper. Paul tells us that if we wish to accept such an invitation we should do so and eat whatever is put before us. However, if someone, whether it be our host or someone else, points out that the food being proffered had been offered to an idol we should decline to eat of it. There are two parts to this. First, if the person who tells us is a believer, the fact that they are going to the effort of telling us it was improperly handled tells us that their faith is challenged by partaking and if we partake they may be tempted to do so as well, despite believing that by doing so they are doing wrong. The second part is if the person who tells us is our host. In this latter case they are essentially telling us that by eating we are taking part in their worship of their idol, we are telling them that their idol worship is “OK”. This same principle applies to buying something where someone tells us that it was produced in a manner which is immoral, or the profits from selling it will be used in an immoral manner. If we have reason to believe that what they are telling us is true, and that they are telling us because they oppose the immoral practice (as opposed to doing so because their reasons for wanting us not to do business with that vendor have nothing to do with the immoral behavior of that vendor) we should refrain from purchasing the product in question.

November 29, 2017 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Corinthians 5-8.

    Paul starts off today’s passage by addressing a particular situation which was happening among the Corinthian believers. However, he extends his commands (I want to note that, unlike much of what Paul writes which is direction and advice, here he gives a command to the Church in Corinth) to a more general applicability. He tells the Corinthians that they must not associate with immoral people. greedy swindlers, or idolaters. He quickly clarifies that when he says this he is not referring to those outside of the Church. Instead, he is referring to those who call themselves followers of Christ yet do these things. It is not our place to hold those outside of the Church accountable for their behavior, but we are to take a different tack with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not only are we to judge those in the Church who sin, and call them to repentance (Paul speaks more on this in his second letter to the Corinthian Church) we are to take our legal disputes with fellow believers before the Church rather than to government authorities. It is better to be taken advantage of than to take our disputes with fellow believers before nonbelievers for judgment.

November 28, 2017 Bible Study — Foolishness, Wisdom, and Division

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Corinthians 1-4.

    When I first started reading this passage the first thing I thought I would focus on was Paul’s words about divisions in the Church. However, as soon as I started to read on to decide how to say what this passage says to me I was struck by the following:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It immediately reminded me of an online conversation I had the other week where some of my Facebook friends completely missed the point of an article I posted about how Christians view death and dying in the context of the shooting during a worship service in Texas. If you do not believe and understand that Jesus achieved victory by dying on the Cross, there is no way you will understand that Christians do not consider death a punishment, let alone understand our willingness to suffer so that others do not. Call me a fool, and those friends of mine did, but I will continue to believe that obeying God is wise, no matter how foolish it seems to my fellow humans. I know that I cannot possibly explain how weakness can be stronger than power. Yet, I also know that I will work harder to do a good job on something for someone who is powerless than someone who threatens me. Even that fails to explain how God works. Ultimately, you must take it on faith that there is more joy in suffering and dying than in conquering the world. Once more I find my expression failing because Jesus conquered the world by suffering and dying.

    I am not sure that I ever noticed the connection Paul makes here between wisdom, foolishness, and division in the Church. If I thought about it I just put the placement of Paul’s comments about Godly wisdom vs worldly wisdom in the middle of his writings about divisions in the Corinthian Church down to flow of consciousness writing. While there is a little bit of that here, when Paul goes completely off track he makes a point of saying something along the lines of, “Now back to what I was talking about…” In this case, Paul shows every indication that his discussion of godly wisdom was part of his effort to stifle division in the Church. Paul does not address it directly here, but division in the Church is a failure of its members to remember what Christ teaches about leadership. Division in the Church comes about when people focus on what they get out of the Church rather than on how they can serve Christ and others. Those who seek to be acknowledged as wiser than others rather than just seeking wisdom.

November 27, 2017 Bible Study — Strive To Live In Unity

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 15-16.

    Paul tells us not to live to please ourselves, but to live to help our neighbors, those we meet and interact with on a daily basis, do what is right. I want to note that he gives this instruction immediately after making a final reference to his comments on not arguing over issues such as what is proper or improper to eat and what days are holy or not. So, this reference to helping others do what is right is not a reference to such things. Rather, Paul explains that we should strive to live in unity, with one mind and one spirit, but he points out that such is only possible if we allow God to work through us and strive to please each other.

    As Paul concludes his letter to the believers in Rome he explains why he wrote the letter, and why he wrote it now. Paul wrote this letter because he planned to visit Rome on his way to Iberia (Spain and Portugal) after he had delivered the monetary aid which the Gentile believers in Greece and Macedonia had collected for the believers in Jerusalem. The purpose of the letter was to introduce Paul’s approach to teaching about Christ. This served two purposes. First it gave the believers in Rome an in depth understanding of what Paul taught so they would not be caught off guard by anything he said once he got to Rome. Along with that it gave them a basis for interpreting what he said once he arrived, reducing the chances for misunderstanding. The second purpose was to give them a starting point for discussion once Paul arrived in Rome. Paul makes it clear that he does not think he is saying anything in this letter which the believers in Rome do not already know. This is not a letter designed to guide believers away from heresy and fault, as at least parts of Paul’s other letters do. Paul makes it clear that he does not think he has authority over the believers in Rome, unlike the believers in the cities where he was the first to bring the Gospel.

November 26, 2017 Bible Study — Do Not Conform To The World, Instead Be Transformed By The Holy Spirit

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 11-14.

    Paul tells us that many of the Jews of his day had failed to accept God’s grace because they wished to attain salvation by their own good works. Many people today make the same mistake, both among those who call themselves Christian and in the world in general. However, salvation can only be obtained by accepting God’s free, and undeserved, grace. We can never do enough good works to earn our salvation, and trying to do so is a rejection of God’s freely offered grace. Those Jews who insisted on trying to earn salvation, and thus rejected God’s grace, were broken off from the vine which is God’s family and those Gentiles who accepted God’s freely offered gift were grafted on to that vine in their place. Fortunately, this is where that metaphor breaks down, there is room enough that should they, or any others, realize their mistake and accept God’s freely offered gift of salvation there is room for them to be grafted on to the vine, no matter how many have previously accepted God’s gift.

    The beginning of chapter twelve contains some of the best summations of how the followers of Christ should behave. We must not allow the thinking, habits, and practices of the world around us to shape the way that we think and act. Instead, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and transform us so that our thoughts and actions make our bodies into a living sacrifice to God. As part of that process we need to think of ourselves with sober judgment. God has given each and every person unique gifts. Each of these gifts are valuable and necessary to the Body of Christ. The gifts I have been given do not make me better, or more important, than you, and vice versa. As an aside I want to note that while Paul tells us not to think of ourselves more highly that we ought, he does tell us to think of ourselves with sober judgment. The implication being to not underrate ourselves either.

    Whatever gift we have been given we should exercise it to the fullest extent of that gift and not whine and refuse to use it because we have not been given some other gift which we consider more prestigious. If we truly love others, and Paul tells us that we ought to do so, we will use whatever gifts we have been given and not spend our time selfishly pining after gifts we have not been given. It is not enough to go through the motions of loving others, we must truly seek what is best for them. Paul instructs us not to be so proud that we are unwilling to associate with those who are “beneath us”, because the very idea that some people are beneath us is contrary to Christ’s teaching.

    I would really like to spend more time on chapter fourteen than I can because of what Paul says there about who is truly the strong in faith. If we demand that the Church change its doctrines and teachings according to our tastes we are declaring that our faith is too weak to survive if those of stronger faith continue to hold to their beliefs. Paul instructs those of stronger faith to temper their behavior so as to not damage the faith of those with a weaker faith. If another believer thinks that some action which you consider acceptable is a sin, you must not flaunt your belief in front of them. For example, I know Christians who believe that as followers of Christ we should abstain from all alcoholic beverages. I do not share that belief, but I do not try to convince them that they should drink (I may occasionally attempt to convince them that it is not wrong for others to consume alcohol) and I refrain from drinking or discussing alcoholic beverages which I enjoy in front of them.

November 25, 2017 Bible Study — Nothing Can Separate Us From The Love Of God

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 8-10.

    Paul tells us that we have a choice. We can choose to be controlled by our sinful nature, or by the Holy Spirit. If we choose to be controlled by our sinful nature we can never please God and we will die. On the other hand, if we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to control us, He will help us to overcome our sinful nature and raise us from the dead just as He did Jesus Christ. It is not by our own power that we are able to overcome our sinful desires. If we allow Him to do so the Holy Spirit will put to death the deeds of our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness, even going so far as to teach us how to pray for that for which God desires us to pray.

    Paul tells us that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. The translation notes offer an alternate translation which says that God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good. I believe that both of these represent how God works in this world, the latter helps us understand what is meant by “good for those who love Him.” The more we love the Lord, the more we desire to suffer so that others will not. Further Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Even when we go through hardship and suffering God still loves us. No matter what we experience or do God will continue to love us. Even when we feel like God does not love us His love is there for us.

November 24, 2017 Bible Study — Our Faith Is Counted As Righteousness So That We Can Stop Sinning

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 4-7.

    Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith never wavered, even when he was 100 years old and still had no son by Sarah. Yet, we know that he accepted Sarah’s suggestion and had a son with Hagar. So, despite the fact that Abraham had doubts, and even occasionally acted on those doubts, God considered that his faith never wavered. What we learn from Paul’s exposition is that it is natural that we some times doubt God’s promises. As we experience suffering, and the doubt that comes from it, we can learn to persevere. As we persevere in our faith through suffering and doubt our character will be built up. The building of our character will inspire us to ever greater hope in what the future holds. That hope is not in coming worldly good, but in doing God’s will and that hope will be fulfilled, and grow ever greater, by the Holy Spirit channeling God’s love through us.

    Paul tells us in this passage, and yesterday’s, that we are saved through faith by God’s grace, that no action or good work on our part contributes to our salvation, and that no sin we have committed impedes that salvation. Many people interpret this to mean that they can go on sinning with impudence. However, Paul addresses that very idea in this passage. Paul tells us that our salvation has freed us from sin and that if we choose to continue sinning we are allowing ourselves to become re-enslaved by sin. We are slaves to that which we do, if we do righteous deeds we will be slaves to righteousness, if we do sinful deeds we will be slaves to sin. Towards the end of this passage Paul explains how this works. We have been saved to desire not to sin. If we sin despite our desire not to do so, it shows us that we need more of God’s grace and we should seek for the Holy Spirit to enter us more fully. As the Holy Spirit fills us it will inspire us to undertake more acts which are righteous. The result will be that, as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, our time will be filled with doing things which serve God and we will have no time left to succumb to sin. This is easier said than done. I want to reiterate a point which Paul made earlier and makes again later. The degree to which our time is filled doing good, and thus not sinning, is not to our credit. It is a product of the Holy Spirit filling us and does not make us better than those who find themselves more controlled by sin. I will state that some of my greatest victories over sin have been inspired by those who are just taking the first steps in overcoming sin in their lives.

November 23, 2017 Bible Study — All Have Sinned

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 1-3.

    This is perhaps one of the most complex messages in the Bible. Paul starts by telling us that we are made with God by faith. However, no sooner has Paul said this then he finds it necessary to preach a bit of fire and brimstone about sin. Before we can truly understand God’s glorious grace we must understand the depth of our depravity. In order to make the case for the depravity of those who do not have faith in God, Paul makes the case that looking at the created universe reveals God’s existence and His Law (the Law which the Law of Moses is just an expression, just as the Temple in Jerusalem was just an expression of the Temple in Heaven where God lives). No one has an excuse for not knowing God since He has revealed Himself through the Universe. Paul tells us that sexual depravity is the first of the moral failings which come from denying God, all other forms of depravity follow from there.

    In his description of the sexual depravity to which abandoned those who have chosen, against the evidence, to refuse to worship God, Paul pretty much lists the entirety of LGBTQA. However, before we become arrogant and start condemning those who travel that path, Paul reminds us of our own failings. We are just as guilty as those whose utter depravity Paul just described and we know that God has condemned the actions which we commit. Paul makes the very clear point that we are all guilty of sin, sin which makes us deserving of death. We have all sinned, every last one of us. As a result, we have no basis to boast about being better than others, because we are not.

November 22. 2017 Bible Study — I Pray To God That You May Become What I Am

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading. This is the last of my posts written while I am on my trip. Thank you for bearing with me.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 25-28.

    When Paul preaches before the Roman governor and Herod Agrippa, both listen attentively to what he says until he gets to Jesus rising from the dead. At that point the governor calls him crazy. At which point Paul asks Herod Agrippa to corroborate what he is saying. Herod responds by asking Paul if he really thinks he can convert him so quickly. Paul answered that quick or slow, his goal was that all who heard him would convert. That should be our goal with every conversation and interaction we have with non-believers to provide the seeds which lead them to become believers.