Tag Archives: Book of First Corinthians

Knowledge and Humilty 1

When I haven’t been working on funerals or preparing for Holy Week over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Christian ideal of humilty. Today follows that pattern, but I’m in Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ this time.

In chapter 2 of book 1, he starts with the idea that “knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God.”

He then compares an unlearned, humble peasant who fears God with a learned person who is proud of their learning but neglects their own soul. The peasant wins hands down, a Kempis writes.

For centuries theologians have quipped that pride was the first sin, and I never understood why. But as I have reread this section, it finally hit me. Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve weren’t content with God knowing best and them only knowing good. They wanted to be like God and know both good and evil. There was a developing pride that said ‘We want to know it all!’

a Kempis writes that the knowledge we really ought to be seeking is self-knowledge.

True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight?

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13, verses 1-3:

 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

In God’s view, based on God’s standard, my great learning is no advantage… unless I have love. My pride in my vast knowledge is a hindrance, not an asset.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Devotional

First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Death, Devotional, Lent

Do Not Quarrel Along The Way

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:

“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”

My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).

Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)

There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)

Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.

The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!

In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (First Corinthians 10:13)

After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!

And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Devotional, Response

Forgiveness follows Repentence

Earlier this month, at a pastor’s retreat at Olmsted Manor, our district superintendent walked through chapters 39 – 45 of Genesis. We followed Joseph, as a slave, as he was promoted and then betrayed in Potiphar’s house, then was taken to prison where he was again promoted, but then forgotten, and eventually remembered and promoted again to “chief of staff” over Pharaoh’s kingdom.

By chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers, who had originally betrayed him and sold him into slavery, show up in Egypt trying to find grain to buy in the midst of the great famine. Because of Joseph’s new position, they have to come to him to try and buy food. He of course recognizes them, but they have no idea that he is the one they now once so badly mistreated.

Now, I don’t know if he was just trying to jerk their chains a bit or if it was again God helping to orchestrate a few lessons for the brothers on empathy and perhaps conviction, but chapters 42, 43, and 44, are an account of Joseph’s brothers experiencing what it is to be unfairly accused, unjustly detained, and contemplating the pain of grief their father had to experience at Joseph’s loss so many years ago. And now, they find that this unknown Egyptian leader may actually force them to grieve their father again at the loss of another son, Benjamin, as he is accused of villainy and now must stay in Egypt as a slave.

In verses 33-34 of chapter 44, Judah, who had been the one to hatch the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:26-27), unknowingly pleads with Joseph that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place.

“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Officially at least, everything in chapter 44 is aimed at punishment of Benjamin, and by extension, the other ten brothers. But in that moment of confession and penitence, Judah offers himself up for a younger brother, and for his father’s sake, and breaks the power of intended punishment. Punishment, at its best, is to teach a lesson. Judah and the other culpable brothers have shown that they have remorse for their past and have indeed learned their lesson. Our sin(s) do have an impact on our lives, even when others seemingly don’t know about our sin. (Scripture never tells us if they ever fessed up to their father about how Joseph happened to end up in Egypt.)

A couple things jumped out at me this time. First, my choices, sinful or not, WILL have consequences. There are no victimless sins. Ever. Judah and his brothers faced the consequences of their sin in Egypt, even if only for a short time. But Joseph spent years in the midst of the consequences of their sinful choice. Jacob, their father, spent some 13 or more years needlessly grieving the loss of his son, because of their sin. And they faced over a decade of living with his grief and daily being reminded that they were the cause of all that grief. And I’m sure, based on their later penitent conversation, that they spent that time racked with guilt that they had no way of easing.

Paul, in First Corinthians 5, says that those of us who are Christians, are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” As you read more of the New Testament you come to understand that while Paul is immediately talking about reconciling people with God, there’s also a ministry of helping to reconcile people with people as a way of drawing ourselves closer together and closer to God.

It hit me that if I, as a Christian, really want to become closer to God, then I have a responsibility to do the best I can in being reconciled with the rest of God’s people around me.

That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. He starts by talking about anger with someone else and then talks about the moment we leave them and head towards God. In his day, it was making a sacrifice or presenting a gift in the Temple, but in our day it might be that we go to church, or Bible study, or try to pray. If we truly want to draw closer to God, then that reconciliation thing has to happen… as much as we can. Jesus actually said:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

And of course, “brother” and “sister” aren’t referring to genealogically related individuals alone.

Is there anything in your past keeping you from drawing even closer to God? Is there anyone who has suffered because of you or your sin? Have you tried to make things right with them? If not, that’s your next right thing to do!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Devotional, Response

Patiently Perservere and Endure

James 1:2-4, in the New Living Translation, says: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Here where the NLT uses the word “endurance,” the KJV says “patience” and the NIV “perseverance.” Whatever word you use the idea is that (1) if you are a believer, then temptations & trials WILL come, and (2) when they DO come, God has made sure that you ARE able to patiently persevere and endure whatever comes your way. Add to that the promise found in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Oh God, help me to remember these promises and to patiently persevere and endure through whatever trials and temptations come my way. Help me to quickly identify those temptations when I’m facing one. Help me to then see where the “way out” is in the very midst of that temptation. I want to be able to find, and use, the ‘escape hatch!’

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Devotional, prayer

Count It All Joy!

James 1:2-4
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4‬ NLT)

Here where the NLT uses the word “endurance,” the KJV says “patience” and the NIV “perseverance.” Whatever word you use the idea is that (1) if you are a believer, then temptations & trials WILL come, and (2) when they DO come, God has made sure that you ARE able to patiently persevere and endure whatever comes your way. Add to that the promise found in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Oh God, help me to remember these promises and to patiently persevere and endure through whatever trials and temptations come my way. Help me to quickly identify those temptations when I’m facing one. Help me to then see where the “way out” is in the very midst of that temptation. I want to be able to find, and use, the ‘escape hatch!’

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Devotional, prayer

Run for the Prize

I preached this message as the Olympics were about to get underway.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

24  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  26  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

===========================

     In September 1988, I was a brand new Resident Assistant on the fourth floor of Scranton Hall at Edinboro University. I had been hired three weeks into the semester, so most of the guys on my wing had had their first three weeks without any direct supervision… and liked it. And most of them were freshmen… And almost all of them were new recruits for Edinboro’s wrestling team. And they didn’t like having an R.A. move in and spoil their fun.

     What made matters worse was the Olympic games, held late that year in September instead of July. And NBC was covering the games LIVE, from Seoul, Korea, which meant that a lot of the events were between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. 

     Well, this group of guys was pretty rambunctious, even before the Olympics started. But from the day the games opened, every night was a test of my abilities as an R.A. But the night that their Assistant Coach, Bruce Baumgartner, wrestled, was the absolute worst.  Those boys were so pumped up waiting for Bruce to wrestle that they simply HAD TO run up and down the halls knocking on people’s doors.  They simply HAD TO yell and scream and make whistling sounds and animal noises. They HAD TO. They couldn’t help it.

     Well, maybe they didn’t really have to, but they thought they did. I ended up spending a couple hours in the hallway outside my door sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, reading a book (as much as I could).  And they were able to control themselves after that. They just needed a visible reminder (me).

     Finally, when Bruce did wrestle I was with them watching the TV just as intently as any of them. We watched him compete and we watched him win gold.  It was a wonderful night.

     But I also remember that throughout that semester, I noticed that one of the wrestlers, named Louie, seemed to be a little bit more laid back, a little more mature than the others. He had his moments like the rest, but seemed to be the most serious and watched his prescribed routine more. He was more focused. More intent.

     And in 1996, it was Louie… American wrsetler Lou Rosselli, that I saw on the television set wrestling in the Atlanta Olympics. He, not any of those other guys, made it to compete. He didn’t win the gold, because in one of his victories his arm was broken in three places. (It took a LOT to stop him!) But Lou had determined long ago that he would be serious about his wrestling… and it made a difference even outside of the gym.

     In fact, I just read that that very same Lou Rosselli, now a coach with the Ohio State Buckeyes, is currently is taking a few weeks to serve as a volunteer Olympic Coach for men’s freestyle wrestling with the United States Olympic wrestling team in London right now.

     It reminds me a lot about the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9 where he talks about the Corinthian games of his day.

     You see, the Olympic games that we now celebrate started in 1896, but their history goes back to ancient Greece, over 700 years before Christ. There were the Olympian games, the Pythian games, the Nemean games, and the Isthmian games. Each one rather similar, except that each was held in a different city, every four years. The Isthmian games, held on the isthmus of Greece, were based in Corinth, and were still being held when Paul visited Corinth and later wrote his two letters to the Corinthians.

     Paul likens the Christian walk, the Christians’ life, with these games, in three different ways. Paul starts off in verse 24 and 25 with:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  

     He likens the Christian walk to the footraces they would have been so familiar with, and then draws a contrast.  He says that all who are in the race are runners.  Everyone wants the prize, but in the footraces, only one gets the reward at the end. But in the Christian life all who finish the course can have the reward, the prize, at the end of the race.

     The ancient Greeks competed for a crown…made of greenery. The Olympian athletes struggled in order to win a crown made of wild olive, the Pythian athletes–a crown of laurel, the Nemean competitors–a crown made of parsley, and the Isthmians, here in Corinth, ran for a crown made out of pine. And every one of those prizes started to wilt the moment they were cut from their respective plant, before they even made it to the winner’s head!

     Paul then highlights that we strive for a crown that will never fade: eternal life and spending eternity with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How much more important that we do what is needed to win our race.

     The second comparison Paul makes between our daily walk as a Christian and the Greek athletic games is found in the beginning of verse 25:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”

    The King James version says the athletes are “temperate” in all things. The New Revised Standard Version says they use “self-control.”

    Those ancient competitors disciplined themselves before they could compete. There were no coaches back then, only teachers. And those Greek teachers prescribed to their students, their disciples as it were, what kind of food they could eat and how much as well, the hours they would exercise and when they were to sleep, and forbade them from alcohol and women.

     So Paul makes self-discipline his second point. If we are to successfully win our race, our contest against sin, then we must, as disciples of our teacher, stick to his instructions of what we need to do. Christ said, “Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” Yet how many of us don’t deny ourselves and give into every whim or craving our physical body has, at the expense of our soul?

     The ancient Greeks were willing to suffer all of these hardships knowing that almost everyone that competed would come away without the prize. But it was worth it if they had a chance at being the winner.  And that was all for a bunch of leaves!

     In verses 26 and 27, Paul gets to his third point in his comparison:

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

     Paul stresses again the need for the spiritual man within, the “inner man” if you will, to be the victor over our physical body. And he goes to boxing and wrestling for his comparisons this time.

     He says he beats his body and makes it his slave. The Greek words here tell the story:

     One Greek word, comparing to boxing, means “to hit in the eyes” and the other greek word signifies tripping the opponent so that he falls down and then keeping him down, obliging him to acknowledge himself conquered… and thus making him your slave.

     Paul has packed a whallop here. In our wrestling match against sin, against the urges and cravings of our physical body, we don’t wrestle just for fun. Rather, we wrestle for dominance, for mastery, to determine who will be the slave.

     In the ancient games, the herald announced who the competitors were, announced the conditions and rules of the games, displayed the prizes, exhorted the competitors, encouraged the spectators, pronounced the names of the victors, and put the crown on their head.

     But one of the most important jobs of the herald was to put his hand on the head of each would be athlete, before the competition, and walk around the inside of the stadium asking: “Who can accuse this man?” Because criminals were not allowed to compete, servants and debtors were not allowed to compete, and, most of all, slaves were not allowed to compete.

     Paul sees the Greek games as the perfect comparison with our Christian struggle, our Christian walk. First, we all must be runners. You can’t win the race if you are not entered in the race. Second, there are preparations for the contest that must be made. Christ spoke of it as denying ourselves and bearing the cross. And third, and most important of all, we must make sure that we are not a slave to anything.

      The questions today, from our coach, are these: Are we entered into the race?  If Jesus Christ does not live in your heart as Lord and Savior, then your stuck on the sidelines and will NEVER receive the prize of eternal life.  Are we following the coach’s advice in training? Do we deny ourselves and take up our cross? And, when we are in the midst of the battle, who is a slave to whom? Is our physical body a slave to our spiritual body… or is our spiritual body a slave to our physical body? Who calls the shots…physical or spiritual?

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, sermons