From the genetic to the apocalyptic, whether allegorical or apologetic, poetic or prosaic, decalogical or doxological, hyperbolical or historical, evangelical or epistological, from the exodus to the exile, the consistent view of theologians which drives our piety, expository hermeneutics, and doctrinal declarations (from justification to sanctification to redemption to regeneration to sacramental to soteriological and more) has been the belief in the transcendent inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration of the original autographs in the canon of scriptures.
Did you get all that? Put more simply says “God wrote the Bible”. It took me almost half an hour to craft that sentence – and would probably take me three hours to even start to explain it. I didn’t write that to impress you, nor to somehow elevate myself above you with all my jargon. I wrote that for fun and to make a point: Christianity has a lot of big words associated with it – and that we don’t need to be afraid of them.
Last week we I said I wanted to incorporate some of the older hymns into our music, and it had a mixed effect. Some folks really liked, while others were merely confused. I was on both sides of the fence myself. I enjoy singing some of the songs from my youth but got a little whiplash as I tried to sing the words while figuring out what a “royal diadem”, the “chosen seed of Israel’s race”, the “sacred throng” and the “terrestrial ball” was.
It started an interesting conversation in Overtime about whether we should push through and try to learn these songs and the meanings behind them, or whether we should simply realize that our society has changed and those songs don’t have the same meaning or weight as they used to. I think both points have some validity.
Personally (keeping in mind that I like big, complicated, theological words and scriptural allusions in the songs) I would much rather we keep singing these hymns and educate ourselves to the meaning, rather than relegate them to the past and opt to only use simpler music. I’d rather take the time to study the lyrics, plumb the depths of the language, and incorporate the concepts into my understanding of God, than give them up in favour of simpler songs.
Not that there’s anything wrong with simple songs! Don’t get me wrong! I’ve been brought to tears singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” What I’m advocating for our church is a mix – which will hopefully mean the best of both worlds.
But back to my complicated, little sentence full of big, Christian words. Here’s my take on it: I know that if I wrote a whole sermon using only that kind of language, never explaining what I meant, I’m not sure how much longer any of you would keep coming.
However, I’m also a big believer in making sure we know what we’re saying and use the right words when we’re talking about God. People have been studying the Bible and writing about God for thousands of years and if there’s one thing that the Christian church wants to make sure of, it’s that we are accurately representing God, His Son, His Spirit, His Will, His Plan, and His Word. We don’t want to leave room for errors or misunderstandings because that’s how people get themselves in trouble. Making up things about God, or simply being inaccurate or uncareful with our language is where blasphemers, heretics, and apostates and come from.
(A blasphemer is someone who says or does something that disrespects or shows lack of reverence for God. A heretic is someone who holds to different beliefs than have been established by the church. An apostate is someone who totally renounces and abandons their religion.)
God warns us over and over in the Bible that people are going to come up with all kinds of crazy, and yet right sounding things about Him, the Bible, and Salvation – and that those things are dangerous. He says flat out that false prophets and false teachers will rise up in the church and try to steer the faithful away from Him and the truth and toward sin and error (2 Peter 2:1).
When Jude writes his letter to the church he says in verses 3-4,
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
He’s talking about sneaky and deceptive false teachers that come into a church and spread wrong things about God. See how it says they “crept in unnoticed”. 2 Peter 2:1 says something similar when it warns, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”. It’s going to happen, and God wants us to be ready for it.
And we also know that there are demons out there that are constantly at work trying to tempt us to sin and get us to believe lies, and therefore we are told in 1 John 4:1,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
One Reason Why Christianity Is Not A Cult
This is one reason that we are not a cult. Have you ever heard that word used to describe the church? Some people start going to a Christian church and their family and friends start throwing around the word “cult”. That’s confused thinking. One of the signs of being a cult is that they tell you not to question what is being taught, that you have to stop studying outside sources, and that the only friends you’re allowed to have are within the group.
Christians don’t do that. We certainly believe that the Bible is the highest source of authority in this world, but we don’t teach that you can’t ask questions! God says, “test the spirits” and what all the teachers are saying. In Acts 17:11 it commends one group of people because they were doing that very thing. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Paul would preach and they wouldn’t just take whatever he said as the truth because he said he was an apostle. No, they went back and studied to make sure that what he said lined up with what God had already said in the Bible. That’s what we encourage here too.
A cult will tell you to trust them for all truth, isolate you from other voices, and give you trouble for questioning authority. The Christian church tells you to study the Bible for yourself, talk to God yourself and have the Holy Spirit confirm what is said, seek good counsellors and teachers, read lots of books, and even challenge the local authority if they stray from what the Bible says!
If I start teaching things that aren’t in the Bible, or start doing things that don’t fit what a preacher is supposed to be doing, this church has a responsibility to hold me accountable, correct me, or even dismiss me. The one, most important thing here, is that the bible is taught fully and faithfully. Because once error and heresy starts to creep in, we lose God’s blessing and set ourselves up for trouble.
Jesus said it this way in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We want to “abide”, or accept and remain in the words of Jesus, because they bring freedom. Other words that don’t agree with Jesus’, no matter now nicely they are said or how helpful they are meant to be, bring bondage.
This is why men and women of God have spent their entire lives studying the Bible and making sure we get it right. They dedicate their lives to prayer, study and teaching so that the people of God will know the truth and remain free.
The Danger of Dumbing It Down
Lies and false teachers are sneaky and deceptive and secretive, and worm their way into the church in surprising ways – and one way they do that is through language.
As our temptation to simplify and abridge biblical preaching and teaching in the church grows, so grows the opportunity for error. The more we dumb it down, the more chance there is for people to misunderstand. It used to be that a preacher had an hour or more on Sunday morning, another hour on Sunday Evening, Sunday school and a mid-week study to teach his church about the faith. They would work through catechisms together – which is a series of fixed questions and answers about what Christians believe – and would cover the basics of what they needed to know.
Today it’s different. Today preachers are told that their congregations can’t be expected to hold their attention for more than 22 minutes and that most of that needs to be entertaining stories and life-application. Sunday evening and mid-week bible studies are all but gone – and the ones that remain spend most of their time on “felt needs” like “building friendships”, “marriage class”, “singles ministry”, “youth group”, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – but if the only biblical teaching that a church gets is the 10 minutes on Sunday morning served between funny stories and application, then the church can’t help but breed heretics. People won’t know any better and they’ll fill in their knowledge gaps with whatever sounds good to them.
And this oversimplification, lack of personal study, and concentration of “felt needs” ministries, creates a group of Christians who don’t know or care about their Bibles. Sure, they’ll say that they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but most don’t know what’s in it. They’ll grab a couple of verses they like and live off of those. The souls of these Christians will be starving to death even if they come to church every week.
Not only will they be starving, but they are left wide open to believe those “false teachers… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies”. When someone does get curious about something about God, the church or the Bible, today they can simply go to Google and punch it in the search bar. The problem with that is that most folks don’t know the Bible well enough to discern if what they are reading is right or wrong, so they do what Jude says and “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”.
Can you see how dangerous that is? Instead of reading and studying the book that God wrote to explain everything we need to know, they get their knowledge from someone else – which means they are forming their beliefs about God not from God, but from man. In other words, they are no longer even worshipping the same God, but a human creation that is named God. They are no longer following the Jesus of the Bible, but a Jesus they have created in their own mind. They open themselves to becoming heretics who don’t believe what God says, blasphemers who disrespect what God has revealed about Himself, and apostates who are no longer part of the Christian church. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?
Ignorance in the Church
And I’m not talking about diverse opinions about the things that God hasn’t given us clarity on, or silly things like how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I’m talking about the basics! In 2014 Lifeway Research did a study of Christians and it showed that there is a lot of theological confusion out there.
A significant number of people in Christian churches said they believed that Jesus isn’t equal with God, but was the first created being. Over half believed that the Holy Spirit is like the Force from Star Wars, and not a person you can talk to. A huge percentage thought they save themselves by seeking God, and too many believe they can lose their salvation.
Where do they come up with that stuff? Not from the Bible. They either heard it from a false teacher or made it up themselves based on what they thought sounded good to them.
I don’t want that for any of you. I don’t want you to go home full of platitudes and funny stories, but left wide open to believe lies that wreak havoc on your soul. I don’t want you to spend your life wondering if you are even saved, or if you can lose your salvation. I don’t want you to go home thinking that God doesn’t care about your day to day life and that the only connection you can have to Him is by singing and sitting in rows on Sunday. Above all I don’t want you to go home ignorant of the amazing grace and love that can be found in Jesus Christ, how to discover the mission He has for your life, and the peace that comes when you are in a right relationship with Him.
And the way I do that is by preaching the Bible. And when I preach the Bible, I think it’s important that I use the right words and then explain them – and then later, maybe even sing them together!
“But what does this have to do with 1st Corinthians, Pastor Al?”, some of you may be thinking. Everything. As I said before, life in Corinth was a lot like life today. Religious opinions and teachers everywhere, rampant sexual temptation, and a church full of people who didn’t know their Bibles very well who were being led astray by false teachers. Same deal.
These people had some huge issues in their life and their church, were falling into theological traps and sinful temptations and Paul needed to steer them back to God. After he left, some people started coming up with different ways to worship God, different ways of understanding salvation, different ways of doing the Lord’s Supper, different beliefs about who the apostles are, and different beliefs about what God expects from them. And Paul needed to correct them.
Let’s open up and read the first three verses together and see how Paul introduces this book, because he uses some very specific language:
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)
By The Will of God
Now at first glance that seems like a very flowery way to kick off a letter – like he’s buttering them up so he can make them feel good about themselves. But that’s not what he’s doing. Remember, every single word of this letter isn’t just something written by the Apostle Paul, but are also the words of God, written to give the Christian church something to guide them until He comes back again. This isn’t some ancient letter to a bygone church, but the Word of God that stands forever – and every single word is important.
Notice that he uses the term “of God” a couple times. The letter starts with who it’s from, Paul and Sosthenes. Sosthenes is likely the same person we met in Acts 18, the former ruler of the synagogue who was beaten by his own people in front of Gallio. It’s thought that he became a Christian and then was sent along with the delegation from Corinth to find Paul in Ephesus, tell him what’s going on, and give him the list of questions that sparked the writing of this letter.
But look how Paul addresses himself, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ…” and then look how he addresses the church: “To the church of God that is in Corinth…” What’s he doing? He’s setting aside his own authority and picking up one that is higher than his own. He’s saying, “Listen, you know who I am. I’m not just some guy. I’m someone who was hand-picked by God to tell you about Jesus and explain the Bible to you.”
You remember Paul’s story, right? He wasn’t on the path to apostleship; he hated Jesus! But Jesus had saved him anyway and showed him so much love and grace that Paul couldn’t help but sharing about him! And more than that, Jesus didn’t just save him, but made him His premier missionary to spread the gospel throughout the Roman world.
Paul was reminding them about what we’ve been talking about. He’s saying, “Guys, you’re getting some things wrong and you need to come back to the right. I’m about to write a whole bunch of things, and they’re not opinions. You need to read them, study them, pray about them and obey them. I’m an apostle by ‘the will of God’ and you are ‘the church of God that is in Corinth’. You are saved because God willed to save you! You’re not yours anymore. [Later, in chapter 6 Paul will say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19-20)] Neither one of us gets a choice about this. I’m obligated to tell you, you’re obligated to listen. I’m not allowed to make stuff up. I just get to write down what God wants me to say. And you don’t get to make stuff up either. You can’t just import new ideas from the temple down the street. You can’t just cut out parts you don’t like. You can’t do whatever you want. You can’t just decide to believe whatever is easiest. I’m an Apostle of God, you’re the Church of God, we are all accountable to Jesus, so let’s get back on track here.”
We Are Under God’s Word
That’s what we’re doing here too, and this must be the heart behind this entire study of Corinthians. As Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Our study of 1st Corinthians isn’t just meant to be interesting, but life-changing. We, as we embark on our study of this book, are setting ourselves beneath the Bible. We are asking ourselves what God wants to say to us, teach us, encourage us, convict us with.
That’s why a lot of people don’t want to read the Bible – because it cuts them deeply, and they feel naked and exposed when they read it, and that’s uncomfortable. But I challenge you as we study 1st Corinthians to stand naked and exposed before God and allow Him to wield His sword in whatever way He deems fit.
God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
That means that when we come before God’s word – whether on Sunday or in our private study – we come humbly, ready to gain something from reading and studying it. When we open this book, we are asking God’s Holy Spirit to teach us, admitting we lack knowledge. We are asking Him to reproof us (meaning show us where we’ve gone wrong) because we believe we are sinners. We are asking Him to correct us and tell us the way to live. And we are asking Him to train us in the right way to live life, because we believe that when we take control of our own life, we just mess it up. When we open up God’s Word, we are asking His Holy Spirit to speak to us through it because our thoughts are not enough. We are incomplete and He must complete us. We admit that we do not have everything we need to live in this world and require that He equip us for whatever good work He has planned in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).
When we come to God’s Word, whether it’s here or at home, we place ourselves under that Word. We are saying, “God, speak to me, tell me what I need to know, inform me of what I am ignorant, show me where I’m wrong, tell me how to do right, guide me and teach me. Use your Word, that double-edged sword, to split me in half and expose the darkness within me, and then put me back together so I can have your light inside me. I’m reading the words of your prophets and apostles, and I am your follower. Speak to me and I’ll do what you say.” Doing that requires humility, obedience and perseverance. My question today is, will you do that?
There are going to be some hard teachings in this book, and we need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to commit to ourselves that we are going to accept what God says here, and not dismiss it because we don’t like it. We need to commit that we are going to obey it even when it is difficult, and make the changes we need to make because God has said to do so. Are you prepared to do that? I am, and I hope you are too.
Divisions and Disorder
Next week I want to get into some of those important words in the address; words like “called, sanctified, saints, grace and peace”, but this week I want to simply show you an outline of the book so that when you read it again this week you can see the kinds of topics Paul is going to cover and prepare your heart for it.
This book is broken into two parts and they could easily be titled: Divisions and Disorder. The whole first part of the book is Paul telling the church they need to start working together because God desires unity among them. They figured out a bunch of ways to fight with one another because they had forgot the most important thing – the love of God found in Jesus Christ that they are supposed to be sharing together! Paul takes four chapters to try to explain how they need to come back together under the authority of the word of God and because of the love of Jesus Christ.
Paul then goes from Divisions to Disorder and gets into some of the ways that this church has gone sideways. He confronts their acceptance of sexual immorality in the church and the fact that a bunch of Christians were suing one another. He then talks about marriage, singleness, lust, divorce and how to live with an unbelieving spouse. He makes a call for people to be content with their place in life and to keep God’s mission at the forefront of their plans. He then talks about how Christians can have differences of opinion but still honour one another, and how to enjoy living in God’s world without becoming attached to it.
Then he covers some key teachings about how we are to conduct ourselves during our worship gatherings including how we should dress, pray, preach, talk, eat, participate in communion, serve, and get along even when we are so diverse in our outlook and abilities. Then, in one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, Paul explains love itself. He covers prophesying, speaking in tongues. And then, at the very end, he wraps it all up in a reminder about what our faith rests on: the destruction of death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future hope of being with Him forever!
As I said, we are going to cover a lot of ground as we study 1st Corinthians, but my hope, as I said before, is that as we study God’s Word together we will fulfill what God said in Ephesians 4:12-16: That His word will
“equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”