1st Corinthians

Spiritual Gifts, The Body of Christ, and The Weakest Members

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47 - Spiritual Gifts

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Christmas is coming and I’m very excited already. I went to the Christmas store at the Carleton Place nursery and officially got myself in the mood. There was free mulled cider, cookies, Christmas music playing in the background… I love the colours and lights and trees and everything. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and though I’m practicing some self-control by not putting up my tree yet, I’ve already busted out a shuffle of my Christmas Music Playlist and have sung along to such wonderful hymns as “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

And while I love all the colours of Christmas I’m just like anyone else and know that a big part of the season is the exchanging of gifts. I’ve already sent out my list to some key family members, ordered some for people online, and have been talking with grandma about what the kids want.

I was thinking back as to the best Christmas gift I ever received. And while I’ve gotten a lot of cool gifts there was one that stuck out in my mind as the best one. It was 1989, I was 11 years old, and desperately wanted the hottest new item of the season – the one that none of my friends had and which would complete my life so I would never need anything again. I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money and this thing would cost a lot. I was cool about it though. I didn’t beg or remind my parents over and over. I just sort of left out a picture of it on the counter, circled it in the Sears catalog and kept turning to that page and leaving it open, and just, like, casually bringing it up naturally in conversation.  Nothing annoying.

I absolutely didn’t think I was going to get it – at all. But on Christmas morning, on grandma’s couch, I couldn’t believe when I opened up the box that it was there… a Nintendo GameBoy complete with Super Mario Land and Tetris! The greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was a huge moment and I barely contained myself.

I loved that thing for a long time, got every accessory, and played it constantly – until the Sega Game Gear came out two years later. The Sega Game Gear had something that the GameBoy didn’t – a colour screen. And I was hooked, but I knew that my parents would never get me another game system, especially since the one I had was still great. So what to do?

[This is a painful, regretful memory actually. I get a little misty just talking about it.]

The Game Gear came out in October of 1991 and was $150. The GameBoy, brand new was $100, but I had all the accessories.

So 13 year old me, by myself, without my parent’s knowledge, went down to the only pawn shop in town and sold it to the guy. It was insane. Somehow, between his talking and my idiotic mind, I ended up giving him my GameBoy, all the games, and all the accessories and walking out with something like $40 or $50. I still remember standing outside the store, with the money in my hand, wondering what happened, and wondering where I was going to get the extra $100. I never did. [Ugh, that hurts to share.]

Spiritual Gifts

I’m sure you’ve gotten some pretty memorable Christmas gifts, right? Maybe even ones that you, hopefully, still have and cherish to this day? Well, today we are going to open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about something that God gives all believers, which the Bible calls “Spiritual Gifts”. So please open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to read it together.

As you open I want you to marvel at our giving, generous God. God gives us life and this amazing world to live in – and then we sin and mess it up. And then God gives us His Law to guide us and teach us how to live the best way together – and then we sin and mess ourselves up. And then God sends prophets and teachers and leaders to guide us back to Him – and we don’t listen to them, even going so far as to reject and murder them. And then, even while we were yet dead in our sins, having made ourselves His enemies, God sends His Son to show us how to live, teach us the truth, inaugurate His kingdom, and then take the death and punishment we deserve, having God the Father’s wrath poured out on Himself, exchanging Himself sinners. And then He rose again to conquer death and offers us the free gift of salvation, justification, sanctification, for all who would believe – not for all who would do amazing works, or follow the rules, or perform religious acts – but simply by faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour.

But the gifts don’t end there. Once we accept Jesus as Lord the gifts keep on coming, and the greatest gift that Christians receive is the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. Just as God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with Moses, or the Temple in Jerusalem, so now the Spirit of God dwells in everyone who believes(1 Cor 9:19). When His disciples wondered why Jesus would be dying and then leaving them to take His place in Heaven, He said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Jesus said that it is better to have the Holy Spirit inside us than Jesus walking beside us! And He does some amazing things for us.

In John 16 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper, helping us with evangelism, convicting the world of sin, showing us how to be righteous, warning us of spiritual dangers. He helps our minds to see the difference between good and evil, lies and truth, light and darkness. It says that He helps us understand the Bible. It’s not just priests and preachers and scholars that can interpret the Bible, because every believer who is dependent on the Spirit will be taught by Him. In John 14 the Holy Spirit is called the Counsellor who comes alongside us to encourage us, guide us, inspire our good works, and never leave us (Jn 14:16). He binds Christians together with God and each other, causing us to love Him and one another (1 Cor 12:13). He teaches us who Jesus is and helps us to worship and glorify Him (John 15:26, 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to produce Godly fruit. When we are convicted that we do not love enough, that we are at war within ourselves, that we are too angry, or out of control, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [1]

That is a LOT of gifts from God to Christians. And yet, how often are we like me at age 13, taking these awesome gifts and disregarding them, ignoring them, or just callously throwing them away in favour of something else the world has to offer – that just ends up not working out anyway.

1 Corinthians 12

Let’s read though 1 Corinthians 12 together and see what we can learn. We’re going to do a quick study of it because there’s a lot there, and then at the end of this message I’m going to point you at a good resource where you can really dig deeper into it.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

First, I want you to notice that Paul wants to make sure that believers are not “uninformed” about Spiritual Gifts – which means it behooves us to put some time into public and private study regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the discovery and use of our spiritual gifts.

There’s a few ways to do this. One is private study of course. Taking it upon yourself to read and study scripture and some good books on this topic. Second is to go to RightNow Media and watch something called “Your Divine Design” by Chip Ingram. I watched a couple of them and they are a great overview. And third, I’m actually going to be working with the leadership team to put together a 36-week leadership training course for the church where one of the things we cover is how to discover and use our Spiritual Gifts.

The second thing I want you to notice here is the contrast of influences we see here. Before you were saved you were “led astray” or “influenced” toward useless, pagan, idolatrous things. He talks about “mute idols”, pointing back to what we talked about during our discussion of eating meat offered to idols, right? That the actual statues of the gods were just mute, stone carvings. But even though the statues were mute, the followers were not. These cultic religions were full of wild displays and all kinds of ecstatic speech where they would claim to have special words from the gods or the afterlife.

Paul acknowledges that this happens and gives the warning again that there are only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Satan, and sometimes they look similar. Both have great influence over their followers. Satan often makes false copies, or imitations, of what God does in order to confuse and tempt people away from the true faith.

But Paul gets down to brass tacks and says, “These pagan idol worshippers are absolutely being influenced by the spiritual realm and have some kind of ‘gift’ from the demons, but they are forgeries of what God gives. How can you know the difference? Because when the Holy Spirit gives a gift to someone it always points them and everyone else to Jesus. All the other influences, the false gifts, the demonic powers, all point people away from Jesus. That’s the litmus test.”

We’ll see that later in the chapter, but that’s an important place to start. We see a lot of gifted people, some with some incredible sorts of power, even spiritual power. How do we tell if it’s from God or from Satan?

The same way we tell whether we have a good compass or not. A good compass always points North. A bad compass wobbles around and points all sorts of other directs. The Holy Spirit always points to directly to Jesus as Saviour, Lord and the focus of our worship. The other powers won’t. They will wobble around and point everywhere else except Jesus. This tells us something important about why we are given these gifts, right? We are given them to point people to Jesus! Not to lift ourselves up, not to build our popularity, not to keep to ourselves, not even to draw people to our church, but to bring glory and praise to Jesus and accomplish the works He has given us to do!

What are the Gifts?

So, the natural next question is “Ok, so what are the gifts?” That’s what Paul covers next. Start in verse 4:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

That is a lot of different gifts, and it’s not even all of them because he lists more in verse 28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” And there’s even more listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.

Now, this study can go deep because each one of these gifts requires some study, right? What does it mean to have the gift of prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues? What does it mean to have the gift of helping or administrating? And is this even the full list? For example, in the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel are given a gift from the Spirit of God to interpret dreams (Gen 41; Dan 1) and Bezalel is given a spiritual gift to help him make works of art (Exo 31). What about those?

Well, I’m not going to explain every gift because we can study privately, but let’s pull out a few things and see some important points are here.

A Variety of Gifts

First, from 4, notice that there is a “variety” of gifts. One of the problems in the Corinthian church that seems to carry forward today is that people were belittling some of the gifts and only desiring the ones that put on a good show – like tongues. They wanted their church to look like the pagan temples where people were flipping out and speaking in crazy languages, and Paul knew that this sort of thing was not of God.

They didn’t want what the gifts God had given them, but wanted what they had before. They didn’t accept the gift that the Holy Spirit gave them, but complained and wanted something more flashy, more exciting, more interesting.

The Babylon Bee is one of my favourite websites because it gives satirical articles about different things going on in the church and culture. One recent one was entitled, “Unlucky Charismatic Gets Boring Gift Of Hospitality” and part of it said,

“’A man with the ‘really cool’ gift of prophecy reportedly moved throughout the room at Wade’s church and read each member’s aura to determine which spiritual gift the Holy Spirit had granted. Wade grew more and more excited as he approached, but was devastated as he learned he just had the “super lame” gift of hospitality.

‘Ugh, hospitality, are you serious?’ Wade said as the church prophet announced he had detected the Christian virtue as Wade’s supernaturally bestowed talent. ‘I was really pulling for something cool like tongues or healing.’

‘Heck, I’d even take teaching at this point. This sucks,’ a downcast Wade added. At publishing time, Wade had consoled himself by focusing on the fact that he hadn’t gotten something even worse, like giving.”

That’s a perfect example of what was happening then and what happens now. Christians who haven’t learned about the Spiritual Gifts get a little understanding of what they are and then immediately want whatever one gives them the most strokes. They want evangelism so they can be the next Billy Graham, or Teacher or Pastor because they think then they can be a super Christian that everyone looks up to, or healings or miracles or tongues so that everyone can see the power coming out of them.

Do you see the problem there? They are really only concerned about their own glory. And what was the difference between spiritual gifts from Satan and ones from the Holy Spirit? That they point to Jesus. This was the danger that the church was falling into, and that some churches fall into today. The Satanic work of stealing God’s glory.

Look at verses 12-26. This is what they were doing to each other in the church as they disparaged their own gifts and belittled others:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is where we get where we call Christians the “Body of Christ”. The Apostle Paul equates the parts of a church to be like the parts of a human body. Sure, there are some upfront parts that everyone sees – eyes, muscles, skin – but there are a lot more parts that people don’t see that are just as important – like our heart, liver, and pancreas.

No part of the body should tell another part of the body they are more or less important. That would be crazy! In the same way, no part of the church should call their own, or any other Christians gift unimportant! This brings division to the body.

We do this all the time in the church. Say someone is an “encourager” or a “helper”. That’s their gift. They love sending notes and cheering people up. Or they love to show up and help do the chores in the church. What do we do with them? “Oh, you’re friendly! You should be in charge of all the greeters! Oh, you’re a good helper, you should be a Deacon!” Hold on! Do they have the gift of leadership? Do they have the gift of administration?  Nope. Which is why when they end up being “promoted” they are miserable at it, which makes them miserable, and everyone else miserable. But what happened? We took them out of their gifting and put them somewhere they weren’t meant to be! We took a hand and tried to make it into a mouth. We took a heart and tried to turn it into a pancreas.  And it didn’t work.

Weaker Members

I want you to notice something really neat in verses 22-25,

“…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

This is a huge part of being in God’s Upside Down Kingdom. Who gets all the glory in worldly kingdoms? The warriors and intellects, right? People that are strong, fast, smart, clever… and everyone else is less important, right? What does the world do with “weak”, and “less honourable” parts like the mentally challenged, sick, hurting, immature, elderly. We hide them. We avoid them. We lock them away. Worse, these days we kill them.

What does this verse say? It says that the weaker parts of the body are “indispensable”. The parts with “less honour” or need to be taken care of, are bestowed greater honour. The parts that require protection we protect.

Think of your own body. There are certain parts we take really good care of, right? We wear eye protection and athletic cups because eyes are really sensitive.

What happens when you poke someone in the belly or get something in your eye? The whole body constricts. The head drops, the elbows and arms come in, the knees come up, the muscles contract, to protect damaged area. When one part of our body gets hurt, the other parts naturally protect it. That’s a picture of what’s supposed to happen in the church.

Some people in the church are designed by God to be the arms, legs, knees, elbows, and muscles. Able to take a beating and keep moving. Other members are designed to be weaker. Not less important, but weaker so they can do a special job. A knee can’t do what an eye can do, right? But when the eye gets hurt? Everything stops, right? The rest of the body surrounds it.

What is a church supposed to do with weak and hurting people? We surround them, help them, protect them, care for them, using our own gifts to serve them. Maybe the knee and the elbow can’t come up with a good plan, but the brain can, and the knee and elbow use their strength to protect. The brain can’t cry out for help, but the mouth can. We all work together.

The whole point is that there are a variety of gifts given by God on purpose. So Paul says, “There aren’t just three gifts meant to bring attention to yourself, there are a whole variety of gifts, and none of them are accidents or unimportant.”

Whatever gift you have, it wasn’t your idea. These gifts are not earned. You didn’t ask for the gift you got. They are not chosen or appointed or voted on by people. It is God alone, the Holy Spirit, who administers the gifts among His people.[2] To reject or call one better or more important than another is a great sin. God controls the gifts, not us. It is the believer’s responsibility to seek God’s guidance, read His word, pray and listen to see which gift God has given you and how God wants you to use it for His purposes!

For the Common Good

And that’s the second point, found in verse 7.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul answers the questions, “Where do the gifts come from?” From the Spiritual Realm. “How can we tell which ones are from the Holy Spirit or a demon?” Because the good ones point to Jesus. “What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?” He says there are a variety and gives examples. Then he answers the question, “What are they for?” They are given by God for the common good of the church.

Incidentally, that’s what Paul means in verse 31 when he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” We know after some study that he doesn’t mean that some gifts are better than others, right? He just told the church to stop competing with each other and belittling some people because of their gifts. So what does this mean?

The encouragement is to desire gifts that will spread more and love for the common good, not to bring attention to ourselves. It means that instead of desiring gifts that put on a good show and make us look good, to instead earnestly pursue that which would build up the church and glorify God the most. It leads directly into what Paul is going to talk about in chapter 13, that no matter what gifts we have they need to be motivated by and done with love.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this: Ephesians 2:10 says, Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Part of those good works are simply the helpful life that all Christians are meant to lead, but it also has to do with the spiritual gifts you have been given. You and I were shaped to serve God and the church. And we won’t feel like we fit until we are working in the place we were designed to be. You will never feel more joy or satisfaction than when you work within your spiritual gifts. And conversely, as long as you are trying to do things you weren’t designed for, jealous of someone else’s gift, or belittling others, you will never feel the satisfaction that comes with serving God with His special gift to you.

So my encouragement to the Christians here is to take some time to further study this passage and discover your spiritual gift, then tell others what it is, and then allow us to help you live it out! Check out that Chip Ingram study called “Your Divine Design”, check out GotQuestions.org and read some more about it, and prepare yourself to do the leadership course we’re starting soon.

Finding and using your gift means you’ll have to say yes to some things and stop doing other things, but that means you’ll be coming more in line with how God created you to live, which is always better. It is God who builds our church, not us. His way is best, not ours. His glory is our highest purpose, not ours. Our task is to simply follow His plan to work together as an effective body.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-today.html

[2] Life Application Bible Commentary, 1&2 Corinthians, Pg 169-170

 

The Battle of the Sexes 3: Male Headship

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46 - The Battle of the Sexes and God's Original Plan - Male Headship pt 3

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Have you ever been house shopping? Anita and I have moved a few times and have owned a couple homes, so we know what it’s like to spend days and days going through strangers homes and wondering if you can see yourself living there. I was really, really bad at it because even if the house was shaped perfectly if I didn’t like the colour of the walls, I just couldn’t get past it. Anita would be like, “Wow, this place is great!” and I’d be like, “Yeah, but that one wall is purple, and I don’t think I could live with that, so let’s try somewhere else.” Not a good way to buy a house, right?

Buying a house isn’t just buying a paint colour, right? There’s a lot to consider. There’s the big picture stuff like what neighbourhood are you living in? How close are you to the next house? Where’s the nearest shopping or bus station? How long do you intend to stay?

Then there’s the living space. How many rooms will you need? How big of a kitchen? Does your stuff fit in it?

But it goes deeper, right? You have to check behind the walls to see how the electrical and plumbing are. You have to check the furnace, the roof, the attic. Check for ants or termites. In Cleveland, we had to get it tested for Radon gas to see if the air in our house would kill us.

But it goes even deeper than that, right? You have to check the foundation of the house to see if there are cracks, if it supports the house, if it’s draining water properly, or if it’s slowly sinking into the ground. If the foundation isn’t right, your whole house can twist so your doors and windows don’t even fit properly.

As we’ve been going through our passage in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 I’ve been trying to explain it from the foundation up so we can understand what God is saying. This type of passage is like walking into one of those modern architecture houses where everything looks kind of weird and you wonder how anyone can live there, or how it even remains standing – but once the architect takes you through it you start to see the genius of the design. Let’s read our passage one more time and then we’ll do a bit of review:

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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. 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. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

The Foundation

On the first week, we talked about the foundation of the house. What is it built on? Will it stay standing? What makes it strong? And we said that the foundations of this passage is built on five important things: First, the authority of the Apostles, who carry the authority of King Jesus. Second, the Godhead of the Trinity which extends beyond time and culture. Third, it is established in God as Creator and fourth, in the way He purposefully designed His creation. And fifth, it is established in common church practice, which again goes beyond personal preference and culture. So the teaching in this passage has a strong, strong foundation.

The Walls

The next week we talked about the walls of the passage, explaining the cultural context of the passage and figuring out what parts are decorative and which parts are structural. It’s natural to ask, “Why is Jesus, through Paul the apostle, making such a big deal over what a woman wears on her head?” The answer is that choice of whether or not a woman wears a head covering in that culture showed told a lot about what was going on in her heart. It showed pride, irreverence, and promiscuity. It was disrespectful to God, the church, and their families. It was confusing to new believers and a poor witness to non-believers. There was a lot of ways this heart issue came out, but one of the main ones that we read over and over, and which I’ve been dancing around, is that it showed a lack of submission to God’s established authority structure.

Why is this a big deal? Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…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.”

How the women were presenting themselves showed what was going on in their heart, and the biggest problem was that it showed that these wives were refusing to submit to the headship of their husband, which meant they were refusing to submit to the headship of God. That’s why the head coverings were such a big issue in Corinth. Not because a woman’s supposed to have long hair, or because she needs to wear a hat, but because in that culture, removing your head covering in the Christian church announced to everyone that your heart was not right with God.

In our house analogy, the head coverings were like the decorations, paint, pictures, and furniture in the home. It’s usually the first and most lasting impression we have of the house, but it’s all temporary and according to the style of the owner, right? If I hate the purple and want to do it up in a watermelon theme, I totally can, right? But when it comes to buying a home what really matters is what’s happening inside the walls and the foundation, right?

The Gospel of Jesus

But before I came to this main issue, we needed to ensure that this really was God’s original plan, so we spent two weeks going through Genesis 1 and 2 so we could see God’s establishment of Male and Female, husband and wife, before the Fall of Man, before sin messed everything up.

Why? Because this is a gospel issue. A couple weeks ago we said that the story of Jesus Christ is the story God’s plan of salvation – how He intends to fix the problem of sin once and for all. The Bible speaks of becoming a Christian as being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). It says that being in Christ means we are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). It speaks of being purified, redeemed, cleaned, and washed. And all that happens through faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. We believe that He died on the cross, taking our punishment on Himself, shedding his blood in place of ours, taking God’s wrath so we don’t have to, in order that we could be saved from the consequences of sin. And we further believe that this isn’t just about us, but all of creation being redeemed (Rom 8:20-23) along with us. Through Jesus, God is fixing all the things that sin has wrecked, destroying everything that is evil, and remaking everything to be good again. As 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

And that includes the relationship between men and women, which was terribly broken when sin entered the world. If you call when we studied Genesis 1 we saw how God made men and women the same in worthy of glory, power, dominion, honour, and calling. Then last week we saw that God also gave us important differences. God made Adam first, making him live without Eve for some time without her, and then introduced her as his complementary helper. We noted that He made Adam out of the dust like all other animals, but the woman was made out of a piece of the man, saying something very special about her and their relationship with one another. And we also noted that Adam named Eve, just as he had done with all of the other living creatures, and we said that in the Bible, naming something shows authority.

The Eternal Sonship of Jesus

It is that authority structure, the issue of Male Headship, that we see in our 1st Corinthians 11 passage – and it’s represented in the head coverings controversy.

It is God’s plan that man and woman are uniquely made in His image, unlike any other creature. That means a lot of things – our ability to love, be creative, be rational, be just, and make choices – but it also means that we are social. Humanity was made to be in fellowship. We see this in the mystery of the Trinity as it’s presented in the Bible. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equal in essence, but distinct in person. The Father as God (Philippians 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4), but speaks of them all as separate persons. They have been in relationship for all eternity, and therefore it is no surprise that when God created an image bearer, that it would be a relational creature.

But something else that is part of God’s plan, and part of us being in the image of God, is that there is a divinely established authority structure. There is a Father and a Son. This is called the “Doctrine of Eternal Sonship” and it simply says that the Bible presents Jesus as having always existed as the Son. There was never a time when Jesus was not the Son of God, and there has always been a Father/Son relationship in the Godhead. Jesus didn’t merely assume this role when He came to earth, but is, and has always been the second person of the Godhead.

We won’t get into the full doctrine here, but it comes from all manner of passages (Colossians 1:13-36, Hebrews 1:2, John 20:21, Galatians 4:4, John 3:16, 16:28, Hebrews 13:8) and Christians have agreed on this for a long time. It’s in the Nicene Creed from 325AD which says that Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”[1]

The point is that there has always been a hierarchical structure within the Godhead of the Trinity, and so when God created man in His image, He created that in us too. And he did so by making the man the head, as God is the head, and the female the one under his authority.

Back to our 1 Corinthians passage: Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…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.” It’s about reflecting the image of God in our lives and relationships.

Sin Ruined It

But then, in Genesis 3 we how when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil everything changed. (Open with me there). The story opens with the tempter, Satan, manipulating the words of God and telling Eve that God has lied to her. Where is Adam? Where is the partnership? They are meant to help each other, to follow God together, but where is Adam? It says in Genesis 3:6 that Adam is standing right beside her, but he’s silent. He’s not leading, guarding, protecting, helping, correcting, or anything. He’s just standing there. He’s not doing what he should be doing. It wasn’t the eating of the fruit that was the first sin, the whole situation was kicked off by Adam’s sin.

One commentary I have says, “Adam’s sin was both an act of conscious rebellion against God and also a failure to carry out his divinely ordained responsibility to guard or ‘keep’ both the garden and the woman that God had created as a ‘helper fit for him’. The disastrous consequences of Adam’s sin cannot be overemphasized, resulting in the fall of mankind…”[2]

In verse 8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

God already knew what had happened, of course, but who did God call out to? To head of the family, Adam. He was the one primarily responsible for what happened.

Keep reading, “And he [that is Adam] said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’”

Watch carefully what happens next: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

God confronts the man and he totally blame shifts to both God and Eve. God confronts Eve and she blame shifts to Satan. The authority structure has completely fallen apart. Adam even tries to drag God into taking some blame. Now guilt and shame is spreading onto both of them as they squirm uncomfortably in front of God – and why? Because the head didn’t do his job. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all [men and women]…” Who takes the blame for the fall of man throughout all of scripture? Eve who ate first? No. Adam, the “head”. In 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus is called the “Second Adam”, the one who did it right. The first Adam caused sin to corrupt everyone and everything, and the Second Adam, Jesus, will cause everything to finally be made right again.

The Curse on Men and Women

All of this came because God’s created order, His established hierarchy, was disregarded and disobeyed. Can you see now the true sin that was happening in the Corinthian church? It wasn’t about head dresses, it was about the disrespecting, disregarding, and disobeying God’s established created order of authority between men and women, husbands and wives.

This sort of talk doesn’t fly outside of conservative, evangelical circles, does it? In fact, it goes against most of our natural inclinations, doesn’t it? Does that give you a certain gut reaction? It does for me.

Do you know why we have such a hard time with this? Look at Genesis 3:16 as God pronounces the curse that comes from their sin. The serpent receives the first curse, as the first one to act in disobedience to God. Then Eve, the next one to act, receives the second curse:

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’”

Pain is a common theme in all three curses. The serpent’s crushed head, the woman in childbearing and childrearing, and Adam in his work. And though it affects all mankind, it is Adam who receives the curse of death. But there’s something else in the curse as well that I want you to notice: the woman’s curse impacts her two primary roles, in procreation and in her relationship with her husband.

In verse 15 we see that it is through the woman’s children that the serpent’s head will be bruised – pointing to Jesus, who would have a human mother, but whose Father was the Holy Spirit, not a man like Adam. But the other curse was in her relationship with her husband. From that point on the relationship between men and women would be strained and difficult.

The word desire is important there and it has 2 important meanings. It partly means that her “desire” will be for her husband, meaning women will have an inner drive to be with men for emotional support, protection, and for sexual fulfillment, and in order to make babies. It is also used in Genesis 4:7 to describe sin pulling Cain in the wrong direction. God says to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Sounds a lot like Eve’s curse, doesn’t it?

So what’s happening in Eve’s curse here? Essentially it means that even though Eve desires to be with Adam just like they were in the Garden of Eden, now Adam and Eve, and all men and women after them, are going to have a lot of messed up, confusing, contrary, hurtful desires. Part of her will want to have Adam around, but then they are going to fight and argue and compete for domination. Instead of being perfect partners that complete and complement one another’s strengths, now her desires will conflict with to his. Now instead of men and women working together, they will be engaged in a battle to see who will rule. Adam will use his physical strength to subdue her and rule over her, she will resist and reject and seek to usurp him. Both, drawn together with mutual need and desire, but neither submitting to the other, each always thinking they are getting the short end of the stick, trying to oppress or control the other.

Conclusion

This is the curse of Genesis 3 and the main issue of 1 Corinthians 11:2-6. Paul was talking to Christians, to believers who had been set free from sin, imbued with the Holy Spirit, made new by their relationship with Jesus, set free from the curse, set free from all of this horrible battle of the sexes, and were meant to be restored back to the way that God had originally intended men and women to live together: equal in dignity, worth, respect, mission, dominion, gifting, and access to God. Not grasping for power or oppressing one another. Not asserting their dominance over the other. Not women trying to replace men and men trying to oppress women. Not trying to escape God’s plan for how the world is meant to work, but submitting themselves to it in a worshipful humility.

But, in the head coverings controversy, the women were showing that they were still living like people who were under the curse. Pridefully grasping for power and attention, having contrary desires that caused them to disobey and disrespect their husband and their God, promoting the confusion of the roles of men and women, disgracing themselves in the church, and disregarding their own place in God’s plan of salvation. They were acting like unbelievers.

My encouragement to you is the same as it has been for the past few weeks: To consider whether you are submitting to God in the area of the roles of men and women. To ask yourselves in what ways you are seeking to oppress, control, or subjugate the opposite sex, instead of thanking God and appreciating the differences He created. To consider your marriage and what ways you’ve allowed your own sinful nature to dictate your beliefs about how you are to relate to your husband or wife.

Men, have you, like Adam, relinquished your role as head of the family? Women, are you ignoring him and just doing whatever you desire?

Submit yourselves, your relationships, and your marriages to Christ. Ask for and receive forgiveness for your sins in the name of Jesus, and then ask Him to teach you how to live His way, not yours.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/eternal-Sonship.html

[2] ESV Study Bible

The Battle of the Sexes and God’s Original Plan (Part 2)

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What you believe will dictate how you behave, that is a universal truism. If you change your beliefs you will transform your behaviour.

If a person doesn’t take care of their body says they know they should eat better and exercise, that they believe a healthy lifestyle is valuable but doesn’t actually eat veggies or get off their chair, can you truly say they believe what they say they know? Not really. But watch what happens when they have their first heart attack, or when they are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes – suddenly the excuses melt away and they are forced to confront their belief system and make some changes.

Or consider the student who tells themselves and everyone else that they are “studying”. They go to their room, check their phone, open their books, sharpen their pencil, go look for a highlighter, grab a snack, call a friend, look up the perfect study music on the internet, realize their desk is too cluttered so they tidy it up, but then they’re thirsty and need a drink, so they go to get some water, but really, they’re kinda tired so they should get some study fuel so they run out to get some Starbucks…. And all along the way people are saying, “hey, what are you doing today?” The student’s response, “I’m studying!”. “Then why are you at the store?” – “Oh, I’m just taking a quick break. Studying is hard work!” Part of them somewhat even believes it, right? But what happens when the test comes and they fail? They are forced to confront their actions. They are forced to confront whether they were really studying.

If you ask people what they believe about the roles of men and women in the church and in marriage you will get a lot of responses, based on a lot of beliefs, won’t you? People will quote verses, tell stories, share their personal understandings and beliefs, but how many of them actually believe what they are saying? How many of the things we actually say marriage line up to what we practice?

For example, take the simple phrase, “Men and women are equal.” A lot of people say they believe this, but do they? Are men and women equal? Well, if we define equal as being “the same”, then no, we’re not. Our bodies are obviously different, what with hormones and baby making system and all, but it’s not only that. According to neuroscientists, there are some considerable differences in how we see our world.[1] There’s no difference in intelligence between men and women, but they did learn that women are better at situational thinking and men are better at predicting patterns. Men are better at focusing on one task while women are better at multi-tasking. Women are better at picking up social cues and can empathize with what’s going on around them, while men are better at disregarding emotional distractions and rude behaviour and focusing on exact issues. Men are typically better at math than women. Women feel pain more intensely than men. Men are better with controlling their bodies movements and have faster reaction times, but women are better at discerning colours and learning languages and have better long-term memories than men. Men are better at short-term memory. Men get a rush of pleasure chemicals when they are faced with a risky situation. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward. Sexually, men are aroused mostly through their eyes, while women are more complex requiring multiple senses, ambiance, touch, scent, temperature, to get excited.

That’s pretty interesting, isn’t it? Now, I want you to be careful when you hear that because there was absolutely no judgment in any of those statements, yet we are conditioned by the society around us to be immediately offended by hearing that we are different – because the word “different” has become associated with “inferior”.

If a scientist says men are better at disregarding emotional distractions, focusing on one task then somehow it gets translated into, “Female emotions are bad.” If a scientist says, “Men are better at controlling their body and have faster reaction times.” it somehow gets turned into, “Women are bad at sports!” But that’s not what he said! He’s just reporting the facts. But when those facts get filtered through our belief system, we often end up with an emotional response. And when our sinful nature gets involved it turns into arguments, put-downs, contests, and hard feelings. We somehow, naturally turn the information turns into a battle of the sexes.

Review

But that’s not how God intended the relationship between men and women to be! The differences between us are not meant to be a source of contention, but a reason to worship God. They weren’t meant to drive us apart from each other, arguing about which set of strengths is better, but cause us to marvel at the differences and depend on one another. Men have strengths that women don’t have and women have strengths that men don’t have.

The laser focused, risk-taking man needs the balance of the woman’s ability to multitask and be emotionally and situationally aware – and the overwhelmed and harried woman who is seeing a million things the man doesn’t needs the man’s ability to predict patterns, establish priorities, and focus on one thing at a time. Of course, I’m speaking stereotypically, and not everyone is like this. I fully grant that there are lots of ways that this isn’t the hard and fast rule. Some men are more in touch with emotions, some women are amazing at math, some guys couldn’t hit a fastball to save their life, and some women are super driven and focused on achievement and their work – but hopefully, you see the point that we need each other’s differences. Or as a bunch of smart people at the TGC said it, “Men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.”[2]

And this is represented in scripture too, certainly in the 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 passage we’ve been studying for the past few weeks, but also in other passages in scripture. So what I want to take us to a few different places in scripture and then flesh the concept of the different roles of men and women, often called “complementarianism” out. But first, we’ll do a quick review of where we’ve already been.

On the first week, we talked about the authority behind the passage, citing everything from the authority of Jesus to how God biologically created men and women. The next week we studied the cultural context of the passage, discussing head coverings in ancient Corinth, what was happening in that particular church, and how that applies to us today. Last week we went back to Genesis 1 and talked about God’s original intention to make men and women equal in dignity, worth, glory, power, honour and dominion and the sin of disrespecting, subjugating, denying and ignoring one another. But I told you last week that wasn’t the whole picture. While Genesis 1 emphasizes our similarities, Genesis 2 retells the story of the creation of man and woman emphasizing our differences.

The Original Plan

So let’s open up to Genesis 2:5-25,

“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…. [skip to verse 15]… The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

God the Sculptor

I want to point out a few things here that tell us about how God intended men and women to understand and relate to one another, particularly husbands and wives, but also generally. Certainly, a lot of the language at the beginning of Genesis is poetic – it’s not a science textbook on genetics, but there are some incredibly important truths here. The whole narrative slows down and God is portrayed as a gardener, a sculptor, an artist, forming, designing, and bringing to life a very special portion of creation. Everything else He spoke into being, but now the picture is of him bending down, hand-crafting something special, like a potter working with clay.

This shows us something of the importance of living creatures, animals and mankind to God. He sees living creatures, especially mankind, different compared to everything else. Mountains and galaxies and flowers are beautiful, but they are not living creatures. And while animals are amazing, humans are His masterpiece, His image in the world. Here we see God forming out of the earth, out of the dirt, all living creatures – except one.

Something’s Not Right

Look at verse 18. Notice that Eve, woman, is not around yet. That’s not an accident. God had created every other animal in all creation with a mate, every flower had a way to reproduce, the cycle of life had been engaged for every part of the planet – but not for Adam. Was this an oversight on God’s part?

Obviously not, but wow, people have used thinking like that to torture this passage into a patriarchal, sexist, misogynist insult to women. They say this whole story was written by men, for men, so that they would have a religious reason to subjugate women. Is that what this is? Is this section an insult to women? No way!

Just as the story slows down and zooms into God’s artistic hands when He starts creating Adam, here we see the story start to build drama. A story is unfolding here and it’s meant to show us something very important. Adam pops onto the scene along with the animals, by God’s design, as a natural part of creation. He’s part of the creative order – but now something special happens. Instead of the story slowing down, the whole narrative of creation stops.

In verse 15 we see God take Adam and place him in the garden of Eden so he can work it and keep it. “Ok, Adam, here you go. Enjoy the garden, work it, eat whatever you want, except that tree over there… but have fun and get to work.”

And Adam’s out there doing whatever he’s supposed to be doing, right? He’s hoeing away, taste testing everything, petting the cats, figuring out how seeds work, or whatever, but something is “not good”. Those two words introduce drama into the story of creation. It brings the whole story to a stop. Everything up to this point has been “Good” and “very good”, but now, something is “not good”. What’s not good? What on earth is missing? What’s wrong? Adam is sinless, standing in the garden of Eden, in the most idyllic setting imaginable. The planet still has that new-car smell. But something is not good? What is it? Woman is missing.

Was this God’s oversight? We sometimes read it that way, don’t we? It’s like whenever I buy something from Ikea. I take it home, look at the plans, lay it all out, do my best, try to get it all right – but then when I step back to admire my work, it looks a little off. It’s too wobbly, it’s not good. So I go looking in the box and realize that I missed a piece!

That’s not what’s happening here. God doesn’t make mistakes, so what is happening here? God is grandly introducing the greatest part of creation, the best thing He will ever produce for Adam. He’s teaching Adam something important by making him go without for a little while. Look how it happens!

In verse 19 we are reminded, once again, that Adam and every other creature was made out of the dirt. They were all from the same stuff, living in the same land. And all of these creatures were paraded before Adam so he might see them and name them. Naming something designates authority.

We still do this today. What’s the first thing we do when we get a pet – or a new piece of equipment? What do we do after we create a piece of art or a new invention? Name it. Most of science involves finding and naming things. This shows our dominion over creation. Adam names a bunch of animals and it stirs something in him. There was no helper fit for him.

Wait a minute. Not a helper fit for him? Consider the options. Horse, elephant, badger, falcon, wolves… but nope. Wait, I’m forgetting someone important that was around. God! God was there. This was before the fall, before sin. God and Adam could speak face to face. He could ask God anything and it would be given to Him because there was no such thing as a wrong choice! But yet God had said it was not good for Adam to be alone, and after a time of working the garden and seeing all the animals, Adam knew it too. Adam felt alone, in Eden, standing next to God.

There was a longing in his heart that nothing on earth, even, for some reason, God, could not fill. I know that sounds strange to evangelical ears, but it’s right there. He looked to find a helper, He found none, and God Himself knew it was “not good”.

Longing For A Helper

What does that tell you about how much men need women? Why there is such a deep longing in our hearts for the love of our mothers, our sisters, our female friends, and our wives. This section doesn’t denigrate women, it lifts them up in the highest of esteem. There is nothing in the world equal to women! When God said “I will make a helper fit for [Adam].” our modern ears want to lower the value of that word. Who’s more important the man or his helper? We assume the man, right? But that word is the term EZER in Hebrew and does not signify a lesser relationship. It is the term used when neighbors and relatives help each other accomplish a task (Isa 41:6). It’s used when two nations make a political alliance or when military reinforcements join a fight (Ezra 10:15, Josh 10:4, 2 Sam 8:5). And it’s also used repeatedly of God who is our “helper” (Psalm 54:4; 118:7, 121). If it’s used of God, then it cannot be a negative term or one implying something that is lesser than the other.

God knew that Adam would need a helper. Soon Adam too would know he needed a helper, a partner, someone to alleviate his alone-ness and partner with him on the mission God had given him[3].

But he didn’t need another Adam. He needed someone suitable, or “fit” for him. That’s what God said, “I will make a helper fit for him.” That word means a corresponding part, the other piece of the puzzle, someone that had what God purposefully didn’t give him. There is no sense of subordination or subservience there. It is an equal partnership of people who are the same in worth. This doesn’t make men higher and women lower, it makes them partners. Their differences make them need each other, and working together makes them stronger than if they worked by themselves.

God The Surgeon

Now, look at verse 21. Notice that the picture of God changes. He is no longer a sculptor or a sculptor but a surgeon. The picture we have is of God anesthetizing the man, causing a deeper than normal sleep to come upon him so He could do something special.

The woman is not formed from dirt, like every other living creature. She is not spoken into being like the rest of creation. What is happening? The woman is taken out of man to show that they are not just made of the same substance, but united in a bond that goes beyond any other. Adam was formed from dirt, but so were alligators. Here we see something different. We see God showing us something special: The bond between men and women is different than anything else in all creation. God takes a piece out of man, and forms, or builds, the woman from it. The man was “formed” from dirt, the woman was “made or built” from man.

And from then on, God would work the miracle of creating His human images, not from dirt or ribs, but the children of mankind would be formed in the woman’s womb, built out of the same stuff, the same material as their parents. And what would bring this about? The physical, loving, intimate, sexual union of the man and the woman together in the covenant bonds of marriage. We see the first marriage ceremony take place in Eden and it was to form the system by which God would continue to spread His glory, His Image, throughout the world.

Conclusion                                                                                      

Next week we will get into verse 23, where man names the woman, and what that means about male headship, but I want to close for now saying that when I began today I said that “what you believe will dictate how you behave”.

I think everyone here agrees with that, but as I said, I wonder if your beliefs line up with what you are saying.

  • Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
  • Do you believe God has the right to tell you how to view the relationship between men and women?
  • Do you believe you must submit yourselves to Him, despite what you think or have experienced?

If so, then what I’ve just taught you may require you to change your behaviour.

  • Do you believe that men and women are equally intelligent and equally worthy of respect – or do you value the opinion of one over the other?
  • Do you believe that God made men and women purposefully different and that those differences should be celebrated – or do you believe that to be different is to somehow be lesser?
  • Do you believe that the women you work, serve and worship with are a gift to mankind –that every part of society truly needs women – or do you believe that women are a hindrance to getting things done?

Of course, this works both ways, so I encourage you to think long and hard about your beliefs about the roles of men and women in this world and how you perceive them – to ask God to show you where you are biased for or against, where you have confused difference for inferiority, and to ask forgiveness for insulting God’s design and His image.

 

[1] https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html & http://www.fitbrains.com/blog/women-men-brains/ & http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/study-finds-some-significant-differences-brains-men-and-women

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/four-dangers-for-complementarians

[3] http://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

The Battle of the Sexes and God’s Original Plan (Part 1)

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Review

If you’ve been with us for the past 2 weeks hopefully you’ll remember how we’ve been building the foundation of understanding here. I’ve taken this one slowly because if we don’t build study this passage from the bottom up, it could be easily misinterpreted and therefore potentially damaging.

It’s easy to dismiss something if you think that it’s just cultural or from the “olden days”, right? Certainly, we’re all biased by preferring newer methods and means, but more-so when it comes to ancient cultures and practices. We eat modern diets, read modern books, use modern technology, and believe modern concepts – and the idea of importing and applying millennia old ideas doesn’t come naturally, so we require some pretty good reasons as to why it’s better or more authoritative.

So we started with the authority behind the passage. If this is cultural, then it’s changeable, but if it’s established in something that transcends culture, then we’d better pay attention. And if you recall, there were 5 of them. Whatever this passage is teaching is, as we see in verse 2, built on Apostolic Authority, which is to say, the same authority as Jesus. The second foundation, as we saw in verse 3, was the Trinity, or God’s established hierarchy. The third, as we saw in verse 8, was the foundation of Creation or God as Creator, going all the way back to before the fall of man in Genesis 3. The fourth foundation, as we saw in verse 12, was biology. The teaching here is rooted in God’s choice to make humans as male and female. And fifth, as we saw in verse 16, was common church practice – that this wasn’t a special teaching for the Corinthians, but a universal teaching for all churches everywhere.

So that was the first week. Last week we moved onto the cultural considerations or historical context for whatever is being said here. Even though the foundation of this passages teaching is beyond culture, we still have to understand the context of the writing, and so last week we studied head coverings and fashion in ancient Greek and Roman culture. This led us to understand the issue being addressed in this passage, that being the freedom that women were finding with their new relationship with Christ, the unique nature of the church being a place that considered men and women to be equal in dignity, worth, and access to God, had gotten out of control and the women were breaking with societal norms and doing away with the head coverings that their culture wore.

This helped us to understand that what Jesus is telling us, through Paul. The foundation of the passage was universal, but the issue was contemporary to the Corinthian church. So, their cultural issue, that of doing away with head coverings, was showing a something deeper – a problem of the heart. I said last week that the women in the church were experiencing an “intoxicating level of freedom in Christ” and that because they were human they had taken it too far. They had used their freedom to sin (Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16) by disrespecting their husbands, disobeying Jesus, confusing new believers, and offending anyone who saw them.

Male Headship Controversy

But we’re not done with this passage yet. Foundationally, this was about breaking God’s divine standards. This showed up in a cultural way in the head coverings issue, but our interpretation of the passage is still missing a crucial part, and it’s something that I’ve been hinting at, but skipping past: and that is the issue of Male Headship.

How do you feel when I say that term? It likely depends on your age, your environment, your history, your education, and your knowledge of the Bible. We live in the modern and liberal nation of Canada, outside the very modern and very liberal city of Ottawa, and these two words are incredibly divisive right now. In fact, in a lot of places, with the rise of things like transgenderism and radical feminism, just using the term “Male Headship” would be considered hate speech.

That sounds radical doesn’t it? Like fear mongering. Well, here’s an example of what I mean: This is Kevin Arriola, a student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He’s seen some difficult things in his life and wanted to start the Men’s Issues Awareness Society. The invitation was to get some of the men and women at the school together to talk about some of the issues they’ve seen. Things like: male homelessness, the higher rate of suicide and incarceration, the declining performance of boys in academic settings, etc. Immediately, the feminist groups at the university flipped out, calling the group misogynist, anti-feminist, and ideologically dangerous. Within days, the student union shut them down. Ironically, half of the members of Kevin’s little group are women! In fact, the main team consists of Kevin and his social media director Alexandra! They’re fighting it right now, but it doesn’t look good.

My point behind sharing this story is to say that if a young man can’t start a discussion group un a university campus – the supposed bastion of learning and debate – about serious issues facing men today – then how do you think society is going to react to the words: “Male Headship”? Not well, right? It stirs up a lot of preconceptions and emotions, doesn’t it?

Therefore, we must be very careful when talking about this subject. We need to make sure that when we talk about it that we speak biblically, not passing along our own ideas, our history, our family upbringing, our culture, or assumptions about what we think the Bible says.

For Christians, we believe that God’s way is the best way, and therefore we pray and search the scriptures to see what He has to say and then submit ourselves to that – knowing that even if it goes against our feelings, history, preconceptions, culture, or desires, that it will be the best for human flourishing and bring God the most glory.

The Gospel

This is a gospel issue. The story of Jesus Christ, the good news (the gospel), is that Jesus Christ is using His power to restore everything to the way it should be. As Jesus says in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new!” This is why we talk about being born again, washed clean, or regenerated. God the Father made everything perfect, but then humans sinned and messed it up. But through Jesus death on the cross, He has broken the power of sin and is not only saving individuals, but redeeming them, delivering them from sin and darkness, and sanctifying them, taking out their sinful heart of stone and replacing it with a holy heart of flesh. And the story of the gospel is that He’s doing the same thing to the whole world.

That’s why Romans 8:20-23 says,

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (ESV)

Sin messed up all of creation, and just as Christians have an inward groan and longing to be “set free from our bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of… glory…” waiting eagerly for our final redemption, so does everything else. We hate how messed up the relationships between men and women are, and we want it to be better. And it isn’t merely education that is going to fix it. It can only come from God through the work of Jesus Christ.

The Battle in Our Current Context

We’ve seen a lot of problems and confusion with male female relations over the past little while haven’t we. On one hand we have Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of entrapping, raping, molesting, and all kinds of other horrible behaviour to women in Hollywood. And then on the other hand we have the death of Hugh Hefner, the creator of a publishing empire built on the sexual objectification of women. Both of these men are predators, using their money and influence to take something very precious. But for some reason, though Hefner was an abusive rapist predator just like Weinstein, he was heralded by the media. It shows just how confused the culture is about male female relations.[1]

But it’s not just non-believers and ultra-left Hollywood that is confused, is it? The Christian church doesn’t get off scott free. Recently a #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear hashtag went around social media, and while some of it was ridiculous, some of it was really sad to read. The history of Christianity is full of all kinds of rebellion, oppression and domination. I still remember 2008 when I preaching a series based off some curriculum called “They Like Jesus, but Not the Church”. Dan Kimball had interviewed a whole bunch of twenty and thirty year olds and asked them what they had against Christianity. And one of those common objections was that the Christian church has a reputation for restricting and oppressing women.

And sadly, that’s been true in some cases as men take biblical passages like this one today, and others, misinterpret them, misapply them, and use them to harm women. Sure, as we’ve seen in our Corinthian context, this can happen in reverse as women use scripture to wrongly too, but a lot of the guilt falls on the shoulders of men.

This is likely why the term “Male Headship” creates such a visceral, instinctive, gut fear reaction. It’s because the church has often done a very poor job in seeking to understand and apply these passages properly. Men take it as permission to oppress women, and some women see it as a command from God to allow themselves to be disrespected and subjugated. This is where we get ideas like women are supposed to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, where men can demand sex whenever they want and the women aren’t supposed to enjoy it, where men are better managers and women better parents – all of which is unbiblical garbage. It’s a mess of wrong interpretations, which is why we need to be so very careful.

The Original Plan

This frustration between men and women, husbands and wives, is sometimes called “the battle of the sexes”. Where does that come from? Unsurprisingly, it comes from sin. This isn’t God’s doing, it’s ours. Let’s look at how God created it in the beginning. Open with me to Genesis 1:26-31 because I want to show you something very special and very important.

In Genesis 1, when God was creating everything, He did it in a very purposeful, very meaningful, way. First He did big things, like separate light and darkness, divide the earth and sky and space, and then He filled those big things with stars and planets, plants, birds, and land and water creatures. And then, pausing there, God began a special creation unlike any other.

Take a look at this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” It’s no accident here that God presents himself as a plurality. “Let us… after our…” God is speaking to Himself, to the Trinity. God the Father, addressing Jesus Christ the Son, through whom John 1:1-3 says all creation was made, and by whom Colossians 1:17 says all things are held together. They are a plurality of oneship; all equally worthy of glory, power, dominion, and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.

And so it should surprise us that when the creation that reflects His image would also be a plurality – male and female, both equal in glory, power, dominion and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.

Now look at verse 26 again,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”

Who gets dominion over the earth? The word “man” as in “make man in our image” is the inclusive term for mankind – both men and women. And then it says, “let them have dominion…” Who gets dominion? “Them”.

There’s a great scene in the original, and better, Jurassic Park where three of the main are sitting in the jeep staring out at some of the dinosaurs and one of the men says quietly, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.” The woman continues the thought and says, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

And while this is a great quote in in the movie it also betrays a common misunderstanding of what we’re seeing here in Genesis. A lot of people think it says that God gave the whole world to Adam and everything else, including women, are subject to Him, but that’s not what it says. God gave dominion of the world to both.

Let’s keep reading in verse 27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

God, in His second commandment, says that there shall be no idols made of Him. Why? Because Genesis 1 is clear that both men and women are created in the image of God, and like a two piece jigsaw puzzle, it is only when they come together that they complete image. We don’t need a gold or stone image of God because humanity is God’s image!

Genesis 1 is almost all plural! Both men and women, all mankind are given equal dominion, equal rights, equal blessings, and given the same commandments. Look at verse 28:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.’” (ESV)

“It was very good.” Men and women, equal in dignity, worth, glory, power, honour and dominion. Both given the charge to enjoy the world God had created, to work it together, to be together in love and harmony, cultivating the earth, spreading God’s Garden Temple across the entire planet, and populating it with the fruit of their love, generations and generations of children who would all worship and enjoy the perfect presence of God. All the “you’s” in that passage are plural, God’s blessings and commandments are given to both Adam and Eve, man and woman, together. Not just Adam.

To Be Continued

But then, if you’ve read your Bibles at all, you’ll realize that you get this story again in Genesis 2. Why is that? Why do we read about Adam and Eve being created in Genesis 1 and then again in Genesis 2? Is it just a repeated story for effect? No, it’s because we are learning through those stories, in their similarities and differences, about God’s design for men and women, especially husbands and wives. Genesis 1 emphasizes our similarities, Genesis 2, our differences.

I wish I had time to complete this study, but we’re going to have to continue it next week. I’m told that my sermons are getting too long and the pews are too uncomfortable, so I need to cut things short, but let me end with this: We lose a lot of blessings when we engage in the battle of the sexes and refuse to submit to God’s teaching about male and female relations. Everyone loses out when humanity disrespects, subjugates, denies, or ignores each other – men or women.

I just sat in a two day Leadership conference and was surrounded and taught by some amazing women. There were some seniors, but I was amazed by how many younger women there were. Some were in business suits, others in fashionable dresses, others in jeans, and a few even had nuns habits, but all were there to learn how to be a better leader in their job and community.

One woman speaker, Sheryl Sandberg, is the COO of Facebook and spoke not only on leadership and hiring issues, but also on how to move forward after we face difficult challenges in life. Another very successful woman, Juliet Funt, spoke in the importance of not only being focused and doing hard work, but also balancing work with meditation and family life. Angela Duckworth has an incredible amount of education and spoke about passion and perseverance. Immaculee Ilibagiza shared an amazing testimony about her experience during the Rwandan genocide and the power of forgiveness.

It would be sheer insanity for anyone to deny that these were all very gifted, strong, intelligent, creative women that everyone – both men and women – ought to listen to. And yet, in the church today there are people who will simply refuse to listen to women, in so many areas, even silencing them, believing them to be somehow inferior to men. Men and husbands, mocking their wives and daughters, dismissing their opinions, gifts, talents, and desires, simply because they are female. That’s not how we God intended us to be together, and it is sin.

My encouragement to you today, whether you are male or female, is to look inward and ask yourself if you are engaged in the battle of the sexes. Are you biased against women? Have you been taught, or somehow come to the conclusion, that women are somehow lesser than men, or that men are somehow lesser than women?

Do you, deep down think men are stupid and women smart (or vice versa) That a woman is less trustworthy than a man (or vice versa)? Do you think women are more loving and better parents then men, men are better at leadership and management? Women are too emotional, men too angry, women too talkative, men too stubborn, women too anxious, men too childish, men too worried about sex, women too worried about looks?

I challenge you to submit these assumptions to God, to pray about them, and to ask if they are biblical – or if you’ve simply allowed sin to dictate your beliefs about others and are actually biased and engaged in battle with the other gender. Then we’ll talk more next week.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/28/hugh-hefner-playboy-founder-91-dark-side

Head Coverings: A Matter of the Heart

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43 - Head Coverings

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We’re still in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16  and when we began studying this last week I asked you to lay aside for a moment, the first presenting issue that we see when we read this passage – namely the head coverings and discussion of male female relations. Instead, we looked at the roots of the passage, the foundation on which the teaching is built. And, if you recall, there were 5: Apostolic Authority, The Trinity, Creation, Biology, and Common Church Practice.

And then I asked you to do some heart work this week in asking yourself if you are willing to submit yourself to God’s authority or not. Essentially, if you are a Christian today and have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, are you also willing to accept Him as Lord, even if His commands go against your feelings or upbringing? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator, your Saviour, your Lord and your God?

It’s still amazing to me that Jesus leaves this open as an option to humanity. We read part of Philippians 2 last week and I think it would be good to read part of it again because it really drives home our need for humility, the example of Christ’s humility, but also His absolute Lordship over all creation.

It says in Philippians 2:3-11, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

That’s all about humility, right? Humble before others, humble and obedient to God, following the perfect example of Jesus. But even though Jesus laid aside His divine majesty and took on the form of a servant, even to the point of dying in our place on a sinners cross, the passage doesn’t leave Him there, but continues from His humiliation to his glorification:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It should amaze us that Jesus gives us the option to disobey Him. It’s amazing to me. He is Almighty God, Creator, Lord of all, worthy of all worship and praise – and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christians are merely the ones who get to do it first, of our own volition, by our own choice – but one day, everyone who has ever lived, every creature, every country, every leader, will bow before Jesus as Lord – His glory and His power will make them bow, will make them confess.

Part of the Christian life is acknowledging that fact today. It’s in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (or worshipped or held high) be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians claim God as our highest authority in all areas of our life, our King, And we acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s prayer! And then we ask Him to submit all the world, including us, to His divine will, causing everyone to worship and obey Him, just as they do in heaven. Because we believe His Kingship, His leadership, His way, His Will is the best plan for joy, peace, happiness, and justice that that humanity could ever hope for.

This was the main topic last week: Will you, in all areas of your life, submit yourself to the will of God? The answer to that question will dramatically affect how you respond to the Bible. So let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and see what it says:

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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. 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. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

Historical Context

As with all passages, it’s important to start with the context. Last week I said over and over that this passage isn’t rooted in culture. Whatever God is telling us through the Apostle Paul goes beyond hair and clothing styles or historical understandings of gender roles. It’s deeper than that.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the cultural context into consideration. In the city of Corinth, in Greek culture, and like many Middle Eastern countries today, most men and women wore something on their head like a veil, turban or headscarf to protect against the sun. But like today, they were more than a practical fashion accessory. What they were made of and how they were decorated would tell you a lot about how wealthy or important someone was.

And, like today the women’s version was way more complicated than the men’s. The fabric was of different quality and the veil could be was pinned to a stiff hat and set with jewels and ornaments. If the woman was married, the headdress got very complicated with even more decorations, even putting important coins in the front to signify her dowry. And of course, as the head covering and veil got more complicated, so did the style of the hair. Competitive fashion is nothing new and this status symbol competition had gotten so out of control that the Apostle Peter actually took time in his letter to warn Christian women about this (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Like today, it was common practice for a man to take off their head covering during a worship time to signify their respect for and submission to their deity, like we do when we take off our hats for prayer or to sing the national anthem. It’s a sign of respect. For a man to choose to cover his head during worship showed there was something wrong with his attitude. It was the opposite for women. At that time in Greece, only immoral women would be seen with their heads uncovered.[1] [2]

We understand this concept today because we have the same fashion issues, right? Certain styles of clothes signify certain events. A man’s hair, beard, and clothing signify something about them. Some guys are very concerned about this, some are less concerned, but none of us get dressed by accident. Our clothing choices reflect something about us.

And I think that whatever pressures men feel must be a hundred-fold for women. Every day, no matter what country they are in or what job they do, women are judged more by how they look than almost anything else. Judged by everyone – men and women are all very hard on women for their clothing choices. And whether we like it or not, those choices reflect something about us to the people around us. A high skirt and crop top sends a different message than a t-shirt and jeans. A sweatshirt and pair of leggings gets a different societal reaction than a cocktail dress. When a woman leaves the house, whether they like it or not, even though it’s not fair, they are forced by society and their own inward drive to consider every part of their appearance – hair length and style, jewels, pants or skirt, length, tightness or looseness, how deep the V neck goes – even their perfume is going to be judged.

All of this is not new and has been happening forever.

The Problem

Now, what was happening in the Christian church in Corinth was that, because of their newfound freedom in Christ, some people were breaking from societal norms – especially the women. The Christian church was different than all the other religions around them. Christians taught that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, both worthy of the same respect and honour. Both men and women have the same level of access to God through Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit within them. No longer were women considered inferior, unfit for teaching or learning – as they were in the rest of society – now they were invited to sit alongside their fathers and husbands and listen to the same teacher, ask questions, and even, after some time of maturing and study, to teach! There were even times when God would show up in a special way and give a message, a prophecy, through one of the women in the church.

This was amazing to everyone! The women in Corinth were obeying God and were praying publically and prophesying in church, speaking out words from scripture and explaining passages to people, right in front of everybody, and it was an awesome thing to witness. This was all approved of by the Apostles and the scriptures, Old and New Testament, give examples of women prophets and teachers all over the place (Exo 15:20-21; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9) This level of freedom and respect was unlike anything they had ever experienced – and being human, they took it too far.

When they spoke during the worship times they were, apparently uncovering their head, like the men did. This was a problem. In their freedom, they were “flaunting social convention and sending ambiguous signals”[3] to everyone around them. Remember, their head covering was more than just a hat to keep the sun out, but was like a billboard with all sorts of information. To take it off in church, during a worship time, was to send a signal about your sexual freedom, your marital status, your religious commitment, your respect for your husband and family.

Without question, the head covering was a cultural convention, neither commanded nor prohibited by God, but it still had very important meaning. And remember, one of the most important messages that keep coming up in 1st Corinthians is that the church needs to take other people into consideration when we do things – we just covered this over and over in our study of the last few chapters, right?

To disregard the social conventions and expectations of their culture wasn’t a small thing. They were experiencing an intoxicating level of freedom in Christ. To learn they are as loved by God and as useful to God as any man was an awesome thing. So, some of them figured, “Why do I have to wear this head covering, then? Jesus doesn’t command me to, and He’s my Lord. I don’t have to listen to anyone else, so forget this thing, I’m going to be like the men and uncover my head during worship.” And herein lay the problem. For them to do that showed there was something bigger going on in their hearts.

Their fashion choice wasn’t just about the fashion, it was about the heart. Casting aside their head covering was doing a lot of damage. It disrespected their fathers, husbands, and family, flaunted their sexuality, and hurt their testimony before all of the new believers and the watching world who would be utterly shocked and unable to understand what was going on. It also blurred the biblical distinctions between males and females, something very important to God in scripture, and something we will cover next week.

So, when we read this section, we aren’t really reading about head coverings, are we? This section, on the first pass, ends up reading like an oppressive command that tells women they always need to wear hats and veils. And some people get that far and stop. Certainly, some religions demand this, but there are also Christian churches that still require all women to wear a head covering during church. Someone told me this week that some women took this so literally that they would even wear hats to bed because they would often pray before they went to sleep. But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about head coverings, it’s about what’s happening in the heart of the women and the church.

The Heart of the Issue

With all that in mind, the historical and literary context of the passage, let’s go through it together and take it apart so we can better understand it. Verse 2-3, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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.”

One of the questions that was sent to Paul was evidently about this head covering issue that was dividing the church. We talked a little about the root of this passage last week, in that it is rooted in Apostolic Authority, as important as the teachings about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but look at where it goes. Paul says, “You do well to ask me, and thereby ask Jesus, about what He thinks of everything you do, but you need to understand something important when it comes to head coverings: it’s not just about the fabric covering a woman’s head but what it represents is going on in the woman’s heart.”

So Paul uses the question about heads to talk about real and true headship as it’s presented in the Bible. “You think this is about a fashion accessory and cultural conformity, but it’s about so much more.” “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” “So, women”, Paul seems to be saying, “When you cast aside your head covering, are you still obeying Christ as your head, your Lord, and still respecting your husband? Probably not, right? You’re making it all about you, your freedom, your choices, your desires – and completely forgetting about Jesus, your husband, (or father if you’re unmarried), and all the believers around you. When you come to church dressed the way you are, what message are you sending about yourself, your marriage, your faith, and your submission to God’s order? Instead of bringing glory to God and to your husbands, you bring them shame and that isn’t good.”

Imagine the picture there, right? A man brings his wife to church. They attend for some months, grow in God, learn some scripture, tastes freedom in Christ. She learns that her sins are forgiven and she is free from all the horrible things the culture around her has been telling her about women. It’s a big adjustment, but they learn to live as equals, share with each other, learn from each other, serve together. Eventually, they become deacons in the church. He administrates and she has a talent for singing and reading scripture.

But then one day she comes to church – and I’m grasping for a modern equivalent here so bear with me – and she’s wearing a short, strapless party dress, heels, and a huge, gaudy necklace. She proceeds down the aisle and as she nears the front, she takes off her engagement ring and tosses it into the offering plate, declaring that since men don’t have to wear them, neither does she anymore. She heads up to the platform, grabs the mic and says,

“Before we do our opening song and read scripture, I just want to let you know about the freedom I’ve found in Jesus. For years society, even my husband, has told me how to dress, and I realized that I don’t have to anymore. God gave me this body and I can decorate it however I want. And I encourage you to join me, ladies. Take off those oppressive diamonds, change those drab, uncomfortable clothes and let’s worship God the way we all want to! Why should the world have all the fun! Let’s bring the same energy as we would on a Friday night with our friends! This is a place without judgement, without fear, where men and women are free to do whatever they want because Jesus has freed them from the Law and from culture! So either sit or stand or whatever you want and let’s sing and really dance together!”

That’s as best as I can do to give a modern equivalent to what was happening in the Corinthian church – except to remind you that in their culture worship and sex were completely tied together and most of the church would have had a very messed up, sexualized history. Basically, it was like a church full of former sex and porn addicts.

Everyone in the church, including the husband, is shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Why? What would you think in that situation? What would go through your head as she walked the aisle and spoke? She’s technically not altogether wrong with what she’s saying. Men and women are equal before God. Society does oppress and judge women, and the Christian church isn’t supposed to. Engagement rings are not in the Bible. God did give her that body and there’s a lot of freedom in how Christians can dress.” So is she wrong? What’s going on there?

The reason we have a reaction to that situation is because it’s not about the dress or the shoes or the jewelry. It’s about the effect on the people at the church. It’s about disrespecting and embarrassing her husband. It’s about the example being set for other believers and the message that is sent to any non-Christians. Are you going to that woman for marriage advice? If you walked into a church and saw everyone dressed the way they would dress in a night-club or at a rave, what would you think? That’s a lot of what’s going on here.

Our scripture addresses it this way. Look at verse 4-7:

“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.”

It says to the men and the women: you can’t dress and comport yourself, or conduct your life in an irreverent, rude, disrespectful way, while at the same time saying your marriage, family, and spiritual life is ok. What is happening on the outside shows what’s going on on the inside. If you are disrespecting yourself and your spouse in public, dressing with a great, prideful concern for your looks or for how seductive you are – your relationship with God and your spouse is probably quite a mess.

It says, in effect, “Showing up with your head uncovered should have the same effect on you as if you were to show up bald. The shame you would feel if all your hair fell out is the same shame you should feel if you are disrespecting yourself, your spouse, or your church.”

In any culture, your hair and your clothes mean something. It shows how much you respect yourself, your culture, your spouse, your family, and your church. To break cultural convention because it’s sinful or wrong or because it goes against your conscience is perfectly fine. But to do it simply because you want some shameless attention or declare yourself better than everyone else, is sin. You are stealing God’s glory and disrespecting those around you. Recall what we said in Philippians 2.

Your Look Says a Lot

I want to get into the male headship aspect of verses 8-16, but hopefully you see how this ties to last week and many of our other studies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Christian, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus commands us and gives us the example of humbling ourselves before God and each other. So, in your clothing styles, in your hair styles, are you being humble?

And this doesn’t just have to be expensive or seductive clothes, or strange and complicated hair styles. This attitude can be conveyed with any type of clothing. There are people who dress like slobs and never shave because they want to declare to everyone how little they care about themselves or what anyone else thinks. There are people who only wear certain brands or have a certain beard because they convey a certain message – that they’re tough, cool, smart, trendy, sexually liberated, or counter-culture. There are women who put on skin-tight clothes in the morning and think, “I don’t care what anyone else says, this is comfortable.” and head out not giving and regard to how it affects those around them. Or men who put on the same shirt every day, the one that their wife begs them to change and is so embarrassed by, even wearing it when company is over, and keep doing it because they like it. They don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Clothing can say a lot about the heart: There are men who wear suits to church simply so they can judge those who don’t. There are women who wear conservative clothes because they have a real fear of the men around them. There are men who hate women simply because of their clothes, and women who look at their closets and hate themselves. There are beautiful people that try to cover their beauty because they have been told it’s shameful. And others who have been treated like commodities and objects for so long that they feel their only worth is in how they look. It’s a mess.

So, this isn’t a prescription for how to dress. I’m not telling you how to dress at all, nor should I. I’m not saying wear dresses or don’t, have a beard or don’t, wear tights or don’t, wax your mustache or don’t. That’s between you, your spouse, your parents, your culture, and God. But, when you get dressed, when you choose a hair style, when you buy that piece of clothing, will you submit that choice to God’s leadership? Will you see that decision through God’s lens, asking yourself, “What does this say about me? How does this reflect on my spouse and family? How does this affect my testimony? How will this affect others today? What does this say about my faith in God? Is God honoured by this choice? Does this bring glory to Him? Will this help my witness and encourage people?”

Let me close with the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, only a few verses before our passage today: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Head Covering. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 936). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875

[3] NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875

God’s Established Order: 5 Roots of Authority in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

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A lot of people today really hate the concept of authority. We think that this problem is just for kids who don’t want to listen to their parents – freaking out in the cereal aisle or complaining about a gift when they don’t get what they want. It’s just more obvious in children when they do things like wanting to paint their bedroom black, refuse to clean their room, or more serious things like quitting school, dating someone dangerous, or running away.

But rebelling against authority doesn’t stop when we turn 18 or move out of the house. Rebelling against authority is woven into our very natures and is a continuous struggle every day of our life.

Our boss tells us what to do and we decide to do something else because we either don’t want to or we think we know better. The government sends an evacuation notice during a disaster and people sit in their homes instead. Police tell us not to look at our phone when driving. In fact, even the new update on my iPhone figures out when I’m in the car and whenever I want to do something it forces me to the “I’m not driving” button. But do I listen? It’s helped, but no, not always. I’m used to looking down at my phone at red lights, so I sit in the car, hit the button and then lie to my phone, telling it I’m not driving – even though I totally am. That would probably get me a ticket if I got caught, so why do I do it? Because I think I’m smarter than everyone else, I’m the exception, and I don’t like being told what to do.

Politically, the Right tells the government to leave them alone, to let them make their own decisions, to get off their land, and to let them buy whatever they want. The Left rebels against authority just as much, seeking to throw off the fetters that are trying to be imposed by teachers, moralists, religion, and anything else. Both sides cry out, “Nobody can tell us what to do!”

We Need God’s Authority

But of course, this isn’t just about human authority, right? The first part of the gospel story is that we have all committed “cosmic treason”, rebelled against the authority of God, our Creator and Lord, and have set ourselves up as our own highest authority. That was the original problem, back in Eden. God said, “Don’t eat the fruit or you’ll die.” Satan, the first rebel said, “You won’t die. God lied. Take the fruit and you’ll be like Him.” In other words, don’t be under God’s authority, make yourself the highest authority and usurp God. And they did – and we’ve been doing the same thing ever since.

That’s why the scriptures say, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-12; 18)

Part of fearing God means doing what He says, and none of us does that all the time. One of the most amazing things about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God sent His Son into a world full of rebels. We don’t want to do things His way, we hate Him to His face, we argue with His teaching and His plan, we corrupt His Law and His Word, and in our rebellion we become blind, lame, and deaf to truth. We can’t change our hearts. We won’t choose Him as our Lord. And God’s response was to send Jesus to break the power of sin and make it possible for us to come back to Him. He takes a world of rebels and invites them to admit He is King.

One of the main things that Christians recognize, that non-believers don’t, is that we absolutely need God to be our highest authority. We’re no good on our own. When humans set things up without listening to God, we end up creating all sorts of horrible and dangerous chaos. Quintessentially, look at the atheist nations of the past century – the ones who have abandoned God completely and choose to live as though they are the highest authority, like China, Cuba, North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and even Nazi Germany, are or were the most terrible places to live.[1]

Christianity seeks to help the weak, sick, hopeless, helpless, downtrodden, poor, and outcast. We champion peace and humility. Godless countries, or ones that have turned from the God of the Bible, are not a good place to be weak or sick. It is not good to be a baby, or handicapped, or a woman, or sick, or elderly, or even simply different, in those places. It is in the nations that were set up with God as the final authority that those groups have been able to gain respect, protection, help, and equality.

When humans abandon God’s rule and authority and set up our own kingdoms, we utterly mess things up. Why? Because in this world there are only two teams: Jesus and Satan. And where God’s Son is abandoned there is only one team left, and it isn’t a good one.

God’s Authority

With that in mind, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and let’s read it together. We’re going to study this passage for a couple of weeks because there’s a lot going on there, but this week I want to concentrate on one part of it: God’s Established Order.

This is going to get into a lot of heart issues, but the foundation of this must start here: Do you believe that Jesus is our Lord and is your Highest Authority or not? If you are a Christian today, then you must declare that Jesus is both your Saviour and your Lord. You can’t have one but not the other. He cannot be your Saviour but not your Lord. If you believe that you are your own highest authority then what we talk about over the next couple of weeks is going to anger you. If you have rebellion in your heart against God, and have been privately holding a grudge against Him for all the things He has told you to do, then this is going to bring that out. If you are used to getting your way and are merely a cultural Christian who takes what they want from Jesus, but rejects whatever they don’t like, then you are going to have a problem. If you have bought into the secular and worldly point of view that some of the Bible is good to read for some things but is mostly of date for others, or that you have permission to ignore parts that you don’t like, then Jesus is not your highest authority because you believe you stand higher than His word. Before we read, check your heart in this and ask yourself: Is Jesus my Saviour and my Lord, or not?

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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. 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. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

Ok, so I know there’s a lot going on in that passage, and a lot of contentious issues there. In fact, one of my commentaries said of verse 10, “‘There is scarcely a passage in the New Testament which has so much taxed the learning and ingenuity of commentators as this.’…’ In the difficulty of its several portions it stands alone in the New Testament…’”[2] So, yeah, this is going to be an interesting couple of weeks, but the place I want to start is a more simple one and one that all Christians agree on: do you submit to God’s authority?

If you attended the Bible Study Group on Sunday night then you’ll remember this theme came up in our study of Daniel – as well it should, since it’s perhaps the most important question the bible asks. Daniel is taken from Jerusalem, the city of God, to Babylon, the city of evil ruled by one of the most terrifying despots in history, and he is constantly put to the test. First he’s offered food that Jews weren’t allowed to eat. He responds, in essence, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.” Then the king has a dream and says he’ll kill anyone who can’t tell him what it is. Then Daniel’s friends are commanded to worship a golden idol or they’ll be killed in a terrible way. They respond, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.”

Then God says to the King in a dream, “If you don’t admit that God is the highest authority in your kingdom and not you, then you’ll be driven mad until you do.” After a year, the king won’t say it, and God follows through on the threat until seven years later when he finally looked up to heaven he says,

“I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)

It’s all about God as the final and greatest authority. It’s the first commandment! “I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other god’s before me.” (Exo 20:2-3). When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was, He spoke of complete submission to God, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-37) But isn’t that all about love, not obedience? Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Text and Context

So, putting aside all the contentious issues about the relationship between men and women and headship and headdresses and all the rest, the root of the text we are studying today is all about God’s ultimate authority and the established order He set up in this world. Before we get into the other stuff I want to make sure we understand this and get our hearts in the right place. Let’s look at the roots of this passage – not at the teaching but at the authority behind the teaching.

Remember the context of whom this is written to. The Corinthian church was having a really hard time with having God as their highest authority because they were surrounded by a lot of sinful temptation and bad teaching, and some of that was creeping into the church. Concerned people had gone to find Paul in Ephesus to tell him what was going on, and others had brought a list of questions about some important matters that were splitting the church. This section we just read is sandwiched between serious warnings about the Lord’s Supper and the worship of demons. This section comes in between those two. Now we know we should take worshipping demons pretty seriously, and we know that we should take the Lord’s Supper pretty seriously, but then, when it comes to a passage like this one – which is right in the middle – we like to say things like, “Oh, that doesn’t matter today. I don’t agree with that.” Which is crazy, when you look at the context.

Apostolic Authority

Now look at verse 2: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” The first root we see is what we will call apostolic authority. Paul commends the church for taking the time to consider what Paul would have to say about all the things happening in their church – which ultimately is asking what Jesus would have to say.

The word “traditions” is stronger than we usually give it credit for. We usually don’t give tradition much authority, but think of this word more like “ordinances”, like when we speak of the Lord’s Supper or Baptism. They were directions given by the Apostles, the messengers of Jesus, to instruct the church as to how to do things. We’re not talking about ceremonies or decorations, but authoritative teachings. Notice he says, “as I delivered them to you.”  Meaning, he was the mailman who brought the message from Jesus and then delivered it. Paul’s authority didn’t come from himself, but from His position as the chosen man of God tasked to instruct the church.  The first root of the teaching is apostolic authority. Will you submit to the scriptures, as the writings of the Apostles, as they carry the authority of Jesus?

The Trinity

Verse 3 has the next root: “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.” The second root of this teaching is in the Trinity or the Godhead. The line of authority, what Christians usually call “God’s established order” or “God’s hierarchy”.

The “head” is an authoritatively positional term. That last part is really important because it shows where this authority, this statement, this teaching is rooted. It’s not rooted in culture or opinion. It’s rooted in the Godhead, the Trinity. Jesus, though He is exactly the same in dignity and worth, submits Himself to the Father.

Philippians 2:5-6 says, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or “used for advantage”)…”

Jesus says in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”  In John 14:28 Jesus says, “…the Father is greater than I.”

There is a positional authority in the Trinity. God the Father, then the Son, then God the Holy Spirit. Each is God, each is perfect, each it each is worthy of worship, each is equal. The second root of this teaching is the divinely ordained positional authority structure.

Creation/Creator

The third root is the authority of God as Creator. Look at verse 8, “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.”

Don’t get caught up on the head covering thing right now. What I want you to look at is what the teaching is rooted in: Creation. We’re not talking about Greek or Jewish culture here. What is being taught doesn’t come from human choice and philosophy, it comes from before there was culture, before mankind was even created. In Genesis 1 it says that all of mankind, men and women, are made in God’s image.

Whatever the Apostle is delivering here, whatever is being taught by the one who has been given the authority to teach as Christ would teach, is establishing what he is saying before the creation of culture, before sin, before mankind. That gives it special authority. That means it’s not something we came up with, it’s something God designed into the fabric of the universe, the fabric of what it means to be human. God created the universe and mankind in a very orderly, specific way. Humanity was to be the crown of his creation. Man was created from the dust, and woman was created, as verse 8 says, “from man”. We don’t read that as quaint poetry or silly, pre-science myths that we just skip over. The Order of Creation all means something very important, and continues to show up in passage after passage of the Bible. Therefore whatever the teaching is, we ought to take this root quite seriously and not dismiss it as merely old, bygone, optional, or cultural. Are you willing to submit yourself to that?

Biology

A fourth root we see is in verses 11:12, which roots the teaching in biology. “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.” This root has its own root! The phrase “in the Lord” means, “by God’s directed order” or “as God has willed it”, both man and women are biologically dependant on each other. Despite what progressives would argue, it is written into the order of the universe that male and female are important distinctions. God ordered that the continuation of the species depends on males and females working together to make more babies. Whatever this teaching is, it’s rooted in God’s design for natural, human biology, not human constructs. Will you submit, “in the Lord” to how God has designed human biology to work?

Common Church Practice

The fifth root of authority that we see in this passage is found in verse 16 which says, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Here, Paul says, “If you want to fight about this, don’t. You’re not special. This is the rule literally everywhere.” He does this over and over, telling the Corinthians that the teachings they have received weren’t specially designed for them, but were the same teaching he gave everywhere else. Jerusalem, Ephesus, Athens, everywhere got the same talk. They’re not being singled out and are therefore not the exception to the rule!  That’s another argument we make against authority, right. “Well, I’m the exception. This isn’t fair! No one else has to do this!” To which the reply comes, “No, you’re not the exception. This is fair. Everyone else has to do this.” That’s parenting or policing 101.

So the fourth rule is the universality of this teaching in all churches everywhere. Whatever is being taught there wasn’t a special message to Corinth, but a universal message to all Christians. The question for you is, will you submit to that authority or will you see yourself as the exception who wants to be “contentious” and argue with what Jesus is saying through the Apostle Paul?

Conclusion

There’s a lot of heart work to be done here. We haven’t even gotten into the actual teaching, but this is critically important. If you are saved this morning, then you have admitted you are a sinner in need of a Saviour, and Jesus has saved you by trading His life for yours on the cross. But, have you also accepted Him as your Lord in all areas of your life? That’s just as critical a question.

This isn’t just about God being your boss, but about you trusting that God’s way is better, higher, more right than yours. It’s about letting go of your belief that your way is best and allowing God to lead you. As Proverbs 3:5-8 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”… we usually stop there, but it continues… “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Do you need healing in your flesh and refreshment in your bones? Then start with acknowledging God in all your ways and letting Him set out your path.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2013/03/atheist-governments-of-the-20th-century-the-death-toll-of-godless-goodness/

[2] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Kling, C. F., & Poor, D. W. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (p. 225). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Cosmic Treason: 4 Modern Idols

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Polycarp

We don’t know many names of people who were pastors of churches in the time of the Apostles. But we do know who the pastor of the church in Smyrna was. He was a man named Polycarp. Pastor Polycarp. He was born in about 70 AD, in the days of the Apostles, and studied under the apostle John, probably in Ephesus. When Jesus addresses this letter to the “angel of the church in Smyrna”, he is most likely addressing it to Pastor Polycarp.

In the year 155 AD, when pastor Polycarp was 86 years old, he went to visit Rome and when he came back to his church in Smyrna, he had the misfortune of returning during the time of a great festival that was attended by the proconsul. Part of the festival was to be a series of great sporting events in the arena – including the spectacle of watching Christians being torn apart by lions for the entertainment of the crowd.

Eleven Christians had already been put to death in the arena, but bloodlust of the crowd was so high that they longed for a fresh kill. The cry was raised out, “Let us search for Polycarp!” As pastor of the church, he was well known to the community and they wanted to see what would happen if he were to face the lions.

Polycarp, at first, was persuaded by his friends to hide from the pursuing soldiers at a local farm-house, but in their search the soldiers tortured two of the farm boys until they gave up Polycarp’s location. Escape was still possible, but after seeing the suffering his pursuit was causing, the old man refused to run away. He walked out to the soldiers and asked them to wait while he had a short time of prayer. They allowed it, and Pastor Polycarp actually ordered food for the men while they waited.

When he was brought to the arena, surrounded by thousands of spectators, the Proconsul actually tried to spare Polycarp’s life. He made it as simple as possible and said to the old pastor, “All you must say is, ‘Caesar is lord’ and ‘Away with the atheists’. And you will be spared. (Ironically, one of the accusations against Christians was that they were atheists because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or in the temples of Rome.) The charge brought against pastor Polycarp was treason.

Polycarp smiled and said, “Well, if that’s all you want me to say, I can say that.” He looked at the stands where the throngs of citizens and representatives of the Romans state and pagan religions were seated, raised his hands towards them and said yelled, “Away with the athiests!”

This isn’t what the Proconsul had in mind, but he tried again to get Polycarp to deny Jesus Christ to save his life. He said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Take the oath and I will release you. Curse Chris and live!”

Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”

Hearing this, that Jesus was Lord and King and not Caesar, the onlookers in the arena demanded that the lions be loosed on him then and there. There was nothing more treasonous!

“Swear by the fortune of Caesar”, the Procunsul insisted.

Polycarp stood firm. “If you vainly imagine that I will swear by Caesar, and pretend that you do not know who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian.”, came the reply.

“I have wild beasts”, the proconsul warned. “If you do not repent, I will have you thrown to them!”

“Let them come, for my purpose is unchangeable”, Polycarp said.

“If the wild beasts do not scare you, then I will order you to be burned alive!”, the Proconsul shouted.

“You threaten me with a fire which will burn for an hour and then go out, but you are unaware of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment which is kept for the ungodly. Why do you delay? Bring on the beasts, or the fire, or whatever you choose; you shall not move me to deny Christ, my Lord and Saviour.”

When the Proconsul saw that Polycarp would not recant, he sent the herald to proclaim three times in the middle of the stadium, “Polycarp has professed himself a Christian.”

As soon as they heard these words, the whole multitude of Romans and Jews furiously demanded that he be burned alive. Though it was Saturday, even the Jews ran out of the arena to gather timber and scraps of wood, breaking their laws of the Sabbath, so they could watch the Christian burn alive.

Polycarp was bound and placed on top of the pyre. “This is the teacher of Asia,” the it was announced. “This is the father of the Christians, this is the destroyer of our gods, this is the man who has taught so many no longer to sacrifice, and no longer to pray to the gods.”

The old pastor looked up to heaven and prayed, “O Father, I thank you that You have called me to this day and this hour and have counted me worthy to receive my place among the number of the holy martyrs. Amen.”

As soon as he had said the word “Amen” the officers lit the fire. The fire burned around him, rising high above his body, but burned away from him. Then someone called for a soldier to finish him off quickly with a dagger, and Polycarp was stabbed to death and left to burn.

Polycarp was charged with treason and his punishment was a terrible one. Why wouldn’t he just relent? Why not just tell them what they wanted to hear and then ask God’s forgiveness later? Why not simply sidestep the persecution and then go on with his life? Because there was a greater treason, far greater than treason against Rome or Caesar.

Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and read together: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Context

In this section, the Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is making a very clear point: idolatry is a big deal. We talked a little about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. Throughout all of chapters 8-10 Paul has been answering the question: What about food offered to idols? The situation in the church was that some people were still buying and eating the foods that were being offered as sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome. If you recall, the temples were like a mix of churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and meeting halls, and it was common practice to buy and eat the food that was leftover from the rituals.

The Christians were torn on this issue. Part of the church thought this was no big deal. Paul said as much throughout and again here when he says, “That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No…”. That was one side of the argument, that it was no big deal because it’s just meat, just drink, just food, and as long as you know that who cares.

The other part of the church thought it was a HUGE deal. They didn’t want to go anywhere near the pagan temples and sacrifices! Every time they did their conscience started freaking out. And this created a rift in the church because both of them had a really good point.

It really was just meat and any Christian could eat it with no problems. But it is also unwise to go against your conscience or put yourself in a place where you will be tempted to sin. It’s similar to the conversations that Christians still have about going to the movies, or to a bar, or reading certain books, or playing certain video games. Half the church says it’s totally fine and the other half is waving the big, red warning flag. Which is right?

We’ve talked for a long time about that, so I’m not going to retread it here. It’s also continuing from last week where Paul is giving warnings about how serious this is. He says, flat out, that the meat is just meat, the idols are just statues, and the pagan gods aren’t real gods, but demons – but then wants to impress the church with just how serious the situation is.

Remember last week we talked about how someone in the church can think they are a Christian because they hang around other Christians, but not actually be saved? Paul drives that point telling them to really, really check their heart about this. Are they going to the pagan temple as a mature Christian, with a good conscience, or are they just people who take communion on Sundays and then do whatever they want during the week, assuming that they are going to be saved by their religious Christian actions. There’s a big, big difference between participating in the Christian religion and actually being a follower of Jesus, so he gives the warning via the example of the Israelites who left Egypt under Moses. They all thought they were saved, but in truth their hearts were far from God. They weren’t followers of God, but sexually immoral idolaters and grumblers who didn’t trust God at all. And they were banned from the Promised Land because of it. We talked about that last week.

KOINONIA

And so here, God, through Paul, wants to make abundantly clear that going to the pagan temples and participating in their events has huge, spiritual consequences. It needs great consideration. So he gives the direct warning, again, in verse 10, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” and then gets into the spiritual reality going on around them. He says in verse 16-18, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”

He’s talking about the Lord’s Supper, or what we call Communion. He says that when we participate in Lord’s Supper we are doing something extremely special and it’s all wrapped around that word “Participation”, which is the Greek word KOINONIA or “fellowship”. This word is used all over the New Testament.

It’s used in Acts 2:42 when it talks about the very first Christian church formed after Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (KOINONIA), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with each other as the church, the body of Christ.

It’s used in Philippians 2:1-2 which says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship (KOINONIA) with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with the Holy Spirit who binds us all together.

The Apostle John, in 1 John 1, says that the proclamation of the gospel was “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (vs 3) KOINONIA is a big, biblical concept.

God created man to be in fellowship and participation, KOINONIA with Him. But we sinned and broke that bond. God cannot be associated with sin and our sin made it so we could no longer be with Him, and became, in fact, His enemies. He is life, sin brought death. He is good, sin brought evil. We were created to be rulers and stewards of His Kingdom of light, sin made it so we would be bound as slaves to Satan, the prince of darkness. God created KOINONIA, our sin brought division.

The gospel is that Jesus came and saved those who had been made dark, dead, enemies of God. He entered the world that he might save sinners and restore the KOINONIA between God and man, for anyone who would believe.

One picture God gave us to remind us of all this is the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We show all these truths every time we celebrate it together. We take one loaf and break it. We take one bottle and pour it. Then we take our own little cup and our own little piece of the bread and we recognize them as symbols of our KOINONIA with God and our fellow Christians. When we drink and eat together the symbols representing the body and blood of Jesus, we are eating and drinking in memory of Him and all he has done to bring us back into KOINONIA with Him and each other. We once participated or fellowshipped or shared in Adam’s sin (Rom 5) and Satan’s rebellion (Eph 2), but now we participate or fellowship or share with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, his holiness, sufferings, and glory.

Taking communion is for Christians. Eating the bread and drinking the cup shows that we have changed fellowships, changed teams, and are now totally with Jesus. We are His because He bought us with His blood shed on the cross. He is our Lord, King, Saviour, Master, God and Friend, and we are his people, his body, his church.

This is why it says in verse 18, “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” The word “Participants” is a form of the word KOINONIA. Remember all he just said about Israel. The altar in the Old Testament was a table on which food was regularly sacrificed to God. The priests ate from the offerings, sharing the table with God, as a representative of the rest of Israel. It was a symbol of their desire for KOINONIA with God. In the same way, Christians also have a table on which food is served as a symbol of our KOINONIA with God – the Lord’s Supper.

Cosmic Treason

And so, he continues in verses 19, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Why was it such a big deal to simply go into a temple and eat the food there? Because, what is happening in that building, at that table, at that altar, is a reflection of the fellowship, the KOINONIA those people have – not with Apollos or Aphrodite or whatever made up god, but with demons. Just as we are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, God in the Lord’s Supper, so they are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, demons.

You can’t have both. Polycarp knew this, which is why he faced lions and the pyre instead of simply uttering those few words, “Caesar is lord.” It would be, as one of my favourite theologians RC Sproul says, “cosmic treason”. This is what Adam committed. Cosmic treason is the ultimate definition of sin.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t play for both teams. You can’t eat from both tables. You can’t have two lords. You must, must, must choose. Jesus promises a separation in the end and we’d better be on the right side of it.

Which is why we read, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” Or more colloquially, “What are you, nuts? Are you trying to bring God’s discipline upon you? Do you not remember what happened to Israel when they set up idols in their nation or worshipped Baal? Do you want that to happen to you? Do you think you are the one person who can play both sides, acting like a Christian sometimes and playing with demons the rest, and that you won’t get burned? Do you think that you can take God’s plan, His righteousness, His gift, and His concern to protect the truth that He alone is God and the only way of Salvation, and stomp all over it by also worshipping the ‘gods’ of human invention? Do you think that God is going to share praise and worship and his people with demons? If you do, you’re insane! He has promised that those who worship idols will provoke His jealousy and his wrath – just as we saw Israel experience over and over.” Polycarp knew this and had a right fear of God.

Modern Equivalents and Conclusion

Now you may be thinking, “Ok, Pastor Al, I promise that if anyone ever invites me to a Greek temple to worship Apollos, I definitely won’t go, ok? If anyone asks me to come over and eat meat offered to idols, I will definitely decline. Thanks for the warning.” But how often will that kind of thing come up these days?

Let me give you four ways that idolatry still comes up today:

First, there still are pagan religions out there and Christians still often tempted to mix their beliefs and practices with them. The horoscopes and psychics and crystals and chakras and angel worship and other new age stuff we have around us are demonic and some Christians are tempted towards them. Some churches try to incorporate pagan rituals like prayer labyrinths into their spiritual disciplines. Some people try to use God as a good luck charm by going to church and having communion on Sundays, but then try to incorporate Wiccan rituals, Buddhist meditation, Islamic prayer times, and other religious thinking into their relationship with God. God is clear that we can’t do that.

The Second, way is what I’ll call, Blending. This isn’t purely pagan or demonic, but it’s something that Christians need to strongly consider in light of what we have learned here today. Think about how much spiritual blending there is during holiday times like Christmas and Easter – and of course Halloween.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we also have holly, ivy, mistletoe, Christmas trees, yule logs, lights, gift giving, fruitcake, and Dec. 25th, which all have pagan origins![1] We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with bunnies, candy, chicks and coloured eggs. And Halloween is just a mess that I won’t get into now. Even our church has some of this blending. The fact we are meeting in a special church building and called Christians came from pagan origins. The days and months on our calendar are based in ancient pagan mythology. Birthdays also have pagan origins.

Does this mean we declare anyone who eats fruitcake or colours eggs or has a birthday party to be anathema from the church? No, that’s not what this is teaching us. What it’s saying is that we need to think about this stuff. There’s a website online called GotQuestions.org that I really like that tries to answer a lot of these questions with biblical wisdom. Just a quick scan of their topics comes up with things like: Should a Christian play Pokemon, use Facebook, go to parties, do jury duty, watch mma, read Harry Potter, practice feng shui, do cosplay, and much more. Christians care about the truth and about what God thinks of things. So we ask, what does the Bible say? What does our conscience say? How does it affect others? We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth remembering that some of the traditions and practices we hold so dear need to be carefully thought through.

The third I will call, Cultural Corruption. This is a big deal these days as it comes up all the time. There are some churches that are claiming that God has sanctioned things, or is celebrating things, that He does not. They take a biblical teaching, corrupt it, and then invite people to celebrate it. Here’s a couple examples.

The blessing of pets or giving pets communion. Some churches do this as an outreach and invite people to come to make sure their pets get into heaven. This is wrong and a corruption of the Lord’s Supper, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the teachings of the Bible, and therefore Christians cannot participate. For us to go to that event would be saying that we agree with what they are doing. Our presence gives our blessing to their sin and error.

The same sort of thing happens with where we give our money or work. Sometimes the groups that are sent to help during a crisis also promote evil practices. For example, there are some organizations that not only fund education and healthcare, but also abortions. A Christian simply cannot willingly give their money to a group that funds abortions. Or consider personal, financial investments in companies that are known to use child or slave labour. There have been Christians who have been put in the position where they would be forced, by their employers, to do something unethical and unbiblical. They refused to compromise their integrity or disobey God, so they have had to quit.

Another example is attending or participating in the wedding of a gay, adulterous, or ungodly couple. In one sense, it’s a good thing to be friends with anyone who cares for you enough to invite you to their wedding. Jesus ministered to and befriended all kinds of people and that’s a good thing you are like Him in that way. And we know that being a Christian doesn’t make us better than anyone else, so it’s not about that. Some Christians think that they should attend any kind of wedding because it’s a celebration of love and even if the couple is in sin, at least they can extend Christ’s love to their friends without judging them. This isn’t true.

As a pastor, I have quite a long marriage policy that covers a lot of ways that I will not marry a couple – and there’s way more on it than just gay marriage. I won’t marry people who aren’t active Christians attending the same, sound, evangelical church. I won’t marry people who don’t have the blessing of their families on their marriage. I won’t marry people who have prenuptial agreements. I won’t marry people who are having sex before marriage. I won’t marry people who refuse to have premarital counselling. I won’t marry some divorced couples if their situation is still unbiblical. Why?

Because marriage is something God has spoken very clearly about. He says in Hebrews 13:4 that “marriage should be honoured by all” because it’s not a human construction, but a divine one. It’s His idea, not ours, and therefore we must do it his way, not ours. And if the couple isn’t going to do it God’s way, then I will not stand before God as the official who tied them together. In the same way, every Christian needs to know that their participation – as in making the cake, taking the pictures, attending, or being in the wedding party, is you saying that, by your presence, you agree with and support this union. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you believe and obey what God says in scripture about marriage and then also celebrate people that are disobeying what God has said.

And finally, the fourth way we do this is simply by being a leading two different lives. Following Jesus and the world. Trying to balance God’s priorities with your own. God’s plan with your own. God’s ways with the world’s. Simply put, this is hypocrisy. It means that out of one side of your mouth you say you believe that Jesus is God and the only one you will worship, while out of the other side of your mouth you worship and prioritize all sorts of other things. It means saying that you believe God answers prayer, but never actually pray. It means you say that God’s word is true, but then disagree with it when it commands you to do something difficult like submit to authority or forgive someone. It means that you say that generosity is important, but then live like a miser. It means that you say you trust God, but then build materialistic walls out around you out of money and stuff and put your faith it them. It means you say that you trust in God’s plan, but then pursue the worldly version of success all week long.

You can’t have it both ways. Jesus says in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” He says in Matthew 12:25, “a house divided against itself will not stand.” James 1:6-8 says this person “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

I implore you to ask God to reveal the ways that you are trying to stand on both sides of the fence, or play for both teams. The ways you are trying to serve two masters is causing you to be unstable. Ask God’s forgiveness for having these idols and for him to you, restore you back to KOINONIA with Him.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2013/12/christmas-traditions-pagan-or-christian/