You know me as one of the hosts of Carnivore Theology. Al has invited me to share my new project with you. I have recently begun writing The GoodFaith Blog, where I share my thoughts on faith, family, books, and culture. After a decade of pastoral experience, I returned to school. I did this, in part, to help myself and the church better understand and engage with our culture. What’s in a name? For me, the name of the blog communicates a desire to engage honestly with significant issues. I hope to do so with integrity, or a just regard for the viewpoints of others (those whose ideas I engage with, my readers, and the church). It is my hope that people will join me in thinking deeply about things that matter without ever compromising the good faith.
Good faith is a term used to summarize an organizing principle of contract and commercial law. A duty of good faith is a duty to act honestly and with just regard for the commits made to another party. I see a parallel in the Christian faith. Read the rest of this entry »
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Here’s the Link (Not sure why it says it’s ended because it doesn’t end until Oct 16, 2017):
We’ve been slowly working our way through 1st Corinthians and after a Christmas break and the January series on depression, it’s time to get back into our study by turning to 1st Corinthians 5.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Would You Rather?
People love playing the “What’s worse?” or “Would you rather?” game. There’ are websites and apps dedicated to them! Would you rather inhale a bug while riding your bike or find a hair in your food at a restaurant? What’s worse: having bird poop land on your head or stepping barefoot in dog poo? Would you rather be almost blind or almost deaf? What’s worse” running out of gas or getting a flat tire?
For good or for ill, people are comparative by nature. We love comparing things. We turn everything into competitions to see who is stronger, faster, can eat more, or anything else. We have competitions for best air guitar, extreme ironing, and ugliest dog. In Japan they have baby crying contests. In the US they have the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship (the record on that is 28.51m or 93 ft 6.5 in, by the way. That’s the long distance across a basketball court!)
People do this with sin too. If someone is caught doing something they shouldn’t, one popular defence is to say that whatever they were doing wasn’t as bad as something they could have done or that someone else did. “Allan, did you steal a cookie from the cookie jar?” “Yes, but at least I didn’t eat all of them! Yes, but I didn’t rob a bank! Yes, but yesterday I stole two, so this is actually way better.” The idea is to minimize, or trivialize the sin by comparing it to something. We make it seem less important, less significant, than it really is, by holding it up to something we think is worse.
What it shows is a misunderstanding of the seriousness of sin. It’s not just a cookie from the cookie jar, is it? It’s theft. It breaks the 8th Commandment. It shows a lack of respect for parental authority. It shows that there is something wrong with the heart. It sets a bad example for those around and lowers the standards for everyone.
To which the detractors cry, “This is the slippery slope fallacy! Stealing a cookie doesn’t mean that they’ll be robbing banks soon! It won’t bring about the fall of western civilization! It’s just a cookie!” To which Christians, theologians, and God replies: “There is no such thing as a small sin.”
No Small Sins
When we look at sin we tend to trivialize it. When God looks at sin He sees something much more serious. Jesus demonstrated this during His Sermon on the Mount. Turn with me to Matthew 5 and see what Jesus does here.
Look at verse 21. First Jesus talks about anger, something that we don’t spend too much time thinking is that big of a deal. We assume that carrying around anger and bitterness towards people is no big deal as long as we don’t get out of control. We think that yelling at someone in the car who cut us off in traffic is no big deal. Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
It’s so serious that Jesus says next,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
In other words, your anger towards your brother needs to be dealt with before you even walk through the doors of the church, before you do your devos, before you say your prayers, before you tithe. If you have anger against someone, even if you think you’ve got it under control you are in spiritual danger and God is not going to accept your prayers or offering!
Move to verse 27. Next Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
That’s twice that Jesus has talked about the danger of hell.
Men think, “Oh, it’s no big deal to hang that poster, play that video game, watch that show, visit that site, or check out those girls at the mall. I’m faithful in marriage, would never cheat, and it’s not like I went looking for it. It’s just there. I’m just here to buy shoes. I watch it for the plot. I play because it’s fun.”
Women think, “It’s no big deal to read those stories or watch those movies and fantasize about being with someone else. It’s no big deal to think about my old boyfriends or coworkers. No big deal to just scan through a few posts on Facebook. No big deal to wonder about what it would be like to be with them. No big deal to get my motor running with a little fantasy.”
We think it’s all in our heads, secret, and that everyone does it so it’s no big deal. Does this passage make it look like God thinks it’s no big deal? Jesus isn’t adding anything to what God has already said – He’s merely explaining it properly.
And yes, this is hyperbole – or overstatement for effect – but His point is to emphasize how dangerous sin is and how important it is that we maintain control over the purity of our thought life. “Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.” (ESV Study Bible) Why? Because sin is super dangerous! It is ultra-destructive.
This is just like “what’s worse” or “would you rather”. What’s worse? Giving up your internet connection, not going to the mall, deleting Facebook, breaking off that friendship, changing jobs, missing that show or deleting that game – or corrupting your conscience, losing God’s blessing, and living in a state of perpetual, spiritual sickness? Would you rather have the fruits of sin or the fruits of the Spirit?
This is the danger of minimizing sin. It’s eating away our soul like cancer, hurting our family, infecting our children, polluting our worship, corrupting our community – and we treat it like it’s no big deal.
This is what the Corinthians were doing. Paul begins with a startling statement about what is happening in the church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (5:1) He was sleeping with his step-mother, perhaps even as an adulterous affair. Certainly the Old Testament condemned this, but it was so evil that not even the pagans around them had laws against it. And if you remember the sexual history of Corinth, that is really saying something.
They knew it was wrong but were unwilling to admit it or do anything about it. They knew it was a sin, but didn’t see it as a problem. What’s worse, they thought, to tell this guy to stop sinning and breaking God’s laws or to allow it to continue? They felt that telling him would have been worse.
Look at 5:2, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”
The church was so accepting of sin that they were not only being tolerant of sin in their midst, but actually being arrogant about it. Where they should have seen the danger of the sin, mourning that it had taken hold of one of the families in their church, in sorrow for the disgrace it would bring to the name of Jesus, they were actually proud of it! “Look how tolerant, loving, caring, accepting we are!”
Their perspective of sin had gotten terribly out of whack. They remind me of the people Paul was talking about in Romans 1:32 where he says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In that case he was talking about unbelieving, out of control, pagans – but it also described the Corinthian church. They knew it was sin, practiced it, and then went as far as to give approval to those who were doing it.
What does the Bible say ought to have been done? “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Keep in mind that this person is a self-professed Christian! How should they treat this brother? This man doesn’t know how dangerous his sin is so they should “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”. This means that the church should stop getting between him and the consequences of his sin. If he wants to live like a demon, then let him experience hell! Why? So his heart breaks when he sees how damaging his sin is. So long as the people around him are tolerating the sin, making excuses, and accepting it, there is no way they will repent. He needed to see the full consequences of his actions.
Sometimes we need this too. Sometimes we need God to let us see what happens when we don’t take sin seriously. Sometimes God lets the shoe fall. We hurt our marriage, families, friends, church, community, or reputation. We turn from God, live with sin, keep it secret, or have a bunch of people make excuses for you: “It’s just your personality. It’s no big deal. You deserved it. We all understand.” and we start to think we’re getting away with it – that there’s no consequences to the sin.
We’re still going to church. We’re still singing the songs, meeting with our friends, enjoying our life, going to work, living our life – and so we get used to having that sin in our lives. No one calls us on our anger or bitterness problem, so we never deal with it. No one calls us on letching over the young women, so we think no one cares. No one calls us on our foul language, addictions, or out of control spending, so we think it’s no problem.
That’s not how Christians are to love one another. That’s not how we are to address sin in the church. Christians have a higher sensitivity to sin, a better perspective of it, a higher standard for ourselves, because are all-too aware of how damaging it is. It’s not just a little anger problem, a little private lust, a little spending issue, a little language problem – it’s a cancer to your soul. It’s a wedge that can be hammered into your relationships with your family, friends and church. A Christian sees sin for how dangerous it really is.
Paul says, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (5:6)
If you are an expert on anything it comes with a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can do something amazing that few people can – on the other hand, you are cursed with the ability to see shoddy work.
If you know how to paint or decorate or design or build, then walking into most people’s houses takes real effort because all you see is mistakes. Runs here, sags there, unmatched colours, poor architecture.
If you are an expert cook or wine taster or coffee then you are blessed, but it also means that most people’s food and coffee tastes bad.
If you are an expert in journalism, history or politics then watching a movie or the news is agonizing because of all the inaccuracies and outright errors.
If you are an expert on exercise or nutrition then seeing what people put into their bodies almost bring you physical pain because of how terrible it is.
And that’s true for all of you who have special training, whatever it is. Your special knowledge gives you a different perspective on the world around you – and it’s not always good.
For a Christian, our understanding of sin makes us realize something other people don’t understand. We don’t see it as a white lie, a little vice, a necessary evil, an excusable moment – we see a virus, cancer, death.
You may have heard of a woman named Joy Milne who has a very special ability. She can smell when someone has Parkinson’s Disease, which is a very difficult disease to diagnose. She first noticed it in her husband as she sensed his smell changing and then he was diagnosed. Scientists were intrigued so they did an experiment where 12 people, six with Parkinson’s and six without, wore shirts all day and then brought them in to be bagged. Joy then smelled each shirt and was right 12 out of 12 times. The actual story goes that they thought she was wrong about one of them, but then eight months later that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Christians are like that. When we finally see our sin, hate our sin, repent of our sin, ask God’s forgiveness of our sin because Jesus died on the cross for our sin, we are given the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of us. And one of His gifts is to make us more sensitive to sin.
As you mature as a Christian you may notice this phenomena in your life. Someone says something, does something, or you go somewhere and there’s some radar that goes off inside of you. Red flags fly, the Geiger counter starts to click, and you know something is hinkey.
Things that didn’t bother you before now seem uncomfortable. Things you used to let go, you now want to deal with. Places that were fun are no longer fun. It’s remarkable. That’s God fixing your broken conscience. That’s the presence of Jesus in you.
As we mature that sensitivity grows, but it also goes away as we practice sinning. The more we accept sin, turn our back to it, blind ourselves to it, accept it, tolerate it, fear it, and allow it to occur, the more we “sear our conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). Our heart gets harder instead of softer, less sensitive, less able to tell right and wrong. That’s what was happening to the Corinthians. They wouldn’t call sin sin, and had lost their ability to see it. Had they lost their salvation, no? But they were still in great spiritual danger. Their church had cancer.
They let the disease of sin grow up in their midst. They allowed the little bit of leaven into their bread, and it infected the whole lump.
I used to work for a pulp mill and one of my jobs was to clear out a section where they had broken down a building. My job was to take everything in the pile, go through it, stick it in a truck, and drive it to where it could be better used. At one point I came across a big bunch of round circles. So I started busting them apart and putting them in garbage bags. A few days later someone came by and saw me doing it and yelled “WHOA! STOP! What are you doing?! Do you know what those are?!” The obvious answer was “no”. They were asbestos gaskets. Every gasket I broke was full of compressed asbestos which made a nice little cloud for me to breathe in.
Asbestos, for those who don’t know, is not to be breathed. The little fibres get inside your lung, get stuck, scar your tissue, and then leads to cancer and all kinds of other breathing problems.
One minute I was happily busting little circles, and the next I was sitting in the mill office filling out paperwork just in case I die of asbestosis someday.
What stopped me? Someone saw what I was doing and knew more than me. He knew those little circles were dangerous, not to be broken, not to be breathed, to be treated carefully by an expert, not by an untrained, idiot, summer student. He knew the danger and he stopped me right there.
That’s what the church is supposed to do with Christians who are sinning. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our fellow brothers and sisters. We are supposed to see the danger and deal with it – patiently, gently, truthfully, scripturally, courageously.
We’ll talk about that more about how to do that next week, but for now that’s where we are going to leave it.
So I ask you: How seriously do you take sin? The sin in your own life, in your family, and in your church? I’m not talking about the country and the world right now – I mean inside you, your closest relationships, and your church. Do you take it as seriously as God does, as Jesus does, as you should? Or do you tolerate it, make excuses for it, trivialize it, allow the cancer to grow and fester, allow your loved ones to play with the asbestos.
I’d like you to pray about that this week.
Tonight we’ve read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Luke, the man whom the gospel was named after, was Greek Gentile (or non-jewish), who was trained as a doctor. He was a friend to the ailing Apostle Paul and accompanied him on some of his missionary journeys to help him with his consistent health issues. Luke was a very intelligent, detail-oriented man, a diligent physician, and a passionate follower of Jesus who was led by God to write an account of the life of Jesus Christ about 40 years after His death and resurrection.
Let me take a minute to read the very first part of the Gospel of Luke because it gives us a good idea of why he wrote what he did. He says,
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
So the backstory goes like this: Theophilus was most likely a wealthy, Roman patron who learned some things about Jesus through some preachers and oral traditions but wanted someone to do some research into how accurate the stories were. The name of this small-town, Jewish, carpenter who had walked on water, raised the dead, fed thousands, and who had died on a Roman Cross only to be seen by hundreds of witnesses to have come back to life three days later, must have been quite a fascinating story. And to hear that He claimed to be the Creator of the Universe come in flesh, the Messiah of the Jewish people and the Saviour of the world was worth checking out.
But, like many of us, he probably had his doubts, so he found a trustworthy, non-Jewish, non-apostolic, non-eyewitness, unbiased man, to go and do some research – and Luke fit the description. Maybe Luke was his own doctor, we don’t know. What we do know is that Theophilus trusted Luke to set about going throughout the Jewish and Roman world to gather witnesses and write down what people had seen and heard.
Luke states his mission right up front. He says that even though others had undertaken to write about Jesus (by this time the Gospel of Mark had already been written), His plan was to gather the data he had learned over the years, and record it in an orderly way so that Theopholis, and all those who would read his gospel after, would be able to “have certainty concerning the things [they had] been taught”.
We sometimes assume that people from a long time ago were silly, superstitious and far more gullible than we are today, but that’s simply not true. CS Lewis calls that “chronological snobbery”. They were as intelligent as we are. The first century people knew how extreme Jesus’ claims were and they weren’t about to believe it until they could get some “certainty”.
What would give them that? Well, Luke would talk to the “eyewitnesses”. He says that he had “followed all things closely”, which is also translated, “invested everything from the beginning”.
Now, Luke was no dummy. He didn’t grow up in a Christian or a Jewish home, but a Greek one. The Greeks looked down on Jews as backward and strange. Plus Luke was a doctor, used to making decisions about what to do with a patient based on the evidence of their symptoms. He wasn’t about to give up his heritage and convert to Christianity because of a few fantastical stories.
Also, around this time, the barbaric and insane Emperor Nero had already been in power and had set about destroying Christianity through torture and murder. It was likely that by the time of his writing, Luke had already known of the many who had been killed, and may have even witnessed the brutal death of his good friend Paul.
It was one thing for those who had seen Jesus face to face, had talked to Him, to face martyrdom. But Luke, Theopholis, and the Romans he was writing to, hadn’t seen any of what Jesus had done first hand, and to claim to be a Christian in those days was no light thing. If someone claimed belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on a cross and then rose again to prove He was Saviour of the World, they had better be sure. A lot of people’s lives – including Luke’s – rode on the accuracy of his research.
So, He visited the witnesses and wrote what they saw and heard – and we’re not just talking about the Apostles. It’s very likely he talked to Mary, Jesus’ mother and some of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and heard first-hand how His birth came about. He could have talked to Lazarus, the man Jesus rose from the dead, and of course to many of the hundreds of witnesses around Jerusalem and scattered throughout countries beyond, who had actually seen Jesus’ miracles, witnessed His death, and had then spoken to Him after His resurrection.
Distrust of Certainty
Luke’s mission was to give Theophilus and the rest of his readers, including us, “certainty”. That’s not a popular word these days. People don’t really like “certainty” because it sounds too dogmatic. We live in an age where we distrust almost everything – the news, the weatherman, our facebook feeds, and even the supposed truth-checkers. We’ve seen too much corruption, and our hearts hardened towards anyone who claims to be certain of anything.
We much prefer saying, “no one can know the truth” or “you believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe and we’ll both say we’re right.” I actually hear that quite a bit. I heard it at a coffee shop just a couple days ago. One barista was a Christian, the other was an Atheist. As I sat waiting for my friend, who was late to arrive, I listened as they debated Trump vs Hillary, then Trudeau vs Harper, and then moved from politics to religion. As they disagreed, one kept reminding the other that this might not be the best conversation at work, but the other was relentless. At one point I came out for a refill on my coffee and the Christian barista looked at me and said, “If you want to talk about religion, this guy is a pastor!”. I almost got swept into the fray, but ended up being quickly dismissed with “Ugh, church people. He probably doesn’t even believe in evolution.”
Before I could answer, the other barista chimed in with, “Yes, yes, but we can all believe whatever we want to believe, right?” And the atheist responded like a good Canadian, “Well, of course.” And, since it wasn’t really the right time or place, I slunk away back to my table.
I’m not sure what it is about this coffee shop, but many times I’m there I face little interruptions like this. A few weeks ago as I sat across from someone else who looked me right in the eye and said, “You don’t actually believe that the Spirit of God impregnated a virgin, do you?” I replied, “Yes, I actually do.” and received back something like, “Well, there’s your problem…” And about a week ago someone interrupted a conversation I was having and thanked me for talking about the Bible.
No one is really neutral on the subject of Jesus, and there are a lot of people who think Christians are crazy for believing this stuff. I get it. Jesus made some huge claims. That’s why people try to say these events are mythological or symbolic, or stolen from other, ancient cultures. There’s no way that someone could be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, fulfill hundreds of prophecies written over centuries, be stabbed through the heart and pronounced dead, sit in a cold tomb for three days, and then join his friends for lunch and a Bible study soon after! That’s got to be made up!
But that’s kind of the point isn’t it? There is no one like Jesus. Not before or since. That’s why it was so critical for Luke to get it right, because believing this wasn’t just a choice – it was the difference between life and death. Following a myth that causes people to stop hiring you, refuse to sell goods to you, gets you kicked out of your family, and makes you a target of the government, isn’t worth it. The only reason anyone would believe it would be if it’s true.
For Christians, this is the most important truth in the universe, and we stake our lives, our reputations, and our eternities on it. We believe that there is a God, the Father almighty, who created heaven and earth. We believe gave humanity the free will to choose to obey Him or not, and that we chose to go our own way, incurring the penalty of the curse, physical and spiritual death. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, written by trustworthy men that were carried along by the Holy Spirit to ensure it would be exactly what God wanted to say, and that it tells us of how God has worked through all of human history to bring about His plan to deliver us from the consequences of sin.
We believe that the Bible was written not only to tell us about God and ourselves, but to tell us what the Saviour would be like. For centuries before Jesus’ birth God told us what to look out for. Jesus fulfilled over 300 historical prophecies. The odds of anyone doing that are astronomical.
Christians believe that the stories the Bible tells about Jesus are historically true because they were confirmed by eyewitnesses, and through diligent scholarship we are sure that the words in today’s Bible are nearly identical to the words written by the original authors.
We believe that Jesus was truly conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under a real man named Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and three days later, really did rise from the dead, making a way for all who would believe in Him to be free from the curse of death and hell.
We believe that the baby we celebrate at Christmas is the judge of all mankind and everyone will stand before Him to make an account of their lives. And that everyone, everywhere will one day bow their knee – so we choose to do it now.
We believe that God alone can forgive our sins, and only does it because of our faith in in Jesus. And that one day, because Jesus proved He could do it first, He will raise us all from the dead to live with Him forever.
Many of us come here tonight not just out of tradition, to sing songs and hear old stories that bring us nostalgic comfort, but because we believe the story of Christmas and are thankful for God sending His Son to be born in such a humble way so we might be saved through Him.
As we sit in these shadows and see the light of the Christ candle, we see an image of the light of the world who has pierced the darkness, and offers to exchange the darkness of our hearts for the light of His life.
I pray with all my heart that you would, like Luke, investigate the claims of Jesus Christ and come to believe in Him too – and that if you do believe it, that you would take time in the next few days to reaffirm your faith and recommit your lives to Him.
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
The Apostles are a very misunderstood group of people these days. The word itself simply means “one who is sent”, so technically anyone who is sent by the Lord to do anything – whether it’s pray for a sick person, deliver a casserole, or give a gift card to Freshco –are technically apostles.
But when people talk about apostles today, they are usually referring to the 12 apostles, chosen by Jesus Christ to be the ones who would continue his ministry and even write more scripture to include in the Bible. Do those kids of apostles still exist today? I would say categorically no. But believe it or not, there are people today who claim to be new apostles, drawing followers by their claims to be messengers from God, with the same authority as the ones in the Bible.
This was happening in the ancient world too as teachers claimed to have the same power and authority as the apostles of Jesus. So the question is, how do we know the real ones from the fakes? So using our scripture today, let’s look at what an apostle is and what they do.
Verse 1 contains two important phrases that will be unpacked in the rest of the chapter. It says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” So let’s concentrate on those two descriptors: An apostle of Christ is a “servant of Christ” and a “steward of the mysteries of God.”
Servants of Christ
The first section of verses, from 2-5, explain what a “servant… and steward of Christ” is supposed to be, and the first descriptive word that is used is “faithful”. A real apostle – and perhaps for application we can extend this as far as to saying a real believer in Jesus – is faithful. Faithful to who? Their master, Jesus Christ. That’s how they see themselves. Not elevated above others, but brought into submission to Jesus. They only go where they’ve been told to go, say what they’ve been told to say, and do what they’ve been told to do.
They know, as Paul says in verse 4, that it is to Jesus that they must ultimately give account, not any human being. Part of the back-story here is that not only were some people pretending to be apostles, but there were some people in the churches that preferred the pretenders to the real thing! They even went so far as to criticize the real apostles because they liked what the new guys were saying better.
But a real apostle doesn’t have their own “take” on Jesus and never updates the story. They don’t make the news, the just report it. They don’t write the letters, they just deliver them. All true apostles are in agreement and the story is always kept straight. Anyone who says different is a false apostle.
That’s one of the most amazing things about scripture. It is a series of books written over 1500 years by 40 different authors from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, but it all holds together. Why? Because God is the author of scripture, not man. The real apostles stayed totally dependent on Jesus for all that they were to do and say. Why? Because it was to Jesus they would have to finally give account, not their churches or anyone else.
This is an important application for us too. We may not be apostles, but it remains true that what we think of ourselves (our self-esteem or self-image) and what others think of us (our reputation or popularity) isn’t nearly as important as what God thinks of us.
This is a big struggle for a lot of people. Most people liked to be liked, and they spend a lot of time trying to change themselves, their opinions, their clothes, their jobs, their image, and everything else, so they can be either liked or respected. They will change almost anything so people will say they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, interesting, or whatever.
Teenagers face this perhaps more than anybody, but the temptation doesn’t disappear when you’re older. As a child grows up and starts to realize that they are an individual – that they like certain things and dislike others, and have different skills, abilities, and problems than others – they are sort of forced to figure out who they are. As their minds, bodies, and emotions, change, they are in a constant state of flux, rarely being able to settle on a single identity.
Last year’s favourite outfit, the one that everyone said looked so nice, no longer fits and now you have to find another. Last year’s toys are no longer interesting. Everything is in flux. And on the journey to discover who they are, other people’s opinions weigh pretty heavily.
But this doesn’t go away. It’s intense when you are a teenager trying to figure out everything from how you want to look to what you want to be when you grow up, but when you get older it doesn’t go away. People’s opinions still seem to matter a lot. Does my boss like me? What do my friends think of me? How do people see me? I know plenty of older adults who spend a lot of time wondering if people think they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, or interesting. That’s what drives the advertising industry! We wouldn’t want new clothes, phones, cars, homes, and vacations if we weren’t constantly comparing ourselves to others!
A few years ago country artist Blake Shelton wrote a song called “Who are You When I’m Not Looking” which sounds like the inner dialogue of a man on a first or second date. The first verse says, “My oh my, you’re so good-looking… but, who are you when I’m not looking?” The rest of the song is a series of questions which amount to things like “Do you drink? Are you silly? How do you handle anger? Do you have bad habits? How do you relate to your family?”. He’s essentially saying, “You’re beautiful on the outside, but before we go any further, are you just as beautiful on the inside?” Pretty good questions, actually.
The message here is that the only opinion that really matters is God’s. What does He think of us, our actions, our motives, our words, our clothes, our friends and our opinions?
I said last week that the true test of a person’s character is who they are when no one is looking. The message this week is that regardless of what you present to the world, God knows who you really are.
David and Saul
That’s the story of King Saul and King David. When Israel turned their back on God as their King and asked for a human King, God gave them exactly what they wanted. Saul was the tallest, most handsome, most regal looking man in the kingdom. He really looked the part, but had some deep character flaws.
David, on the other hand was the youngest son of a small-town shepherd. When God sent the Prophet Samuel to appoint the new king after Saul had thoroughly disqualified himself, Samuel didn’t know who he was going to get. The first son who came out of Jesse’s house was Eliab, the oldest boy. 1 Samuel 16:6-7 says this,
“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
That truth is echoed all throughout scripture! David says to his own son, Solomon,
“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (1 Chron 29:9)
He was saying, “Son, no matter what you do, no matter how great you become, no matter what anyone says about you, know this: God knows who you really are, and that’s what really matters.”
The God Who Knows
God is called the One who “tests minds and hearts” (Psalm 7:9; Jer 17:10; Acts 1:24) because He knows what’s going on inside us. We can fool everyone else – sometimes even ourselves – but we can’t fool God. He knows what we really mean when we pray for selfish things. He knows our thought life and watches where our eyes go behind our sunglasses. He knows our browser history even when we use incognito mode. He knows what you really meant when you said what you said. He knows when we come to the Bible to learn or when we just want to be proven right. He knows the difference between acts of love and the desire to look good. There is absolutely no reason to try to fool Him, and He’s ultimately the only opinion that matters, so why bother trying to fool anyone else?
The Bible talks a lot about pleasing God and pleasing people. In the Bible, fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, but fear of man foolish and sinful (Prov 29:25). We are warned to take more account of what God says about us – and can do to us – than anyone else!
When it comes to worrying about what powerful men might do to us, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
And so, Paul says in vs 3 that in comparison to what God could do to him, the accusations of the Corinthians pale in comparison. So he says, “I’ve already examined myself and don’t see anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean much since my judgment of myself and your judgment of me mean very little in the end. All that matters is what the Lord thinks of me! He can see the deepest parts of me and everyone else, and in the end, he will either condemn me or commend me.”
The same message comes to us today, and it’s our concluding question today. Who are you? Who are you when no one is looking?
We’ll look at the second part of what it means to be an apostle next week: that they are “stewards of the mysteries of God”, but let’s leave it there for now. A true apostle of God lives for God and knows it is the Lord who will judge them. So they don’t bend the gospel for the sake of others.
So, if the apostles are following Jesus and demonstrating to us how we ought to live our life –Paul says in verse 16 that we are to imitate the apostles – then we must ask ourselves in what ways are we compromising our beliefs and our obedience to God because we are afraid of what people might think of us? In what ways are we hypocrites who say we believe one thing, but then do another when no one is around?
Jesus has saved us and He is our Lord. Who do you fear more, love more, respect more, want to impress or desire to please more than Him? That’s your true Lord. That’s your real god.
I invite you to ask yourself who you really are and why you do what you do.
Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and read it together. We already studied verses 1-3 last week, but I want to read them again to remind us of the context:
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”
If you remember last week, I said that the first verses of chapter 3 are a summary of what Paul has been talking about generally for the past couple chapters, and a transition into some more specific language about God has shown him are some major challenges in this church.
On the broad stroke he tells them that there are two types of people in this world – the “spiritual people” and the “natural” (or “fleshly”) people, which he calls “merely human”. His main concern is that this church, supposedly full of Christians who believe in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, are not acting like “spiritual people” – knowing right from wrong, good from evil, holy from unholy, helpful from dangerous – but are instead, being driven by their carnal, animalistic, desires.
The majority of the rest of the letter is Paul contrasting the way of the Spirit of God with the way of the flesh – and trying to convince the church to turn away from the natural desires which are destroying their souls and allowing the Spirit of God to guide their conscience and choices so they can be liberated from of the effects of sin and embrace their freedom in Christ.
These out of control drives are seen all through the letter. Listen to the list Paul gives:
- In chapters 3, 8, and 10 we see them getting jealous of one another, fighting amongst themselves. There is no gentleness, patience, or humility, but are instead are acting like wolves fighting over a piece of meat – each one wanting what the other has, refusing to share, growling and barking at the rest, and then sitting in victory over those who are starving. This causes them to divide into packs and, without their consent, set up their pastors as de facto leaders of their factions.
- In chapter 4 we see them acting like foolish sheep or strutting peacocks, prideful to the point of believing they know more than the apostles.
- In chapter 5 and 6 we them acting like animals in heat, their sexual appetites out of control to the point where they engaging in prostitution and becoming more perverse than even the pagans around them.
- In chapter 6 we see them cockfighting for public amusement as they sue each other in public court.
- In chapter 11 we read about them strutting and preening like cats or birds, showing off for all to see. We also read of them turning into drunken monkeys, humiliating themselves and others during their sacred events.
- In chapter 14 they are screeching crows making much noise but having little of value to say.
This church was more barnyard or zoo than a collection of spiritually enlightened followers of Jesus, and it grieved God and their Pastor, the Apostle Paul. Why? Because they had been told the truth, but were now living the lie. They had been shown what life was really like, seeing behind the spiritual curtain that the world doesn’t even recognize is there, and had turned away from it. Because they had been called to so much more than merely pleasing their fleshly desires. This church, full of people who wanted to know God, who believed in Jesus, who wanted wisdom and knowledge – which were all good things – had gone feral. They were being, as verse 3 and 4 say, “merely human” – and that’s not enough.
Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength
Humans are created as multi-faceted beings. The great commandment says we are to love God with our “Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength” (Mark 12:30), and without getting too dogmatic about it, this gives us a good place to talk about the different facets, or different sides, or aspects, of being human.
- Our strength is our physical body.
- The mind is our capacity for our conscious thought.
- Our heart is the seat of our emotions. The soul is that part of us that goes beyond the physical and allows us to connect to God.
- The soul is that part of us that goes beyond the physical and allows us to connect to God.
God says that we are to worship him with every part of our being – our bodies, thoughts, emotions, and spirit – not just part of it. We cannot merely give God our thoughts – thinking of Him, believing in Him, studying Him, memorizing things about Him, learning and teaching about Him – but keep our bodies to ourselves to use however we would like.
We cannot give God our physical side – denying our fleshly desires, beating our bodies into obedience, waking early and working hard – but not give to Him our spiritual selves by refusing to pray and denying Him worship as we work.
We cannot connect to God with our soul and mind and strength, but then keep our emotions to ourselves, allowing our feelings to drive us wherever they will.
This was the main problem with Corinth. They had given their minds over to God, believing Paul’s words and putting their faith in Jesus as their Saviour – and they had given their souls over to God, admitting that they were sinners, wanting to meet and worship the One, True, God – but they had not done it fully, and they had not turned over their Heart and Strength – their emotions and their bodies. They wanted to keep those to themselves.
Their feelings and their physical desires were still big influences in how they made decisions. They lived by their feelings, lusts, cravings, and desires.
I really want to park on this concept of being driven by our emotional and physical desires because it’s so key to understanding our world and the Christian life. We are driven by our desires – and that’s not always a bad thing.
When our physical bodies are hungry or tired, they send a signal to our brains to tell us that we need to sleep or eat. That’s a good thing. That desire is helpful. When something happens to us – whether it’s something good like meeting a friend or something bad like getting into a fight with that friend – we have been given emotions that kick in to allow us to process the situation. That’s a good thing.
God has given us internal signals that tell us to pay attention – a gut instinct that says you should do something, an internal lie detector when dealing with a shifty salesman, a feeling of foreboding when walking in the dark, or a sense of excitement before a big event – and they are good things.
We have the capacity to think through things, remember details, mull over problems, imagine solutions, invent entire worlds and conversations and possibilities, all in our minds – and that’s a good thing.
Many of the thoughts, feelings, sensations and longings we have inside of us are God-given and good. We should desire to be loved and cared for. We should want to be safe from pain and danger. We should be creative. We should be attracted to other people. We should want to get away from repulsive things.
Before the fall, when Adam and Eve were in the garden, they had natural desires in all four areas of their being – and they were good. They loved each other. They felt hunger and thirst and physical attraction. They used their minds to name creatures and make conversation. They had a desire for meaningful work. They wanted to walk and talk with God.
So, what I’m not saying is that desires are all bad. But what I am saying is that all our desires need to be evaluated for their truthfulness and turned over to the Holy Spirit. Why? Because of sin.
Sin has caused us our desires to get out of whack. All four facets of our being have been affected.
- Our bodies are now attracted to things that are dangerous.
- Our biochemistry and environment are out of whack and create some big problems with our bodies, feelings, and thoughts.
- Our souls are bent away from God and want nothing more than to usurp Him, place ourselves on the throne of the universe, and declare ourselves gods in His place.
- Our bodies are prone to give us false information, get addicted to any number of things, and cause us to crave activities and things that cause harm to us and others.
- All manner of influences, from social media to the demonic forces, are working hard to play with our emotions so we can be manipulated for their benefit.
- We are surrounded by lies, innuendo, gossip, and misinformation, and therefore have a hard time knowing what we think about certain topics – that is, if we haven’t already burnt our brains with either chemicals or dulled them through entertainment.
- Our souls are either dried out, or are in a constant state of “drying out”, which drives us to find the waters of purpose, joy, hope, love, and meaning somewhere; the desperation often causing us to take in the polluted waters the world offers, rather than seek out the pure waters of the Gospel.
The world uses their desires as an excuse as to why they do what they do. Whether it’s making a case for addiction, anger problems, sexual sin, or greed, you’ve heard the arguments before:
- I was born this way, so therefore I must live this way.
- My feelings are so strong in this area that they cannot be denied.
- Anyone can do whatever they want, so long as there is consent and there is no harm done.
- I am free to say whatever I want because I have the right to express my feelings.
- No one should stop anyone else from pursuing their dreams.
- How can something be wrong if so many people agree that it’s good?
- The greatest way of living is if everyone is free to do whatever makes them happy.
In other words: if I believe it, feel it, or think it, then it must be true, and therefore must be good, and therefore must be done.
That’s simply not true. Morality does not change based on our feelings or opinion. Morality has been given to us as a gift from God. He is the One who wrote it on our consciences and in His Book, and it is for us to line up to His standards – not for us to create our own.
Not that this is a new way of thinking. This is a quintessential human problem, not only prevalent in the ancient Corinthian church, but well before it and continues to be popular today – even in churches.
The War Within
All through scripture we read about the war within us, the battle between our flesh and our spirit. And one important lesson we get from these passages is that it is a battle, and we are meant to engage in combat. God gives us hundreds of reasons not to believe our fleshly desires when they are steering us towards sin: they will destroy our bodies, harden our hearts, soften our abilities, corrupt our mission, dull our senses, and create barriers between us and God and us and the ones we love. God also gives us hundreds of ways to avoid being driven by these desires. He gives us personal help by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also teaching about how to arrange our lives wisely and carefully and get our priorities straight. He tells us in no uncertain terms where the boundary is between right and wrong, and then gives us ways and means to evaluate everything in between.
But we must engage in that battle. We must realize that what we think and feel isn’t always good, right or best. We must admit that we are sinful creatures with sinful natures, with flesh that desires the things we shouldn’t want and makes it harder to pursue the things we should want. We must admit that our souls have been corrupted, and that we are not yet perfected in Christ, and therefore we cannot trust all our gut feelings and personal interpretations of what we think God has said. And once we have admitted that – which is essentially admitting that we need God’s help – we must commit our lives to God, ask for His help every day, and enter into the battle.
God, in 1st Corinthians, is telling us that our natural selves will lead us to danger – and then gives evidence of the consequences of what they’ve already done. But, it says, when we listen to God’s Word and God’s Spirit, as it is given to us in the Bible, in prayer, and through the church, we will have the capacity to enter into the battle and be victories.
Later, in chapter 9, Paul will say,
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Paul has an incredibly important reason to win the battle of the flesh vs the spirit. He knows that his ministry, his connection to Jesus, and the reputation of the Gospel for most of the believing world, rests on his personal holiness and character. If he looses touch with God, gets prideful, or gets caught sinning, then all that he has worked for would be sorely damaged. So he works hard to make sure his desires are turned over to God.
The Wolf You Feed
Let me close with an old, but apt illustration. It is a Cherokee legend, but it is loaded with truth:
Once, and old man and his grandson were walking through the woods when the grandfather turned to the young man and said, “Young one, inside all of us there is a battle raging between two wolves. You have felt it even in your young years, and I have felt it all my life. One of the wolves is evil – he is anger, envy, greed, regret, arrogance, resentment, lies, hatred, and ego. The other is good – he is love, joy peace, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, truth and faith. Everyone has this battle going on inside them.”
They walked a little further in silence, until the young boy stopped and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The wise, old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Now, you and I may not have the weight of the missionary work for an entire generation on our shoulders – but nonetheless, we have some important incentives to evaluate our desires and engage in the battle against our natural selves – to feed the right wolf.
- Your spiritual life and connection with God depends on this. The more sin we have in our lives, the less connection we have to God, the less we will hear Him; the less wisdom, love, and peace we will have.
- Your family depends on it. The more we allow ourselves to be driven by our human nature, the more we mess up our marriages and children. They are watching us – and if we don’t care about what we see, hear, say, do, and think – then neither will they.
- Our church depends on it. We need maturing, passionate, faithful believers in this church. We need people who are listening to God, obeying His Word, and living out their spiritual gifts. The teachers should be teaching, the leaders leading, the encouragers encouraging, the prophets preaching, the administrators administrating, the healers healing, the wise governing, the merciful helping. But if you are being driven by your natural desires for wealth, fame, power, lust, or comfort, then you won’t have the time, energy, ability or desire to live out what God has called you to do in this church.
- Your community depends on it. They don’t need more nice, busy, shallow, disengaged, mindless consumers. They need godly people who are working hard to listen to and obey Jesus.
So my final question is this: Are you engaged in the battle? When was the last time you questioned why you do what you do, go where you go, post what you post, buy what you buy, watch what you watch, think what you think, feel what you feel, pray what you pray? Are you constantly evaluating the desires of your heart, soul, mind and strength – or are you merely human? Which wolf are you feeding?
Our “live and let live”/”everyone has their own truth” culture isn’t very good at calling out or confronting sin, but scripture is clear that Christians are supposed to be holding one another accountable to God’s Word. So, what should a believer do when we see a friend caught in sin?
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