“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
Oh boy, have I ever been looking forward to preaching on this passage…
No one likes to be told to shut up – least of all, in my experience, women. If I tell my guy friends or my sons to “shut up” it goes a lot better than if I were to tell my wife, daughters, or female friends.
But, unfortunately, that’s a reputation that some pastors, churches and Christians have. One accusation consistently brought against the Christian church is that we are anti-female, oppressing and restricting women. And of course, horrible stories like the homeschooling parents who kept their children starving and chained to their beds, or the various reports of religious communes and cults that force women and children into servitude don’t help because they are invariably called “devout Christians” at some point by the media.   And, in our post-Christian, post-church culture, it’s natural to lump everyone who calls themselves Christian together with them. The pastors are cult leaders, the men are mysogonist pigs, the women are fools or terrorized, and the children treated no better than slaves.
I’ve heard from a few of you that some people around this area have even wondered if Beckwith Baptist Church is a cult. Long gone are the days when the small, local, Baptist church was seen as a beacon of morality. Now, the most basic Christian terms like “Christian”, “pastor”, “elder”, “deacon”, “biblical “authority”, “submission”, evoke among the culture pictures of abuse, brainwashing, and financial exploitation. People don’t know the difference between David Koresh and Jamestown, Westboro Baptist Church, or the evangelical church around the corner. Conversations with people about “going to church” or “being a Christian” these days have a lot of baggage, so it’s little wonder that some are ashamed to admit it.
And when it comes to a passage like we are looking at today, it’s even worse. Christians aren’t automatically given the benefit of the doubt to explain what it means, but instead beaten over the head with it as it’s used as confirmation bias for outsiders to spread false beliefs about what goes on here.
And within the church this is the kind of verse that people tend to avoid. They like the Gospels and Proverbs and Psalms and whatnot, even Revelation and Romans, but when it comes to this kind of verse, it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t work, does it? There’s always that nagging voice inside of you that says, “What have you gotten yourself into? These people look all nice and happy now, but there’s a secret underbelly where some really bad stuff happens. These women aren’t happy, their afraid – you just don’t see it yet. These kids aren’t loved, they’re terrified to show their true feelings. These church men are all the same – they preach love and grace but secretly they are using religion to control women, harm their kids, and take people’s money. Be careful. Don’t get sucked in.”
These Christians tend to stay on the outside, never really giving themselves fully to Jesus, God, or their church, because they’re afraid they are going to be let down. They feel drawn to God, drawn to worship, drawn to Jesus. They love the message of Salvation, the idea of having a community of believers, and the practical ways that the Bible is changing their lives, but they are secretly afraid of learning too much, seeing too much, engaging too much, of finding out what Christianity is really all about.
Then a terrifying thought hits their brain: “You’re being lied to. You’re being manipulated. This church says that they’re not a cult, but that’s what all cults say isn’t it? It’s when you get into the inner circle that things start to get scary and oppressive.”
So they come to church on edge, waiting for confirmation of this little voice in their head. They start to watch the news with new eyes, seeing how much damage religion is doing around the world, and the horrible things people have done in the name of Christ. They start to remember personal stories of difficult times when they went to church as a kid, or stories their family has told, and remember that there was a lot of hurt there. Now when they attend it feels different. Now the people seem a little stranger, less trustworthy, and all the messages seem to be about judging and hating others, giving more money, and unquestioning submission to some human authority.
They usually come for a while, hoping all this isn’t true, but then, without fail, someone says or does something to confirm everything they’re thinking. A pastor commits adultery, a youth worker abuses a child, a trustee is caught stealing, a small group leader starts a fight. And their fears are confirmed so they leave angry, sad, frustrated, feeling stupid and used, vowing never to get fooled again.
They still have a hunger for God in their heart, but they keep that all to themselves now. They stay home, read the bible themselves, or start to experiment with other religions.
This story has been played out over and over in the church. Perhaps you know someone who has gone through it, or perhaps you secretly thinking some of this yourself.
So what do we do at times like this? It is my belief that everything I just described is a direct Satanic attack on the souls of people seeking God and who believe in Him. He’s a liar, a master deceiver, a manipulator who has been playing this game for a long time. So what is the solution to these sorts of lies? What are we to do when we come across a difficult passage like this that stirs up so much inside us? The only way to defeat a lie is with the truth, and so instead of avoiding these passages, we have to dig into them. We need to confront our biases and our fears and be willing to allow God’s Word to tell us what He is really saying.
So I want to do that today. I want to give us four questions to ask when it comes to these types of difficult passages so we can have a deeper faith, more trust in God, and a stronger witness to the unbelieving world.
Does this Sound like the Biblical God?
The first question I want you to ask yourself is “Does my interpretation of this passage sounds like what Jesus preached and what the rest of the Bible teaches?”
Let’s read it again,
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
What does that sound like to your modern ears? Based on your personal history and worldview, what does that sound like? It sounds like the Apostle Paul is telling all women everywhere to keep their mouth shut when they come to church, right? He cites God Law as his authority and in verses 37, which we didn’t read, he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” It sounds like he’s saying, “God says women in all churches for all time need to shut up. Jesus says a woman asking questions is terrible.”
Sounds close, right? But is it? Does that interpretation line up with what the rest of the Bible says? Not even close. What does the Bible say? It says God created woman as the other half of His image, a compliment and gift to man, different in many ways, but equal in dignity, worth, purpose (Gen 2). It was sin that turned men against women making them use their physical strength to oppress, subjugate and enslave them.
When God gave Israel His Law, they had come from a world full of violence, superstition, oppression, and evil. His people were to be different so He broke them away from the norm and gave them a higher set of standards that elevated the status of women and children, giving them rights and protections under the Law they never had before.
And it gets better. In the New Testament. Jesus treated women and children with so much more respect and care than the culture ever did. He didn’t see women as sexual objects, or judge them by their beauty, age, marital status or anything else. He simply saw them as genuine persons worthy of love and respect. He met with them, protected them, listened to them, taught them, and cared for them as no one else would, and then taught his followers to do the same.
I want to play a clip from a man named Todd Friel who is the host of Wretched TV and Radio. He talks a little funny, but he’s a good, Christian guy and I think this clip helps us understand something important about the Christian view of women.
I could do a whole sermon on the biblical view of women, but that’s not the point today. Does the Bible teach that men should oppress women? No. Now, does it teach that women should shut up in church?
Well, in the same letter in chapter 11 it says that women are allowed to pray and prophecy in the church. It says, “…but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” I won’t get back into the issue of head-coverings, but notice that there were women praying and prophesying in church. In the Old Testament we have women like Meriam and Deborah leading worship and speaking publically to the people. Psalm 68:11 (NET) says, “The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news…” In the New Testament we see the Prophetess Anna speaking at the temple (Luke 2:36-38), Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), and the Apostle Peter saying at Pentecost, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dream…” (Acts 2:17).
Clearly, from scripture, we can say that women have the same spiritual availability to not only teach, prophecy, and share God’s Word but were doing it in the Christian church right from its inception.
So if Jesus elevated the status of women, and the church has been a champion of women’s rights, and so many other places in scripture say women can speak in church, what’s going on here?
What’s the Historical Context?
That’s the second question: “What’s the historical context?”
Notice that he’s not just telling women to change their behavior, but everyone! He tells those coming to church and eating all the food to stop it (let’s be honest, that’s probably the men). He tells those who are getting drunk at church to stop it. He tells those who are flipping out like they did at the pagan temples to stop it. He tells everyone who is being noisy and disorderly to stop it. He tells those who are yelling and singing over each other to stop it. He tells the tongues speakers to limit themselves. He tells the prophets and preachers to take turns. That’s men and women.
He’s like the referees at a hockey game where a brawl has broken out. He’s blowing his whistle, separating fighters, sending some folks to the bench and others to the locker room. He’s restoring order.
And another issue he’s dealing with is that there were a specific group of women who were disrupting the church services with questions. Whether it was because they didn’t understand what was going on and wanted to learn, or they were arguing with the points the teachers were making, or something else, these women were causing trouble in the church.
We’ve talked a lot about context over the past while so I won’t bore you with a repeat, but there are two things I want you to remember: the situation with the headdresses and the problem of disorderly worship.
Remember how messed up and chaotic the church services in Corinth were. Everyone in the church was doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as loudly as they wanted, right? Remember the context of 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul is talking about what it means to be orderly in church. That’s a really important part of what’s going here. Paul’s not singling out women, but listing a whole bunch of things that are going wrong in their church services. One of those things, among many, was this group of women.
It’s likely the same group of women who were being addressed in the head coverings controversy. Remember when we talked about them we saw that there were some women that were coming to church and were not only causing disturbances but were embarrassing their husbands by they causing scenes, flaunting their sexuality and independence, and were being a bad witness to the church and the rest of society. In that lesson, we talked about how one of the big issues was that these women were disobeying God by refusing to submit to the biblical teachings of complementarianism and male headship (again, something I’m not going to repeat here). That’s very, very similar to what’s going on here.
It’s not that these women weren’t allowed to pray, prophecy, speak in tongues, worship, or serve – it was that they were part of the disorderly service problem and needed specific correction. They were asking so many questions that it was causing a ruckus (just like those speaking in tongues were). Sure, they were allowed to learn, but the worship service wasn’t the time to be interrupting with a bunch of questions.
Notice as well that this is addressed to wives. That’s what gives us a clue that this is connected to the headdress and male headship issue. It’s likely that these women weren’t just politely asking too many questions, but were actually making a scene, being out of control with their words, and reflecting badly on their husbands and families. So Paul gives them the same message as before – respect your husbands enough to show some self-control and bring your spiritual concerns to them privately first.
I wonder if this also speaks to the women who refuse to talk to their husbands about anything spiritual at all, but instead keep all those conversations for their Christian girlfriends, small groups, pastors, and Christian professionals. They have so little respect for their husband’s spirituality that they leave them completely out of the conversation. They have an issue in their heart and need counsel, a question about the Bible, need some wisdom or direction, or help with some other part of life, and don’t even talk to their husbands about it, but immediately go to their pastor, small group leader, or Christian friends. What does that say about how much they value and respect their husbands opinions? That it has zero value. That’s hurtful to the marriage disrespectful to the husband. Wives, talk to your husbands first about what’s going on in your heart. Don’t leave him out of the mix.
The first question is, “Does my interpretation of this passage line up with what the rest of the Bible teaches?” and the second question is “What is the greater historical context of this difficult passage?” . So, the third and fourth questions are simply, “What does this passage mean?” and “Will I submit myself to it?”
So, what does this passage mean? It means that the Bible elevates women, not degrades them. They have equal access to God’s Holy Spirit and are invited to learn and participate in church worship services just like men, and are under the same rules to keep it orderly. But, it also means that there is a lesson there about self-control and humbly submitting to how God wants to do things. It means that you don’t get to say whatever you want to say whenever you want to say it. It means practicing patience and submission to authority. It means respecting your husband enough to include him your spiritual walk, asking his thoughts, listening to his answers, even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don’t feel like he’s up to it.
In the end, once we study this passage, and strip away our own bias, what we see here are some verses about the godly attitudes of humility and respect? Humility and respect toward God and His rules for how we live our life. Humility and respect for your church family, placing their desires above your own. And humility and toward your husband, and that’s something that, I think, everyone can understand and agree on.
I encourage you to be introspective this week about this. Have you let Jesus take control of your tongue, your pride, and the openness between you and your spouse in your marriage? Are you practicing humility and respect in these areas?
Part two of our Word Study episode. Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about some free tools for doing Bible Word Studies.
Tools We Discussed
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
3. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about the pleasures and perils of Bible Word Studies.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
What’s the deal with all the Bible Translations out there? Why so many? Which one is correct? Does it matter?
Resources We Shared:
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay bills.
5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)
Welcome to the first week of our series on 1st Corinthians! I’ve been really excited to start this series for two reasons. First, I really enjoy teaching books of the bible, and second, because I believe that the content of this series is going to be not only extremely interesting, but also very helpful.
As we go through this book and study its context and background you are going to see a lot of echoes of the present. Some people accuse the Bible of being an old, complicated, out of touch book for super-religious people and theologians locked in monastic towers, unable to speak to the issues and trials of modern life — but that’s an impossible conclusion to come to when we take the time to read and study it. And that truth is exemplified in 1st Corinthians.
The society that the church in Corinth was living in and the issues it was facing are the same issues we face today. The world in which they lived in is eerily similar to our world today. Sometimes, as a preacher, I have to dig a little deeper to find the application for our life today – but that won’t be the case for 1st Corinthians. It’s blatantly obvious in every chapter.
But before we get into our study of the book itself, it’s really important that we get some context.
The Apostle Paul
The first think you need to know about 1st Corinthians is that it is a letter written from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth around 55 AD, about 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and 20 years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity. Here’s a quick bio on the author:
Paul, who was also known as Saul of Tarsus, was a Jewish man born in the city of Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman Province of Cilicia. He was a Jewish man, but he had Roman citizenship, which explains why he went by two names (Acts 22:3). He was born as the Hebrew Saul (SHAAL) and then later when he became a missionary to the gentiles, he dropped the Jewish name and went by his Roman name PAULUS.
Saul had the best of both worlds education-wise. His parents allowed him to be trained in the Greek education system, but at home he was also taught the importance of his Jewish heritage and the Torah. He was even taught how to work with his hands, sewing animal skins together to make tents. He describes himself in Philippians 3:5-6 as “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
At some point in Saul’s life he had embraced his Jewish heritage and found that he had a deep love for the Law of Moses, and found his way into being trained as a Pharisee – the keepers of the Law. Saul quickly rose to the top of the class and was taken for training under the very well respected teacher, Gamaliel – the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel, one of the most important scholars in Jewish history. He is closely associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud – the foundational commentaries on Jewish Law and History. These werethe guiding documents for the Pharisees, a group dedicated to obedience not only to the Law of Moses, but also the Oral Laws and commentaries written in the Mishnah and Talmud. The Pharisees were the most trained, most hard-core religious people in the Jewish world – and young Saul was thriving under their training, setting himself apart as a man of extremely zealous passion for keeping God’s Word.
When Jesus was being born in Bethlehem, Saul wasn’t even a glimmer in his father’s eye yet, and was about 25 years old when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus would have been teaching in Galilee while Saul was growing up and being trained by Gamaliel and the school for Pharisees in Jerusalem.
With all the confrontations that Jesus had with the Pharisees, especially during Passion Week, there is no doubt that Saul knew about Jesus’ teaching – and had learned to hate Him as much as the rest of the Pharisees did. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Saul was in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus was, possibly even in attendance with the Sanhedrin crowd that condemned Him to death.
As the Christian church started to grow after the resurrection of Jesus, Saul’s hatred of the church was growing as well. The leaders of this break-away group, called the Apostles, were following in the footsteps of their leader and stirring up all kinds of trouble, winning converts away from the Pharisees and teaching that this Galilean carpenter from Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah, the Christ! Saul, an expert in the Law and Prophets, a Pharisee of Pharisees, hated these people who called themselves “The Way”. There was only one way, his way!
Paul the Hunter of Christians
The first introduction we get to the young man Saul comes in Acts 7 at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. After Stephen had spoken about Jesus and accused this group of being stubborn and blind to the truth, it says in verse 54,
“Now when they [The Pharisees and the rest of the Sanhedrin] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
The stoning of Stephen was the dam-bursting event that allowed all the pent-up hatred against Christians to finally be let loose. It was open season on the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the man they wanted in charge of rounding them up for imprisonment, trial and death was Saul, their brightest, most popular, and most zealous member.
Saul spent about a year actively hunting, imprisoning, condemning and probably even killing Christians. He also expanded his hunt far beyond the city of Jerusalem. We read the next chapter of Saul’s story in Acts 9:1-6, and find Saul travelling hundreds of kilometers in his pursuit of the followers of Jesus:
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”
In that single moment Jesus sends Saul’s whole world crashing down around him. Jesus literally stops Saul in his tracks and confronts him with his hatred, pride and sins. Saul gets up, blinded, and spends three days without eating or drinking, trying to absorb this new reality.
Then God sends a Christian named Ananias to help him, teach him, heal his blindness, bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to baptize him into the Christin faith. Ananias calls him “Brother Saul” and gently ushers him into this new world of faith in Jesus Christ.
After that meeting Saul spent some time telling the Jews in the synagogues of Damascus what had happened to him, but wasn’t well received by anyone. He left Damascus and spent a few years in solitude, away from the Pharisees, away from Christians, away from everyone, wandering Arabia in an extended time of reflection, prayer, study, and meditation on all that had happened. He was forced to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Christians he had been hunting, and it took a long while. He needed to humble himself before Jesus, ask forgiveness and do some learning. He was no longer the darling of Jerusalem, the biggest man on campus, but simply a new follower of Jesus Christ, the one who saved him even though he had been the greatest enemy of His followers.
Fast-forward the story a little: After his time away Saul went to Jerusalem to talk to the Apostles and tell them that Jesus had chosen him to be an apostle too. The apostles were wary at first, but willing to listen. The Jews, however, were angry that their greatest weapon had turned on them and tried to kill Saul.
The Apostles decided send him back to Tarsus to lay low for a while. He stayed in Tarsus teaching about Jesus for about 10 years before the apostles sent Barnabas came and got him so they could work together on a mission trip to spread the gospel to new places while collecting funds to help people during a time of great famine.
Saul’s time with Barnabas would set the pattern for the rest of his life. His whole world had been changed by meeting Jesus Christ and He wanted everyone in the world to know about it. His Christian life would be lived on the road as a missionary to the gentiles. Yes, he still loved the Jews, and spent time telling them about Jesus too, but his upbringing, education, training, and passions made him a perfect missionary to non-Jewish people.
His first missionary journey would take three years, from 46-49 AD. His second missionary journey would take two years, from 50-52 AD. It was on this second journey that Saul, who was now going by Paul, would visit Corinth for the first time and stay for 1 and a half years.
These missions cost Paul much. His love for Jesus, the Gospel and His church gave Paul much heartache as he watched partners desert him and the churches he planted get attacked and fall into believing lies about him and Jesus. It took a toll on his body as well as he faced beatings, imprisonment, stoning, lashes, shipwrecks, starvation, and more. But nothing would stop him from telling everyone he could about the love and forgiveness he’d found in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
It was during his third journey, as he was staying in Ephesus for two years, that he wrote his letters to the Corinthians after receiving some news about their troubles.
The City of Corinth
Ok, so that’s some backstory for the man who wrote the letter, now let’s work on a little of the backstory for the city of Corinth. I told you before that the world the church in Corinth was living in and the issues it was facing are very similar to the issues we face today; let me explain what I mean.
To live in the city of Corinth was to live in the coolest city in the world. This was the newest, trendiest, most modern, exciting and wealthiest town around. It had been destroyed a couple hundred years before, but was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46BC and quickly regained its prominence. By 27 BC (only 80 years before Paul got there) it had been named the capital of the province and by the first century had cemented its place as the most influential commercial centre, and an important manufacturing centre in Greece.
Their success came from their location. The city was a harbour town, located on a little strip of land that connected mainland Greece and Achaia. The weather often made it too dangerous to go around the whole of the rest of the land, so the Corinthians had a system where they would place ships on large wooden platforms and drag them across a stone road to drop them on the other side. Today they’ve simplified the process by digging a huge canal.
Corinth was a brand new (or rather refurbished) city with lots of money, people and things to do. Scholars estimate that the population of Corinth during the time of the apostles was somewhere between 500,000-700,000 people including Roman citizens, Greeks, foreigners and slaves. People would come from all around the world to witness the Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympics in their prominence.
When you think of Corinth, think of a twenty-first century “inner city” like downtown Toronto; an overcrowded, ethnically diverse, materialistic, urban concentration of people, bursting with upper-class professionals and down-and-out street dwellers. And just like our inner cities today, it was full of opportunities to sin.
Unlike today, however, all their activities were masked it all with a veneer of religion. Corinth had as many temples and places of worship as downtown Toronto has Tim Hortons’! There was a god and a temple for everyone. As a strong commercial centre they drew people from everywhere. You could worship the gods of Egypt, Rome, and Greece all at once – or even head to the Jewish Synagogue.
Corinth was a religious, hedonistic, self-indulgent, decedent city, full to the brim with people, money, commercialism and moral decadence, but they had one overriding obsession: sex. It was such a part of the culture that Plato used the term “Corinthian girl” as shorthand to refer to prostitution and the rest of the ancient world would describe sex-obsessed, promiscuous people as “living like Corinthians”.
One place that everybody went (except the Jews of course) was one of the most famous temples in the ancient world: the Temple of Aphrodite, which stood high near the rim of the mountains so everyone could see it from the harbour. Whether you lived there, was a visiting tourist, or simply a sailor waiting for his ship to make the journey across the road, everyone – regardless of their personal, religious convictions worshipped at the Temple of Aphrodite.
When you think of Corinth, think of it as all the worst parts of the internet coming to life – and the Temple of Aphrodite was pornography central. This cult was dedicated to the glorification of sex. Some scholars believe they had as many as thousand girls kept there as consecrated priestesses, or sacred sex workers, who would come in great, ritualistic processions, dressed in fine clothes and crowns on their heads, to excite the crowds of men so they could make their choice, throw money into the collection or not, and take the temple priestess to have sex as an act of worship to the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and fertility, Aphrodite. Some scholars believe that it was law in the land that every woman who lived in the city had to take their turn as priestesses in the temple, whether they wanted to or not. (Herodotus)
In the centre of town, for the even more perverse, stood the Temple of Apollo which also glorified sex, but this time it wasn’t with women, but with men and boys. Corinth was a monument to immorality of every kind. Slavery, greed, the pursuit of power, paganism and sexual immorality drove the economy and lifestyle of all the lived there.
Another internet-like thing was the proliferation of teachings, opinions and pseudo-intellectual nonsense that streamed through town. Throughout Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we read about four things that the Corinthian church wanted more than anything: “Spirituality”, “Wisdom”, “Knowledge” and “Power”, and though Paul taught that all these things were found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, God wasn’t working fast enough – or in the way they wanted Him to – and they were falling into their old habits to find it.
The celebrated Greek philosophers and teachers that everyone in town flocked to listen to, called Sophists, told everyone in town that to obtain super-spirituality, and great wisdom, knowledge and power, what they must do is separate their mind from their body by seeking out the biggest, wildest, most ecstatic experiences that they could. The crazier they got, the greater the physical pain or pleasure, the more insane the experimentation, the wilder the experience, the closer they would be to the gods.
This was the mindset in Corinth when Paul came to town in 51 AD. (Acts 18)
Parallels of Today
Can you see any parallels to today? It’s not too hard is it? When Paul walked into Corinth 2000 years ago he may as well have been walking into any modern day city in North America. The society around us is just as obsessed with money, power, trendiness, and sexual experiences as they were then. And our church, and the church in North America, is faced with the same temptations as they were.
The Corinthians needed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were utterly lost in their sin and were desperate to hear what Paul was saying about a new way of salvation. We’ll cover the story next week, but while the Jews argued with Paul, the gentiles of the city flocked to hear the message of Jesus Christ. Their hearts were full of guilt and shame, and hearing about salvation through Jesus must have been like getting a breath of fresh air or a clean drink of water while living in a garbage dump.
But even though they readily embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that didn’t mean their troubles were over. They were still very new Christians and were constantly surrounded by opportunities to compromise their faith and morality. They were bombarded by temptations to try to be cool, to follow the latest trends, to seek out spiritual experiences, to give in to physical pleasures, and to live for themselves rather than others.
There were Jewish and pagan teachers who came into their church and made a lot of sense to them, but were trying to pull them away from faith in Jesus and into pagan or Jewish worship practices instead. They were told that they either needed to follow the Law of Moses completely, or that since they were saved by Jesus and that they were new, spiritual creatures, they could do whatever they want with their bodies. They’d either be forgiven or it didn’t matter to God anyway. This was extremely confusing and very tempting to them!
That’s where Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians comes in (1 Cor 1:1-2). This church that Paul had spent a year and a half planting and caring for was falling apart. As he was staying in Ephesus, he started to receive news that things were going badly. First came a delegation of men sent to bring Paul a list of questions and to talk him into coming to Corinth to fix things. Then came some people from a woman named Chloe’s house who came to tell him even more problems.
And all of these various thoughts, teachings and temptations were causing a huge division in the church. Some people wanted to go with what Paul had said, others wanted to listen to the new teachings, some wanted to go back to the Law of Moses, while others wanted to incorporate some of the things from the temples of Aphrodite and Apollos into the church. No one knew what was best anymore, everyone wanted their own way, and no one was getting along.
Paul was stuck in Ephesus, but to help in the meantime, he wrote some letters – four in fact. We don’t have the first or the third letter – they were lost, but we do have the second and fourth – we call them first and second Corinthians in our Bibles.
These letters are written to a confused church who wants to obey God and love each other, but are living in morally chaotic land full of voices that are telling them a thousand different things. They need some truth and so they write to their Apostle for answers.
So that’s the first part of the introduction to Corinthians and we’ll leave it there for this week. What I want you to do before we come back next week is to read 1st Corinthians all the way through. It’s only 16 chapters, so that’s only a little over two chapters per day. As you read, I want you to keep what we’ve talked about today in mind – Paul’s passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the context in which the Corinthian church was living.
You’ll notice as you read that Paul keeps coming back to that: the truth of the Gospel, the importance of living in the love of Jesus, and all the implications that has for our daily life.
Same Truth, Different Problems
Today, again, for the third week in a row, we are going to be talking about the need for Christians to study, understand and fight for the truth. When I decided to preach the shortest books in the New Testament back to back, I didn’t realize how pervasive this theme would be during this series — though I probably should have considering it‘s a mega theme in scripture. It’s been interesting to see how, even at the beginning of the church, within only 30-40 years after Jesus left the Apostles, that false teachers had made their way into the church.
One would think that while the Apostles were alive that it would have been impossible to mess with the Gospel of Jesus, the understanding of how people are saved, who Jesus really is… all those big, important questions, and yet throughout their ministries the leaders in the church had to spend a lot of time teaching, contending, fighting and explaining the truth of Jesus to people. It’s not just today that people have a hard time understanding what the Bible says about Jesus. It’s not just today that people are making up things about Him. It’s not just today that false teachers are traveling from place to place, misusing the name of Jesus and promoting a false gospel so they can manipulate people for profit. Paul, Peter, James, Jude and the rest of the church leadership had to deal with this too.
Another thing that has been interesting are the differences we‘ve seen in these letters. They have similar themes, but important differences too. 2nd John warned us to watch out for the false teachers who aren’t part of our local body, but travel place to place spreading their poisonous teachings to many different churches. Then 3rd John warned us to watch out for the false teachers who rise to leadership positions local churches, but disqualify themselves by their ungodly lifestyles. And now, as we study the book of Jude, we see another warning. In today’s letter, Jude is going to talk about false teachers who are not public figures, not local leaders, but part of the congregation. Agents of Satan, who purposefully sneak into churches unnoticed so they can spread their toxic teaching from the shadows. Each one of these false teachers is deadly, but they all work in different ways.
Sickness and False Teachers
These different kinds of attacks on the truth remind me of different kinds of illnesses that attack our human body.
I see the travelling false teachers are kind of like having a fractured bone. Their presence isn’t as noticeable as a broken bone, but quite obvious for those who know what they’re looking for. The person limps around in pain, but can still hobble along. So they go to the doctor who sticks their foot in an x-ray machine to look inside and it’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong. They have a fractured bone.
It’s the same with these travelling false teachers. If we look a little more deeply at what they are saying, examine them using good tools, and they stick out pretty easy. It’s just that most people don’t bother to look too deeply, which is why they get away with it.
Having a corrupt local teacher or elder is more like getting cancer. It’s slow. It takes a while to grow big enough to become noticeable. It starts as a headache, a stomach ache, weight loss or fatigue. You say things like, “I think I’m getting the flu, or maybe I’m just tired, or maybe it’s my diet.” because you’re not totally sure what’s going on… but you know something’s not right. Eventually you get sick enough to go to the doctor and they start to do their tests. At first they can’t really figure it out, but after more and more searching, they come to the conclusion that, yep, things are really wrong with your body: it’s cancer.
A local false teacher is like that. They seem ok for a while after they take their position, but then things start to get weird. People are fighting more, divisions are happening between people that normally got along, volunteers are quitting, there’s more gossip floating around, meetings become more difficult, the elders deal with more and more distractions, and people start to leave. It’s hard to put your finger on it, because the symptoms are subtle, but you know something’s wrong.
By God’s grace that person finally sticks out, or someone with discernment comes in and points them out, but the trouble is the damage they’ve done at that point. A healthy church will do biblical church discipline and deal with the cancer, but sometimes churches don’t and the damage continues.
Now, the people Jude talks about, corrupting influence from within the congregation, are even more sneaky. Finding them is more like diagnosing Dementia or Migraines or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You don’t know it’s happening, how long it will last, how to deal with it, what to take, what to blame, and no one seems to know how to fix it. It’s just there and it sucks.
That’s what these people are to the church. They sneak in, make friends, volunteer, show up, and seem like generally nice folks. They are so subtle in their destructive work that it’s almost unnoticeable. They don’t rise to positions of authority because that would mean having to go through a process that exposes their agenda. They just sit in the background, making the body sicker and sicker. Their presence becomes normal. The church isn’t healthy, but no one can put a finger on why.
The analogy breaks down because there is something we can do about it. The Bible gives some very clear instructions about making sure that we keep our eyes open for these kinds of people, that our spirits are soft towards the Holy Spirit, because, unlike the causes of a Migraine, these people can be found out and dealt with. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Let’s read Jude together:
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude ESV)
Who Was Jude?
The author of this letter identifies himself as Jude, another form of the Hebrew name Judah. Jude was another son of Mary and Joseph, and the brother of Jesus. He calls himself a “brother of James”, but a “servant of Jesus”, recognizing that his oldest brother wasn’t a special teacher, but was, in fact, the Son of God. This was a big step for him considering that at one point during Jesus’ earthly ministry His family considered Jesus to be crazy. Jude went from thinking His brother was crazy, to worshipping Him as Lord and Saviour, Creator of the universe. That’s a big step. He’s the “brother of James”, but the “servant”, or “bondservant” or “slave of Jesus Christ.”
That probably explains some of the passion we find in this letter. Jude had to work through a lot of things in his mind to get to that point, but once He did, He was rock solid. He helped those who believed in Jesus Christ to understand the truth about it, suffered under persecution for it, traveled for miles to plant churches dedicated to worshipping, serving and teaching about Jesus.
But now he’s getting reports back from some of these churches that they are no longer teaching the truth about Jesus. Their faith and practice are being contaminated in many ways. It’s theorized that Peter had read this letter from Jude when he wrote 2nd Peter because He deals with the same issues as Jude does — corrupting influences who have snuck into the church — which tells me that these guys were working hard against this wide-spread problem.
So who is Jude sending this letter to? This letter doesn’t have a specific address, but was meant to be circulated among the churches. It was like an e-mail that gets Ccd to the whole company. He wanted everyone to read this, because he had some extremely important things to say about these corrupting influences to everyone, because this problem is so widespread.
I find it very interesting that Jude writes this letter with language specifically for a church full of people who have a really good grasp of theology and the Bible. He is writing to people who now their stuff — and yet haven’t had the wisdom to be able to discover the people that are destroying them from within. I find that very ironic.
This was a church that knew their stuff. He used biblical and extra-biblical examples (meaning outside the canon of scripture), not even pausing to explain some of them because it would have been obvious. The church would either know the stories and the warnings right away, or they would have knowledgeable teachers who could explain it to everyone.
Look at verses 3-5. He seems disappointed and exasperated. It’s like he was saying, “C’mon you guys! You know this! I wanted to write to you a nice happy note about our shared salvation and how great it is to be saved by Jesus — but now I‘m worried that we don‘t even have that in common anymore. Now I have to write a totally different note urging you to turn back to the true Gospel!”
He feels this way because the core of the Gospel was being corrupted and there were two main problems. The first problem we can see in verses 3, 4 and 5. In verse 3 we read “Although I was very eager to right to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith…” In verse 4 we see that the “ungodly people“ are denying “our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ“. And in verse 5 we read, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people…”.
This church had forgotten something important about Jesus. Their Christology, their understanding of Jesus, who He was and how He saves us was getting messed up. That’s the first indictment against these guys, that they were messing with the story of salvation, telling people that there were either other ways to be saved, or that they needed to do more things than believe in Jesus to be saved.
But it wasn’t t not only that — as if that wasn’t bad enough — these sneaky snakes were causing another, big problem. This issue didn’t stop at beliefs, but affected people’s behaviour. What you believe about Jesus will invariably come out in your lifestyle. In verse 4 Jude says these people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.”
It’s going to take more than one week to address these two issues, so I just want to introduce them this week.
How to Corrupt a Church in Four Easy Steps
Once the story of salvation is messed up, it’s not that hard to convince people that they can lead whatever lifestyle they want. Once you can corrupt a person’s theology, you can corrupt their life. How? Look at verse 8. After laying down some serious warnings about what happens to people who deny Jesus as Saviour, Jude says,
“Yet, in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.”
There’s your recipe for how to corrupt a church from the inside, and it’s what Jude is going to talk about for the whole letter. So to close today, I’m going to give you a step by step how-to for corrupting a church from the inside. Remember, we’re not talking about what’s coming from the pulpit, from the Sunday School teachers, the elders or the deacons. I’m talking about influences from people that attend the church, the congregation.
Step One: Get people to “rely on their dreams”.
Put differently, get people to put down their Bibles and start following subjective experiences instead. Get them to rely on personal visions, gut feelings, and dream interpretations. Then when someone argues with you, even from scripture, all you have to do is say, “I’ve received a new revelation from God” or “My spirit is telling me differently.”
Dream interpretation is a highly difficult and speculative thing. It’s not that it’s impossible for God to speak in dreams and impressions upon our spirit — He’s done so in the past — so these people rely on that to be their trump card, which they play all the time to great effect on some people.
- Should I cheat on my spouse or get divorced? Well, my gut-feeling says I should, and I just had a dream where I cheated and was pretty happy.
- Should I go into missions, or tithe, or serve, or visit, or… a million other things? Well, my feelings are mixed about that, and I haven’t really heard directly from God about it. I’ll keep praying until my feelings tell me what to do.
- Should I confess my sin to my friend, spouse, pastor? Well, I’m pretty uncomfortable about it, so I’ll wait for a sign from God before I do that.
- Hey, I woke up at 7:37 this morning! That must be a sign that I’m supposed to go on a missions trip.
- I saw this person three times in a week, that must mean I need to talk to them.
- I just feel that there is no way that the God I know would ever send anyone to hell. I know that He’s good and He love everyone, and I love everyone, and everyone should love everyone — so that means there’s no hell. And anyone who says differently is wrong because I feel it so strongly that it must be God who is telling me.
- I went into the church and there was foul smell, and then I saw a bat fly around and out the door. That must mean that we have demons in our church. Time to light incense and walk in a circle twelve times one way and seven times the other way while reciting the “Footprints in the Sand” poem over and over. That’s what I feel we need to do at our church.
Following our feelings, and trying to live out our Christian faith by subjective experience is very, very dangerous. God has given us His revealed word for a reason, and it covers all the ground we need to cover when it comes to what we are supposed to be doing.
Step Two: Encourage people to “defile the flesh”.
Put another way: convince people that being a Christian is about what happens in our hearts. It’s about a private relationship with God. It doesn’t have anything to do with how we live our lives. Or even better, convince them that since they are saved they don’t have to worry about their sin anymore. They can do whatever they want because God will forgive them over and over and over. They’ve already got their ticket to heaven, and they can’t lose it, so that means that they can live however they want! The can have their cake and eat it too.
It sounds terrible when you say “defile the flesh”, but what if we say it, “live in Christian liberty”? What if we say, God doesn’t think that porn is a big deal as long as you’re working on it? Or, God doesn’t care about same-sex marriage as long as we’re making sure they know we love them. Or, God is more concerned about your spiritual life than what you eat and drink and smoke and who you sleep with? Or, God doesn’t care if you cheat on your spouse because He’ll always forgive you? God doesn’t care about what you do when you’re by yourself?
If you want to corrupt the church, then first, get them to stop reading the Bible and second, teach them that their feelings — especially their strong sexual urges — are God given and natural, and therefore need to be expressed. Call anyone who disagrees judgmental, and then tell them that you have a new interpretation of scripture after having a dream. After all, God was the One who gave you those urges, right? Then everything you do with them must be ok.
That’s dangerous thinking, but it pervades our culture right now, doesn’t it? Sexual sin (in all its forms) is the norm for most men, and more and more women. And more and more churches are acquiescing to their congregations desire to be told it’s ok. “If you don’t go along with us, then we’ll just get a new teacher, new pastor, new denomination, that tells us we can do that.” That leads us to the next step.
Step Three: Get them to “reject authority“.
Once you have them listening to feelings and dreams instead of the Bible, and trapped in sexual sin, some people in authority might come in to try to put things back in order. Don’t let that happen.
For a long time churches had denominational leaders, bishops, and presbyters that had the authority to come into local churches when things started to go sideways. Even Baptist churches, known for their independence and congregationalist mindset were wise enough to set up associations with wise, seasoned regional representatives that would support the pastors and churches, and could be called upon to come in during times of crisis.
Today, that system is falling apart. New churches are being planted by men and women who don’t believe in structural accountability. Congregations are leaving their longstanding denominations left and right. They reject anyone who wants to tell them differently than they think. They arrogantly disregard any form of governance that tries to point them back to scripture or hold them accountable to their creeds, confessions and historical beliefs.
Not only do they deny the Lordship of the Lord Jesus and the authority of scripture, but they won’t allow anyone to come in — no matter how wise, experienced, or loving that person is. They don’t want to hear it.
I’ve experience this first hand, and I know a lot of other pastors that have to. They watch corrupting influences steer the church away from scripture, away from the gospel, and towards destruction, but it’s not an elder or a deacon — though sometimes that happens — it’s someone in the congregation who has come from a different church and has started to spread their poison.
The pastor tries to preach, but it doesn’t work. The Elders try to talk to them, but they won’t even come to a meeting. The Leadership Team gets together to talk it over, but what can they do? This person isn’t even a member. So they try to appeal to a higher authority — the bishop, the regional minister — but when they come in, the congregation doesn’t want to listen. They won’t hear it. How dare an outsider try to tell them what’s best for their church. How dare someone come in and try to tell them how they are supposed to worship God and read the Bible.
And so they get rid of the authorities above them. First they kick out the pastor because clearly they don’t know how to handle this situation. Then they re-elect new elders and deacons because the other ones supported the pastor and the denomination. Then the new pastor and leadership team decides that they should leave their old denomination and associations and go on their own.
One of them stands up and gives a passionate plea about a dream they have, about the feelings that have been hurt, and how the leadership team all agrees that they don’t want to be in a denomination full of churches that hate people. We‘re all about love after all. And the church splits, many leave, and the congregation goes it alone.
I’ve seen and read about this over and over and over. And it’s generated first by people in the congregation, not by corrupt pastors or traveling teachers. Which leads us to step four.
Step Four: Get the church to “blaspheme the glorious ones”.
There are some different interpretations on this passage.
Some think it means that they blaspheme, or mock, the good messengers of God, everyone from good teachers to God’s angels, thinking that they are wiser and more knowledgeable than all of them. They don’t just kick out the deacons, elders, pastors and denominational leaders — they mock them. They sit back and laugh at all the fools who, for generations, believed one way — until they came along and figured out the best way. How foolish those simple, backward, old-school people were.They do what the Pharisees did and attribute the work of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of Christ as the work of the Devil. They demonize and attack the good churches and Gospel teachers, and encourage and support the bad ones.
Some think it means that they laugh in the face of Satan, believing that they are untouchable by any evil influence. They’re so holy, so right, so totally on God’s team that no evil force can touch them. Like Romans 1 says, they are so deceived that they believe that their evil is good. They completely misunderstand and underestimate the power of demonic temptation and never consider for even a second that they might be wrong.
Others think that this means that they show a total disrespect for the angels that are said to come during the time of the judgment at the end of the world. They are only worried about what happens today, how they feel today, what today’s interpretation is, what their body wants right now, and they have no thought to their future judgment.
I don’t think we have to necessarily choose any of these three interpretations because they all point to the same end. The church becomes so backward, so full of false teaching, that black is white, up is down, good is evil, evil is good, and demons are angels.
Congratulations, You’ve Corrupted a Church
If you follow these steps, then congratulations, you’ve corrupted a church. And the best part is that they’ll thank you for it! They’ll tell you how much more loved they feel, how much more free they are, how great it is to finally be accepted, how open their arms are, how there are no more arguments, and how much better they are than all the other churches. You’ll be their hero!
That’s why Jude wrote this letter. He was watching a church go down this slide. They’d already forgotten about Jesus, had lost their way theologically, and were on the way towards full-fledged heresy and damnation. And that broke his heart.
For the rest of the letter he begs them to fight for the truth. He warns them about God’s wrath against false teachers and sinners. He pronounces woes. He calls them names. He calls them dirty. He preaches scripture. He shouts to the faithful that are left to stand up and not be silent. And He calls upon God to work a miracle in this church so they can be spared.
I ask you to ask yourself some hard questions today:
- How seriously do you take the spiritual health of your church?
- How seriously do you take your personal faith and theology?
- How seriously do you take those who tell you to compromise in your battle with sin?
- How seriously do you take the truth about the Gospel Jesus?
This isn’t about opinions and options and side-issues. This is about the core of our beliefs. It’s about eternal life and hell. We need to take this seriously.