Bible Study

Let’s Do a Word Study! (Carnivore Theology Ep. 101B)

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101B - Word Studies

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.

Podcast Audio:

Tools We Discussed

https://www.blueletterbible.org/

https://www.esv.org/

http://www.openbible.info/topics/

https://www.biblegateway.com/

https://www.logos.com/

https://www.bibleworks.com/

https://www.accordancebible.com/

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

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2. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!) Or send a question or comment through FacebookTwitter, or E-mail!

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

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42 - God's Established Order

Audio:

Text:

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

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

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

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

We Need God’s Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Authority

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

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

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

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

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

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

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

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

Text and Context

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

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

Apostolic Authority

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

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

The Trinity

Verse 3 has the next root: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The second root of this teaching is in the Trinity or the Godhead. The line of authority, what Christians usually call “God’s established order” or “God’s hierarchy”.

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

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

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

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

Creation/Creator

The third root is the authority of God as Creator. Look at verse 8, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

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

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

Biology

A fourth root we see is in verses 11:12, which roots the teaching in biology. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” This root has its own root! The phrase “in the Lord” means, “by God’s directed order” or “as God has willed it”, both man and women are biologically dependant on each other. Despite what progressives would argue, it is written into the order of the universe that male and female are important distinctions. God ordered that the continuation of the species depends on males and females working together to make more babies. Whatever this teaching is, it’s rooted in God’s design for natural, human biology, not human constructs. Will you submit, “in the Lord” to how God has designed human biology to work?

Common Church Practice

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Bible Word Studies: The Pleasure and Peril (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 101A)

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101A - Word Studies.JPG

Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about the pleasures and perils of Bible Word Studies.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

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2. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store!

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!) Or send a question or comment through FacebookTwitter, or E-mail!

4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.

5. Subscribe to and rate us on iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use one of these FeedBurner links)

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Why There Are So Many Different Bibles (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 96)

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26 - What's the Deal with Bible Translations

What’s the deal with all the Bible Translations out there? Why so many? Which one is correct? Does it matter?

Podcast Audio:

Resources We Shared:

Understanding English Bible Translation by Leland Ryken

Blue Letter Bible

Bible Gateway

Life Church YouVersion Bible App

Tim Challies: Translating Translations

Tim Challies: 7 Great Study Bibles

5 Minutes in Church History

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Subscribe to and rate us on iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use one of these FeedBurner links)

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!) Or send a question or comment through FacebookTwitter, or E-mail!

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!)

6. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com and our Media Kit with your friends and church. Sharing is caring!

 

The Context of 1st Corinthians

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1 - Introduction

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!

Paul’s Letter

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.

Challenge

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.

How To Corrupt a Church in Four Easy Steps (Jude: Summer Shorts Series)

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Summer Shorts Pic jude

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.

The Recipients

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!”

Two Problems

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.

Four Tools & “What Bible Should I Use?” for Spiritual Journaling

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5 God Speaks Today - The Tools - TITLE BANNER

Podcast Audio:

For the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the making the daily reading of the Bible a foundational part of building our relationship with God.

Last week we talked about two traps that we need to avoid before we start doing those. I said that since this is a relationship, there is no “right way” or “easy way” to do it. It’s going to be different and special for each of us as God meets us in unique ways – but it’s going to take work and practice and we will be blessed if we learn some methods from others about how to build this relationship. Then we can take those methods and adapt them to our own needs.

Today we are going to talk about one way of connecting with God, which is my way. I call it “Spiritual Journaling using Scripture as your Guide.” (It’s not a very catchy title, but it is accurate!) It isn’t unique or remarkable in any way since people have been doing it for generations, but it’s the way I’ve been doing it for a while now. It’s certainly not the only way to meet God, but it is something that has been working for me and I believe can work for others. Again, if you don’t know where to start, then feel free to copy what I do. But I also encourage you to learn from it, adapt it, and make it yours. Are you ready?

An Overview

Let me start with an overview of what it’s all about, and then we can get into the specifics.

You’ve no doubt heard of “journaling”. A lot of people keep a “journal” or a “diary”, which is by definition, “a daily record of news and events of a personal nature.” This is your classic “Dear Diary… today I did this, saw that, thought this and experienced this.”

Some people do this every night and give a breakdown of their days events. Others make a journal of special events, like their pregnancy or a special trip or vacation.

What I’m talking about is similar, but different. It’s not a journal, it’s a “Spiritual Journal.” In other words, it’s not merely a “daily record” of the events of your life, but a record of what is going on inside your soul. In this journal you are not talking to your diary, yourself, or even to your future self, but instead you are writing down your conversations with God.

It’s not a “prayer journal” either. A prayer journal works a lot like a letter you write to God where you start with a little reflection of how you feel, then write a prayer, and keep track of the answers that you receive. Those are great, but what I’m going to describe is different than that.

Each word that you write is part of a prayer, but it’s not a one way note. It’s a conversation between you and God, focusing on what is going on in your heart and in your life and then interacting with God as He talks to you using scripture. That’s why I call it “Spiritual Journaling using Scripture as your Guide”. This isn’t a free-flowing, off the top of your head, whatever you feel like saying, prayer – it’s a conversation. That’s the most important thing to remember, and the most powerful part of this method to me – that it’s not a one way talk, like so many of our prayers, but a conversation with God.

The Tools

I will explain more about what that means later, but first, I want to get intensely practical and talk about what you need in order to do this.

1. A Plan

New JournalThe first thing you’ll need is a plan for where and when you’ll do this. I’m not going to repeat last week’s sermon about making plans, but you do need to decide where and when you are going to be. For me, the “where” is at my desk and the “when” is “whenever I get to my desk.”

I don’t wake up in the morning and run straight to my desk, it just doesn’t work with my family. So I wake up, have breakfast the family and tea with my wife, and then I toddle downstairs to start my day. The first thing I do when I get there is set my keyboard aside, stick on my isolation headphones, turn on some classical music or jazz, and then get my journal and my Bible.

But there are some days where I have meeting in the morning, my family needs something, or I get interrupted. If that’s the case I come back to my desk later in the afternoon. I’ve tried to be religious about keeping an exact time, but it’s never worked for very long. For me, I’m most consistent when I say, “When I get to my desk, the first thing I will do is spend time with God and His Word. No e-mail, no Facebook, no work, no nothin’ until after my devos are done.”

You need to figure out where and when works for you.

2. A Pencil or Pen that Flows Well & a Highlighter

Second, you need a pencil or a pen that flows well and a highlighter.

I always, always write in pencil. I have a special pencil I use, which is an “F”, not an “HB”, and I manually sharpen it with a special sharpener. That allows me to write smaller and clearer than with a pen, make scratch notes in my bible (and erase them if I make a mistake). I find a pencil works better for me, but if you are a pen person, then go ahead. My encouragement is to be consistent with it, keep the same one, find one that flows and doesn’t distract you.

Get a nice highlighter, something bright – I recommend bright yellow – or a few colours if you have some kind of a system or just like pretty colours. Then when God speaks to you, you can make it stand out and write something down beside it so you remember what He said. This method is all about being able to interact with the scriptures and see your conversation with God

 

3. A Composition Book

The third thing you’ll need is what they call a “Composition Book”, commonly used by writers and students to take notes. You’ve seen these everywhere. They have a marbled cover with a blank label on the front. You can get them for only a dollar from the dollar store, but they do make more expensive ones with better binding.

The reason I highly recommend this style of journal is because it is a little smaller than an 8.5×11 sheet – so you don’t feel so daunted by all the white-space, but still has the right margins. What you are really looking for are the proper margins. I’ll explain why next week, but it’s the key to this whole system.

 4. A Bible

Fourth, you’ll need a Bible. The immediate question is “which one?” My immediate answer is “whichever one you want”, but let me answer a few questions to help you decide. This is where we’ll spend the majority of our time today because I think it’s important we all understand why there are different kinds Bibles and which one to choose.

What Translation?

There are around 50 English versions of the Bible available today, and each one has its fans and detractors, so question one is usually “What translation should I use?” As one website I read this week said, “The fact that there are so many English Bible translations is both a blessing and a problem. It is a blessing in that the Word of God is available to anyone who needs it in an easy-to-understand, accurate translation. It is a problem in that the different translations can create controversy and problems in Bible studies, teaching situations, etc. The differences between the translations can also be a subject of great division within the church body.”

I completely agree, so here are a few questions to ask when choosing which Bible to use. Now remember, you’re not doing a “Bible Study” where you need to compare various translations, get out your concordance and do word studies. You’re just looking for a good translation which you can enjoy reading and through which God can speak to you.

“Word for Word”, “Thought for Thought”, or “Paraphrase”?

Each has their own merit. Some people want a “word for word” translation like the (New) King James Bible, The English Standard Version, New American Standard, Revised Standard, or the Amplified Bible. These translations try their best to translate the Hebrew and Greek words into the closest corresponding English word possible. Consequently you have a more “accurate” translation, but it often uses uncommon words, is harder to understand, and doesn’t flow as nicely when reading.

Others prefer a “thought for thought” translation like the New International Version, New Living Translation, New Century Version, or the Holman Christian Standard Bible. These versions try to help the English reader understand what the words mean. They still shoot for technical accuracy in the words they use, but the translators take a few more liberties with interpretation because they use colloquial (every-day conversational) language and create sentences and paragraphs that are easier to understand.

Some people criticize these versions for not being “word for word” (and therefore accuse them of being “wrong”) but they aren’t meant to be. They have a different goal. The writing style flows much better, they are easier to read, make hard theological concepts easier to understand, and are more accessible to younger ages and people with reading disabilities.

The third type of translation called a “paraphrase”. These are special versions of the Bible that aren’t meant to be for study, but to bring a new and fresh perspective to what these verses mean. These are versions like The Message Bible, The Living Bible, The New International Readers Version, The Contemporary English Version, and The Good News Bible. These translations aren’t trying to be word for word accurate, but capture the spirit of the chapter or verse in a poetic or striking way that opens up the reader to grasp the big-picture of God’s Story.

These bibles are often given to children or new believers because they are the most like the popular reading that they are used to, and have a more simplistic or imaginative style.

Let me give you an example of these different translations:

Here’s Romans 3:23-25 from the English Standard Version, which is “Word for Word”:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

Here’s the exact same verses from the New Living Translation which is “Thought for Thought”. You’ll notice it’s a lot longer because the translators are trying to get express some big, theological concepts with everyday words:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past…”

Now, here’s the same passage from a Paraphrase called “The Message” written by Pastor and Author, Eugene Peterson. You’ll see it’s very different, but it still captures the same idea – only more poetically. In fact, the Message Bible doesn’t even use verses because the author is often overlapping concepts from one verse to another. Here’s what he says:

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured.”

So, when you’re choosing a Bible translation, choose one that you are comfortable reading, which meets your needs, and that you can enjoy. If you’re used to the KJV, you understand it, and it’s close to your heart, then go for it. For others, using the KJV would be a terrible idea because they wouldn’t understand it!

I would say this though. If you are looking to reconnect with God, or want to experience him speaking to you through His word in a new way, try reading a different translation of the Bible. If you are just starting to read the bible, and you have good reading skills, I recommend a “thought for thought” translation. If you are not used to reading, then choose the Contemporary English Version or the Good News Bible. You’ll learn lots and enjoy the read.

If you always use a “word for word”, then grab a “thought for thought” or “paraphrase” version which will help you read familiar verses in a new light. And in the same way, if your regular bible is a “thought for thought” version, then try a “word for word” version.

Choosing the right translation for your needs could be the spark you need to bring life and reconnect you to God’s word and help you have that spiritual conversation with him in your journal.

Study Bible, Devotional Bible or “Just the Text”?

There’s a lot to consider here, so let’s go through them.

ESV Study Bible

A Study Bible is a bible that has notes and cross-references surrounding the text that help you understand what’s happening in each verse, link you to other parts of the Bible, explain concepts, and often have illustrations to visualize what you are reading. They are meant to be used as an all-in-one help so you grow deeper in your understanding of scripture.  I think every Christian should have a good Study Bible, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for them to use during their Spiritual Journaling time.

A Devotional Bible usually doesn’t have notes and cross-references, but concentrates on themes throughout the bible like marriage, leadership, women’s issues, addiction recovery, or a million other issues. You can get devotional bibles by famous Christian authors, or that are designed to be interesting to children, or teen boys and girls.

Real Life Devotional Bible for Women

Devotional Bibles have their place, but for the system I’m use, I suggest you avoid them because you tend to be reading someone else’s reflections and conversations with God rather than having one of your own. They’re not explaining what the Bible says (like a Study Bible) but ask leading questions and give explanations about their given theme.

Then there are bibles that have only the text. These are easy to find and fairly inexpensive. You can also get a “Reference Bible” which has no notes (or minimal notes) but does give you cross-references in case you want to find the same theme somewhere else in the bible. Or, some publishers are coming out with “Readers Bibles” which strip everything out except the text.

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My NIV Study BIble

Personally, I use an NIV Study Bible because it is an easy to read translation, and when I get stuck on something I don’t understand, I can read the little note and it helps me. Otherwise I get bugged by not knowing what I just read. Having that little explanatory note helps me to get past a hurdle in my mind, and get back to my conversation with God.

For other people, the study notes might be distracting because they contain way too much information to process, or they draw you into studying the verses rather than having a conversation with God about them. Remember, this isn’t Bible Study – that comes at other times – this is Spiritual Journaling with Scripture as your Guide.

My suggestion is that you try it for a while with a Study Bible and if you don’t like it, to get one without any extra notes in them. The important thing is to find one that speaks in a language that you can understand and where God’s Word is the primary voice – not someone else’s.

Tune in Next Time

Ok, that’s enough for today. Next week I want to look at how to set up your bible to get a balanced scriptural diet, the reason why journaling is important, and the actual technique of using scripture as your guide to what you are going to say to God and then listening to what He wants to say to you.