Jesus’ Resurrection, the Key to The Gospel.

I sit at Jesus feet and listen. Did his voice have a deep timbre, a resonance? His eyes – they seem to be focused right on me and my heart.

“The entire history is focused on the events you have been reading about and will remember next weekend. All of creation waited with bated breath for that moment. The explosion happened on the Sunday. The one happening which gave everything else significance. The whole aim of my coming was salvation – the rescue of a dying world. But the act of rescue on the cross would have been meaningless without my resurrection. My resurrection placed the seal on the work I had done on the cross, to open heaven’s door so the new kingdom could be launched – the kingdom which you now all are part of. That is the visible sign of the greatest act ever– It is your guarantee and that of everyone who reads this blog with trust – allow it to transform you this Easter.”

Now to 1 Corinthians 15. In Roman’s and in Colossians, for instance, Paul launched his message with a focus on the gospel. What it’s message is and the power which is released through the preaching of that message. Here in this Corinthian letter, he gather’s these thoughts together here at the end. So, as we read the first 11 vv of this chapter we see his statement firstly in v1, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand”, bracketing the passage at the end in vs 11 with, “this is what we preach, and this is what you believed”. The real, full gospel lies then between these two statements.

Now notice the importance of this positioning. Against the background of all the mal-practices of the Corinthians, Paul wants to emphasize the importance of the gospel and draw it into the center of His reply to them. He wants to draw them back to the most important reality of their faith. Notice his emphasis on “which you have received and on which you have taken your stand” and “this is what you believed”.

Can you see the significance of what I am saying? You see the central tenet of Christianity is the gospel. In Paul’s words in Roman’s it is the “power of God for salvation of everyone who believes…” It is the main message of Christianity which holds everything else together. So, when there are things happening in the church which are wrong and questionable, it invariably starts with the people losing sight of this important fact.

Now let us look at what he says about the gospel. Firstly, vs 3, “he received it”. It was not his idea. Then he repeats twice that this message was “in accordance with the scriptures“. It was actually the culmination of the whole thrust of the bible up to Jesus’ coming. He, that is Paul regards this message then of “first importance”. (vs3)

The central message then of the gospel follows: “that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and on the third day he was raised.”

Christ’s death on the cross is the central, pivotal fact. The act that changed the world. However, if He had just died, no-one would have realized the reason or understood the full import of the purpose of His death. It was His resurrection that changed all that. It showed that He was Divine, God Himself. It proved that what He had set out to do had been accomplished. It changed what would just have appeared a laudable act into a supernatural, world shattering, historical earthquake which changed the world for ever. The two events are inseparable, Good Friday without Easter Sunday means nothing.

So why am I making such a huge issue of these facts that all of you surely know? It is surely, in knowing these facts so well that the danger is that they lose their charm and power, as we become more and more familiar with them. It is in remembering the basic gospel that we can fully appreciate the whole of Easter and it’s message.

I have emphasized this here to show you why Paul then goes ahead for the rest of this chapter discussing the resurrection. Driving it home, as it were so that every reader may embrace it and by believing it have their lives changed. And by emphasizing these facts to such a degree this acts as a counter to the many heresies out there. If every believer continually reaffirms the facts of the gospel and reminds themselves of them, their faith will grow stronger and stronger and they will be kept from going off on a tangent, like the Corinthians did.

So, friends why do you not spend the next week pondering these facts of the gospel and preaching them to yourselves. Yes, and maybe to someone else. So many people out there who claim to be Christians don’t actually really understand what happened on the cross and the importance of the resurrection. Maybe this is the time to initiate that discussion with someone. This week can also be an opportunity to read the rest of the chapter and understand why Paul makes such a fuss about the resurrection, in the light of these earlier vv. and I will discuss them in our next blog.

So, soak yourselves in these thoughts. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you and may each of you have a real sense of anticipation for next weekend. Let us pray for each other that Satan does not draw our attention away from this central issue.

Eagerly Desire Spiritual Gifts.

“Be exalted” – is ringing out in my ears. “Be exalted oh God” – so holy, so wise, so omnipotent, so other – I lift my voice and sing – “be exalted!”.

“Yes Ian – it is indeed a privilege – an almost immeasurable privilege you have to be able to meet with Me – the Sovereign Ruler of the whole universe. Yet it is My desire to meet with you, that is why I sent my Son to bridge this gap between us, so that you can receive from Me all the blessings and love I want to share with you. You are enormously privileged, yet no more than any other of my precious children. This is available to every one of you without measure. You have and are receiving every blessing in the heavenlies. As your heart is overwhelmed and filled to overflowing, share these thoughts that those you are in contact with can appreciate just how much they have and are receiving from Me – and by appreciating it, keep singing, “Be exalted oh Lord”.

Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians next, opens with the words “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”. The whole question of spiritual gifts in this church has been a divisive element and Paul has been addressing it in various ways since the beginning of the letter. When I was a young Christian this whole question of the so-called “supernatural gifts” was very prominent. I am afraid it was also very controversial and often led more to divisions and quarreling than to the upbuilding of God’s church.

We must realize that the circumstances in that community and church were very different to what we have today. People were used to living their social life in the pagan temples and once saved were having difficulty distancing themselves from that lifestyle. There were no printed scriptures yet as we have them. Teaching came from prophets. There were those who were itinerant prophets and then of course local people within the congregation. There was a huge possibility of false teaching. Hence the many warnings in the various letters to test the teachers and prophets who were bringing God’s message.

Then there was the question of “tongues” which seemed to have become almost a distinguishing sign of superiority to some. Against this background I want to pick out the central teaching of this chapter. Maybe you should read the chapter again and see if you can see the core teaching Paul is giving.

Here goes: Verse 26b “All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church”. Whatever the practices which are being discussed here and how they are played out today should have this main aim in mind. “The strengthening of the church”.

Central to the upbuilding of the church was and will always be the right teaching. Today we have the scriptures which are the core which we use for our teaching. God’s word. God speaking through His word as it is opened up by teachers who, let me use a useful expression, have a prophetic teaching ministry as they open up the scriptures and as the Holy Spirit gives us understanding and applies it for us.

Very important to the upbuilding of the church is that it should be “outsider focused”. The whole first part of this chapter focusses on this important point. If we as God’s church are to carry out His mandate in the world today, we must keep reminding ourselves of the importance God places on the expansion of His Kingdom. Internal strife and quarreling invariable takes everyone’s eyes off this important role the church is called to fulfil. How can we be witnesses if we can’t get on together, never mind love one another. So, while there is a place to discuss doctrine and such issues it should always be done in love and behind closed doors.

The other factor which Paul raised in the last 12vv is the question of church order. Whatever factors which were causing disorder in that church probably are not replicated today. However, it is only fitting that our services should be orderly as another part of our witness to God and His kingdom. That there should be participation by the congregation is highly advisable as it draws everyone in. The church of England has dealt with this by producing the “Book of Common Prayer”, dating back to the 15 and 1600’s.

The liturgies of the services that are used give ample opportunity for participation, in various ways in the service. There is also a heavy emphasis on the role of the scriptures. It is important to see how the church has progressed since the early days, taking into consideration all the attacks on it. It still remains the apple of God’s Eye and the means through which He is reaching out to the world.

While some may long for what they perceive to be the freedom of worship in the Corinthian church, they should realize that it led to much abuse and division, and we should take that as a warning and directive for ourselves.

So, where do you stand in your involvement in the church function? As we read this chapter, we should realize again how vital our positive participation in the church is. We have all been gifted for the common good and by not using your gift/s you are withholding a vital part of God’s plan for His church.

Love – The Most Excellent Way.

“Love – such a mystical word and concept. On the one hand you can decide to do it and on the other hand it only becomes truly real, truly genuine when your heart is changed, and love flows from it naturally because of that. True love, My love, agape – is only possible if you have first received that from Me. It is only as My agape gets hold of your heart that your love becomes genuine. It starts with a response to My love then overflows to those you are in contact with. It is a mystery, it is potent, it is life changing. So many are disabled because they don’t experience, true love. At the same time, it is a decision you should make continuously – To love others to counteract the assaults on it that Satan tries. My command remains – love Me with all your heart, body, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself. You are the beacon of my love. Plant it on the highest hill and in every relationship”.

Now to 1 Corinthians 13. Perhaps one of the best-known passages in the bible. Unfortunately, it is usually read on its own, without taking its context into consideration. Step back into ch 12 and remember the message there. It is all about the gifts of the Spirit. It appears that the Corinthians were obsessed with these exciting supernatural gifts. Yet the way they were using them was having the opposite effect to what they were intended to do. It was causing divisions, jealousy and disunity.

So, Paul ends the chapter with the advice – “Desire the greater gifts”. Then he blasts them with the words “Now I will show you the most excellent way.” The message is quite simple. All the gifts and abilities that come supernaturally are of little value if they are not practiced with love. The speaking gifts especially were just like an empty gong, if not used with love.

So, what does he mean by love? Vss 4-7 are like dynamite. I suggest that you readers scan over these qualities by which Paul defines what the characteristics of real agape are. I include myself here. So, this week I sat down and wrote each characteristic down on a separate line of my notebook and then prayerfully considered whether I really understood the full meaning and nuance of each one. It took me some time as I was confronted again and again as to how shallow my understanding and interpretation of each one has been. I was hugely challenged and decided to return to these notes each day after that to remind myself what love truly is all about. I realized that it covers almost every aspect of our daily lives as we interact with others. In fact, the emotions and feelings associated with each one of these characteristics often start in our hearts long before we actually interact with others. Take “envy” for instance. This usually starts in one’s heart and then gathers momentum giving rise to a sense of dissatisfaction and can finally result in a negative outcome in one’s interaction with others..

I am not going to try and interpret each word and concept for you. That should be something each one does individually with the Lord. But I challenge you all to do something like that.

The last part of the chapter vv 8-13 is really motivational to what Paul has been saying about love. The Corinthians, as I said, were very much into the speaking gifts especially prophecy and tongues but also a word of knowledge. These were and can be exciting as it expresses the reality of God’s presence. But are really in place because we do not see God face to face yet. So, when we finally get to meet with God face to face these gifts will just become redundant and love will be all that remains.

As I have been writing this, I am reminded again of the weekend teaching I received on Ch 12, at Noordhoek in 1980, where God revealed Himself to me. It was the sense of immediacy which I experienced that blew my mind as to the reality of God. Yet as I think back, the weekend was concluded with a communion service. As Angus Bain administered the host to me, he laid hands on me and gave me a personal prophecy. Later I tended to dismiss this experience and the message as a bit suspect. It is only recently that I have been reminded of that message again. “I am giving you the power of love”. Was the message.

I now realize how important it was that I should have understood that using the gifts without love was like an empty gong. I also realize forty years later, how much I have needed that power over the years and especially now in the circumstances I find myself in. It is also interesting that the word “power” was used. One of the first talks that weekend had been on the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. The speaker explained that the word for power in the NT Greek is “dunamis” from which we have derived the word dynamite. I was suddenly being introduced to the fact that real Christianity is about the reality of the power of God at work among and in us.

I did not immediately understand how living the Christian life requires the power of the gospel to accomplish it effectively. So, to demonstrate love as it is described here would need the transforming power of the Spirit to accomplish. It is counter to our natures and requires a complete transformation to practice it effectively.

Unity, true unity in the church can only be accomplished if these love principles are understood and practiced. They will also be the greatest witness to the reality Of Christ and His work on the cross if they are displayed effectively in a broken society.

Baptised into One Body by One Spirit.

In the light of the songs about the glory of God’s creation and the revelation of His love, revealed in His act on the cross, I decide again to take up my cross and follow Him.

“Yes Ian, that is the only logical response to My revelation of Myself and My glory; to make the active decision to take up your cross and take the first step in following me – it is only then, as you lay aside you’re selfish desires, motives and program. Your petty likes and dislikes, your grumbling and complaining. It is only as you put that all aside and instead take up your cross putting all that to death, that you can fully see Me and My glory. That you can fully appreciate Me and may I say that your life and your words will be a worthy contribution to My glory. That is what I seek in our relationship, to have all of you and in the process the benefit to you will be immeasurable. So yes, do that every day – take up your cross – make that decision even on a moment by moment basis.”

We come now to 1 Cor 12. This is an important chapter in understanding the message of 1 Corinthians. The key verse lies here. Why don’t you read the chapter and see whether you can identify that verse?

It was at a weekend camp in 1980 that I came to know the Lord. The subject of the teaching was all from 1 Cor 12. However, despite the fact that the Lord used that teaching to reveal Himself to me, they was a serious deviation from the truth as revealed in this chapter.

Let us step back and remind ourselves of the scene in Corinth that Paul was addressing. There were a number of questionable behaviours going on in the church there, which reflected the immaturity of that church. However perhaps the main one was reflected in the divisions in the church tearing it apart. Divisions of class and divisions in theological understanding. This was fired by claims as to special spiritual gifts and experiences by various members, which made them feel more important than others in the same community.

The key verse is verse 13. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit”. Note the repeated emphasis on the word “one”.

Paul then explains this statement with the beautiful example of the human body. I think the analogy is self-explanatory. Which can be described by the phrase “unity in diversity”.

The basis of the teaching of my weekend was that being a Christian was all good and well, but if one wanted to serve God effectively one had to be baptized in the Spirit. Through this act the Spirit would endow one with supernatural gifts. That was the basis of the Charismatic teaching, focusing on the Charisma or gifts. This two staged Christian experience clearly led to the sense of some being haves and others have-nots.

It took me some time to realize that this key vs was exactly what proved their teaching wrong. Baptism is essentially an act of initiation and shows that you are NOT a Christian until you have been “baptized in the Spirit”. I won’t go into the reasons for this teaching arising in the first place, but essentially I discovered eventually that this phrase described the same act as being “born again”, “converted”, “receiving the Lord”, “being saved”. All these descriptions describe the same thing. Ultimately you are not a Christian until you have been transformed by the Spirit. At the same time let it be said when you have received this baptism you receive everything God has for you.

let me get back to the important teaching of 1 Cor 12 by making a few remarks.

  1. Every Christian receives certain endowments or gifts which are unique for him/her. Equipping them for the service within the church and that is required to make the church function smoothly. Sometimes these gifts only manifest themselves later when they are required.
  2. Every member of the church is equally vital to the full function of the church, no matter how unimportant they may appear or feel. The body needs its thumb as much as it needs its eyes.
  3. God endows these gifts for a specific purpose that the church may fulfil its function effectively. This function is for the benefit of the church members that they may grow effectively and be supported in their lives and service of the Lord. It is also essential in God’s plan to extend His kingdom throughout the world. He sets up the make-up and gifts in the church so that it may function to His glory and as a witness of His love and power to the world.
  4. Taking all this teaching together it shows God’s care for each individual and a great part of that is our interdependence. This flows logically into the conclusion that there is no room for Christians living in isolation, not wanting to join a church or commit themselves. There is also no room for church-hopping and tasting various churches.
  5. In summary then: The church is a vital part of God’s plan for us and the world. This teaching is very underemphasized. Many see the church as a place where they can benefit rather than serve. The challenge is to take this seriously for each one’s own benefit as well as the kingdom’s sake.
  6. God bless for this week.

The Love Feast.

“Crucified and laid behind a stone, Rejected and alone. Like a rose trampled on the ground. You took the fall and thought of me.

“You can sing of my greatness and my love, you can speak it and hear about it – that is good, but it is only when it reaches your heart of hearts that it becomes real. See your heart like a rosebud – all the beauty of the rose bloom but wrapped and closed – yet as I pour my love out into it, it slowly opens up to become the beautiful bloom it is intended to be. You have moments of supreme revelation of my love but mostly it is a slow process as I interact with all of your life and all of your senses, that you come to understand and appreciate Me and My love more and more fully. I am busy with each one of the folk who read this blog similarly, working on their hearts to bring them to full bloom which can truly appreciate my beauty and the beauty of my love. That is the love feast I am aiming at.”

We come now to 1 Corinthians 11. A chapter, perhaps well known because of its discussion of the “Love Feast” or communion meal. The first 16 vv deal with the cultural issue of head coverings and hair styles which was unique to the Corinthian situation. So I am going to pass over it and get our teeth into the vv 17 – 34.

I believe that I came to a deeper understanding of this teaching this week as I meditated on this important aspect of how we express our worship. I came to realize that the full understanding of the message Paul is giving is focused in one key verse. I wonder if you can see it. Why don’t you read the section and see if you can identify identify the verse and see why it is an embodiment of the entire teaching of this section.

Firstly we should identify what the problem is that Paul is dealing with here. It seems that the communion meal was part of a social meal or Love Feast. The different strata of society making up the Christian Church in Corinth were all part of it. From the wealthy upper strata of society to the poor and the slaves. The wealthy arrived with loads of food and wine and started feasting even to the point of getting drunk while the poor were left with little or nothing to eat.

Clearly any meal partaken like this would be unacceptable, even less the celebration of Communion. Paul wants the readers to understand the full implication of what they are doing, with this teaching. The key verse is verse 26 “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”

What is he saying? The way they were dealing with this whole issue was a reflection of their attitude towards Jesus and His death on the cross. By behaving in this way they were showing what they thought about His death, which is the central point of our faith. They were showing this within the assembly of believers, but also to the outside world.

So Paul wants them to understand how serious this lack of veneration is and how it is a direct reflection of what they think of Jesus Himself. He links, most frighteningly, this lack of veneration even to sickness and death.

The two vv 28, 29 are often held up as a reminder to us as we prepare for the communion meal. I have always sort of thought that it meant I should examine every nook and cranny of my life to see if there is any hidden sin there, so that I can bring it out and confess it. However I have now come to realize this is a much deeper instruction. It is indeed a warning to ask yourself how your whole relationship with Jesus is going. The way you approach the communion meal and your attitude is then a reflection of that relationship.

The communion meal is after all the pinnacle of the revelation of the introduction of the New Covenant. It is a reminder of the centrality of Jesus’ death on the cross to our whole faith. But the communion meal has a wider significance which is shown by the events that are described in the background in this chapter.

It also represents what has been accomplished in terms of establishing the Church. The fellowship of believers. It is an opportunity to express that by showing our love and unity for each other. In Corinth there were divisions, pride, factions and now the revelation of the lack of concern and love for fellow believers at the Love Feast.

We should be reminded here that the whole way we do church is actually a reflection of what we think of Jesus. Of what our relationship with Him is like. Because our relationships with each other are a direct reflection of how we view Christ and our relationship with Him.

To many Christians, church is an optional extra. A place where you can be fed and have some fellowship. Criticism of various aspects abounds. We should look again at the warning of terrible judgement that Paul mentions in this section to see how seriously the Lord Himself regards His church and especially the communion meal as an expression of what church is meant to be.

There has been plenty of food for thought for me in this section. I hope you will also be challenged as well.