Paul Reveals Himself.

“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me.” I imbibe this little song and what it means to me and countless others.

“Yes, My goodness overrides everything in this world and this universe. What you see when you look around you is chaos, fear, violence, hate, a world scurrying around – yet behind all this is a huge solid framework – the framework of My goodness. Everywhere My goodness is manifesting, sometimes there to see, sometimes hidden. The pinnacle of My goodness was My death on the cross which has suffused every situation in the whole world. Which has especially suffuse the suffering and chaos you see. Settling into a solid framework of my goodness which upholds My whole creation. So, yes, appreciate My goodness not only in general but towards you personally and towards every person who reads this blog”.

Picking up now in Corinthians where we left off last week, where we had started looking at the prologue to the letter, we find that we are reading a unique piece of literature. Everywhere else Paul speaks with such authority and clarity. He often speaks of difficulties he has had to face, but he always appears to have been able to deal with them decisively and without really seeming to become too emotionally involved. Here we have a deeper insight into Paul and his feelings. We see a man who is wracked with regret that he may have offended some. We see a man who has been trying to organize his life in such a way as best to deal with a situation which he is perceiving as extremely difficult.

Read from 1:12 to 2:11 and see if you can follow the gist of what he is saying. I found I had to read it several times to get an idea of his presentation as it seemed sometimes to be a bit confusing.

In 12 – 14 he defends his conduct and his correspondence with them, trusting that the Lord will help them to understand in due time.

Then from 12 – 22 he speaks about the plans he has had and has had to change , because of circumstances.. This seems to have been a sore point to the Corinthian church. We don’t know what they had said to him but it seems that they were saying that if he could change his plans so easily then his message is probably equally unreliable. This is an important point for Paul, because the gospel message’s integrity must be kept at all costs. So we find him writing the well-known words in vs 20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the amen is spoken to us to the glory of God”. Then he goes on to reaffirm how sure our position ‘In Christ” is, repeating the reassuring words from Ephesians 1:13 that we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit” as a sign of His total ownership of ourselves.

These are most reassuring words to the Corinthians and to us today. The message is evident. “Don’t rely completely on anyone. We are all fallible human beings. The only one that we should rely on completely is Jesus Himself. His answer is always yes and Amen. He is totally dependable under all circumstances, even when we may not see it so easily..

He then explains why he had not come to them earlier. It had to do with his previous interaction with them. He had, of course, written 1 Corinthians, which was quite a severe letter. The it seems he had visited them and there he was confronted with the fact that they were quite upset with him. Here he tells of his feelings towards them and how he would like to correct the bad taste he had left.

(2: 5-11) Prominently there appears a figure who seems to have been behind much of the rejection and bad feelings towards Paul in the Church. Here he shares how glad he is that the church had dealt with this person and disciplined him. He now pleads that they should forgive him, even as he, Paul has forgiven him.

This whole section shows the complexity of Paul’s relationship with this church an how he had invested much emotion in this relationship with them. It is a remarkable insight into Paul, the person.

So what has Jesus been saying to me from this passage.? Well firstly my conduct before and with anyone can have a definite effect on whether they will believe my message. This is easy, perhaps when you are ‘on show’ as it were, but it is in the unguarded moments that people often assess my character. So my actions and behaviour, my words and manner should always be, as much us possible under the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly; while a person does not want to become too emotionally involved, it is important to remember that the word “compassion” means you have passion or are feeling with the person you are speaking to. It is easy to sense when when people are not really listening to you when you speak to them. So also they can sense when your mind is elsewhere when they are sharing some deeper feelings. This takes practice and the help of the Holy Spirit as well.

Finally we have here the case of the one person who opposes you. I have experienced this in several situations and it is extremely unsettling. However, on looking back I see how the Lord has used these people to help me to grow in my ability to relate and to forgive.

Have a good week all of you and remember, “God IS so Good to you and to me”.

Comfort in Suffering.

I’ll never know how much it cost for you, my Lord, to take my sins to the cross.“You Will never be able to stand in My shoes, those of the Creator of everything and to take the sins, yours and countless others, upon Myself on the cross. It is not possible for you to be able to fully comprehend that amazing and magnificent act. Yet you can and are reaping the benefits. The cross is the sign and promise of My love, My complete commitment to My creation and you as well as billions of others benefit from it. Even as you look at the lifeless body on the cross, it should bring waves of appreciation and love to you. So just received that, even though you find difficulty in comprehending what this all has cost Me. Just continue to draw near to Me, at My invitation. I in turn will draw near to you as more and more that separated us is dealt with. You will also never really appreciate My comfort for you unless you perceive your life with all its difficulties without my comfort. So, take this love and comfort and share it with as many as I bring to you.”

As we start with this second letter to the Corinthians, just a few words to give it some context and background. It is actually the 4th letter, since two have been lost. The tone is completely different to the first. In many ways it is the most personal letter that we have of Paul. He spends much of the letter defending himself and his apostolic ministry and explaining it. The church, now meeting in many homes (house-churches) has many followers of Paul and his ministry. However, there is a faction who are still rejecting him and therefore also his message. Try and imagine all these groups without a central pastor or teacher, how different their ideas could become, without the New Testament scriptures to guide them. They were hugely vulnerable to false teachers.

The prevailing religious attitude (both Christian, as well as the religion of some 35 other deieties) was that any religion which had power and was worth anything, would result in prosperity, a happy life and health. Much like our prosperity gospel teachers today. Against this background, Paul, persecuted, ill, having faced innumerable difficulties, was being portrayed as a false apostle because he seemed to have no power. And because they were rejecting him, they were also rejecting his message. This explains much of the melodic line of this letter.

Today we will just look at the opening 11 vv. The opening praise paragraph, from v 3 -7, bears much scrutiny. It sets the tone of the whole letter and indeed of much of Paul’s ministry as a result of the trials he experienced. The word “comfort” is used 9 times. The Greek word ‘parakaleo’ is very close to the name that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel, ‘Paraclete’ (John 14:16,6). So, do you see the message of Paul to the Corinthians and to us today? Jesus promised that He would be with the disciples (John 16:33) and while He has overcome the world, we will still experience tribulation while we are here.

Against that background we see Paul, as an example of one who experienced huge tribulation. So, Paul wants to put this in perspective. The perspective of Christ’s sufferings on the one hand and his and ours on the other. What he is saying is that all this suffering has a purpose. They are not just random happenings. It God’s way of growing our faith (1:9,10; 12:10). It also provides us with the opportunity of ministering to each other, in the light of the experience we have gained from our own sufferings.

I smiled on Friday as God demonstrated this principle to me in a practical way. My daughter Leslie, who comes to lunch with me every Friday, is overseas visiting her two sons in Europe. Out of the blue a good friend of hers and erstwhile disciple group leader, Laura Alderman contacted me and told me she was standing in for Leslie and wanted to have lunch with me. A practical demonstration of God’s care, which I could share with her as I shared this passage, while she was telling me how she has now retired and wants to spend time doing caring.

The other side of this that, as Paul points out how, faced with the “sentence of death”, his suffering was so great (1:8ff), he was able to recognize that this intense suffering had the purpose of teaching him to rely on God rather than himself. He picks this theme up later again.

Then finally we see the important role of intercessory prayer in this whole matter of suffering. (1:11) I am afraid this is an area that I need to take far more seriously.

So, this introduction gives us three glimpses into the multifaceted subject of suffering. Paul will build on these as we read further, but in the meantime, we can ruminate on these three important lessons that Jesus is teaching us here.

Suffering, I suppose, remains the great enigma of Christianity, and while we can learn, from God’s word and by personal experience, there always remains a mystical element which we may struggle to come to grips with. Next week we will see the accusations that the people were making against Paul about his lack of decisiveness. See you then.

One Spirit, One Body.

“The darling of heaven, high and exalted – who came to die for you, what an enigma – yet this is the One who you worship – you have trouble finding the words to describe how you see Me – in pictures and in My word. But, the reality is that I am here with you in this room, through My work on the cross. You have this privilege as billions of brothers and sisters also have, to be able to experience My presence right there with you. It is not because you are better, it is because I have chosen you before time began as I have many others. So, make the most of this time, make the most of this relationship – enjoy Me and My presence fully – that is my will for you today.”

So, we come to the end of 1 Corinthians, this week. Ch 16 appears to be almost an anti-climax after the soaring description of the gospel in ch 15, ending with the emphasis on the resurrection. As you can see ch 16 deals with a few personal issues, as Paul closes the letter.

The first paragraph of ch 16 has some very insightful teaching about giving, which is worth considering carefully. But today I want to ask you to think back over the whole letter and pick up what the main line of teaching is, again. It is easy to get lost in the detail and forget Paul’s main message, which is very important. So why don’t you just spend a bit of time thinking through what Paul was focusing on. Write it down and then I will share what I have picked up.

Firstly, try and visualise the situation of the church in Corinth at that time. Corinth was a totally pagan city, with widespread worship of various deieties, especially Apollo. This overshadowed the whole of society and the social scene. Most of the social activity took place in the temple of Apollo. This involved feasting and orgies and sexual interaction with temple prostitutes, among others. In this millieu, a number of people were saved as a result of Paul’s preaching. It seems some tended to revert back to their old social (mis)behaviour, while others distanced themselves from these activities totally.

Now as Paul writes his letter, he is responding to reports (there is a lost letter) he has received of this lack of good Christian behaviour. One commentator describes Paul’s letter as highlighting a number of issues and “scolding” the members for their misbehaviour. We can pick up that there were great divisions in the church, caused by pride, especially in the gifts that some had received. There were also cliques as different groups followed different leaders and their teaching. This was so bad that there were even court cases between members of the church. Then there were the sexual and marriage issues.

Now I want to suggest the key vs to Paul’s approach is 12:13. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”. He later expands this reminder with a description of the central gospel message, which had given rise to that baptism and on which their faith is built. 1 Cor 15:1-4.

You see, true Christian behaviour does not stem from trying harder to follow the law, it is a response to the gospel message of Jesus. It is living in the freedom of the Spirit to follow the law. (Galatians 5). So, in the center of the letter Paul focuses on the communion service, which should be a demonstration and reminder of the central belief of the members, drawing them closer into a sense of oneness and communion resulting from this One Spirit and One body. (Cf Ephesians 4:1-13).

After a discussion using the concept of the body’s functioning as a coordinated unit, he follows with the well-known message of love in ch 13. Who would continue to bicker and fight if they took these things seriously into consideration?

On reflection, it has been insightful to me to see how Paul faces up to the wrong behaviour, but drills down to the central teaching of Christianity. The gospel message. Looking around me I am supremely conscious of the many failures in Christian churches, yet I am not surprized as I hear the teaching which is being given in many places, where every other issue is raised except the central gospel of Jesus. (King Charles is, for instance agitating for an ‘interfaith’ service at his coronation)

That goes for personal counselling as well. The answer to brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin issues as well as discouragement and loss of hope, is , yes, the gospel. Change of behaviour does not come from scolding, chevvying one on etc, it comes from understanding the gospel better and responding to that.

I trust that you can see this letter then, in its entirety and that it will encourage you again in your Christian walk in the future. From next week I am going to go on to the second letter to the Corinthians and see what Jesus has to say to me from that. Please join me.

It is finished!

“IT IS FINISHED !” Is the cry that rings out over history. That cry which introduced a new era. An era where the battle has been won – the vast forces arrayed against each other – the foe vanquished. The cry that heralded the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. The battle has been won – death has no sting anymore, sin is conquered, the foe vanquished. Yet so many saints have not embraced that victory and are still living under the bondage of sin, Satan and the law. Make this Easter a time when you step into the light of that great cry: “It is finished”, “Tetelestai”, ” It has been accomplished”, and join the throng as you all go marching to victory. Banish Satan‘s lies from your thinking. Allow Me to release you from all the chains that are holding you and all the precious souls who read this blog. Join Me in the cry: “It is finished”, as you break the rope on the finish line”.

Last week we saw how Paul placed the gospel on the forefront of this chapter (1 Corinthians 15) as being of first importance. As He discusses the gospel message in the rest of the chapter, we see his emphasis on the meaning and importance of Jesus’ resurrection as an integral part of the gospel. His arguments are sometimes a bit convoluted and hard to follow. We must understand that, primarily he is answering questions and problems from the church in Corinth. We have to sort of guess what some of those problems were, but as we do so we will get more clarity on Paul’s discussion. I am just going to lift out some salient points, which will allow Jesus to speak into your heart about this most important subject, especially now at Easter.

Firstly, there seem to have been many in the church who questioned whether the resurrection had really happened. Paul addresses that right at the beginning, by presenting the facts that are known concerning this event, vv 5-7. These are irrefutable facts, which could have been checked out by the contemporary readers. They are also the facts which we base our immoveable faith in Jesus and His resurrection on. It is not a philosophy or an ideal. It a real happening, which was well documented for their and our benefit.

In the next paragraph, vv 12 – 19 Paul raises 7 “ifs”. If Christ was not raised these ifs would come into play, ending with the resounding if in vs 19: “If only for this life we have hope, we are to be pitied more than all men”. Thus, the doctrine and belief in Jesus’ resurrection is integral to our faith, otherwise our faith would be a waste of time.

Then Paul starts to explain the significance of this doctrine in the next paragraph, vv 20 – 28 (the paragraph 29-31 is enigmatic.) He rounds his discussion of the importance of understanding the meaning of this doctrine as he sums it up in vv 54 – 57. The greatest enemy of every human is death and Jesus’ resurrection has taken the sting out of the fear of that event.

From vv 35 – 54 Paul addresses the nature of the resurrection. He is obviously dealing here with the fears and objections the Corinthians were having at the thought of old, mouldy bodies getting up out of their graves and mooching around. It is an insightful section which gives us a glimpse of what the resurrection of each individual is going to be like, but is not central to the whole of Paul’s argument.

Finally, we need to see that Paul is concerned that this doctrine should not be an esoterical discussion, but should have an effect on our everyday lives, as Christians. see vv 34 and his final v 58. I presume when he says the readers should stop sinning in v 34, he is addressing the fact that they were spreading doubts about the truth of the resurrection. It is a thought that spreading a false doctrine is actually a form of sinning.

But he brings us down to earth again in v 58, where he reminds the reader of our responsibility, “ to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” Friends this important doctrine should affect each one of our lives, it is never OK to give it a passing nod. That is perhaps why the Easter celebrations are so important. So that we are reminded of the importance of this event in the overall explanation of the gospel.

May each one of you have a blessed weekend and feel even more close to our loving Lord after that. God bless.