1 Corinthians 16

Every good letter eventually has to come to an end. Here in chapter 16, Paul covers three major things:

First, Paul addresses what needs to happen regarding a relief offering that is being collected for the believers in Jerusalem. To me, this shows how important generosity is to the successful functioning of the church. If a body of believers isn’t generous, I honestly question whether Christ is among them because giving is so close to his heart.

Second, Paul speaks of a future visit to the Corinthian church. He also speaks to the possibility of other preachers / teachers coming to visit them. I think this type of intentional, missional travel is important to the successful functioning of the church as well. I’m not saying everyone needs to go on a mission trip(s), but I am saying visiting other churches, potentially in other cities and states, and seeing the larger body of Christ–outside your denomination–is important. Of course, if it’s possible to do international travel to visit churches or believers in other countries, that’s awesome too. You’ll learn a ton any time you get outside of your normal group.

Lastly, Paul gives encouragements and greetings. He greets quite a few groups and expresses his appreciation for those people. Showing gratitude for others is so important to the successful functioning of the church. We exist in community. As for the encouragements Paul gives, they are many. But I want to leave you with this specific one, which reads:

Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.

I’m going to work on living this out, as I take a short pivot away from this blog to work on a book project. The project is a devotional of sorts. A commentary with humor. Perhaps, the first of its kind. Excited to see what you think!

1 Corinthians 15

58 verses of jam packed, mind-blowing content. There are two directions to go with this.

First, we can talk about resurrection.

Second, we can talk about how this impacts our everyday lives.

So, let’s start with the super easy topic of resurrection. I say that tongue in cheek of course. Trying to wrap your head around resurrection is extremely difficult. I think it’s even more difficult because the only thing our culture talks about when someone is “coming back from the dead” is in the form of ghosts, hauntings, scary stuff. Paul is trying to show us that resurrection is a positive experience, more glorious than we could ever imagine. He says people will ask for proof that it exists and proof of how it works, which of course, is absurd and difficult. None of us here on this earth have been resurrected, obviously. So, we need a quick illustration and Paul turns to seeds and plants. He says,

You’d never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.

And the same goes for our natural bodies vs. our spiritual, resurrected bodies. The one will not resemble the other. There’s no visual likeness between the two. But the truth remains:

The mortal will be replaced with the immortal.

Which leads us to the second topic:

This resurrection reality can and does impact our everyday lives.

It’s what gave Paul the courage to face wild beasts, beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, etc. It’s what gives us the courage to throw ourselves into the work of the Master. For me, that’s throwing myself into writing daily, improving properties, leading and coaching people. It’s what gives me the courage to keep working at relationships: being a good husband, a good father, a good friend.

Thus, we can be confident that nothing we do for Christ is a waste of time or effort.

And that, my friends, is a massive thing.

1 Corinthians 14

Part of me wishes I could have been there to see the Corinthian church in action. I wonder how their gatherings looked, what was happening, who was saying what, just how bad it was. But then, the more I think about, the less I’m interested. It sounds like it was a big ball of chaos, arguments, cliques, division, etc. From Paul’s letters, it sounds like it was pretty dysfunctional, and I don’t do well with dysfunction and disorder. Neither did Paul.

The topic in chapter 14 is primarily around prayer languages. Some people have the gift of tongues and are using it publicly, frequently, and it’s causing a lot of confusion for believers and nonbelievers alike. Paul tells them that praying in tongues, whatever flavor that prayer language may be, should be a private prayer language. Just you and God talking it through, expressing your heart to him.

On the other hand, when everyone is gathered together, you should still have people speaking to the group. But they should be speaking in the language of the day, the language everyone will understand. You want to proclaim the Good News of God and Jesus in a way that is intelligent, simple, and grasped by all. Even nonbelievers will appreciate that, and who knows, God may capture their hearts through it.

So keep tongues in private. Keep proclamation of the Gospel public. Do things in an orderly and courteous way. And that’s pretty much the summary of chapter 14. Only two chapters left.

1 Corinthians 13

The love chapter! Arguably one of the most familiar passages in all of the Bible, along with Psalm 23 and a couple others. But here’s the deal on the love chapter:

It’s not an isolated chapter. It’s in the context of spiritual gifts and the church being like a body that needs to work together, cooperate, be healthy, etc. The love chapter is in the context of using your gifts to benefit others and working together with other believers. It’s not just a chapter to be quoted at weddings. That said, I don’t want to dilute the beauty of this chapter with my own commentary. So, I’m simply going to type out the poetic part of it and you can read the rest:

Love never gives up

Love cares more for others than for self

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have

Love doesn’t strut

Doesn’t have a swelled head

Doesn’t force itself on others

Isn’t always “me first”

Doesn’t fly off the handle

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others

Doesn’t revel when others grovel

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth

Puts up with anything

Trusts God always

Always looks for the best

Never looks back

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

From the Message

1 Corinthians 12

I’ve written on this subject multiple times, taught on it multiple times, and apparently, so has Paul. Spiritual gifts are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Paul uses the illustration of the church being like a body multiple times as well, but I’m struggling at the moment to remember all of those sections. Regardless, the topic is obviously important to Paul and a source of confusion or strain at all of these churches.

That’s why Paul writes on it: Regarding the spiritual gifts, I don’t want you to be ignorant. I don’t want you to lack knowledge in this area. I don’t want you to forget to use your brain and intellect here. This is essentially what he is saying. It is also why I’m so passionate about these sections of Scripture.

I won’t go into every aspect of this teaching in 1 Corinthians 12, but I do think there are a few important points to drive home:

  • The gifts come from God’s Spirit.
  • The Spirit distributes to each person as God wishes. It’s not for us to decide. It’s his decision.
  • God distributes them when he sees fit and to the extent he sees fit.
  • Everyone has a different part to play and a different combination of gifts.
  • Don’t be jealous of other people’s gifts/parts/roles.
  • The body, aka the church, must work together to be effective.
  • The body, aka the church, has parts/roles that are “on display” and others that are “behind the scenes.”
  • The body, aka the church, feels the pain and the joy of other parts.

The last thing worth mentioning is that chapter 12 cannot be read in isolation. You have to read chapter 13 and beyond to get this in its full context. That’s what we’ll do tomorrow.

1 Corinthians 11

You wouldn’t think such a simple subject could be so complex and controversial. But leave it to us to make things complicated. What’s the topic? Communion. The Lord’s Supper. The Love Feast / Agape Meal.

Depending on where you’ve been to church and what denominations or branches of Christianity you’ve been a part of, you’ve likely had very different experiences. This is what I’ve seen based on different services I’ve attended:

  • For Catholics, this is the central aspect of the service. It is very formal. It is very exclusive: Catholi-church member only. It is very limited to a tiny cracker and a 1/10 of a shot of grape juice or wine. Everyone gets up, goes in a line, and does their thing, before coming back to their pew.
  • For Methodists, this is also formal and a bit more inclusive. You don’t have to be a “member of the church” but you are supposed to be a believer. But instead of a morsel, you grab a chunk off a loaf of bread and you dip your chunk of bread into a large goblet to soak it with juice or wine. Everyone is up in line, does their thing, and comes back to the pew.
  • For Baptists, still formal but a lot more inclusive. You certainly don’t stand up and get in a line though. Instead, the deacons come up and down the rows serving that infinitesimally small, pill-like thing that they call bread and that 1/10 shot of grape juice. Never wine! Can’t be getting drunk off those 1/10 shots in Baptist country! This communion is usually done once a month or once a quarter, certainly not every service like the Catholics. Another big difference is that it is up to the individual or the family to decide if someone is able to take it, so you’ll often see parents giving it to their little kids, sometimes, I’m convinced just to hold them off until they can go to lunch after service. *wink*
  • For non-denominational groups, it just depends on where you’re at and what flavor of church it is. Basically, it could be any variation of any of those options above: every service multiple times a week or once a quarter or once a year. It could be wine or juice, goblet or 1/10 shot size. It could be dipping or separate. It could be formal or informal. It could be only people who are members in that church or it could be open to everyone and anyone. It could be stand in line or it could be served to you. The non-denominational churches have no rules, right?

Now, I’m just talking about the act of communion here. But there’s a completely separate discussion around what happens during that service, whether it actually becomes Christ’s blood and body or not. That’s a weird discussion to get into. It was a massive subject of the Reformation a few hundred years ago. My stance: I’m not a cannibal; I do understand symbolism.

There’s also a completely separate discussion around “love feasts” or “agape meals” or whatever people call those. Sometimes this is the good ol’ Baptist potluck every 3rd Sunday of the month. Sometimes this is the lunch at the end of special services, like a baby dedication or something, that the Nazarenes or Methodists might do. Sometimes this is interpreted as widely as running the soup kitchen every Friday, or getting together in home groups to have a monthly meal, or any variation of the sort. The point of these meals, again, is to honor Christ. But instead of just bread and wine, it might include a hodge-podge of all kinds of food. I know some Messianic Jews who still celebrate Passover and try to prepare the meal just like Jesus and his disciples would have done back in the day. I think there’s something cool to that, and I appreciate the attempt to get ourselves rooted back in the original events / feasts / celebrations because it’s so easy to lose that context and understanding in 21st century America. That said, the whole meal should still be designed to honor the death and resurrection of Jesus as Messiah, so we need to make sure that’s the focal point.

At the end of the day, Paul is saying whatever you do, however you do it, just make sure you’re honoring each other and honoring Christ. That’s the point. Don’t lose it.

1 Corinthians 10

Most of this chapter contains warnings from Paul.

  • Warnings to not be defeated by temptation in the hard times.
  • Warnings to not get caught up in wanting our own way.
  • Warnings to not turn our religion into a circus.
  • Warnings to not be sexually promiscuous.
  • Warnings to not try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him.

And here’s one of the biggest warnings: don’t stir up discontent. Discontent can destroy you.

These warnings are powerful. They were very much needed in Paul’s day. They are still very much needed in our day. Even as I listed those out, I kept thinking, “Man, he’s talking about the challenges of our day. I can go down this list and identify a big-name Christian leader who has fallen prey to every one of these.”

But let’s not be too quick to point the finger. As Paul warns,

“The same thing could happen to us.”

And with that, I’ll let you do your own self-examination before the Lord.

And we’ll close with a final warning:

“So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.”