The Muppets are great. Those classic characters like Kermit the Frog, Animal, and Fozzy Bear have entertained us for years. The writers of that show understood and appreciated the humor found in irony. In one particular episode, Mrs. Piggy is about to marry Kermit and It’s hilarious to see a pig in a wedding dress. Pigs don’t wear dresses…or do they?
The church has been described as the “Bride of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). What kind of bride are we? An ugly bride is not unified, calloused towards one another, hateful, hard hearted, hard headed, and proud. The truth is, an ugly church can only be made up of ugly people. Sin is an ugly thing, and the display and manifestations of sins such as pride and hatred turn even the worldly away.
Think about 1 Peter 3:8-11, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” What we have described and depicted here is an attractive bride. Don’t let your life combined with Jesus be a juxtaposition. Don’t make the Bride of Christ a pig in a dress.
The late gospel preacher, George Bailey, was known for saying, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” Truly, there is a little “i” in Christ! Paul exemplifies the way a servant of Christ and steward of the gospel (1 Cor. 4:1) behaves. How can we humbly serve Christ and, through such, contribute to unity in His body? Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:13 for some important keys.
Do Not Deceive Yourself (3:18-23)
Paul draws on his contrast between wisdom and foolishness back at the beginning of the letter. The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God (3:19). Why does Paul say that here? In part, it’s to drive home the point that they should not boast in men (like himself, Apollos, and Peter). But it is also to remind them that their glory and worth are tied to their being in Christ and belonging to Him. We wrestle so much with pride in our earthly accomplishments and attributes, but none of those things, of themselves, get us into heaven or bring about unity. Paul drives the point home by quoting from Job and Psalms. Worldly wisdom is a dead-end street.
Be A Faithful Steward Of The Mysteries Of God (4:1-2)
Instead of being spiritual heroes to be idolized, Paul says that he and other church leaders were servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1). The mysteries of God is the testimony of God (2:1), God’s once-hidden mystery (2:7) now revealed in the preaching of the gospel (see Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1ff). Paul wanted to be seen as a trustworthy steward (manager) of that unparalleled message (cf. 3:11-15). Here’s the point. Paul knew he had only so much time, energy, and other resources to spend on accomplishing his purpose, and he wanted to be the most effective worker for Jesus that he could be. If that’s how we see ourselves, our purpose and work, it will keep us from focusing on who we are and what we have done.
Remember Who Is Examining Your Work (4:3-5)
The previous point is made more powerful by the fact that not only should we not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we need to remember God is examining us. Ignore the idle critic or the armchair quarterback. Don’t spend a lot of time polishing your trophies and reading your “press clippings.” “Wait until the Lord comes” (4:5) and let Him acknowledge you and reward you. He will reveal all the secrets and He will disclose men’s motives. In other words, do the right things for the right reason and you will be richly rewarded by Christ in the end. God will praise you at The Judgment.
Follow Good Examples Of Humility (4:6-13)
Paul and Apollos did not view each other as rivals, measuring who was more successful, more loved, or more influential among the Corinthians. He urges them to look at their example, and let God’s Word be the measuring stick of success and failure. The end result would be preventing arrogance and rivalry. These servants of Christ had been doing their service to Him at great personal cost–they were a spectacle to the world (4:9), fools for Christ’s sake (4:10), weak (4:10), without honor (4:10), physically deprived (4:11), reviled, persecuted, and slandered (4:12-13), and, in summary, “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (4:13b). Doesn’t sound like a condition to brag about, does it? Paul is not trying to portray himself as some spiritual superhero. Neither is he whining or complaining. He is trying to get the Corinthians to understand what matters. It’s not about jockeying for the top spot in the kingdom. It’s about being a faithful steward of the gospel and servant of the Christ. Focus so hard on that goal that you can ignore the praise and the persecution, and let Jesus exalt you at the end. A mindset like that kills division and disunity.
In a society of division and separation, many churches have begun to struggle with unity. Members are bickering with each other, elders are unsure of how to respond to the events that have unfolded in the past year, and deacons are struggling to maintain the proper relationship with each member.. All of these factors combined has caused several churches to split or lose the unity they once had.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:17ffthat some who came to worship would be hungry, while others would be drunk and incapable of edifying each other. His point? Far too many churches are split due to a lack of understanding. We fail to understand why it is that we assemble together in the first place. Having a unified assembly starts with the individual. No church will find harmony if each member is unwilling to submit to God’s will and to His church family.
When we come to worship, there are key aspects that we must insure take place (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). We must make sure what we do edifies others (v. 12). Paul in the context of tongues and prophecy says,“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).
Our actions must help build up the Christians around us. Our words must edify our brothers and sisters who are dealing with problems we may never even know about. And so the questions we must constantly be asking ourselves are these: How am I edifying? Am I being an encourager (making my fellow Christians stronger)? Am I building up others (boosting their confidence to help them deal with the world)? Am I promoting unity?
As humans we thrive on encouragement.We feel good when we receive a compliment. That’s because there is power in edification. As fellow brothers and sisters we should be actively trying to find ways to build each other up.
This also means we must be sure to understand the power of our words and actions. Rather than spreading gossip or discord with our lips we must make it a priority to edify, encourage, lift up, serve, compliment, and look out for the good in our church family.
When examining a passage that we need to put into practice, one of the most important things we can do is to find the imperatives in that passage. For example, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 contains one imperative–“make disciples” (19).Two participles tell us how to do that: “baptizing” and “teaching” (19-20). Another example is Ephesians 5:18-21. There is a double imperative here: “Do not be drunk with wine” (18), but “be filled with the Spirit” (18). How do you obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? There are five ways, according to Paul. You are filled with the Spirit by “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “being subject to one another.”
In his closing appeal to the Romans, Paul is concerned about how church members are treating each other. There are apparent struggles among them over their diverse religious past. Paul pictures this as those “weak in faith” (14:1)and those who are “strong” (15:1). The strong is also called one who has faith (14:2). Apparently, God not only expects that congregations will have both categories of Christians, but He expects us to successfully work through situations that arise out of this fact.
Apparently, one of the most damaging ways we handle such differences is by “judging” one another (14:3-4,10,13). The way Paul uses that word here means to “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, and condemn” (BDAG 567). The issues in their circumstance were things like eating meets offered to idols and observing special days (14:5-6). Those things seem strange, even trivial, to us today. But the church in every generation has their own petty problems to negotiate, things that are struggles of faith nonetheless (14:16-23). This clash of convictions and maturity levels must be successfully met and overcome. How?
That’s where we turn to Romans 15. Paul gives two imperatives that are at the heart of negotiating the prickly situations like those we are facing right now. They are “please your neighbor” (15:2) and “accept one another” (15:7). Those two commands can be the hardest thing to do when we disagree with how our brother (or sister) handles a matter, especially matters without clearcut instruction. To “please” is to accommodate others by meeting their needs and sacrificing self-interest. None of us wants to do that, but if you are strong (15:1) it’s what you do. It’s what Jesus did (15:3)! To “accept one another” is best defined by contrasting it with its opposite, which in this context is to “regard with contempt” (14:3). That’s reflected in a sinful attitude, dismissing, disdaining, judging, and looking down on.
Think about the difference when one obeys or disobeys these two God-given commands. If our mentality is to “please” and “accept,” how does that affect our relationship with those drawing different conclusions in matters of judgment? If we choose to please ourselves and reject our spiritual family based on their different conclusions, where do we wind up? According to Paul, it’s not a good place (14:12,15).
I have yet to hear of a congregation without at least “two sides” in negotiating all that’s involved in reacting to the current pandemic. Everything from masks to isolating versus assembling to rational versus irrational fear gets dragged into the conversation. It’s easy to dig our trenches deeper and draw our lines bolder. What is to govern us in these tedious, perilous times? At the heart of it all, we must obey our Lord’s instruction. “Please your neighbor for his good, to his edification” (15:2) and “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (15:7).Never lose sight of this!
God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.
God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan.
Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9).
Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)?
Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5).
What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today!
It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.
As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.
Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters. Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation. How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?
Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12). Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust. Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort. Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right. Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).
How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text? So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions. Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views. Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind. How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live! That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”
Many have heard, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals” (I Corinthians 15.33). It’s not difficult to understand the concepts in this verse. If our closest relationships are with worldly people, our ethics and behavior will reflect this. Fun fact: the word for company here is ὁμιλία (homilia). The first part of the word sounds a lot like “homie,” so it’s easy to remember.
I want to look at the word “corrupt” a little more closely. At first, I thought it might be similar to Ephesians 4.29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” But that word is completely different and more closely describes decomposition. “Corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33 means, “To cause deterioration of the inner life” (BDAG 1054).
Paul uses this same word earlier in the book. In I Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the church and her foundation (as in, her foundation is God and not men). By verse seventeen – still addressing the church – he says, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (emp. mine).
“Destroy” is usually ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi) or λύω (luo), but in this verse it’s the same word that’s translated “corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33.
So what does this mean for us? It’s an extremely solemn warning to those who are corrupting or dividing the church today. At Corinth, the division was due to worldliness and basing their Christianity on prominent men like Paul or Apollos.
If our conduct is dividing the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If what we’re talking about corrupts the bride of Christ, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If we abuse the influence we have in the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If our opinions, preferences, political views, or behaviors are in any way eroding the family of God, we have to quit them. A bad argument was enough for Paul to tell Euodia and Syntyche to, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12). Their argument was hurting the church at Philippi, so Paul told them to get it together or their souls would be lost.
If love for the church does not motivate us to pursue unity, then it is time for us to cultivate a healthy fear of what negative actions can do to our souls. The church is eternally important and infinitely precious, so what could go wrong if we’re always looking out for others?
Conflict stinks. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, and far too easy to do poorly. Conflict is a delicate game balancing a desire to achieve a certain outcome without causing unnecessary escalation.
We live in a world where evil is alive and well. No one wants evil to exist, but it does because of sin. Both good and bad people sometimes do evil things. Those people should be held accountable and justice meted.Our country has had a consistent pattern of civil unrest after an injustice. We no longer know how to have healthy conflict.
Do you want to perpetuate hate? Use the actions of an evil person as an excuse to harm others, burn businesses, and contribute to civil unrest.
Do you want to stifle positive change? Share polarizing rhetoric. It will flawlessly push either side more firmly into their ways.
Do you want to keep a rift between entire groups of people? Play the blame game instead of holding those responsible accountable. And, when those responsible have been held accountable, continue to accuse others of complicity.
Every single person on the planet is guilty. Every single person on the planet is hopeless without God. Every person on the planet would die lost if not for Jesus and the forgiveness He offers. Not one person is perfect.
Do we want peace? Be good to all people (Galatians 6.10).
Do we want to eradicate prejudice? Unite within the family of God (Galatians 3.28). God created people, not factions.
Do we want to eliminate hatred? Be patient, kind, humble, not jealous, not self-centered, not easily provoked, not a grudge-holder, not someone who relishes in dysfunction, love truth, not retaliatory, and be full of hope (I Corinthians 13).
We must face the fact that the only way to have true stability, love, acceptance, and goodness is to go through God. Only when we look to an objective standard – one that cannot change simply because man’s threshold of tolerance has – will we have peace.
“Happy are the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9).
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!