Treasure in Earthly Vessels – 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

In this passage, the apostle Paul draws a great contrast between our weak and fragile humanity and the power of God that dwells within us, which we receive when we first believe on Christ.

When we read of the difficulties that Paul endured (2 Cor 11:22-33), we are tempted to think of him as some superhuman, a person with some extraordinary physical and emotional strength; but as we read the rest of the epistle, we see him to be an ordinary man, and one subject to the same trials and weaknesses as we are. So what was the thing that kept him going, in spite of these weaknesses? This passage tells us, that it was the power of God working in him through the gospel.

We tend to think of the gospel as that power of God that transforms us when we first believe on Christ; but it is that same faith in Christ that keeps us and empowers us to live out our Christian life; because in the gospel is the God of that gospel, who comes to indwell us and continues to renew us.

Hence, we are able to bear hardships:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

This seems like a paradox; how can a weak and dying person be able to stand up to all the things mentioned in verses 8 & 9? The answer is given in verse 10; the “life of Jesus” in us keeps us from being crushed and despairing. Hallelujah!

I like this quote from Hudson Taylor:

“Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence to be with them.”

And also like this quote from Karl Schelkle:

“God makes weak men the vessels of his grace, so that their power may be recognized as the power of God, as coming from God, and not confused with human ability.”

This same gospel treasure gives us confidence in the resurrection (2 Cor 4:14); and enables us to see our trials as light and momentary compared to the glory that awaits us (2 Cor 4:17).

You Were Washed – 1 Corinthians 6:11

… such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11).

Christians are supposed to act like Christians, but the reports Paul received of lying, cheating and immorality in the Corinthian church was such that it caused him to question the authenticity of some of their conversions. He admonished them with the words, Do you not know… meaning “You really should know better than to be acting like this!” He cautions them, do not be deceived, so that they might examine their behaviors as to whether they are aligned with their Christian profession. In the church at Corinth and well as the church today, there are people living immorally; there were and are drunkards and thieves and swindlers. People whose lives are characterized by these kinds of activities should not be fooled – for such are not Christians, but “unrighteous” who, although they may be inside the church, have never had their sins truly washed away. They may have undergone a moral reformation – an outward washing of sorts, like a pig might get washed of the mud that clings to him – but they were now falling back into the same sins that they supposed themselves to have been cleansed of.

While the text stresses the contrast between “righteous” and “unrighteous” activities, Paul is primarily addressing the righteous sheep in the church at Corinth. As he does, he first does not want them deceived so as to think that everyone in their midst was necessarily a genuine Christian; and secondly he is challenging those who are true believers to examine their lives and repent of their sinful inconsistencies. As he rebukes the church at Corinth for not acting in a Christ-like manner, Paul reminds them to consider their calling and identity. He prompts them, You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.He uses the aorist tense and middle voice of the verb “to be,” emphasizing a decisive action that is done to the individual. Once again Paul resorts to his usual method of stressing indicatives in order to challenge Christians to look back at God’s work in them as the motivation to change their behavior in order to conform to what they truly are in Him. For there were in the church at Corinth as well as the church today, people who are falling into sins of immorality who were yet among God’s sheep. Brethren, if sin is beginning to get a grip in your life, remember your baptism, and what it means; you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. May this good news lead you to forsake sin and trust that Christ’s finished work on the cross has washed you whiter than the snow.

The Church Paul Loved – 1 Corinthians 16:15-24

My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. 1 Cor 16:24

Corinth was certainly a struggling church! Think about it … disorderly worship services, sexual immorality, idolatry, worldliness, members of the church in law suits, division, false doctrine … can anything be worse than all this? How is it possible that such a struggling, deeply flawed church can be turned around? If the Corinthian church were around today, we might be tempted to give up and close its doors. Others would suggest it might be revitalized with new leadership or perhaps a new mission statement. Some might suggest they just change the structure, lose the suit and tie, modify the music style, and service time and break up into a lot of small groups – preach less, discuss more, and serve coffee during every service. Whatever the case, it is certain that few churches presented any more challenge to the apostle Paul than Corinth did, yet at the end of a letter full of rebuke and disapproval, Paul affirms His love for them. It certainly does not seem as though Paul was going to give up on them easily.

Paul loved the church at Corinth, and his love was demonstrated in the fact that he was open with them. He did not keep his corrective instruction hidden. He applied Proverbs 27:5: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” He loves these people enough to confront them; but then he loves them enough to teach them – not just give orders, but to patiently teach and model Christian love to the church he loved. It was in loving, Christian strength that Paul sent this epistle.

The church on earth is marred, bruised, and weak; her people are redeemed sinners who will still sin, and at times you will be the target of their sins. In all honesty, sometimes fellow Christians are the hardest people in the world to love; but nevertheless, that is what we are called to do – love one another in the body of Christ. How do we do this? Paul’s love for God’s people comes from his own love for the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 22). As we love Christ more, we begin to love the things that He loves, not the least of which is His church.

Let All Be Done in Love – 1 Corinthians 16:1-14

Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Cor 16:14

With the glorious theme of the resurrection concluded, in chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians, Paul ties up some practical loose ends, namely giving instructions for taking up collections, his and others’ travel plans, and a few admonitions and greetings. This final chapter of 1 Corinthians reminds us that this really is a letter, and we are, after all, reading someone else’s mail. We are not to think however, that this chapter is unimportant; we will learn much as we observe how Paul brings the gospel to bear on practical church matters. And, as is true of all Scripture, chapter 16 serves a purpose for believers in every generation for shaping the life of the individual Christian and the church as a whole. In the first part of chapter 16 Paul gives directions about the collection and discusses his future itinerary. In the second part he brings the letter to a close with words of farewell. It is no accident that this final chapter places particular emphasis on love (vss. 14, 22, 24) (Hays R.B. Interpretation: First Corinthians ©1997).

Throughout most of the epistle, Paul is dealing with issues of unity, holiness, and love at the level of the local church in Corinth. In this last chapter we gain an appreciation for Paul’s greater missionary work. It shows us that the local church belongs to a wider network of communities, and that every believer must know that they are part of a grander universal church. It also reveals that the church must partake in the regular discipline of financial giving to meet the needs of our brethren across the lands. Without pressure, gimmicks or emotional manipulation, all of the people of God ought to give regularly, systematically, proportionately and freely – not out of compulsion of legalism (2 Cor 9:7). A proper biblical use of our money both a matter of obedience to God and our growth in godliness. The use of one’s money is a barometer of one’s spiritual maturity. How we use it reveals our priorities and what is in our hearts. Do you demonstrate love for others in the manner in which you use your finances?

O Death – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)

Death has been portrayed and personified in several ways. In contrast to the typical “Grim Reaper” (skeletal figure carrying a scythe), media portrayals often personify death as a rather good-natured fellow. But who is this smiling intruder in your home called death? Is his grin the fiendish mask of a mortal enemy? Or is it the smile of a benevolent friend who has come to rescue you from pain and suffering? Is death your enemy or your friend?

Have no question that the Bible describes death as an enemy. It is not the only enemy of the Christian, but it is described as our “last enemy.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul affirms that Christ will reign until He has put all enemies under His feet, and the last of those enemies will be death (15:25–26). It should be a great comfort to us to know that the One in whom we place our trust, is victorious over all of His enemies. This text in 1 Corinthians along with Hebrews 2:5-9 echo back to Psalm 8, where we find the “son of man” “made a little lower than the angels,” yet given dominion and clothed with glory and honor. Christ, who is the last Adam, fulfills the destiny of mankind described in Psalm 8, by receiving dominion over creation from His Father. This, placing of all things in subjection to Christ, has both a present and a future facet. In His resurrection and ascension, Christ became Christus Victor – the victor over sin, death and Satan. At present, He is already at the right hand of the Father and reigns over all creation. However, Christ still has rebellious subjects, as the whole of creation is not yet living in willing obedience to Him. Even his arch enemy Satan, is still in rebellion, even though in His death on the cross Christ wrenched away the power over death delegated to Satan (Heb 2:14-15). The irony is that Christ’s victory over the devil’s power of death was accomplished by means of death. In His death, Jesus is victorious over death, ultimately because death could not hold Him. Yet there is still a future dimension to this victory; the last enemy that will be destroyed is death. So even though Christ dealt a mortal blow to Satan and death in His own death, there still remains a final victory to be realized.

But something decisive did take place on the cross with respect to death; the sting of death was removed. God gave us a victory that was won for us by another. So the question remains. Is death now our friend? Or is it yet our enemy? For believers, death can be a considered our friend only insofar as it ushers us into presence of Christ in sure anticipation of final resurrected body. However, insofar as death is still coupled with suffering, it remains our last enemy yet to be totally vanquished. Our problem with death is not so much with death itself, but with dying. While we know that on the other side of death lies glory, and that death is the portal to that glory, at the same time, we all have to do battle with the process of death and its associated suffering, degeneration, and grief. As such, dying remains an enemy still to be destroyed.

Death and dying is something that we all must come to grips with. To an unbeliever, the reality of death makes life vanity; this is why we have a hard time to express any hope at the funeral of an unbeliever. Human death is a display of sin. Every grave, every coffin, every tombstone cries out , “Here lies a sinner paying his due wage.” Death stands as proof of the righteousness of the law which states: “The soul that sins shall die.” But to the believer, mortality is good news because of the resurrection. Paul expressed the glory of death, in his casual attitude regarding his departure from this life. He wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil 1:21-24). As Paul compares life and death, he does not see them as opposite, but as one being good, and the latter being outstanding. When he compares the suffering of this present life to the future glory, he concludes that in light of the latter, the former is not worth consideration. Take heart Christian, our best days are most assuredly ahead of us!

What is your attitude toward death and dying? How are we to balance a healthy grief over the loss of a loved one, with a proper anticipation for the glory yet to be revealed?

Changed – 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

God created Adam and Eve as living souls in physical bodies. It was and is God’s very good plan for mankind that he should be a created being of both soul and body. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus Christ and all who follow Him will live forever in heavenly bodies. If there is no resurrection of the dead then it means that God has abandoned His original plan of creation. The final resurrection of the body, which is the unique hope of the Christian, confirms that God’s original plan was indeed very good, and that He has not abandoned His original intention in the created order. Of course Adam fell into sin in the garden, and with Adam, all of mankind fell. As a result, our physical bodies are fallen and subject to temptation, sin, and finally death. God sent His Son, the last Adam, to die in our place, and He secured victory over death by raising Him from the grave, so that all who are in Christ will also rise on the last day. The Corinthian church in the First Century had some in their midst who denied the resurrection of the dead, and in so doing, they denied the importance of God’s created order. The redemption of our bodies in the final resurrection is proof of the fact that God is unchanging – that He is the same yesterday, today and forever; and if He pronounced the creation of the physical body as “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31), then we would expect that in the end, He would finally give us new bodies that are very good.

Contrary to the ideas that held sway in ancient Greek philosophy, and continue to be embraced by much of Christendom today, we are not ghostly souls trapped in physical bodies waiting for death to set us free. Part of the reason for many Christians’ unhealthy attitude toward death and dying lies in a failure to see death as God’s enemy. But the Scripture describes death as a destructive force that must be conquered at the end of the age in the final resurrection. The unique Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body is an essential teaching of the New Testament because it proves that for eternity, love wins and death loses. This is a healthy biblical understanding of death.

Also the doctrine of the resurrection affirms the moral significance of life in our present bodies. Whether they meant it or not, the Corinthians’ denial of the final resurrection of the body was tantamount with a denial that what they did with their bodies had any ultimate significance with God. They failed to understand the truth taught in Romans 8:23, which refers to the resurrection as, “the redemption of our bodies,” (significantly not, “redemption from our bodies”). In other words, our present physical bodies will be changed, not replaced. Their immorality was a betrayal of their theological confusion over the resurrection; they therefore failed to see the importance of the body, so they used their bodies to serve immorality. So Paul takes a significant portion of this letter to correct and teach on this matter. It is no coincidence that a letter which opened teaching a theology of the cross (1:18-2:16) would conclude with a rich theological teaching on the resurrection. These two truths – the cross, and the resurrection – which form the bookends of 1 Corinthians – must also frame the entirety of our theology and practice. A proper understanding of the triumphant transformation of our bodies in the resurrection will go a long well in helping us to be a good steward of our bodies now, as we seek to use them in a way in keeping with their ultimate Christ-like end.

As we read 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 it calls us to expand our imaginations beyond what we know in flesh and blood. In this text we see that God’s creative power is beyond ordinary comprehension. Being that this is clearly a future event, the resurrection gives us a bright and hopeful future. Read the text a few times through along with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and utilize the sanctified imagination that God gave you to think about your glorious future condition.

It’s a Wonderful Resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:12-34

What would life be like if you had never been born? This was the premise of the 1946 holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Protagonist George Baily, struggling with the emptiness of life in light of a series of unfortunate happenings, is contemplating taking his life, when an angel shows him how valuable his life really is. The angel Clarence tells George, “You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you.” … “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

What if only one thing in history had happened differently, how would the world change? What about a major historic event? Imagine a world in which Adolph Hitler had been assassinated in 1938 before the rise of the Nazi party to power. What if Abraham Lincoln was never assassinated? What if the Confederate army had won the battle of Gettysburg? Such are the subjects of science fiction and can be interesting to think about. But what if the most important event in human history had never happened? What if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead? Many skeptics, atheists, and other religions claim that He did not; and even some Christians live as if there were no resurrection.

In our text this week, the apostle Paul, having established the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the common ground of all Gospel preaching and the Christian faith, moves into the main point of his argument, namely refuting those who deny the final resurrection of the dead. Apparently some in the Corinthian church were saying that there was no final resurrection of the body. Paul takes up this thought considering what life would be like if there were no resurrection. First in verses 12-28 Paul appeals to logic showing 1) that a denial of the resurrection of the dead is theologically false and would result in the futility of the Christian faith (v. 12-19); and 2) the consequences since the resurrection of the dead is true, namely that God is sovereign and omnipotent, so death must be conquered by a resurrection (v. 20-28). Then in verses 29-34 Paul makes an ad hominem appeal that, like his first argument, exposes the logical result and therefore illogical nature, of their thinking. If there is no final resurrection, then both he and they are fools for following what in the end has no value.

The irony is that many professing Christians who would never deny the resurrection, nevertheless live lives as if there were no resurrection. This week, read the text and think of ways that perhaps you and your family ought to live in light of the reality of the resurrection.

The Gospel – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I remind you, brothers, of the Gospel … (1 Cor 15:1)

Moving from the problem in the Corinthian church of disorderly worship, which required correction, Paul now deals with correcting a disordered belief. There is no question that in First Century Corinth, as well as today, errant belief concerning the Gospel invariably leads to errant behavior in the church. In fact one cannot expect to correct erring practice without ever getting to the root of errant belief. When we see inappropriate practices in worship in any church, usually at its core is a skewed understanding of the Gospel. In chapter 15 we come to the root doctrinal problem in Corinth, namely their misunderstanding about the final resurrection.

Paul prefaces his discussion about the resurrection with a prologue about what has been preached from the beginning by him as well as all of the apostles who witnessed Christ’s resurrection. He begins with something that there was complete unanimity on in all of the churches – namely Christ’s death for man’s sin and His resurrection. Ultimately he wants to bring them to the understanding that all Christians will be raised from the dead (or changed, if they are alive at Christ’s coming) into a new body, but as he so often does, Paul begins his argument where there is agreement.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 contains the Gospel (the good news) in four verses. It is a very brief summary of what he expands in detail in the first four chapters of the book of Romans, namely that mankind is in trouble, sunk in our sins, in need of being saved from God’s wrath; and salvation comes in this: Christ died for our sin, was buried, and was raised on the third day. This good news becomes saving as we hold fast to this message preached and truly believe it. Every time the Gospel is reiterated we find one form or another of this basic principle of “problem/solution” or “God-man / Christ-response.”

The Gospel is such a very simple message, but misunderstanding any part of it can result in havoc wreaked in the visible expression of the Gospel – the church. Usually churches that practice errant and even apostate practices have at their core, a misunderstanding of something that would simply be corrected with a proper explanation of the Gospel.

Order in the Assembly – 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Cor 14:33

Last time in our exposition of 1 Corinthians, we derived a definition of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy from 1 Corinthians 14, as follows: Tongues are a Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation. Prophecy is the God-given gift whereby some Christians receive and convey revealed information from God. Being that these gifts, as they were used in the early church, did not have to do with adding to God’s revealed truth in the Scripture, nor were they counted on par with the Word of God, we found no Scriptural reason to think that these gifts may no longer be properly used in the church today. As a matter of fact, in light of Moses desire that all of God’s people prophesy (Num 11:28) and the fulfillment of Moses words and the prophecy of Joel (2:28-29) at Pentecost, when the Spirit was outpoured on the church (Acts 2:5-21), we should expect that there would be prophets among God’s people to this day, just as there are shepherds and priests of God’s people. If Christ is our prophet, priest, and king, then we would expect that the church, which is to bear His likeness, would also have subordinate prophets, priests and kings who operate in these roles as they are gifted to do so by the Spirit.

As we consider the matters of prophecy and tongues, and their possible use in the church today, the logical question that arises is: “What ought this to look like in the assembly today?” It seems as though in first Century Corinth that these gifts were being used in such a manner that had no order. Many people were noisily speaking in various unknown languages at the same time, without an interpreter to explain what was being said. Unbiblical prophecies were being offered that went undiscerned and untested. So Paul instructs the church as to how these gifts should be used “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).

First in verses 27-28, Paul tells the church that these gifts are not of the sort where the person loses all self-control; rather there is a dynamic tension between the Spirit who is giving the gift and the individual who is its vehicle. So there is no reason that in the assembly these gifts could not be used in an orderly fashion; people could not make the excuse, for instance, that they were so overcome by the Spirit that they could not refrain from speaking up. One cannot help but see the difference here between this kind of prophecy and that of Jeremiah who could not contain his prophecy (Jer 20:9). Secondly in verses 29-33, Paul gives instruction to the church to evaluate these uttered prophecies. Again unlike the prophets of the Old Testament, whose words were to be counted as directly from God, the gift of prophecy in the church is to be used with discernment, under the authority of the church. This is very different than many of the practices we see in the modern charismatic movement, where prophecies are given as direct quotations from the Lord. If they applied these Biblical restrictions in contemporary charismatic churches, it would immediately reduce many of their abuses and misuses of the gifts. Thirdly in verses 33-36, while women were permitted (with certain restrictions) to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:2-16), they were not to be involved in the verbal assessment of prophecies. Finally as Paul concludes his argument we are struck by the remarkable fact that while Paul considers prophecy to be revelatory (14:30), that it nevertheless holds less authority than the written word, with which it must agree completely or be rejected.

This section of Scripture ought to get us to think about how we might properly utilize all of the gifts of the Spirit in our own assembly. There seems to be Biblical warrant for practices and expressions that are both less formal (1 Cor 14:26) as well as more solemn (such as preaching, reading, the Lord’s Supper, etc.), and perhaps more thought ought to be put into how to develop both trends in our church. Pray for us as we all desire our church to be as Biblical as possible, as we seek to apply all of the Scripture.

Prophecy & Tongues – 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Cor 14:1

There is perhaps no more controversial doctrine in the church today than that of the continuation or cessation of the spiritual gifts; that is, whether the charismatic gifts are operative in the church today. The principal reason for the Cessationist denial of the continuation of the gifts is an appeal to the closure of the canon of Scripture which is believed to have marked the end of the manifestation of the gifts. Strong Cessationists will point to the coming of “the perfect” of 1 Cor 13:8-12, as fulfilled in the completion of the Scripture, thus making the spiritual gifts no longer necessary. However, the main Continuationist objection to this theory is that the Bible does not offer any explicit text that would support such an argument. Continuationists understand the key expression “that which is perfect” as referring to the final salvation of the church at the second coming of Christ; thus, the cessation of the gifts is associated with the end of time. To the Continuationist, knowledge, (13:9), is presently in a state of imperfection – “in part” – because “that which is perfect” has not yet come; but when it does come, our knowledge will cease to be imperfect, as Christ’s second coming completes our knowledge. Continuationists also argue that the consummation of the age at Christ’s second coming best fits the description of the expression “face to face” (13:12) which most likely refers to the state of heavenly glory, when we will see the Lord.

Those who reject Continuationism do so by appealing to the principle of Sola scriptura, suggesting that the charismatic gifts represent a second infallible authority in addition to Scripture – particularly since they are offered in terms such as “thus saith the Lord.” They logically argue: how can anyone distinguish between inspired Scripture which is “God’s word” and a prophetic utterance which is allegedly a word from the same God? Continuationists affirm Sola scriptura by attaching a weaker sense to the term ‘prophecy’ limiting its authority so as not to contain new doctrinal content, and be thoroughly consistent with the Bible. A Continuationist would say that all prophecies must be tested against the Scripture as taught in 1 Cor 14:29, so it must be the case that prophecy in ancient Corinth, as today, contains a mixture of true and false elements that is to be discerned by the hearer.

But one may ask: what about Deut 18:20-22 which teaches that a prophet, who speaks presumptuously in the name of the Lord, is exposed as a false prophet and subject to death? If we allow true prophets to err in their prophecies, we are left with no Biblical test to distinguish true prophets from false prophets. And if Continuationists are correct, there should be a lot of men stoned as false prophets. But then, if the Cessationists position is correct, what are we to do with 1 Cor 14? What applications can be drawn if there is no prophecy in the church today? Are we to completely ignore two chapters of the Bible as completely irrelevant?

It seems that no matter what position one takes, there are sound Biblical arguments made in favor of and against both positions. I think one of the hurdles that we need to overcome to understand this controversy is to eliminate the “straw men” and misrepresentation of both sides. Even the hardest of Cessationsists agree that modern preaching, for example, is analogous to prophecy, and they are therefore allowing a place for non-inspired gifts. Meanwhile, Biblical charismatics would never accept a prophetic message that differed from Scripture. Is it possible that there is a middle ground between blanket approval and blanket rejection of the charismatic gifts in the church today? Let’s consider that next Sunday as we look at “Tongues and Prophecy.”