David Guzik’s weekly devotional, based on a verse or two from the Bible.

Receiving and Giving in Church

Receiving and Giving in Church

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

This was about the conduct of the Corinthian Christians when they would come together for worship, fellowship, and God’s word. Those gatherings of the church were to be a time when people came to participate and to give to one another, not merely to passively receive.

Receiving and Giving in Church

Out of necessity, the Corinthian Christians met in small groups in different homes. There were many “house churches” scattered over Corinth. In these small groups, there was freedom and responsibility to receive and give. One might give by reading or singing a psalm. Another might offer a word of teaching. Someone might pray in a tongue, along with an interpretation. Someone else might have a revelation, a word from God’s heart and mind to the gathered church. In a small, home-fellowship type setting, this is how the church should work together.

When more people are gathered, this “everybody shares something with everyone else” is more difficult. Among ten people, ten can share something with all the other ten. But among thirty, or sixty, or a hundred people, there isn’t time to allow everyone to share something with everyone else. Plus, in a larger group, the “I want to feel important by talking to everybody” factor is much more present. It may be present among ten people, but how much more among a hundred! This is why some are blessed and find great spiritual growth through a home group; it provides a better context for the “everyone shares something with everyone else” idea.

At the same time, the heart of “everyone shares something with everyone else” can happen in a larger church, but it is more expressed in “everyone shares something with someone else.” It says, “I am coming to church, but not only to receive a blessing. I come to give a blessing to someone, and I will ask God for an opportunity to bless someone today.” This way of thinking can make the fifteen minutes before a church meeting and the thirty minutes after the best and most exciting time of the gathering. It is a big mistake to think, “If I’m not up on the platform, I can’t minister to someone else today.” Instead, believers should be on the lookout for opportunities to pray with people, encourage, help, meet, bless, counsel, admonish, and love one another every time they come to church.

Big church or little church, house church or “regular” church, God calls us to come to the gatherings of His people not only to receive, but to give. We give our attention, our worship, and our listening ear to the Lord. But we also give to one another in just the way Paul described. This can revolutionize your church-going experience – so let that revolution, a very Biblical revolution, begin.

Faith, Hope, and Love

The Greatest of These is Love

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

For many people, 1 Corinthians 13 is their favorite chapter in the Bible. Because it describes the character and nature of love so well, it is sometimes called “The Love Chapter.” These words conclude the chapter and tell of the never-ending nature of love.

Faith, Hope, and Love

The three great pursuits of the Christian life are not miracles, power, and gifts; they are faith, hope, and love. Though the gifts are precious, and given by the Holy Spirit today, they were never meant to be the focus or goal of the Christian life. Instead, the believer’s main pursuit is faith, hope, and love.

What is your Christian life focused on? What do you really want more of? It should all come back to faith, hope, and love. If it doesn’t, we need to receive God’s sense of priorities, and put our focus where it belongs.

Because faith, hope, and love are so important, we should expect to see them emphasized throughout the New Testament. Think of these passages:

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father. (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5-6)

You could add to these 1 Peter 1:21-22, Colossians 1:4-5, and 2 Timothy 1:12-13.

Faith, hope, and love are all important, but the greatest of these is love. Love is greatest because it will continue and even grow in the eternal state. When we are in heaven, faith and hope will have fulfilled their purpose. We won’t need faith when we see God face to face. We won’t need to hope in the coming of Jesus once He returns. But we will always love the Lord and each other and grow in that love through eternity.

Love is also the greatest because it is an attribute of God (1 John 4:8), and faith and hope are not part of God’s character and personality. God does not have faith in the way we have faith, because He never has to “trust” outside of Himself. God does not have hope the way we have hope, because He knows all things and is in complete control. But God is love and will always be love.

The point isn’t to get us to choose between faith, hope, and love. The point is that without love as the motive and goal, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are meaningless distractions. If you lose love, everything is lost.

Let the greatness of God’s live fill your life today.

Diversity and Unity

Diversity and Unity

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

1 Corinthians 12 is about spiritual gifts, something Paul did not want believers to be ignorant of (1 Corinthians 12:1). Here, Paul explained something relevant to the working of spiritual gifts but applies beyond that topic: the principle of diversity and unity in God’s family.

Diversity and Unity

Paul described three areas of diversity in God’s family: gifts, ministries, and activities. The gifts are diverse, the ministries are different, and the activities are varied. But it is all the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God doing the work through the gifts, the ministries, and the activities.

First, there are diversities of gifts. Paul will later list some nine spiritual gifts in the following verses, and more in other places, demonstrating this broad diversity. Yet there is only one Giver, who works through the diverse gifts.

The word ministries probably has in mind the different “gifted offices” in the church, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11-14). Paul’s point is clear: though there are different offices, it is the same Lord granting the offices and directing the service.

The original word for activities is energemata, where we get our words energy, energetic, and energize from. It is a word of active and sometimes miraculous power. Differences of activities means that God displays and pours out His miraculous power in different ways, but it is always the same God doing the work.

What are the differences between gifts, ministries, and activities? The word gifts is used broadly. Some gifts are ministries – standing offices or positions in the church. Some gifts are activities – miraculous events or outpourings at a particular time and place, such as the manifestation of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7.

Just as in first-century Corinth, it is easy for believers today to focus on their own gifts, ministries, or activities and believe those who are different are not really walking or working with God. Yet the one God has a glorious diversity in the way He does things. We should never expect it to be all according to our own emphasis and taste.

One of the ministries mentioned in the New Testament is evangelist (Ephesians 4:11). If I am an evangelist, it’s easy for me to focus on my gift, my ministry, and think that everyone in God’s family should be an evangelist just as I am. I can try to make others feel guilty that they don’t have my gifts and ministry.

Two things are true and important: the diversity and the unity. By God’s Spirit we are different, but we are all one. Don’t focus so much on the diversity that you miss the unity.

Today, appreciate the powerful diversity and unity God has made among His people, and find a way to thank God for someone else’s gifts and ministry!

Learning by Example

Learning by Example

God's Way of Escape

God’s Way of Escape

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

I don’t know if this saying is used elsewhere, but in the United States people sometimes say, “Nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes.” It’s supposed to be a slightly humorous observation on the uncertainties of life, but I think at least one more thing could be added to the certain things of life: temptation.

God's Way of Escape

We’re all tempted, and none of our temptations are truly unique; what we go through is common to man. Others before you have found strength in Jesus Christ to overcome the same temptation you experience, or even worse. Therefore, you can be victorious, but in the strength of Jesus, not in your own strength. We fight temptation with Jesus’ power, like the girl who explained what she did when Satan came at the door of her heart with temptation: “I send Jesus to answer the door. When Satan sees Jesus, he says, ‘Oops, sorry, I must have the wrong house.’”

The truth is God is faithful and has promised to supervise all temptation, whether it comes at us through the world, the flesh, or the devil. God promises to limit temptation according to our capability to endure it, or at least according to our capability as we rely on Him, not our capability as we rely only on ourselves.

Satan would destroy us in a moment if God would allow him, even as he wanted to destroy Job (Job 1:6-12) and Peter (Luke 22:31), but God will not let him. God faithfully supervises what comes to His children and though we may face grievous hardship, in Him we have the power to endure.

God has promised to not only limit our temptation, but also to provide a way of escape in tempting times. He will never force His children to use the way of escape, but He will make the way of escape available. It’s up to us to take God’s way of escape.

One commentator noted that in the original language, the word for a way of escape has the idea of a mountain pass, with the idea of an army being surrounded by the enemy, and then suddenly seeing an escape route to safety. Like a mountain pass, the way of escape isn’t necessarily an easy way—but it is available.

At a market, a little boy stood by a candy display, looking as if he was going to take some without paying. A clerk watched the boy, and finally said, “Looks like you’re trying to take some candy.” The boy answer, “Mister. I’m trying to not take any.”

For the time, that boy was able to bear it. In Christ, you can also bear temptation.

For the Gospel's Sake

For the Gospel’s Sake

To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.(1 Corinthians 9:22-23)

In the big picture, Paul was helping the Corinthian Christians how to deal with the controversy regarding believers eating meat that had been offered to a pagan idol. For background on that controversy, look at last week’s devotional.

In helping the Corinthian Christians think through the issue, Paul stressed an important principle in chapter 9: that Christians should often lay down their rights for the benefit of either believers or the lost.

For the Gospel's Sake

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul used his own life as an example of this. Paul had rights as an apostle (9:1), rights as a Christian minister (9:1), and the right to be supported in ministry (9:3-14). Yet he often set these rights aside. Paul didn’t always give up these rights, but when he knew it would be for God’s glory and the benefit of others, he denied himself what he deserved, what was his “right.”

All this came back to the issue of Corinthian believers eating meat that was sacrificed to pagan idols. A believer in Corinth might say, “I have the right to eat that meat!” Paul would answer, “Yes, you do have that right. But in this situation Christian love compels you to set that right aside. I have done this kind of thing many times. In this situation, eat a salad instead.”

Paul lived and taught this because he wanted to win the world for Jesus Christ. He even said, I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. We should not think Paul changed his doctrine or message to appeal to different groups. In fact, he specifically denied this in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. However, Paul would change his behavior and manner of approach. To those under the law, he would come as under the law. To the weak, he would sympathize with their weakness. He would make themselves a servant to all, that he might win more to Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:19).

I don’t know if Paul, as a Christian believer, ate pork, shellfish, or other non-kosher foods. I do think Paul understood he had the “right” to eat those things, as he wrote in Colossians 2:20-23. Yet Paul would never eat shrimp while trying to talk to Jewish people about faith in Jesus!

Paul would set aside such things and do it for the gospel’s sake. Paul was willing to offend people over the gospel, but he wanted to offend them only over the gospel.

Finally, notice Paul did this for the gospel’s sake. Not for the sake of pleasing the world, not for the sake of denying God’s truth. Paul knew where he could bend, and when to stand firm. May God give us the same wisdom!

Knowledge and Love

Knowledge and Love

Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Having dealt with their questions about marriage and singleness, Paul then addressed the questions Corinthian Christians had regarding eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. 1 Corinthians 8-10 gives a lot of attention to these things offered to idols.

Knowledge and Love

In this case, it was meat that was offered to idols. In the Roman world, the meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided into three portions. One portion was burnt in honor of the god, one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat, and the third portion went to the priest. At a busy temple, a lot of meat came to the priests. They often sold the meat they didn’t eat, either at a restaurant at the temple or a take-away meat market at the temple. In addition, the meat served and sold at the temple was generally cheaper. Then, as well as now, people loved a bargain (including Christians).

The whole issue of buying, eating, and serving meat that was offered to idols raised many questions for the Corinthian Christians.

– As I Christian, can I eat at the restaurant at a pagan temple?
– As I Christian, can I purchase and eat meat purchased at the temple meat market?
– As I Christian, if I am served meat as a guest at someone’s home, should I ask if it came from the pagan temple before I eat it?

These were sometimes complicated and controversial subjects among the Christians in Corinth. While most of us don’t deal directly with the issue meat offered to idols, there are many places where the practices and thinking of the world around us are a challenge for believers.

Pay attention to how Paul first addressed these issues. Instead of talking about food, Paul first spoke of the principles of knowledge and love. Christian behavior is founded on love, not knowledge; and the goal of the Christian life is not knowledge, but love.

Both knowledge and love make something grow. In the way Paul meant it here, knowledge often leads to swelling pride. Love often leads to growing in grace and the likeness of Jesus. The difference between puffs up and edifies is striking; it is the difference between a bubble and a building. Some Christians grow, others just swell.

Here is a great starting point for controversial subjects, those that relate to Christian holiness: recognize that when it comes to getting along in God’s family, love is more important than knowledge. The “love-them-all” honors God more than the “know-it-all,” especially when we mean real love, not mere unoffensive niceness.

Don’t be afraid of controversy, but make sure to lead with love – real love, not superficial niceness.

Judging Angels

Judging Angels

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (1 Corinthians 6:2–3)

Paul had to directly confront the Corinthian Christians because some among them were suing each other, taking each other court, over matters that Christians should have been able to settle among themselves. It showed immaturity and selfishness among Christians, which made them a bad witness to their pagan neighbors.

Judging Angels

In explaining how wrong it was for them to act this way, Paul pointed out that Christians were – or should be – fully capable to judge these matters on their own. After all, Paul noted, the saints will judge the world. Believers shall even judge angels. Christians should be fully able to judge their own matters because of our destiny. As we reign with Jesus Christ, we will (in some sense or another) judge the world, and even judge angels.

The idea of Christians judging angels is fascinating. It does not mean we will sit in judgment of faithful angels, as if we could penalize them for letting us down or not being there for us in a critical time. However, we will have a part in judging evil angels. We can’t exactly say when or how this will happen, but it does remind believers of their glorious future.

The destiny of redeemed men and women – to one day be higher than the angels and to even sit in judgment of them – must greatly annoy a certain high angelic being. He did not want to serve an inferior creature in the present age and did not want that inferior creature to be raised up higher than he in the coming age. So, this high-ranking angel rebelled against God, and remains determined to keep as much of humanity as possible from sitting in judgment of himself. We can imagine the perverse, proud pleasure Satan takes over every soul that goes to hell: “They won’t sit in judgment over me!”

Knowing this leads to a few practical applications. First, Christians should take to heart the importance of solving issues among themselves, without taking things to secular courts. Of course, this doesn’t mean criminal matters, but disputes among believers should be kept out of law courts. There is wisdom among God’s people to decide such things.

Second, take to heart the amazing destiny God has appointed for His people. Redeemed men and women will be so glorified in the age to come that they will judge angels. This is one of the ways God gives His people more in Jesus than they ever lost in Adam’s fall: in some sense raising them above angelic beings. God’s salvation is great in where it lifts His people from, and where it lifts them to. Let your heart rest in that today!

When Mourning is Better

When Mourning is Better

And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:2)

There were a lot of problems among the Christians of Corinth. Some of the problems were “mental” – in the sense of being problems of wrong thinking. Many of the Corinthians had wrong ideas about God’s power, work. and servants. But the Corinthians didn’t only have problems in how they thought; they also had problems with what they did. They had both “mental” and “moral” problems. In some sense, the two were connected. Their moral problems came because they didn’t think rightly about God and His world.

When Mourning is Better

In 1 Corinthians 5, the problem was sexual immorality. Verse 1 explains that someone counted among the Christians of Corinth openly lived in an on-going sexual relationship (either as married or living together) with his stepmother. The woman involved wasn’t a believer because Paul didn’t address her.

Paul said that they must take the man away from among the church: This was part of God’s answer to the problem – to take this notoriously unrepentant man away from the protection of the fellowship of God’s people. Yet, the Corinthian Christians didn’t do this. Why not? How could this kind of thing be allowed?

They allowed it because they were influenced by their surrounding culture. Remember that Corinth was a city notorious for sexual immorality, and the pagan religions did not value sexual purity. It wasn’t hard for a Corinthian to think you could be religious, yet still act any way you pleased when it came to sex. Greek culture matter-of-factly said: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children.”

They allowed it because they didn’t know or didn’t apply the Scriptures, such as Leviticus 18:8, which forbids a man to have sex with his stepmother.

More than anything, they allowed it in the name of “tolerance.” The Corinthian Christians said to themselves, “Look how loving we are. We accept this brother just as he is. Look how open-minded we are!”

The Corinthian Christians were proud (puffed up) over their acceptance of this man; they thought it said something good about them. Instead of glorying, they should have grieved, both for the man and over what God wanted them to do with the man: put him out of the church until he repented.

Generally, Christians are to be a tolerant people. In the broader world, we should love even those who are enemies to the Christian faith (Matthew 5:44). Yet leaders among God’s people have the responsibility of dealing with believers who are in open sin, refusing to recognize it as sin or to repent. In those situations, it’s a grave error to pretend everything is OK or the church should be praised for its so-called tolerance.

May God give leaders in the church the wisdom and strength to deal rightly with open sin among God’s people.