A Reinforcement in the Faith of Believers In Christ, and An Appeal To Those Who Do Not

Why Be a Christian in the First Place?

Is There Really a Point to It All?

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-19)

Since the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is noticeably longer than the one we just completed, I will be dividing chapter 15 into 4 lessons to allow me to get into some serious depth regarding the apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. As we begin to read at verse 1, we find Paul reminding the early Corinthian church of the reasons for the faith of the whole congregation, which is unconditional belief and unshakable confidence in the saving power of the shed Blood of Christ. I would liken this portion of Scripture to a coach going over some of the basic fundamentals of the game during a team meeting, reminding the players that if they stick to the basics consistently, they will ultimately win. Being a follower of Jesus is a lot like that, and so you may think of Christ as your Spiritual coach. Here is an example of that from Scripture.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 1-11)

The basis of Christianity and of belief in Christ as the Son of God is summed up in Paul’s words “ …Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…….” So we have basic fundamental teaching and instruction here from Paul the apostle to the brethren in the early Church, which is the ultimate sacrificial offering of Jesus himself for the sins of all humankind who freely accept His eternal salvation.

Without this faith, all the good deeds and personal sacrifice in the world will do us no good at all, and we will have “believed in vain”. Based on this portion of scripture I would say that one of our primary tasks as practicing Christians is to make sure our belief is genuine – that is, that we exercise our faith in such a way that our passion for Christ strives to approach and imitate His passion for all humankind when He died upon the cross. As He gave his all for us, so we must be willing to give our very best for Him. In fact, a time is coming soon to North America when Christians will begin to be slain for their faith. The apostles saw the risen Lord in person, but we believe having not seen Him (yet).

At this point I would ask that all those reading this who are knowledgeable about the Bible, or who have been Christians for a very long time like I have, to bear with me for a few moments while I explain something to the newer believers regarding what Paul wrote about himself towards the end of the above passage. Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. Paul is referring to his initial meeting with the Spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus, which is documented in chapter 9 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was blinded for 3 days and instructed to go to a certain house where he met the apostle Peter, who laid his hands on Paul and healed his blindness.

Before all this happened, Paul was one of the leaders of Judaism at that time who actively persecuted Christians prior to his own conversion. The Book of Acts also documents Paul’s being present at the execution of St. Stephen in chapter 6. And yet ever since meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul had been converted and was actively preaching and teaching throughout the known world of that time. This is why Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles”, but Paul does one thing here that we all should learn to emulate. He gives all the credit for his conversion to his faith in God through His grace, taking none for himself. He even mentions working harder in his new ministry than anyone else in an attempt to make up for his previous life as a persecutor of the followers of Christ.

God gets all the credit for our own conversions because He loved us first, not the other way around. Remember what Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Therefore, if we humble ourselves in our faith by giving all the credit for our salvation and well-being to Jesus, and to God’s grace (which means unmerited favor), we will be rewarded with higher places in heaven when our physical lives are over and our eternal Spiritual lives begin. I will teach more on this topic at some point in the future. But for now, I will continue today’s study at verse 12.

But if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1st Corinthians 15, verses 12-19)

Based on what the apostle Paul wrote just above, perhaps there was some disagreement among the members of the early Churches regarding whether the resurrection of Christ was real or a myth. What we are seeing here is one of the first indicators of denominational teaching. Paul clearly wanted this practice stopped immediately, but history teaches us that not only did this not occur, but the fragmentation of the original church into divisions that were set against one another is an unfortunate reality that continues into modern times. But Paul responded back then by pointing out an obvious truth, which is that being a Christian while not believing in the resurrection of Christ, along with all who have believed on and trusted in His name, defeats the very purpose of our beliefs.

The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day is the very basis for all Christian faith. Even the two greatest commandments as they were taught by Jesus in the four gospels – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – are impossible to follow without a belief in the deity of God through Christ. And a belief in God through Jesus Christ is unworkable without the strongly held belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that in so doing, He gave all of humankind a chance to have the same opportunity to have eternal life without end, which He already has. None of us can ever achieve immortality on our own, but we can all have it through Christ, the Son of God. And that’s a goal worth shooting for every single day of the year.

We Who Follow the Footsteps of Jesus Make Ourselves to Be Royalty Just As He Is

When It Comes to Studying the Scriptures, Never Go Beyond What Is Written

(1st Corinthians chapter 4)

Jewish Jesus

In today’s Bible study we will explore 1st Corinthians chapter 4. This chapter is actually a continuation of the apostle Paul’s train of thought from last week’s study. Paul was taking the early church at Corinth to task over multiple divisions from within. He made the point that it doesn’t matter which individual church the early Christians belonged to because they were worshiping the same God, having been saved by the blood of that same Lamb of God. Paul then goes on to state that these things are not up to him anyway. After all, it is God who is in charge of all things, with Paul regarding himself as a mere servant rather than an overseer. So let’s begin today’s study now, commencing at verse 1.

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants in Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1st Corinthians 4, verses 1-5)

The first thing we notice here is that Paul is setting a very high standard, not only for himself but for all who are called to preach and teach the Gospel. Being trustworthy is absolutely essential to being a servant of Christ because those persons are being “entrusted with the secret things of God”. Notice that this act of being entrusted can only take place after one has placed his or her complete faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. So if we want to serve Jesus, and if we want to be “entrusted” by God, we must learn to place our faith in Him first, and only in Him. And then, we are charged with the responsibility of being trustworthy individuals

The truth of the matter is that God loved us first, and he did so by sending his only Son to suffer and die for our sins, only to have him rise up from death three days after he was buried. Paul wrote elsewhere to the early church at Rome that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. If God is willing to extend His forgiveness to all of humankind, then it is our responsibility as Christians to accept it unconditionally, and so to trust Him unconditionally. Otherwise it is tantamount to disrespect of God.

The apostle Paul then put this into further perspective when he wrote that he couldn’t care less about being judged by other people. He does not judge himself either, but instead leaves it all up to God through the blood of Christ. But Paul then brings up a very important point here when he writes, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent”. It’s easy to be going through life at whatever speed we feel like while feeling pretty good about ourselves. We do not steal, murder, lie, worship false gods, we don’t date married people, and we do our level best to not break any other of the Ten Commandments. We try to love God all we can and to love our neighbor as ourselves, just like Jesus said.

But just because we can’t find any fault with ourselves, and just because we commit our lives to Christ, striving to live as free from sin as we can, doesn’t means we will never sin again. For example, it is possible to sin and not know it, or to not realize our mistake until after the fact. All we can do at that point is to confess our sin privately to God and to prayerfully ask Him for forgiveness with humility and a contrite heart. When one is finished with God, the very next step is to go to the person they have sinned against and, as far as it is possible, be reconciled to them. If they forgive you, you both have something to rejoice about. If they will not forgive you, forgive them anyway, expecting nothing in return. Then and only then will God give you the full credit you deserve for asking forgiveness. Paul then continues this train of thought in verse 6.

“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘do not go beyond what is written’. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (1st Corinthians 4, verses 6-7)

In verse 6, Apollos was a reputable leader in the early church at Corinth. Although I don’t know the exact position Apollos held, he worked with Paul off and on throughout his ministry. But Paul is warning the church, “Do not go beyond what is written”. There is a similar warning at the very end of the Bible in the book of Revelation that says, “I warn who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book” (Rev. 22: verse 18). This is a crystal-clear warning to stay within the Bible during our walk and our service with the Lord and to not add any additional meaning or superfluous teaching to it. This especially applies to those who preach and teach the Gospel since they all, including myself, will be held to a higher standard when being judged by God after our lives end. Speaking of ending I will now, with God’s help, continue today’s lesson beginning at verse 8.

“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings – and that without us! How I wish you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle for the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (1st Corinthians 4: verses 8-16)

Paul finishes this chapter by reminding the early Church of what it means to be a follower of Christ. To have Christ is to have everything one could ever need. Paul then repeated the theme that is present in all his teachings, which is to warn the church about being too preoccupied with material things and financial gain. When we have Christ as our Savior, we are rich. We have everything we need to get us through this life and into the next, and the next life is the one that really counts, because it will last for eternity.

To be a follower of Jesus, then, can mean blessing those who curse us, to endure persecution and to risk being ostracized for His name, and to answer kindly to those who slander us. This is not to shame us but to warn us because we each have a stake in God’s kingdom, and Paul is exhorting us all to do all we can to abide in His kingdom and grow in our faith. As Paul wrote, we have ten thousand guardians in Christ in the Spiritual realm, and he was that church’s spiritual father. In this ministry I assume the role of spiritual father to all my friends, followers and groups that receive these messages. And we can do this together by imitating Paul as he imitated Christ, who is the head of the Church. We will all be better off when we start doing this individually and collectively as a church as we jointly build up the body of Christ. Let’s all start doing this today while we give all the glory and praise to Jesus.