The Modern Churches, Particularly In and Around North America, Are a Far Cry From the Early Churches In the 1st Century A.D.

This Is What An Authentic 21st Century Church Is Supposed to Look Like

(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 14-31)

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Today I will conclude chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians in my ongoing blog about the writings of the apostles (to get a copy, visit this link, guaranteed virus-free). Last week in part 1, you will recall how the apostle Paul was explaining to the 1st century church at Corinth about the many different functions of various church members, and how they are interrelated to one another. He described the gifts of the Spirit as they are applied to the various church members, with no one gift being more important than any other. In the conclusion of chapter 12, the apostle Paul compares the church to the human body as he analogizes the two. So let’s start up where we left off last week, beginning in verse 14.

“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 14-20)

Now let’s go back to last week’s study for just a minute. You will recall Paul the apostle naming the “gifts of the Spirit” as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues (other languages), and the interpretation of tongues. When taking them in context like I am doing in the above Scripture, it is clear that Paul meant multiple things are happening all at the same time within the true Church – the one that’s not a corporation or a social club. Not everybody can be a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon; not everybody can have gifts of healing and of miraculous powers, nor do all speak in tongues, or interpret, and not all prophesy either. But each part within the church is absolutely indispensable to each other, and each part is an essential part of the whole body of Christ’s church. And, as Paul the apostle wrote, the various parts of the body of Christ are arranged exactly as God wants them to be. That is all part of His good, pleasing and perfect plan for each of us, according to his most excellent will. Let us now continue at verse 21.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’. And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 21-26)

Each part of the true Church of Jesus Christ is interdependent on one another, and all work in unison for the edification of that Church. There is no such thing as a one-man band in authentic Christianity, but instead the church possesses a “team spirit” that is Spiritual in nature. And there is total equality among the membership so that “its parts should have equal concern for each other”. And so we see that, in the spirit of true Christianity, everyone has an equal standing within Christ’s church, and no one is higher or better than anyone else. This is why equal protection under the law is part of the US legal code passed by Congress back in 1965. It is based on the Bible, as Rev. Dr. King correctly pointed out repeatedly during the civil rights era, prior to and in the days leading up to the day of his assassination.

I have one more comment about this passage before I move on. Paul wrote in verse 22 above, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor”. The work of those within the Church who are weaker, presumably meaning those persons of lesser stature either because they are new or because they have spiritual or personal issues they are working out, counts for just as much as a long-time member who has grown strong in his or her relationship with Christ. There is no such thing as a pecking order or a hierarchy in a church filled with true followers of Christ. Authority is distributed laterally among the membership, and Christ is the sole head of the church.

And then there is the part about those who “we think are less honorable, we (should) treat with special honor”. Remember what Jesus said in the four Gospels about, “Those who put themselves first will be last, but the last will be first”, and again when Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”? Jesus was clearly referring to the rich and the poor, and to those in positions of power and influence, and to those who crave it. And so the parts of the church, the very poorest and most insignificant members of the church, who seem to be the least ‘honorable’, should be treated with special honor.

Social and economic position count for nothing in the true Church, but passion for Christ is everything. If any of us should die tomorrow, we can’t take anything with us. Our cars, clothes, furniture, houses (if you are lucky enough to still own one of those), our jobs and all our friends and loved ones are going to be left behind when we go home to be with the Lord forever. In the end, our relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will remain of what we once were. It is that very relationship that sets apart God’s people from the rest of humanity. And now allow me to wrap up the remainder of today’s study.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 27-31)

Each member of the Body of Christ has their function, and it will invariably be the one thing that they do best within the overall structure of the Church. The best way to find out what your ministry is, or what function you serve for the glory of Jesus, is to first pray about it. Assume nothing, and do nothing on your own that you have not prayed about previously. In other words, don’t do anything without talking to God about it first unless you are absolutely sure that your will and God’s will are synchronous. God will open the right door for you, he will do so at precisely the right time, and He will do it in the right church.

So if you find yourself in a church where there does not seem to be any place where you can be a helping member, or even where you fit in for that matter, this is a sign that you need to look elsewhere for a church you can call home. Keep seeking and let God show you the way. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to where you belong, because if it worked just fine for me, then it will for you too. In the meantime, follow the apostle Paul’s advice and “eagerly desire the greater gifts” of the Spirit. God has the perfect place for you in his Church, and the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is what allows us to have this special relationship with Him. No one place within the church is more important or valuable than any other, nor is any one single person, not even the pastor. No matter what Spiritual gift you may have, it all counts equally as much in the true church of Christ. And if it counts equally within Christ’s church, then all is equal in the sight of God. In next week’s study, we’ll be moving on to chapter 13, ‘the love chapter’.

Weekly Biblical study series on WordPress with Minister and Author Paul J. Bern

On the Origins of Church Services and Its Meaning, and Why It Still Matters Today

(1st Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-34)

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Last week when we left off at verse 16, I made some concluding remarks about the timelessness of Jesus Christ and his 3.5-year ministry on this earth. Much has changed since the time He walked the earth, but Christ never changes, he has always remained constant. This week as we take up where we left off, I will now continue with this week’s study series by returning to the verse-by-verse teaching that you all have become used to, beginning at verse 17.

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received of the Lord what I already passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying,’ This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1st Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-26)

Let me stop at this point and give a little cultural and historical perspective on what Paul is writing about. First of all, we must understand that Jesus Christ walked the earth as a Jewish man, and consequently the vast majority of new converts in the early church were mostly Jewish as well. It was actually Paul the apostle that first brought the message of salvation through Christ to non-Jews, first in ancient Israel and soon after to Greece and what is now modern-day Turkey, and ultimately to Rome, capital of the infamous empire of its day that could arguably be called the world’s first superpower like the USA is today. The Jews of that time had a time-honored tradition that dated all the way back to the time of Moses. They would gather together on the Sabbath and have a celebratory banquet similar to pot-luck dinners today. The Jewish term for this celebration is “Shabbot”, and this tradition is still celebrated today in synagogues the world over, as well as no small number of Christian churches such as this who embrace the Spiritual connection between Christianity and Judaism.

In the time of the early church, there were a lot of poor and destitute persons, many of whom did not always have enough to eat. Besides coming to worship the Prince of Peace, there can be no doubt that they looked forward to attending Shabbot on the sabbath because this was one day out of the week when they knew they could get a pretty good meal. Based on what Paul wrote in this passage, the services in that day and time must have been pretty rowdy by today’s standards, and some believers were apparently far more devout than others. People would show up before the service began, eat up all the food and drink up all the wine and then leave, when in fact the feast did not begin until after the service was over, as well it should.

This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” It’s pretty clear that Paul was upset with these people who showed callous disregard for the sacredness of the celebration. Paul then reminds them in no uncertain terms of why they gather together to commemorate the Last Supper, and he scolds them for having no appreciation for this solemn occasion, and for total contempt towards those in attendance who were less fortunate. He then finishes making his point beginning in verse 27 while giving the Corinthian church a very stern warning (as well he should have).

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it does not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.” (1st Corinthians 11, verses 27-34)

Going to church, whether it is to have a service, revival, or a pot-luck dinner, is a solemn and momentous occasion. Going to church is not so much a religious obligation as it is a celebration of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Let us therefore examine ourselves to keep from coming under God’s judgment so we will not be “condemned with the world”. When our physical lives on earth are over – and everybody has their time, including me – we look forward to spending an eternity with our Lord and Savior in heaven, remembering that we would not be there if it weren’t for Him. The time to begin preparing for this is now. Worshiping God is serious business.

Church is not a social club, or just a nice place to network or to sneak a peek at the opposite sex, and it most definitely is not a fashion show like I mentioned in part 1 of this study. Worshiping Jesus Christ is a sacred and highly spiritual co-mingling with Him, and it isn’t always done in church. I pray every day, sometimes at home, sometimes on the bus or the subway, or when I am walking down the street. I can take my church with me everywhere I go if I want to. After all, since Jesus – and the guardian angels that He surrounds me with – is always with me, it seems fitting and proper that I should want to reciprocate. And so should the rest of us.

The Believer’s Freedom to Choose, While Nonbelievers Get Some of Their Choices Made For Them

This is an excerpt from my newest book release, “The Social Gospel Learning Series Vol. 3: the Apostle Paul” by Minister Paul J. Bern. To get a copy, visit https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com

The Believer’s Freedom and Real Christianity

(1st Corinthians chapter 10, verses 18-33)

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In this week’s installment of my Biblical study series on the writings of the apostles, I will finish up the second half of chapter 10 in the first book of Corinthians. Our study will begin at verse 18, but to put it into better context let me quote verse 17, where the apostle Paul was comparing the breaking of bread to the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ when he wrote, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The ‘one loaf’ symbolizes the body of Christ who was sacrificed for all our sins. He then goes on to use the temple at Jerusalem as an example, since many of those to whom Paul was writing at this point were converted Jews. He begins at verse 18:

“Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (1st Corinthians 10, verses 18-22)

In the first sentence above, Paul is referring to the live sacrifices offered by the Israelite’s when they were wandering in the Sinai desert, and especially after the first temple was constructed in Jerusalem. Since there was no banking system such as what we have today, those priests who “participate in the altar” ate from the animal sacrifices that were offered there as a form of partial payment for performing their duties (that, and having a tent to sleep in). Pagan sacrifices, which were still common in those days, were made to an illusory god who did not really exist, and so their efforts were futile. I’m pretty sure that’s what Paul meant when he wrote to warn the early church at Corinth not “to be participants with demons”. Allow me to interject some extra thought right here at this point in today’s lesson.

There are those who would say that since there are no more pagan sacrifices in the modern world, then what the apostle Paul wrote about in the above passage of Scripture no longer applies to the world of today. I would strongly disagree with that, and let me explain why. First of all, demons are real, they are not something out of folklore. They actually exist, and they have installed themselves into positions of power and influence. There are a disturbing number of them working in Washington right now. They are also doing everything they can to try and stir up as much trouble, strife and conflict as possible, especially within the church where resistance to Satan is strongest. Paul wrote that we must all stand against these demonic forces in unity when he wrote, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” You can’t play both sides of the fence with God. You can’t have your life running both ways at once, because God and demons are polar opposites of each other. But just because we refrain from doing this, that doesn’t get us off the hook, because there is still the related issue of idol worship that must be addressed.

Nobody builds altars to their idol gods anymore as far as I know, or at least not in the western hemisphere. And when was the last time you heard of the sacrifice of live animals and human beings for religious purposes? So one would think that this should be a moot issue, but in fact it is not. The idol gods of today come in vastly different forms than they did 3,000 years ago when the first temple was built at Jerusalem. Back in antiquity, idol gods were hand carved into graven images of wood and stone, inlaid with precious jewels and metals such as gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. But in the modern world, idols tend to take the form of money (for its own sake), status (which is always temporary), power over others for the purpose of controlling or manipulating them (which in the end is an illusion), and the craving for material wealth and luxurious possessions, which are vanity and selfishness personified.

One thing is for sure; everybody is ultimately destined for death. Nobody gets out of the game of life alive. That being the case, it stands to reason that when we all eventually die, we’re not going to be able to take any of our stuff with us. So all of the above examples are forms of idolatry, and any person who is engaging in any of the above activities should be warned that they are about to bring judgment upon themselves – not from other people, but from Almighty God himself. But there is still time to change! Ask Jesus to come into your heart today and dwell there forever, so that you in turn can dwell with Him forever when this life is over. Jesus is the Son of God, the only God who is real and genuine. Paul the apostle then uses the remaining verses in this chapter to further explain himself.

“’Everything is permissible’; but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible; but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice’, then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for your conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1st Corinthians 10; verses 23-33)

Paul ends this 10th chapter of First Corinthians with a warning about how we are to be living. “Nobody should seek his (or her) own good, but the good of others”. Just because something is beneficial and agreeable to us (such as the pursuit of financial gain), or just because something makes us feel good (such as substance abuse or sexual promiscuity), does not mean it is good for us even if we believe that what we do does no harm to anyone else. The fact of the matter is that in cases such as this, when we sin against ourselves by engaging in any forms of idolatry, we sin against God who made us, and so we ultimately devalue ourselves. The most positive thing about this is that He loves us just the same without any prequalifications. You see, when Jesus died on the cross for us, He took care of all that for us no matter how many times we have sinned, and regardless of what we have done.

Paul warned the early Church against knowingly consuming food and drink offered to idols, and I am thankful to say that this form of pagan worship is almost unheard of in the early 21st century. But it is even easier than that to get caught up in the modern idols of our day that I mentioned earlier, such as the waging of endless wars by our US government that are based on greed, or the domination of others by manipulation or control such as in “corporate America”, or the trashing of our planet Earth’s environment. Also, when all else fails, the US military-industrial complex steps in to enforce American profit at the expense of untold numbers of future generations.

And so Paul the apostle concludes this portion of his letter by telling the early Corinthian church to stay away from all vestiges of idolatry, closing with the admonition, “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We are to focus on God when such issues crop up in our own lives, and it is the responsibility of each and every believer to keep God first and foremost in our lives, above all else. The way to maintain a state of obedience to God is to “do it all for the glory of God”. That’s how we should all be living, especially in light of the fact that His second coming could happen at any time in the near future. Therefore let us keep ourselves in a state of readiness for Christ, and to eagerly await His return. Let’s spend each one of our days living for Him, and see what a big difference it makes in our quality of life. Today is the best day to start, so why not right now?

Following the Example Set By the Apostle Paul Makes Us Be More Christian Without Being Religious

Paul The Apostle’s Strict Personal Standards While Preaching The Gospel That We Should Emulate

(1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-27)

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In today’s study I will take up where I left off last week and finish the ninth chapter of First Corinthians. Paul was writing this particular letter to the early church regarding whether he should be allowed to take any part of the church offering to cover his own expenses. This was in response to at least a few who had a problem with Paul using any portion of the offering for his personal needs. Paul was traveling from church to church at that time, working without a salary as we are accustomed, and he was incurring certain costs as he went, not the least of which was food. Obviously this money had to come from somewhere. The apostle Paul then goes on to describe why he saw nothing wrong with this practice so long as it was not done to gain personal profit. And, he points out that he never did so, beginning in verse 15.

 

“But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this; that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-18)

 

The first time I read through this first paragraph of scripture, I was struck by the contrast between what the apostle Paul was writing about and the materialistic version of watered-down Christianity that I have heard preached from many pulpits in the contemporary Church. There is a stark contrast between what Paul wrote about here and the way many “preachers” today enjoy generous salaries, real estate holdings and other investments, high-end luxury vehicles, even their own airplanes. That is why Paul wrote, “… in preaching the gospel I… offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it”. Paul didn’t care whether he got paid or not, so long as he could eat and have shelter, along with plenty of Christian fellowship since there was no radio, TV or internet.

 

It is for this reason that I think there are too many churches today (and many of the TV evangelists are undoubtedly the worst) that emphasize getting blessed by God over the act of blessing other people. This is an incorrect teaching that has undertones of blasphemy, and I am not comfortable with it at all. There is a scripture in the Bible that promises to reward those who work to spread the gospel up to “30, 60, or 100 times what he has sown”. But that verse refers to our heavenly reward when our physical lives are over, when only our soul will remain. It is written as such because it invokes Spiritual gain. In no way is it intended to glorify material gain over that of the Spirit of Christ. That most certainly qualifies as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says “cannot be forgiven in this life, nor in the next.” If you are in a church and you hear that being preached as the ‘true gospel’, get out of there immediately. Never mind if leaving causes a stir, it’s far better to please God than it is to be concerned about offending men and women.

 

Does God want us to be happy? Sure He does! Does He want us to have a life of wellness and prosperity, lacking for nothing? Absolutely! But does God want us to be filthy rich? No way; in fact Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money. You must either love one or despise the other” (that’s paraphrasing what Jesus said, but it’s in all 4 gospels). This is a glaring contradiction to what the so-called “prosperity gospel” represents, and that’s why I stand against it. So, what is the correct way to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ? Paul describes this eloquently beginning in verse 19.

 

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I become like those under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I become like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 19-27)

 

In the above passage of Scripture, Paul makes it abundantly clear his motivation for preaching the gospel. It’s not about religion and it’s not about money and prosperity. It’s about souls, the souls of people that God cares about deeply, the souls for whom Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, only to be resurrected on the morning of the third day to live and rule forever! It’s about you and me worshiping that same Jesus in Spirit and in truth, regardless of our nationality, race, religion, gender, marital status, economic status, age, background or sexual orientation. Let me remind you all that God doesn’t care about any of the above because He isn’t concerned about what’s on the outside or what’s on the surface regarding any person. God is focused on what’s on the inside, the soul of every man, woman and child. This is because the degree to which Christ abides within the individual is directly proportional to the way he or she interacts with and treats others. After all, it is on the inside of us – within our souls and hearts and minds – where Jesus wants to dwell. But it’s up to us to invite Him in. That’s the secret of salvation through Christ. He never enters the heart unless He is asked. But if He is asked, He will come and abide there 100% of the time. Nobody gets turned down by Jesus. Nobody.

 

I try to emulate Paul the apostle in my ministry where I live and work near downtown Atlanta. I am a Caucasian man living in a neighborhood that is mostly Black. But this is where my missionary work takes place when I’m not working in my office at home. In the inner city of Atlanta, as many as 20% of the local population is homeless as I write this. I was once homeless myself after having a stroke, but eventually I got back on my feet again. But that experience taught me some difficult but very valuable lessons about life and how to bounce back from disastrous setbacks. In so doing I have succeeded in doing what Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago. I have run my “race” in such a way as to win the prize – eternal life with Jesus in heaven.

 

But I also recognize that living my life for Jesus was not possible until I first invited Him in. In so doing, I don’t try to act more African-American in order to get along with people in my neighborhood. Instead I treat them respectfully as equals, and I make sure they understand that it is my faith in Christ and my desire to serve Him that motivates me to perform this service in His holy name. By emulating Paul, I emulate Christ as well. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my children, that you do for me”. I challenge each and every one of you to begin doing this in the course of your everyday living. To win as many souls as possible, simply reach out to as many as possible in as many different ways as you can. No drama is required, no special skills either, so don’t be concerned about that. I guarantee you will feel really good about the result.

What’s the Difference Between a Plague, a Pandemic, and a Virus? Some of the Answers, At Least, Can Be Found In the Bible

What Does the Biblical Word ‘Pestilence’ Mean? Could Corona Virus Be Considered to Be a ‘Pestilence’?

By Minister Paul J. Bern

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The more that the talking heads on cable news chatter about the Corona virus pandemic, the more it reminds me of the great plagues as described in the Old Testament. You all have heard this story at some point in the past; the one about Moses having a meeting – so to speak – with Pharaoh, to tell him to “let my people go”. The ‘people’ Moses referred to were the ancient Israeli (a.k.a. Israelite) nation (a separate ethnic group living in the midst of Egyptian society), who had been there as slaves for the previous 400 years (see Exodus chapters 1 & 12 for details).

So I went back and re-read those passages this morning prior to writing this week’s commentary, and those two words are being used interchangeably for the most part. What does pestilence mean in the Bible? Pestilence means a deadly and overwhelming disease that affects an entire community. The Black Plague, a disease that killed over thirty percent of Europe’s population, was certainly a pestilence. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pestilence’ as, “a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating especially: bubonic plague.”

So is the Corona virus and/or Covid-19 virus a “pestilence” by Biblical standards? By all the measurements used above, the answer is ‘absolutely yes’! By sheer numbers alone, Covid-19 rivals the Black Plague of centuries ago as being a killer of Biblical proportions. And so, speaking as a minister and a man who seeks after God with every breath I take, if an overall feeling of foreboding has been hanging there with you every day as of late, that’s because we are slowly, to varying degrees, becoming ever more traumatized by the complete insanity that surrounds us all. Unarmed Black men continue to be hunted down as if the police have all decided to go out on safari, while there were 41 mass shootings in 2019 that resulted in 210 fatalities. Domestic violence is at an all-time high, according to the CDC. The list goes on and on, and I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.

But there is historic precedence to what is currently happening with the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of the Black Plague of centuries ago, as well as the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. Due to the earth being far more populated now than in days of old, the Corona virus could kill multitudes more, and yet so many people are still not paying attention to what is going on around them. For some of them, when this pestilence catches up with them, it will be too late. That is when this pestilence of Biblical proportions will begin taking lives with an ever-greater vengeance than ever before.

That is when Biblical precedence will activate itself. King David wrote about this very thing in the Book of Psalms, and I quote: “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways….” (Psalm 91, verses 5-11)

‘Not fearing the night’ in verse 5 was a reference to the rough times in which people lived back in those days. Due to the presence of an illiterate populace, not everyone could always find work, and sometimes food was scarce. So crime was a problem back then, and it often occurred in the dead of night. This must have instilled a certain level of fear throughout the population, and so that’s how that verse of scripture originated. Moving along, the “arrow that flies by day” was a reflection of the times in which they lived like I wrote just above. Roving bands of heavily armed marauders were out in the countryside just off the main roads, and people routinely got robbed as they traveled from place to place. The “plague that destroys at midday” in the next verse sounds strikingly similar to modern-day Covid-19.

But if you will put God first before all others and yourselves, the Bible tells us right in the very next verse, you will overcome all obstacles and defeat all foes who would dare to come against you. “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” When we submit to God’s will in place of our own, we will see amazing things happen, stuff we hadn’t even dreamed about. I will use tornadoes as an example. You know how tornadoes can skip all over the place, touching down just here and there? Yet others stay on the ground for miles, wreaking untold destruction and snuffing out lives in its wake. Yet when the survivors get interviewed, they are all people of faith. Dozens or hundreds of casualties may be left to be treated for their injuries, or to be buried. A thousand here, ten thousand there during wartime, death can be so arbitrary at times.

No matter how much really bad stuff is going on around you, “but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will emerge unscathed from the coming economic calamity, but much of the rest of the world (but not all) will perish in the flames. What flames? Things like wildfires, volcanic eruptions, wars and terrorism, and meteor or comet strikes in any place on the planet – all come to mind.

If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near (you)…. See that, everybody? The Lord Almighty is my refuge, and he can be yours too. All you have to do is to ask him in, to let the Holy Spirit of the Most High God dwell within you. So why not do that right now? Ask the risen Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ to come and dwell within your heart. Unless you’re in the middle of a public place like a movie theater, it’s perfectly suitable to do this out loud. Jesus, be my Lord and Savior. Come into my heart and dwell there forever, so that I can be with you forever too. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

One of the Requirements of Being a Person of Faith is Being Trustworthy: Another Is Being Financially Responsible

Building Trust and Financial Responsibility Within Ourselves for the Betterment of All

(1st Corinthians chapter 9, verses 1-14)

boardroom_hypocrites

In today’s installment of this continuing study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we are going to advance to chapter nine of 1st Corinthians, where we will have a look at verses 1 through 14. In last week’s lesson, we found the apostle Paul discussing the topic of exercising our freedom as Christians, provided we never do so in a way that could compromise the faith of other believers. This week Paul shifts his emphasis away from exercising our freedom as individual Christians, as he did in the last half of chapter eight, and instead expounds on applying it to Christians who are in positions of leadership. He then continues on in that vein beginning at verse one:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are my seal of apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 1-6)

Here Paul has written about his freedoms as an apostle, presumably because of some long-forgotten split within the body of the Corinthian church from nearly two thousand years ago, possibly over financial matters or internal politics, or maybe even Paul’s authority. I find it interesting that it seems to closely parallel and correspond with a certain lack of unity that I perceive within the contemporary body of Christian believers, regardless of denomination.

Allow me to explain my frame of reference here. Because I am disabled I use public transportation to get around, and I get most my church from the Internet. After all, even those who tend the flocks must stop for lunch sometime! As a result, I see parallels between modern Christian programming on TV, including the way they are being managed financially – and the apparent controversy about the pay and perks of televangelists and their immediate families.

This is reminiscent of the first century controversy within the early Church about who was the greatest apostle, which was reiterated by the apostle Paul back in chapter one of 1st Corinthians. In Paul’s case, the fact that he was not one of the original twelve disciples was the subject of what Paul was writing in the above passage. Was it not good enough for them, Paul wrote, that he had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus? In modern terms, Paul is asking, ‘What more do you want from me? Stop judging me and focus on your own salvation instead’.

There are TV evangelists today that have generated much controversy with stories of fabulous wealth that was “earned” from offerings and donations to their ministries. There are several famous “televangelists” who actually have their own airplanes. They’re not Piper Cubs either. In fact, one even boasts about owning a twin-engined jet that this TV preacher – who I will not name – allegedly paid about $12,000,000.00 cash for. The Secret Service and the Department of the Treasury both could have asserted their authority against such a huge and clearly illegal cash transaction. But those entrusted to guard our land’s money just looked the other way while a cool 12 million changed hands. Well, praise the Lord! What would Jesus say to these TV evangelists who are presiding over enterprises that seem to be charities on the surface, but in reality it’s a church that’s being run like a profitable business? I have seen this firsthand at certain churches from my own past, and they were all churches that I left immediately after. Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money” (Matthew 6, verse 24).

It is clear to us from Paul’s writing that he was trying to nip this sort of thing in the bud within the early church before it got out of hand. As we can see from all too many modern churches and the way they are being operated, Paul was not entirely successful. Still, we can take a lesson from this and be wary when visiting a church for the first time. The Bible commands us to “test the spirit” of that church. This is not some fancy terminology, it is something we can do quietly from within ourselves because it is real. If you find anything about that church that makes you uncomfortable, and especially if you do not feel welcome, then keep looking for a church until you find the right one. When you find it, Jesus will make it known to you, of that you can be sure! And, if you can do neither, then plant a church instead. Paul then continues in verse 7 to make his point about how much, and at what level, should church leadership be compensated. Since there are a lot of people who get hung up about money, everyone should read Paul’s writing in these next verses with an open mind:

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the law say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Do not muzzle an oxen while it is treading out the grain’. Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right? On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the Gospel.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 7-14)

Paul is clearly giving an unmistakable message here regarding how ministers of the Gospel were to compensate themselves in the early Church. This explanation is as valid today as it was when it was first written nearly 2,000 years ago. There is nothing wrong with the compensation of church leadership so long as good judgment and common sense are used to calculate the form and amount of compensation. This means no jet planes, million-dollar houses or cars with 6 figure price tags. This is emphasized by Paul when he wrote, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?”….

There are too many “churches” today, particularly in the US, that are very large and therefore they generate eye-popping amounts of cash and checks on Sunday morning during the offering. They are run like businesses, and Jesus will deal with them and their “pastors” as severely as he did when he threw the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem the first time around. After all, the money changers of Jesus’ time are the equivalent of the prosperity ‘preachers’ of today. When the time comes for them to collect their reward, Jesus will turn them away instead. “They will be thrown out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. “For the last shall be first, and the first, last.” — Jesus Christ

 

Merging Freedom With Faith: Why It’s Necessary, Plus a Few Ideas on How to Accomplish It

Merging Our Freedom With Our Faith

(1st Corinthians chapter 8)

Christianity and atheism

Today in my continuing chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul I will, with God’s help, cover chapter 8 in 1st Corinthians. The first part of this chapter has to do with eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, which seems on the surface to be a rather antiquated notion. However, it has modern implications that are applicable to modern times which I will cover further down in today’s study. Allow me to begin at verse one:

“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know what he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called “gods”, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1st Corinthians 8; verses 1-6)

In order to get a proper perspective on what the apostle Paul wrote, we must gain a little insight into the times in which Paul lived. The Christian faith as we have come to know it was in its infancy during Paul’s lifetime. The young and growing churches of his day were islands surrounded by a sea of pagan idol worship such as the pagan “gods” of ancient Greece and particularly the Roman Empire, which was the superpower of its time comparable to the contemporary United States. The pagans of that time sacrificed live animals and even human beings and (most horrifically) children. After the animal sacrifice, which was performed over an altar of raging fire, it was customary to eat the meat that had been sacrificed. As you know, one of the main reasons this was done was purely practical. There was no refrigeration in those days, so opportunities to supplement one’s diet with fresh meat was considered a luxury back then.

But with the advent of the early Christian church, the teaching that there was but one true God was considered quite controversial – even radical – during the times in which Paul’s words were written. So it is understandable that the act of continuing to participate in pagan rituals generated quite a controversy within the early Church. The Bible portrays this most vividly in the book of Acts chapter 17 as written by the apostle Luke. Allow me to quote an excerpt from this portion of Scripture that best documents this topic.

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there….. ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with an inscription “to an unknown god”. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else….. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overcame such ignorance, but He now commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead’”…. (Acts chapter 17, verses 16 – 17 and verses 22-31)

And so now it is easy to comprehend that frame of reference from which Paul wrote 1st Corinthians chapter 8 that I quoted in the first part of today’s study. When Paul wrote “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know what he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God”, he was giving a warning to the Corinthian church. Based on this passage of Scripture, it appears that there were people in the early church who genuinely believed in the saving power of Christ, but they still ate meat sacrificed to idols, presumably because they saw it as an opportunity to score a nice meal for themselves.

In light of the fact that there was widespread poverty and destitution in those days, it is not hard to understand why some early Christians were doing this. It was as if to say, ‘Leave me alone and stop judging me by what I eat. I can worship Jesus and still eat meat sacrificed to idols. I can have it both ways and I see nothing wrong with that’. And so Paul is saying right back to them, ‘You people think you are clever by wanting to have things both ways, but you are not as smart as you think you are’. Paul was saying that people who loved God through Jesus Christ and through no one or nothing else have the purest hearts. On the other hand, people who ate at pagan temples had a conflict of interest. So Paul is warning them, “I will not judge you for what you are doing when you eat meat sacrificed to idols, but don’t be surprised if you find yourselves judged by God when your physical life is over”. Paul then continues in verse 7:

“But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block for the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall”. (1st Corinthians chapter 8, verses 7-13)

Based on what Paul wrote in the above passage of Scripture, apparently there were some new believers joining the Church who saw a contradiction regarding the worship of the one true God as opposed to eating meat sacrificed in the pagan temples during this time. These new Church members viewed this as a spiritual conflict of interest, and it must have been driving some of them away. Or, they would copy those who ate in pagan temples and eat there themselves, only to be gripped by feelings of remorse after doing so since they were being taught that there is but one true God through Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all mankind. This contradiction was surely causing quite a bit of dissent within the early church, compromising the faith of some of the new members, even to the point of leaving and going back to the pagan traditions that were no doubt taught by their parents, teachers and mentors.

In closing, there is a similar spiritual conflict of interest within the church today that drives away many who would otherwise accept Christ as their Redeemer. Instead of pagan temples, we have the contemporary “prosperity gospel” that confuses the Spiritual blessings of God with material blessings, sometimes even intentionally. Let me be absolutely clear about this. The conspicuous wealth of those who “preach” (I am using that word in the loosest possible terms here) this kind of message speaks for itself. Do ministers, evangelists and teachers need to be associated with some mega-church to be considered ‘successful’? Do they really need their own private jets, not to mention cars with six-figure price tags and sprawling mansions? These “churches”, which are supposed to be charities and ministries, are being operated just like the thriving businesses that they truly are. Most people can see right through that sort of thing. The few who don’t perceive this are the ones who are giving money to these “churches”, and in the process they are being taken for a ride by these phony preachers and “faith healers”.

I don’t think it is so much a matter of knowing that there are those who see this spiritual sophistry for what it is, but it has been my observation for many years that these religious masqueraders who disseminate Biblical distortions simply don’t care whether anyone sees through it or not. To them, it’s all in a day’s work, and they pay themselves lavishly. Remember what Jesus said when He drove the money changers out of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, “You have taken my Father’s house and turned it into a den of robbers”. Those words of Christ are even more applicable today than they were when He first spoke them nearly 2,000 years ago. This is the very thing that bothers the conscience of new believers or potential converts when they see this kind of stuff going on, and so it drives away the very ones that Christ wishes to save. And so we have a very similar conflict of interest with very similar results, and the fact that there is 2,000 years of elapsed time is completely incidental to the cause of Christ. The second coming of Christ is very close, perhaps only months or a few short years away. How, then, should we be living? Let’s make sure there are no spiritual conflicts or contradictions within our own lives, and in so doing we can be good examples for everyone. Because that’s what the real Jesus is calling us to do.

Finding a Mate Versus Remaining Single; Pro and Con (part 3 of 3)

The Apostle Paul’s Concluding Thoughts On Being Married as Opposed to Being Single

(1st Corinthians chapter 7, verses 25-40)

look at the bright side

This week, regarding my chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we’ll be finishing up 1st Corinthians chapter 7. I will be concluding this rather lengthy portion of Scripture, beginning at verse 25. Although some of Paul’s writing in this section may seem a little outdated or even antiquated on the surface, upon closer examination we will find that, when translated into modern English like I am about to do, this passage of Scripture is actually very applicable to modern life. I quote:

“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1st Corinthians 7, verses 25-31)

When Paul wrote, “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”, he is saying two things in the same sentence. First, let me clarify what Paul meant by the word “virgin”. Translated from the original Hebrew, this simply means a young woman who has never been married. It has been argued by some Christian denominations that this is literally true, and therefore it is wrong to have any sex at all before marriage. Although I will be quick to agree that sexual sin and immorality is something to be carefully avoided, back in Paul’s day when this epistle was first written, people by and large assumed that all unmarried young men and women were virgins, mostly because sex was considered to be a taboo subject. In modern times, there are two main reasons that sex is no longer a taboo subject. The first is education (which was sorely lacking in Paul’s day) and the second is the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases, which were likely almost unheard of 2,000 years ago when these words were first written. In short, although sin can literally kill you, ignorance can do the same, and the results are equally lethal.

Paul wrote in this same sentence that he had no command from Christ about this topic, but “I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”. In other words, he is sharing an educated opinion regarding this matter. Prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling class of the day in what is now modern Israel. So Paul was an educated and intelligent man. Paul continues his train of thought, “Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife”. The “present crisis” he is referring to is almost surely the occupation of the Holy Land by the Roman Empire during those times. He was writing that since times were already tough, why make things any harder by looking for a wife or a husband?

I can tell you from personal experience that seeking marriage just because you’re lonesome, or because one is burning with passion, is the wrong reason to get married. I survived two absolutely miserable marriages earlier in my life, but God has taught me over the years that I am better off remaining single as I have been. But even more important is that, since we are most definitely living in the End Times as prophesied in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, we should be focused on getting ready for the second coming of Christ Jesus. Paul summarized this timely bit of advice in the next sentence when he wrote, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. He then continues beginning at verse 32:

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned with the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1st Corinthians 7, verses 32-40)

Paul makes it abundantly clear as he closes this chapter that the cares and worries of life can compromise one’s belief in, and devotion to, Christ. Seeking a mate, no matter how well – intentioned, diverts us from what is most important in life. Our salvation in Christ through His crucifixion and resurrection should be the first and foremost thing in our lives, and it should remain above and beyond all other things. Without the saving power of Jesus, all the accomplishments one can achieve in life wind up being meaningless and hollow in the end.

As Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” So in the end this becomes all about priorities and about realizing what is most important. Whether one is married or single is actually a side issue, and it is very applicable to early 21st century living. It’s difficult and time consuming to be cruising for a mate and trying to be devoted to the Lord all at the same time. Besides, we are anticipating the second coming of Christ in our lifetimes, and at the rate things are deteriorating due to raging wars abroad and economic depression at home, His return could happen at any time. How then should we be living? As for me, I no longer worry about getting remarried. It would be a good thing for me to find another wife, I am certain of that. But that does not really matter to me because I am already a member of Christ’s church which the Bible calls “the bride of Christ” in the book of Revelation. So since I am technically married to Jesus, I no longer have a need for a mate. My membership within the Bride makes me so.

If Jesus can do this for me, He can do it for you too. So I would advise those who are reading this to stop surfing the dating websites and cruising the chat-rooms because they are by and large a waste of your time. Devote yourself to Jesus first and foremost, and all these other things will fall into place on their own according to God’s will for your life. Just keep remembering that His will is always in your best interest. If you find a mate within the greater church, regardless of denomination, that is a good thing. But to remain as you are and devote yourself to Him is even better.

All Good People Take Heed; Sometimes It’s Better to Stay Single, With a Guide For Making It Work

What About Marriage? Should I Look For a Spouse?

(1st Corinthians chapter 7, verses 1-9)

i-fell-in-love-with-jesus

Today as I continue to dissect the first book of Corinthians, but with words instead of sharp objects, I will begin chapter 7, which is quite probably the finest behavioral commentary about relations between the sexes in existence (with the possible exception of Ephesians chapters 5 and 6, which I will cover later). Since this is a lengthy chapter with a lot of timely commentary and Christian guidance, I will be breaking this up into three parts. I ask the Lord’s guidance regarding this, and I’m confident that He will lead me in the way I should present this sacred and beautiful document. Let’s begin with chapter 7 and verse 1.

“Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to marry’. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I will say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (1st Corinthians 7; verses 1-7)

Paul’s opening statement reflects a fact that I had to learn the hard way; marriage isn’t for everybody. Having remained single since 1990, after the disintegration of my second marriage (my 2 marriages lasted for just under 3 years combined), I can tell you without hesitation that I much prefer the single life even though I love kids. The fact that it costs about a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child up until their 18th birthday (not counting college or university) in today’s terms pretty much scares me away from raising kids. (That, and I’m in my sixties). But there is much more to this than simple advice for the lovesick. The apostle Paul’s advice to remain single was in large part a prophetic statement intended as advice for those living in the end times as we all are. He was referring to something Jesus told the apostles when they came to him and asked what the signs of the End of the Age would be. This is the way that he answered them in part.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass way until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew chapter 24: verses 32-35)

In this passage of scripture, the fig tree Jesus spoke of represented the nation of Israel. His reference to the twigs getting tender are a metaphor for the third and final birth of Israel as a nation, which occurred about 1,970 years later in May 1948. When Jesus said, “This generation will certainly not pass way until all these things have happened”, it is an apparent reference to that final generation born on the earth before the Second Coming of Christ. It is stating (although there is actually a lot of background scripture that goes into far greater detail that I will later present separately) that the final generation born on the earth will not pass away until His prophecy about the End of the Age is fulfilled.

Although I will decline to speculate on the possible date of our Lord and Savior’s triumphant return, the point Paul was making is that since the Second Coming is so close at hand, why bother worrying about finding a wife or a husband? If anyone really feels that lonesome, let me remind you that we are all a part of the Bride of Christ that is foretold in the book of Revelation, so technically we are already married to Christ anyway, not physically but in Spirit and in Truth. Therefore if we are not married, we should not get preoccupied with looking for a spouse. If you desire a mate, and there is nothing at all wrong with that, seek the Lord about it and he will send you someone perfectly made just for you – if that is his will.

In the very next sentence Paul says, “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” In other words, if you feel lonesome or look at yourself at being incomplete without a mate, then by all means find a suitable partner and marry him or her. It is far better to choose that path then to vow to keep oneself pure only to give in to unanticipated temptation which leads to sin. Sexual temptation can and does happen, even to the most fervent believers.

But, Paul then turns around in the following sentence and advises those believers who are already married with these words: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” This applies just as much today as it did when these words were first written nearly 2,000 years ago.

All you married couples, please don’t use your human sexuality like a weapon against your partner as a way of getting back at each other for perceived wrongs, whether real or imagined. These kinds of tactics are, frankly, childish and immature, and they do great damage to what should be a very repairable relationship. Ceasing this kind of unproductive activity will go a long way towards beginning to repair any marriage or relationship, no matter how difficult it may seem. Let go and let God. In the end, that’s the only thing that works. Paul the apostle then continues: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1st Corinthians 7: Verses 8-9)

Speaking as a single middle-aged man, I can truly testify to each of you that I have been following this teaching to the letter since 2002. At this point in my life I believe it is God’s will for me to remain single and celibate, and I have remained as such for over 17 years. By the same token, that does not necessarily rule out my finding a wife at some later point in time. But I don’t press the issue with the Lord because I am acutely aware that it is His timing that is always perfect. If the Lord sees fit to send me someone, or if some unknown person picks me instead of the other way around, I would definitely have to give that some very serious consideration. Like the apostle Paul in verse 8, not everyone can do this, so I would advise anybody who has trouble keeping their libido under control to go ahead and find a soul mate; only, choose carefully!

As Paul wrote in the above Scriptures that we just studied, “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” Paul was apparently a single man who was probably in his thirties or forties when he wrote the two Corinthian letters present in the New Testament, and he was apparently satisfied with life as a single man. The Bible doesn’t say whether Paul had been previously married or not, and it’s probably not important anyway. What does matter is that Paul made it part of the example he set to remain pure and set apart as belonging only to the Lord. As he wrote in a later letter elsewhere in the New Testament: “Flee from sexual immorality”. The word ‘flee’ means to turn and run away from as fast as one can, so there is no mistaking Paul’s meaning here. Playing fast and loose with your sex life can only get you into serious trouble sooner or later, so it’s best to stay clear of that style of living.

Now that there has been a teaching directed at all the single people who are one in Christ, I will return next week to tell you what the apostle Paul had to say to married people. Until then, keep this teaching close to your heart and meditate upon it so you can continue to draw yourself closer to Christ. In so doing, He will draw closer to you.

Lawsuits and Litigation Within or Between Churches Sets a Terrible Example For the World At Large

Lawsuits And Judgments Between Believers Sets a Bad Example For the Rest of Us

(1st Corinthians 6, verses 1-11)

golgotha_christ_cross

In today’s chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we will examine the first half of First Corinthians chapter 6. We’ll tackle the second half next week because there is so much in this chapter that to breeze through it in one lesson really can’t do justice to this passage of Scripture. Paul had just finished telling the Corinthian congregation to expel a certain member who was apparently acting in a sexually immoral and particularly revolting way. Paul then continues this train of thought, but he is now changing his focus from internal to external, apparently regarding certain lawsuits from within the congregation that were being litigated outside the church in the court system of its day. Although the original reason for these lawsuits have long since been lost to history, what matters here is what Paul has to say about it, beginning at verse one.

“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers!” (1st Corinthians 6: verses 1-6)

Paul wants to know in verse 1 why the church is having an internal matter brought before the legal system right in front of ungodly pagans. Is it not wiser to settle a dispute within the church between the parties involved, out of sight of nonbelievers? And is it not wiser, Paul was asking, to have Christian believers considering such matters rather than godless, corrupt and unprincipled people, many of whom had no conception of true spirituality? In the next sentence, when Paul asks the Corinthian church if they know that saints will judge the world, he is referring to the second coming of Christ at the end of the book of Revelation. That will be a future topic in another study.

Paul the apostle then continued by asking why there was no one competent or discerning enough to judge such matters from within the Corinthian church. In modern English, Paul is asking the Corinthian congregation, “Aren’t you people smart enough to judge internal disputes? I thought you were. Are you now telling me that I was wrong and that I overestimated you?” In the next sentence Paul asks if they know that the saints – who are all God’s children through the blood sacrifice of Christ Jesus – will judge angels. What is he talking about here? Paul was referring again to the second coming of Christ that he had just mentioned. At that second coming, which will be the end of the age we are currently living in and the beginning of a new age of peace, after the Saints have begun the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ, the angels of heaven will be judged.

The reason for this is that long ago before the creation of humankind, there was a war in heaven (see Revelation chapter 12, verses 7,8, and 9) in the form of a revolt led by Lucifer – who is now called Satan, chief of the demonic realm. This resulted in one-third of the angels of heaven who followed Lucifer’s revolt being forcibly removed, becoming banished from heaven forever. Eternal punishment awaits them all, along with all those who refuse to believe in Jesus. To finish this thought, not only will God’s children judge and rule over all the survivors of the tribulation – including World War Three which will precede it – but we saints and believers will judge the angels as well. God will bring Lucifer and all those demons who followed him in revolt against God before his judgment throne, and they will be convicted and condemned to hell forever by a jury of all the saints.

So the apostle Paul is saying that if we are wise enough to judge angels and tribulation survivors in the sight of God, since He implanted us all with sufficient spiritual wisdom to accomplish this, then there should be no problem with settling disputes between church members that are of lesser importance. In closing this passage of Scripture, Paul does not try to hide his exasperation with this church for what they are doing, telling them that they are setting a bad example for new believers and pagans alike. When Paul writes, “But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers…”, he was jumping into their business for making a spectacle of themselves in front of unbelievers who might otherwise have been won over to Christ. Telling people that any church is worshiping Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth while at the same time being unable to get along with each other – not to mention suing each other – is a glaring contradiction if ever there was one. Paul concludes this train of thought starting at verse seven.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. 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.” (1st Corinthians 6: verses 7-11)

The apostle Paul was clearly telling the 1st century Corinthian church they were already defeated and their faith is meaningless so long as they continue litigating against each other over trivial matters. He was reminding them that the foremost commands of Christ himself were to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Paul was warning them to return to the basis for their faith practiced in love, which is no less than the salvation of Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven – only to return in our present time for His church.

He was reminding them of Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Jesus said we are to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies, and that when one is struck on one side of their face, they are to turn the other cheek as well rather than fight back. I can tell you from personal experience that this last commandment is not an easy one to follow, particularly for someone like myself who formerly had issues with anger and with my temper before getting saved and acquiring the peace of Christ, a peace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension. Anyone reading this who has similar issues should take heart, because Jesus is real and He wants to heal you too. Let Jesus take that anger away, especially if it’s hard to let go of it.

Paul’s diatribe against immoral people – and there’s lots of them today just like back then – still rings true today for the most part. I’m not sure why Paul singled out male prostitutes instead of either gender, it’s hard to tell in this particular passage. Given the tough economic times in which we are living, I can see why a few people might be attracted to this lifestyle. I don’t condone it, but I can see why people would resort to such desperate measures as that. But the other things he mentioned, such as idolatry – which can take on many different forms such as a spouse or significant other, cars, houses, watching too much TV or constantly playing video games while the rest of people’s lives go straight down the toilet – exist today in even greater proliferation than it did back in Paul’s time. Homosexuality is also mentioned, but since I have already posted at length about gay people and why straight people have no business condemning them, I will save that discussion for later.

Paul’s main point remains as a command to live at peace with each other. If we fail to do so, our Christian faith can easily deteriorate to the realm of sniping, gossiping and backbiting. We all have the built-in ability to acquire this peace of Christ if we ask Him with a glad and thankful heart, claiming by faith the peace of Jesus Christ. Simply pray to Jesus to send you his peace today. Let’s pray together,” Dear Lord Jesus, I want to learn how to live in peace with everyone, starting with myself. Teach me your inner peace so I can be a more effective Christian that will lead to my becoming a better person. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.” And next week we’ll move on to part 2 of our in-depth study of 1st Corinthians chapter 6.