A Major Dose of Encouragement From the Apostle Paul to All Who Read This, Whether You Call Yourself Christian or Not

The Apostle Paul’s Final Instructions to the Corinthian Church

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 50-58; 1st Corinth. 16)

This week we will finish our chronological study of First Corinthians, having begun at chapter one 6 months ago, and ending today with chapters 15 and 16. Last week you will recall the apostle Paul comparing the first Adam with the last, who was and who is Jesus Christ. He moves on to another topic, almost as an afterthought, but it turns out to be one of the more prophetic writings of either the entire Bible. I will begin at verse 50 where we left off last week.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’. ‘Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 50 – 58)

Paul reminds the Corinthian church one more time that humankind, in its physical existence, can never enter heaven where God dwells. But then he does something interesting; He gives this early Christian church something to look forward to as far as the end of one’s physical life is concerned. He begins to prophesy about life after death, describing how the process will seem to most of us as we experience it. There are a number of ways this is being interpreted in the modern church, particularly if we go outside of the mainstream denominations. Many say and teach that these verses are a prophecy for the “rapture” of the church, which is explained as the literal taking up of the modern church during the reign of the Antichrist in the books of Matthew, Luke, Mark, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others.

There is much disagreement about the timing of the “rapture” that I will not write about today, since I regard that as a separate topic. On the other hand, when Paul wrote, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed…..”, there can be no doubt that he was prophesying about the dead being raised at Christ’s return. This, in case there is anyone that hasn’t been paying attention, could happen just about any time now. All you have to do is just keep following the news regarding the Middle East like I do.

My main concern about the way the “rapture” of the Church is currently being taught is how many churches are convinced that the “rapture” will come just as soon as the Antichrist comes to power. Moreover, what about those preaching a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’? You know, those are the ones who say the church will be taken up at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and that the Bride of Christ will escape it entirely. What if the Antichrist comes to power and we’re all still here? What if the “rapture” doesn’t happen until weeks, months, or maybe up to a year or two after the Antichrist comes to power?

The Bible prophesies about that in the Book of Revelation, not once but twice. The first is in chapter 6, verses 9-11, which reads: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed”.

Then again in chapter 13 and verse 7, it reads, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (“he” being the Antichrist). What will all those who have believed in a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ do then? I hope that some, if not all, of them will realize they may have to undergo one final time of testing by the Lord before being called home to glory. I am deeply concerned that the many who think God will just come along and scoop them up will become discouraged and fall away after the Antichrist comes to power, which could be only months away from now. Or, they might change their minds and take the “mark of the beast” to preserve their lives and the lives of their children, mistakenly believing they are ‘doing the right thing’. That would be an extreme tragedy if it were to occur, and I hope these words that I write will be sufficient warning to my brothers and sisters to be vigilant, to be prayerful with much thanks, and to remain filled with the Spirit during these tumultuous last days.

With another eloquent description of what some call the “rapture” of the church, Paul wrote, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality”. Paul the apostle was exhorting us to draw ourselves continually closer to God by preparing ourselves as pure vessels in which an immortal being can dwell. And it is we, the transformed Believers, who will become immortal beings and live with the Lord in New Jerusalem forever and ever. By working hard at preparing ourselves to become imperishable vessels and immortal beings, we engage in a dress rehearsal of how we will spend eternity. Paul praised God for this when he wrote, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Paul ended this paragraph by encouraging the entire congregation to continue to press onward toward the goal of being one with Christ, and to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship with God through the saving power of Jesus Christ. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” These words apply to us more than ever as we navigate our way through the stormy waters of living in the last days, while we navigate our way around Covid-19. Never get tired of doing the right thing and living for Christ, because our work is never in vain. Paul then closes out the remainder of this letter with a few words about the collection of the offering at these churches that bear close scrutiny.

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” (1st Corinthians 16: verses 1-4)

When Paul writes them to “do as I told the Galatian churches”, he is referring to a passage in the book of Galatians, but I will save that for when we get there, since we’ll be studying the 2nd book of Corinthians first (Galatians comes right afterwards, OK?). There are two things that are noteworthy here: The first being Paul’s mentioning setting aside church collections “on the first day of every week”. Keep in mind here that the calendar that we use today has only been around since the third century AD. Since Paul, a Jew and a former member of the Sanhedrin, went by the Jewish calendar, which has been in existence for 4,500 years. He used the Jewish Sabbath as his guide, which is from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday. My point is that the day on which we celebrate the Sabbath today, Sunday, is actually the wrong day of the week from a purely historical perspective when compared to the way in which the original Apostles and Jewish believers were celebrating the Sabbath 2,000 years ago. Keep this in mind each week as you attend services on Sunday morning.

The second noteworthy thing Paul mentions in these closing verses of 1st Corinthians is the amount that is to be given at each offering. Paul wrote, “ On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…….” Notice that Paul did not specify an amount to be given, nor any certain percentage of one’s income, but he only said that their gifts should be “in keeping with his income”. In other words, if you can’t afford to ‘tithe’ a full 10% of your income, like what is specified in quite a few modern churches, then that’s okay – just give whatever you can and ask the Lord to bless your offering and receive it, knowing that it will still be enough. You need not worry – there are no cash registers or pocket calculators in heaven.

God isn’t counting your change to see how much you can give. He doesn’t want our money, he doesn’t need it anyway, but God does want each and every one of us. He wants our love and devotion, our worship and our praise, and our dedication and our service to His cause. And the cause of the Lord is the salvation of souls, and a cause of eternal justice, which is a worthy cause any day of the week.

Announcing the New Website for the Social Gospel Worship and Learning Center with Minister Paul J. Bern

Welcome to my new website! Join my mailing list and get weekly commentaries, a Biblical study series, plus merchandise and videos (almost ready) https://shoutout.wix.com/so/46MqclWtE #socialgospel #realBible #Christianblogs #blogsabouttruth #wisdom

The Pure Brilliance of God’s Wisdom, the Greatest Achievements of Humanity, and the Stark Contrast Between Them

God Laughs At Man’s Ideas About Wisdom

(1st Corinthians chapter 1, verses 18-31; Joel chapter 2, verses 28-32)

he who kneels can standIn today’s lesson we will finish up the first chapter of First Corinthians in our continuing series on the writings of the apostle Paul. In last weeks lesson we went into detail regarding Paul’s appeal to the early church for unity among its members. But in the second half of chapter one, Paul changes gears and talks about the definition of wisdom from God’s viewpoint, and how man’s definition of wisdom is considered by God to be mere foolishness. I’m beginning today’s lesson from where we left off last week, starting at verse 18, so here we go.

 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1st Corinthians 1, verses 18-25)

 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” There are those unfortunate individuals who simply refuse to believe in Jesus, or who deny that He was the Son of God who rose from the dead on the morning of the third day, and who scoff at Christianity even as I write this. Many of these people who refuse to believe are atheists. While I will respect their opinions, the whole idea of there being no God at all is very foreign to many, including myself. Any person who says ‘there is no God’ is really saying that humankind is the highest form of life and intellect in existence. Personally, I don’t believe that for one second.

 

There has got to be something more than that, and so I do not believe that humanity comprises the end of all things. Besides, in the very next sentences Paul writes, “’I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Albert Einstein, arguably one of the smartest men who ever lived, is incomparable to God in terms of wisdom and discernment. Paul wrote those words 1,900 years before Einstein lived.

 

But look at what Paul wrote in the very next sentence. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” To explain this I can just say it another way – The world, wise though it may be in its own way, did not know God spiritually or intellectually. But God made the world to be this way because it pleased Him to do so. Because only in this way could He then make a path of salvation back to himself through His Son Christ Jesus.

 

By the same token, God was similarly pleased with men who preached without the baptism of the Spirit (more on that later in a separate study) – not because they did so willfully, but rather because they had been unaware of the existence of Holy Spirit baptism. In other words, the Spirit of the Lord can cause men to act as if they were in the Spirit whether they have received the baptism of the Spirit or not. One does not need to go to a church in order to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

 

God will continue to do so as He continues to pour out His Spirit upon all humankind here in the last days on earth as we have known it, as it is written in the Old Testament: “…And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for on Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” (Joel chapter 2, verses 28-32)

 

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” This bit of Scripture is a continuation of where Paul quoted further above from the book of Isaiah chapter 29 and verse 14; “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” And again it is written in the Old Testament, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” Such are the stark reminders of man’s place in the universe. Paul then continues this train of thought as he picks up where he left off in verse 26:

 

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’.” (1st Corinthians chapter 1: 26-31)

 

In the first sentence Paul is reminding the early Christians of where they were before they were saved. In the same way, we 21st century Christians are to be doing the same thing today. We should be ever mindful of who and what we were at before we were saved, especially spiritually. But God then reassures us through the apostle Paul’s words: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him”. All those people who are in the highest echelons of government and of organized religion think they have things all figured out. They are sure that they know what is best for the rest of us. You can be sure that they boast about that among themselves. But it is the rest of us who know that God is in control. “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”

 

So now we have an improved way to keep a better perspective on things. We know what true wisdom is and what its origin is. And we know that part of true wisdom is recognizing the fact that we are very insignificant compared with God, and that we should never second-guess God. Instead we are to keep focused on Him and on his Word as a guide through life. Let’s all start doing this together today as we draw closer to Him so He can be closer to us. And next week we’ll move on to chapter two. Shalom!

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching with Minister Paul J. Bern will be Romans chapter four

Justified By Faith

Romans chapter 4

leap of faith

Today in our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters from beginning to end, we find ourselves moving on to Romans chapter 4. This entire chapter is about Abraham and his wife Sarah, so there is a lot of Old Testament stuff in here. If anyone is having any problems mustering up the kind of faith this passage calls for, I challenge you to read this entire – but brief – passage of Scripture. So here goes…

“What shall we say then that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited as righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6, 22) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness. David does the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never be counted against him.’ Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had been before he was circumcised. (Romans 4, verses 1-12)

To sum this up in a few sentences, Abraham and David are both men who are called righteous – but in Spiritual terms rather than physical. The only time that Abraham ever saw God, or a physical representation thereof, was when the Lord God met him at Shechem (see Genesis chapter 12, verses 6-7). David, to the best my my recollection, did not see any visual manifestations of God. Instead, God spoke to him through other prophets there in Jerusalem at that time. Righteousness is defined in the next verse: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness….. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never be counted against him’).

This was a clear prophecy concerning the coming Messiah who will rule the world from Jerusalem, none other than the man in the glory of God, Jesus Christ. In the remainder of this quotation, the main thing the apostle Paul wrote consisted of comparisons between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament circumcision of one’s heart and soul. The circumcision of old was physical. But, since Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Law (see Matthew 5: 17), as Paul taught, circumcision is no longer physical. It has extended itself into that of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, having left the physical realm only to cross over into the Spiritual dimension that we call “heaven”. Taking up where we left off, let’s proceed with the second half of this study starting at verse 13.

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law, there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to all those who are the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’. He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been sent to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about 100 years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’. The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to our death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4, verses 13-25)

“… the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to all those who are the faith of Abraham.” Here is an example of how the Bible uses Abraham to illustrate faith, which is given to us by the grace of God. We are all descended from Abraham. So, we have all inherited his faith that he had in God. We can do all things through God who gives us strength. The promise God made to Abraham, “I have made you the father of many nations”, applies to everyone who sincerely believes in Spirit and in truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jews and all non-Jews get equal treatment according to the apostle Paul, who was himself a Hebrew and a scholar of the Law of Moses.

Considering that Jews back in those days had nothing to do with Gentiles – much like today in many cases – this statement coming from Paul is quite remarkable. Whereas the Hebrew nation, which is modern-day Israel not counting millions more from around the globe, considered themselves separate and set aside, Paul makes it crystal-clear that God sees Jews and non-Jews as being equals. Besides the supreme sacrifice of Christ on the cross, having shed his blood freely for all our sins, this unconditional equality among all peoples, nations and races reflects the sum total of the very essence of the New Testament.

He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations… ”. In the same way that God gave Abraham and Sarah new life by allowing them to conceive a child when they were 100 years old, so he did with Jesus by raising him from the dead on the morning of the third day after he died (temporarily) on the cross. But since Jesus’ resurrection made him immortal, so we are all going to receive that same immortality after we die, thanks to Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer, who rose first. Since Abraham was very much alive when he believed God’s promise to him, so are we when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection takes our sins away. So Abraham and ourselves, the Jewish and Gentile nations of the world, are joint heirs of the Kingdom of God when Jesus comes back to take home his Bride, which is not only the “church”, but all those who believe.

“Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about 100 years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’.” The Bible defines faith as being “the evidence of things hoped for, and the belief in things which cannot be seen”. Abraham was in full compliance with these prerequisites, knowing full well that God “calls things that are not as though they were”. If God can do this through his spoken and written Word for Abraham, then he can and will for all of us who believe as well. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” If we have sufficient faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead, and having never met Christ in person, then we already have the same righteousness in God’s sight as Abraham had.

God allows us to have challenges in our lives in order to build us up. He strengthens us by having us go through negative experiences in order to extract a positive result. As the verse says, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope”. This hope that is produced by our character development is where our faith comes from. Our faith, in turn, is what justifies us before God (that and our unwavering belief in Jesus). The more developed our character becomes, the closer we become with God through Christ Jesus, and so the greater our faith. They are all proportional to one another. We are to keep focusing on these facts while ignoring all the negative that can so easily keep us off track. Despite what goes on around us we are to remain focused on the positive. We have to keep the faith to get our just reward.