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Monday, November 25, 2013

Selfish Attachments and Temptation

This is the ninth lesson in a series on 1 Corinthians. Please read all about it in the Introduction. I’ve broken the post into sections with journal prompts at the end of each part. These would be great stopping points. I’ve also linked the Scripture references to; click the blue font references. I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments!

Week 8: Selfish Attachments and Temptation (1 Corinthians 10)

I laughed out loud when last week on the morning I was to teach about chapter 9’s lessons on NOT demanding my rights, I had the opportunity to dig my heels in with a brother at church. In the grand scheme of things it was a no big deal minor issue….
-EXCEPT in my own attitude.
-EXCEPT in the way I heard God’s warning to seek Kingdom Growth FIRST in ALL situations!

I probably freaked him out a little, because I got kinda guilty-giddy-giggly as I recognized the lesson. Studying 1 Corinthians is changing me. You too?

This week we will see a famous verse on temptation in context, self-led pride before and dangerous attachments after. It’s miraculous to see that when we let go of pride and idolatry, temptation becomes much easier to handle….stay tuned.

In one of my Bibles this next section is titled, “Warnings from Israel’s History” which will prove to tempt some to snooze. But don’t do it! We haven’t just hit a random time warp. We’ve been knee (sometimes neck) deep in the messy nature of trying to get our ‘lil strong-willed natures tamed down from self-seeking to Kingdom-seeking. Chapter 10 is taking all of us back down Sunday School Lane to remember some stories and glean insight from the examples of real people.

Spiritual Snubs

Now, even though Paul is writing to a mostly Gentile church, he brings up Jewish stories. These are God’s stories, and so they are our own. As you read the examples does your mind wander back to Sunday School paintings of the parting of the Red Sea? Can you see Moses’ white hair and beard flowing in the wind? For many of us these stories have become so familiar that we highlight the heroic parts and miss the dark places. Read these five verses again and see if one word pops out to you.

Did you see it? “spiritual” This word describes the supernatural way God led and provided for His people. These verses connect the Bible-wide truth that Jesus is God’s provision. The warning? Don’t snub God’s presence or His provision.

Journal Prompt: How do you snub God’s presence or His provision?

Spiritual Examples

Now we are getting down and dirty. Specific stories that really happened. They happened and were tragic, but not wasted. We can study these people and their stories and learn! This is more than just learning from another’s experience. This is seeing God’s intentional hand working in and out of their experiences, leading and disciplining them and providing for them AS HE HAS AND CONTINUES TO DO for us.

When I read these verses I see another phrase repeated. “As some of them did…” comes through five times. Here’s the list of what “some of them did…” that we are to avoid.
  • They desired evil.
  • They became idolaters.
  • They engaged in sexual immorality.
  • They put Christ to the test.
  • They grumbled.

{Sarcasm Alert} Don’t you love these Bible lists? There’s always something in there that snags even the most pristinely pure one of us {hello grumble}. Why? Because doing right isn’t really the point. By the end of this chapter God will have confronted us with the Truth that the secret and strong attachments of our heart and soul are where our life truly gets its breath. So what will it be? Life or death? He will confront idolatry (our false attachments) and pride (our self-focus and unwillingness to submit to Him), just like He did in these examples in verses 1-11. He doesn’t change.

And so we see pride take its first blow in verse 12 with, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Romans 11:20 and 2 Peter 3:17 share similar warnings. From everything we’ve studied in our Introduction and through our journey into and through the last 9½ chapters, the Corinthian church is struggling here on this issue. They want to control their church and beliefs and interaction with their culture. They want to understand and manage life. Some of that comes from a good place, but much of it comes from pride. They are Us.

Journal Prompt: From what you’ve studied so far, consider the struggle of the Corinthian church to break free from pride. What personal connections can you make to your own life and faith struggle?

Spiritual Temptation
I’ve linked it to different translations, be sure and read them all.

The first thing that I MUST point out, is that the context of this verse is temptation. This verse cannot be applied to every single difficulty you face. When people use this verse to tritely lay “God never gives us more than we can handle” over ANY situation you face, it’s not wholly true. God does allow more into your life than you can handle sometimes – but never temptation to sin. If you feel crushed by the weight of difficult circumstances, His purposes are always that you will lean into Him for strength and provision and abandon your foolish notions that you ever have enough spiritual resource in yourself to endure without Him. This is an important lesson I’ve taught using texts in 2 Corinthians that are more appropriately taught in another post. {Maybe someday we will get there!} The point here in verse 13 is that a push to sin never comes into your life without being met with the faithful Presence of God to overcome it. You just have to choose which direction you will lean…into Jesus or into sin.

Now, back to temptation in verse 13. Brainstorm with me some of the excuses that we use to rationalize our desire to give in to temptation. {Our excuses are the italicized panicky ones! God’s Words are the bold calm ones}.

I don’t know what happened, it just grabbed hold of me so fast!no temptation has seized you…
No one understands how hard this is! –except what is common to man…
I asked You to help me, You’ve abandoned me in this struggle! –I Am faithful…
It’s too much, I can’t say no! – I will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…
I’m trapped, I can’t see any way out from this temptation. –I will provide a way out…
I’m done, it’s crushed me.
Even when I say no it’s still right here torturing me. –Stand up…

Do you see the progression from confusion to panic? God wants us to understand the nature of temptation. It’s always from the Enemy and it’s always for our destruction. John 10:10 and James 1:13-15 come to mind on this subject.

I hope that you can break free from the familiarity of 1 Corinthians 10:13 and see the hope there. He is the solid, compassionate, calm answer to every wave of panic-stricken confusion temptation blows over us. He doesn't always remove the temptation with some easy little "poof." He gives vision to see the way out and strength to stand up under the burden. You are never alone and you are never without resource. Please see with me the context of the two closest surrounding verses.  Verse 12 is a warning against pride. Verse 14 is a warning against idolatry. Our self-reliance and our secret attachments create a perfect atmosphere for temptation to do its damage.

Before we move on to the specific instructions Paul gives in this section let’s spend a few minutes on verse 14, tying it in to what we’ve learned. So far in this chapter we’ve been warned to consider the danger of snubbing God as He provides for us. We’ve been warned not to think too highly of our ability to withstand temptation on our own.  Now, in verse 14 we are warned to flee from idolatry. What is idolatry? It isn’t a contemporary concept, although it is most definitely a contemporary practice. We do it all the time. When I was studying and writing about the book of Hosea, I came upon this definition of idolatry from the Holman Bible Dictionary, “a physical or material image or form representing a reality or being considered divine and thus an object of worship.” (Fisher, 10). Idolatry catches us when we buy a lie and begin to worship something that represents a false reality. “To worship something means I adore it, I am aware of its presence when it’s close and miss it when its far way. I long to have it with me and spend time invested deeply in understanding and knowing how it operates…..We worship people, things, ourselves, achievements; both good and bad.” (Fisher, 12)

Any attachment in your life that overtakes your attachment to God is idolatry.
Run away.
If it’s a relationship or a responsibility that you cannot or should not escape, get it back in its proper place with the same “flee-like” urgency. Do it as if your life depends on it.

Journal Prompt: What fresh insight did you learn about the temptation verse? How does the warning to flee idolatry in verse 14 connect to teaching on temptation in verse 13?

Spiritual Living

So now we are back to the list of questions Paul is answering. Remember the meat issue from chapter 8? He starts right in on this topic declaring first the beauty of the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It’s a celebration of Jesus. The pagan meat sacrifice is not a celebration of Jesus. And as such it is actually a sacrifice offered to demons. In verse 16, the bread and the wine is called a “participation.” Maybe you’ve heard this word before. Koinonia. It means “fellowship with or participation in anything.” (Zodhiates, 929). When I looked at this in (here) I saw it’s used 19 times. The verses are all beautiful examples of sharing and agreement. When it comes to the actual walking out of this boundary (especially in light of the teaching of chapter 8 and 9) the consideration of “koinonia” is the key. Where am I sharing and giving agreement? In verses 27-29 the instruction is clear….Don’t make the meat an issue, when you are invited into the home of an unbeliever to eat, just eat. Say a silent prayer and eat; making the most of any opportunity to share and find common ground so that you may have the chance to share Jesus Truth with them. 

How strange would it be for me to accept an invitation into the home of a friend, then demand that we eat our meal together the same way I would honor the Lord’s Supper at church? {Answer – super weird}. BUT, if that same person presents the meal to me as an intentional extension of the way it was first offered to an idol - that's where I draw the line. 

The challenge for us to it lay the BUT down in the right place. {Yes, I realize that statement is pushing it, but it's memorable, right?} Don’t be shackled by rules that alienate, BUT don’t live in a way that agrees, participates, or shows brotherhood with an idol.

Journal Prompt: Keeping the idea of agreement in mind. Where are some places that your lifestyle “agrees” with the things of demons instead of the things of God? Are there places where you are refusing fellowship where Kingdom opportunities could be found?

I'm hopeful that studying a familiar verse in context this week was eye-opening for you. I know that I learned so much!  I will post the rest of our lesson on chapter 10, and the very first verse of chapter 11 next week, as well as a summary review of what we've learned so far. THEN, we will be taking a big long break from 1 Corinthians while my college girls are home for Christmas Break and J-term. 

Blessings as you learn,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Going Right-less

This is the eighth lesson in a series on 1 Corinthians. Please read all about it in the Introduction. I’ve broken the post into sections with journal prompts at the end of each part. These would be great stopping points. I’ve also linked the Scripture references to; click the blue font references. I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments!

Week 7: Freedom to go Right-less (1 Corinthians 9)

I have teased before that I am going to relegate my blog posts to a discussion of ice cream. Because with almost every post I write there is a testing period. A chance to prove only to myself that I’m not just writing “talking” about the lesson, but am also willing to walk in it.
{Although, I think I would probably get more traffic if I wrote about ice cream}.

This is one of those lessons. As I sit down to write what I’m learning I am squarely confronted with opportunities I’ve had to demand rights I feel are owed to me or rest in the freedom I POSSESS to give them up and let them go. Even as I’m tempted to swing to the opposite extreme {martyr syndrome} and willingly forfeit my self-declared due rights, I am reminded that unless that willingness is on a God-led path to advance the gospel it’s for nothing and I might as well keep fighting. 
Fun. This is why I wish I could write about ice cream.

“The challenge to the Christian woman is to remove those obstacles of her own making along the pathway of faith. She must make choices that “seek…the good of the other person” (10:24) and make her above reproach. But she must never think that she can or should remove the obstacle of the cross. If someone is going to stumble on the pathway of faith let it be over Christ crucified – not Christians vilified.” (Patterson/Kelley, 435).

I love this quote as it bridges chapter 8 and 9. Choosing what to let go and what to hold tight is crucial in a life of faith. I have freedom, you have freedom, to let go of well-deserved rights because we always fall safely into Jesus. Always. When we are betrayed or misunderstood or wrong or right or struggling or successful or confident or terrified – in all places at all times we belong to Him. Nothing can change that. So can we finally let that be enough and quit being so demanding of one another? The Truth of the cross and the advance of the gospel should always be our goal….everything else falls away.

Journal Prompt: Have you ever thought about protecting your rights before? What does being free to let go of your rights mean to you?

Defense of Rights

This passage reminds me of the awkward feeling when you walk into a conversation or a meeting and are surprised by unexpected tension. Don’t you just want to tiptoe backward and pretend you never heard anything? I alternate between wanting to avoid these issues and feeling defensive for Paul. In the first three verses he states his connection to the Corinthian believers and then he lays out a defense citing the habits of Christian leaders in his day (3-6), the traditions of Judaism (8-9), and common sense examples from every day life (7). He even brings up the actions of the Corinthian church toward other leaders (11-12).

And just as I’m ready to high five him for putting those pesky Corinthians in their place the “nevertheless” in the second half of verse 12 robs me of all swagger and leaves me "high-five hanging….."

His whole point in bringing up all of his rights was to trash them in verse 12. He would rather endure anything than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (ESV).  In the NIV it says Paul would rather “put up with anything than hinder the gospel” and the Message says, “Our decision all along has been to put up with anything rather than to get in the way or detract from the Message of Christ.”

Look at this interesting gem I found in my studies…{this corresponds to the words in bold in the Scripture references above}:

“Paul’s word for hinder is unusual (here only in the New Testament). It means ‘a cutting into’, and was used of breaking up a road to prevent the enemy’s advance. Paul had avoided doing anything that might prevent a clear road to the gospel advance.” (Morris, 133)

When was the last time that I used this question before I sought after something I rightly deserved? What would happen if church people started using this criteria?

Instead of asking:
Am I right to expect or demand this?
I should be asking:
Is there anything about this expectation or demand that will chop up a smooth trip for another person seeking the Truth about Jesus?

Oh, so hard. I just want to quit here. I miss this mark with such completeness I don’t even want to move on. {Seriously, I’m totally pouting; clicking save and exit}

“It is certainly easier to demand your own way, especially when you are deserving. However, Paul had already surrendered his life first to Christ and then to others. He was very willing to sacrifice his comforts for the greater cause.” (Kelley, Patterson, 436)

Journal Prompt: Think of a place in your life right now where your rights are not being honored. How can you apply this day’s lesson to that situation?


So I quit this lesson for awhile, but I’m back. I can’t leave us there.
Today we will do some more cross-referencing to see more fully what Paul is teaching us.

First let’s look at “boasting” which is not typically a positive word. This is what my Study Bible said, “Paul uses this word not in its usual sense of pride that steals glory from God, but rather as expressing a rightful sense of joy and fulfillment in what God has done through him.” (ESV, 2203) When I studied further I saw that more literally the end of verse 15 reads “for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.” (Zodhiates, 561).

Let’s try to contemporize this. Let’s say you are passed over for a position in leadership or service at church. Being convicted by 1 Corinthians 9, instead of harboring a grudge or pushing forward in your right to have that spot, you recognize your freedom to let it go and seek to serve in a different way. Because of that freedom and willingness to keep the Gospel Road smooth you are able to minister in a way no one else did. You are able to disciple an individual that would’ve been overlooked, minister creatively to someone who really needed it, lead a seeker to the true gospel for the first time. Once that whole scenario is played out, how would you feel about the Spirit-led results of your humble obedience? THAT place, the one you just imagined or have experienced is your ground for boasting. And the original “right” you expected would actually have drained your service of God’s glory, made it void.

Read the following verses to see Paul’s example of this….

Journal Prompt: What did you learn from the list of verses above and how do they apply to your life today?

One last little nugget in this section: do you see the word stewardship in verse 17?  Notice the lack of choice here. Paul chooses to give up his rights, and he accepts his calling as if there were no choice. As we are moving into a more controversial section about being “all things to all people,” please remember this starting point. For Paul, for us, the advance of the True Gospel is not optional. There are a few core points upon which there is no negotiation – no matter the context or the culture. This “gospel choiceless-ness” must be the first step before we can begin heading out into representing Jesus in our culture.

And so we move on to the “For…” introducing us to the rest of chapter 9.

All Things to All People
Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, and note I’ve linked it in 4 versions.
Take a few minutes to read each of them. Note in your journal the phrases from each translation that really stick out to you.

Here are mine:
  • slave to everyone to win as many as possible…
  • by all possible means I might save some…
  • I am free in every way from anyone’s control…
  • I am especially keeping within and committed to the law of Christ…
  • by all means (at all costs and in any and everyway)…
  • share blessing alongside you…
  • try to find common ground with everyone…
  • religious, non-religious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralist, the defeated, the demoralized – whoever…
  • I kept my bearings in Christ – but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view…
  • I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

As I consider these verses, I see Paul’s willingness to re-enter his old life, confront his former prejudices, and patiently endure those who by their nature challenge his convictions and pride. I see two questions for application for us:
  • Are we willing to do this?
  • How far is too far?

“But in the morally gray area of life…Paul bends over backwards to be sensitive to the non-Christian mores of society around him so as not to hinder people from accepting the gospel. He does not assume that all aspects of culture are inherently evil but practices what has come to be called the contextualization of the gospel – changing the forms of the message precisely in order to preserve its content. Then Christianity stands the best chance of being understood and even accepted. Sadly, Christians of many eras have instead tended to be more sensitive to the legalism of fellow church members and have too quickly censured contemporary social customs, alienating themselves from the very people they should have been trying to win to Christ.” (Blomberg, 186)

Contextualization can be a polarizing concept. It’s biblical as we see in this passage, but it can become a catchphrase describing a place of such cultural understanding that there is no spiritual distinctiveness. For example, I have a friend serving in another culture. This friend and her family wear the clothes, eat the food, speak the language, and generally adapt to the cultural norms of those around them…but even in that respect for culture, they always look for every opportunity to share the Gospel. When I visited them a few years ago our trip overlapped with a Muslim holiday. The holiday celebration included the sacrifice of a ram or goat. We spent some very special time in a home there, hearing the customs and stories and eating the food these people had sacrificed greatly to have for us on this day of celebration. And when the door opened up for my believing friend to share – she did so, in their language while I nodded and smiled and gave her Story and presence there credibility as she lives among people who often only see the Gospel as an obstacle and stumbling block. Had my friend only cared to be accepted by and accepting of another culture she would just blend in. Although it isn’t easy to minister there, we can sometimes see the boundary lines in an example like this more clearly. What about in our own culture? 

I found an article by Tullian Tchividjian on the Gospel Coalition’s website {here} that helped me understand this better, especially as we are drawing the boundary line between contextualization and compromise. Here’s part of it:

“Becoming “all things to all people”, therefore, does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation—being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.
When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good. For love’s sake, compromise is to be avoided at all costs.”

Last year at a retreat I taught on Esther and Daniel and the need for us to be counter-cultural not anti-cultural. I set up four chairs on the stage. They were set up in pairs two of them side-by-side facing the other two, which were also side-by-side. I asked a volunteer to come sit in one of the chairs. To illustrate being anti-cultural I stood on a chair opposite her and talked down to her while she sat. I believe this to be the most damaging interaction with culture. To illustrate being overly cultural (compromise) I sat in the chair next to her with my arm around her and our attention both being drawn to what was in front of and around us. We had the same cultural viewpoint in every way. While in this example I've lost my goal of engaging in order to further her faith journey toward the gospel, at least I haven't burned any bridges. But still, I'm wasting time here. To illustrate being counter-cultural I sat in the chair directly opposite her. Knee to knee, eye-to-eye, engaging and asking and answering and caring.

I did the same illustration in my Sunday School class yesterday, here are the pics.

Anti-Cultural (but add a meaner face)

Overly-Cultural (Compromise)


Awkwardly Counter-Cultural

Journal Prompt: Where are some places in your life where you need to become all things to all people? In the example above, are you anti-cultural, overly cultural, or counter-cultural?


“Corinth was the center of the Isthmian Games, which took place very two years. The streets of the city and the hillsides of the Acrocorinth would have been full of athletes in training for these prestigious events.” (Prior, 163)

Practicing what he’s just preached, Paul uses a culturally relevant example to make a spiritual point. Point is: don’t waste your life demanding your rights and missing opportunities to do what matters most, serving Jesus with great effectiveness.

“Paul is not like a runner who does not know where the finishing-line is, or a boxer who hits nothing but air (either shadow punching or missing his opponent). Paul’s Christianity is purposeful. He puts everything into direct and forceful Christian endeavor.” (Morris, 137-138).

A life lived to be right (lesson from chapter 8 last week) 
or to demand your rights (lesson from chapter 9 this week) 
is as dumb as shadow punching.

Disqualified in verse 27 means “has not stood the test” (Morris, 138). And while this is not in the context of salvation, it’s still important. I don’t want the hours and days and weeks and years and decades I spend on this earth to be seen as a failure in the eyes of the One who matters most to me. I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want my faith to be random or dumb or useless. I don’t want to be shackled by paranoia and fear of what people think of me.

And so this chapter ends with a warning to be serious about self-control. Which irked me at first. It irked me until I realized how difficult a life of voluntarily giving up earned rights for the growth of God’s Kingdom and the good of others really is. It doesn’t come naturally. At all. It takes discipline of thought and intention and a constant tucking up under Jesus.

This is one of those lessons that leaves us feeling a little bit beat up. If you’ve made it this far with me, I want to leave you with this encouragement.

“I have fought the good (worthy, honorable, and noble) fight, I have finished the race, I have kept (firmly held) the faith. [As to what remains] henceforth there is laid up for me the [victor’s] crown of righteousness [for being right with God and doing right], which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me and recompense me on that [great] day—and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved and yearned for and welcomed His appearing (His return).
2 Timothy 4:7-8 (AMP)

Journal Prompt: How purposeful is your faith?