Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

Robotic Christians?

Am I nothing more than a robot? Is every detail of my life preplanned and manipulated by an unseen hand, right down to the moment and circumstances of the end of my life?

cyborg-4045661_640

That made sense to Zeno the Stoic, to Augustine, to Mohammed, to Buddha and to John Calvin. Some people find it comforting to think that God is in control of everything, but is that really so comforting?

Paul writes about predestination in Romans and Ephesians. However, if we read the complete letters, we find that he is not using the word the same way the Stoics used it. He is saying that God had planned, predestined, before the world began, that salvation would be offered to all mankind.

There are those who believe Paul is speaking of individual predestination – that only some are predestined to be saved and others to be lost. What shall we do then with verses such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”?

What Paul is saying is that all mankind is predestined to be saved, not only the Hebrews. This was not clearly understood in previous times, but was revealed by the Gospel. Salvation is now offered to all people on th basis of faith.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 9:30-33).

We live in a chaotic world. Forces were unleashed by the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden that make life unpredictable and dangerous. Those chaotic forces disrupt and distort everything.

God is not in control. He could intervene to control the actions of every person, and every event, in this world. If we choose to believe that He has done that, we make Him responsible for every atrocity, war, genocide and murder that has ever been. Would you trust your life into the hands of a God like that?

There is a god like that. He promises wonderful things if we will trust him and reach for the bait he offers us. That god is a liar. He gives us brief tastes of things that feel good, then torments us. He promises greater pleasures, and the result is greater torment. Finally he tells us that there is no good thing to expect from life. Everything is against us, why not just put an end to it.

We are responsible for allowing this chaos and evil into the world. God allows it to continue to show us the consequences of our disobedience. When we face that reality, then God reveals His grace, the blood of Jesus Christ to cover our guilt and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. We can be happy, free and have a pure conscience.

The spirits of evil and chaos are still active around us and we are not immune to their influence on other people and the effects of their influence. People are not our enemies; our enemies are the evil spirits who egg them on into reacting with bitterness, anger and hatred.

The true God, our Creator, can give us inner peace and quietness in the midst of the chaos of this world. One day the chaos in our world will be transferred to a place where there never will be a hint of God’s grace and we who trust in God will live in a world where even the memory of the chaos will be gone.

We are not robots; the choice of our destination will not be made for us by the invisible hand of a God we hardly know. Now, while we have the opportunity, is the time to choose which world will be our final destination.

Introduction to the books of the Old Testament

The Torah, all five books written by Moses
Genesis – Describes the Creation, its beauty and goodness, and then its corruption when our first parents fell for the deception of the serpent. The first promise of a Saviour is in the third chapter where it is said that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. The call of Abraham, his (almost) sacrifice of his son, a type of what God would do. Jacob’s prophecy that “Shiloh” would come through the line of Judah.

Exodus – The descendents of Jacob are slaves in Egypt and God calls an eighty-year-old man who had never properly learned the Hebrew language to be God’s messenger to lead them out of captivity.

Leviticus – A very detailed description of what loving God and loving our neighbour should look like.

Numbers – A record of God’s longsuffering with His people during the 40 years in the wilderness when they tested Him is so many ways.

Deuteronomy – Almost all the adult males who came out of Egypt have died in the wilderness and there is a new generation. Moses recapitulates God’s dealings with His people and His plan for them in preparation for entering the Promised Land.

The Former Prophets
Joshua – Probably mostly written by Joshua himself. Moses, representative of the law, could not enter the Promised Land. Joshua is the same name as Jesus, and means salvation of the Lord. He led the people across Jordan and then led them in the conquest of the land, with many miraculous interventions by God, and then divided the land among the tribes. “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Joshua 21.45).

Judges – Written by Samuel. Before the New Testament era the Holy Spirit was given to only a few people. This book is a record of the ups and downs of the spiritual and material prosperity of God’s people, largely dependent on what kind of leadership they had

1 Samuel – Written by Samuel. God raised up a spiritual leader who was not of the Levitical priesthood. During his ministry the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Tabernacle of Moses. Samuel ignored the tabernacle, established places of sacrifices throughout the land and appears to have made them a one year circuit. His ministry brought spiritual unity and stability to Israel.

2 Samuel – Most likely written by Nathan and Gad, David’s seers. The story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. He was as much a spiritual leader as a political leader, with the heart of a shepherd.

1 Kings – The work of Jeremiah, possibly written by his secretary, Baruch. The glory of Solomon’s kingdom, which was the earthly fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. The division of the kingdom after his death and the apostasy of the northern kingdom. The ministry of Elijah to the apostate northern kingdom to point them back to God.

2 Kings – Also written by Jeremiah, probably aided by Baruch. The continuing history of the divided kingdoms. Many godly kings in Judah, the southern kingdom, and others who fell into idolatry so that the land became polluted with idols. Continuing apostasy in Israel, the northern kingdom, with some partial revivals. The ministry of Elisha in Israel; the people finally taken into captivity. The last six verses of 2 Kings are identical to the last six verses of Jeremiah.

The Latter Prophets
Isaiah – written by Isaiah. His ministry lasted for 60 years, covering the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Asa, Hezekiah and into the reign of Manasseh. Filled with prophecies of judgement for the unfaithful and wicked and the promise of the Messiah, the suffering servant.

Jeremiah – written by Jeremiah. His ministry began during the revival during the reign of King Josiah and continued through the time of spiritual collapse until the captivity. He was then carried away to Egypt by rebellious Jews and continued to prophesy there for a few more years. The theme of his book is a last minute warning of God’s impeding judgement.

Ezekiel – Written in Babylon by Ezekiel. The people of God now had no king, no country, no temple to continue their system of worship. Ezekiel was a priest and others came to him looking for spiritual direction. Synagogue is a Greek word meaning congregation or assembly; there is no instruction ever given for the organization of such a worship system, but this is probably how it began. Ezekiel pays little attention to the political situation, but speaks of hope for a spiritual restoration, when the Lord Himself will be the shepherd of His people (chapter 34).

-to be continued

What the Bible is all about

The Bible is not a story about good people versus bad people. It is a story of people that were created to be good and rather chose to be bad from the very beginning. From that point on it is a story of people who have been rescued from evil and those who still need to be rescued.

God created our first parents with the power to choose to obey Him or to choose to obey the temptation offered by the serpent. He knew the risk He was taking, but He never wanted us to be puppets, obeying Him only because we had no choice.

Satan and his dark angels have been at war with God since a time before the physical world was created. The first chapter of the book of Job shows the subtle way in which Satan works and God’s willingness to allow our devotion to Him to be tested. The end of the book shows how God bestows blessings upon us when we steadfastly resist everything that Satan uses to make us mistrust and deny God.

bible-3524065_640

The Old Testament is the history of God calling people to come apart from the wickedness of the world and follow Him. It is also a demonstration of how people were unable to maintain a life of faith. Step by step God was teaching how the things in which the ungodly trust will always lead to disaster. It was a lesson that usually didn’t stick from one generation to the next. The prophet Jeremiah described it well: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

There arose among the Jewish people a group who believed they had full understanding of the Word of God and of how God wanted people to live. They were considered to be experts in being faithful servants of God. They were called Pharisees, a name that denoted that they were separate from the ungodly and unbelieving.

When we come to the New Testament we see Satan and his forces using every weapon at their disposal to win mankind to their side. What does God offer to draw us to His side? A man who bled and died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.

Doesn’t sound like much of a contest does it? But that man was Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His death on the cross laid bare the evil intentions of the forces of darkness. When Jesus spoke from the cross and said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He won a victory over Satan. Forgiveness is not in Satan’s vocabulary, not something he comprehends. Rather than moving God to obliterate mankind for ever, Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness available to us all.

Jesus did not stay dead, He rose to life the third day and lives today. The distinctive mark of New Testament followers of God is that the Holy Spirit is now given to every believer, not only to a few prophets and spiritual leaders. We can now have the power of God within us to identify and defeat the ruses of Satan.

The Pharisees knew the Word of God and endeavoured to be obedient in the minutest details. It would seem that they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. But their status as experts blinded them to the truth. Jesus told them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

It is still that way. Experts find it very difficult to be a Christian. They are too busy looking at how other people are doing everything wrong. Those who admit that they have been dishonest and immoral find they are welcome to come to Jesus. God wants sons and daughters who will trust Him in every aspect of their life. He wants to be obedient so He can lead us in a safe way and in the end bring us to be with Him in heaven.

The great lesson of the Bible is not just that through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven, come away from the evil that is in the world and one day have a home in heaven. The part that we tend to miss, because we so much want to be experts, is that this is only possible on God’s terms, which we can only know by holding to His hand every step of the way.

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

bible-1868359_640

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Lancelot_Andrewes_(State_1)

I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said. . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded . . . They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

Freedom of the will

Freedom of choice means that I am at liberty to do as I please. Nevertheless, I learn every day in small ways that the choices I make have consequences; and the choices that other people make often have consequences that affect me. Why then should I not expect that consequences might not only be immediate, but long-term, even eternal?

God is not to blame when bad things happen, He has given us the liberty to choose freely. Often those choices have unanticipated consequences. The unpleasant consequences of our bad choices should lead us to pause a moment to consider whether God might not have a better way for us.

God does not protect us from the negative consequences of the choices we and other people make. Neither does he force us to choose His way.

Yet God does speak to us, quietly and often, asking us to reconsider the direction we are travelling in life. Some time in our life He will tell us that the bad things happening to us are the result of our bad choices which make us sinners.

It doesn’t work to decide that we will live the way God wants us to live by our own will and strength. But we do have the ability to accept God’s judgment on our sin and ask Him to help us. That is called repentance and when God sees that our repentance is genuine, He forgives us because of the sacrifice Jesus has made for our sin, He adopts us as His child and gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to make right choices.

That is called the new birth, conversion, regeneration. Those words all mean a change in the way we think and a u-turn in the direction of our life. When we live to please God and to love and help the people around us, we will be far happier than when we were only trying to please ourselves.

This is the beginning of Christian life. Some people stop as soon as they reach this point, thinking this is all there is to Christian life. God wants us to keep on going, learning a little more each day about our own weakness and about God’s will and the blessings that He has for those who really consecrate their lives to Him.

The need for fellowship

I recently read something written by a young lady whose parents are very conservative Christians. She spoke of how difficult it had been to find a church where she could feel at home because she didn’t want to get into anything that felt like the way she had grown up.

I feel compassion for her, yet I’m afraid she has misdiagnosed the problem. It doesn’t seem that her parents were ultra strict, but they had no fellowship with other Christians with similar convictions. They tried various churches, but always had good reasons why they had to break fellowship with them.

Our daughter would probably be making the same complaints today if we had not joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite forty years ago. Prior to that time, while she was very young, we had attended a variety of churches for a few months or a year or two.

Our daughter was six when we began regularly attending a congregation of this church, and seven when we were baptized and became members. From that time on, most of her friends were children of our friends. We attended church together, visited in each others homes and followed much the same principles in raising our children.

man-and-boy-1840034_640.png

Fast forward forty years and we have a Christian daughter, a fine Christian son-in-law and four grandchildren, one of whom is now also a Christian. This is the blessing of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t see how we could be enjoying these blessings today if we had continued church-hopping, or even withdrew from organized church altogether.

We have known families who remained with one church, but held their own children to a higher standard than other families of that church did for their children. Their children rebelled. The parents meant well, but didn’t understand that Christian fellowship is of more value than getting all the details right.

We cannot raise Christian children if we hold ourselves aloof from other Christians. Yes, we need to avoid worldliness. Yes, we need to uphold moral and spiritual purity.

But we also need to avoid self-righteousness and a critical attitude toward others. Those things poison the atmosphere in a home and will eventually cause our children to rebel against us and all we tried to teach them. Or it may lead them to become lonely social outcasts, unable to develop a meaningful relationship with others.

God has made us in such a way that none of us are complete in ourselves. We need others to supply what we lack. The New Testament epistles have much instruction to help us live in fellowship with other Christians. This is important for us and for our children.

Above all, let’s not call it Christian fellowship when we are in full agreement with someone else about the mistakes other people make. Forbearance and forgiveness are essential for true fellowship. The most important thing is to see Christ in one another, whatever our ethnic origin or economic status. The people around us make mistakes. Do we see only the mistakes, or do we see a fellow Christian trying in weakness to follow the Holy Spirit? That’s the way we want others to see us, isn’t it?

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (1 Corinthians 3.11)

An exposition of First Corinthians chapter three

An older brother, a minister, once suggested to me that I should write about one portion of this chapter. He didn’t tell me what I should write, but appeared to have confidence that I would be able to cut through the misinterpretations of the apostle Paul’s words that are often repeated in our day and make plain what he was really saying.

Twenty years have passed, the brother no longer walks this earth. But that suggestion and the confidence implicit in it have continued to echo in the recesses of my mind. Today it is time to sit down and make it happen. I will discuss the whole chapter because I don’t believe we can understand any one part of it if we do not understand the whole.

1 Corinthians 3:1 ¶ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The brethren at Corinth did not have confidence in one another, or in the church. They had been converted, yet they were still set in the pagan pattern of following a teacher, rather than being followers of Christ. For this reason Paul told them they were still babies, at the very beginning of the life of faith, still feeding on only the simplest spiritual nourishment.

5 ¶ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth;but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that the new spiritual life they have found came from God, he and Apollos are only servants. He begins with the metaphor of a vine that they have planted and watered, but the life in the vine came from God, not Paul or Apollos. Then he switches to the metaphor of a building, saying that all together they are one building. The foundation has been laid and many are building upon it, but they must be careful how they build.

11 ¶ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The only possible foundation for the building of God, the church, is Jesus Christ. As there is only one foundation, there is only one building. The verses that follow are not meant to be understood in an individualistic way. They speak of the materials used to build the church, some are precious metals and stones that come from God and cannot burn. But ministers, parents, all of us really, will sometimes use our own reasoning to try and build the church, but these materials tend to weaken the structure, rather than strengthen it.

Yet there is grace for those who are building upon the true foundation, even if some if their efforts will not stand the test of fire. Paul is not saying that our personal salvation is at risk when in ignorance we use inferior materials, his words should lead us to sanctification, to let burn what will burn so that we may continue to build with the materials that are durable.

16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

English-speaking readers of today find these verses difficult to understand. Our language has dropped the singular pronouns thee and thou, and even the plural pronoun ye, replacing all three with the plural you. Those pronouns had a purpose and we need to understand them to grasp what is being said in passages such as this.

When Paul uses the plural pronouns ye and you in these verses he is addressing the church as a whole, all members. But the temple of God is singular. He does not say “thou art the temple of God,” or “ye are the temples of God.” He is saying that altogether we are part of one temple, or church. This distinction is not something created by stuffy old translators 400 years ago, this is exactly the way Paul wrote in Greek.

Other passages that speak of the church as a single building or temple are found in 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5-7 and Revelation 3:15.

There is one passage which says something a little different: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Some people want to take this verse as the key to understanding all the others just cited. But that is to make those verses contradict what they so clearly state. Perhaps the best way to understand this verse is to read it in the light of the passage from 1 Peter which speaks of living stones. The temple of God is not built with stones that have no life in them. Just as in the case of Solomon’s temple, they must be prepared to fit before they are added to the temple.

When we interpret 1 Corinthians 3:16 as referring to each believer as an individual temple then it is easy to interpret verse 17 to refer to things that defile our own body, such as smoking, drug use, and immorality. Those are serious concerns, and they are addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But this verse goes deeper than that.

Think of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Achan took things that he knew he should not have and hid them in his tent, thinking that what others didn’t know could not harm him. But his action defiled the whole company of God’s people and God did not help them fight against their enemy, leading to much loss of life. When Achan’s sin was punished, then God once more gave the people victory over their enemies.

We are tempted to think as Achan did: “Nobody sees or knows what goes on in my private world. What harm can it do? ” It does great harm, not just to me but to all the church, even if no one knows the source of that harm. A living stone in the wall of God’s temple who permits himself such defilement causes the whole temple to be defiled. That stone no longer has the life of God within and must be removed and cast aside.

The difference between such a person and Achan is that in the gospel era there is opportunity for the defiled stone to have the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindled within and then be returned to a place in the wall of the temple.

18 ¶ Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

The wisdom of this world tells us that once a person has given his heart to God it is impossible for him to once again be lost. We have an enemy who delights in feeding us that kind of wisdom because it hinders us from hearing God’s call to repent and re-consecrate our lives to Him. It is better to think of ourselves as fools and ask God to direct us in the way that will safely bring us to our eternal home in heaven.

21 ¶ Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

God has given servants to the church to preach the gospel, to teach and to guide His people. Let us honour and respect such men; but we must not glorify them or compare them with one another. Each one has gifts to help in building the walls of Zion. Those gifts are given to help us and to glorify Jesus Christ and God.

%d bloggers like this: