Indicatives & Imperatives 3

1 Corinthians

The Three

The letter we know as 1 Corinthians is actually the second of four letters Paul wrote to this church. It was likely written in 55 A.D. near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus. Although there are several sub-themes addressed, Paul’s primary theme is for the church to work together and put Christ first for the advancement of the gospel.

Members had been promoting themselves and their spiritual gifts, creating an internal hierarchy which divided the church. Men and women were disruptive and argumentative during worship, arriving early to indulge in the bread and meat and get drunk on the wine. Those advanced in biblical knowledge, rather than uplifting newer believers, often used that knowledge to act as a stumbling block to those seeking Christ. And many had not transformed their own cultural worldviews of sexual and ethical immorality. Paul writes this letter to call them to task because they had not responded with repentance to his first letter (5:9).

The Imperatives (The Commands)

  • I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1:10)
  • Let each one take care how he builds upon the foundation of Jesus Christ laid by me, by Apollos, and by other servants of the Lord. (3:10)
  • Do not worship or boast in men, whether Paul, or Apollos or Peter. We are all Christ’s, as Christ is God’s. Regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (3:22-23; 4:1)
  • Do not favor one leader over another; do not puff yourself up if you are a leader over another who leads. Do not add to Scripture; it is sufficient on its own. (4:6)

(emphasis added) I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brothers or sisters if they are immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? God judges those outside. (5:9-13)

  • Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (7:17,20,35)
  • Take care that your “rights” do not become a stumbling block to others. Do I not have the right to eat and drink? Yet, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make him stumble. (8:9,13; 9:4)
  • Do not worship idols; do not indulge in sexual immorality; to not test Christ; do not grumble; do not think you are beyond sin, less your pride causes you to fall. (10:6-12)
  • All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (10:23-24)
  • So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (10:31)
  • Pursue love (14:1)
  • Strive to excel in building up the church (14:12)
  • Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like adults, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (16:13)

Paul was exhorting members of this church to always put Christ first and others next. It frankly didn’t matter to Paul what their rights were. He admonished them to be selfless, to not demand their rights, particularly if their rights might have even a small chance of being a stumbling block to anyone receiving Christ.

He also made it clear we in the church were to monitor ourselves, not those outside the church. If only we would engage in cleaning out our own houses first, we might set the example Paul seeks us to set when he reminds us that things may be lawful, but they may not be helpful or they may not build others up.

As we seek to do everything for the glory of God, we automatically pursue love.

The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1:4-7 NRSV)

  • Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the World? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1:20-21, 25)
  • Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1:30-31; Jeremiah 9:23-24)
  • As it is written, “What no eyes has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him,” these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (2:9-10; Isaiah 64:4)
  • Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (3:16)
  • If anyone loves God, he is known by God. (8:3)
  • No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (10:13)
  • It is the same God who empowers all the gifts in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (12:6-7)
  • All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as He wills. (12:11)
  • For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ…that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (12:12,25)
  • God is not a God of confusion but of peace (14:33)
  • For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (15:22)

In a large nutshell, Paul tells us we have no right to be spiritual elitists since God most often chooses those who the world considers foolish, weak or shameful to receive wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. These are the people who carry His true message. We must continually work to cleanse ourselves of sexual and ethical immorality because we have no authority with those outside the church. The more we focus on this, the less we’ll be called hypocrites by the world.

Sexual immorality includes things we’d prefer to ignore within the church, like domestic abuse, child abuse and incest. Ethical immorality includes those mentioned by Paul and those things we sweep under the rug; greed and coveting; those who mock God and use His name in vain; alcoholism and drug addiction; deception (which Paul combines with coveting). How many families and business people do you know in your own church who are guilty of these offenses and need firm, loving, guiding hands to come alongside them?

We all must allow Christ to keep us alive in His love through abiding in the Spirit. We are people who, if not lived in sin, lapsed temporarily into sin, and we were washed, sanctified, and justified. And it is possible, with God’s grace, for them to be saved as we were saved.

And, as Paul so eloquently and memorably said, “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (13:13)

Daily Bread

Orange Tree.small

I am a tree, roots down below

reach strong and firm as deep they grow

enriched by soil, the anchors spread.

Your Word and grace my Daily Bread.

 

While up above each shoot starts slow

embers of pollen pistils stow

nuggets of tasty fruit ahead.

Your Word and grace my Daily Bread.

 

Each branch attached so long ago

to strength of trunk from which I owe

my life; the love from which I’m fed.

Your Word and grace my Daily Bread.

 

There’s nothing I need do or show;

Abiding in this constant flow

produces fruit for which you bled.

Your Word and grace my Daily Bread.

 

The Spirit in me now does sow

weeds you planted long ago;

to you I am forever wed.

Your Word and grace my Daily Bread.

Indicatives & Imperatives 2

Thessalonians

Although some scholars believe Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were the first letters written, most scholars and Bibles date the writing of the first letter between 49-50 A.D, and the second letter between 50-51 A.D., during Paul’s stay in Corinth. This was his second missionary journey recorded by Luke in chapters 17-18 of the book of Acts.

Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica within a few weeks of establishing the church. Opponents, who hired rioters to find Paul but failed, charged his host and other believers of treason against Rome. Believers hustled Paul, Silas and Timothy from Thessalonica to Berea, where the people “were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica.”

New believers in Thessalonica were left with incomplete knowledge of the gospel and erroneous views* of the second coming of Christ. These erroneous views were partly due to a forged report to the church in Paul’s name declaring that Christ had already returned. As a result, some believers had an indifferent attitude about remaining godly; others were concerned about friends who died and were worried about their entry into heaven.

Enemies in Thessalonica, not satisfied that Paul was in Berea, went there and “stirred up trouble.” Believers in Berea acted at once, escorting Paul onto Athens. They then returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him there.

map

The Imperatives (The Commands)

Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. (1T 4:13-18)

Although Paul sent Timothy Thessalonica to support the believers, they needed both reassurance and exhortation from the man who they relied upon as their mentor and pastor.

  • We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God. (1T 2:3)
  • Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity, keep control of your own body, and do not take advantage of those who do not know God.” (1T 4:4-6)
  • Now, concerning brotherly love…we urge you to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you (1T 4:9-12)
  • Respect those who labor among you and guide you in obedience to Christ. Do not quench the Spirit, but test everything. Keep what is good and toss out everything that is evil. (1T 5:19-22)
  • Do not be shaken, alarmed or deceived by a spoken word or letter that appears to be from me. (1T 2:2-3)
  • Stand firm and hold onto what you have been taught by me, either in person or through my own letters. (2T 2:15)
  • Keep away from anyone walking in idleness; in fact, if you’re not willing to work, then don’t eat. I can’t say it strongly enough: stop being idle, stop gossiping, and earn your own way. (2T 3:6, 10-12)
  • Don’t grow weary of doing good. (2T 3:13)
  • If you notice a brother not following any of these commands, warn him, because he’s not following Christ. (2T 3:14-15)

The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)

As Paul makes a strong case for being obedient and following what he has already told them, he also reminds the Thessalonians of the strength they possess in the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want them to be swayed by unbelievers, or by those who take parts of the gospel or other Scripture* and twist it to their own ends.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1T 1:4-6

While the Thessalonians were new believers and susceptible to false teaching and unfounded fears, they had forgotten the strength of their initial faith and conviction through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. They allowed fear and doubt to outweigh their love of God and their confidence in His faithfulness.

  • Brothers and sisters, we know you are loved by God; he chose you because the gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. (1 T 1:4-5)
  • Through faith and the Holy Spirit you became imitators of us and of the Lord, and you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. (1T 1:6)
  • Through faith and the Holy Spirit you became examples to believers all over Macedonia, and you anxiously wait for Christ’s return from heaven whom he raised from the dead. (1 T 1:6, 9-10)
  • You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another (1 T 4:9)
  • This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 T 5:18)
  • God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 T 2:13-14)
  • The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (2 T 3:3)

Again, Paul encourages us to be present in the Spirit. He urges us to be wise in who we follow, and do our own thinking and reading of Scripture and the words of Jesus. He strongly urges us not to simply take from our fellow believers, but to give back so that we contribute to the body of Christ. He admonishes us to live holy lives now, understanding that we don’t know when Christ will return; yet we should live in expectation, rather than thinking he won’t return until after we are dead and gone.

~ ~ ~

*I wanted to address briefly the “rapture” theory that stems from a misreading of two verses of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (I’m not getting into the whole dispensational pre-millennialism/post millennialism argument.)

Paul is responding to those Thessalonians who are concerned about those already dead (fallen asleep): will they be included in the resurrection when Jesus returns. Paul comforts them, and uses the term, Parousia, meaning, the coming of the Lord.

In his explanation, Paul uses military terminology as an analogy for how we will greet Jesus when he returns. It is the way those would come out from the city to meet a royal officer or king. The first who go outside the city gates to greet the officer are the dignitaries (those already asleep). The next in line to greet the officer are the rest of us who go out to greet the king to escort him back into the city to welcome him.

As verse 17 suggests, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

This doesn’t mean we’ll be swept up and away; it simply means we escort him back to earth, to welcome him to the New Jerusalem, as it is detailed in Revelation 21:1-4.

If you read Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells us two things: 1) the only one who knows when he will return is the Father, and 2) it is not the believer who is “taken up,” it is the wicked. Believers are left behind to care for one another.

The Caterpillar

Grace Rejected

Butterfly on leaf

 

A crawling caterpillar found

A verdant leaf to perch

O long had he endured travails

In this intended search.

 

Upon this bed in weariness

He left all cares behind

And nestled into hopes of all

The peace that he would find.

 

His thoughts would not surrender, though

As restlessly he slept;

Restraints of caterpillardom

Did leave him quite bereft.

 

“Out of here!” he yelled and screamed

He could not move a hair;

He did not want this change at all

He cried out in despair.

 

The waiting overwhelmed his soul

Its promise lost his trust;

His crawling ways had served him well

So cling to them he must.

 

He felt a metamorphosis,

A change he could not stop;

Then panic overtook his heart

And oh, a tear did drop.

 

Then suddenly he saw a crack

Of light begin to show

And air – o precious air arrived;

The crack began to grow.

 

As something foreign stirred inside

A wet and fragile thing

Appeared to loosen and unfurl;

This object was a wing.

 

Another yet uncurled itself

Prismatic filigree;

Once dry, these lacy filaments

Guided him to safety.

 

His comfort back, on spindly legs

He walked without concern

Wings folded tightly down on back,

To fly he would not learn.

 

For though he was a butterfly

Most beautiful and free

A caterpillar he’s remained

With wings refused to see.

Indicatives & Imperatives 1

Galatians

Most scholars and Bibles date the writing of Galatians between 47-49 A.D. This would place the writing after Paul’s first missionary journey and was probably written from Antioch.

paul-the-apostle

Paul, having only recently established the church through the Holy Spirit, (3:1-5, 4:13-15), is now writing to admonish these believers to adhere to the faith. He is concerned because they have fallen prey to false teachers who have convinced Gentile (non-Jewish) believers they must become circumcised in order to be “true believers.”

They also wanted Gentiles to subscribe to the other two tenets of Jewish (Mosaic) Law: holiday observance and dietary restrictions. Paul asserts that a return to the old divisions between Jews and Gentiles would be to deny the coming of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this first of many letters, Paul established the basic theology of Christianity, that it is faith in Christ, not law, which justifies us and brings us into relationship with God.

The Imperatives (The Commands)

Paul quickly and clearly tells those of the church in Galatia he is “astonished” they are so quickly deserting Christ. He uses himself as an example to them of living in faith to Christ:

  • For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (1:10)
  • But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. (2:3)
  • We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentiles, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:15-16)
  • Before Christ, we were slaves to Mosaic Law; how can you now turn back to the law of the world, whose slaves you want to become once more? (4:3,9)
  • Brothers and sisters, I entreat you, become as I am. (4:12)

Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5:1,4

Paul is not saying grace has been revoked. He is saying by following the law, they have removed themselves from the grace freely offered.

He reminds them not to use their freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another…if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (5:13-15) Paul urges them, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:1-2)

And what is this law of Christ? Love your neighbor as yourself. (5:14)

The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)

How were the people of Galatia – and how are we – supposed to do all this? They were, after all, only human? And how are we supposed to divorce ourselves from religious law and doctrine so we remain fully open to the freedom of God’s grace?

  • God called us by grace through Christ just as he called Paul. (1:6,15)
  • We are never alone, for by God’s grace, Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. If we deny this, then Christ died for no purpose. And we are continually being perfected, not by the law but by the Spirit. (2:20-21, 3:2)
  • Before Christ, we were captive to the law; now that he has come we are no longer under the law, for in Christ we are all sons and daughters through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus and heirs according to the New Covenant. (3:23-29)
  • God sent his only Son to redeem those under law, so that we might receive adoption, and because we are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. We are no longer slaves but his children, and heirs of God. (4:4-7)
  • Now that we have come to know and love God, and he has come to know us, how can we turn back to living our lives under the captivity of rules and regulations? It was for freedom Christ set us free. (4:8,9; 5:1,13)

Paul writes about the conflict between what we want to do and what we ought to do. As you are led by the Spirit, you are not in need of law. (5:16-18)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (5:22-23; 6:15)

Paul wants us to understand the law does not enter our hearts; it is not the law that determines our behavior. Because we are a new creation in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that provides the love, the strength, the power and the desire to produce this fruit in our lives as we live and abide in Him.

Indicatives and Imperatives

What is Your Identity?

Several weeks ago, David Lomas, author of The Truest Thing About You,* spoke to our church about our identity in Christ. He reminded us that God does not command us to do anything without first equipping us through the Holy Spirit. At the end of his sermon, he challenged us to read through the epistles of the apostle Paul and identify the imperatives (the commands) Paul issued. He asked us to examine each imperative and look for the indicative preceding them. Lomas defined these indicatives as, “something that has already been indicated or declared over you. A truth.”

Before ever any demand is made, the gift is offered: the announcement of good news precedes the challenge… The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. Sinclair Ferguson

As I began to read through the epistles marking key verses with colored pencils, I immediately saw what Lomas meant; Paul clearly defines or reminds his readers of our identity in Christ.

Paul uplifts and encourages, models and redirects, teaches and exhorts, always by reminding us Whose we are, the gifts of everlasting love and grace we have in the Father, and the roles of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul doesn’t expect us to do anything on our own, but with the Spirit’s strength and guidance, in whom we must abide and who eternally abides in us.

If we allow ourselves to be buoyed by the Holy Spirit as we are called by God to be all of who we are, might we experience little more love, a little more joy, a little more peace? Could we possibly extend a little more patience, a little more generosity, a little more kindness? Would we be endowed with a little more faithfulness, a little more gentleness, a little more self-control?

Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God. Henri Nouwen

As beloved daughters and sons of the Most High God, we might even find more strength and energy.

Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

In the following weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve discovered in the epistles of Paul. I’ll post about them in an order with which you may not be familiar. Instead of biblical order, I’ll write about them in chronological order. I’ve dated them according to what most theologians agree as the correct order (and five different Bible versions have noted as the dated order). Biblical order is longest to shortest to the churches followed by longest to shortest to individuals.

My prayer for this series is that you will find or be reminded of your identity in Christ as a beloved and wholly adopted heir of God.

*©2014 David Lomas, The Truest Thing About You, David C Cook, Colorado Springs, CO

The Father’s Will

JustJesus

You lived to do our Father’s will

In all you did. You put Him first

and in our hearts God’s love instill.

 

Your living water quenched our thirst

and in us yet it does abide.

In all you did you put Him first.

 

The Holy Spirit does confide

Your truth which ever sets us free

and in us yet it does abide.

 

We’re new creations: Your decree.

Quaternion gospels hail your name,

Your truth which ever sets us free.

 

An old worldview you did reframe.

Jesus, the well-pleased Father’s Son,

quaternion gospels hail your name.

 

You overcame, declared it done,

Jesus, the well-pleased Father’s Son,

You lived to do our Father’s will

and in our hearts God’s love instill.