July 23

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 / Read

In this passage, Paul reminds how Christian freedom is to be used and reveals a key element of participating in God’s mission in the world.

In one sentence (vv. 19), Paul declares that his identity in Christ means that he is indebted to no one and yet compelled to give himself to everyone. He had adopted an “others-focused” life so as to make himself useful to God as a conduit for the grace of God.

Paul was not advocating hypocrisy in his approach. He was one man in Christ - that is, a child of God sent to represent God in the world. Yet he exemplified the ultimate freedom that accompanied his identity by choosing to understand the needs, interests and preferences of others. He chose to listen instead of just waiting for his turn to talk.

Paul liked people and he showed them with his life. In turn, he became a light for the Gospel by which lives were changed forever.

  • Take an inventory of the people in your life. Who are those who are closest to you by relationship, geography or shared activity? It will be most helpful for you to write down these names in a place you can reference regularly.

  • To what degree are you living an “others-focused” life? How do you sense God leading you think less about your needs and interests and more about the needs and interests of others? Be as specific as possible.

  • Where do you sense God giving you the opportunity to share the Gospel in natural and authentic ways based on the state of your relationships? Are you stepping into those opportunities? If not, why not? What do you need from God to be obedient to what he’s leading you to?

July 22

1 Corinthians 9:1-18 / Read

We can infer from Paul’s words that he had come under condemnation for accepting support (financial or material) as he pursued his God-given mission to preach the Gospel to non-Jews (see Acts 9). Paul’s response was both practical and personal, and it provides us with important insight on what it means to work in the kingdom of God.

Practically, Paul argued that it is entirely fair for a person who devotes their life to preaching to “receive their living from the gospel” (vv. 14). The 13 questions that he laid out in vv. 4-13 were a loving challenge to his readers to consider the requirements and the impact of his work.

What does it take to preach a message that connects people with God, that changes their minds, stirs their hearts and moves them to respond in action? Surely it requires that the preacher has an authentic relationship with the Lord; that he has taken the time to reflect on, understand it and apply God’s word to his own life; that he knows and loves his audience; that he bathes his preparation in prayer. How much time and energy does it take to do all of those things well?

We do not think it unreasonable for people in business to be compensated for their goods and services. Paul wrote, in essence, “We compensate people for material services - things that will ultimately pass away. Why, then, shouldn’t we compensate people for spiritual services - things that will last forever?”

“But…” Despite his strong and convincing argument, Paul did not demand his right to be compensated for his work. Why? “Because this is who I am.”

Paul’s motivation for preaching was God-given. Of course he deserved to be supported by those whom he served, but being supported was not what drove his work. His drive was internal because of who Jesus had become to him and how grace had changed him. If he wasn’t paid, he would embrace that weakness and trust that God would provide some other way - but he would never stop doing what he was compelled to do.

  • What kingdom work are you currently doing? When you’re honest, what motivates you to participate in this work? (“Kingdom work” can be understood as sharing and living out the words of Jesus in the world.)

  • Do you expect anything back from other people as you attempt to love and serve them? If so, what and why?

  • Do you have a sense that there is something you must do because of who Jesus is to you? As you spend time in prayer with the Lord, how do you sense him leading you to your next step in that area?

July 19

1 Corinthians 8 / Read

Today we read of an issue that had arisen in the Corinthian church - that of how to deal with food sacrificed to idols (that is, false or “empty” gods). However, it is the issue behind the issue that Paul addressed, and we would do well to reflect on the principle he laid down.

It was common at the time for meat to be sold after it had been used for sacrificial purposes in pagan temples. Some in the Corinthian church had - by God’s grace - come to understand that the meat was not made unclean by idol worship because idols were nothing and, therefore, the meat had really been offered to nothing. It had no power to make them clean or unclean before God.

These Christians lived out there newfound freedom by eating this food without reservation. Yet there were some in the church who remained affected by the superstitions of their old way of life. They weren’t convinced that they could eat anything because of the relative immaturity in their faith. So the church had written to Paul asking him to provide guidance as to who was correct.

Paul responded to the issue at hand first: Eat whatever you want because “food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” (vv. 8) But he quickly followed it up with the real issue - the issue of the heart - that following Jesus is not about knowing all of the right answers, but living a life defined by love.

Christian love prioritizes God and others over self. Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to consider how their actions impacted others around them in the church and to deny their personal preferences if it meant promoting the spiritual health of their brothers and sisters.

  • What from today’s Scripture and commentary most grabs your attention. Why?

  • To what degree are you aware of the spiritual needs of those in your church? What are you doing to promote their health and growth?

  • Is there any way in which you sense God leading you to change your behavior in order to identify with and encourage another believer?

July 16

1 Corinthians 7:1-17 / Read

We would do well to bear in mind two things about this passage if we are to understand what God is saying to us and learn from it. The first is that - like much of the Bible - there was a specific audience to which these words were written, so we must first acknowledge the original context before applying it to our own. The second is that Paul wrote the specific recommendations in vv. 1-16 with the intent of fulfilling the overarching principle he lays down in vv. 17: to pursue holiness in marriage and sexual relations no matter the marital situation.

As to the first: there was an element of Greek thought (by which Corinth was influenced) that despised the body and elevated the spirit. This led to two ways of thinking, one in which the body and how it was used didn’t matter at all (see yesterday’s reading from 1 Corinthians 6) and another in which the body was to be completed controlled so as to deny it any possibility of doing evil. It is into the latter that Paul wrote the passage we read today.

In vv. 1-9, Paul acknowledges the value in terms of his mission - and for all missional disciples - of not marrying. Paul’s expeditions as he traveled the 1st-Century world sharing the Gospel would not have been possible with a wife and children. He was acknowledging the ability to focus on the mission of witnessing to an unbelieving world that came with singleness.

At the same time, he didn’t demonize the natural passions and desires of the body. He acknowledged that most people have sexual needs and that these were given by God, so to restrict them indiscriminately on principle was not helpful. And given the incredibly sexualized culture of Corinth, it would be almost impossible for many believers there to remain pure. So, he instructed that the proper response - the proper way to holiness - for them was to marry and limit sex to their spouses.

Now for our second point: Paul’s overarching idea was for Christians to accept whatever situation they found themselves in and to pursue holiness there. He knew as well as anyone that one cannot predict when spiritual awakening happens - that is, when they become aware of Jesus and decide to follow him. So it was that he knew some Christians had married non-Christians prior to coming to faith and that this could made things “messy” as they sought to live out their new life in Christ.

As he detailed in vv. 11-16, each situation required a unique response that would promote peace and love in its own way. It was a measured approach that valued reflection and honor over impulsive change and “escape”.

  • In one sense, holiness is about honoring God with our actions - that is, living as he has commanded whether or not we agree with him. Do what degree is holy living a desire of yours? Take a moment to examine yourself from the outside (as best as you can). To what degree is your lifestyle in keeping with the holiness that God intends you for?

  • Based on your answers above, what do you sense the Lord saying to you? How is he offering to help you take the next step toward holiness in your life?

  • Is there an issue/circumstance/relationship that is hard for you right now to the point that you want to escape it? What would it look like for you to be content with your situation and let God lead you in it? How does Jesus provide you with the picture and the power to live well in your situation?

July 15

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 / Read

The incredible, too-good-to-be-true work of the Gospel is grace.

For God to maintain his holiness, he can have nothing to do with sin; for him to be fair, he must render perfect judgement by punishing sin. Both of those realities mean that, on our own, he is to have nothing to do with us. We cannot live connected to God on our own - in fact, we deserve nothing but disconnection because of our sin.

Yet he couldn’t let that happen. His love for us is too extreme. He was willing to do anything for the chance that we would live connected with him, no matter the cost. In the end, it cost the life of Jesus - his only son, who he watched be beaten beyond recognition, stripped of his dignity, abandoned by his friends and pinned naked to blocks of wood as a worthless criminal.

Our penalty had been paid, but God was not done. In our sin, Jesus died. In the Spirit, God brought him back to life forever. The Cross frees us from the guilt, shame and death of our sin; the Resurrection is the guarantee that we’ll enjoy that freedom - and connection with God - forever.

And all of this given - given! - to those who believe in it! It’s undeservable, it’s unearnable, yet it’s available to anyone who receives it by faith. This is incredible! This is too-good-to-be-true. This is grace.

In light of the grace of the Gospel, there were those in the Corinthian church who had taken the position that they were free to live any way they wanted. “God can’t love me any more or any less, right? He already loves me abundantly - he proved that in Jesus. And grace makes his love free from my actions. So no matter what I do, I’ve got his love. Oh, and by the way, my body is going to die and I’ll get a new one in heaven, so what does it really matter what I do to it in this life?”

Paul sharply addressed this selfish and silly argument. “Sure, you can do anything. That’s the freedom that comes with grace. But exercise your freedom so that you walk more closely with the God who saved you, so that you experience more of the life he is offering you.”

Christian freedom is not just living any way we’d like because we are no longer under the condemnation of sin. It is also the ability to say no to (“flee from” - vv. 18) the activity of sin that once damaged and enslaved us. Our response to the grace of the Gospel is to use our freedom to honor Christ is our actions out of reverence and grateful joy.

  • To what degree have you understood and accepted the Gospel message? Do you believe in what God has given you in Christ? What impact is that belief having on your life right now?

  • If you are a Believer, how is the Gospel informing your actions? In other words, how are you using the freedom God has given you? Do you tend to pursue your own will and pleasure or do you long to bring him honor with your life?

  • Is there any way in which you sense the need to “flee from sexual immorality” (vv. 18) in your actions, thoughts or emotions? If so, what will that look like? What will you leave behind? How will you run toward God instead?

July 12

1 Corinthians 4:18-5:13 / Read

As part of his introduction to 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed his fellow believers this way: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people…” (1:2)

Most simply, “holy” means sacred. From God’s perspective, it can describe setting aside something or someone for his special purposes. From the perspective of God’s followers, it often describes dedicating or consecrating something or someone to him. In the case of the Christian Church, it is both.

In and through Jesus, God has made a way for anyone and everyone to become holy - that is, to be “set aside” as a member of his family to live for him rather than for themselves. This is a theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible: from Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus to the Church, God built a family that became tribes that grew into a nation that formed a kingdom - and, now, continues to grow as the Gospel spreads across the world.

God has always chosen to set aside a people as his own - to be in relationship with him, to live obediently to his commands and to reveal his goodness and grace to the world.

To be made holy by God is one thing, however; to remain in that holiness is another. In today’s reading, we must be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that holiness is maintained or lost according to human effort alone. It is the grace of God in Christ that makes a person holy and God is always working by his Spirit to help him/her remain so. Yet, at the same time, human actions matter. They reveal the inner person - and in the case of the Church, they reveal what the inner person believes about God and who he has called them to be.

In today’s passage, Paul addresses both external and internal lack of holiness in the Corinthians. Word had reached him of a case of sexual immorality so bad that “even pagans [would] not tolerate.” (vv. 1) How could a person who had received Christ’s forgiveness from sin and the promise of eternal life live like this? Did he believe it wasn’t a problem?

Yet Paul is also the “boasting” related to this matter that is coming from some in the church (vv. 6). We’ve learned previously from Paul’s letter that the Corinthians had fallen into arguments over various church matters due to their spiritual pride, and it is likely that this was happening again.

Corinth was a culturally diverse and transient city at its time and one of the results was liberality in sexual relationships. Instead of honoring God’s ways as part of their call to be his holy people, broader cultural values were infecting the church. Perhaps some of the Corinthians were advocating that this man engaging in perverse sexual activity was free to do so under the grace of God and became proud that they were so “forward-thinking”.

Paul wrote matter-of-factly: “This is not good.” (vv. 6) He goes on in effect to say, “Don’t you see what will happen if you don’t say yes to holiness and say no to immorality? Like yeast in dough, even a little immorality that is tolerated will spread to influence your entire church.”

Take some time to reflect prayerfully on this passage. Then invite the Lord to lead you as you answer the following:

  • Do you see yourself as a person who has been called out/set aside by God to be holy? What does it mean for you to be holy in your intentions? What does it look like for you to be holy in your actions?

  • Is there any way in which you feel tempted to compromise God’s intentions and instructions for your life because of pressure from the culture around you? Be as specific as possible. What do you need from God to overcome this temptation? Who in your church will you invite to help you live out your holiness in this area?

  • Jesus provide us with the only effective model and methods for living out our holiness. To what degree are you letting his life inform your life? What will you do to learn more from him today? What will you do to draw on the power to be holy that is in you by his Spirit?

July 9

1 Corinthians 3:18-4:17 (Part 2) / Read

Take time to soak in today’s second reading of this passage before proceeding to the commentary and questions below. Try to imagine Paul’s emotions and his state of mind as he wrote this portion of his letter. What would it be like to give everything to the work you believed in only to hear that those who had once partnered with you were now undoing that work through foolishness and immaturity?

Ask God to guide your reading and understanding of this passage and to give you a specific word of application for your own life.

It seems fair to say that Paul would have been frustrated with the report that he received from the Corinthian church. Yet even though his response is strong, it reveals that his underlying motivation was love.

It’s hard to describe the full extent of the life change Paul had undergone because of his encounter with Jesus, but it was tremendous (see Acts 9:1-22). He went from being a man who put Christian lives on the line to being the Christian whose life was on the line daily because he wouldn’t stop telling people about Jesus (vv. 9-13 of 1 Corinthians 4).

Paul understood that God was building an eternal spiritual family in Jesus, that whoever put their faith in him would be adopted in as a chosen child of God. He also understood that God had appointed him to live as a spiritual father to those who believed in Jesus because of his words. He was to be a living example of who Jesus was to him.

In vv. 15, the Greek word we read as “guardian” is also translated “guide” and “tutor” in other English translations of the Bible. It was a position within the family that the Corinthians would know - a trusted servant or slave who looked after the children and helped to train them in moral and practical matters. While important, the guardian was nothing compared to the father. The father set the tone and direction for the family. The father was flesh and blood. The father loved the children like no other because they were his.

In effect, Paul wrote, “See how I see you? You are mine. I’d do anything for you because I want you to experience this life that I’ve found!”

This model may be foreign to our culture, but the message is the same for anyone who wants to be obedient to Jesus’ commands to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and witness to the world (Acts 1:1-8). God is still changing lives, still building his family and still doing it through those who are compelled by his love to serve and sacrifice for others so that they, too, may grow in their faith.

  • What about today’s re-reading of this passage is connecting with you most deeply? Why?

  • If you are a Christian, how does this passage impact your understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and help others do the same?

  • How do you sense the Lord leading you to live differently in light of the message of this passage?

July 8

1 Corinthians 3:18-4:17 (Part 1) / Read

Since Chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, we have observed Paul addressing the worldly way in which certain church members were living; specifically, by comparing and judging the church leaders (Paul, Apollos, Peter) to the point of division. They were likely using human standards to evaluate their leaders - who they thought spoke the best, who they thought had the best personality, etc. - and then arguing among themselves about who had found the right way based on which leader they liked best.

Paul responded that this completely missed the point. He and his fellow leaders shared the same message (the Gospel of Jesus) and functioned in the same role (servants of God). The point in it all was that God was offering life and salvation to the world in Christ and that he was offering it through them. The focus was never to be on them, but on God.

Not only was this form of comparison immature and poisonous for the Christians in Corinth, but Paul writes further that it was insulting and distracting to the leaders of the church who were suffering daily for the shared cause of taking the the Good News to other parts of the world.

In vv. 9-13, he describes the incredibly difficult reality that he and his fellow workers experienced. He does this to humble his audience, but not to shame them. Paul and the other apostles gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel, but they didn’t expect anything in return. In fact, they did it for love.

As Paul reveals in vv. 14-15, the love of God in Christ had so changed them that they were willing to be treated as “the scum of the earth” for the sake of the Church. They saw themselves as spiritual fathers to the Corinthians and loved them as their own children. Paul pleads with them, “Look at our lives! Look at how we sacrifice everything for God and the message of Jesus! And look at what you’ve received because of our efforts.”

Like the Corinthian church, we too would do well to keep first things first, to focus on God and the Gospel and to live united in the identity and mission of Christ.

  • Where in your life do you tend to get distracted from God - his message and mission - in favor of focusing on people? Who or what do you get tempted to lift up as more important than Jesus?

  • Do you ever struggle with spiritual pride - that is, feeling as though you’ve found the “right way” to follow Jesus and judging other Christians who “have it wrong”? If so, what specifically does this look like for you?

  • How do you sense God leading you to respond to the message of his Word today? What is something specific in your life that needs to change in order for you to live in obedience to him?