1 Corinthians 16

Read 1 Corinthians 16 today.

This chapter brought this letter to the Corinthians to a conclusion. Tucked within these final thoughts, Paul said some things about Timothy (vv. 10-11) and the family of Stephanas (vv. 15-18) that are worthy of our consideration.

Regarding Timothy Paul wrote, “No one, then, should treat him with contempt” (v. 11) The reason? “…he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am” (v. 10b). Regarding the Stephanas family, Paul commanded the church “to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (v. 16). The reason they should submit is “they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people.”

We know that the Corinthian church played favorites among the Lord’s servants because Paul addressed that favoritism in chapters 1-2. This kind of partisanship extended to other servants of the Lord. Given what we know about Timothy from the New Testament, can you imaging treating him “with contempt” (v. 11)?

Yet that seemed to be a real potential threat for the crazy Corinthians.

Likewise, the family of Stephanas devoted themselves to serving God’s people but Paul was concerned that the Corinthians might not submit to them.

Unfortunately, the Corinthians were not the only Christians to mistreat servants of the Lord that they viewed as “junior league” or “less than” Paul and Apollos. Some church people won’t accept ministry or instruction from the elders of their church or from staff members; they want to hear from the senior pastor only.

This passage addresses that kind of attitude. All of us elders are servants of Christ and should be treated that way.

If you decide to try another church because your pastor isn’t preaching on a particular Sunday, is that not treating God’s servant “with contempt”?

If your elder contacts you and you don’t return the call or an email, is that an appropriate way to treat the Lord’s servant?

If you think an elder or his wife is too direct when dealing with people or too gentle or too… whatever… aren’t you doing exactly what Paul told the Corinthians not to do to Stephanas and Timothy?

Verse 18b says, “Such men deserve recognition.”

As the Senior Pastor here at Calvary, I get more praise than I deserve and my brothers who also serve as elders do not get enough. If you’re a member here at Calvary, you’ve been assigned an elder. How well do you treat him? How well do you respond to his attempts to serve you?

How can you show him and his family some love and appreciation now?

Acts 10

Read Acts 10 today.

Two days ago in Acts 8, we read about how God used Saul’s persecution to move the church and the gospel out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus said would happen in Acts 1:8. Then yesterday in Acts 9 we read how Jesus redeemed Saul and told Ananias how Saul was the Lord’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

Taking the gospel to the Gentiles was the final phase of Jesus’ great commission in Acts 1:8. But transitioning the Christian church from a Jewish sect to a worldwide movement was going to be difficult. Gentiles were allowed to convert to Judaism before Jesus came, but they were always second class citizen to native Jews. For Gentile Christians to have full acceptance in the church, God would have to move in a special way.

That’s what we read about today in Acts 10. Although Saul was God’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles, God used Peter to be the first apostle to see Gentile converts to Christianity. Notice how God did this here in Acts 10.

First, God sent a vision to Cornelius in verses 1-8. Verse 2 of Acts 10 said, “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing….” The phrase “devout and God-fearing” indicates that he was a Gentile convert to Judaism. When God spoke to him, he was told to send for Simon Peter and he was told where to find him.

Second, just before Cornelius’ messengers arrived, God sent a vision to Peter telling him to eat foods that were unclean according to the law of Moses (vv. 11-14). Peter saw this vision three times (v. 16)–probably so that he would be completely convinced of what he saw. But verse 17 told us, “Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision…” which shows us that the larger meaning–the broadest interpretation and application of this revelation–was unclear to Peter. Surely God was not concerned about Peter’s diet, but what could be the greater lesson of this vision?

According to verse 17, the men sent by Cornelius arrived “while Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision.” Peter understood that the timing was not coincidental and he went to see Cornelius despite the fact that “it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (v. 28b) In verses 28b-29, Peter applied his vision about the unclean food to this meeting with Cornelius. Peter realized then and there “that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (vv. 34-35). Therefore, Peter gave them the gospel. That brings us to the next step in God’s process of bringing Gentiles into the church:

Third, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (v. 44b). The Jewish Christians who heard this “were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (v. 45b). This is telling us that these new Gentile believers had the same experience that Jesus’ disciples had in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost and that the Samaritan disciples had in Acts 8. The purpose of that dramatic, miraculous demonstration of the Spirit’s power was not to show us that all Christians must have these signs; rather, it was to demonstrate that Gentile believers are equal to Jewish believers in Jesus in every way. As a result of this experience, Peter “ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 48a).

The full implications of a church integrated with Jews and Gentiles alike would still have to be worked out by the early church. We’ll read about that in some of the chapters ahead.

But the point of this chapter was to show that God viewed and treated Gentile believers as equal in the church to Jewish believers. It would be wrong for the church, therefore, to discriminate against any believer.

Although we no longer have those Jewish-Gentile tensions in every Christian church, there are other ways in which the church is sometimes divided by race. Churches here in America are still divided along racial lines with “mostly white” churches, like ours is, frankly, and churches that are mostly African-Americans, or Latinos/Latinas, or Romanians, or Chinese Christians, and so on.

Language differences create some of these distinctions, but all of them are contrary to how God views true believers. In Christ there are no “white Christians” or “black Christians” or any other human category of Christians. To Jesus, there are only believers and unbelievers. All believers are accepted fully into God’s family through Him.

We cannot solve the divisions of churches in America on our own, but we can and should fully accept, welcome, and integrate anyone into our church family who has faith in Christ, is baptized in his name, and is seeking to do what the Lord commands. We should strive for this kind of unity, then, because it is pleasing to God.

James 2

Today read James 2.

James 2 is a chapter about favoritism. Verses 1-13 speak to the issue of favoritism directly; verses 14-25 speak more generally about the need for a faith that works. Verses 14-25, of course, can stand on their own and contribute quite a bit to our understanding of faith and works, but in context they are related to the issue of favoritism.

Favoritism is a very natural human attitude. It is impossible for you to be friends with everyone you ever meet in your life but you need friends, so your mind will inevitably apply some kind of filter to the people you meet to separate those who look like they are worth being friends with from those who don’t look like they are worthy of your friendship.

But verse 1 confronts our natural human tendency directly and commands us not to show favoritism toward others. Verses 2-3 give a hypothetical example of the kind of favoritism that believers in their era could be tempted to show. We give the best treatment to someone who comes to church looking wealthy and important while disrespecting someone who looks poor. Verse 4 exposes why we do this so naturally, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” Verses 5-7 explain why this kind of favoritism is ungodly (as in “un-God-like”) and verses 8-11 remind us that God’s word commands us to love others–including the unlovely.

Think about some ways in which we as God’s people can be more loving in how we treat those who come to worship with us. This is one way in which we evidence our faith by our works (v. 18).

Genesis 11, Ezra 10, Matthew 8

Read Genesis 11, Ezra 10, and Matthew 8 today and this devotional which is about Genesis 11.

The flood was over and back in Genesis 9 God renewed his original covenant with humanity. God had told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” in Genesis 1:28b; in Genesis 9:1 God told Noah and his sons the same thing: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.'”

Chapter 10 described for us in geneaological form how the three sons of Noah developed into three branches of the human family tree. Here in Genesis 11, the people in society decided they did NOT want to follow God’s commands to “fill the earth.” In verse 4 we learned that the people felt they had to build a city because “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The desire for human unity, then, was to unite against God and his commands.

The Lord confused their langauge in order to keep humanity from unitiing against him. In the words of verse 6, “The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” The phrase, “nothing… will be impossible for them” was not an expression of fear that humanity would gain omnipotence. Rather, it is a statement that the wickedness of humanity would know no boundaries if people could communicate freely. The language boundaries God created at Babel caused one language-group to distrust and fear the other language groups. That fear caused each group to seek safety in distance which “scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

This passage does not teach that language or cultural or racial boundaries must be maintained. God did create humanity to be a unified group. It was sin that necessitated the boundaries that we read about in this chapter and that remain today.

When Jesus taught the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (v. 19), he was re-establishing the basis on which humanity could and should function as a unit rather than as separate people groups. The basis of human unity is God. When humanity worships the true God, it can truly be one. But that “one-ness” is oneness in Christ, not in humanity or in common approaches to living in sin.

God wants the human race united but he wants us to be united in holiness, not in ungodliness. Babel is about dividing the world so that it will not be united in ungodliness. Jesus and his redemption is about uniting the world in him.

We can have great fellowship and genuine love, then, with people look different than we do, talk differently than we do, and have a different cultural heritage. When Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, all believers from every nation, language, culture, and race will be united in every aspect of reality because we are united to Christ spiritually.

So, don’t separate from others because they have a different language or skin color or whatever else. Instead, unite with other Christians from different culures, love them genuinely, and seek to reach others for Jesus regardless of human boundaries. “God does not show favoritism” according to Romans 2:10 so let’s not be guilty of that, either.

James 2

Today read James 2.

James 2 is a chapter about favoritism. Verses 1-13 speak to the issue of favoritism directly; verses 14-25 speak more generally about the need for a faith that works. Verses 14-25, of course, can stand on their own and contribute quite a bit to our understanding of faith and works, but in context they are related to the issue of favoritism.

Favoritism is a very natural human attitude. It is impossible for you to be friends with everyone you ever meet in your life but you need friends, so your mind will inevitably apply some kind of filter to the people you meet to separate those who look like they are worth being friends with from those who don’t look like they are worthy of your friendship. But verse 1 confronts our natural human tendency directly and commands us not to show favoritism toward others. Verses 2-3 give a hypothetical example of the kind of favoritism that believers in their era could be tempted to show. We give the best treatment to someone who comes to church looking wealthy and important while disrespecting someone who looks poor. Verse 4 exposes why we do this so naturally, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” Verses 5-7 explain why this kind of favoritism is ungodly (as in “un-God-like”) and verses 8-11 remind us that God’s word commands us to love others–including the unlovely.

Here at Calvary we send our first time guests an online survey that asks them 4 questions, 3 of them about their experience worshipping here the first time. We consistently get high marks for being friendly and caring. I praise the Lord for that.

However, some people who start attending our church regularly have told me that they’ve found it hard to make new friends here. They are very nice about it and don’t accuse us of deliberately excluding others but I have heard some very regular attenders say that there are a lot of deep networks already existing among the families in our church and that they are cautious about trying to get included in those networks. I do not think anyone is deliberately avoiding newer people and families, but I do wonder how often we think about deliberately INCLUDING newcomers to our church. This is a more subtle form of favoritism; it favors not the rich over the poor but the familiar over the unknown. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8) applies here. Wouldn’t you want people in a new church to make a point of deliberately including you? Wouldn’t you enjoy being invited over after church or having your kids invited to a birthday party for a child in the church?

Think about some ways in which we as God’s people can be more loving in how we treat those who come to worship with us. This is one way in which we evidence our faith by our works (v. 18).