I Corinthians 7: The Greater Things
Paul had received a letter, a written report from the household of Chloe, requesting counsel from Paul regarding several troubling subjects and problems. The church was experiencing: quarrels and divisions which were splitting the church; sexual immorality, including a very public act of sexual immorality of a believer living with his father’s wife; lawsuits with believers suing one another and taking their problems to the pagan courts. There was an attitude of permissiveness; problems with marriage, divorce, meat offered to idols, use and abuse of spiritual gifts and false teaching about the resurrection.
Paul was here as pastor for 18 months – 2 years. He wrote his epistle to the Romans while preaching and teaching in Corinth. Whereas, the Gospels present the words and works of the Lord Jesus; Romans provides the most systematic presentation of the biblical doctrine of Christianity. Since Paul wrote this while in Corinth, we can assume, this is what he was teaching. Now in Ephesus, he received this troubling report. It is probably around 55 AD when he writes this. He goes through the problems one by one and counsels them on the right thing, the wise thing to do. We see where the Lord Jesus spoke specifically about issues, Paul quotes Him. However, in other situations, where Jesus did not address a situation specifically Paul gives us principles based on Scripture and assures us he is trustworthy.
The letter in Corinth is about progressive sanctification, the continuing development and pursuit of holiness of character. Character is our moral fiber. Our character was marred by sin and it is the process of sanctification which produces holiness of character.
It is a timely letter for the church today in the 21st century. It instructs and inspires us to pursue holiness. All of these problems we see in the church in Corinth 2000 years ago are very much still with us in our churches today. It comes from being conformed to the society we live in, just like the Corinthians were conformed. They began to look for loopholes, whereby they could do as they pleased. Based on Paul’s teaching, they believed when sin abounded, grace abounded more. They were taught they were no longer under the law, but grace. They were saved and nothing could separate them from the love of God. All their sins were forgiven, past, present and future. Therefore they could do as they pleased.
But Paul told them and us- not all things are beneficial. The principle is the law of love. Which asks will this action of mine, build up and edify or tear down and destroy? He gave us the law of liberty. Which asks the question will this action have the potential to enslave me? (Based on the first and second greatest commandment. (Matthew 22: 34-40) The JOY principle.
THE GREATER THINGS
Paul is telling us we should quit looking for loopholes and look for the greater things. In John 14: 12-14- we read the most incredible truths from the Lord Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” What had Jesus been doing? The previous verses tell us Jesus had been doing the Father’s will. The condition is we must have faith in Him. Remember the man in Mark 9, who desperately wanted his son to be healed. The apostles were unable to heal him and so he came to Jesus and asks Jesus, “If you can do anything, have pity on us.” To which Jesus replied, “If you can believe, all things are possible to those who believe.” Also this was accomplished because Jesus, the resurrected Lord in a Glorified body was returning to heaven. This was a prerequisite to sending the Holy Spirit.
When we get saved, there are some things which happen immediately which are eternal. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts and seals us. We are told He will never leave us. We become new creatures, with a new master, and new morals. Our old nature is crucified with Christ. We are justified- all sins forgiven. Then the process of sanctification begins. Sanctification is the process which is an ongoing transformation from the inside out as the Spirit of God uses the Word, the Sword of the Spirit, to make us like the Son of God. It is progressive. GOD CREATED US WITH GREAT CAPACITY FOR GOD. It was the Lord Jesus who created the first Adam. We know this because, John told us in John 1, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were created by Him. Then the Word became flesh, the Lord Jesus. Man was created in God’s image, to rule and reign with Him, to have dominion over the earth- be fruitful and multiply. First Adam lost dominion when he sinned. God already had a plan in place before the creation, the Lamb of God, God the Son would become flesh. The Creator would humble Himself, veil Himself in flesh, to regain what was lost and become the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. A body was prepared for Him.
Our salvation is based on faith. It was with faith we looked back to the cross and believed Gods’ promise. It is with faith we look forward and believe God’s promises. Abraham’s story is a story of progressive sanctification. He grew in faith. Until he was fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. It took years to come to that point. This is why patience is so needed.
The role of patience is very important in sanctification, the maturing of one’s faith. Patience is referred to as perseverance and/or long-suffering. Do you realize we no longer believe patience is a virtue? Virtue means something that is morally good. Wall Street Journal reports, 68% of consumers will abandon the downloading of an app which does not download fully in 6-8 seconds. We are living in an age of acceleration. Knowledge keeps going faster and faster. Technology says we don’t have to wait, we can have it instantly. We do not have time to reflect on this knowledge. Knowledge is improved by reflecting, meditating, thinking and re-thinking and seeing how this fits with your core beliefs. The Supremes were right- ‘you can’t hurry love, you just have to wait.
Patience is described as fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Fruit produced by the Holy Spirit, not ourselves. We bear the fruit as the branch abiding in the vine. It is a process which takes time and is progressive. Patience is waiting without complaining especially when you are suffering. Patience reveals our faith in God’s promises, His timing, His omnipotence and Love. Paul says we are to run the race with patience. James says count it a joy when you fall into various trials, for this is God’s way of perfecting our patience which matures our faith. Patience gives us time to be still and know that He is God, to mediate and reflect on His word…. Patience gives meditation time to engraft the Word into our souls
Paul in Romans 5 says: “…. And we know that suffering produces perseverance (patience) and perseverance, character (moral fiber) character produces hope which does not disappoint.
Paul also writes in I Thess. 4: 3-5: “ It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality, that each of you should learn to control his own body, in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust, like the heathen who do not know God.”
Sanctification is spiritual growth. Peter describes the process in 2 Peter 1: 3-9. Peter tells us God has by His Divine Power given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. He also tells us through our knowledge of Him he has given us great and precious promises which through believing them you and I may participate in the divine nature. (Life we now live in the flesh- we live by the faith of the Son of God)… and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Peter then tells us what we must do: “… giving all diligence (making every effort) add to your faith, virtue (KJV) goodness(NIV) , to virtue add knowledge, to knowledge add self-control, to self-control add perseverance , and to perseverance add godliness( holiness of character), and to godliness, kindness, and kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The heathen gives into the passionate lust, because he/she does not know God. Romans 1, Paul says when mankind ‘does not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God gave him over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness…” This what happened in the days of Noah, when God looked down and saw mankind was filled with wickedness and evil. Jesus said as it was in the days of Noah, so would it be at His Second Coming. *PRINCIPLE: NATURE ABHORS A VACCUM. REFUSE TO RETAIN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, AND ONE WILL BE FILLED WITH ALL KINDS OF WICKEDNESS.
So we are in a battle. And we must do our part; it is the fight of faith. Paul came to the end and said he had fought a good fight. Our victories in this fight are called the “works of faith.” And in this warfare, Christians become ‘holy by faith.”
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. But we must not be hearers only and deceive ourselves, we must be doers. ‘It is God who works in you to will (desire) and to do His Good Pleasure. We must work it out with fear and trembling.’ This is the sanctification process. It is a fight. The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. It is our daily bread. The role of God’s word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. Where we thirst and hunger for Him and when we do – we will be satisfied in Him and with Him.
BACK IN CORINTH
Paul tells us in Corinth it was a time of crisis. Crisis in the church, the society, the empire. Nero had just become emperor. Wherever there is sin and confusion, it is the works of the enemy. Let me remind you of what John wrote in I John. In I John 5:19, John writes: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Listen also to what John wrote in I John 3: 8- “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” One of the works which must be destroyed is the works of all types of sexual immorality.
*Here is an important principle: The devil seeks to tempt you in an area where you lack self- control. And self- control is always most vulnerable where desire is the strongest. Self-control is where your old nature, SELF, wants control, wants his/her way. Sexual desire is one of mankind’s’ strongest desires.
Paul writes ‘it is good not to marry’ (NIV); ‘it is good for a man not to touch a woman.’ (KJV) Paul is saying it is good to be single. Huh? Did not God say in Genesis 2- it is not good for man to be alone. Were we not called to be fruitful and multiply? Yes, God said those things. Paul is also saying it is okay, even good for some to be single as he is single. There is the defining statement. Single as Paul is single. For Paul was single mindedly serving God. And because he had not wife or children he could devote himself entirely to loving and serving God and others. Celibacy is a gift given to some by God.
Celibacy is a gift of God and as such those who have been given this gift should not be looked as being a person of less worth to God’s glory. Parents want their children to grow up and get married and have a family. But Paul is saying if God has called you to be single- it is okay if you are single as Paul was single. Singularly devoted to serving God and others.
Notice also Paul says because there is so much sexual immorality ‘each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. This is God’s way to satisfy sexual desire. One man – one woman. Not polygamy nor same sex marriage. Marriage is a barrier, a dam against the flood of sexual immorality. God’s answer to sexual desire is marriage between a man and a woman. And of course we know the enemy has attacked marriage as God intended it to be.
Let’s be clear, sexual desire was created by God to be enjoyed within the marriage. The enemy’s desire is to ruin what God created to be good. One can look around today and see how the enemy has used sexual desire to ruin a gift given by God to be enjoyed. Truly sex within marriage was designed as something precious, like a pearl. Today we see this pearl has been cast before swine. Sexual desires have been corrupted by the enemy. He has taken this desire in all its beauty and turned it into something perverse. The dam of God‘s Truth- to hold back sin and make us free (the law of liberty) has been broken and the leak has grown into a flood of filth. Many point to history and connect widespread sexual immorality as one of the contributing causes of a nation’s downfall.
*Here is another important principle: God always provides a way we can escape the lusts of this world and our flesh. He makes a way we can escape. (I Cor. 10:13)
In fact, when it comes to sexual desires, Paul says, ‘flee sexual immorality.’ Run- do not entertain the thought; do not set your eyes upon things which inflame sexual desire in the wrong way. Jesus said if your right eye offends you – pluck it out. *God has made a way for men and women to enjoy sexual desire and it is within marriage. Marriage between believers is how God deals with sexual desire.
*Here is another important principle: how can one who is a Christian protect himself or herself from the enemy’s power to deceive one in sexual sin? The answer is to know God. Get to know God personally. Devote yourself to the knowledge of God. Paul devoted himself to knowing God and considered everything else a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.( Phil. 3: 8) The more you know Him, the more you will love Him, and love is the road which leads to trust. When you love Him with all your heart, you will trust Him with all your heart.
*Here it is in all its simplicity- the way to overcome the lies of the enemy is to know the truth of God. This is why we must ‘study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God. “They called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied,” Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4- Peter and John before the Sanhedrin)
**Very clear to me what we are to do when they tell us not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. We cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard!
Now when it comes to divorce and remarriage- there are questions which arise. First of all it was God’s desired will for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. God’s Sovereign will and man’s free will gives us problems- problems in understanding and problems in their seeming incompatibility. But then we must realize we are leaving out something- God is omniscient…He is all knowing. He knows what we will do and what we would do in any given situation. God gave man an out for divorce because man is hardhearted- so God decreed a divorce could be granted on the grounds of infidelity, adultery, sexual immorality.
Concerning marriage, divorce and adultery. If we do not divorce on scriptural basis, then according to scripture – if you remarry, you are committing adultery. Does this mean those of us who have divorced and remarried are living in adultery? Can we be forgiven and live lives of worth before God? Let’s look at an OT example and it is glaring: David and Bathsheba committed adultery and murder. Yet David is forgiven. He lives out His life before God. He and Bathsheba have consequences and they also have blessing- Solomon. So divorce always has consequences. God in His Sovereignty and Omniscience allows man to reject the gospel, willfully disobey His laws, and persecute the righteous and so on. But in all of this God is in control, and His purposes will be accomplished.
*Here is the principle of God’s Permissive will: God is able to work all things together for those who love the Lord. We wrestle with God, when things in our life are in disarray, when we are suffering, when loved ones are hurt or sick.
What we need to wrestle with is not God, but the things which hinder us from getting to God. God works in us both to will (desire) and to do for His Good pleasure. We work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil 2)
We should be wrestling with the things of this world which would keep us from doing God’s good pleasure, in fact this is a good question to ask God about an activity or area of which you are not sure…ask God, would this activity in my life give You pleasure, Father?. We do not want to wrestle with God. Do it.
THE GREATER THINGS!?
God has created and designed us with great capacity for God. As a believer, one can be filled with the Holy Spirit; have the mind of Christ and the peace of God. What is keeping us from these GREATER THINGS? Should we not be wrestling with the things which keep us from doing the GREATER THINGS? Of course we should! The things which keep us from reaching our great capacity for God are these two things: SELF AND SIN
Sin is a power. Sin is the factory which manufactures sins, that is its sole product and comes in all kinds of models and styles. Today there 7 billion sin factories on this earth. Each one daily manufacturing sin. You can see – sin is big business. You can also see, John was right it is under the sway of the evil one.
Here is what God has done- He shut down the sin factory. He made His Son to be Sin, who knew no sin and delivered Him up as the Sacrifice which would take away Sin and atone for all the sins of the world, past, present and future. He takes our old nature, Self, and crucified it with His Son. “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. God closed down the sin factory. The Lamb of God took away the Sin of the world. His blood covered all my sins and the sins of the world. I was buried with Him and raised with Him to walk in newness of life. I am sealed, indwelt and regenerated. I have a new master and new morals. I also have new enemies- the world, the flesh and the devil. But I have now great capacity for God and the greater things of God. God disciplines His children when they sin.
Here is what we must do: we must discipline ourselves NOT to sin. We must reckon ourselves dead to sin. The Sin plant is closed. However the sins we have committed in our body, our character is marred by these sins. Sanctification is the process, an ongoing process to transform us from the inside out. It is a fight, a battle. I must present my body as a living sacrifice. I must transform my mind with the Word of God, or else I will be molded by the world. Here is what I must do- I must strive, work, press on in the pursuit of holiness; the byproduct of the sanctification process is we are being transformed into the image of Jesus. Paul describes his wrestling with self in Romans 7, where things he desires to do – he does not; and things he hates to do-he do. He found whenever he wanted to do good, evil was always present.
THE FIGHT AGAINST THINGS WHICH HINDER US
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every imagination that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Cor. 10
In battle, the person who holds the higher ground is in control. The higher ground, the battlefield in this fight is the mind. Let this mind be in you, which is in Christ Jesus. We have the capacity to hide God’s word in our hearts (mind, will & emotion) so we will not sin against Him. Replace those thoughts and think on these things, Paul tells us in Phil 4. “ Whatever is true, (John 8:31,32,&36), whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, think about such things. “
Now regarding our character which was marred by sin, what and how is it transformed? “We rejoice in our sufferings (tribulations), because we know suffering produces perseverance (patience), and perseverance, character and character hope which does not disappoint.” (Romans 5) There is a new factory opened within my life, which produces patience and this patience produces character and this character hope. These are the products of this new factory, this new life. This is how we will do the greater things and reach our greater capacity in God. This is the abundant life which the Lord came to provide.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full in wonderful face, and the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his wonderful grace.
If when God comes into your life in a way you do not want- will you yield or will you wrestle with Him? If you wrestle with God, you will not overcome Him. In fact, God will cripple you as a reminder of what happens when you wrestle with Him instead of the things of this world.
Ask Jacob— he wrestled with God and walked leaning on a staff to the day he died. Every step he took reminded him not to wrestle with God.
God acts in ways we cannot understand because God’s ways are higher than our ways. God causes, permits or allows man to make willing choices to do what they do or did. Example Crucified the Lord. Acts 2: 23.
God does not free us to act against His will; rather God brings about His plan through the willing choices of men for which they are responsible and accountable.