The right to give up your rights
I performed a funeral last week for one of my former youth group members. It was hard to say goodbye. There is always something bitter sweet about the stories that are shared at weddings and funerals. Even though I was not there in her earliest years, the stories brought a depth to what I knew about my friend. They brought back a real contact with her that I won’t lose.
As we open the book of I Corinthians, I am connected back to the stories I hear at weddings and funerals. The letter to the Corinthians paints an amazing picture of church life in Corinth. Even though the book is 2000 years old, I can see into that world and relate. This letter is about struggles and self-centeredness, but also Paul gives encouragement. It contains real life stuff, like our stories.
Because of the nature of a letter, we only get half of the dialogue, which is like listening in a phone call from one side. Since we don’t possess the letter Paul was answering, and we don’t know fully the circumstances he was dealing with, we must reconstruct the situation from the letter itself and our knowledge of the city and the church from history. Corinth was an important city in Greece and it probably felt like our culture with a multi-facetted mix of backgrounds, religious views and licentious lifestyles. Of course Corinth was the perfect place to plant a church as a light in the darkness. But the Christians were tempted to escape and to shelter themselves from the culture. Sounds too close to home! Problems arose in the church as converts became “super-spiritual” to protect themselves from the world. The church was also being influenced by Gnostic groups that taught everything to do with normal, physical life was evil and only spiritual things were worthwhile. This created a selfish type of spirituality focused inwardly rather than a self-denying Christ-centered attitude; servants of God to the world.
Paul addressed this spiritual selfishness throughout the letter but he sums it up in I Cor 6:19 - 20. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Sprit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” In other words, because we belong to God we willingly lay down our rights. Paul says we lay down our right to retaliate against other believers if the honor of Christ is at stake publicly (6:7-8). We lay down the right to our body, in regards to our spouse, choosing to serve the other (7:4). We lay down our right to personal freedom in the grey areas, so the weaker members in Christ are not offended (8:13). Finally, we lay down our right to a self-centered life and instead we are to give our lives away to others that they might know the love of Christ (9:19-23). In summary, we give up the rights to our bodies, our money, our time and the vision of our lives for the kingdom’s sake.
It is amazing to me that after 2000 years, Paul still has his finger on the pulse of culture. Just like I do not have to have been in Corinth to get this book, it looks like Paul does not need to live in Charlotte to have my number!
Tips for Reading (Interpretation tip)
(Note: This section is help for Bible Reading in general. It has been building throughout the year under the topics of Observation (what the Scripture says), Interpretation (what it means) and Application (what it means to your life). Feel free to look back over past weeks to get the whole picture.
So did you take the time to create any charts last week? My comments above about laying down our different rights came from a chart I made for myself on Corinthians. If you want to make a chart for these shorter books, a simple place to start is to write the chapters across the top and the main topics down the side. As Paul repeats a theme, summarize his ideas under the column for the appropriate chapter. A chart is a simple way to compare and contrast ideas as well as to see repeated themes. Some books are more linear and an outline may be the best fit. The point is to get the ideas down on paper.
Notes from David's Journal
Most everyone knows the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing a lot of facts. Wisdom is the application of those facts in our lives. Some have tried to say wisdom is what we should strive for. I think we need to strive for both. We need to know what we believe and why we believe. Most importanlty, we need to apply it to our lives, to live it.Where does I Corinthians 1 - 10 fit in this understanding? Read the first three chapters especially. You'll see Paul writing a lot about God's wisdom. But notice one major difference from Paul's perspective and what I previously noted about knowledge and wisdom. From Paul's perspective, wisdom is lilterally defined as Jesus Himself. He is the wisdom of God. Therefore, perhaps God's key to wisdom is receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Perhaps the key to wisdom from God's perspective is having Christ permeate our souls, our hearts, our very lives. When this happens, we have what Paul calls in other places, "the mind of Christ." We think like He thinks. We assimilate His knowledge. And we do His will because that's the master passion of our lives. In I Samuel 3, Samuel is encouraged by Eli to listen to God's voice and respond, "Here I am. I'm your servant. What do you will?" That's true wisdom. It's rooted in a desire to know and obey God above all else. It's something even a child like Samuel could understand. Therefore, today, know what and why you believe. Seek to apply these truths into your life through obedience. However, above all, seek a personal, living relationship with Jesus Himself. After all, He is the wisdom of God. Once living in us, He must then live through us.