The Competition

June 7, 2019 at 10:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In a previous post I looked at the importance of the word “for” which begins the well-known verse, John 3:16. There is another “for” which continues building on these ideas in the next verse.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

In what sense will Jesus – Who we know has been given all authority in Heaven and in earth, including the authority (Matthew 28:18: “all power”) to judge and condemn (Acts 17:31) – not condemn? Answer: In the sense that those who do not believe on Him are condemned already.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

After cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem, and after His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside.

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 3:22

This makes it sound like Jesus was personally baptizing people, but:

(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

John 4:2

It seems likely that Jesus authorized His Disciples to baptize new converts, but did not actually do the baptizing with His own hands. The Apostle Paul often left the actual baptizing to others as well (I Corinthians 1:14).

Jesus, in His earthly ministry, fulfilled, but also exceeded, the Old Testament types which pointed to Him.

Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

John 3:25

Jesus had exceeded the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple water pots when He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. He had exceeded the Old Testament locations of worship as the meeting place between man and God as demonstrated when He cleansed the Temple. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of the necessity of the water-spirit birth as He preached to Nicodemus. Now a specific group of Jews, possibly led by one man, questioned John’s practice of baptizing for ritual cleansing those who were already Jewish by birth, custom, and faith, and, as a part of their challenge, they saw an opportunity to try to drive a wedge of division between John the Baptist and Jesus.

And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

John 3:26

The phrase “all men come to Him” is a provocative exaggeration. Obviously not “ALL” men were going to Jesus, nor had “ALLmen gone to Him instead of John, but the numbers were changing. Jesus’s ministry was growing and John’s was shrinking.

How competitive are you? Just as one spouse is often introverted and the other extroverted; just as one is often neat and the other messy; just as one is often extravagant and the other a tightwad: often the Lord will put together one competitive spouse and one who could care less about “winning.” Do you love to win? Do you hate to lose? Are you happy for others when they succeed where you have failed? Does it bother you that people might think poorly of you in comparison to someone else? Somebody thought that John the Baptist might experience a couple of these reactions when confronted with the rising influence of Jesus’s ministry over his, so they decided to confront him about it.

Competition is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Sporting contests just aren’t much fun unless both sides are trying to win – to beat the other side. However, as shown in I Corinthians, competition in Christian ministry can be a dangerous and damaging thing. Soulwinning is not a contest. Who has the “best” Sunday School class probably should not be a competition. But human nature, which since the Fall has a strong bent toward pride, likes to be first, to get attention, to get credit, to feel superior – so you can’t look at this group of Jewish instigators and think, “Did they REALLY suppose John the Baptist would be jealous of Jesus??” Even reading it today, we catch ourselves thinking that we couldn’t totally blame him if he was – but remember:

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Luke 7:28

Jesus didn’t say this about John as a form of flattery. Here was John’s response to the suggestion that Jesus was better than Him:

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

John 3:27

This may seem to you, in the cold analytical light of merely academic Bible study, to be something of a “duh” statement. In a universe ruled over by a sovereign omnipotent God, OF COURSE we only get what He gives… and we don’t get anything He DOESN’T give us, but does this (true) maxim hold a central place in our minds “all day, every day?” Possibly not. Otherwise we would never get jealous, and we would always only rejoice when something good happens to HIM or HER, and something “bad” happens to ME. Jeremiah 9:23 and I Corinthians 4:7 remind us to ask: “Why do I glory in wisdom or might if they are only gifts?” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights (James 1:17).

Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

John 3:28

Although John was known as the Baptizer, he could call anyone who had listened to his preaching as a witness to answer the question: “What has been the main thrust of my ministry? What I am all about?” If honest, they would have had to answer that John’s main message was: “The Messiah is coming, and He’s now here, and I’m not Him.”

This would be a great motivation in our evangelism. Any time we go to visit someone who does not know Jesus we can tell them, “I’m the one who came to see you, but I didn’t come to tell you about myself, and I want you to meet someone else that I hope you will soon know, love, worship, and obey. You will like Him a lot better than me, and that’s exactly what I want!”

He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

John 3:29

Can you imagine the best man at a wedding trying to steal the bride, or being angry once the couple says their “I do”s? John’s job was almost done, and he had done it in a great way. He had been successful. His mission was fulfilled, so he was full of joy. That’s why we mustn’t read the next verse as melancholy resignation:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:30

John was not bummed out. He was stating a fact, and he was celebrating the accomplishment of a great momentous occasion.

Know Your Rights

June 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Posted in I Corinthians | 4 Comments
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I. The Right to Establish a Legacy

Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?

I Corinthians 9:1

This is part of Paul’s extended argument for why we should be willing and motivated to forego the exercise of our Christian liberties for the sake of our love for other, weaker believers, and for the sake of Christ’s love for them. Before he went into into his own willingness to do this, he asked his audience to concede the obvious fact of his own Apostleship. You and I are not capital-A Apostles, obviously (despite what you see in the Charismatic movement these days), but are we not, in some sense, little-a apostles? Are we not “sent ones,ambassadors for Christ in the world? Are we not free? Paul was a Roman citizen, in bondage to Christ, but still free from the curse of the Law. Are we not free from the penalty and power of sin? We have not seen Jesus personally with our physical eyes, but I pray that you have seen Him with eyes of faith, and are fully convinced that He is real and that you know Him personally.

The facts of the Corinthians’ conversion and changed lives were evidence of Paul’s Apostolic authority, but do you have people whose lives you have influenced? People who could today testify of the genuineness of your profession? If so, you have a “right” to point to these people as supporting witnesses (although not conclusive proof) of the authenticity of your walk with the Lord. You may not be the founder of a church like Paul was, but surely there are a group of people who see you as a spiritual mentor or at least a Godly influence in their lives. If not, this is a goal to strive for: make a legacy of faithfulness and influence.

If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

I Corinthians 9:2

Yet there were some who challenged Paul’s credentials:

Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,

I Corinthians 9:3

II. The right to Earn a Living

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

I Corinthians 9:5

The idea of “leading about” our wives, who are also our sisters in Christ, is awkwardly worded to us, as if a husband had a rope through his wife’s nose, or as if she was unable to see and needed to be led through life like a blind person. What it really refers to, though, is the type of servant-leadership and leading-in-love that the Bible gives to husbands as a fearful and Christ-honoring responsibility. Paul was not married, as far as we can tell, but there was nothing about his full-time service as an Apostle that prohibited him from being married. (I Corinthians 9:5 also refutes the Roman Catholic policy of unmarried priests – especially since it uses Peter as the specific example of a married Apostle.)

Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

I Corinthians 9:6

It is not wrong for full-time ministers to be supported financially by the Church, and through charitable and required giving.

Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

I Corinthians 9:7

Just like in the secular world, people expect to be paid for serving others, and people who are in the business of caring for livestock and crops also draw their own livelihood from some of the very supply they produce for others.

Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

I Corinthians 9:8

The Bible is very specific in giving authority to working people to eat from the fruits of their own labor.

III. The Right to Eat Leftovers

Have we not power to eat and to drink?

I Corinthians 9:4

The word for “power” here means authority.

For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

I Corinthians 9:9-11

The principle of reaping and sowing is both material and spiritual. If we accept the spiritual side of it, the material side really ought to be a no-brainer. Ministers have the right to eat the leftovers from what is given into their hands as part of their service to the Lord.

Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?

I Corinthians 9:13

However, it is important to remember that the having of a right does not dictate the necessity of exercising that right.

IV. The Right to Eschew Liberty

But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

I Corinthians 9:15

So, the Apostle Paul, while in Corinth, did not get paid for ministry; he would have rather die than be accused of greed or scamming.

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

I Corinthians 9:16-18

In fact, he was called to preach the Gospel whether or not he was paid, and he considered the privilege of preaching it to be its own reward. I hope you and I would have this attitude in ministry, because it is often a thankless task, and a motivation of “giving to get” will all too often result in discouragement and even bitterness.

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

I Corinthians 9:19-22

Please understand the context of the foregoing verses, because an out-of-context reading of the statement, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,” was the “seeker movement’s” life verse during the heyday of Rick Warren’s purpose-driven campaign to see Christian churches run like service-industry corporations. It was a verse twisted to justify all manner of pragmatic shenanigans that ultimately destroyed many formerly-sound local churches, and – according to many reports – led to vast numbers of false converts. What the verse is really about is the adoption of non-sinful but foreign cultural norms, for the sake of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit did not mean for “all means” to include sinful means, nor a “bait and switch” ministry method. And, while it is true that Paul’s evangelistic methods were pragmatic in a sense, what he practiced was a holy and honest pragmatism with all cards on the table, not so that he might spring the truth like a trap once he had gained people’s trust, but so that he could honestly portray the ethic of Christian love in building genuine – GENUINE – relationships and share the Gospel with “all men.”

Paul was willing to forfeit certain rights and privileges, and was unwilling to flaunt his liberty to encourage comfort with sin, or to stunt the strengthening of conscience.

V. The Right to Exercise Laboriously

This is the one part of I Corinthians Chapter Chapter 9 – an otherwise very clear chapter – which is somewhat difficult to grasp. There is not a whole lot of agreement among commentators about the precise details of what is being conveyed.

It helps to understand the Isthmian Games, a popular sporting event in Paul’s day, that would have been known to all Corinthians. It also seems likely from the biographical information we can glean about Paul from the Bible that he may have actually competed in these games (possibly in racing events and/or fighting matches featuring a combination of wrestling and striking similar to what is known as “MMA” today), which were a smaller version of the Olympic games.

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

I Corinthians 9:24

The main idea in this passage of Scripture is that an athlete who really wants to win, not only takes the event itself seriously, but the training leading up to the event.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

I Corinthians 9:25

However, the “competition” (which is a competition within ourselves and against spiritual enemies, not against each other) is far more important than any earthly sporting event.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I Corinthians 9:26

This probably refers to strategic blows – not flailing wildly hoping to hit the opponent by chance.

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:27

When we, as Christians, set aside our rights and freedoms in favor of temperance for the sake of weaker believers, we not only help them, but we help ourselves by working hard toward the right goal, which is mortifying: (1) our flesh; (2) our desires; and (3) any part of our makeup that has a bent toward anything sinful.


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