Peter Misselbrook's Blog
06/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 – When rights can be wrong

There is something about the way we are made that causes us to react against injustice – it’s part of being made in the image of God. Such a reaction can drive us to campaign against injustice and corruption; to seek to create a better world and to bring freedom to those who are oppressed. But it can also become self-centred. We can become preoccupied with the real or imagined hurts others have done to us and determined to get justice for ourselves, or even revenge.

In the church at Corinth there appears to have been a dispute between two Christians. The one who believed that they had been wronged had taken the other to court. Paul says that such conduct brings the gospel into disrepute. “Why not rather be wronged?” he writes, “Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7b). “You must be joking!” is our natural reaction. If I’ve been wronged or cheated I want to get it sorted out.

But think about it for a moment. “Why not rather be wronged?” Is it really so very important that we make sure we get what we deserve? Do we really want to take that attitude with God? Surely we glory in the fact that “he does not treat us as our sins deserve.” He has dealt with us in grace and in mercy and calls on us to treat others with the same generosity and grace.

Remember the parable that Jesus told of the two debtors? A servant of a certain king owed his master an unimaginable sum that he could not begin to repay – millions of pounds. The servant begged to be given more time to repay the debt, but his master had pity on him and freed him from it completely. That servant then went out and found a fellow servant who owed him about a third of a year’s wages – a significant sum, but nothing in comparison with what he had owed his king. He demanded immediate repayment from his fellow servant or he would have him thrown into prison. The story is shocking. We immediately see the injustice of the servant’s behaviour. But we have far more difficulty in applying it to ourselves. We have a tendency to go on demanding justice from others.

It is certainly good when wrongs can be righted and when a debt owed to us can be repaid. If we have a dispute with a Christian brother or sister it’s good if this can be resolved amicably with the help of other Christians. But if it cannot be resolved in such a fashion it’s better to suffer loss; better to be cheated of what you consider your rights than bring the gospel into disrepute – to deny the gospel of grace by insisting on your own rights.

And think for a moment which is the better: a world in which each individual is preoccupied with themselves and determined to get what they consider is due to them; or a world in which each is concerned to watch out for the needs of others, to protect them from exploitation and to ensure that they are provided for? In the first scenario there is only one person looking after me; in the second, there are many.

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that the day will come when they will judge the world – even judge angels. So let’s do what we can now to bring justice and blessing to others rather than being preoccupied with our own rights. To follow Jesus is to live for others and not for ourselves.

Heavenly Father, I am so glad that you have not treated me as my sins deserved but have loved me and given your Son for me when I was a rebel against you. Help me by your Spirit to follow Christ and to give myself to the care of others today.

05/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 – Fermentation

Jesus spoke about the way in which a little yeast can work quietly and unseen to transform a large lump of dough. He was speaking about the hidden power of the kingdom and of the way those who follow him should have a transforming influence upon the wider society in which they live.

Paul uses the same picture but, in applying it to the chaos of the church at Corinth, he turns the image on its head. Here, instead of the Christians having a transforming influence on their society, their society is influencing them and shaping their conduct – even to the extent that gross immorality is found among them. Paul reminds them of the story that is to shape their lives: the Passover was celebrated with unleavened bread – bread without yeast. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” Paul writes, “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Christ is our Passover lamb. His blood was shed for us so that we might be kept safe from the judgment of God and be freed from the dominion of an evil empire. We do not celebrate the Passover in the same way as did the Jews. We celebrate the death of Jesus as we eat bread and drink wine together. We are to celebrate his death as a people who have died with him to the patterns of life which characterise this present world and who have been raised with him to live the life of the age to come. We celebrate as those who have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. We celebrate looking forward to the day of his coming and anticipating that day not only in our praise and worship but also in the shape of our lives.

So we are to live intentionally as disciples of Christ, seeking always to live to please him. We are to keep watch over ourselves and over one another to ensure that this present world does not draw us back into its self-serving patterns of life. We are to live by the Spirit which animated the Lord Jesus and who now lives in us.

We might think that the best way of guarding ourselves against the influence of this present world might be to cut ourselves off from it – to develop Christian ghettos in which we surround ourselves only with others who share our faith. Paul makes it clear that this is not what he is saying. We are to be careful of those who claim to be Christian brothers and sisters yet are “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler” (5:11). We are not to receive them as part of the Christian family. But we are not to cut ourselves off from a self-seeking, self-pleasing but deeply needy world. This is our mission field. This is where we are to be the powerful yeast of the kingdom, working for the transformation of society.

The contrasting ways in which Jesus and Paul use this picture of yeast present us with the challenging question of who is influencing whom?

Heavenly Father, help me to follow the Lord Jesus in showing love for, and spending time with, the “sinners” of this world without becoming like them. May your Spirit continue the work you have begun in us. May he work through us to touch and transform the lives of others, that they too might be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of your beloved Son.

04/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 – Servants of Christ

Some among the church in Corinth were boasting of their high spiritual status – that they had “arrived” (see Paul’s ironical description of them in 1 Corinthians 4:8). By way of contrast, Paul describes himself as a servant – one possessing a lowly status.

But here is the paradox; he, and Apollos, are “servants of Christ and entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (4:1). God is not unknown and unknowable, nor can his purposes be made the subject of spiritual debate and rivalry; he has made himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shown us his immeasurable love for us and revealed the marvels of his good purposes for us in Jesus. Paul says that he has been entrusted with these truths – with the message of the gospel. And if God has not kept these things secret, neither should he. His whole concern has been to be faithful to the calling entrusted to him, the calling of making Christ known.

And it has proved to be a costly calling. Far from giving him an exalted status in the world, it has resulted in hardship, hunger and thirst, homelessness, brutal treatment and persecution (4:11-12). Paul says these things not to make a boast of his sufferings as if he is determined to outdo the Corinthians’ boasting in spiritual riches. He is concerned to emphasise that Christian discipleship means following Christ in the way of the cross that we might enter into the glories of the resurrection life.

Paul emphasises that Christian discipleship is not about mere words and boasts, it must shape the way we live. Paul was more than a preacher of the gospel, he lived out the message he preached, and he calls on the Christians at Corinth to do the same: “I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (4:16-17).

It is not enough to talk about Jesus; we need to live as those who are his disciples – those who follow him; those who walk as he walked. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (v. 20) – the transforming power of the Spirit of God. That power is not to be seen in spectacular signs or clever talk which draw attention to ourselves and gain us a reputation as spiritual lords. It is to be seen in a Christ-like life of faithful and sacrificial service.

Would you dare to tell someone that the way to live the Christian life is to imitate you? We cannot share what we do not possess. If we are to encourage and mentor others in Christian discipleship we must first devote ourselves to the faithful service of Christ. It’s not about words but about the power to live the life to which Christ calls us.

Lord Jesus, help me to learn of you and to fix my thoughts upon your life and character. You came into this world not to be served but to serve and to give your life as a ransom for many. Help me to have the same mind and heart. Help me not to seek glory for myself but to give myself to your service. But Lord, I do not have the power to do it. I recognise my own weakness and my self-will. Help me by your Spirit. Conquer me and direct my paths so that the gospel message which I profess may be the power that shapes every aspect of my life. Enable me to proclaim your glory not in words alone but in the reality of a transformed life. 

03/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 3:5-23 – Quitting the church?

Yet another celebrity has hit the headlines saying that for the sake of Christ she wants nothing more to do with the church. She writes, “Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”

Such a description of the church seems spot on for the church in Corinth. Yet Paul does not give up on them, rather he reminds them of the true nature of the church and of all that they were called to be. Don’t you know, says Paul, that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? God’s temple is sacred. Paul reminds them that the church is not a human organisation but a divine creation. It is his construction; he is building a people for his own possession, a people among whom he has determined to live in the presence and power of his Spirit. The only foundation for this ‘temple’ is Jesus Christ. Paul therefore warns the Christians at Corinth to be careful how they build. And in this, Paul speaks also to us.

Firstly, we need to be careful to build on this one foundation and not upon another of our own making. You can see the shape of a building from the moment the foundations are set into the ground; the whole edifice is shaped by the foundation. The church of Christ is to be cruciform; the life of the people of God is to be Jesus shaped.

Secondly, we are to be careful about how we build. We are to build with materials that will last the test of time. Paul’s word’s here remind me of the story of the three little pigs. Hay and straw, stubble and sticks will not withstand the assaults of the evil one, let alone stand in the day of God’s judgment when all that is not of him is reduced to ashes. We need to build with stones that will last – living stones fashioned by the Spirit of God. How much of what you are building will stand the test of time and of eternity? Will it prove to have been a house of straw?

Lastly, we are to be careful to be building up the people of God rather than tearing down. Paul writes these sombre words of warning, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). The work of demolition is so much easier than the painstaking work of careful construction. It’s all too easy to discourage others – and to be discouraged. We need to learn to be master builders.

Don’t quit on the church. For all its imperfections, God is building a temple from such people. He calls us not to quit this messy building site but to join him in his building project – to be fellow workers with God in building a people fit to be called his family, fit to live in his presence.

Living God, you are the master builder for you created the universe through the power of your word and declared it to be good, very good. Lord Jesus, you are the architect and finisher of our faith. Holy Spirit, you are the one who creates and provides the living stones for the temple in which you are pleased to dwell. Make us master builders. Help us to build up your people in faith and godliness upon the unshakable foundation of Jesus Christ. Keep us from joining the devil’s work party in tearing down what you have built. By your grace may what we build last for eternity, bring glory to your name and astonishment to the powers in heaven and earth.

02/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4 – What God has prepared for those who love him

In the face of the boasts of some at Corinth to possess spiritual wisdom and discernment, Paul reminds them of the wisdom of God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul tells the Corinthians that God’s plans have been hidden from the wise and the powerful of this world. God had a clear plan before time began that would result in a display of glory. We might expect that Paul would say that God’s plan was to bring glory to himself, but he says that God planned glory for us (1 Corinthians 2:7). A couple of verses later he writes,

No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him.

We often end the quote there, but that is to miss the point for Paul concludes, “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (vv 9-10).

The “us” in these words is firstly the apostles who had received that revelation from Christ. The gracious and glorious purposes of God towards the world that he has created have been revealed in Christ and proclaimed by those he first commissioned to preach the good news. But that “us” embraces all of us who have received this message and trusted in Christ. We can see this in the words Paul writes to the Corinthians.

For Paul, the glory of God has been made visible in Jesus Christ; he is “the Lord of glory” (v.8). Paul had seen his glory on the Damascus road and had been blinded by the vision. While the manner of that vision was peculiar to him, Paul affirms that all Christians have seen “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is what it means to be a Christian; a Christian is one who has seen the glory of God in Christ and has been drawn to him. We have come to know and love God through the Lord Jesus Christ. These things have been taught to us not by mere rote but have been impressed on our hearts by the Spirit of God – “revealed to us by his Spirit.”

But the most wonderful part of all this, says Paul, is not just that we have seen something of God’s glory in Christ, but that the Spirit of God teaches us that we are to share in that glory. Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). God planned from the beginning not simply that he would display his glory in Christ but that we would share his glory. Think of this as you read these amazing words again:

No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him –
but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

Make a point of never again quoting 1 Corinthians 1:9 without including the first part of verse 10. To miss out the phrase, “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” is to miss Paul’s point entirely.

It’s sad when people pretend to have received revelations from God and then declare trivia. It’s like chasing after pennies when God has poured out upon us the riches of his grace in Christ and opened wide the treasury of his purposes in Scripture.

Heavenly Father, I stand amazed at the wonder of your purposes and plans for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have revealed to us your mind and heart. Help us not to keep these wonderful things to ourselves but to declare them to a world whose eyes have not seen these things, whose ears have not heard them and whose minds could not imagine them. Help us to declare your love for the world revealed in Jesus Christ.

01/04/2020 - 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 – The foolishness and weakness of God

Paul is writing to a church arguing over who was the better preacher; was it Paul or was it Apollos? Who had the greater power of rhetoric? He is writing to a church divided over who among them was the more spiritual; who had the better or deeper understanding of spiritual truths? Paul condemns such arguments as worldly; they are inconsistent with all that God has revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Christ crucified turns the values of this world upside down. Paul says that Jews seek signs and Greeks seek wisdom. Jews looked for some great act of power by which God would overturn the human powers that had oppressed the Jewish people and would set them free – as had happened when God had rescued them from Egypt through Moses. Greeks loved philosophy and looked for some new system of teaching that would capture their attention – teaching proclaimed in wise and persuasive words. The gospel message about a crucified Messiah satisfied neither party. It appeared to show the weakness of God whose Son was crushed by the powers of this world. Its message appeared foolish to the Greeks, lacking in wisdom and being propagated by those lacking any great skill in oratory. To both parties, the gospel appeared to display the foolishness and weakness of God.

In reality, however, the gospel displays both the wisdom and power of God. The message concerning Christ crucified was accompanied by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. Paul says of his preaching at Corinth, “I came to you in weakness and in fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The gospel displays the power of God who gives life to the dead. The gospel displays the wisdom of God because it is about Jesus Christ “who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1:30).

Paul calls these Christian brothers and sisters to take a reality check. Look at yourselves, he says, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1:26-29). You have got nothing to boast of, nothing to be proud of, except this; God sent his Son from heaven to die for you. The Gospel is not about you; it’s about Christ crucified and raised from the dead.

We need to avoid the temptation to reshape the gospel to meet the expectations and demands of the world around us – whatever these might be. It’s not about acts of power, not about signs and wonders. It’s not about dynamic, charismatic and persuasive preachers. It’s about “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:24). This message that turns human expectations upside down has power to turn the world upside down.

Father God, we stand amazed at all that you have done for us in the Lord Jesus; you have loved us,  you have saved us and you are at work among us, in us and through us to transform this proud and rebellious world. Humble us Lord; continue your transforming work in us. Remind us continually of what we were when we were called that our confidence and hope may not rest in ourselves but only in Christ our Saviour. May we be crucified with him to all that this world holds dear that we may live and work with him in the power of his Spirit for the transformation of our world to the glory of Christ.

31/03/2020 - 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 – Faithful God

We might imagine that the letter that we know as 1 Corinthians would have been written by Paul in a spirit of frustration and disappointment. Paul had spent more than 18 months ministering in Corinth, followed by the able ministry of Apollos. But now the church is marked by division and even false teaching. Nevertheless, Paul begins his letter with thanksgiving for the Christians in Corinth. He is thankful that God has reached out to them in grace and that the message he preached to them was confirmed by the presence and witness of the Spirit in their lives, equipping them with a variety of spiritual gifts.

And yet it’s the rich ministry that they had received and the spiritual gifts that had been given that seem to have become the source of so many of the problems in this church. They were divided over who had been the better preacher; they were divided over who had the superior gifts.

In the face of what must have been frustration and disappointment, Paul remained confident concerning these Christians. They eagerly looked forward to the day of Christ’s return and Paul writes that God “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Paul is thankful for these perverse Christians at Corinth because God had been at work in their lives. They are Christians not of Paul’s making (nor are they the creation of Apollos); they are the work of God’s Spirit – he is the one who has called them into the family of Jesus. And God is faithful; he will not give up on them but will continue and complete the work he has begun until the day when they are presented blameless before Christ. In that day there will no longer be divisions among them. In that day they will be so overwhelmed with the glory of Christ their king that all rivalry between them will melt away. Paul’s confidence rests not on the quality of his own work, nor in the present character of the Corinthian Christians, but in the faithfulness of God.

We need the same confidence – and thankfulness – concerning the presence and work of the Triune God amongst his people today. We are very conscious of the divisions that fracture the church in our own day. We still divide over whom we consider to be the best leader or leaders within the church. We divide over our brands of Christianity, our differing emphases and spiritual giftings. We have much to learn – and much to unlearn. But God has not finished with us yet. His work is not complete until we stand united before him in glory, casting down before him the tawdry paper crowns we have made for ourselves.

We need this same confidence concerning those Christians who may frustrate and disappoint us. God has not finished with them yet. More importantly, we need to view ourselves in the same light, and to guard ourselves against the Corinthian spirit of spiritual superiority; God has a great deal more work to do in our own lives.

In all of these areas – the fractured nature of the universal church; the rivalries that mar the life of our own congregation; the glaring faults in other Christians; the faults we so easily gloss over in ourselves – our hope and confidence rests solely in the God who began a work in us and who will present us blameless in the day of Christ; it is all of grace – thank God.

Heavenly Father, forgive the ugly pride and arrogance that all too often mark the lives of your people and damage our witness in the world. Make us more like Christ and give us one mind and heart in him. Continue the work you have begun in us by your Spirit and make us the people we shall be when Christ appears.

30/03/2020 - Acts 18:24-19:20 – The value of a teachable spirit

Apollos is a remarkable character. When he arrives at Ephesus he seems to have had a somewhat incomplete knowledge of the Christian message. He knew about John the Baptist and how he had preached about the one who was to follow him. He may have known that John pointed his disciples to Jesus, speaking of him as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But he appears not to have known of Jesus’ death and resurrection, nor of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless he preached boldly in the synagogue at Ephesus, full of zeal for what he knew of Jesus the Messiah.

However, what is really remarkable about this man is that, while he was clearly a powerful speaker and a forceful personality, he was also ready to sit and to learn from others who had a more complete understanding of the Gospel. I am also struck by the way in which Priscilla and Aquila are referred to; Priscilla’s name is mentioned first indicating, perhaps, that she took on the primary role in teaching Apollos more about Jesus. The readiness of Apollos to listen and learn from Priscilla and Aquila equipped him to go on to Corinth and to build up the church there, continuing the work which Paul had begun.

It is good to have zeal for the Lord and a passion for telling others about him, but it is important also to have a teachable spirit, a readiness to learn from others and not to think that we already know it all.

And then we have the account of Paul’s arrival at Ephesus. There he found a group of disciples who seemed only to have heard of the baptism of John. They are called disciples, indicating that, in some sense, they believed in Jesus. But, like Apollos, they may only have known what John preached concerning the one who was coming after him; they may have known nothing of Jesus’ death and resurrection – certainly they knew nothing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Having no doubt taught them about Jesus more accurately, Paul baptised them and then laid his hands on them. They also received the Holy Spirit.

This passage seems to raise a number of awkward questions: How much do you need to understand to be a disciple? Under what circumstances might a baptism be viewed as defective and in need of being repeated? Did Paul get it right?

I suspect that none of these momentous questions troubled Paul. He saw a group of people who were seeking to be faithful to what they knew concerning the promised Messiah. Paul was keen for them to know so much more – that Christ had come; Christ had died; Christ was risen. He wanted them to enter into the fullness of the blessings poured out by the risen Christ: to know through their baptism that Christ had died for them and they had died in him; that Christ had been raised for them and that they shared in his resurrection life. Paul wanted them to experience the presence and power of the risen Saviour through the Holy Spirit poured out into their lives. Is this also our great concern?

Lord, give me an unquenchable zeal to proclaim Christ but also a teachable spirit and a readiness to listen and learn from others. Equip me through such listening and learning to become more effective in your service. Use me, as you used Priscilla and Aquila, Paul and Apollos, to encourage and build up your people. May we all know the fullness of the blessings of the crucified, risen and exalted Messiah.

Peter Misselbrook