Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 14 2013 - 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 – Not hindering the gospel

Paul’s argument in these verses seems to have been prompted by two issues he had become aware of in Corinth. Firstly, as we saw yesterday, there were those at Corinth who were jealous – even boastful – of their rights. Paul seeks to show that such a preoccupation is incompatible with the gospel.

Secondly, there are some who seem to have been speaking against Paul and disparaging his ministry. Maybe they pointed to the way in which he had worked with his hands while he was among them and said that he was not a real apostle, he was only a tentmaker! Paul is concerned to defend his right to be called an apostle, not for his own sake, but to defend the authenticity of the work in which he was engaged.

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that it is both a principle of natural justice and of Scripture that the labourer is worthy of his hire. He and Barnabas would have been well within their rights to have sought financial and practical aid from the Corinthians while they laboured among them. But they did not do so; nor is Paul now seeking some compensation from them. Paul was pleased to preach the gospel to the Corinthians free of charge. His conduct reflected the free nature of the gospel itself. Paul was concerned to do nothing that would hinder the effectiveness of his preaching or lead to misunderstandings; he reminds the Corinthians, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).

Paul provides us with practical and instructive principles. We are reminded that the labourer is worthy of his hire. Those set apart by the church to work full time in the care of his people should receive proper remuneration. Those engaged in evangelistic work, however, and church planters should not ask for money from those to whom the gospel is being proclaimed. The buckets passed round in the past at evangelistic campaigns presented entirely the wrong message; it is the glory of the gospel that it is free of charge, it is all of grace. This means, however, that those engaged in such work need to be properly supported in their work by the Christian community from whom they are sent.

But what Paul has to say is not applicable only to the financing of Christian workers; Paul clearly expects each of his readers – including us – to be ready to put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ: put up with hardship; put up with slander; be ready to deny yourself a legitimate pleasure or enjoyment if it might act as a barrier to someone else coming to know Christ or growing in knowledge of him; put up with anything

This may seem a hard call, but is it not simply the call to Christian discipleship? “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8). How much am I prepared to put up with in order that the gospel might not be hindered?

May the mind of Christ, my Saviour,
Live in me from day to day,
By his love and power controlling
All I do and say.

Lord, fill me with the Spirit of Christ that I may make this my determined aim and daily practice; “I will put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”

Aug 14 2019 - Jeremiah 3:1-18 – Call to a faithless people

You may remember that Josiah had ordered the temple to be repaired and idols removed. As the work was going on, a scroll of the Book of the Covenant was discovered containing the laws which God had given his people through Moses – a scroll which may have contained the Book of Deuteronomy. Jeremiah 3:1 seems to refer to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which prohibited a divorced couple, after marrying others, from getting back together. One writer explains this law as follows:

[It] was aimed against what would amount to virtually lending one's partner to another – for if an authoritarian husband could dismiss his wife and have her back when the next man had finished with her, it would degrade not only her but marriage itself and the society that accepted such a practice. (Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah)

Such practices would trivialise marriage, turning it from being a binding commitment into a temporary association that people could drift into and out of at will.

And this, says the Lord, is how his people have been behaving. God uses the dramatic picture of marriage to represent his relationship with his people. Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, had been married to two sisters. God represents his relationship with his people in the same way; both Judah and her sister, the northern kingdom of Israel, were his brides, united to him in the covenant bonds of his redeeming love.

But both Israel and Judah have treated their relationship with the Lord as if they could drift away from it and back to it as they pleased; they have failed to take it seriously. They have been seduced away by the idol gods of the nations around them. They have installed their lovers, their gods and goddesses, on every hilltop where they performed sexual acts hoping to charm the rain out of the sky and the corn from the earth in the time-honoured way of Canaan.

But the Lord alone is the living God. He is the one who has withheld the rain and blighted their harvests (v.3). He is the one who has allowed the unfaithful northern kingdom of Israel to be defeated by the Arameans and taken off into captivity: "I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries" (v.8). But, "In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence,’ declares the Lord" (v.10).

The Lord had hoped that Judah would learn from Israel's fate and would abandon her love affair with idols. With the discovery of the scroll in the temple there had indeed been some reform. Josiah had destroyed many of the places where Baal and Asherah were worshipped. He had called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the people of Judah, their priests and prophets, and had read in their hearing the Book of the Covenant. Then:

The king … renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul… Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3)

But reform was only skin deep. Far from keeping the Lord's commands with all their hearts and souls, the people of Judah had quickly drifted back into the idolatrous worship of the gods of Canaan. Through Jeremiah, the Lord declares that their sin is worse than that of Israel.

How seriously do we treat our relationship with our God? The Lord Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood so that he might make us his own – his bride. But are we sometimes drawn away from him by the idols of this world – the things which charm, captivate, excite and entertain the world around us? God gave his best for us to make us his own. Let's not hold back anything from him but offer him the undivided devotion of heart and soul.

Father God, help us by your Spirit to keep ourselves in your love and to keep ourselves from idols.

Peter Misselbrook