Month: September 2013

Paul’s Instructions Concerning Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7

imagesHere are my sermon notes from Sunday nights message dealing with Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  Several people from the church have asked so I thought that I would post them here.

Paul’s Instructions Concerning Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7

To understand this passage you need to know that Paul is writing in response to some misunderstanding that his earlier letter has caused.  Back in chapter 5:9 Paul mentions that he had written an earlier letter to the Corinthians in which he told them not to “associate” with anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ but at the same time is involved in sexual immorality.  Basically what happened was that the Corinthians church became divided in their response to Paul’s instructions.
The Libertines – Paul dealt with this group in 6:12-19.  We looked at that passage last week and saw that the libertines were basically arguing that anything that they did with their bodies was okay because “All things were lawful for them.”  This may have been the result of their misunderstanding Paul when he said that as believers we are free from the Law.  Whatever the cause, Paul is clear that they were wrong and that underestimated the devastating results of sexual immorality.
The Legalists- In chapter 7 Paul deals with a second group of people whose motto was “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  Basically, they were going to the opposite extreme of the libertines and were promoting complete celibacy among believers.  So Paul addresses this problem in the remainder of chapter 7.
What we need to remember anytime that we are studying Corinthians is that Paul is addressing immature believers who were prone to great extremes in their application of the gospel. The Corinthians were products of their culture and Paul is instructing them concerning how they should live out the gospel in the areas of their marriage and sexuality.
  1. Married couples should meet each other’s sexual needs (7:1-9)
    • Some people within the Corinthian church had apparently misinterpreted Paul’s earlier teaching to mean that they should not have sex.
      • They promoted total celibacy
      • They may also have gotten this idea from the Essenes who were also celibate.
      • But they had totally misunderstood what Paul’s point.
    • Paul recognized that there is a benefit to being single and that sometimes it can lead to a greater concentration on the things of God.
      • v.7 “I wish that all were as I myself am.”
      • v.26 “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.”
      • v.32-33 “I want you to be free from anxieties.  The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.”
    • But he also recognizes that we are created with sexuality and that part of the purpose of marriage is to meet this basic human need (v.2-5)
      • Husbands and wives are not to deprive each other physically, except for short, special occasions.
      • This may have addressed the fact that many Roman marriages were virtually celibate:
        • Romans marriages were most of the time arranged for social and economic reasons rather than for romantic purposes.
        • Therefore, in many marriages the partners pursued their relationship as a business arrangement and sought sexual fulfillment outside of the marriage.
        • Paul obviously, refutes this practice and shows that married couples should meet each other’s sexual needs.
    • In marriage, sex should not be:
      • A reward for good behavior
      • A tool to manipulate your spouse
  2. Married couples should stay married (7:10-16)
    • Don’t let divorce be an option in your marriage (v.10)
      • Divorce was easy in Roman society
      • All either party needed to do was to publicly announce to their spouse to “take their things and go.”
    • Some in Corinth were divorcing their spouses because they were unbelievers.
      • Paul shows that this is contrary to the gospel.
      • V.14 does not say that they unbelieving spouse is saved by their believing husband or wife, but rather that they are made “holy”
        • The marriage is recognized as valid by God and is therefore Holy.
        • That means that we should treat it with reverence.
        • They might be saved by the testimony of their believing spouse.
        • 1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey that word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.”
    • Divorce and remarriage is only permissible in two instances:
      • Unbelieving spouse leaves (v.15)
      • Spouse commits adultery – And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
    • We could cut the number of divorces in America if we:
      • Gave kids better guidance in matters of dating and courtship
      • Took divorce more seriously in the church:
        • It’s prevention
        • It’s recovery
      • Started to model Biblical marriages
      • Took our vows a little more seriously – TIll death do us part (v.39)
  3. Married couples within the church need to allow that it is a valid option for some people to remain unmarried (7:36-38)
    • There is a tendency among some in the church to assume that the normal and natural thing for everyone to do is to get married.
      • Paul would argue that the majority of people within the church should be married.
      • But he does leave a life of celibate singleness as an option.
      • Throughout this passage, he actually commends the single life— as long as one can remain celibate.
        • v.7 “I wish that all were as I myself am.”
        • He gives two reasons:
          • Eschatological: v.25-28 explains that trouble of this age is the basis for this belief.
          • Practical: v.32 “I want you to be free from anxieties.  The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.”
    • As the church we need to be more balanced in what we teach about marriage:
      • We need to uphold the Biblical principles of marriage
      • We also need to uphold the value of being single.

 

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Dealing With The Sunday Roller-Coaster That Every Pastor Rides

The Scenic Railway at Luna Park, Melbourne, is...
The Scenic Railway at Luna Park, Melbourne, is the world’s oldest continually-operating rollercoaster, built in 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those in the ministry Sunday can be an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster, filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, that combine to make the ride frightening, exhilarating, terrifying and joyous all at the same time.  Any Pastor who has been in the ministry knows exactly what I am talking about.  You get up on Sunday morning excited about what the Lord has in store and fired up to preach the Word that He has given you through the week.  But then the hot water in the shower won’t work, your wife yells at you because you forgot to pick up milk two nights before, and your kids stayed up too late last night and don’t want to get up.  You feel the anointing be drained from your soul but somehow you get yourself together and head for the church.  The parking lot is full and your excitement begins to grow, God is going to do something big.  You retreat to your study where you spend the Sunday School hour praying and preparing to preach.  Before you know it, it is time to head to the sanctuary.  Your feeling good.  The message is welling up in your heart and you just know that God is going to do something huge.  As you walk through the halls the Sunday School director stops you to tell you that a teacher did not show up and that they can’t find anyone to take the class for the next Sunday.  You go a little further and someone stops you to complain about the youth being too loud, or the worship service being too contemporary, or your sermon last week being too long.  Every Pastor reading these words, knows exactly what I am talking about.  Sometimes the walk from your office to the pulpit feels like running a gauntlet.  By the time the band starts playing and the worship begins you are fighting just to regain your joy.  And this is just the morning service— you have a full day of this ahead of you.  Up, down, round and round, spinning you, jostling you, until you are just glad to get home on Sunday night.

The Sunday roller-coaster of emotion that every Pastor goes through is a combination of Satanic attack, congregational ignorance, and our own emotional instability.  From a spiritual standpoint we have to understand that Sunday is a war zone for Pastors.  The one thing that you can count on is that Satan and his minions are going to show up on Sunday morning to attack you.  Your members, leaders, and deacons may take a Sunday off, but Satan never does.  He is going to do everything that he can do to discourage, distract, disorient, and destroy you on Sunday morning.  As a Pastor you have to be aware that the attack is going to come and prepare by equipping yourself with the full armor of God.  In addition, let me recommend that you gather together a handful of your most trusted prayer warriors who will be your own personal spiritual body guards on Sunday by praying for you throughout the day.

Second, you have to realize that the congregation is largely ignorant of what we go through on a Sunday morning.  They don’t realize the intensity of the day and the spiritual struggle that is going on within your own heart as you wage battle against the forces of darkness.  We can help our churches by talking about this more often but no one outside of the ministry will ever fully understand the battle that happens on Sunday morning.  What we can do is to encourage our members to hold off talking to us about problems until after the service or even better yet, to simply make an appointment to come by during the week.  We can also do ourselves a favor by getting some of the spiritual leaders of the church to walk with us through the halls as we travel to the sanctuary.  This way when someone wants to discuss a matter, we can politely hand off the situation to another staff member, elder, or deacon.

Finally, we need to remember that in many ways we are our own worst enemies.  As Pastors we have to admit that we can be emotional basket cases on Sunday morning.  My recommendation to any Pastor who gets upset on a Sunday and feels like blowing up or venting their frustration is to go home, sleep on it, then get up and pray about,  give it a day or two to get some perspective.  Don’t just blow a fuse.  You will feel better right after you blow up, but eventually you look around and realize that you just blew up your own ministry.

Finding Ideas for Sermons

When I first started preaching I primarily was what you might call a supply preacher.  My Pastor knew that I was sensing the call to preach so he started to give me opportunities to preach. It was not long before he got me on the associational supply preacher list and I started getting opportunities to preach in other churches.  This was a good gig for a preacher just starting out and it had its advantages.  Mainly, since I never preached in the same place more than 3 or 4 times in a row I only needed to have a stash of about 5 or 6 messages. But the disadvantage rose its ugly head when I was called to be the interim Pastor of a church.  Suddenly, I was thrust into the role of having to preach 3 times per week and my cache of sermons quickly ran dry.  I was faced with the age-old problem of every preacher, “Where do I find ideas for my sermon?”

At first this wasn’t too big of a problem because I simply started to preach messages about things I thought the church needed to know about.  Back then I foolish enough to have an opinion about every thing and naïve enough to believe that I had the right Biblical answer to all of them.  In reality, I quickly became a broken record repeating a list of spiritual clichés about a limited number of pet subjects.  The truth is that the people in that dear church enjoyed this kind of preaching because it didn’t really challenged them and served to reinforced what they already believed and held true.  A sadder truth is that no one was growing in his or her walk with the Lord as a result of my preaching.  All I could teach them was what I already knew and that took less than a month to convey.

For those preachers who are more gifted and intelligent this process will take a bit longer but the result is inevitable.  If you make topical preaching the exclusive way that you preach, you will one day come to the end of your knowledge and your preaching and the people you Pastor will become stunted.  Thankfully, I had a wise and godly mentor who took me aside and showed me a better way.  He turned me on to a way of coming up with sermon ideas that is literally inexhaustible.  I have used this simple method for over 18 years now and I have never struggled to come up with an idea to preach on a Sunday morning, Sunday night or Wednesday night.

BibleDo I have your attention?  Would you like to know the secret that he taught me?  Well, here it is, my mentor Dr. Richard Harris simply taught me to preach the Biblical text.  You can start with a single passage, or a section of Scripture such as the Beatitudes, or even an entire book, but if you want to find a never-ending source of sermon ideas just open your Bible. Dr. Harris taught me to start with the Biblical text and let it give me the topic and the points.

The results have been simply amazing.  Not only have I escaped the weekly tyranny of worrying about what to preach on Sunday but I have also been forced to grow in my understanding of the Scripture. Most importantly, it has helped the churches that I have pastored to grow in their understanding of the Scripture and the gospel.  Below are some helpful articles that I have written to help you get started with this kind of preaching.

Related articles

 

The God Who Keeps His Promises

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The death of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 34, must have been a life changing experience for the entire nation of Israel.  It is hard for us to grasp just how devastating the death of Moses must have felt to the Israelites, who had been following his leadership for the past forty years.  Few figures in history have left such a lasting legacy upon the world, therefore, we struggle to grasp the meaning of his death.  Some of you reading this may be old enough to remember the death of Franklin Roosevelt, others can remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   While too young to remember either of these events, I grew up hearing from my parents and older siblings the stories about the two days these great American presidents died.  The closest parallel that I can draw from me personally  is the day that Ronald Reagan was shot outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Events such as these send chills down our spines when we remember the fear, confusion, and despondency that occur when the leader of a nation is suddenly taken away.  These are the closest parallels that we can think of in order to try to imagine what the Israelites must have been going through, but even they do not come close to putting us in the mindset of what the Jewish people must have been experiencing.

 

Moses was more than just a political or military leader to the Israelites.  If it were not for his faithfulness and obedience to the call of God, Israel would still have been trapped in the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  Moses was more than a political leader, he was in a sense their savior, deliverer and rescuer.  His death marked the end of one of the most important phases of Israel’s history and the beginning of one of its most trying periods.  There are several book of the Old Testament that begin by recording the death of a leader- Judges (Joshua’s death), 2 Samuel (Saul’s death), 2 Kings (Ahab’s death)- each of these mark an important transition in the history of the nation, but none of the others comes close to capturing the emotional sadness and crisis brought about by the death of Moses.

 

No one in Israel was positioned to experience the death of Moses more  personally than Joshua. For years, Joshua had been Moses’ faithful servant.  When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law, Joshua was there with him (Ex 24:13; 32:17).  Whenever Moses went out to the tent of meeting to receive a word from God, Joshua was there with him (Ex. 33:11).  When Moses needed a trusted general to lead the army of Israel into battle with the Amalekites, he turned to Joshua (Ex 17:8-16).   When selecting members of from each tribe of Israel to go in a spy out the promised land, Moses chose Joshua to represent the tribe of Ephraim (Num 13:8).  For over 40 years, the lives of these two men had been inseparably linked together.  Now Moses was dead.  The people had lost leader but Joshua lost a friend and mentor.  The people had lost one of the founding figures in their nations history, but Joshua had lost a father figure who had invested his life in teaching Joshua how to serve God.  The people had lost one of the inspirational leaders of their past, but Joshua had lost a man that he didn’t think he could ever live without.

 

The author of Joshua begins by abruptly stating that,  “Moses my servant is dead.  Now therefore arise and go over this Jordan, you and all the people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”  Commenting on this verse, Warren Wiersbe cited the well known modern proverb, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” (Wiersbe)  I came across that statement about ten years ago, while I was preaching a series of messages through the book of Joshua.  That statement initially startled and even offended me because it seemed to make God callous and indifferent.  It seemed to me, at the time, to convey the idea that God was more concerned about His work than about His servants.  I was convinced then, and remain so today, that there is more going on here than God merely passing the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua.  Reading this passage merely as the historical record of the succession of one leader after the death of another misses the point the Biblical author is trying to make.  In order to properly understand the intent of this passage we must read Joshua 1:1-5 as more than mere history-  we must read it as theological history.  This is not meant to deny that the passage contains a record of actual historical events, but to read it merely as history misses the point. The historical records contained within the Bible have a unique theological purpose, they are written with the intent of showing how God keeps His promises within the context of time and space.

 

In Joshua 1:1-9, God wanted to make it clear that the events going on around the nation, in no way changed or invalidated His promises.  The death of Moses brought out the worst fears that the people carried with them.  What will happen to us?  Who is going to lead us?  Is Joshua really up to the challenge of leading the nation?  Should we just give up an go back to Egypt?  All of these question and more would have been running through the minds of the Israelites as they sat stunned and dismayed in the desert.  They needed hope.  They needed help.  They needed a Word from God and just as He had done 40 years earlier, God broke the silence and spoke to His servant, Joshua, and gave Him a set of promises.  “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life…I will be with you…I will not leave you nor forsake you…you shall cause the people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”  These words must have been like music in Joshua’s ears and they serve to remind us of some of the helpful applications of God’s eternal character.

 

The Promises of God Rest on His Eternal Nature

 

Many Biblical scholars have noted that the thrust of this passage is developed around the threefold repetition of the phrase “Be strong and courageous” in verses 5,6, and 7.  While I agree that this threefold command forms the crux of God’s message to Joshua I want to point out that the command to “be strong and courageous” rest on the eternal nature and promises of God.  The author of Joshua points us in that direction when invokes the name Yahweh at the beginning and end of this passage (v.1, 9).  We have already seen in the previous chapter that the divine name Yahweh is a declaration of His self-existence and eternal nature, therefore, I want to suggest that the author had three primary rhetorical purpose for invoking this particular name for God in this passage.

 

First, he used the repetition of the divine name (YHWH) to form an inclusio, which marks the beginning and ending of the first rhetorical section of the book.  At first glance this may seem like nothing more than a literary device, however, closer inspection shows that it is part of the author’s larger literary goal.  To see what I mean we need to compare how this book opens with the way it closes.  Notice that the book begins and ends by recording the death of a leader.  It opens with the death of Moses and concludes with the death of Joshua.  In the opening scene, the author shows how the Lord appeared to Joshua after the death of Moses and commanded him to be “strong and courageous.”  At the end of the book, Joshua speaks to the people just before his own death and raises the question of whether or not they will remain faithful.  We will return in a moment to this observation, but for right now let it suffice to say that the opening section of Joshua is marked by the presence of an inclusion formed by the repetition of the nameYahweh and that the book as a whole is marked at both the beginning and end by the death of Israel’s leader.

 

Second, the author used the divine name to show the continuity between the life of Joshua and Moses.  Just as Yahweh appeared to Moses at the burning bush, so now He was appearing to Joshua to call and commission him to continue the mission that was begun through Moses.  As we discussed in the previous chapters, the name Yahweh was given to Moses at the burning bush and was used as the special covenant name for God.  It came to symbolize not only the eternal and self-existent nature of God but also His fidelity to His covenant. Now that Moses was dead, the people in general and Joshua in particular needed to be reassured of God’s continued presence and provision.  D.R. Davis notes, “Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievement of men, however, gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.” (Davis, 18)  Moses may have been dead and gone but Yahweh was still alive and ready to carry out His promises.

 

Finally, and most importantly, He used this name as the basis for Israel’s faith.  At several strategic locations in the Pentateuch Moses used the name Yahweh to set Israel’s God apart from the gods of the pagans. By drawing upon this name in the opening statements of the Joshua, the author shows that the commands given to Joshua were grounded in the very nature of God. (Howard, 73)  This brings me back to the point that I was making above concerning the rhetorical strategy employed by the author of Joshua.  As I noted above, the entire book is rhetorically formulated around the death of two leaders- Moses and Joshua. The deaths of these two leaders establish not only the historical setting in which this book was written but also form an important part of the author’s rhetorical strategy.   What this shows us is that the author of Joshua wants to show how God was faithful to His promises after the death of Moses and the actions that Israel will have to take if they want to continue to experience Yahweh’s blessings.  At the end of the book, just before his death,  Joshua calls the people together and asks them to “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” (24:15)  The use of the name Yahweh throughout this book serves as a constant reminder that the promises of God rest in His eternal nature.

 

Since the promises of God rest upon His unchanging nature the death of a leader, even one as important as Moses, cannot not fundamentally change the relationship between God and His people.  The saying that “God buries the workman, but His work goes one,” therefore is not a cold or callous statement about the indifference of God towards his servants, but rather a confession of His timeless, unchanging character.  Rather than recording the mere transition of power from one leader to the next, the opening chapter  of Joshua records for us the historical/theological account of how the God remains faithful to His promises from one generation to the next.” (Boice, 13-14) Every generation needs to be reminded of this truth.

 

Who are You Going to Invite to National Back to Church Sunday?

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Who are You Going to Invite to National Back to Church Sunday?

It’s time to reach out and invite your neighbors to church! People need to know that there is hope and a community of people like our church who will love them and do life with them. Metropolis First Baptist Church is joining the National Back to Church Sunday movement to help “Invite America Back to Church” on Sunday September 15.

According to Lifeway Resources, 82% of unchurched people would attend church if someone invited them! Yet fewer than 2% of Christians ever invite an unchurched person to come to church! Even if you have never tried inviting someone to church, we are going to make it easy this fall with a special service.

It’s not as hard as it may seem. Did you know that most people who have dropped out of church haven’t lost their faith in God—they simply fell out of the habit of going to church? Some moved, had a change in life circumstances, or had a falling out with their former church and simply drifted away. Most often, life just became too busy. This means many of them could be open to returning to church.

We encourage you to step out in faith and invite someone to rediscover church. We are planning a special service at 10:15 am on September 15th so that our new guests will feel welcome and comfortable. Inviting a friend is a simple gesture that could change someone’s life.

By participating in this national movement, we will be joining thousands of other churches across America in helping invite everyone to church. Last year, 13,150 churches from 42 denominations participated and together they gave out an estimated 7.5 million invitations to church. Our church is one of the 20,000 churches expected to participate this year.

This year, let’s reach out to our friends, family and neighbors with printed invitations, Facebook posts, and personal asks. We will be handing out invitations on September 8th for you to deliver to your friends and family. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to invite your friends and family to church with you.

Need some inspiration? Check out this promotional video for Back to Church Sunday: http://www.youtube.com/user/BTCsunday.

Preparing Better Pastors Part 1

Thom Rainer has posted an interesting article entitled “Eight Areas Where Many Ministers are Unprepared for Ministry”  and I thought that for the next several few days that I would interact with some of the things that he has to say.  The first area that he mentions is:

1. Relational intelligence. I wish every minister could somehow take some type of relational intelligence inventory. I wish they could be coached on how to relate to all types of people. Many ministers crash because they have never learned how to relate well to others.

Unfortunately, I think that most of us have learned this lesson the hard way.  When I first went into the ministry, I can vividly remember the first time that I discovered that everyone does not think about or respond to situations in the same way that I did.  It seems rather naive now, but I honestly believed that people would just naturally see things the way that I did.  As you might imagine, that first church did not go well and I barely escaped with my “rear-end intact” as my dad would say.  What went wrong?  I simply didn’t understand that there are different kinds of people and personalities in the church.

My eyes got opened to this when my wife and I attended a marriage retreat put on for pastors and their wives by our state convention.   During that retreat they gave us all a Briggs Myers personality assessment and taught us how the various personality types think, act and can interact with each other.  Not only was this session enlightening for my marriage but it also taught helped me to gain some insight into why people in the church acted and responded in the ways they did.

Over the years, I have watched a number of Pastors who have blown up churches and ruined their own ministries simply because they never learned how to deal with the multiplicity of personalities that make up a church.  Young Pastors who have just come out of the seminary are especially prone to this problem.  Let’s face it, seminary is often more like a monastery than a local church.  Naive young men sometimes come out of the seminary with a dangerous idealism and false idea about what real people are like.  We also forget to tell them that they have to learn to work with people if they want to succeed.  This is where some training in personality types and practical experience could be a great help.