|Lesson 5||January 25 - 31|
|Reviving Christian Identity|
Read For This Week's Study: 1 Cor. 5, 6.
Memory Text: "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Key Thought: Paul warned the Christians of Corinth to refrain from immoral practices and legal proceedings against fellow church members. He also challenged them to regain their Christian identity as the washed, the sanctified, and the justified.
|Sabbath Afternoon||January 24|
THE CHURCH IS TO NURTURE ACCOUNTABILITY AND MINISTRY. Adventist college students were once asked, "What do you like or dislike about the Seventh-day Adventist Church?" Amid the more positive responses came this reply: "I like the church because it doesn't demand. I dislike it because it has a tendency to abandon people in crisis." This person did not seem to recognize both as part of one pattern--a church detached from its members. The gospel, however, calls us to be accountable to our fellow church members (thus making "demands") and to be positively involved with people in crisis.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 to help the Christians in Corinth establish such a caring community. Because of incest and an arrogant protection of the offender, Christian accountability within the Corinthian church declined. And court battles strained at the seams of Christian community while Christian morality stretched beyond all bounds as Christian brothers defended their visits to brothels.
PURITY IN AN IMPURE WORLD (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 6:9-11).
First Corinthians 5 and 6 are important to a Christian understanding of human sexuality. But these chapters do invite a word of caution. One ancient author defined a letter as "half a dialogue." We might say that reading a letter is often like listening to only half of a telephone conversation. In reading these two chapters, we must not presume too much about the half of the conversation we have not heard!
What situation existed in Corinth, and what did Paul feel needed to be done about it? 1 Cor. 5:1-8.
First Corinthians 4:14-21 leads up to the treatment of a drastic problem in view of which Paul threatens to come to Corinth "with a stick" (1 Cor. 4:21, NRSV). At the beginning of chapter 5 he reveals what has brought on his "spare the rod, spoil the child" strategy. The words Paul chose suggest that the offender's partner is not his mother but a later wife of his father. And the man may have formed the liaison after his father's death. But neither of these possibilities lessens the need for swift and decisive action.
Describe the sexual climate of Corinth. How did it contrast with the Christian life? 1 Cor. 6:9-11. What is the tremendous hope of transformation that the gospel brings to the most hopeless human condition. How does this hope affect our witness to the ones described in this passage?
"We would do well to meditate on the message and meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The world today is one vast Corinth, with sexual perversions and vices of every kind rampant. But the miracle at Corinth tells us that Christ can save men and women out of even the vilest practices. . . . Thus, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 both encourages and informs. It is a window that lets in the power of the Word of God, inviting us to experience afresh the miracle at Corinth."--William G. Johnsson, "Windows on the Word: Miracle at Corinth," Adventist Review, Feb. 5, 1981, p. 6.
How does Paul's suggested treatment of the offender compare to Christ's treatment of the woman caught in adultery? (John 7:53-8:11). How do you account for the differences as you carefully consider the different circumstances?
ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE CHURCH (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-13).
Compare the attitudes of Paul and the Corinthian Christians regarding church discipline. 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-13.
The phrase church discipline may seem to be contradictory, especially since the spirit of our times is expressed in sayings such as: "It's my life, and I'll do what I want." "It's none of your business." And "Why should you care?" Yet our age also echoes a haunting loneliness of spirit. Paul assumes that the Christian community is one in which members call one another to accountability. In the early house churches, there was no organizational distance from erring members. They all knew one another well. If anything, their acquaintance with the transgressor led them to downplay offensive behavior and dismiss that which required immediate treatment.
How does Paul picture his participation with the church, and what outcome of the disciplinary action does he imagine? 1 Cor. 5:3-5.
What does it mean that the church is to "hand this man over to Satan" (1 Cor. 5:5, NIV)? It is Paul's way of describing the disfellowshipping of a member--outside the church lies the kingdom of Satan (Col. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 John 5:19).
What of "the destruction of the flesh"? This likely means that the man's removal will, hopefully, cause him to "wake up," and return to Christian commitment, thus destroying the flesh. "The purpose of the banishment is not so much the preservation of the purity of the community as the winning back of the offender by making him ashamed of his conduct. . . . What is to be destroyed is not the body, but the tendency which binds the offender to sin""--N. G. Joy, "Is the Body To Be Destroyed?," The Bible Translator 39 (1988): 435, 436.
This final phrase is more amazing than unclear--"so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (NRSV). Paul looks toward the final day of judgment and imagines the disciplined offender as standing among God's people!
"Among the more serious of the evils that had developed among the Corinthian believers, was that of a return to many of the debasing customs of heathenism."--The Acts of he Apostles, p. 303.
What misunderstanding had developed as a result of an earlier letter written by Paul? How is this significant for the Seventh-day Adventist mission today? 1 Cor. 5:9-13.
YOU REALLY ARE UNLEAVENED (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
How might Paul's counsel correct some of our concepts of "church discipline"? 1 Cor. 5:1-13.
Notice these aspects of Paul's understanding of church discipline (could you add others?):
1. It is active. He is not satisfied with a passive approach to a serious problem. For Paul, when a member puts the integrity of the church at risk by crossing certain boundaries, the church must act.
2. It underlines the local church's responsibility. While Paul imagines himself participating in treating the problem, he regards the responsibility for action as the local congregation's. He urges them to do their duty.
3. It is redemptive. Paul, despite his feelings about the offender's not being in church, hopes for the man's re-entry. In doing so, he provides us with an important example. Often we are prone to label fallen church members as "hopeless."
How does Paul use allusions to the Passover Feast in an attempt to reverse the arrogance of the Corinthians? 1 Cor. 5:6-8.
At the Passover, Jewish households were to participate in a diligent search to remove all bits of leaven (Ex. 12:14-20; 13:7). Paul points to the great antitype of the feast: "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." While Paul still may have in mind the expulsion of the erring member, his application is broader. The believers are to be on the alert for those seemingly small, but really influential and destructive attitudes (like their "boasting") that could impact their discipleship out of all proportion to their "size" (compare Gal. 5:7-9).
"Those who cannot discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not, may be charmed with these societies that have no connection with God, but no earnest Christian can prosper in such an atmosphere. The vital air of heaven is not there. His soul is barren, and he feels as destitute of the refreshing of the Holy Spirit as were the hills of Gilboa of dew and rain."--Evangelism, p. 619.
What is the appropriate attitude of those involved in calling a fellow member to accountability? 1 Cor. 5:2; Gal. 6:1; 2 Thess. 3:14, 15.
COURTING DISASTER (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
In many countries today, it seems that everyone is quick to file lawsuits against anyone for anything. In Paul's day, Corinth may not have been so different. Dio Chrysostom, writing about A.D. 100, reports that there were "lawyers innumerable perverting justice." And wealthy and powerful citizens often used the civil courts to dispense injustice against those with less clout. This may be why Paul calls the judges "unjust" (1 Cor. 6:1) and says that the victors in the lawsuits "[do] wrong, and defraud" (1 Cor. 6:8, NRSV).
What further problem developed in the Corinthian Christian community, and what remedy did Paul suggest? 1 Cor. 6:1-8. Review the procedure Jesus commends as appropriate when a Christian believes himself or herself to have been wronged by another Christian. Matt. 18:15-20.
When will believers participate in the judgment of the world and of angels? Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Rev. 3:20, 21; 20:4-6.
The issues raised in 1 Corinthians 5-6 are "insider" and "outsider" issues. Should one who is really "outside" be allowed to remain "inside" (1 Cor. 5:1-8)? Should former Christians be treated differently from those who have never been "inside"? (1 Cor. 5:9-13). Is it appropriate for "inside" issues to be taken up in "outside" courts? (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
"Satan is constantly seeking to introduce distrust, alienation, and malice among God's people. We shall often be tempted to feel that our rights are invaded, even when there is no real cause for such feelings. Those whose love for self is stronger than their love for Christ and His cause will place their own interests first and will resort to almost any expedient to guard and maintain them. Even many who appear to be conscientious Christians are hindered by pride and self-esteem from going privately to those whom they think in error, that they may talk with them in the spirit of Christ and pray together for one another. When they think themselves injured by their brethren, some will even go to law instead of following the Saviour's rule."--The Acts of the Apostles, p. 305.
How do similar issues confront you? How can your class or church be helpful in similar situations today?
FLEE FORNICATION! (1 Cor 6:12-20).
What illicit sexual behavior did Christian men at Corinth attempt to justify? 1 Cor. 6:12-20.
An early copy of 1 Corinthians exhibits no italicized headings, no chapter and verse divisions and no neatly indented paragraphs. Neither were there quotation marks or spaces between words. Thus, we must carefully consider which words are Paul's and which represent his quotations of ideas or slogans being offered at Corinth.
Most recent translations agree that the following are Corinthian slogans to which Paul responded: " 'All things are lawful for me'" (verse 12) and "'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food'" (verse 13, NRSV; a slogan apparently used to justify the illicit sexual practice). Additional slogans may be the phrases "God will destroy both one and the other" (verse 13, if taken to mean that since God is going to destroy the human body, what one does with it is unimportant) and "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body" (verse 18, NRSV).
How does Paul answer these slogans and establish important principles for a Christian understanding of human sexuality? 1 Cor. 6:12-20.
To each of the Corinthian slogans Paul adds a response. The philosophy at Corinth suggested that the body was morally irrelevant: what one does with one's body does not affect one's relationship with God. But Paul: 1. shows that God values the body so highly as to destine it for resurrection (verse 14); 2. demonstrates the absolute absurdity and sinfulness of a Christian man's association with a prostitute (verses 15-17); and 3. identifies the Christian's body as a temple of the Spirit and the Christian as a purchased slave who belongs to the divine Owner (verses 19, 21)).
"God has bought us, and He claims a throne in each heart. Our minds and bodies must be subordinated to Him, and the natural habits and appetites must be made subservient to the higher wants of the soul. But we can place no dependence upon ourselves in this work. We cannot with safety follow our own guidance. The Holy Spirit must renew and sanctify us. In God's service there must be no halfway work."--SDA Bible Commentary, vol.6, p. 1088.
Which of the above principles is most important in the context of modern culture? Why?
Further Study: If 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 is any indication, instruction with regard to appropriate sexual behavior seems to have been part of Paul's basic teaching to new converts. Why was this the case? What were the themes Paul is likely to have emphasized? Do we need more instruction on such matters today?
Following is a portrait of Christian camaraderie and accountability: "Those of diverse exercises come together and with simplicity and humbleness of mind talk out their experience. All who are pursuing the onward Christian course should have, and will have, an experience that is living, that is new and interesting. A living experience is made up of daily trials, conflicts, and temptations, strong efforts and victories, and great peace and joy gained through Jesus. A simple relation of such experiences gives light, strength, and knowledge that will aid others in their advancement in the divine life."--Testimonies, vol.2, p. 579. What steps can you take to foster such fellowship?
|1. Have you ever been part of a
class or small group that attempted to practice Christian accountability?
What was the result? Are Seventh-day Adventists too individualistic
in their faith? Why or why not?
2. Some practical questions arise regarding Paul's counsel about litigation between Christians. For example, what if, following an accident in which you were involved, your insurance company sues another believer?
3. Paul's focus in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 is on the misbehavior of men, with little attention given to the women involved. What do you think would have been the impact of Paul's counsel on Christian women in Corinth?
Summary: Paul calls Christians at Corinth away from a boastful attitude toward the open sexual sin of one member, away from an inappropriate use of civil courts, and away from immoral visits to prostitutes. While the purity of the apostolic age may be tarnished, we are the richer for Paul's list of principles that remain important for defining Christian identity today.
|Winning the Masai, Part
A Time to Sing
Jan and Marlin Meharry visited the new believers at Kisaju as often as possible. But this trip was different. It was time to leave Kenya, and they had come to Kisaju to say goodbye to their Masai friends. Amid tears and singing, they bid farewell, and promised to return one day.
The work at Kisaju has continued with vigor. Solomon and Isaac, Masai layworkers, began teaching the women and children to read and write, using the Bible as their text. When the men heard that the women were learning to read, they wanted to learn as well. Soon they will be able to study the Word of God for themselves.
The little chapel at Kisaju has become the center of their lives. They worship, they learn, and they receive healing--both physical and spiritual--in their church. The Masai thank God for those who have come to teach them a better way to live and a Saviour to love.
And on a recent cloudless Sabbath day, the believers of Kisaju gathered around a simple cement basin filled with water, and welcomed 23 precious Masai believers into the Adventist faith. With songs of rejoicing sung in English and Kimasai, joining the heavenly choirs, it must have sounded wonderful!
Church leaders have worked for decades to reach the Masai in East Kenya, but with little success. God chose instead to use two young mothers with no special training, but with a love and a burden, to win the Masai for His kingdom. Could He have used them if they were afraid to get dirty? Afraid to preach? Could He have used them if they had turned their nose up at strange smells or new foods? He tested their dedication and found them willing to do what He asked in order to win someone to Jesus. Praise God! Because these lay workers were willing to get dirty for his glory, precious souls have been baptized into God's kingdom.
|Because of love: 23 new believers were baptized at Kisaju, Kenya as the result of the work among the Masai by laymen and women. (Photo by Jackie O. Smith.) Jan Meharry, Gwen Edwards, and Charlotte Ishkanian contributed to this four-part testimony of God's love.|
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