About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

“Been There and Back” (2 Corinthians 1:1-11)

When you are about to go through something very difficult like, say, a complicated surgical procedure, who do find most helpful and comforting in conversation?  Is it the 20-something with stellar health and a beach body, or is it someone who has successfully survived and recovered from your same affliction?

Of course, it is the latter. And why?  Because they know internally and experientially what you are facing. Their reflections make them extra sympathetic and insightful. You feel from them that they know and feel your pain, your fears, etc.  And having survived it and recovered from it, they are able to give you comfort and hope.

As Paul begins his second (inspired, canonical) letter to the Corinthians, he jumps rather quickly into some of the main ideas that he will expand upon throughout.

Few people in church history could ever put together such an extensive list of trials and difficulties as could the Apostle Paul. In this opening greeting, he references some non-specific afflictions that brought him and the others suffering with him to a state of hopelessness. It looked like all was lost. Death appeared to be the only escape.

So what was this experience in Asia that he references just generally?  The commentaries all offer five or more plausible possibilities. And that makes my point. Paul had no shortage of difficult experiences of suffering. Some were personal health struggles, some were with opposition from civil authorities, while other conflicts occurred with false teachers inside the church.

But these experiences, though unpleasant for sure, had purpose in the mind and plan of God.

  • The sufferings made Paul and his co-sufferers dependent upon God, because there was no other resource.
  • These difficulties were marks of their fellowship with Christ in his sufferings … yes, this is par for the course for the Christian.
  • Such painful experiences and comforting deliverances made it possible for Paul to comfort others in their pain.
  • Cumulative experiences of suffering and deliverance give the believer a new level of overarching confidence and hope in future deliverance and in final salvation by a faithful God and Father.
  • The role of the Christian is to trust God and be faithful to stand in prayer for one another as we all battle the difficulties of life in a fallen world.

And in line with that last point, for those of you reading this devotional on the date of its publication – March 13th – would you pray today for one of my very close college friends and baseball teammates, a guy named Dave. He has been battling pancreatic cancer and has successfully advanced to a point of a surgery to remove a tumor. It is a very delicate and complicated surgery of 10-12 hours duration, though he might not be able to survive it. His faith is incredibly strong and he is very upbeat about it. But the whole thing is very intense for his family as well. Thank you everyone!

2 Corinthians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

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“Background of the 2 Corinthians Letter” 

Do you find some people difficult to follow in conversation because they chase every mental rabbit that crosses their brain? Before one thought can be finished, another is triggered by the first conversation, and then another, and so the pile begins to grow. Getting back to the original thought is like untangling that extension cord that has been pushed around on the garage floor for the past couple years.

The Apostle Paul was a writer who was like this. It is evident in his style, especially in the book we survey today – that of the second letter to the Corinthians. It is believed to have been written on his third journey, composed in Macedonia (the northern portion of modern day Greece). After his extended time in Ephesus, we turn to chapter 20 …

Acts 20:1 – When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months.

The various letters of Paul to the Corinthians involve one of the more complicated studies in New Testament literature. Not only do we have the two letters in the inspired Scriptures, there were at least two other letters that Paul references having written to them. Here is a best shot at a chronology of visits and letters …

  1. First visit of Paul to Corinth
  2. A letter written to them (lost to us) that they misunderstood (see 1 Cor. 5:9-11)
  3. A second letter – known to us as 1 Corinthians – to address a list of problems
  4. Second visit of Paul to Corinth – described in 2 Cor. 2:1 as a “painful” visit
  5. A third letter – lost to us – it was disciplinary in nature (2 Cor. 7:8-9) and grieved Paul to have to write it (2 Cor. 2:3-4)
  6. A fourth letter – the text of 2 Corinthians.
  7. Third visit – mentioned above in Acts 20:2

Much of this letter of 2 Corinthians involves Paul dealing with the issue of false teachers who had come into the church family and created many problems. Beyond that, these self-appointed authorities sought to personally discredit Paul and the content of his teaching. Their exact doctrine is unknown, but it likely contained elements of legalistic Judaism and a rising error called Gnosticism – this latter heresy involving teaching that took away from the person of Christ and his perfect humanity.

It would have been understandable if Paul were to have essentially given up on the Corinthians and allowed them to go their own way. Sometimes we have to do that with people who have simply sold out completely to errant beliefs and values. But Paul was unwilling to do this with the Corinthians, having a pastoral heart of compassion for them, even while confronting them in love. There is a balance in that.

We have had a slogan in TSF leadership circles that dates back over 20 years. Our history as a church in the early years was to work with people who had life crises, even of their own creation. We have sought to be a place of both mercy and compassion along with bold confrontation. The slogan goes something like this: We will exhibit grace and compassion to very imperfect people who are walking toward God and growing in faith, while also loving people enough to get into their face when they are walking away from God.

Ministering to broken people is a messy business. When you do it, there are going to be times where it does not succeed. Difficult people have a pattern of turning issues around and making their problem be your problem. While trying to help, you may well be accused of “handling the situation wrongly.” Whereas they spilled the milk all over the kitchen floor, you are accused of not cleaning it up the right way.

In such situations – actually in all situations – we need to hang on to truth and hang on to the Lord. This idea is seen in this representative passage from 2 Corinthians … seeing here also Paul’s irritation, yet also his persistence to hang in there with these wayward people and get them connected rightly to God.

2 Corinthians 10:1 – By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

There is simply no way around the truth that ministry is difficult, and those who do it are going to have detractors and critics. I hate that, and it is difficult for me as a person who wants to please everyone. But that is never going to happen on this side of eternity.

“Brothers and Others” (1 Corinthians 16:10-24)

Thinking back now over 40+ years of church ministry, I have so many warm memories and connections of others with whom I’ve been blessed to serve God together. Just today, as I write this, a former fellow staff member from many years ago called to chat briefly and ask a couple questions. Another wrote to me a few days ago to alert me to the announcement of a much older mutual staff associate in Dallas who had recently passed away.

In church ministry, it is inevitable to have both up and down times of serving with others. There are seasons of serving that are difficult, not only due to wrestling with occasional opposition, but the tasks are great. Seeing God supply and guide in a joint venture brings people together in ways that are valued over the course of an entire lifetime.

The Apostle Paul had similar relationships, and we often get fleeting glimpses of them in the final sentences of some of his letters. And in this final section of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul has taken the pen at some point to finish the letter personally, having used an amanuensis (secretary) to write his dictated remarks.

Paul’s special young disciple was Timothy, who was on his way to be with the Corinthians. Knowing of his own somewhat difficult experience with this rough crowd and their “issues,” and knowing of Timothy’s more timid personality, he tells the readers to not treat the young man contemptuously.

Apparently the Corinthians had hoped for Apollos to return to them. And though Paul had encouraged this, it appears Apollos was not in any hurry to get there. He probably knew well of their “issues” also.

Paul also reflects warmly on an entire household of people there who had given so much for the growth of the church in Corinth. As well, he personally mentions some of the good men who had travelled to him with news from Greece and who would be returning home.

Greetings are sent from Aquila and Priscilla who had known the Corinthians earlier, yet now being in Asia with Paul and leading a church in their home.

Paul also sends greetings from other churches in Asia (modern day Turkey) where the gospel was spreading. It was the Apostle’s desire for all these scattered Christians to have a sense of the scope of gospel successes throughout the world, that all would be encouraged and strengthened by this knowledge. And that too remains a timeless truth. I love to hear of the growth of our missions-connected churches in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Looking at the big picture of it all, ministry is complicated. It is difficult. It involves a lot of sinners working together. Thus, Paul again directs them toward an overarching attitude of love … verse 14 – “Do everything in love.”  Hey, that would make for a good theme verse for any church!

It really is a blessing to have each other to do life together, as we serve the One who in love has saved us from eternal destruction. We can never have too much of this perspective and this motivation for the most important things in life.

1 Corinthians 16:10 -When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Best Way to Have Eternal Impact (1 Corinthians 16:1-11)

Here is something depressing to consider. Though you love your family very much, the fact is that in four or five generations, nobody is going to remember who you are … this is, unless you do something really important or newsworthy, like become a serial killer or something like that. How do I know this? OK … name the names of your great-great-grandfathers. See what I mean?

So, you live, you do a few things in life, you die, a few folks cry for a couple of hours, and generational history dementia begins. (I told you this was going to be depressing.)

But here’s some good news: God does not forget you. He knew you before you were born. He chose you before you were born. Don’t argue with me on that last point, that’s what the actual words of the Scripture say. Therefore, if he has known you since before you knew yourself, he is going to know you after you are gone and nobody remains to remember you. And beyond that, when your material gains are as forgotten as are you, your material investments in God’s eternal work of building the kingdom will not be forgotten. It will have a benefit of facilitating generations of the expanse of the gospel.

In this final chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul turns to a subject for which he was especially passionate – the collection of resources to fund ministry. He tells them to weekly lay aside a portion toward this purpose of giving. These resources would primarily go to the church in Jerusalem, though Paul also speaks of ways their generosity could help both he and Timothy in their gospel work.

This “collection” related to providing funds for the relief of Christians in the very first of all the churches – the church in Jerusalem. Why was this church poorer than the others?

Jerusalem was a poor city to begin with, often a place flooded by people who came on pilgrimages related to the various feasts. As the center of Judaism, the early Christians there were particularly persecuted for their belief that the Messiah had come and been rejected by the Jews.

Many of those who were converted on the Day of Pentecost and thereafter had likely stayed there, sharing “all things in common” as it says in Acts, likely living with multiple families in a single home and scratching out a living. There was a famine in that region that lasted for four years; we see this referenced in Acts 11. Paul also had a purposeful passion beyond the mere human needs to be addressed by these gifts. He wanted to see the body of Christ become One, bringing together the disparate backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles into one new and amazing family unity, unlike anything else. And he realizes this is a great opportunity to do just that.

Not only might he help relieve the needs of the Jerusalem church, but in an overwhelming act of love, this money from many Gentiles would go a long way toward solidify unity in the family of faith. These early Christians, on both the giving and receiving ends, would realize that they were a part of something so much bigger and greater than anything else. It is the stuff of eternity.

And this remains true in our generation. The dollar that provides a building with a youth program and a youth worker with resources … who meets a visiting student who enjoys the event and comes back, trusting in Christ as savior … who gets discipled over time and ends up on a mission field in another part of the world where a new church is begun there that will reap generations of disciples … this is the work of the church. And we can be a part of it and rejoice throughout all of eternity for what was accomplished in the mundane of the here and now.

So while it is great to achieve a reasonably high level of success and reward in terms of the scorecard of material gains and assets, it is better to invest at least a decent portion of those resources in stuff that is going to be remembered eternally … unlike you will be even with your own family.

1 Corinthians 16:1 – Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

16:5 – After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

16:10 -When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

“Resurrection Reward” (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)

Christian people have wondered and speculated for years as to what we will look like and be like in eternity. What does the heavenly body appear as?  What apparent age are we in heaven?  Are we our stellar selves at age 22 with full health, dark hair, and doggone good looks?  Or are we our 70-year-old selves with clogged arteries, artificial joints, and white hair under the halo (if any hair at all?).  Or what about that dear little nephew who died as a child … does he get an adult type of heavenly body, or is he a child for eternity?

Paul would pretty much say that these are stupid questions and ponderings. We can’t know it, and even if we did see it, we probably couldn’t describe something so totally “other.”

What we can do is trust a faithful God. And among things we can know is that it will be awesome. It will not be a body that is subject to the physical ravages we daily face in this perishable world. Among terms used in today’s passage, the heavenly body will be glorious, imperishable, immortal, victorious, bearing the image of Christ.

God has been giving bodies to things for a long time. He’s good at this. Consider the heavenly bodies of varied sorts, as well as the animals, fish and birds. And we again see here also the illustration of a seed that dies in the ground, only to become something so much more magnificent.

Think about different seeds. You look at them – so many varied shapes and sizes – and then see what they become. Consider the diverse seeds for beans, watermelon, corn, wheat, and maple trees. If you knew nothing at all about seeds, you’d never pick out the maple seed as the one to grow into a giant tree. That is amazing. But even the fruit plants that come from larger seeds are quite incredible relative to the size and plain nature of the seed from which they grew.

So likewise, the heavenly body can be counted upon to be an amazing creation of a faithful God. And this truth should lead us toward a great sense of hope, anticipation and comfort. A final day of victory will come (God’s trumpet sound) and those alive will join with those gone before to this final inheritance that includes an eternal and imperishable heavenly body.

This is the ultimate and final victory that should motivate us to have confidence that our earthly labors for the kingdom of God are not futile (vs. 58). Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. The Greek word for “stand firm” has the idea of not being moved off your feet by whatever comes at you. The next verb – “let nothing move you” – is the only time this word in used in the New Testament, and it has the idea of not letting yourself be picked up and put in another place. What a great encouragement!  I know I need large doses of this on a regular basis. It is all worth it to remain faithful to the end.

1 Corinthians 15:35 – But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

15:42 – So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

15:50 – I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[from Isaiah 25:8]

15:55 – “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  15:56 – The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:58 – Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

“Lose the Resurrection, Lose Everything” (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)

I have in recent times come into casual association and communication with some who are agnostic at best, if not outright atheistic. The latter term seems a bit strong for them, as they prefer the former – a word that comes the root “gnosis” … Greek for knowledge. And that is what they cling to so strongly. Knowledge, especially that of science – stuff that is verifiable in calculable ways.

Therefore, faith hits these folks as rather silly and antiquated. While respecting the virtuous principles of the Christian faith – stuff like love and service – they simply cannot imagine that it has more reality than being mere “story.”  But it’s a nice story, just don’t tell them that it is the only story or the true, overarching reality. And certainly not something that they should feel accountable to!

They therefore think the entire account of the resurrection of Jesus is … well … more story to add to the alleged tale (perhaps historically true) of the life of a great teacher in Israel. But if it could somehow be proven true to them that he did rise from the dead, and if this could be scientifically validated, that could be a game changer for them … though they know that’s not going to happen. Scriptural accounts are, well, just more story.

Add to this the notion that mankind is nothing more than the biological end product of an evolutionary process devoid of any divine initiative. Since there is no historical Adam who fell into sin and brought a curse of judgment upon the pinnacle of God’s creation, there is no spiritual problem needing a spiritual solution. If one is not lost, one does not need to be found.

But in these verses today in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes it clear that mankind is lost, dating back to the action of one man. A principle of death is upon all, and everyone proves this truth, sooner or later. But just as one person brought the problem upon mankind, one person brings the solution.

If anyone denies the resurrection of Jesus, everything is lost. There is no victory of life over death. We are all doomed. All we can hope for is to live a better life by exalting virtuous things, because there is nothing else.

Beyond that, those who give themselves in special ways and extra commitment to the proclamation of such eternal life truths is really something of a jerk. You know, someone like me, for example … or from the text – Paul, and his associates. I recently said to one of these naturalist-based, science-ensconced agnostics, “You must really think I am a total fool to waste my life centered around the faith of the Christian Scriptures.”  His response was that, no, he did not think that way; and that my promotion of ideals of love and service was commendable. He just did not like the objective truth assertions about right/wrong, life/death, etc.

In other words, he was saying that telling stories that are nice about a virtuous person and story that are nice is a nice thing to do.  Did you get that?  Yep, pity the fool that lives this way.

Our faith does involve faith, that’s why it’s called “faith.”  But it is a reasonable faith and hope. The evidence in strong that a historical figure named Jesus indeed did rise from the dead. And put together with the inspired writings of multiple people over many centuries, it all ties together as the true, big story that makes sense of everything else – past, present and future.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

1 Corinthians 15:12 – But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

15:20 – But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” [from Ps. 8:6] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

15:29 – Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [from Isaiah 22:13]

15:33 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” [from the Greek poet Menander] 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

Quickly, just a bit extra on verse 29 – the idea of baptism for the dead. Paul is not saying that this is a pattern to be followed or something to do. Rather, it was something that happened in the rituals of other religions in the Corinth area. Paul is saying that even those folks believe in resurrection, though they’re messed up in what they think.

And Paul concludes to disassociate from those who deny this central truth of Jesus as the resurrection and the life. That’s bad company, to quote a well-known Greek writer.

“The Middle of the Center of the Core” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

There have been more than a few situations in my life involving organizations that I have been a part of as either a member or leader where I’ve found myself swimming in a sea of details while realizing that the big picture had been either forgotten or disregarded. In sports, conflicts arise about who gets the most playing time, while simultaneously it seemed to be forgotten that the goal was to win, not just compete. Likewise in politics, it drove me crazy that the party spent so much time on internal posturing and authority structures, that strategizing to advance the philosophical agenda by electoral success could not find sufficient focus to make this possible. And yes, things like this can happen in churches – where squabbles about lesser matters can become a vortex into which energies and passions would flow, rather than the advancement of the gospel.

By the time we now get to the 15th chapter and near to the end of Paul’s first letter, I believe he is feeling like I’ve written just above. Whereas matters like preferred teachers, spiritual gifts, marriage, holy living, and roles within the church body are not without significance, there was something of greater magnitude to emphasize. Paul calls this focal point – the gospel message – “as of first importance.”  He’s saying to them, “Let me remind you to not lose emphasis upon that which is of the greatest significance, that being the message of Jesus and what he has done.”

This 11-verse introduction leads into the best discussion in the Scriptures about the importance and centrality of not just the substitutionary death of Christ, but equally so of the resurrection. We are lost without either. The gospel is incomplete without both. The death is the payment; the resurrection is the receipt that provides proof and validation.

And beyond this theme introduction of these 11 verses we read today, we see in verse 12 the reference to Corinth that there were some there who were apparently preaching that Christ had not literally and physically raised from the dead. This fatal error had to be addressed. Again, these two elements are the big idea, the core of the middle of the center of it all.

The eyewitness list of those who could affirm that Jesus was seen alive after the burial (the proof he had died) is very impressive indeed. If it was just Peter and “the Twelve” (that’s a title for the disciples, actually 11 since Judas was now gone), one could speculate that they made up the story. But there were many more, even 500 who saw him at the same time (presumably in Galilee). There were many others, many of whom were yet alive years later.

As well, though Paul does not take the time to give quotations, he references that all of this is not merely the stuff of experience … something totally unexpected and beyond explanation. No, this complete work of Christ was anticipated by various Scriptural passages (Isaiah 53, Psalm 16, etc.). This was God’s plan.

Again, we also see here of Paul’s profound gratitude and amazement at the magnanimous grace for which he had been a recipient. He wasn’t looking for Christ, but Christ found him and brought him into faith and truth and service. After making the list of all those who knew the gospel before he himself encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, it was humbling to think that he had not only been included but had also been charged with the great work of apostleship. He was, indeed, the last person who would be expected to have this great blessing and honor.

In any event, he concludes, it is all of God – be it he or others who hold to the gospel; and that content is the main idea that should never be forgotten. Even the opportunity to work hard, such as Paul had, was a gift from God. It is all from God.

1 Corinthians 15:1 – Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

15:3 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

15:9 – For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

“Order in the Church” (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)

In our community are a handful of church structures that are around 200 years old or more. If we could go back in a time machine and attend a service of that era, we would hardly recognize what was going on. The elements of the worship would seem very odd to us. Even so, it would surely consist of some forms of worship, instruction, fellowship, and remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. Now, multiply the time from this illustration by a factor of 10, and that is what would be needed to take you back to the church in Corinth that Paul addresses in these letters.

For a brief time when Diana and I first moved to Texas to begin my seminary studies almost 41 years ago, for a short time we attended a newly-formed church that some relatives in Dallas had been attending. It was a group of about 40 people who met in a decidedly New Testament style of meeting. There was a weekly dinner as we gathered late in the afternoon. We knew that there would be a communion observance at some point, and there would be songs, teachings, testimonies, prayers, and words of edification, but there was no established order. The idea was for everyone to come prepared in light of your spiritual gifting, looking for the Lord to lead and guide the congregation through the time of meeting. It was very interesting and there was much to applaud about the gathering, even though it was not a church where we continued indefinitely … as I later began service as a worship pastor in a large church for most of my Dallas years.

A phrase that was used in this fledgling congregation that believed this way of meeting was the prescribed and correct pattern of Sunday gathering was this: “Apostolic practice is apostolic precept.”  What this meant was that the ways in which the church gathered in the earliest years were to be understood as a divine pattern to be followed. Therefore, churches that had pastoral staffs with designated preachers, using choirs and hymnals in pre-planned services, were very contrived and manmade rather than Spirit-driven.

I don’t think we can take that from the text. We again need to understand the context and the cultural settings involved. These were indeed the earliest days of the church. The New Testament was only just beginning to be penned and circulated. There was a dependence upon prophetic words and phenomenal guidance in their gatherings. Not a lot of history could be referenced. And, as written recently in these devotionals, many of the patterns that were followed were those familiar to Jews and their experiences with the synagogue system of gathering and worship.

It was surely easy for the gatherings to become disordered, especially in the growing context of Greek background followers of Christ who came out of faith systems involving idols. We’ve already seen the abuses going on concerning the rich who came first and ate all the food and got drunk before the poorer people could arrive. So much of Paul’s writing indicates that disarray and disorder was a common situation. All of this was not glorifying to God, and it was a shameful presentation for unbelievers who might attend and witness some crazy antics going down.

Paul’s exhortation in these verses we read today was to command that things be done in an orderly and dignified fashion, considering again that thought needed to be applied toward the whole body being served by all that occurred. There was to be instruction, but not so many varied teachers and topics that the content would be watered down and lost. Though tongues and such might take place, this too was to be orderly with a continual consideration as to how it edified all those attending.

And along this line we also come to a strange paragraph about women being silent and not speaking at all, as this would be shameful. Again, consider the times and the culture. Women were largely not educated. And also again, this was Corinth where some wild things occurred with women in the idol temples. The church was to be different and distinct.

These are prescriptions for that time. Yet, timeless truths come from such passages. Yes, there is to be order in the church meeting. There will be worship, teaching, edification and people of the family of faith exercising their gifts for the common good. The focus is on God, particularly the remembrance of the work of Christ. The goal is the growth in every way of a family of God’s people who will be equipped to live different lives as shining lights in the midst of a dark and sinful world.

It has been a thought in my mind to have us at TSF gather on some occasion in the manner that I wrote of here today – a Sunday evening gathering around a meal, etc.  Everyone would be encouraged to come and share their gifts. Some of our musicians would be ready to present some group songs (or special songs) they felt led to possibly share, while also being ready to play and lead various songs that might fit with the teachings or requests of others. At some point, someone would lead us in the communion. I believe we would be enriched … so long as we did it in good order …  😊

1 Corinthians 14:26 – What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

14:29 – Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

14:34 – Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

14:36 – Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

14:39 – Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

“Spiritual Gift Priorities” (1 Corinthians 14:1-25)

Few subjects over the past century of the Christian Church have been as controversial as that of the spiritual gift of tongues. After centuries of this phenomena not being practically at all an experience in churches, it has become prominent in many groups as a core value and defining belief since the early 1900s. Regarding the emergence of tongues, those who don’t believe it is valid would point to the history of their apparent disappearance soon after the apostolic age. Yet on the other hand, those who believe in this modern revival will point to the re-emergence as illustrative of a biblically-reference latter-day movement of the Spirit.

We don’t have the time in this setting to evaluate these complicated matters fully. My personal view, predominant also in our national affiliation, is that tongues were a unique part of the early church era that passed away (along with some other foundational gifts) with the completion and acceptance of the full, final, written Word of God. Having said that, I acknowledge that some of the finest Christian friends I have known would disagree with me on this matter.

Part of the controversy revolves around whether these tongues were known languages or, rather, some sort of heavenly language surrounding prayer and worship. And I would take the view, upon a full lexical study of the Greek terminology and usages of the word “glossa,” that these were known languages in use in the world.

The purpose of chapter 14:1-25 that we read today was to point out to the Corinthians what was the relative value of the gift of tongues as compared to the gift of prophesy (the communication of God’s truth). Though they highly valued tongues, Paul asserts that prophesy was far, far better by comparison. The Corinthians elevated the tongues speakers instead, as apparently those with this gift were using them even when there were none in attendance who needed the communication. As well, there was a gift of interpretation, so that those who did not hear the communication in their own language would be able to understand what those of that language were being told.

Therefore, without the need for the language and the use of the gift, the display of the gift was edifying only the speaker and no one else. It was self-oriented rather than others-oriented (as all gifts should be, and in keeping also with the love just spoken about in chapter 13). Therefore, it was merely like the jumbled noise of an orchestra warming up, or like a trumpet in battle that was blown without anyone knowing the intended purpose.

This week, some of our church family are in North Carolina and working there on disaster relief projects. It is rather clear from our relationships with these friends in the church that these are people who have a spiritual gift of serving. But they did not go to NC so that they could merely feel good inside about using their gifts. No, the focus was upon helping others. But even so, in the process of exercising the gift, there is indeed a concomitant personal pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from it. But it is not the first and biggest idea.

Likewise, the Corinthians should not be using tongues for personal fulfillment and even aggrandizement. Paul was not disparaging the gift; he affirmed it in this passage. He is saying that they were upside-down in their thinking. No wonder they were so immature. The greater benefit for everyone would be to emphasize the better gift of prophesy – the proclamation of God’s word and truth. This would result in learning and spiritual growth. Everyone would be better served by this more appropriate emphasis.

1 Corinthians 14:1 – Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

14:6 – Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

14:13 – For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

14:18 – I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

14:20 – Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:

“With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” [from Isaiah 28:11,12]

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

“The Greatest Thing Ever” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

A person who came into my life during my college years was a very awkward classmate who attached himself to me … here, there, and everywhere on campus. Though obviously a good guy, he was not one whom you would especially reach out to include in your new group of social relationships. His manner of dress was decidedly out of the norm, wearing clothing of a type and style you would rather have expected to see on someone in their elderly years. He talked and talked … a lot!  And that, along with his loud laugh, was awkward also. Hey, I was trying to make friends with what I perceived to be my true social caste – the cool kids and athletes who everyone wanted to know. This guy was an encumbrance to my successful rise to elite social status.

But he didn’t give up or go away. He clearly cared about me as a person and wanted to be my genuine friend. And he persisted until I finally came around and included him in my inner circle of relationships. In the end, I just couldn’t not like a person that genuinely loved me as a brother in Christ. He has remained a lifelong friend, possibly the most pure-hearted and loving guy ever … even if still unstylish and uncool by worldly standards.

Love wins, it always does, and that’s because it is the best and greatest thing ever.

The Corinthians were very impressed with other things – like all the showy and powerful accoutrements of this new Christian faith. These folks would definitely choose, if given a choice, to go to the church experience with the celebrity pastor and loud worship team bopping away on the latest pop worship tunes with colored lights swirling through the fog of the smoke machines. They would want to be a part of the congregation that boasted of its multi-faceted and extensive outreaches to those outside the walls.

And to this fascination with the boldly visible elements of the Christian life, Paul essentially says, “Yes, that stuff is OK, but if you don’t have the foundation of love, it ain’t worth much at all. That stuff is fluff, some day it passes away.”

Among the most loved of Scriptural passages is the famous 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to Corinth, the love chapter …

1 Corinthians 13:1 – If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

13:4 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

13:8 – Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We know the story of the disciple John and his exile to Patmos very late in his life, the place where he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the final book of our New Testament. A part of that prophecy was to speak to the church of Ephesus about their loss of the priority of love.

(These final paragraphs come from a devotional article sent out by our home office of the EFCA …)

After 18 long months on the island of Patmos, John was allowed to return to Ephesus, where he was joyfully reunited with his fellow believers. Once home, he discovered that in spite of a murderous emperor Domitian and the Lord’s assessment of the church, the gates of hell had not prevailed against the body of believers in Ephesus. According to one tradition handed down by Jerome, the elderly apostle had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At their gatherings, he would simply tell them, “Little children, love one another!”  When they asked him why he kept repeating the same message, he reportedly said, “It is the Lord’s command. And if this alone be done, it is enough!”  History tells us that John died peacefully of natural causes in 98 A.D.

I like to imagine John on board a ship leaving Patmos and sailing east for Ephesus. As the island got smaller and smaller in the western sky, perhaps John remembered and rejoiced afresh in the fact that there is a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. May we share in this remembrance, trusting that no matter what struggles we face, there is a throne that is established and occupied—and a King who will never be unseated.