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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

1 Corinthians 1:18: Eternal realities

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I fear that in the evangelical church (or parts of it) we are in danger of losing our grip on a robust doctrine of Final Judgment. Do we really believe it is possible for some people, by rejecting Christ, to perish? If we lose this fundamental conviction we will also massively leak zeal and momentum in evangelism. If you find you are becoming woolly about the whole notion of “perishing”, I urge you to read through the gospels again and listen to Jesus on the subject. He clearly believed it possible, and that it is the ultimate tragedy.

I accept, of course, that there are mysteries about eternal realities we cannot fully grasp or articulate, and there are different interpretations and understandings of what “perishing” actually means. But a plain reading of Scripture will surely inform us that to reject Christ and the gospel leads to unspeakable loss.

A reading and prayer for the week-end

Suggested reading for meditation: Psalm 51

This prayer by F.B.Meyer resonated with me. How about you?

“Holy Saviour! I am often weary of myself, but I pray that you would not become weary of me. I am a broken reed and smouldering flax, but I pray that you would not become discouraged with me. Leave me not comfortless, but come to me.”

“Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.”(Psalm 51:1,2).

1 Corinthians 1:18-21: Mr.Worldly-Wise

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

You only have to watch most ‘intellectual’ type programmes on television, or listen to the majority of highly academic sounding programmes on the radio to realise that worldly wisdom does not, in and of itself, lead people to God. God Himself has deigned it to be so.

Last Friday afternoon, at one point, we were parked just around the corner from where a man lived who, many years ago, started to attend the ‘Elim’ church in Wigan and was converted. His wife was a friend of my mum’s and no doubt a number of people had been praying for him. He was a scientist, a non-believer, a worldly-wise man. But oh the joy of hearing that he was reading C.S.Lewis, and to watch him in his new found faith.

People of the world may regard the gospel as folly. But it is through such “foolishness” that people still do come to Christ.

Thanks be to God.

1 Corinthians 1:18: Two ways

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Even when the Cross is preached with power it does not mean everyone will believe. People still divide over this message. It is possible, thank God, to be saved through it; but it is also possible to ‘perish’ if we reject it.

Towards the end of last week I spent two very happy days in Wigan, along with my sisters. We spent many of our formative years in the Wigan area, and  had long-planned this trip down ‘memory lane.’  For me, it was where I became a Christian as a child, and where I felt the call to Christian ministry as a teenager. It was where my experience of church came richly alive in my teen years. I recognised during these two days how much Wigan is ‘in’ me. I realise I owe a debt of gratitude to many people who lived and worked and worshipped there – not least my lovely parents.

However, on the train journeys, I heard and saw things around me that reminded me how much  the gospel is needed in our godless society. How far, it seems, people are drifting from the shores of Christianity. Some appear so far out to sea that we might wonder how they could ever be reached. As I thought about this I realised two clear things:

  1. God can do anything. He can reach anyone He chooses. If He could apprehend a Saul of Tarsus He can arrest anyone in their tracks. But also:
  2. If these various groups of people had a Christian friend among them: someone they liked ( even loved) and respected, who was prepared to live and speak the gospel – then who knows what God might not do through that person?

You, and I, might be that person in some lost individual’s world.

Prayer: Lord, here I am wholly available

1 Corinthians 1:17: Unintelligent?

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

There is, potentially, a way of presenting the gospel that is far too clever and philosophical and ‘show-offy’. Although it may impress people, it fails to fully proclaim the Cross and does not carry the power of God with it.

But was Paul calling for an unintelligent presentation of the gospel? I think not. Two of the greatest Anglican preachers/evangelists of the 20th century, Michael Green and John Stott, were men of great intellect. They were highly educated and respected scholars. But they preached (and wrote) in a way that simply exposed the inner logic of the gospel. By humbly sticking to the truth of the Bible they allowed it to speak for itself. So their ministries were powerful and their God-given fruit speaks for itself.

I was greatly affects by Timothy Dudley Smith’s two volume biography of John Stott. One story that stays with me is of John preparing his sermons on his knees, because he wanted to be under the Bible’s authority and not sitting over it in judgment. That is breathtaking humility. No wonder God used him so greatly. He knew the power was in the Word.

1 Corinthians 1:13-16: Remember who died for you

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)

It is stating the obvious, but our church leaders are not Jesus, yet sometimes some people come close to worshipping them. This is obviously a huge mistake. Our pastors (evangelists, apostles etc – whatever labels they bear) are in the church to point to Jesus, to preach Jesus, to increasingly exemplify Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (although they too are sinful). Their ministry only has value to the degree that they glorify Christ.

You may love and honour the leaders God has given you. It is right to do so. But they did not die on the Cross for you. Remember always to whom you belong: the Lord who bought you at such a great price.

‘Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer in ‘The cost of discipleship.’

‘Dear Lord Jesus! I Thank you that you love me. I am the least of saints and the chief of sinners, but in the bankruptcy of my soul I trust in the riches of your grace.’ ( From F.B.Meyer’s  ‘Daily Prayers’).

Philippians 2:1-11: A reading and a worship song for the week-end: I speak Jesus

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Last Sunday, in church in Leeds, Karen Reilly led us in a beautiful song. We were so blessed by it and I wanted to share it with you in today’s devotional. You may know this song already; you may be hearing it for the first time, but I encourage you to soak in it this week-end as you prepare for your Sunday worship – wherever that may be:

1 Corinthians 1:12: Super-spirituality

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

We might be tempted to think that the party who said, “I follow Christ” got it right. After all, this is the believer’s true standing. We belong first and foremost to the Lord – to the Christ who bought us (see the next verse, and the end of chapter 6). We do not belong to any human leaders.

But commentators tend to see here a ‘super-spiritual’ group, who in their pride looked down on everyone else. Such super-spiritual thinking is a constant danger for Christians, local churches, movements and denominations: we believe we are better than others; that we have got it all right and correct, while others are wrong in so many ways. This is an ugly weed that can easily grow in the garden of a soul, and if we see it may God give us the grace to pluck it out before it spreads and chokes many other lovely flowers. We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but with sober judgment (see Romans 12).

‘They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves, cannot be proud.’ John Flavel

Prayer: Lord, let me see my true self that I may repent of every manifestation of sinful pride. Help me pull those weeds out by the roots as soon as I see them.

1 Corinthians 1:10-12: Personality Cult

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Was Paul saying that Christians should always agree on everything? On the face of it this would seem to be the case. But it does not fit with what he taught elsewhere. There are such things as disputable matters – non-essentials where we need to be charitable towards one another.

No, the problem in Corinth was that what we might call ‘personality cults’ had arisen around certain leaders. People were dividing over their favourite leaders. (There is no indication that any of those  mentioned here were trying to build their own following. This was what people were doing to them).

Sadly, this problem has not gone away. Still, today, some Christians establish ‘fan clubs’; and no doubt there are some church leaders who build them. This is not good, it is not right, it is not healthy. In recent years so many high profile leaders have dramatically fallen from their pedestals. Of course you don’t have to be well known to have your ‘Humpty Dumpty’ moment. But there is often unbearable pressure brought to bear on famous Christian leaders.

In a little while Paul is going to put things into perspective, reminding the Corinthians that even their greatest leaders are “only servants” through whom they came to believe. It is God alone who gives the growth.

Celebrity Christianity is a contradiction in terms. Let us shun every manifestation of superstar church leadership.

Prayer: Lord God, we pray for our leaders to see themselves through your eyes, so that they may not become discouraged, nor overly puffed-up with pride. Let them walk humbly with their God.

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