“The Challenge of the Great Commission” by Nino Gonzales

In this video, Nino Gonzales speaks to the Assemblies of God National Office chapel service about two challenges to sustaining spiritual revival, based on Acts 8:4-9a. What I especially like is his spiritual–rather than political–interpretation of immigration.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Why Paul Repudiated His Rights (1 Corinthians 9:12b–18)

In 1 Corinthians 9:1–12a, Paul argues that he has a right to the financial support of the Corinthian church. This right derives from his status as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Having made the case for this right, however, he turns around and repudiates it in verses 12b–18:

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

Notice several things about this passage.

First, preachers have a right to the support of their congregations. Paul uses the word right or rights six times in verses 1–18. Five of the six refer to the right of material support, one to the right of marital support. Jesus Christ himself established this right through a commandment that “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Evidently, Paul has in mind Luke 10:7, “the worker deserves his wages.” Both 1 Corinthians 9:7–12a and 1 Timothy 5:17–18 quote Deuteronomy 25:4, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” The latter passage then quotes Luke 10:7, so it is reasonable to suppose that the former passage alludes to it as well.

Second, Paul’s calling to preach was internally motivated, not externally motivated. Paul writes, “I am compelled to preach.” Jesus Christ himself called Paul to do precisely that (Acts 9:1–19, 22:3–16, 26:9–18). Paul said of his preaching: “I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” This internal motivation contrasts with an external motivation based on momentary fame (“boast”) or monetary fortune (“reward”). Paul tied boasting and reward to preaching the gospel “voluntarily,” not for money.

Third, Paul repudiates his right to financial support lest his motives be misinterpreted. If he demanded his right, some might think that he preached the gospel for money. Elsewhere, Paul warns against teachers “who think godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).

Paul doesn’t critique those preachers who receive financial support from their congregations. (How could he? He just argued that it’s their right.) But in this age of televangelist financial scandals, it’s a good idea for we preachers to examine our motives and follow the spirit—if not the letter—of Paul’s example.

Apostolic Rights (1 Corinthians 9:3–12)

In 1 Corinthians 9:1–27, Paul defends his apostleship against Corinthian Christians who question it. This defense seems like a digression from his main argument about food sacrificed to idols in 8:1–11:1, but really it isn’t. The Corinthians disregard Paul’s instructions regarding idol food because they doubt his authority. And they doubt his authority because they question his apostleship.

So, Paul lays out his argument in several stages. Yesterday, we looked at the root and fruit of Paul’s apostleship (9:1–2). Today, we look at Paul’s apostolic rights as he outlines them in 9:3–12:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

Paul mentions two specific rights here: (1) material support and (2) marital support. Apostles have a right to be paid for their ministry. And because their ministry takes them abroad for long periods of time, they have a right to take their wives with them on ministry trips.

(Two quick notes here: (a) Traditionally, commentators have applied the logic of this passage to support of ministers in general, not merely apostles. (b) The fact that apostles have wives in this passage puts paid to the Roman Catholic notion that all priests—including bishops—must be celibate, and to the Greek Orthodox notion that bishops must be celibate.)

Paul grounds the right to material support in the church’s customary treatment of apostles (vv. 4–6), in the common sense notion that workers deserve to be paid (v. 7), and in the commandments of the law (vv. 8–11) applied to this case. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 here, which deals with the treatment of beasts of burden. The principle of justice underlying this specific commandment has broad application, however. (I wonder whether Paul cited this law because his workload combined with the Corinthians’ criticisms of him made him feel like a muzzled ox.)

If apostles have the right to material support based on custom, common sense, and commandment, then so does Paul, for he is an apostle. Paradoxically, though Paul defends his apostolic rights, he doesn’t make use of them at all.

More on that paradox tomorrow…

Apostolic Root and Fruit (1 Corinthians 9:1–3)

In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to their gods. They consumed some of the meat at religious feasts in pagan temples. Priests sold whatever they didn’t use in the public market for consumption at dinner parties in private homes.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, Paul examines whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols in either pagan temples or private homes. In chapter 8, he outlines theological and ethical guidelines. In chapter 10 he applies those guidelines to specific cases.

In chapter 9

To be perfectly honest, the logic of Paul’s argument in this chapter is difficult to follow. Imagine that you are seated at the dinner table and your spouse answers the phone and carries on a discussion about issues at work. You can’t hear the person on the other end of the line, so you reconstruct what that person is saying by what your spouse is saying.

Reading 1 Corinthians 9:1–27 is a bit like that. We don’t have the letter the Corinthians wrote to Paul, so we have to reconstruct their questions on the basis of his answers. We know the issue is food sacrificed to idols (8:1). But if that’s the case, why does Paul devote chapter 9 to defending his apostleship?

Here’s how that defense begins:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord (9:1–2).

These are rhetorical questions. If we change the interrogatives to indicatives, here’s what Paul writes:

I am free. I am an apostle. I have seen Jesus our Lord. You are the result of my work in the Lord. Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Why does Paul feel the need to say these things? Why did he stress his qualifications to be an apostle? The answer seems to be that the Corinthians disagreed with Paul’s teaching because they disputed his authority. If Paul was an apostle, then his teaching would settle the matter. If not, then not.

So, Paul offered two reasons why he was qualified to be an apostle: his relationship with Christ and his relationship with the Corinthians. According to Acts 9:1–19, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Paul and commissioned him to preach the gospel to Gentiles. Hence the rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 9:1: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” If being an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus is the root qualification of being an apostle, then making converts is the fruit qualification. Hence the indicative statements: “You are the result of my work in the Lord” and “you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”

I hope this brief explanation makes the logic of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9 a bit clearer.

Good Theology Rightly Applied (1 Corinthians 8:9–13)

In 1 Corinthians 8:1–13, Paul answers the question of whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols. For modern American Christians, this question is not relevant, since our culture does not sacrifice to idols. The way Paul answers this question is relevant today, however, for it addresses how we educate people out of their ignorance. Paul identifies two crucial issues: what we know and how we use that knowledge.

For Paul, knowledge liberates. Idols are objectively unreal, so eating food sacrificed to idols is objectively insignificant. Knowledgeable Corinthian Christians therefore eat such food freely.

On the other hand, ignorance oppresses. Idols are subjectively real to some people, so eating food sacrificed to them violates their conscience. Ignorant Corinthian Christians refuse to eat what they are free to eat, or if they do eat, their “conscience” becomes “weak” and “defiled.”

Ironically, instead of criticizing the ignorant Corinthians for their bad theology and weak consciences, Paul criticizes the knowledgeable Corinthians. Consider what he writes in 1 Corinthians 8:9–13:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

The theology of the knowledgeable Corinthians is incomplete and therefore wrongly applied. Idols are objectively unreal. Eating food sacrificed to them is therefore objectively insignificant. This theology is two-thirds correct. The missing third is the relationship between Jesus Christ and the ignorant Corinthians. They were people “for whom Christ died.” When the knowledgeable Corinthians flaunt their freedom, they become a “stumbling block” to the ignorant Corinthians. Their knowledge “destroyed” them. Their actions “wound their weak conscience.” This “sin against your brothers” becomes a “sin against Christ.”

Paul accounted for Jesus Christ in his theology, so he applied his theology in a Christ-like way. Yes, idols are objectively unreal. Yes, food sacrificed to idols is objectively insignificant. But since Christ died for the weak, my goal as a Christian is to educate them out of their ignorance. If doing so requires that I subordinate my freedoms for their wellbeing, then so be it. Love compels me to observe their scruples as I move them from ignorance and weakness to knowledge, strength, and freedom. “[I]f what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin,” Paul writes, “I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

Knowledge is power, the power of freedom and the power of love. As Christians, we sometimes subordinate our personal freedom in order to love others. This is good theology rightly applied.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss (1 Corinthians 8:7–8)

People say “Ignorance is bliss” and speak about “the burden of knowledge.” I know what they mean. My two-year-old son doesn’t know that I work to provide him food and clothing. He is happy, well-fed, and stylishly clothed nonetheless—thanks to my wife, his mother. On the other hand, I know that my livelihood provides for his needs, so I take care to remain gainfully employed. He is blissfully ignorant. I am burdened by knowledge.

But in another sense, ignorance makes us unhappy and oppresses us. Consider 1 Corinthians 8:7–8, where Paul writes:

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

“[N]ot everyone knows this,” alludes to verse 4: “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.” As I pointed out yesterday, what we know influences how we live. If we know that idols are objectively unreal, then we know that food sacrificed to them is objectively insignificant. “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” How and what we eat may affect our physical health, but not our spiritual wellbeing. Knowledge liberates us from superstition about food, not to mention about everything else.

On the other hand, ignorance oppresses. Referring to people who converted to Christianity, Paul writes: “Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” To such people, idols are real and food is significant. This reality and significance is subjective rather than objective, however. Idols are real to them, and idol food is significant to their conscience. When they eat food sacrificed to idols, therefore, they feel “defiled,” even though they are not objectively defiled.

Knowledge liberates. Ignorance oppresses. If we want to liberate people from superstition, we must educate them out of their ignorance. Teaching the truth is a vital and necessary component of proper spiritual formation.

But how shall we teach? The Corinthians flaunted their freedom, and in the process of doing so, they offended “the weak” (verse 9). Paul, on the other hand, observed the scruples of the weak even as he patiently taught them why those scruples were superstitious (verse 13).

Our culture does not sacrifice food to idols. We engage in other forms of idolatry and are oppressed by other superstitions. We must educate our culture out of idolatry and into Christ, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). But we must do so in a Christ-like way.

More on that tomorrow.

What We Believe about God and Idols (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)

What we know influences how we live.

For example, I know that my father’s side of the family has a history of heart disease. I also know that my weight, diet, and exercise regime will either exacerbate whatever genetic predisposition I have toward heart disease or alleviate it. So, I choose to lose weight, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

What I know influences how I live.

The interplay between knowledge and behavior takes center stage in 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, where Paul argues with the Corinthians about food sacrificed to idols. To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians’ theology—what they believe about God. He disagrees with their ethics—how they live based on their theology.

We’ll look at theology today and leave ethics for later installments in this series of devotionals.

In 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, Paul writes:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

These verses make three claims that are foundational to Christianity.

First, God exists. He possesses an objective reality that idols lack. He is the origin of the world (“from whom”), the purpose of the world (“for whom”), and the redemption of the world—the means by which the world achieves its purpose (“through whom”).

Second, idolatry is delusional, yet prevalent and powerful. From a Christian perspective, “an idol is nothing at all in the world.” It is objectively unreal. It is merely a subjective reality, a figment of the imagination. Not surprisingly, then, there are as many idols as there are people with imaginations. Unfortunately, however, these people deify and serve their own imaginations.

Third, whether you believe in God or idols matters. Imagine two men dying of thirst in the desert. The first man sees a stand of trees in the west and urges the second man to move in that direction. The second man sees a shining lake in the east and urges his friend to move in that direction. If they have only enough strength to go one way or another, surely it is important for them to know whether they are moving toward an oasis or a mirage.

In recent years, so-called “New Atheists” have criticized religion generally and Christianity particularly. I’m not particularly disturbed by their arguments. After all, as a Christian, I don’t believe in many of the same gods they don’t believe in. Then again, if idolatry is the deification and service of the self and its imaginations, then atheism is simply another form of idolatry. And I don’t believe in that god either.

Knowledge for Love’s Sake (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

Knowledge is power. The crucial question is, Power for what? First Corinthians 8:1–3 offers an answer:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

In these verses, Paul contrasts knowledge as power for self with knowledge as power for others. The former is the viewpoint of the Corinthians. The latter is Paul’s own. Which is ours?

At various stages in my life, I have used knowledge as power not only for self but also over others. During my freshman year in college, for example, I studied philosophy. Why? I desired to know the truth. But to be honest, I also desired to be right.

Here’s another example: As a new associate pastor, I started a Bible study for young adults in my church. At our first meeting, I taught the small group for 30–40 minutes, then asked for questions. A young woman—an elementary school teacher—asked if in the future I could lead the group in discussion rather than lecture them. I took offense. Why would I want group members to pool their ignorance in a discussion group when I could enlighten them with a lecture? I was a teacher, not a facilitator.

The issue at stake in these personal examples is not knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing. Rather, the issue at stake is motivation and relationship. Why do I want to know? Based on my knowledge, what relationships with others do I want to have?

The Corinthians desired to know because it enlarged their freedom of action. In 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, the issue is whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians know that “an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (8:4). From this truth, however, they incorrectly infer that they can eat whatever wherever and whenever they want.

In other words, their motivation is selfish. What’s in it for me? And their relationships are elitist. What do I care if my actions offend you? You’re an ignoramus!

To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians about the nothingness of idols and the somethingness of God. Unlike them, however, he deploys that knowledge for the good of others. Just as there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in school, so there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in Christ. Education requires patience because rooting out ignorance takes time. Taking time requires love. Love requires sacrifice.

The Corinthians, concerned for little beyond their own freedom, are impatient, unloving, and self-aggrandizing. Their knowledge puffs up their own egos. Paul’s love builds up others in the knowledge of the truth.

Knowledge is power. Does our knowledge result in huge egos? Or does it result in changed lives?

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