The “if … then … ” statements of 1 Corinthians 15

19 May

“If… then…” statements are linking words that introduce conditions. For example: “If you obey me, then you shall be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The condition of being God’s treasured possession, is that his people were to obey him. That of course has massive bearing on the whole OT and God’s dealings with his people.

However, “if… then…” statements can equally be said to introduce cause and effect: “If you eat too many doughnuts (cause), then you will get sick (effect).” Or in the example from Exodus 19:5: “If God’s people obeyed him (cause), then it would result in them being God’s treasured possession (effect).” Such is the case also in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34, and when recognised it opens up the passage beautifully.

IF there is no resurrection, THEN not even Christ was raised, v.13.
IF Christ was not raised, THEN our preaching is in vain, v.14.
IF Christ was not raised, THEN your faith is in vain and you are still in sin, v.15, 17.
IF Christ was not raised, THEN those who have fallen asleep have perished, v.18.
IF we only have hope in this life, THEN we are to be pitied, v.19.
IF the dead are not raised, THEN why are people baptised on their behalf?, v.29.
IF the dead are not raised, THEN why am I in danger every hour?, v.30.
IF the dead are not raised, THEN let us eat and drink, v.32.

These “if then” statements (some are implied more than stated) form the basis of Paul’s logical argument.
IF there is no resurrection of Christ or Christians:
THEN it is vain to preach the Gospel or to suffer for the Gospel;
THEN faith is in vain because it cannot remove sin;
THEN hope for eternity is in vain, and life should be enjoyed now!

However, what these “if then” statements allow us to do, is to see the argument in reverse.
IF there is a resurrection (of Christ and Christians):
THEN there is gain in preaching and suffering,
THEN there is gain in putting your faith in Christ because it leads to forgiveness,
THEN there is gain in pursuing godliness, since it honours the risen Lord of v.20-28,
THEN there is gain in having hope, and that makes our labour full of purpose, v.58!

Without the resurrection, ALL IS VAIN; but on the other hand, the resurrection of Christ and of Christians assures us that ALL IS GAIN:
faith, hope, godliness and preaching. Let’s get on with it then!

Don’t throw the baby out … please

7 Jul

I had one of those conversations on Sunday, where I thought of all I should have said, 24 hours later.  I was speaking to a man I had just met about “the problem with the church.”  He had two major problems: “It hasn’t achieved anything in 2,000 years!” (Really?!  One-third of the world is Christian, hospitals, schools, justice systems, reforms, abolition of slavery, orphanages etc – were often started or brought about by Christians) and “Christians are so divided – especially on their views of money.”

He had seen some tele-evangelists in action and was quite put off by what he saw, as they promised people riches and exploited the poor.  It gave him sufficient reason (in his mind) to dismiss Christianity all together.

After my conversation with the man, I remembered a good friend of a number of years ago, when Caterpillar shoes were the new rage, who bought a pair of Caterpilars at the side of the road, for a bargain price. He was so pleased with himself! That is, until we pointed out the spelling of Caterpilar! They were fake – not a piece of leather in sight! Now I don’t know anyone, who as a result of that incident refused to ever buy a pair of Cats again, or who even went a step further (!) and boycotted shoes all together from that point on. Everyone’s just a bit more careful and aware of dodgy salesman who prey on gullible people.

Likewise, just because there are charlatans peddling unbiblical truths for their own gain, that shouldn’t result in people throwing Christianity out with the bath water. Rather, we should all give ourselves to the careful investigation of the truth as found in the Bible and then either believe it or reject it. The truth is out there, it can be known and it must be taught.

Meet the Jebusites!

4 Jul

An Old Chestnut

A variety of Bible verses are regularly ripped out of their contexts and made to say what their author’s never intended them to say. One of the verses which has suffered more than most is 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Recently this verse once again suffered (albeit briefly) at the hands of a renowned SA evangelist, as he spoke at Hillcrest Christian Fellowship. He believes that South Africa is on the brink of revival, a complete and utter turnaround, because SA is turning back to the Word (mostly because of his preaching!).

Sadly, he forgets that those words were written at the time of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, to the Israelites; not directly to us! Of course I long for revival, but revival can only ever come through Christ, not by people attempting what they could never achieve: namely humbling themselves and turning from their wicked ways. Following the preacher’s advice sadly does away with the need to turn to Jesus altogether. And THAT’S a problem…

A New Chestnut

A newer chestnut though, came with his explanation of Exodus 33:2, “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”  The interpretation? “I see this as sickness, disease, fear, stress, depression. That’s the enemy.” Well that’s a new one for me!

Originally, these words were spoken to Moses, after the incident with the golden calf, about the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. And interestingly, the verse is followed by God saying, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you along the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

To understand the physical enemies of the Israelites in the terms suggested, is to loose sight of the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham to give him and his descendants the Promised Land; and it misunderstands the enemies of God’s people.

The enemies of God’s people were twofold: their own sinfulness (as illustrated with the golden calf) and the sinfulness of the pagan nations in the Promised Land. God commanded the removal of the nations, so that they would not be a thorn in the side of the Israelites. If left in the land the Israelites would quickly become like them (Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 12:29-31, 18:9-14). Sin had to be removed. Sin was, and is, the enemy. The Israelites had to acknowledge their sin with the golden calf and they were to be aware of the sin of the pagans around them. Likewise, people today are challenged, in the gospel, to acknowledge their sin and turn to Christ for his forgiveness. Having done so, having been made holy, having been incorporated into God’s new ‘land’: the church, they are to flee the sin around them. The NT is full of warnings to Christians to not become entangled with the sin of the world. The church is to be a place of holiness. It should look like heaven, where there will be no sin.

But sadly the preacher confused the removal of sin from the land, with the removal of suffering from the land. The nations represent sin, not suffering. Suffering is always characteristic of God’s people, and is not sin. We suffer because we live in a broken world where people get sick physically, mentally and emotionally, before they one day die. (I acknowledge of course, that some suffering is caused by our sinfulness, or the sinfulness of others, but not always). Suffering is not the mark of being an unbeliever – it is one of the marks of God’s believing community. We don’t always know why, as we see with Job, but we are told that God uses suffering to refine us to greater holiness (1 Peter 1), and to cause us to long, with hope, for heaven (Romans 8), where there will be no more suffering (Revelation 21:1-5).

The preacher concerned is certainly a Christian man, who loves Christ, who hates sin, and who wants others to do the same. But the danger of his poor Bible teaching is that people will see sin and suffering as being synonymous with each other – which is not Biblical. It is sin that must be removed: from the Promised Land, from the Church and from our lives. And only Christ can do so. But suffering will always be part of the true Christian experience. Saying that should not, or will not, be the case for Christians, will cause people either to deny their suffering or to pretend that it is good, or to become hopeless, all of which are the very opposite of the way the NT deals with suffering. It is real, it is bad, but it offers us hope: hope of an ETERNITY where there will be no suffering, because of the suffering of Christ on our behalf, as he carried our sin on the cross.

Exodus 33:2 ESV  I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Threading the Psalms together

21 May

I was raised and trained to read the psalms one at a time. They were great for a quick quiet time, or for a one off sermon when you weren’t too sure what to preach between 2 sermon series. How wrong I was!  Over the last few years I’ve been challenged to change those ideas, and read them like I read the rest of the Bible: taking note of what is going on around the psalm. The fact that they were collected into 5 books should have given me a fat clue that something like that was happening. But I missed that one! Take Psalm 15 for example…

Psalm 15 is easily divided into a question, an answer, and a outcome.

  • Question: who shall live in God’s presence, v.1?
  • Answer: those who live in the presence of God will do the 10 things listed in v.2-5.
  • Outcome: those who live in the presence of God will never be moved, v.5.

If this psalm is read carelessly, salvation by works, rather than grace, could easily be taught: “If you want to live in the presence of God, you must do the following 10 things, to be secure,” which of course goes against the whole thrust of the Biblical Gospel.

So how do I avoid that error?  Read Psalm 14 and 16, alongside Psalm 15.  Psalm 14 is insistent that no one does good, not even one – all people are sinful to the core. This of course makes obeying the commands of Psalm 15 impossible. Yet in Psalm 16:2 David says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” implying that he has good in him, but that he has been given goodness by the Lord.

Put the 3 psalms together, and this is what you get:

Psalm 14

  • the fool rejects God and does no good (which Ps 2 says, leads to judgment)
  • but the wise person takes refuge in the Lord (also in Ps 2) and

Psalm 15

  • begins to do good things acknowledging

Psalm 16

  • that any good he does, comes from the Lord, who has made him good.

Read through the eyes of the NT this is what we see:

  1. Paul quotes Ps 14 in Romans 3 when he proves the foolish sinfulness of all mankind.
  2. Ps 14:7 says that as a result, humanity needs salvation. “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.” This is fulfilled with the coming of Christ to die as Saviour.
  3. Wise people take refuge in the tent of the Lord, Ps 15:1, which is Christ, who John 1:14 says, came to ‘tent’ among us.
  4. Those in the Lord’s tent, i.e. those in Christ, will begin doing the good things of Ps 15.
  5. But they will always acknowledge that God has given them their goodness in Christ, Ps 16:2.
  6. This goodness which they receive, i.e. their salvation, will bring about the joy predicted in Ps 14:7.
  7. This joy will be based on the certainty of a future inheritance for those in Christ, Ps 16:6.
  8. This inheritance is certain because God did not abandon Christ to the grave, Ps 16:10, quoted by Peter and Paul in Acts, about the resurrection.
  9. Because of the resurrection, Christians, like Jesus, are welcome in the presence of God, to enjoy eternal pleasures at God’s right hand, Ps 16:11.

It seems to me then, that we get the full gospel by reading Psalm 14-16 together, and we are protected from teaching works apart from grace.  So as always: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT…

Call me old-fashioned!

19 May

Call me old fashioned if you want, but I still believe that the only way for people to be saved from the wrath of God being poured out on their sin, is for them to believe the Gospel!  That is: believing that Jesus is Lord and God, who in a mighty act of grace, died on a cross, suffering separation from God, so that you and I, as we trust in him, repenting of our sin, can be forgiven for our rebellion and have God’s wrath dealt with, and receive the eternal life which we do not deserve, but which we all crave.  That seems to me to be the thrust of all the Scriptures.  Wherever I’m reading in the Bible, that is what I read.

And if that isn’t old fashioned enough, I also believe that the only way that people will come to believe this, is if they have the Bible taught to them.  That’s where you learn about the work of God, so that’s what people need to hear.  They need the Scriptures taught to them.  That’s what sets hearts on fire.  That’s what brings people to life.  So that’s what I need to get right and what I need to put across.

Simple.  Blogging doesn’t save people.

We need to spur one another on to good Bible teaching – even using blogs – so that the truth of the Gospel will be taught correctly and creatively.  My goal in this blog then is to share anything I come across that will stimulate good handling of the Bible, and good teaching of the Bible, so that ordinary everyday sinners will hear the Gospel and come to trust it!

That’s the task I have been given.  Do the work of an evangelist.  Preach the Word.  Entrust it to others.  No more, no less.

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