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1. I Corinthians 9-10: “Discerning the Body”
Pittsgrove Presbyterian Church in Daretown, NJ - AM Worship Service on 10/29/2000
(edited April 2019)
Today we will be trying to discover in I Corinthians chapters 9-10 an accurate context for the following statement which Paul the Apostle makes to that church (and I would say to us, also, today) in I Corinthians 11:26-28:
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.”
In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus spoke about cleansing our rituals by confessing our sins to one another. That relates to all this, but there is more to it than confessing to one another. About twenty years ago when I was quite new in the faith, I started attending a conservative church with my wife. At that time I still wore my hair VERY long and dressed VERY casually. On one occasion before a communion service at that church one of the elders called me aside and “confessed” that he did not appreciate my looks and held some general resentments against me because of it. I kind of wished he had never told me, though I gave him credit for effort. It didn’t seem to improve our communion experience and taught me that there are no simple answers to how we can best “discern” the Body of Christ. There’s more to this than communion services…
WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST ON EARTH. We need to understand how together, not as soloists (as I did during the music time today!), we can function down here and even forever as His Body.
Paul’s whole message to the Corinthians deals with the nature of our earthly ministry in Christ’s stead. We’ll be zeroing in today on I Corinthians 9-10. I hope with God’s help, we can discern there very specifically what Christ wants his Body on Earth to do and to be This sermon title could probably be applied at all of I-II Corinthians.
Chapter 9 deals with Leaders, Pastors, Chiefs, and Apostles (in Paul’s case). Paul begins with a description of his own ministry as their leader in Corinth. It starts out this way, “I’m free! I’m free because the Lord Jesus Christ has set me free!”
Verse 1 (I Cor 9:1): “Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?”
Paul’s first-hand relationship with Christ was the top item on his resume for Corinth…would that resume be good enough for appointment to lead the Pittsgrove Presbyterian Church? (Think it over. Would you be impressed by the freedom Paul had found in Christ?)
Verses 2-11: “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?”
Paul clearly indicates that a Christian leader who is truly called by God has a right to expect financial support from the church he serves. By sharing his faith, Paul had actually founded the church at Corinth. But look at the next verse:
Verses 13-18: “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”
I believe that Paul is saying that a true Christian leader must love Christ, God the Father, and other people so much that they will forsake all else, even financial support, if it gets in the way of their true Gospel mission. (What an example this man is setting for Christian leaders! Have you had any pastoral applicants offer to serve for free recently?) Now right next to FREEDOM on Paul’s resume let’s write down LOVE:
Verses 19-23: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”
In these verses Paul says that he will make himself all things to all people, in other words, that he would attempt to care and attend to all, so that the Gospel could prosper in the community. There was to be no fighting over money or anything less important than the salvation of the lost and the strengthening of the Body, His Church.
Verses 24-26: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:”
Paul realizes that he is promising a lot! His ministry work ethic will have to be like that of a serious athlete in training. And just who is he competing against? Well, it’s this World which was and remains largely Godless and/or apathetic to the things of God; the Devil, filled with the power of deceit and rage, and the most ironic adversary, Paul’s own flesh- that corrupt world that exists within all of us.
Have you seen anything like this on any of the pastoral resumes you have received lately: “I’m a sinner by nature, and I’ve got to fight my own selfishness or I’ll mess this church up!” Yet that’s, what the Apostle Paul told Corinth:
Verse 27: “ But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
As a conclusion (this actually means we’re only half way there! 😊) Let’s move on into I Corinthians chapter 10
Verses 1-10: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.”
As Paul continues here, the tables have turned and he makes this very clear: it’s the Congregation, the BODY of CHRIST at Corinth, the MEMBERS of the church that really make or break the ministry of the Gospel of our Lord. The pastor is a tool in God’s hands, a gift to the local Body, but he is not that Body. No more than any one of us today, alone, can become the Body of Christ! (You see your new pastor is not auditioning for you, he is only applying to come here and help train you all for the REAL audition, which is your performance before God.) Think that over for a second and then listen to what Paul says next:
Verse 11: “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
There is, or should be, no doubt that if we rebel in our day God will, according to Paul, deal with us as He dealt with the people in Moses’ day. Yes, we are under a New Covenant. But we are not under a new God! We cannot run the Church, nor can we lead God around. Not even the Pastor can do that. God will lead His people or He’ll find some people He can lead. Isn’t that right?
Verse 12: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
Our offertory today was a song I wrote (“Standing in His Shadow” 1995) around the verse above to help me to “keep under my body” and selfishness, and pride, etc., etc. In God’s work, selfishness kills! But God is with us in these struggles as He was with Paul and the Corinthian believers. Christ understands for He was tempted as we are tempted each day and He cares enough to help us get through every day:
Verse 13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Next comes this warning:
Verses 14-22: “ Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?”
Idol worship and pagan feasts, should Christians attend? This was a common and very real stumbling block at Corinth. Paul was compelled to address it, but notice how tenderly he does:
Verses 23-24: “ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.”
Paul begins laying out what I’m going to call his “Love over Law” doctrine. This, I think, is at the heart of OUR NEW Covenant with the Lord today, so let’s hear him well:
Verses 25-31: “ Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Paul’s advice for the Christian’s dilemma? Well, he says in essence, let’s apply common sense to a complex situation (O, how the Church today needs to apply some common sense!) The world is looking at us, and they will never turn to us if we appear confused or even ridiculous. We, the Church, need to face the difficult issues of our day in a way that is meaningful, sensible, AND spiritual. And Paul is giving us a good example. That’s how the Church can grow and the Gospel prosper, I think. We can’t just duck every difficult, complex issue! Paul didn’t, and we can’t either.
Finally (and I really mean that now!) Paul, as their leader, holds the Body of believers up to the same high standards he set for himself back in chapter 9 where he presented his resume for church leadership. If the Church is to grow and reach out successfully to a dying world, as Christ Himself did on Earth, we can’t afford to offend, or be gruff, or aggressive. The Body of Christ must be, above all else, CHRISTLIKE: kind, gentle, and selfless. . . Hey, I never said it was going to be easy!
Listen to Paul:
Verses 32-33: “ Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
Do you discern the true Body of Christ today in other believers and yourself in accordance with God’s Word? Do you want, not just to worship Jesus publicly, but to actually live daily as His Body on the Earth? Let’s ask God now for help to do just that.