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I and II Corinthians

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 1, 2024 12:01 am

I and II Corinthians

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 1, 2024 12:01 am

The early church in Corinth was troubled by division, confusion, and false teaching. Today, R.C. Sproul considers Paul's two letters to these struggling Christians and his instructions on what the church of Jesus Christ ought to be.

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Sometimes we have a rose-colored view of the first century church. Sometimes we wish, oh, if only our church could be like the church at Philippi or the church at Corinth, so pure in its devotion, so powerful in its prayer life and everything. But when we look at the situation in the churches, we see really a growing infant church that is still profoundly immature.

In its grasp and in its understanding of the things of God. We see the same challenges today. Happy New Year and welcome to this Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Before we get to today's message, I do want to thank you for your generosity in 2023 and especially last month. Your support is being used to bring the truth of God's Word to the nations.

So again, thank you. This week we are starting the year not in Genesis but in the New Testament, and R.C. Sproul will be guiding us through a survey of the New Testament epistles. Well, here's Dr. Sproul on 1 and 2 Corinthians. We've seen the multifaceted dimension of the character, the personality, and the work of the Apostle Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles and the pastor extraordinaire. But when we think of him as a theologian, I said he's the greatest systematic theologian of all time, we have to also understand that in addition to being a systematic theologian, he was also a battlefield theologian, and he was what we call in biblical studies a task theologian. And what this refers to is that Paul would bring the riches of the knowledge of God, of theology, and apply it to particular problems that arose in the primitive Christian community. Paul was a master problem solver, and he saw one of the great tasks of the teaching office of the apostle was to address these problems as they emerged with the truth of God. Now, presumably, his earliest epistles were the correspondence that he had with the Thessalonic community, and we know that the fundamental problem that he addressed in the epistles to the Thessalonians was the problems that arose out of quarrels, debates, and discussions regarding the people's understanding of the return of Jesus. And all kinds of rumors had circulated and misconceptions about the future hope of the church had arisen, and so Paul wrote the Thessalonic correspondence chiefly to correct those erroneous views that had been spread about. Another example of this kind of task theology is found in his letter to the Galatians. Now, we don't know whether it was written to the northern Galatians or the southern Galatians.

That's one of the ongoing technical questions about the book. But we do know that in that particular epistle, Paul is uncharacteristically vehement. I mean, he's always passionate, but in this case, he is responding to a heresy that threatened the very core of the truth of the gospel itself. And it was the heresy that had been introduced in the early Christian community by those who were called the Judaizers, who wanted to more or less make Christianity a simple addendum to Old Testament religion, and to require of all converts, even from among the Gentiles, a continuation of some of the ceremonial and dietary requirements from the Mosaic legislation. And also, they were denying the fundamental assertion of the gospel, namely justification by faith alone, and in Paul's judgment were preaching a different gospel from the one that had been delivered to the church by the apostolic testimony, which was bringing people into a new kind of legalistic slavery and exposing them afresh to the Old Testament curse that had been fulfilled and satisfied by the ministry of Christ, and in effect, making the work of Christ of no account.

And so Paul rose to this challenge as the great apologist of the gospel and as the pastor who strongly exhorted his people and chastened them where they needed it for the sake of the gospel. Now, the book of Galatians is called the Magna Carta of the New Testament. We could call Romans the Constitution, but the Magna Carta was the book of Galatians that declared again the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ as a result of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Now, when we look at the epistles in the New Testament, sometimes we wonder why they appear in the order in which they do appear. They don't appear chronologically, that is, in terms of the order in which they were written historically.

But for the most part, they have been arranged, particularly at the beginning, by virtue of their size. So that Romans is the first letter of Paul, even though it was not written until somewhere between 55 and 57 AD, and then that's followed by the Corinthian correspondence, by 1 and 2 Corinthians, which are two very lengthy epistles, and they contain very important information for us and for our edification. So let's talk briefly about the Corinthian correspondence.

First of all, a little bit of background on the city of Corinth. A church had been established there, and during Paul's third missionary journey, he got very disturbing reports from emissaries who came to him and told him of trouble that was brewing in the Corinthian community. Sometimes we have a rose-colored view of the first century church. Sometimes we wish, oh, if only our church could be like the church at Philippi or the church at Corinth.

So pure in its devotion, so deep in its spirituality, so powerful in its prayer life and everything. But when we look at the situation in the churches as Paul addresses the problems that are arising in each of these congregations, we see really a growing infant church that is still profoundly immature in its grasp and in its understanding of the things of God. We remember the apocalypse of the New Testament where John in his vision is told by Christ to write a letter to the seven churches. And for the most part, those letters that Jesus was writing to his seven churches were not complimentary letters at all, were they? Well, we have this idealized view of the early church, but even a cursory glance at what Paul is dealing with in the lives of these congregations reveals that it's a marvelous thing and a testimony to God's grace and providence that the church survived it all. So vulnerable were they to every wind of doctrine and every heresy that came along. Well, of all of those churches that were known for chaotic upheaval, perhaps there was none more problematic than this church in Corinth.

And it might have something to do with its location. Corinth had been settled originally in a Greek-style culture and so on, but under Roman occupation in the second century B.C., it was rebuilt and became a center of ancient commerce and having seacoast very close to it on both sides that it was the entertainment capital, kind of the Las Vegas of the ancient world. And the thing that you may find astonishing is the Corinth that Paul knew and visited had a population of 500,000 people. Now by the population standards of antiquity, that was an enormous city. I mean that would make it one of the major cities in the United States of America.

I mean there aren't that many cities in America that actually have a population of 500,000 persons or more. And so it was in that setting, a commercial business center, a city that was known internationally at that time for its licentiousness. It was a sensuous place, a place of radical corruption with respect to pagan religion, prostitution, and all sorts of immorality. And it was in the midst of that pagan environment that a church was established. And we know that Paul was there, Apollos was there, and there's even some indication that perhaps Peter himself was there. If not personally, he was certainly known to that community because one of the main things that the apostle had to deal with in relating to the Corinthian church was the factions that grew up. This is the disturbing message that he received on his third journey of how the church was splitting and jockeying for position. And one group would say, I belong to Paul. Another one would say, I belong to Apollos.

Another would say, I belong to Cephas or to Peter. And it was also reported to Paul that there was no spiritual discipline going on in the church. There was a man who was engaged in scandalous behavior, who had an incestuous relationship publicly in the church, and the elders of the church were doing nothing to discipline the situation. And so Paul has to address these practical problems. In addition to this problem of immorality, there was also the problem of, in the midst of these disputes within the church, Christians suing Christians in the pagan law courts. Another problem that arose in the Corinthian church had to do with their celebration of the Lord's Supper. In fact, the most information we get about the Lord's Supper outside of the gospels is found in the first book of Corinthians, where Paul then warns the people who were abusing the celebration of the Lord's Supper and were not discerning the Lord's body and were eating and drinking unto damnation. And Paul makes a comment when he rebukes them for this, a comment that one biblical scholar said is the most neglected passage in the New Testament.

He said, for this reason many of you have become sick and have died. So dreadful was their corruption of this holy sacrament that Christ had given to His church. And so Paul has to deal with all of these problems. And what we find in the Corinthian correspondence is a magnificent exposition of what the nature of the church is to be. We know that part of the scandal in the church had to do with an abuse not only of the sacrament, but of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So much of the interest in the charismatic renewal of our day can be seen in a renewed interest in the teaching of the apostle in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14, where the apostle speaks about how the gifts of the Spirit are to be exercised in the church.

That famous chapter 1 Corinthians 13 that we talk as the love chapter is in the middle of that discussion about how the Holy Spirit's gifting of the people of God is to be exercised in a loving manner by which the whole body of Christ is to be edified. Now again, one of the problems that we discern in the congregation of the Corinthians was that whenever Paul would start a church, he of course would exercise his apostolic authority that he had received directly from Christ. But the apostles did not then appoint other apostles. In fact, we would talk about the office of the apostle as a charismatic office or an extraordinary office that was given to the primitive church, and then the apostles, when they would establish churches, would set up a regular, ordinary ministry within the church with elders and deacons and whatever.

And then these ordinary offices, or the second-generation leadership of the early church, were to work under the instructions set forth by the apostolic teaching. But what happened in Corinth is that some people who were particularly gifted, and even gifted by the Holy Spirit, were exercising their gifts independently from the established order of the church that the apostle had built. And so people were vying with each other for power. And one person said, well, I have the gift of this, and so I should be in power.

And somebody else would say, well, I have the gift of this, and that's a greater gift than your gift. And so people would begin to compete with each other over the gift of evangelism, the gift of preaching, the gift of administration, and so on. And it's in that context that Paul talks about the unity of the body of Christ.

And he had to write at least two letters, probably three, and even possibly four. One of the mysteries that we have in biblical scholarship is to try to find the so-called lost letter to the Corinthians that Paul refers to as that harsh letter that he wrote. And some believe that 2 Corinthians involves actually two letters that are combined. We don't know the answer to that.

That remains a speculative thing. But the point is that after Paul writes this first large epistle to the Corinthian church, problems don't go away. They continue, and he had to write the second one, probably both written in 55 AD. I remember when I was a seminary student reading the church fathers and reading epistles that were penned by the Bishop of Rome, Clement, who lived presumably in the decade of the 90s right before the end of the first century, that one of the works of Clement that survives to this day is a letter to the Corinthian congregation. And here he is as a sub-apostolic father writing to this same church that Paul wrote to. And the spirit of Clement's letter to the Corinthian community is, will you people please go back and read Paul's letters because the battles were still going on and people were still competing with each other and still claiming unique authority over their brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

And it's an amazing thing to read that. Finally, one of the most serious problems that arose in the church at Corinth had to do with views regarding the resurrection. And if ever I was glad that heresies were stirred up in the primitive church that provoked the apostle Paul to answer them, it's this one I'm glad for because the most magnificent teaching we have in the epistles of the New Testament regarding our hope of resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul gives this sterling argument for the Christian's participation in the resurrection of Christ. First, he details the eyewitness accounts of Christ's own resurrection and then gives a magnificent ad hoc reductio ad absurdum type of argument when he says, well, let's explore those who say there is no resurrection from the dead. What are the implications of that? If there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised.

And what would that mean? If Christ is not raised, then we are still in our sin and we are false witnesses of God because we've been running around preaching that God has raised Him from the dead, which He hasn't done if in fact there is no resurrection from the dead and our faith is in vain, and He goes on and on and on. And then gives that triumphant affirmation of assurance of death's being swallowed up in victory and the promise of that which was sown in corruption that will be raised in incorruption, that which was sown mortal shall be raised in immortality, and so on. It's a magnificent chapter, and it's one we all ought to read carefully. 2 Corinthians is also concerned about much of the turmoil and conflict that is going on. And one of the things that's so rich about 2 Corinthians is that of all Paul's epistles, this is the one that is most personal and most autobiographical. I mean, part of the value of reading 2 Corinthians is to learn about this man that God had anointed to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And, of course, Paul is drawn by his critics into a defense of his own ministry that we read of in chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians.

Take the time to look at that very carefully. I'll just give some excerpts from it. It begins with this, O that you would bear with me in a little folly, for I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, for I have betrothed you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. That was his heart's desire for all of his churches. But I fear, lest somehow as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, and so on, he talks again about the different gospel. For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge, but we have been thoroughly manifest among you in all things.

Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? And then he goes on in verse 16 and he says, I say again, let no one think me a fool, or otherwise at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. Now this is the apostle who says, let him who boasts boast in the Lord. But Paul now is following the proverbial wisdom of the Old Testament on some occasions when it's appropriate to answer a fool according to his folly. And the charges that had been raised against Paul's apostolic authority that had grown up now and infected this congregation were foolishness. Paul's basic inclination was never to boast of his own work, but to boast only of Christ.

But he said, OK, if you want to be foolish, then I'll speak as a fool. Are they Hebrews? So am I.

Are they Israelites? That is his critic. So am I.

Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool. I am more. In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. A night and a day I've been in the deep. In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil and sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst.

Does anybody think that the ministry is glamorous? Read this. In hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness, and besides these other things, what comes upon me daily my deep concern for all the churches. If I will boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. And then he goes in verse 32, In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of Damascenes with a garrison designed to arrest me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands. See, in here Paul talks about the messenger from Satan that was the thorn in his flesh. He's not bragging of his conquests. But what he's saying is, I have paid a price. I have poured out myself intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically for you.

And you need to be careful about playing with all these rumors and these distortions and participating in this foolish slander. But here Paul just simply sets forth an apologia, a response to his critics saying, judge me from my labor and what magnificent labor it was. That was R.C. Sproul on this New Year's Day edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham.

Many Christians recommit to reading the entire Bible at the beginning of the year, and one tool to help you do that is Dr. Sproul's overview of the entire Bible, Dust to Glory. Today's message was from that series. When you give a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, we'll send you the special edition DVD and give you lifetime digital access to the series. So whether you're starting in Genesis or continuing from where you left off yesterday, you can start listening and learning once your donation is processed. Another podcast to help you in 2024 is called Things Unseen with Sinclair B. Ferguson. I had a brief conversation with Dr. Ferguson about this podcast, freely available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Get that conversation now. Well, joining me in the studio is Sinclair Ferguson, a name and a voice that's probably very familiar to you all. He's the host of the Things Unseen podcast. And Dr. Ferguson, I want to say congratulations on recording a year's worth of Things Unseen. Well, thank you, Nathan. I didn't do it just on my own.

I had a lot of good Ligonier help to do it. And also, Happy New Year. And to you. Now, Things Unseen, it is a devotional podcast that comes out five days a week. How would you describe Things Unseen? Well, that's a self-analytic question, I think. I think I would say it is an attempt to help us fix our gaze on the truth of the gospel, on the grace and glory of God, and to do that in a way that helps people think biblically and doctrinally and also devotionally. So it's a mixture of teaching and application. There are weeks when we follow through themes of specific Christian doctrines, other themes. In one or two of them, I follow through my own personal testimony, really, in the hope that it will stimulate those who listen to reflect on God's goodness to them as well. Are there any ways that Things Unseen might be different to what our listeners might assume a devotional podcast would be like?

Yes, there might be. If they listened throughout the whole year, I think they would notice that each week has a specific theme. And the year is a little punctuated by weeks in which we think about the great Christian doctrines. And part of the goal there is because we really believe that our lives are transformed by the renewing of our minds. That's a great biblical truth.

But I think what is sometimes neglected is there needs to be something in our minds if our lives are going to be renewed. It's not just the fact that we have minds, it's the way our minds are informed by the gospel. And I often think about Christian doctrines as velcro strips for the mind that enable biblical teaching to stick. Many people do get biblical teaching, but sometimes they don't see that there's a pattern in it. And what biblical doctrines do is help us to see that there is a pattern in the teaching of scripture.

And when we grasp that, I think we begin to learn the teaching of scripture exponentially. Now to record a year's worth of this podcast, 260 episodes, that's no small feat. Was there any driving focus that you had as you sat down to prepare for each of those episodes to make the whole year holistic?

Yes, I suppose there was. I don't think it's wise just to kind of spasmodically think up 260 different topics. And I thought what would be really helpful to people and encourage them to keep listening would be if I broke down 260 days into the 52 weeks. And then I began to think about how can we fill these 52 weeks in a way that in a sense is like me being with them and talking to them as they listen. So I think the whole atmosphere of them is as though we were just two of us or me and a family sitting in a room at family devotions and maybe I had read a passage of scripture and made a few comments on it. So there is this mixture of biblical teaching with a focus on doctrine. And there's a lot of discussion about practical issues in the Christian life and how all of these relate together. And then sometimes at the end there's a sting in the tail which may be that people who listen are left hanging.

Which is not completely deliberate but hopefully stimulates them to think during the day about where we left off at the end of a particular episode. Well you didn't know this but you join me for many runs as I listen to Things Unseen. And I'm sure that's true for many of our listeners as well.

You join them as you said around the dinner table or on their commute. Yes Ligonier occasionally will send on a message like there was one from a student who said that she listened on her way to college and she felt it was like having her grandfather in the backseat. And I've heard that word grandfather rather frequently actually from people. I have actually had contact with people and personal contact people who have come up to me and say they listen to Things Unseen. And then at home if anything goes astray my wife just says Things Unseen.

So it's become a phrase in our household. You didn't know I was going to do this but I did look at some of the reviews that have been left for this podcast. And I just thought listeners might appreciate hearing some of those.

Here's one, as a mother of young children I'm often very busy throughout the day. This podcast is the perfect length for me to listen in in the middle of my chaotic day and give my mind and heart a reset. It gives me the chance to absorb more of the Lord's word and reflect on it even in this busy season of life.

I look forward to it each day. Here's another one, a wonderful encouraging daily meditation on the things of Christ from scripture. Thank you Dr. Ferguson. And this last one, they titled this review a spiritual B12 shot. I so look forward to this podcast every weekday, some days convicting, other days comforting.

But every day Jesus Christ is glorified and I receive spiritual edification. Thank you Dr. Ferguson and thank you Ligonier Ministries. What would you say to people that have been helped by Things Unseen? Well you know I'm deeply moved by that and you know at one point in the recordings when I began to get some feedback from people I met at various things they said they listened. My first instinct was to think oh I wish I had done it much better.

But then that's an instinct with everything you do. But I really have appreciated the fact that people have heard it the way I think the whole thing was intended to be. The way Ligonier wanted it to be and the way I tried to make it. I can't tell you what a pleasant blessing and surprise it's been to think of people listening and being helped. Because in a way you know one of the things that's on my mind when I'm preaching is I am listening to this sermon.

This is for me. I am under the ministry of the Word even while I'm preaching. And I think the same has been true in what I've tried to do in the podcast. I realize I'm talking to people unseen but you know I'm also reflecting on the Word of God for myself. Well before we play the first episode of Things Unseen for 2024 you mentioned that you were also under the ministry of the Word. Was there a particular week or theme that was particularly helpful or a blessing to you as you prepared for that episode? Well I think there have been several that when I finished one particular episode I felt I just want to worship now. And actually there have been a lot of those especially when we're thinking about Christ and his grace, the forgiveness of our sins. When I've thought about people who have helped me on the way going back to my teenage years, verses that have meant a lot to me.

Those series I've done not to talk about myself but in the hope that my talking about the way God has worked through Scripture and through people who have helped me, largely unseen people, unknown people. My hope has been that that would encourage people to reflect on the way in which the Word has helped them and the people who have helped them so that we can be stimulated to give thanks in a new way. So Thanksgiving has been a kind of undergirding note. This is a very thankless world we're living in and we can be influenced by that as well.

We can become kind of curmudgeonly and dispirited and we have so much to be thankful for. So I hope that has been a note that has helped listeners as well as myself to pause at the end, even if it's just for a few seconds and breathe thankfulness and praise to God. Dr. Ferguson, we are so thankful for you and we're grateful that you're able to give your labours to Things Unseen. I really do believe that this podcast is a gift to the church, so thank you for being with us today. Well, thank you for the privilege, Nathan. Good to see you again.

Well, you can find Things Unseen wherever you listen to podcasts, but here's the first episode of Things Unseen for 2024. Well, let me welcome you to this series of podcasts. I am very grateful to Ligonier Ministries for giving me the privilege of hosting this series, and I hope you'll be able to join me each week, Monday through Friday, as we explore all kinds of topics and different themes that I think are important to us in living the Christian life. But first of all, let me be one of the very first voices to issue a blessed and happy new year.

That's going to be our theme this week, a happy new year. When I was a student, I went one New Year's Day to take part in a service in a Methodist church in a fishing village in the northeast of Scotland. I didn't know enough about the Methodist tradition to appreciate that actually it was a rather special service. And although I and probably they have completely forgotten what I preached on, the service left an indelible impression on me because it was the church's annual new year covenant renewal service. And after the sermon, the whole congregation in unison committed themselves afresh to the Lord in the words of a very personal and moving covenant. I was quite surprised actually because I associated covenant theology with Presbyterians and the Reformed tradition and the Puritans and not the Methodists and certainly not the Wesley brothers.

But in fact, John Wesley had borrowed the idea of a living covenant from some of the Puritans that he had read at an earlier stage in his life. Anyway, it deeply impressed me and I wanted to introduce it to the churches I served later on. Occasionally, I find people objecting to the fact that it wasn't really sincere to commit themselves to the Lord using someone else's words, which to be honest slightly amused me because I watched them heartily every Lord's Day morning and evening singing other people's words of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the vast majority of us, I think, found it very helpful. And I personally found it deeply moving to join with people I loved and to whom I was committed as we committed ourselves afresh to the Lord for another year. So I want to begin this new year by sharing that covenant with you and to invite you with me to commit yourself to the Lord and to pray for His help through this new year. I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so. And may the covenant which I have just made here on earth be confirmed in heaven. I hope you want to say amen and amen. Be sure to follow Things Unseen wherever you listen to podcasts. The Apostle Paul wrote four significant letters while in prison, and R.C. Sproul will introduce us to them tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. Copyright © 2020 IFA Productions
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-01 02:44:02 / 2024-01-01 02:56:57 / 13

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