Wait…There’s More

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family because of Jesus for generations to come.

We (our teaching team) has been teaching through Colossians 1 as Generations Church began weekly services.

Let me give you the “previously on…”

We live in a world with faulty maps. These maps don’t just guide us they shape us. God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus is a map that shows us what God is like and what humanity looks like in proper relation to God. In this midst of this world, we are called to embody the mystery of Jesus made known. We must begin following the map and then inviting others to journey with us. Both our destination and the map is Jesus. Paul is sent into the world to share this message with people (Gentiles) who are included in God’s family because of Jesus.

We have been using Colossians as help to communicate some essentials to a new church. Paul has not met these Christians in Colossae. A coworker Epaphras started the church. He is concerned about the false teaching influencing other Christians in the region.

One theologian puts it, “The epistle is a vaccination against heresy, not an antibiotic for those already afflicted.” So, the false teaching has not taken hold but Pauls’ words are used as preparation against the heresy.

For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. – Colossians 2:1-5

You may be wondering why I just listed Colossians 2 as the teaching text when the series is from chapter one. 

If you look at your Bible, how do they divide it up. Prior to us adding chapters and verses to help in dissecting and understanding and translation, the contents were a single letter. The contents are still a single letter but appear less so due to these additions.

You may recognize Laodicea. For those of you who don’t no fear, Laodicea is mentioned in the very last book of the Bible for being lukewarm (see Revelation 3). They have drifted into apathy about their faith.

While we don’t know exactly what has happened to the Colossians community. It’s important to see that between Paul’s letter and John’s letter something happened within the region. 

Paul has commended the Colossians for their faithfulness and impact on the world. It’s worth noting what an inability to discern false truths and apply the wisdom of Jesus produces—a muddy version of Christianity. Paul has told these Christians that the mystery has been made known—thus clear to them—but their inability to keep growing and applying and discerning has resulted in paralysis.

Paul has used himself as an example of what struggling and suffering looks like He has followed Jesus. We do not know what happened with the other believers. However, as Paul leads into direct countering of false teachers, we see a description of what Paul is ultimately working for in their midst. Paul almost goes, “Wait…there’s more…” I’ve told you how the access the knowledge of God and even given you some application. We see Paul go from observation to the specific application. Identify the solution. It’s like going from the observation “dude your broke”…to “let me help you budget and figure out where you are spending unnecessary money.”

Here we get a pastoral capstone of Paul’s goal from his opening words that the mystery of how God would rescue and renew his creation is made known in the person and work of Jesus:

  1. Encouragement of the Church
    1. This is more than “atta boy” this is a sense of putting strength, or courage, into them.
    2. It’s reiterated in a different way in verse 5 with the word “strength”
    3. Paul uses the word heart-basically at the core of the person. Just as suffering has afflicted his body and worn it down, Paul knows that the inner resolve must be able to cope and have resilience when the social pressures and likely physical ones come when they apply the way of Jesus to every aspect of their lives.
  1. Being United In Love
    1. “This describes a person’s rugged commitment to another person in three ways: in presence, in advocacy, and in the mutual direction of development toward Christlikeness.”
      1. Presence
      2. Advocacy
      3. Development toward Christlikeness
    2. Let me reiterate the point in an inverse way – what Paul is describing is not simply tolerating someone else but a commitment to one another. as a team.
    3. When you know someone’s story and they know your story, and there are differences, but you choose to connect relationally and appreciate the difference rather than stay on opposite sides of the room.
    4. To be knit together in love does not mean they will all be committed to becoming loving people so much as committed to one another.
  1. Having the Full Riches of Complete Understanding
    1. Paul’s aim is knowledge, and what he wants for them is to be complete, full, or certain in their understanding of this knowledge, and this kind of completeness is the riches for which he is laboring.”
    2. Paul here puts a pastoral capstone on this idea of “known”
    3. “Riches” can refer to the gospel response in generosity to others.
      1. This is why for the next several weeks we will look at one of our values give over get.
      2. & to the mystery of God’s redemption expanding to the Gentiles. So, the focus for Paul, as is the case in his mystery of uniting Jews to Gentiles and Gentiles to Jews, is a fellowship that exhibits a supernaturally based union through the Spirit. 
      3. Love and knowledge for Paul manifest themselves within the church. It’s not merely a “rah! rah!” they show up in practice when people interact with each other.
        1. Reduces the distance that sin, emotional vandalism, creates.
      4. Teams have gone through training camp, practice, refinement.
      5. The church isn’t always known for that. We will fall back into old patterns if we do not have some different community habits.
      6. End to gossip.
      7. Using your gifts (Jenene)
  1. Having the knowledge of the mystery of God
    1. That the hidden plan of God to expand his family to all people has been made manifest in Jesus (see Isaiah 33:5-6).
    2. The mystery of God, the one formerly hidden by now disclosed, is Christ the final treasure, and in that treasure is both wisdom and knowledge. If the mystery was hidden in the deep recesses of God’s plan, the wisdom and knowledge expressing the truth of that mystery are in Christ himself.
    3. Paul contests any view that revelation about God’s truth and the gospel can be found in any other location than Christ.

As we look at these last two verses, we sense a switch in Paul. Everything he has said to this point is made abundantly clear—he doesn’t want these believers to be deceived—it’s not even foolish arguments—these are arguments that sound reasonable.

On the other side of our Give Over Get series, we will see how Paul counters these “reasonable” arguments. Here’s what may surprise you, and at the same time may not be all that shocking…these “reasonable” arguments are still put into effect today. They show up in the books you read, in the news you watch, in the social media you follow, in the cultural sayings regurgitated in everyday conversation.

Here’s what happens..like I briefly mentioned earlier. The gospel accomplishments in our culture aren’t always dashed away by false teaching, they are slowly eroded by teaching that that sounds right but has no connection to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Paul is rejoicing because of what he has seen in the Colossians thus far.

If I may assume the first-person stance in this pastoral moment by Paul.

Just like Paul, I can’t physically be with you always. Here’s the beauty. You don’t need me to be physically present with you always.

I am able to hear the vision and values in your conversation.

While we have seen great growth and promise thus far, we still have blind spots. We still have areas of our life untouched by Jesus. We have areas of our church that don’t function as well as they should.

If we do not re-engage with what the vision for the church, then we may just drift into luke-warmness like the Laodiceans.

Here’s is how we will combat that…call or message someone in our church this week. If you need a name or a number, Jon and I will help you. It may lead to you grabbing a meal with each other.

You take the initiative. Don’t wait to see who reaches out to you.

”The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Knowing the Direction We Face

We have been building to this moment in our sermon series “Known.” Colossians 1:26-29 shaped the scope of the series. Where in a world of faulty maps we see what Paul says about the map that can be known and followed—in Jesus.

In the first sermon of the series, I began explaining about Captain George De Long’s expedition to the North Pole. Captain George De Long set a course for the North Pole and crashed because he hoped that there would be a warm North Polar Sea. Instead, he ran into the rocks of reality. The North Pole is surrounded by ice. Trevin’s Wax’s book, This is Our Time, uses Captain De Long’s journey to set-up the longer illustration that we live in a world full of faulty maps. I carry on the same illustration to communicate the truths in Colossians 1.

Every day we are surrounded by people who are in search of the meaning of life, community, purpose and the map they are using cannot adequately guide them. 

Right out of this section Paul has used himself as an example and he continues to describe his role within the world. The reason Paul uses the example of himself as he makes this point to the Colossians is to how God uses us to expand God’s family.

Here’s an example of what I mean…I was in Starbucks…I’m sitting there and right beside me a two people are talking about religion. As they discuss religion the second person describes the religious relics within his house while railing against Christianity and religion. While the first person it attempting to follow Jesus, they have no rebuttal for the second. Having been in the first person’s shoes, the easiest question to ask, “Have you ever tried getting to know Jesus?”

The second person has left Jesus on the walls. When you leave Jesus on the walls you can make-up whatever Jesus you want to follow. When we leave Jesus on the walls and uninvited to our life we will be unable to identify the faulty maps that attempt to guide us off course. It’s a Jesus that you make look more like what you want rather than Jesus providing the map that leads you to the very thing you are searching for—himself.

God has been working plan to rescue and redeem through history chronicled in the stories in the Old Testament. The question remains: How would God fulfill his promise of rescue and renewal?

Paul describes this “how” as the profound “mystery.” The mystery is made known in Jesus. The mystery was something previously unknown, but is revealed by God in Christ in the power of the Spirit—and open to all.

Christ enables the Gentiles to be part of God’s family through faith. This mystery used to describe the newness of the age that creates Paul’s mission: what was once given to Abraham as intended to be a blessing to the nations is finally fully underway in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The presence of God no longer needs to be mediated in a temple. Paul is willing to suffer so that all people know of their access to God through Jesus. Not only that, but that they begin to apply the way of Jesus in every area of their life.

The presence of Christ among the Colossians, then, is ground for their hope of life in the age to come. Having explained that the term “mystery” is the plan of God to expand the people of God to include everyone. Re-read Colossians 1:15-20.

Here’s the difficulty: Even though it has been disclosed, it remains partially grasped.

My kids were watching Scooby-doo the other day. It’s so funny because time and time again the group of Fred, Vilma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby know that behind every monster is an explanation. It’s just that they have to go on a journey to figure out who it is.

The journey begins with God’s people. They are identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Christ dwells in the new people of God, the church (corporates), through the Spirit, he truly also indwells the believer (individual).

As individuals, we have to apply the good news of Jesus to our life. However, we do not do this alone. We follow Jesus as the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus called the would-be disciples to follow him. But the actual relationship between Christ and his follows is greater, deeper, and higher than that: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The church is spiritually united to Jesus Christ.

No other religion speaks of the relationship between its leader and followers that way. But this is the spiritual union between Christ and the church. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.  The indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King resides within each us and has made us one in Christ.

It is still a mystery to others. God “wanted to make known to the Gentiles” and he chooses us to make it known.

Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength. This is true for everyone: Part of the deception of the false teachers is that the way of salvation to be so involved that it could only be understood by a select few.

When you have a relationship with Jesus and relationships with people who are pointing you over and over again to the character and priorities of Jesus—you don’t need me in that coffee shop with you.

You will be able to discern the longing and the lies and live according to the map that leads to peace and purpose.

James K.A. Smith sums it up this way: “To be human is to be for something. To be human is to be directed toward something, oriented toward something. To be human is to be on the move, purposing something, after something…We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures direct toward some end.”

When we follow Jesus together as the church we will be able to identify the gravitational pull of false hope. Together we will be able to present what it looks like to be directed toward Jesus especially when we reflect a community of people that come from all walks of life.

Trevin Wax presents sums up his illustration and main point this way:

The first people to reach the North Pole were Frederick Cook and two Inuit men. On April 21, 1908. Unlike George De Long, they didn’t try to sail there. They were well aware that there was no “Open Polar Sea.” Instead, after an arduous journey across the ice, they arrived on foot, stocked with the provisions they needed to achieve their goal.

When you compare De Long’s expedition to Cook’s, you find that all of these men exhibited similar character traits. They were brave and courageous, ready to persevere through the worse circumstances. Why, then, did Cook make it to the North Pole while De Long did not? It wasn’t because Cook was braver then De Long but because Cook had a better understanding of the terrain he world encounter. Therefore, Cook had the provisions he needed for the long trek across the ice. De Long did not. No matter how strong these men were, one crew made plans that took into account what was really there while the other made plans based on what they hoped to find.

There is an important lesson for us here. You can be courageous yet still be wrong about the world. You can be brave yet perish. You can be a strong and determined person on a path to destruction. Sincerity, as a good quality as that may be, cannot ultimately save you.

So what does faithfulness look like in a world where everyone has a different map—a different idea about what life is all about and the best route to take toward your destination? A world in which people seem to think sincerity is all that matters? That is doesn’t matter what map you have a long as you think you’re right? Even more, how can we be faithful when so many Christians have faulty maps too?

Here, we join with Paul in being prepared for the journey. Recognizing it is Christ in us. It’s not us knowing or us proclaiming. It is resisting and re-applying the message that we are included in God’s family because of Jesus. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. 

Living as if we know that behind every monster is a man.

We repeat some version of the rhetoric that the point of life is to “enjoy God forever and glorify him.” But our actions often reveal that another map has captured our imaginations. We give the right answer but sail the wrong way. Even worse, sometimes we hoist the Christian sail over a boat that’s being directed by mythical map. We use Christianity in order to go where we want to go.

What is our North Pole? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

You want to show the world a different map? Then focus not on being true to yourself but on loving and being true to God and neighbor. See your life as a journey in which you were rescued from your fallenness, not affirmed in it. See your life as a journey in which you recognize the great mystery of Christ in you—embracing a vision of who God is making you to be—the hope of glory.

Making Christ Known Through Suffering

Sunday I preached one of the most difficult sermons to date at Generations Church. Not only did my teaching text have a difficult verse, but it also had a difficult meaning an application. I have written out a portion of my sermon that covers suffering for the sake of others.

The letter of Colossians is written to a church by the apostle Paul. He wants this church to know that they have been following the real Jesus. The feeling that they are missing out on a fuller spiritual experience has been evoked by false teachers through a cheap trick.

Paul can’t counter these false teachers in person because Paul is in prison. For those who may not know the backstory for Colossians, Paul didn’t plant the church. But, Paul introduced Jesus to a guy named Epaphras who then started this church. This church is filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

So far in this letter to the Colossians: he has praised this church for their impact on the world. He has reminded them that they aren’t missing something. It’s not Jesus+. After this long build-up, Paul as he often does gives them an example of sorts. This example comes from his life.

Paul is a guy who had power. He had comfort. He was in control. He had the approval of others. He gives that up when he encounters Jesus. Here’s how he describes what he is doing to the followers of Jesus…

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

– Colossians 1:24-26

This first verse is difficult. Is something missing in Christ’s sacrifice for us? The short answer is no. Nothing is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Paul’s point is that he is suffering for the sake of others so that Christ is made known and mature believers are grown.

Paul’s claim is steeped in the backstory of God’s chosen people. Israel’s experiences of affliction throughout its history—particularly Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, and subsequent oppression under the Syrians and Romans—is understood as part and parcel of God’s redemptive purposes. The age of suffering was limited, and the age to come would dawn soon and God would judge the measures used.

Paul is not attaching atoning value whatever to his own sufferings for the church. The term ‘afflictions of Christ’ speaks, rather, of those ministerial sufferings which Paul bears because he represents Jesus Christ.

Christ’s sufferings climaxed in the cross are all-sufficient. Peace, reconciliation, and right standing with God are its results. At the same time, Paul is also convinced that this gospel must be proclaimed, received in faith, and implemented in everyday life in order for God’s redemptive purposes to be achieved.

The type of suffering that Paul is speaking to is the result of the verbal proclamation of Jesus as King that’s a direct assault on one’s culture. This is not the general consequences of living in a fractured world.

The reason the Colossian people are suffering and the reason for their prior success in impacting others are their following Jesus. However, there were these teachers who advocated they missed part of the gospel because of their suffering. Let’s get rid of it through intense self-discipline and seeking individual spiritual experiences. They could be described as ascetics or mystics. Here’s where they differ from the core of the gospel.

Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. These mystics focus on spirituality removed from community. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus and was an others-centered person. Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued these things for others.

Here’s the temptation as you focus on resolutions or goals….If your goals and resolutions are purely for yourself and have no benefit to others, then you’ve missed the “for” aspect of faith. Read those verses again. Suffering “for” the body. I was given a commission “for” you.

A self-focused lifestyle is a Jesus+ lifestyle. A Jesus+ lifestyle doesn’t work when suffering comes because whatever you have added to Jesus will tell you it’s not worth it.

The cost of suffering begs the question: What type of motivation does one have to willingly put themselves out there in the awkward and uncertain?

Paul’s goal is to make God’s message fully known. In part, the message holds a “mystery that’s been hidden for ages and generations.” Paul is referring to the process by which God was going to rescue and redeem his creation. The mystery was “when” and “how.”  The mystery was not the “what.” In Jesus, what was once pixelated is now in 4K.

Paul is now working to advance this message and bring clarity to the mystery by participating in God’s mission. Here’s an example of how these principles are applied because as American Christians we don’t always understand suffering. The following was taken from two separate articles.

“Over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9, 2018. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong.

On December 26, 2019, Wang Yi was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. On December 30, the court announced that Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years of criminal detention and fined 50,000 RMB. This is the longest sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.” You can read Wang Yi’s full statement on Civil Disobedience here. I have quoted the portation I read below.

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

…The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I believe we need to take a sober look at our lives. We can learn from our brothers and sisters in places like China and the Middle East.

Our priorities as followers of Jesus must be to not live in a space that we can meticulously control or pursue comfort but to live and work for a coming kingdom.

In our country, the type of religious devotion present by both Wang Yi and the Apostle Paul seems so foreign.

Christianity is the only religion in the world the proposes an argument to endure suffering for the sake of others. We serve a suffering Savior. We have a hope of vindication on the other side of suffering. May we live our lives in such a way that it communicates everything we do is “because of Jesus.”

Nehemiah 7-8: Steps to Spiritual Renewal

We are working through the book of Nehemiah this summer in our church about following God through a broken mess. This is a written variation of the sermon I preached on Chapters 7-8.

When we arrive in Chapter 7 of Nehemiah, we are at a turning point, a tipping point if you will. The wall has been completed in a record 52 days. The Israelites have overcome distractions and disagreements. Nehemiah and the people of God have overcome through providence and determination. In a sense, they have arrived. They have completed what they set out to do. Yet, as we look at the pages in our bibles there are seven more chapters.

These next few chapters are crucial. Because as I look at mankind two things happen when we reach this point, this sense of completion or arrival: 1) We coast, or 2) We keep grinding as if this is one step in a larger plan. In Nehemiah, the physical broken mess of the walls have been restored, but the spiritual broken mess of the people has barely been touched. Only through the perseverance of rebuilding the walls were the people of God ready to take steps of spiritual renewal.

I am currently in graduate school working on my Master’s Degree. In one of my recent classes I had a professor say something that has stuck with me. “You have to be broken, truly broken, before you will know what true grace is.” I believe that. I see that in my own life.

Some of you in this room resonate with that quote. You have been broken. And out of that brokenness you had no where else to turn, but to God and you felt real grace for the first time. Some of you have never felt that before and have no idea what feeling of brokenness I am talking about. My hope today is that you come face-to-face with the brokenness.

There is this tension of pride from success with the brokenness, as we arrive in Chapter 7 of Nehemiah’s narrative. Nehemiah being the man of prayer and determination looks at the people of God, the walls of Jerusalem, his plan, and then to God and says, “Okay, what’s next?”

We pick up the narrative in verse 4 (italics my comments).

“The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then God put in into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy (basically, take a census). And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first (reference to the return of the first wave of exiles) and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had just carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah…” (vv. 4-7a ESV).

He then precedes to read off the names and numbers of people who were are recorded. My hope is that you recognize a few of those initial names. Mordecai is Ester’s cousin and we read about him in the book of Ester. Nehemiah, who this book is named after. Zerubbabel who led the first group back from exile. Sometimes we wonder why all these  numbers and names are important. But, these names and numbers here in Chapter 7 begin the first step in spiritual renewal for the Israelites. They had to identify who is really Jewish. They had to know who was really in the family of God. Going through these names I would encourage you to mark these sections out in your bible. This will help make the names and numbers less daunting when you read through them.

Verses Indentification
7:7b-25 Family Lineage
7:26-38 Town or area
7:39-42 Priests
7:43-45 Levites, singers, gatekeepers
7:46-56 Temple servants
7:57-60 Solomon’s Servants (special roles)
7:61-65 Could not prove Israelite decent
7:66-72 Gifts given

Nehemiah goes through all the names of the people and recorded their numbers. Go back to something I wrote earlier. They needed to know who is part of the family and who is not. Because in order to make Israel a holy nation again, they had to begin with separation from non-covenantal people to begin the spiritual and cultural renewal process.

The dynamic of Israel is so unique. It is unlike any other nation or country, ever in the history of the world. Their culture, their practices, and customs are religious because nationality and spirituality are tied together under the Covenant of Abraham and Law of Moses. If we look back at verse 5, God initiates this process of renewal. He put it on Nehemiah’s heart.

The big picture of Nehemiah is following God through a broken mess, so that you experience restoration, healing, renewal, and sanctification for his glory. This was the aim. It started way before we get to this chapter, but this is where this message first becomes crystal clear in Nehemiah. At the heart of this renewal for Israel, and in particular their capitol city of Jerusalem, is the spiritual and religious lifeblood that comes from a God who is all about reconciliation and sanctification of His people for His glory. Chapter 7:5-72 explains what is happening in the background of chapters 8, 9, and 10. The theme of knowing who’s in and who’s out returns in chapter 11.

If you were trying to follow that part of the narrative and are taking notes, the first step to getting on the path to spiritual renewal is know what makes your family part of God’s family. In simplified words, Step 1 is define the distinction.

A modern day picture, for some families they have specific characteristics that set them apart. For example, you may know that little Timmy got his ears from your side of the family because everyone on your side of the family has ears that stick out. In Harry Potter, everyone knows Ron is a Weasley because of his red hair and his hand-me-down stuff.

Now, we live under the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus. What separates the church our family from other organizations? What separates followers of Jesus from good moral people?

As followers of Jesus in God’s family we must be able to define what distinguishes our beliefs, values, customs, choices, actions from other people in this world, if we want a spiritual renewal in our families, churches, and our communities. My aunt says it best, “we are forgiven!” The fact that we are a forgiven people is what separates followers of Jesus and the church at its core from the world. We have experienced love so deep it forgives and gives, which is something we do not deserve. We got grace. This mark of grace becomes visible in Chapter 8 of Nehemiah.

Chapter 8 starts out like this:

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses (which would be the first 5 books of our bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and we find Lev. & Num. irrelevant) that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both man and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month (which would be around the start of October). And he read from it facing the square before the water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand (so 6 on his right and 7 on his left). And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blesses the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and they worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub,, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book from the Law of God clearly, and they gave sense, so that the people clearly understood the reading” (vv. 1-8 ESV).

This is an incredible picture of teaching the word of God. The Israelites have rebuilt the wall. They went back to their towns and villages. Then they came back together to hear from God, not as individuals, but as one man, for a unified purpose. They wanted to hear from God. They listened intently. They were attentive for six hours—from early morning to midday. There was a hunger for God’s Word. He had brought them out of exile. He had helped them begin restoring the city. They were seeing physical signs of God’s deliverance. They were coming to a realization that God does what he says he is going to do, but they now had to learn more about what he said.

The second step to spiritual renewal, if you are taking notes, is listen to the Word read and taught. The Word brings worship. Ezra opened the Law and the people stood because this was not only tradition, but also a physical act of submission to God. Then Ezra began to read: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord in one.” The reading would have started with this call to worship and then followed with the text that was being read. For example, Deuteronomy 16:13-14,

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, and your son and your daughter, your male servant, and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.” 

The people said, “Yes! Yes!” They were listening to the word. They worshiped God, which means they danced, raised hands, clapped, and bowed down. We usually equate a response like this to music, a concert, or a sporting event. The Israelite did this in response to preaching. Ezra read. Ezra preached and the people cheered. As it says in verse 8, the Levites and priests then explained the Word to the people, why did that passage matter. They explained the meaning behind it, how it fit into the history of Israel, how to apply what was being read. Ezra read the words and rituals, that the Old Testament is full of, but it did not just stop with that. They explained what the rituals and words meant. They made the Law relevant in new and unexpected ways. The application to the Law, not just the knowledge of what it says. The Israelites, in this scene cheered, “We want more!”

This desire came because they listened to the Word. This next step, is implied yet also shown later, they responded to the Word. We cannot get to an accurate step 3 unless, we first listen to the Word read and taught. Step 3 is respond. In order for spiritual renewal to happen we must respond. For the Israelites, after hearing the Law it caused them to mourn. They worshiped and they mourned. Now, Nehemiah sees this response and hears their response, and this is what it says in verse nine:

“And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat (or eat the best meat) and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord in your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quite, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portions and make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (vv. 9-12 ESV).

It is a preachers worst nightmare. The people hear the Law and its explained in new ways, but they just do not get it. Why did they not get it? The Law was working the way it supposed to work. The Law points out their sin and wickedness, but the story is not about them. It is about God. Nehemiah absolutely wants them to respond. God’s Word calls us to respond. However, the Israelites go sometimes where we go—straight to the guilt and shame. Guilt is a powerful emotion and force. However, grief and mourning from guilt leaves us empty and unsatisfied. Our response to God’s Word will be incorrect if the information we hear is not properly understood within the greater narrative. Because Nehemiah and Ezra are in the process of restoring a culture, a mindset, and a religious way of life, they needed to take the time to help the Israelites respond the way the Word elicited. They want the Israelites to experience something that is even more powerful and drives deeper into the heart than guilt or shame. That force is one of love and grace. The joy of the Lord is our strength because he has shown us grace. The joy of the Lord is our strength! The Israelites had disobeyed. They has tossed the book of the Law out the window, which had gotten them sent into exile. Yet, God heard them and brought them out of exile. He showed them grace and then they said we want more. Nehemiah wants them to respond to the grace they have been shown not with mourning but with joy. He wants them to throw a party and share it with everyone. Eat the best meat. Drink the best drinks and not only keep it for yourselves, but share it with everyone. Then the lightbulb came on after more explanation. It says, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portions and make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (v. 12). They heard the Word, they responded to the Word, and the understood the word.

This sounds amazing—the people of God desiring God, hearing God, responding to God and then sharing that with everyone with joy! Taking that to our context today, under the New Covenant, I want to be part of a church like that. I think we all want a church like that—a church filled with life, love, joy, and unity around the one thing we cannot truly experience anywhere else, grace.A God glorifying family that absolutely celebrates and is joyful. A church that responds the way the Word of God instructs. That would look and feel incredible! That church would be a place where people want to be. Do the Israelites catch this vision of what spiritual renewal looks like?

The chapter goes on and in verse 13 we pick up the next day.

“On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the word of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and Jerusalem, ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.’ So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was great rejoicing. And day by day from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule” (vv. 13-18 ESV).

The last two steps get merged together. They get squishy. In order to take steps toward spiritual renewal, we must define what distinguishes us, listen to the Word read and taught, respond to the Word, allow for correction and then repeat. I want to return to the text just read, the Israelites responded and allowed their leaders to shepherd them in their response, just as Nehemiah did when they mourned. Once they responded and were corrected, they were then truly able to understand. We will never truly understand until we experience. It is just knowledge that we think we understand, until it is put into practice. The Israelites returned to the Word because they wanted to go through the process again. If we only know, but never do, it will not drive us back to the Word because we have no experience that tells us otherwise. The leaders were there not to condemn, but correct. The people had to trust that Nehemiah and the Levites knew what they were talking about.

The timing of this is perfect. The Israelites are learning about the feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, which is found in Deuteronomy, Numbers, Leviticus, and Exodus. They heard it written in the Law of this feast. They then preceded to learn about why that feast was important, remember, all the section leaders, the Levites, were giving understanding. This feast is to remind them, to be a physical symbol, about the wandering in the wilderness, how God brought them out of Egypt, how they disobeyed, yet he was still with them. He still dwelt in the tabernacle, while they dwelt in booths. The tabernacle was the tent where God dwelt before the Temple in Jerusalem was built. If you look back in the text, they had not celebrated this feast properly since Joshua, they guy who succeeded Moses as leader. It had been awhile. Nevertheless, the Israelites were determined to follow the book of the Law. They had just come out of their own enslavement, their own exile. God had provided for them even though they had not kept his laws, just as he has for the Israelites when they we enslaved in Egypt. “You have to be broken, truly broken, before you will know what true grace is.” The Israelites experienced grace. They were experiencing joy in keeping rituals, and customs because they had experienced brokenness.

My guess is you need spiritual renewal somewhere in your life. In fact we all do. Today, if we were to draw connections to this text. We distinguished ourselves by gathering as a family this weekend, we heard the word, my hope, by the grace of God, that we understood the word, and that we will now go and respond to the word.

The appropriate response is this: if you have experienced Jesus’ grace, then share it joyfully and stop mourning about the suffering of following Jesus. If you have never accepted him, say yes to him, and if you need more understanding, then respond by asking. The worst thing you can do today is not do anything.

That is why we continually need to repeat, do it again, become like-new or made new again. We need reminders. When we read God’s Word when we respond to God’s Word, Old or New Testament, it sends us not simply to an action or to a moral code, but a person. His name is Jesus. He is the perfect form of grace. The Israelites needed reminded of God’s grace because God is a keeper of his promises. The biggest promise of all was that he was going to send someone, who would restore all things, redeem all things, heal all things. God initiated this process of spiritual renewal, just like He did with Nehemiah and the Israelites, by sending Himself from heaven to earth. Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty for your sins and rose from the dead, so that you can experience forgiveness and grace that lasts into eternity. That is something we do not deserve.

In the ‘Real World’

Think back to the last time you lost something. What was it? Was it something valuable or something meaningless and the fact that you lost it just annoyed you? Did you panic and your heart race? Experience a temporary loss of breath? Look around in desperation? Frantically search? Do a pat down (wallet, phone & keys)?

We have all lost something at one point or another. We have all been there. We have all forgotten to hold onto and felt that temporary panic, that mini heart attack that threw us into a cognitive whirl.

The ‘real world’ always wants us to lose our purpose, our mind, and our hope; it wants us to loosen our grip on the reality that we are commanded to hold on to. How can we make sure we lose none of these realities?

Hold fast to the gospel. When we hold fast to the gospel we will find our purpose, a changed reality, and an everlasting hope. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential to the gospel,[1] and thus our reality as Christians. Because of the reality of the gospel[2] we are shown reminders that the resurrection matters, that we now exist in an upside down world, and that we have a purpose.

In gospel reality, we are given a purpose.

Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth, is correcting some beliefs of the Corinthian Christians in his first letter. Within this context, Paul has changed his thought process at the beginning of chapter fifteen. He addressed many things in this letter to Corinth, most noticeably revolving around the message of the cross and its implications on their lives, which brings about corrections and admonishments. Because the main implication is unity in 1 Corinthians, Paul always wants to maintain a unity theme. It is important to Paul where the Christians stand on crucial cultural, spiritual, and social aspects that are a result out of the gospel, which has a direct correlation on unity.[3] “The gospel by itself does not save, but God through the gospel saves a person in Christ.”[4]

Paul must jog their lost memory of what Paul had preached.[5] He preached a message that most thought was folly, but those who were standing in Christ know that life is always better with Him than without. Paul was sure to pass on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul knew of the reality of the resurrection because of his conversion and immediately preached this (Acts 9:20).[6]

In particular, because many Christians in Corinth were Gentiles, they were now in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and the grace that was extended through his death, burial, and resurrection. When this message was preached it flipped the world upside down.

Because the gospel announces the reality of our new standing with God through the blood of Jesus Christ, it also gives us a purpose. We have a purpose in God’s redemptive story—the gospel reality. He is moving and working in the world and he has always invited us into what he was doing. He called Paul into this story. Paul intentionally labors for this purpose in his preaching. His aim is to always present the Gentiles holy and sanctified to God based on the work he is doing.[7] Paul was preaching, planting churches, and making disciples of all nations, specifically within his calling, which was to the Gentiles though he always tried to reach the Jews. Our purpose derived from the gospel is found in this same passage because the of the reality that is presented.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. – 1 Cor. 15:1-7

That is the power in the reality of the gospel.

In verse 2, Paul states, “by which you are being saved” and again verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” If Paul believes that holding true to the gospel is saving them, then living out the response to the gospel becomes our purpose. They would be ‘holding fast’ to the truth that Paul undoubtedly preached about the King[8], His kingdom, and the spreading of that good news. They would not be fulfilling the purpose the gospel demands, making disciples, if they believed in vain, which Paul questions. If their standing has been changed and they begin to love what God loves and accept what God accepts, then the weak and the lowly would be sought after. This message would be their “first importance.” There would be a purpose to take this heralded message of the new reality that is the kingdom of God and its King to others.

 What example do others have of the reality that is the gospel? If Jesus has been risen then there would be proof. We are that proof. The appearances of Jesus to people and that they have lived out their new standing before God by fulfilling their purpose of making disciples provides evidence of a new reality. The gospel offers us up as proof. People from various backgrounds come together as a family and a new community; different and distinct from the world is proof that something has changed. The appearances listed in this section are mostly Jewish, who formed a community that welcomed, rather than excluded, unlike the religious Jews of the day. Just look at who he appeared to. He appeared to the most unlikely people, which is offered up as proof that his resurrection is life changing. Paul echoes what is most likely an early creed for the expansion of the gospel.[9]

The gospel is the announcement that Christ died for our sins, the announcement that Christ was buried, the announcement that he was raised. That he then appeared to Peter—the one who said it could not be done. That he then appeared to the other disciples. He appeared to 500 other witnesses, who can back up his story. He even appeared to James, who did not remotely like his brother.

The gospel is the vehicle through which we are given a purpose. Holding on to the gospel is not merely standing still, but holding on to the heralded massage taking it forward. You will either take this message forward or everything else you believe is meaningless. We must hold fast to the gospel.

Have you ever walked into a room in your house and forgotten what you went in there for? You stand there for a moment, scratching your head, and racking your brain and you just cannot remember for the life of you what you went in there for.

Many times when we enter into an environment we walk in for some reason and we lose our purpose for entering. The purpose we have been given is to make disciples. The purpose we have been given is to teach a gospel that people will receive, stand in, and be saved by. So I have to ask, when was the last time you built a relationship with someone and were able to share the gospel with them? When was the last time you were able to share the gospel reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and how that gives purpose to life? Hold fast to the gospel because in gospel reality we are given a purpose.

In gospel reality, we recognize a changed reality or an upside down world.

So Paul just explained what the gospel is, in a bulleted list, so that the Corinthian Christians are clear on where they should stand and if they believed what saved them. He continues on, taking a slight digression on where he views himself in light of the gospel.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Cor. 15:8-11

Paul writes with such anguish in his voice. He views himself as a miscarriage or an abortion.[10] He acknowledges that anything good he has ever done has been by the grace of God. “I did not deserve what was given to me.” God’s grace toward him was not it vain. God’s grace flipped Paul’s world upside down through the Damascus road experience. God’s grace changed Paul’s reality. Because his reality is changed God’s choice to give him a purpose was not worthless. Paul proves grace’s effect based on the work that he performs through preaching. He stopped persecuting the church and started preaching to the church. Realities changed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul is laboring for a purpose. The kingdom takes the realities of the world and flips them on their head. Paul throughout his letters writes how those who think they are strong and those who would be considered the weak in society are the strong. This message challenges that standing of everyone on a consistent basis. Paul adds on that he appeared to him because he has one of the most powerful stories about how the reality that is the risen King, Jesus Christ, impacted his life. Rather, than receiving punishment for what was due, he received grace. This motivated Paul to take the gospel to everyone who had not heard. It flipped his world so upside down, that he was moved and motivated all the way until death.

Hold fast to the gospel. It will turn the world upside down.

What was the last time you did something shocking? I am not talking about something that surprised someone, but something that was actually shocking. Something so shocking that your action caused a loss for words. Did it change anything?

Do you believe you deserve grace? Or do you recognize that you have been given a gift, a new reality, by the grace of God? Does our community look different than the world? Are we taking the gospel to the most unlikely people because they need the good news the most? We should hold on to the gospel so tight that the effects flip the ‘real world’ upside down, hold on so much so that everything else is rubbish.

In gospel reality, the resurrection matters.

Paul is anticipating their response to what he has just said. Paul has refreshed the Corinthians on his stance on the gospel. He now moves to direct critique of their supposed stance against a Christian’s bodily resurrection.[11] Does it even matter if Christians think there will be a bodily resurrection?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Cor. 15:12-19

Paul writes with intense sarcasm.[12] With no hope in the resurrection of the dead it negates the gospel. Everything is worthless—the preaching, their faith, and Christ dying—if he did not raise from the dead. All those who have died are dead in sin. They have not experienced forgiveness. Even worse, Paul is guilty of bearing false witness about what God did. Why would Jesus be an exception to the rule? “Irrespective, however, of all the promised good in the present age, the substance of the believer’s hope is anchored in the future.”[13] With all the torment and tough life that Christ brings, why would Paul follow him unless there was more? It just does not make any sense. If Christ really loves us, why would he raise from the dead? Just to rub it in our face? Everyone should just feel sorry for us. We deserve to be the laughing stock.

What is so amazing is that Paul continues this line of thinking another 39 verses. He has to over kill this topic because if he did not, then they would still be under the greater impression that the real hope is in this life. We know how this story goes. The gospel struggles to change their reality. Their hope is drowned out by the ‘real world’ that Paul has to write a Second Corinthians. He cannot get them to hold fast to the gospel.

Johnson writes in his commentary,

“Recently I attended a funeral service for a well-known Christian man who had been my personal friend. He was eulogized extensively and quite appropriately for his dedication, selfless service, determination and rugged individualism. Several participants, including the pastor in his sermon, referred to the deceased as having ‘gone into presence of the Lord’ and ‘entered into glory,’ as ‘enjoying the splendors of heaven’ and so on, but no mention was made of the resurrection of the dead as the great Christian hope. This experience has been repeated numerous times in Christian funeral services I have attended over the past several years. It is almost as if we believed these persons were fulfilled, complete, at rest, glorified right now without any need for the resurrection.”[14]

“Paul kept his central theological hopes focused upon a future created anew by God.”[15] Where is our hope? Do we hope in what this life offers or do we hope in what will come? Is your time, money, and energy focused on kingdom living or earthly hope?

We must hold fast to the gospel.

Imagine if we walked out the doors of our houses this week with a purpose and we are able to see actual transformation. What would our churches look like with renewed hope in the gospel now and gospel future? What if we are able to see resurrection in people, who we thought were dead, but made alive through Christ because they held onto a gospel that is real? What if we walked out these doors today, shaped by a gospel reality, and flipped the ‘real world’ upside down? Hold fast to the gospel.

[1] “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205).

[2] Evangelion is used 41 times in the New Testament. It is usually followed by of the kingdom or of God and also surrounded by either preaching or proclamation. “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205). Specifically, I will use gospel to refer to the announcement that Jesus is Lord. The recipients of the gospel are those who believe, have faith, and trust. The place that it gives is one of standing, purpose, and proof. God’s redemptive story is one that began before creation in Genesis and finishes with the new kingdom in Revelation. It came to a climax with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

[3] Witherington assesses that the thesis of this letter is unity (Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 94-97.), while Fiensy maintains that it is the foolishness that is the message of the cross (1:18) (Fiensy, David. Class notes)

[4] F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 347.

[5] Paul preached in Corinth in Acts 18.

[6] Simon J. Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (New Testament Commentary) (Nashville, TN: Baker Academic, 1993), 525.

[7] Romans 15:16

[8] Paul specifically uses Christ to represent Jesus’ Messiahship or his Lordship, and thus is establishing a new kingdom as a crucified King.

[9] For in detail examination of the early creed and its historicity, see Michael R. Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historigraphucal Approach. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 223-235, 333-339.

[10] Refers to his apostleship in comparison to the conversion experience of the other apostles (Baker 534). All scholars do not agree on this, however, Witherington references Paul’s appearance or what others may have said about him. Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[11] Jews and Gentiles alike would have supposed that the bodily resurrection of anyone is outrageous. The body is evil, so the worst thing in the whole world would be for a soul to be rejoined with its body. (Class discussion 3/5) (NT Wright Video).

[12] “It was a regular proactive for a rhetor to try to refute and argument by showing that its logical consequences were unacceptable and thus that the logic must be flawed.” Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[13] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.

[14] Alan F. Johnson, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 7, 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 279-89.

[15] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.