Incest, Greed, and Idolatry

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 5.9-10
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

Reflection: Incest, Greed, and Idolatry
By John Tillman

Pause for a moment and summon up your feelings about the sexual sin of incest. 

Think about how destructive it is, about how often it is rooted in or leads to abuse, and about how, even in our sexually freewheeling culture, it is considered repulsive….

In this letter to Corinth, sexual sins take the forefront because Paul is addressing a case of incest, a specific kind of sexual sin. But Paul hardly ever mentions sexual sins without also mentioning sins involving power, idolatry, and wealth. The most skipped-over words in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians may be “or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” This shows that Paul, in comparison to incest, considers greed and idolatry to be equally repulsive, equally abusive, equally destructive, equally sinful, and therefore an equal reason to be subject to church discipline.

It’s uncomfortable to think about sins that we are prone to being the spiritual equivalent of incest. Although most Christians understand the belief that “sin is sin” and all sins are the same before God, in reality we all see the sins of others as having great and terrible import, while we minimize, excuse, and normalize our own sins. 

Paul would have us as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we? When was the last time someone was disfellowshipped from a church for greed? When was the last time Christians boycotted something due to greed? Are you greedy and a Christian? Paul advises other Christians not to eat with you.

Paul does not encourage boycotts or avoiding non-Christians who are active in sin. It is only believers who are continuing, unrepentantly in sin who are subject to this kind of treatment. Christians with a subculture mentality, who isolate themselves from interactions with non-believing “sinners,” are doing exactly what Paul says not to do.

We should also remember that Paul’s instructions about removing fellowship are intended to be an effort to warn and correct others so that they may be won back through repentance. 

May we never expect non-Christians to live differently before we show them love.
May we be gracious to one another as we face the conviction of the Holy Spirit in areas of serious sins, such as sexual sin, greed, and idolatry.
May we stand for the Christian sexual ethic without abandoning other ethical stances that scripture holds as equally important. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I hate those who have a divided heart, but your law do I love. — Psalm 119.113

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen -1:54)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen -1:58)

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read more about In Denial about Injustice
The sins that brought God’s judgment and caused the exile of Israel were multi-faceted. But there is a common thread—injustice.

Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 16.19-21
Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend
    as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God
    as one pleads for a friend.

Reflection: Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

The earliest dates for Job’s writing are around 2,000 years before Christ, and the antiquity of the events may be far earlier than that date. Both Ezekiel and James discuss Job among lists of historical persons, implying that they believe him to be more than merely a story or parable. So, Job’s words give us the earliest written prophetic vision of Christ. In Job, Christ is our un-named and undeserved heavenly representative, who takes our case and acts as a true friend, even as Job’s earthly friends berate and badger him.

This week, pray this poetic prayer of thanks to Christ, our advocate, redeemer, and friend. This poem incorporates prayers of Job and other scriptures.

Christ, Our Undeserved Friend:
In this life,
When gripped by strife,
I know above
Of one who loves.

When I’m amidst a storm that swirls
Hiding from accusations hurled,
Immobilized in sin and guilt,
Collapsing consequence I built,

Rotten inward and outward too,
My sins are yeast worked through and through.
Condemned, inner and outer self
Have no appeal, no chance of health.

I cannot speak, for if I do
My words turn each fault into two.
My speech reflects my inward sin.
My thoughts bring outward sins within.

I hope in nothing I can reach
But he who in this darkness seeks.
The darkness is not dark to him.
He sees me clearly, sees my sin.

Though my sins and weakness he sees,
My case before the Father, pleads.
He knows my state and yet he bends
God’s ear to me, for me contends:

That I might swap with him my place,
That I might be changed by his grace,
That I might be healed through his wounds,
That I might live, he be entombed.

The Father consented.
The son he descended.
He purloined my guilt.
His dear blood was spilt.

My sin he grasped with nail-pierced grip
Dragged sin to hell, and there left it.
My sorrow sees his body riven.
My joy to know his body risen.

With death defeated, he grasped me,
That I should live eternally.
His work in me, begins to show,
As obeying his Word, I go.

Serving my world in thanks to Him,
Shunning pride, a humble pilgrim
To read, ponder, walk in, live in
The Word, and Holy Spirit given.

I walk with my redeemer, friend,
Holding my hand, until the end.
In this world there will sufferings be,
Tolerable only when with thee.

Give my mouth a tongue which will speak
Of your love and, though I am weak,
Unfailing faith to stand in grace
And steps to finish out this race.

Christ, he our undeserved friend,
Is with me yet, until the end.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 16=17 (Listen -3:40)
1 Corinthians 4 (Listen -3:15)

Read more about Lamenting With Job :: Guided Prayer
Lament is frequent and important in the Bible and should be in our lives as well.

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
Before Job ends, he declares the promise that the Redeemer will stand upon the Earth to reclaim it.

Not in the Brochure

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 1:21-22, 25
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Reflection: Not in the Brochure
By Jon Polk

Expectations. We all have them. When fulfilled they can be a powerful source of excitement. When dashed, they can lead to tremendous disappointment.

Time for that family holiday to visit the amazing national park which you’ve heard so much about. You’ve studied the brochures, plotted your route and set out with great anticipation. You arrive to discover that the cabins aren’t as clean as they looked in the photos, the mosquitos are large and hungry, and you have to pay extra for firewood! This was not in the brochure!

Jews in Jesus’ day had read the prophets, their brochures describing the coming of the Messiah. Paul writes that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” Jews expected a victorious Messiah, signs and wonders accompanying a conquering King with power, majesty and glory. The Greeks were sophisticated; they were concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake.

Jesus dashed both their expectations. He did not come as a conqueror to please the Jews, nor as a philosopher to please the Gentiles. Instead, Jesus was a King who demonstrated his power through the sacrifice of his own life and his wisdom by preaching a message of selflessness and humility.

Imagine what even Jesus’ own followers might have felt seeing their beloved master, teacher and friend taken down from the cross and carried off for burial. “What just happened? Wait a minute, Jesus, this is not what we followed you for! This was not in the brochure!”

How would our life brochure read if we wrote it? It probably wouldn’t be much different than the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah. Jesus will solve all your problems. Jesus will make you happy. Jesus will defeat your enemies and those who have done you wrong. Jesus will bring roses and ponies and rainbows.

Now to be fair, Jesus does provide peace, comfort, joy and satisfaction in life, but not always in the way we might expect. Come to Jesus and sacrifice yourself? Follow Jesus and give your life away? That’s not in our brochure.

The Christian life has a way of not turning out the way we expect. We make our plans, we have our ideas about what God should do for us, we have our own self-focused motivations, but the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. We strive to provide for our own security and comfort in this life, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 

Thankfully, through that foolishness and weakness, we are saved from our own expectations to discover God’s higher wisdom and humble strength and we learn to live a new life, one that we may not have expected.

*This devotional was written from a devotional Jon gave for the staff at International Christian School in Hong Kong. To see the video version of this devotional, follow this link.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Help me, O Lord my God; same me for your mercy’s sake. — Psalm 109.25

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 13 (Listen -2:27)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen -4:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 14 (Listen -2:23), 1 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:26)
Job 15 (Listen -3:23), 1 Corinthians 3 (Listen -3:05)

Read more about Crucified, By Nature
It is hard for us to grasp how foolish, offensive and shameful crucifixion was in the ancient world.

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.

Cameos of Love :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: Romans 16.1-4
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Reflection: Cameos of Love :: Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

A cameo is a “positive relief” image and is often a profile image of an individual. This means that the item is carved so that the image to be shown is raised up from the surface. The process of carving a cameo involves cutting away everything that is not a part of the image.

As Paul winds Romans to a close, he carves us a quick image of Phoebe and others who ministered with him. Phoebe was a deacon from the port city of Cenchreae, which served the region of Corinth. She was a co-worker with Priscilla and Aquilla of Corinth. She was being sent to Rome (either carrying this letter or following shortly after) and she was trusted with a mission that was in need of assistance. Paul is confident that her work, which scripture does not specify, will be of spiritual benefit for he testifies that her ministry has already blessed his own life. Paul’s brief description of Phoebe is like a cameo, raising up for us the most important details of her life. And when we look closely, what we see raised up is, in reality, an image of Christ.

May we pray this prayer from Australia, asking that God raise up in us the image of Christ, and carve away from us other parts of our lives to show to the world, his perfect cameo.

Cameos of Love
A prayer of Intercession from Australia

Creator God, all-compassionate Father,
Source of life whose heart is passionate towards all,
May we, your people, be cameos of your love and
compassion to a hurting and fragile world.
Daily we are confronted with the harsh reality of violence, greed,
abuse, unrest, and tragedy. Stir our response by owning your heart and mind.
May we be courageous in challenging injustice,
Ready to listen but hesitant to judge,
Willing to welcome the outcast,
Diligent in seeking and claiming truth.
Oh God of hope,
Your light never fails, is never extinguished.
Warm our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love so that wherever we go we will communicate Jesus Christ.
In His divine name we pray.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer:  The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O  Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 12 (Listen -2:21)
Romans 16 (Listen -3:30)

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ :: Worldwide Prayer
Dear Lord, mold us into that perfect image that reflects the beauty of Christ in a broken world.

Read more about Christ’s Supremacy :: A Guided Prayer
Help us to let go of anything which strives to take your place.
Make of us a body that serves, be our head which gives us purpose.

Content Mastery vs the Master of the Content

Scripture Focus: Romans 15.14
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Reflection: Content Mastery vs the Master of the Content
By John Tillman

Jeannette Clift George, in her book, Troubling Deaf Heaven, relates her early struggles with God’s word.

“Someone told me to read the Bible until I understood something from the reading. After an hour of intense reading I threw my copy of the Bible across the room and cried aloud to God, “Yes, I have learned something! I have learned that I don’t understand your Book! Now can I stop reading it?” And then, still muttering over the details of my problem, I went over and picked up my Bible, with it’s tossed pages all askew, and read again. My early Bibles show the wear and tear of my struggle.”

Kierkegaard asserts that the Bible is easy to understand and we merely feign misunderstanding to shirk its demands on us. However, many, especially in the early steps of discipleship and study, do struggle with it.

Too often, immature disciples approach the Bible as consumers, treating it as a store full of solutions to our problems. When we do this, we are easily overwhelmed by its shelves, confused by its organization, and frustrated by seemingly inexplicable products. The Word of God is not a store, a catalog, a manual, or a textbook, and our approach to scripture must go beyond scholarship. No accumulation of facts will feed our faith.

Our hope of gaining meaning from God’s Word is listening for his voice, personally calling to us. We must trust that the Holy Spirit Jesus promised will break the silence. George continues:

“Then, one day, one reading, all of a sudden I saw me in the Scripture. My need—my question for the day, my tears for the evening, my fears for the morning, me—in God’s Holy Word. That made all the difference in the world.

That’s why I keep praying even when God’s silence infers the communication is out of order. I found me in his Word because he put me there. God put me in his Word that I might hear him in the silence, that I might hear him in the midst of arguments with him, that I might know that he knows me and loves me because he said so.”

In our rhythms of prayer and reading, we do not pursue mastery of content as much as we pursue a relationship with the Master of the content—a relationship with the Holy Spirit that goes beyond bringing the text to life and joins us in walking through our life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen -2:01)
Romans 15 (Listen -4:32)

Read more about How Not to Read Scripture
No one ever found joy and companionship from re-reading an instruction manual. The Bible is more akin to a pointillistic painting…You have to step back to see the likeness the artist has created.

Read more about The Scripture Cannot Be Set Aside
Considering all of Scripture together without breaking it apart requires patience and a deep familiarity with Scripture.

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