Robert Jeffress - Straight Answers To Tough Questions - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Have you ever been asked a question about your faith that you didn't know the answer to? Well, it happens to everyone, including me. Today, we're beginning a teaching series in the book of 1 Corinthians that will help bring clarity to the seemingly gray and confusing topics in the Bible. My message is titled "Straight Answers to Tough Questions" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
George Gallup regularly surveys the attitudes and actions of Americans, and the even Christian Americans, and Gallup decided to do a survey to see what the difference was in the behavior of churched and unchurched people. Specifically, was there any difference in the incidences of people who reported sick when they weren't in order to get out of going to work? Was there any difference in the number of people who inflated their resumes between Christians and non-Christians? What about cheating on your income tax? Was there any measurable difference between those who cheated on their tax who were Christians, and those who were not? His finding, he said, quote, "There is little difference in the ethical views and behavior of the churched and the unchurched". No wonder that the world today views the church as increasingly irrelevant and impotent.
The fact is, people see no difference in the lives of Christians and non-Christians. Forget all of this talk about spiritual revival taking place in our country. Let me assure you, there is no revival happening in America today. You say, how can you make such a statement of that? I can say without a doubt the church of Jesus Christ is making little or no impact on the society around us. Now, if you think that's an overly harsh statement to make, let me encourage you to engage in your own experiment. Just open up your newspaper, turn on the television news, walk up and down the hallways of your children's school, and ask yourself the question, are things better than they were 50 years ago, or is our society worse than it was 50 years ago? I rest my case. The church of Jesus Christ has had no impact on the society around us.
Instead of our influencing the world, the world has influenced us. We're in danger of becoming what Jesus talked about in Matthew 5, when he said, "If the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men". What about you? Have you lost your distinctiveness? Have you lost your saltiness as a Christian? Do you resemble the world, or has the world come to resemble you? Strip away all your religious talk. Forget what you do from nine to 12 on Sunday morning, okay? Strip those things aside. Taking away your Christian vocabulary and going to church on Sunday, ask yourself this question. Is there any measurable difference between my values, that is, what I'm really chasing after in life. Between my values and actions and attitudes, is there any difference between me and the non-Christians who surround me?
Most of us would have to answer not, and because of that, we are making a little impact on the world for Jesus Christ. You know, we are in this time in our church life, we're talking about being lights in this dark and perverse generation. I've encouraged people this morning and I'm so grateful for the hundreds of you that have already signed up to become a part of the pastor's light force. We're trying to be a light in this increasingly dark world, but all of our efforts evangelistically as a church are going to fail if we do not live distinctive lives from non-Christians around us. If unbelievers in this community look at us and see that our marriages, our relationships, our attitudes are no different than unbelievers around us, all of our evangelistic efforts will fall flat.
The Christians at Corinth had forgotten that truth. They were a church that was a wealthy church. They were an influential church. They were a growing church, but they had lost their distinctiveness. They had allowed the world to shape them, and because of that, their witness in the city of Corinth was about to be extinguished. Folks, we cannot allow the same thing to happen to our church. As we talk about building our new campus, as we talk about building up the body of Christ by being a witness in this community, it is important that we concentrate on being a holy, a pure, a distinctive people, not only individually, but together as a church. And that's why God has led me as pastor to lead us in this study this next coming year, over the book of 1 Corinthians, because 1 Corinthians has as its theme how to maintain your distinctiveness as a Christian in a darkening world, and that is going to be the subject of our study over these next months.
So if you have your Bibles, I want you to take them and open them to the book of 1 Corinthians. And tonight in the 31 minutes we have, we're going to do three things, okay, as we begin our study of 1 Corinthians. First of all, we're going to look briefly at the background of 1 Corinthians. You can't appreciate this book unless you understand the context in which Paul wrote it. Secondly, we're going to survey the contents of the book. I've given you a survey on your outline tonight. And then finally, in the final few moments, we're going to look at the first nine verses of this book that have a real message for each of us here tonight. First of all, let's look at the background of the book. You know, like most letters in Paul's day, you found both the sender and the recipient of the book mentioned at the beginning of the letter. Both the sender and the recipient are mentioned in verses one and two. The sender identifies himself as Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Now, you remember who Paul was formerly. He was Saul of Tarsus. He was an ardent Jew. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a persecutor of Christians. He was present at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, but remember, on his way to Damascus to persecute believers, the Lord appeared to him. He not only saved him, but he selected him to be the apostle to the gentiles, and even though Paul was not one of the original 12, Paul met the conditions of a true apostle. That is, he had seen the risen Lord. He saw him on the road to Damascus. And secondly, he had been selected by the Lord for a unique ministry.
Now later, throughout this letter and all of Paul's letters, he constantly reminds his readers that he was a true apostle, and the reason he did this was not to flaunt his authority, but to remind his readers that his message was truly a message from God. And by the way, that's a truth we need to continue to hear today. I'm amazed at the number of Christians who really don't understand this basic truth, that the words of Paul are scripture. They are just as authoritative as the words of Jesus Christ himself. I have to confess a bias to you. I hate red letter editions of the Bible, okay? And the reason I don't like red letter editions of the Bible is people somehow get the idea that those words that are in red are somehow more important than other words in the Bible. No, the Bible says all scripture is inspired by God.
Every word, whether it is from Jesus' lips or Paul's lips or John's lips or Peter lips, they all originated from God, not with man. I remember being in the seminary years ago, and the study was about 1 Timothy. It was one of my doctoral seminars, and we were studying Paul's letter to, Paul's pastoral epistle, 1 Timothy, and talking about the role of women in the church, and the professor said this. He said, "Now, remember, you can't take seriously what Paul is saying here about the role of women in the church. Paul was a bitter old bachelor who hated women, and that's why he wrote what he did". Well, that is a low view of scripture. The Bible says all scripture is inspired by God. You know what's interesting is the apostle Peter didn't always agree with the apostle Paul on everything. They had their moments of disagreement, but in 2 Peter chapter three, verses 15 and 16, Peter says something very interesting. He said, "The words of our brother Paul are sometimes difficult to understand, but they are scripture".
In fact, he uses the term scripture to refer to the words, the writings of the apostle Paul. So when we talk about Paul the apostle, we're talking about somebody who was selected by Christ and whose words are authoritative. Now, the reason I mentioned that tonight at the outset is when we get to some of these chapters about what Paul says about the gift of tongues, or when we talk about the role of women in the church, or we talk about other controversial issues, some of you are going to get mad. Some of you are going to threaten to leave the church. Remember, your argument is not with me. It's not even with Paul. It's with God himself. These are the authoritative words of God that we're looking at.
Now, secondly, let's look at the occasion of the letter. What caused the writing of what we call 1 Corinthians? Hold your place here and turn over to acts chapter 18 for a moment. Paul founded the church at Corinth on his second missionary journey. Many of us here tonight have had the chance to visit the city of Corinth, the remains of Corinth. They're visible, and we've retraced the steps of Paul on this second missionary journey. When Paul reached Corinth on his second missionary journey, he was flat broke. He had zero denarii, okay? No money whatsoever, and so he had to go to work, and so he knew how to make tents, and he was introduced to Priscilla and Aquila, who were also tent-makers, and Paul became a sanctified tent-maker, and this was his schedule. He would work on making tents from Sunday until Friday, and then on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, he would go to the local synagogue in Corinth, and there he would preach that Jesus is the true Messiah, and he did that for 18 months.
May I stop and say a word that relates to just about every one of you here tonight, or those of you listening by radio or television? Don't think because you do not get your paycheck from a church or from a mission organization, don't ever fall into the trap of thinking that somehow you're less a servant of God than a pastor or a missionary. Where your paycheck comes from does not determine whether or not you're a full-time servant of Christ. I like what one person said when he was asked what he did for a living. He said, "I am an ordained plumber". He understood. I mean, he made his money, his living by fixing pipes, but his real calling was as a servant of Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter that you spend the bulk of your time every week trying to earn a living for your family.
That's biblical. That's what God has called you to do. But there are many of you here who invest hours serving in volunteer positions in church, or you're working to be a witness for Christ in your school or at your workplace. You are a full-time minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as the apostle Paul was. Now, Paul faced a great deal of opposition while he was in Corinth, and finally, after 18 months, he went to the city of Ephesus, and while he was in Ephesus, he got word that this church he had formed in Corinth was having difficulty. So he wrote a letter, his first letter to the church at Corinth, and that's the letter that we have here, right? Wrong. That letter got lost, okay? And we don't know what happened to it. It's called the lost letter to Corinth.
And so some of the members of the church of Ephesus, or church at Corinth went to Ephesus to ask Paul some questions about what was happening in their church, and in answer to the questions, Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians. It was actually his second letter to the church at Corinth, and this letter is a response to the questions these Corinthian leaders had about every subject you can imagine under the sun. And that helps you understand the context of this letter. Now, let me say a third thing about the audience, the people to whom Paul wrote. Corinth was a key city in ancient Greece. It was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, but Julius Caesar rebuilt the city in 46 BC, and if you visited Corinth, you know it is on an isthmus that is four miles wide and 10 miles long, and is between the Adriatic and the Aegean Sea.
In Paul's day, it was a great metropolis. It was a port city, much like Los Angeles or New York would be today. It consisted of about 700.000 people, two-thirds of which were slaves. But perhaps the thing that the city was most known for was its decadent, debauched lifestyle. There were a number of shrines and temples in the city of Corinth, one to Apollo and one to Poseidon. The temple of Aphrodite, one there and one in Athens. There was a temple of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, on the top of the Acrocorinthus, the 1.800-foot plateau that overlooked the city of Corinth. By the time Paul got there, that temple was in disrepair. There is some question about the thousand temple prostitutes that used to inhabit that temple of Aphrodite. Some say that a new cult of temple prostitutes had arisen, and they would come down into the city, and that that's the background of understanding what Paul was saying about the role of women in the church. Whether or not that is true, what we do know is it was an immoral city.
In fact, there was a Greek term, corinthiazomai. Corinthiazomai, to act like a Corinthian. It meant to act in a debauched way. In fact, when Plato was trying to describe a prostitute in his writings, he referred to her as a Corinthian girl. And so that is the city which Paul preached in, and that is the city that these new converts started to arise out of. And what started happening was you had these brand new Christians who were coming out of this decadent lifestyle, and they were struggling with their newfound faith in Christ, and they were being pulled back into their old way of living. By the way, don't let anybody tell you that once you become a Christian, are your struggles with sin are over. They're not. They're just beginning, before you're a Christian, you don't have any struggle at all, but once you have that new nature inside of you at war with the old nature, there is always going to be that struggle.
And so some of these new converts were going back into their old way of living. There were others in the church who weren't believers at all, who were influencing the church for evil. And against that backdrop, Paul wrote this letter of both instruction and rebuke. Now let's look quickly at an overview of the book itself. In verses one to nine that we're going to look at in a moment, you had the introduction, and then in chapters one through four, he talks about division in the church. Look at verses 11 and 12 of chapter one. "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul.' others are saying, 'I am of Apollos.' some are saying, 'I am of Cephas,' and some are saying, 'I'm of Christ'". The people we're dividing over their leaders.
One sign of immaturity in a church is that people divide over leaders in the church. They idolize their leaders, and then they enjoy tearing down their leaders. And there were those in the Corinthian church who divided according to their pastors. Some were saying, "Well, I'm of Paul, the founding pastor of the church". Others were saying, "Nah, he really wasn't that great of a pastor. I like the new guy here. I like Apollos. He's a better pastor than the last pastor was". Some are saying, "Well, I like the original pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter. I'm one of his followers". And then there were some in the church who were saying, "Oh, I don't follow any man at all. I only follow Jesus".
And they are the most dangerous of all, because they are the super-spiritual, pseudo-spiritual people. It would be like people in our church dividing up over pastors, some saying, "Oh, I'm a Jeffress man. I like that pastor Jeffress". Others saying, "Oh, I like pastor brunson. He was much better than pastor Jeffress". And others saying, "Oh, I'll always be a Criswell person until the day I die". And then others saying, "Oh no, I just follow Jesus". Dividing along the lines of leadership. That was what was happening in the Corinthian church. In chapters five to six, you have disorders in the church. Paul is going to address several disorders that were occurring in the church. One was a man was living with his stepmother in flagrant immorality. Another problem was lawsuits, Christians suing other Christians. We're going to talk about that.
Should a Christian ever take another Christian to court? Fornication was taking place in the church, all types of sexual immorality. And then in chapter seven through 14, Paul talks about difficulties in the church. In chapter seven, he's going to address the topic of divorce and remarriage. Is there any occasion in which divorce and remarriage are permitted? And what about the case where one person becomes a Christian and the other is a non-Christian? We're going to look at that. And then chapters eight through 10. What about the gray areas of the Christian life? What about those areas that the Bible doesn't address specifically? Those questionable areas of behavior. In Paul's day, the issue was meat, eating meat that had been offered to idols. That's probably not on the list of your concerns right now, of things you wonder about.
If I were going to draw a parallel to a situation today, I might use alcoholic consumption. Is it right for a Christian to drink alcohol? Is there a verse in the Bible that says no alcohol should ever touch your lips? And if there is no such law, why shouldn't we all drink? What's wrong with it? And Paul's going to address that issue in chapters eight through 10. Chapter 11, I'm going to wear my flack jacket for this one. The role of women in the church, okay? Paul's going to talk about that in chapter 11. What are women permitted to do and not permitted to do in the church? And then chapters 12 through 14, he talks about spiritual gifts in the church. The gift of tongues. Is it a gift that's relevant today? Is it a gift we ought to strive after? Are there other spiritual gifts that we ought to seek?
We're going to have a long discussion about the subject of spiritual gifts. And then in chapter 15, he addresses the subject of doctrine, especially the doctrine of the resurrection. There was some false teaching in Corinth about the whole issue of the resurrection, and in chapter 15, Paul is going to answer every question you can even imagine having about the resurrection, and specifically, what is your new body going to be like in heaven? He answers that in chapter 15. And then finally in chapter 16, he gives direction to the church. I want you to notice in verse two, Paul says he writes this letter to the church of God which is at Corinth. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, just like he is reminding us, the church does not belong to us. We are not free to operate the church as we choose to operate it.
This church, First Baptist Church Dallas, belongs to Jesus Christ. It is his church, and because it is his church, we have an obligation to operate it according to his principles. The difficulty is God's principles are always different than our principles, and over these months, we're going to try to discover God's wisdom for how to live our lives individually and together as a church. Now, in these final few moments tonight, let's look at the first nine verses of 1 Corinthians chapter one. Make sure you have your Bibles open. First of all, notice in verses two and three, Paul is going to discuss our position in Christ. He writes, beginning in verse two, "To the church of God which is at Corinth to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ".
Now, had I been the apostle Paul and I were writing this letter, I'll have to confess to you, I would've lit into those Corinthians right away, okay? I would have let them have it. Just think, I mean living in fornication, somebody living with their stepmother, getting drunk at the Lord's table. Can you imagine such a thing? Many of you may not know this, but did you know we used to serve real wine at the Lord's supper here many, many years ago? Real wine was served at the Lord's supper. I read this in one of the accounts of the church. Mrs. Truitt put a stop to it when she saw one of the deacons enjoying the Lord's supper a little bit too much, and she put a stop to it. And after that, we started using grape juice here. Well, in Paul's day, it wasn't just one deacon doing that. It was many at the church were actually getting drunk at the Lord's supper. Man, I would've rebuked them right away for doing such stuff. Not Paul. He was much wiser.