Read 1 Corinthians 8.
There’s a big difference in something that puffs up and something that builds up. Sure, both give the appearance of growth, but there’s a lot more to one than the other. Like a balloon filled with air, puffing up happens quickly but isn’t all that durable. A little bit of pressure or even a blade of grass can burst a balloon. The appearance of growth can vanish in an instant, with as little effort as it took to attain, and that isn’t to say that something built with more substance can’t be damaged or destroyed. In fact, it is precisely Paul’s point that it can, but something that has been built up isn’t nearly as fragile as that which is puffed up. It takes a lot more to demolish a well-built structure than to pop a balloon, and it takes a lot more to demolish a a well-built relationship than to burst an overly-inflated ego.
The exact occasion of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians isn’t one most of us experience, but the principle he applies is surely one we need. Knowing things is great, but there’s something far better–love. Seeming to have all the answers can make us feel (and even appear) big and important and accomplished, but it’s in living out what we know in love toward our brother and sister that real growth happens. And love means my brother or sister come before my insistence upon my own rights, even before my insistence that I am right.
Read 1 Corinthians 7
Marriage–marriage is what brings us together today. (IYKYK)
Anyways, here’s my best attempt at a one-sentence summary of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7: marriage is a gift from God, but marriage is not a god.
Marriage Is A Gift
After admonishing the Corinthians for tolerating the kind of grotesque sexual immorality “that is not tolerated even among the pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1), Paul commands the Corinthians to flee from such sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20).
But God offers gifts to help his people flee such immorality and live in greater holiness–and one of those gifts is marriage (vv. 1-5).
Marriage Is Not A God
Marriage is a good gift from a gracious God, but marriage is not a god–that is to say, marriage is not ultimate. Or, said another way, singleness is not second-class citizenry. Paul was single. Jesus was single. When you read your Bible, do you find yourself thinking Paul and Jesus would’ve been better off if they were married? Neither do I.
Glorify God In Your Marriage/Singleness
Which brings us to the application–whether you are married or single, your objective remains the same: to bring God the glory and honor due his name. Consider today how you might better leverage your marriage or singleness to bring God the glory he deserves.
Read 1 Corinthians 5
Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 5 is addressing an unrepentant sexual immorality inside the church. Paul says in verses 1 and 2 – “… A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?”
In today’s “you do you” culture this type of behavior is celebrated at the loss of society’s moral compass. It is imperative that we understand Paul’s teaching for what it is. Our unrepentance should be met with proper expulsion from fellowship with other believers, or in other words – from church.
Jesus himself directs us on how to conduct proper church discipline in Matthew chapter 18. Discipline in the context of church exists for the unrepentant heart, but the goal is complete restoration.
Glory to God for the one who repents, turns, and walks in the way of the Lord.
Read 1 Corinthians 4.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, at least that’s what the song says. It’s also the time of year where everyone is trying to sell you something, the time where your email inbox is filled with deals and discounts designed to draw you into spending your holiday budget with a given company. After all, these deals are only for a limited time. You don’t want to miss out. Every word, every image is designed to lead you to the conclusion that your life will be better and happier if you buy the thing, whether for yourself or for someone you love. The trouble with it all is that it never seems to be enough. Everyone is trying to sell you something this time of year, except for the Apostle Paul.
 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,  and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;  when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ESV
None of the promotional emails in my inbox or the Instagram ads in my feed seem to take Paul’s approach, probably because nobody would be enticed to buy whatever they were selling. Paul, however, wasn’t trying to sell the Corinthians or us anything, which is why his words in this chapter shine so brightly against the backdrop of this season. Instead, Paul is reminding the reader that the success of his ministry–or Apollos’ for that matter–isn’t judged according to the standards of this age but by the standards of God. Paul was determined to be faithful to God and to remind the Corinthians to do the same, not by shaming them but by enduring in his love toward them.
Your ministry is not exactly the same as Paul’s, but what is the same is the One you serve. Like Paul, it does us no good to compare ourselves to others or to judge ourselves by the standards of others. What matters is our standing before God, who calls us “beloved children” even when serving Christ doesn’t come with all the glamour of a Christmas catalogue. Beloved child–that’s not an identity than can be bought or sold, only received, and it isn’t for a limited time either. Will you take a moment to rest in that identity today?
Read 1 Corinthians 3.
Paul is full of metaphors in 1 Corinthians 3. It’s as if he started out with three options on the brainstorming board and decided to run with all of them. He starts by calling his teaching among the Corinthians “milk, not solid food,” because they “were not ready for it.” He then moves on to the metaphor of planting and watering. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. Finally, he settles on building. The believers are God’s building but also God’s fellow workers. God is the master builder, and Jesus is the only reliable foundation. Anything built on any other foundation will not stand the test of time, regardless of who builds it. Without a doubt, that is sobering to think about. It could lead us beyond honest reflection to morbid introspection, but Paul follows it immediately with an assurance, “ Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
The master builder is building a temple, or to put it another way, God is at work in your life because “you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” The Corinthians were eager to assign credit either to Paul or Apollos, but Paul’s message to them resounds to us–God’s wisdom is different from the world’s, and God’s work will not fall.
Read 1 Corinthians 2
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
Paul’s message to the Corinthians was not marked by eloquence. Nor did he proclaim the testimony of God with an extensive vocabulary that was sure to impress and persuade his hearers.
It wasn’t because Paul lacked eloquence. It wasn’t because Paul was an incapable wordsmith. Quite the contrary–Paul was actually one of the most articulate and educated men of his day.
So why the stripped-down presentation of the gospel? So that the faith of the Corinthians “might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (v. 5). Paul knew–and believed–that the gospel message was sufficient to transform lives. It did not need to be dressed up, marketed, and repackaged according to man’s wisdom.
You do not need certificates and degrees to effectively share the good news of Jesus Christ. You do not need an extensive vocabulary. When it comes to proclaiming the gospel, the power is not in your presentation but in the presence of the Spirit (v. 13).
Read 1 Corinthians 1.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
We are simultaneously entering the home stretch of the busy holiday season and the gentle reflective season of advent meant to focus our hearts on our Savior. During this first week of advent it’s easy to get distracted with all the things we “need” to do in preparation for gatherings and celebrations. It’s easy to get caught up in our preferences for certain holiday traditions…even at church…and for those who struggle with less than ideal circumstances, it’s easy to get bogged down with despair. However, the first week of advent directs us to reflect on hope. Not the hope of having a successful party. Nor the hope of finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones. But rather the hope found in our Savior who graciously loves the sinner.
What greater source of hope than that of God’s love! Let’s enter this season with hearts full of celebration, for God didn’t send His Son to redeem only those who are considered great. He didn’t plan to rescue only the righteous. He chose to work through lowly sinners to bring to fruition his grand plan to conquer sin and death, not so that we can believe we are in better standing than others but so that we can proclaim his goodness and grace. Can we possibly slow down this week and humbly rejoice in God’s love for us and the hope that can only come from His sacrifice? Can we share this hope with those in our paths, loving them as Christ has loved us?
Read Acts 19.
My band recently released a song that we worked on for two years. If you add up just the time we spent in the studio, it might be more accurate to say that we only spent twenty-ish hours recording. So why did it take two years? If I’m being honest, we gave up a lot along the way. We spent a lot of time wondering if the recording was something we should even be doing and spent more time distracted by other life events. Staying motivated and on track can be hard.
8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Acts 19:8-10, ESV
In this passage in Acts 19, we see about two years of Paul’s life. He spends that time trying to reason and persuade a great number of people to accept the good news of Jesus. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us would struggle to last the first three months. Focusing on any specific task for a length of time can be difficult, especially when that task is reasoning with others. We have a continual mission to share the gospel, and Paul shows us a great example of the perseverance that this mission takes. Let’s use that example to renew our motivation to reach the world for God.
Read Thessalonians 3.
Finally. For some reason, it’s a word that gets your attention. It’s as if we instinctively know that last does not mean least. “Finally” calls us to lean in so we don’t miss the conclusion of the matter, to open our ears so we know what to do next. So what does Paul have in store for his big finish? The unveiling of some deeply theological pronouncement? Or perhaps some novel exhortation toward Christian living? Not exactly. But that isn’t to say that Paul’s closing isn’t theologically robust or essential to Christian living. It’s just to say that what’s most critical in the end isn’t what’s new but what’s lasting. Paul’s call to the Thessalonians and to us? Pray for us. Paul closes by reminding the Thessalonians that we all need the same thing to carry out our calling–prayer for one another. We need the Lord to direct our hearts in steadfast love.
Take a moment to pray for someone who is carrying out the calling of God on their life, and give thanks to the Lord for brothers and sisters who are praying for you in much the same way.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV
Read 2 Thessalonians 2.
 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV
Paul opens 2 Thessalonians 2 by asking the believers “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” The problem is that by the time you’re asking someone not to panic, there’s a pretty good chance that one of you is already panicking. In this case, it seems to be the Thessalonians. With confusion around whether or not the Lord had already returned, Paul wants to lower the temperature and reassure them. So, he makes it abundantly clear that things are going to get much worse…which doesn’t seem like the best way to quell a panic. It seems like it would be more tempting to go with, “It’s not as bad as you think,” or maybe, “Things are going to turn around.” Instead, Paul’s message is more akin to, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Why is this Paul’s approach? Is it as cold and calloused as it might seem? I don’t think it is, but to understand why, we have to remember the root of their panic and the foundation of their faith. The cause of their concern was not actually the present challenges they faced but the potential that they had missed the coming of the Lord. So, Paul’s assurance that the presence of the first didn’t necessarily entail the second was just what they needed. It may also be just what we need–a reminder that the presence of suffering doesn’t mean the removal of God’s presence. And that brings us to the foundation of their faith–our faith–the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised for the forgiveness of our sins. Or as Paul puts it here, “eternal comfort and good hope through grace.”
Let’s pray, as Paul did for the Thessalonians, that God will comfort our hearts and establish us in every good work and word no matter what challenges we face.