Examining Ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-34)

I have always been intrigued by the job of a detective. Pieces of evidence and details people may gloss over detectives stop and study. They take a closer look, examining the material. Their purpose in doing this is to find something that will expose the person guilty of the crime. Now, translate the work of a detective to Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper. As Christians, we must hear the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:28). In other words, before we partake of remembering and proclaiming Christ by eating the bread and drinking cup, we need to examine our hearts. The reason we ought to examine ourselves is to see if there is any unconfessed sin in our lives. If there is unconfessed sin, the proper response is to repent of it. We are to do the work of a detective, if you will, by studying and examining our own hearts. If we refuse to examine and repent, then we partake in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (11:27). This does not come without consequences. These consequences of partaking unworthily speak to the significance of the Lord’s Supper.

What exactly are such results? In two words: guilt and judgment. For the person who eats the bread and drinks the cup without examining their heart, the word of the Lord says that person is guilty concerning the very thing they are supposed to be remembering and proclaiming in taking the Lord’s Supper (11:27). Put another way, in the Lord’s Supper we, Christians, remember and proclaim the death of Christ. When we partake of the elements in an unworthy manner we sin, revealing our guilt. Moreover, the Christian who fails to examine themselves eats and drinks judgment on themselves. For the Corinthians, the unexamined issue was around church unity and caring for others in the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–22, 33–34). Although division was the specific concern Paul addressed in the Corinthian church, any unconfessed sin leads to partaking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Whatever the sin may be, what is this judgment one eats and drinks upon themselves? It is the disciplinary judgment of God (11:31–32). For Christians, they are in Christ and cannot be condemned as unbelievers in the world (see Romans 8:1). However, a follower of Christ does face the discipline of God when they have unrepentant sin in their life (see Hebrews 12:6). Simply put, to neglect examining yourself before partaking in the Lord’s Supper is to bring the disciplinary judgment of God upon yourself. For the Corinthians, this disciplinary judgment took the form of weakness, illness, and even death (11:30). For us, it may take a different form. We may not become physically ill and may not die, but there will most assuredly be serious consequences.

Therefore, the next time you partake in the Lord’s Supper, examine your heart and life. The purpose of taking the elements, the bread and cup, is to remember and proclaim the death of Christ, not to bring the judgment of God upon yourself (11:34). In examining ourselves and repenting if need be, we honor the Lord by taking His Supper in a worthy manner.

Reflection Questions:

  • How does 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 relate to the significance of the Lord’s Supper?
  • Why is it important to examine yourself before you partake of the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper?

This post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.

Remember and Proclaim (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

If two people say they love each other, then what is the proper step for them to take to declare that love publicly? The proper step is a wedding ceremony. In the wedding ceremony, the couple exchanges vows, verbalizing their commitment to one another. While not all vows are taken seriously, the wedding ceremony should be the occasion where the meaning of marriage and the significance of marriage is made known. Matters like this are not limited to wedding ceremonies, though. Within the church, a ceremony exists. This ceremony is an ordinance known as the Lord’s Suppe or communion. The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is not to be taken without understanding the meaning and significance of the event. If we fail to understand and apply what the Lord’s Supper means, we will fail to be taking the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:20). The Apostle Paul knew this and that is why in his letter to the Corinthian church he takes space to remind and exhort the Christians in Corinth to realize the meaning and significance.

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper: Remember and Proclaim

Before we can consider the significance of the Lord’s Supper (as we will look at next week), we need to grasp the meaning of it. This meaning precedes Paul and takes us back to the words of Jesus. In Matthew 26 we read Jesus and His disciples were making preparations to eat the Passover meal. It was within that context the Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26–29). How does knowing that contribute to the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Well, the Passover meal was instituted by God to the people of Israel for His act of deliverance and redemption for them as they were delivered from Pharaoh and Egyptian slavery. With the Passover meal the Israelites were to remember and proclaim their redemption from Egypt (see Exodus 12:14, 25–27). Put simply, in celebrating the Passover the people of Israel remembered and proclaimed.

What Jesus does with His disciples in the Lord’s Supper, then, is He institutes a new Passover meal. The purpose of this new Passover meal is for the same purpose, to remember and to proclaim, but on a greater scale. The deliverance and redemption were not merely from physical slavery and oppression. The deliverance and redemption in this new meal was from spiritual slavery and oppression, sin and death.

How would this deliverance and redemption occur? For that, we look to the elements used to remember and proclaim. The bread and wine cup are meant to represent and symbolize the body and blood of Jesus. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “the Lord Jesus…took bread, and when he has given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (11:23–25). The bread we partake in the Lord’s Supper is meant to symbolize the body of the One who was put to death on a cross in our place. Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sin and He absorbed the wrath of God that we may be forgiven. By the blood of Jesus we can enter into a New Covenant. This New Covenant does what the Old Covenant was not able to provide (see Romans 3:20). In the New Covenant, God gives a new heart and puts a new spirit in all who believe in Him (Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 36:26–27). This means by which this can occur is through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In partaking of the bread and the cup, we not only remember the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross. We also proclaim it. The Apostle Paul continues, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26). All who partake in the Lord’s Supper, that is those who have repented of their sin and have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, make a proclamation. When they take the Lord’s Supper with others Christians in the church gathering, they are proclaiming the death and, by implication, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread and cup portray what Christ has done for those who believe in Him. Those who believe in Him, then, proclaim until Christ returns what He has accomplished on the cross. His death on the cross was not the end, however. He has risen from the dead and He is coming back. We proclaim Him and what He has done in the gospel while we anticipate His return. That is what we remember and proclaim.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is remembering the Lord’s Supper important to the Christian faith?
  • In what way does partaking in the Lord’s Supper proclaim Christ’s death?

15871997_10210430005099789_6580064576224717116_nThis post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.

Heart-Revealing Treatment (Matthew 25:31–46)

Matthew 25:31-46 is a worthy passage for reflection and thought. In this passage, Jesus describes the moment when He will return to establish His Kingdom here on Earth. Upon His arrival, “He will sit on his glorious throne” and “Before Him will be gathered all the nations” (25:32). In this moment, every eye will see Him, and every person will be obligated to stand before His presence. He’s going to bring everyone into account for the lives they have lived (Romans 2:6-8).

When He arrives, the King has some work lined up. He plans to separate those who come before Him. On His right will stand believers (the sheep), and on His left, unbelievers (the goats). The believers shall be welcomed by the King and invited into His Kingdom. Unbelievers will be cursed and condemned into everlasting torment.

What’s the determining factor? How does the King decide who will enter His Kingdom and who will not? Their works (25:35-46). The sheep are commended and blessed because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats, however, are cursed because they didn’t do these things. In the end, their manner of life determined their destiny.

Now, let’s be clear. Right standing with God (justification) is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). It is not a “result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). But, if this is the case, then why does Jesus make it very clear that entrance into the Kingdom is based on whether you have engaged in good works, such as assisting the needy? He almost seems to imply that you have to earn your way into His Kingdom.

But, Jesus does not mean that at all. He is not teaching that you have to earn your salvation. So, why does His judgment seem to depend on what the people did? It’s simple, your treatment of others reveals your heart.

The sheep have saving faith in Christ, and they expressed their faith through good works. Conversely, the goats didn’t have faith in Christ, and they showed this by their lack of love and concern for those in need. This is because genuine believers have transformed hearts, renewed by the Holy Spirit and unbelievers do not.

One of the top-tier evidences that you have received a new heart leading to saving faith is that you demonstrate love towards those in need. It’s feeding the hungry. It’s giving water to those who thirst. It’s clothing the naked. It’s comforting the afflicted. Christians have been radically changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the proof of their salvation is a life committed to serving other people, particularly the needy and helpless.

If you follow Jesus, I hope, to some extent, this describes you. We cannot live for ourselves. We must live sacrificially for Christ’s glory and the good of others. We must be willing to give ourselves to Jesus and be His servants. We cannot reduce our Christianity to mere church attendance and nothing else. If that describes you, then you’re missing the point.

If you look down on people and judge them as those who deserve hardship because they’ve made poor choices, you’re probably a goat, not a sheep. Sheep extend the love they’ve received. Goats self-righteously hoard all the goodness God has bestowed upon them.

So, which are you: a sheep or a goat? Where will you be when Jesus returns, on the right or the left? Look at how you treat the lowly and needy. There you will find your answer.

Reflection Questions:

  • What does the treatment of others reveal about your heart?
  • How can you extend the love you have received from God to others in your life?

This devotional was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

Out of Darkness (Matthew 4:12-17)

If you would have asked any Jew during the day of Jesus, the majority of them would have assumed Israel’s Messiah would start His ministry in the religious epicenter of the world—Jerusalem. Israel’s capital is the city of God, the city of the great King and the location where all the religious elites spent their time. But our Lord didn’t inaugurate His ministry there. His ministry began in Galilee, an obscure and despised region in Israel.

After being tempted by Satan, Jesus left the wilderness when He heard that John the Baptist was arrested (see Matthew 4:12-17). I’m certain our Lord was avoiding facing the same fate. It was too early in His ministry to endure similar opposition.

When He arrived, His first stop was Nazareth (4:13), but we know from Luke’s gospel that Jesus didn’t spend much time there because He was rejected and nearly killed (Luke 4:16-30). Therefore, He left His hometown for a nearby village called Capernaum. It would seem many human circumstances were sending Jesus all around Israel. John is arrested. Jesus leaves for Galilee. His hometown rejects Him. Jesus leaves for Capernaum.

Though the human element is certainly a factor, you can be sure God’s sovereign will is being accomplished. Upon His arrival to Capernaum, Jesus fulfills ancient prophecy (4:14-16). Capernaum is the old territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

A little background is helpful at this point. In the days of Joshua, Israel was commanded to overtake the land of Canaan. God also commanded them to drive out the inhabitants of the land lest their gods and false religions become a snare to the children of Israel. Israel obeyed God’s command to raid the land. However, they failed to drive out all of its inhabitants. Many Gentiles were left and this caused endless problems for the Jews. By the time Jesus came on the scene, this region is full of false religion and the worship of false gods. Galilee was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15). The religious established scorned them and steered clear of going there.

Jesus, on the other hand, began His ministry in the midst of spiritual darkness and death (4:16). The light of the world went to those who needed Him most. Our Lord called them out of the darkness and into the light, and He did this with a simple but profound message that still preaches today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus didn’t merely call these people out of darkness. He commanded them.

The way we come out of darkness is by repenting of the darkness we love so much. I’m talking about sin. If you’re like me, you know sin all too well. It’s a part of the fabric of our being. And if you’re honest, apart from God’s grace, you love your sin more than you love Christ. Left to our own devices, we would all choose our sin and perish apart from the Lord.

But Jesus shines a light into our lives. He lets us know there is a different way. If we repent and turn to Christ, we’ll be saved. Repentance consists of three things—confession, contrition and conversion. We confess our sins to God. We agree that we’re wrong and we ask for forgiveness. We also express genuine contrition and sorrow for our sin. And then we turn to Christ, we trust in Him and are converted.

When we do this, we find inclusion into this Kingdom that Jesus promises is so near. While the fullness of His Kingdom is a future reality yet to come, Jesus reigns upon the thrones of everyone’s hearts that trust in Him.

Reflection Questions:

  • What does it mean that Jesus calls us out of the darkness and into the light?
  • How does knowing the three elements of repentance bring us to a better understanding of how to deal with our sin in responding to the gospel?

This devotional was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

The Devil’s Most Effective Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)

Have you ever wondered why Satan tempted Jesus to make the stones into bread? Take a look at Matthew 4:1-11, paying special attention to the first temptation (vv.1-4). Of course, Satan knew Jesus was hungry. Our Lord hadn’t eaten for 40 days (v. 2). Therefore, it’s easy to see that the Devil was striking at Jesus’s weakness. But this doesn’t get to the heart of the temptation.

What is the Devil Doing?

Some have speculated that Satan was trying to get Jesus to use His power as God’s Son for His own personal benefit. Remember, Jesus set aside His divine rights (Philippians 2:6). He humbled Himself in becoming exactly like us, yet without sin. Yet, I still don’t think that gets to the core of the issue. It wouldn’t have been sinful for Jesus to make the stones into bread. He had that right. Eating isn’t sinful. Bread isn’t sinful. So, what is Satan up to?

The Trickery of Distraction

The Devil was using a tactic he has tricked mankind with since the dawn of creation—distraction! Satan will expose our weaknesses to distract our attention away from God. Jesus was fasting, which means He was spending alone time with God. The Tempter, however, wanted to break Jesus’s focus from His Heavenly Father to food.

Here’s why Satan’s Temptation is so crafty and effective (except with Jesus). He distracts us with good things. Satan will divert your attention away from God by distracting you with things that are not inherently sinful. Bread isn’t sinful. Bread is good. God gave us bread as a gift of His love. It tastes good. It’s filling. It’s nutritious. No one would say bread is bad. And that’s exactly why Satan used it.

When we’re distracted with “good” things we don’t realize that we are being tricked by Satan. We’ve conditioned our minds to believe that Satan only wants to entice us to commit horrible sins such as murder, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing etc. No doubt, he does cause all of those things. But let’s not forget Satan’s main goal. He desires to see you perish apart from Christ. That’s why he keeps unbelievers blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4). If you are a believer, he wants to keep your attention off of Christ so you will produce no fruit for His kingdom. Satan hates God and will do everything he can to hinder the work of God, and one of the ways he does this is by distraction.

Principle in Play

Think about it! How many Christians have no time for church because of sports? Are sports sinful? No. Sports can be good. However, Satan will use sports as a distraction. He’ll say something like this, “It’s okay if you miss church or if your kids miss youth group. They’re young. This is the only time in their lives they can play this game. Plus, they love it. You love it. Sports are fun.” Before you know it, your families’ attention is taken away from God.

And it’s not only sports. It’s anything he can use to take your focus off of Christ. Again, it doesn’t have to be inherently sinful. It just has to be effective.

So, what distracts you from Jesus? Food? Politics? Money? Materialism? Work? They’re all good things if used properly, but they can also become “good” distractions. We all have weaknesses, and Satan will use them to divert us away from our Lord. This is why we’re told to “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Reflection Questions:

  • What are the “good” things in your life that distract you from Jesus?
  • How does awareness of the devil’s tactics help you in overcoming temptation?

This devotional was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

How Long? (Psalm 13)

I am learning to be content in my current season of life. As a single, the LORD is teaching me the blessings of singleness. Still, a desire for marriage remains on the forefront of my mind and heart. At 25 years old and only a short-term relationship to account for, questions of timing loom. Yes, I know everything will happen according to God’s will in God’s timing. But waiting for a relationship to happen sometimes feels like asking, “How long, O LORD?” I am sure you have experienced the same sentiment. Maybe you are not waiting for a relationship to happen. You may be hoping a wayward child will see their error and return to you and to God. You may be praying for your spouse to quit pursuing the lusts of the world and, instead, show their love to you. You may be crying out to God as one who has recently been diagnosed with an illness or cancer. Whatever the situation may be, many of us find ourselves asking God, “How long?”

How Long?

We are not alone in asking this question. Faced with some type of opposition, King David asked this question too. In Psalm 13, we hear King David open up by asking four times, “How long?” He says:

  • “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (v. 1a)
  • “How long will you hide your face from me?” (v. 1b)
  • “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (v. 2a)
  • “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (v. 2b)

In asking these questions, David is not accusing the LORD of unfaithfulness. Nor is David stating the LORD has mentally forgotten about him. Understanding the Psalms as Hebrew poetry, what David is doing here is expressing his feelings. Amid his circumstances, David says he feels as if the LORD is indifferent toward him. Judging by his feelings and surroundings, it appears God has abandoned him, hiding His face from him. What leads David to despair is this feeling. With nowhere else to turn he takes counsel in his own soul and finds himself drowned in sorrow. By the looks of it, David’s enemy has the upper hand.

Dealing with Feelings

How does David deal with his feelings? Because the LORD does not feel present, does David settle into despair? Verse 1 gives us a clue the answer to such a question is “No!” Although it may appear God is in hiding, David still addresses God, “How long, O LORD?” Moreover, verses 3–4 give further evidence David deals with his feelings by bringing them to the LORD. He pleads, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (13:3). Whether he is speaking figuratively or literally in the second half of the verse regarding this sleep, David seeks to hear from the LORD in the hopes of things being brought to light. The purpose of David’s petition is so that David’s enemies may not boast in seeing David down.

Faith-Informed Feelings

After hearing David’s petition, one may assume to find the LORD’s answer. However, we do not find such in the closing verses of this psalm. Instead, we find feeling informed by faith in God. David’s closing remarks are a blueprint for how we ought to respond when we are faced with trying circumstances in life. When we do not understand what God is doing and when it appears as if He has left the situation, we should respond with David, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (13:5–6). We should not neglect our feelings but neither should we allow them to rule our lives. We must allow our faith to inform our feelings. How do we do this? By looking to the cross. The steadfast love of God was displayed on the cross, where Jesus Christ took the punishment we deserved for our sins by dying in our place for the forgiveness of sins. If we have trusted in this steadfast loving God, then we can rejoice in the salvation we have received. When we look to the cross, we see God loves us and cares for us. Faith-informed feelings, then, tell us to focus our eyes on the cross, not our circumstances. We will most certainly still have moments where we ask “How long?” but we ask it knowing God is there with us, not away from us.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is a current situation or circumstance in your life where you are asking, “How long?” How does this trial affect your view of the character of God?
  • Why should faith in God inform our feelings amidst circumstances and situations we face?
  • How does the gospel impact our view of God and of our circumstances?

15871997_10210430005099789_6580064576224717116_nThis post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.

Jesus, Lord and Savior-Part 4 (James 2:14-26)

As an associate pastor, one of my responsibilities at the church I serve is to teach children’s church on a regular basis. I am always grateful for the opportunity to share the Word of God with the children and point them to Jesus Christ. I also recognize temptations in teaching children the Bible. The first is to teach Bible narratives as if they are merely stories with a good moral point. However, if the Bible is truly the Word of God, the narratives found in Scripture are based in history. Children need to hear the narratives of David and Goliath and Jonah and the big fish are not fables but were actual events. This is not the only temptation with teaching children, though. A second temptation is to water down the response of the gospel. It is this second temptation I want us to consider in greater detail.

“Jesus Wants to Be Your Friend”

A common phrase I have heard some use to encourage children to respond to what Jesus has done on the cross is “Jesus wants to be your friend”. After all, does it not say in James 2 Abraham “was called a friend of God” (2:23)? Moreover, the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus is accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (7:34). These two verses seem to indicate Jesus can be your friend. The issue needing to be dealt with here has not to do with the text but with the context. In other words, James 2:23 is clear Abraham was a friend of God. Yet, to understand this friendship rightly the context of James 2:14–26 is essential.

Jesus: A Different Type of Friend

When we think about friendship, we do not think in terms of hierarchy. We view each other as equals. One person is not in authority over another. Now consider the same framework in describing Jesus as your friend. Does such a mindset contribute to a biblical concept? No. Jesus is a different type of friend. James 2 teaches us this. In verses 14–26 James is making the case saving faith is evidenced by good works. True faith in Jesus Christ will produce works for Christ. He uses the example of Abraham to illustrate this. He says, “and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (2:23). Abraham was called a friend of God because He placed His belief and trust in God. To be sure, this belief was not found without proof. James continues, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James is not saying here works are required for salvation. This would be in contradiction to the testimony of Scripture and to the gospel. Rather, James is making the case true saving faith will be seen through good works. To state it another way, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26).

Our Lord and Savior, then Our Friend

Just as Jesus is our example only after we trust in Him as Lord and Savior, Jesus is our friend. If we have not repented of our sins and placed our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then we are still enemies of God (James 4:4). To tell children, or even adults, to respond to the gospel by saying, “Jesus wants to be your friend” misses the point. To be a friend of God, we must confess our rebellion and sin against Him. We must place our faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The evidence we have believed in Him as Lord will be evidenced through obedience to His Word. When we ask for forgiveness for our sins and look to Christ only for salvation and hope, we will be found as friends of God!

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is it important to understand Jesus is our Lord and Savior before we say He is our friend?
  • How does understanding Jesus is our Lord and Savior before He is our friend affect the way we encourage people to respond to the gospel?

15871997_10210430005099789_6580064576224717116_nThis post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.