Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul found within the New Testament written unto the saints which were at Corinth. More specifically, today’s reading is found in the first eleven verses of the sixth chapter within the epistle. The sixth chapter of this epistle was written—at least the first eleven verses—in order to address yet another area that needed to be corrected and addressed within this particular congregation. The more I read the first epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation the more I am struck by the reality that despite this congregation coming behind and lacking nothing as it pertained to spiritual gifts, they nonetheless had need of being corrected by the apostles Paul. Ultimately, the correction that was set forth within this epistle came not from the apostle Paul alone, but directly from the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the church which is His body. One of the most intriguing realities concerning this particular epistle is that this congregation was spoken of as being “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” as being “called to be saints with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ,” and as having been given “the grace of God which was given them by Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, “in every thing” this congregation was enriched by Christ, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them. In addition to all of this, the apostle Paul would go on to speak of them as “coming behind in no gift,” as the waited for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” who would confirm them unto the end, that they might be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m amazed that on the surface this congregation appeared to have it all together and having need of nothing, and yet when the apostle Paul wrote his first epistle unto them, he wrote unto them having great need to bring correction among them within their midst.
In all reality, the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth reminds me a lot of seven letters which were written by the hand of the apostle John, yet whose words came not from an apostle or prophet, but from Jesus Christ Himself. WHEN JESUS DECIDES TO WRITE A LETTER! Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus decides to write a letter, He doesn’t just write one letter, but chooses to write seven distinct and unique letters which were addressed to seven different churches. The second and third chapters of the New Testament prophetic book fo the Revelation of Jesus Christ contain seven letters which were written unto the seven churches within the province of Asia—letters which began first with Ephesus. It is necessary to read and understand these seven letters which were written unto the seven churches within the province of Asia, for these letters reveal that while a church, while a congregation, while a body of believers may very well appear to have everything together on the surface, there are deeper root issues that have great need of being addressed. Please pardon me for including all seven letters within this writing, but I would ask you to consider the words and language that is contained within each of these seven letters, for by doing so, you will understand that when it comes to a specific church, congregation and body of believers there are essentially three views and three opinions concerning that body within the world. The first opinion is the opinion and view the congregation has of themselves within the earth as they exist in the world around them. The second opinion is the opinion and view of the world around them—the world in which they live, and those whom they may or may not have a relationship with. The third and final opinion of any congregation is the opinion of heaven as it is expressed by and through the heart, the mind and the voice of the Lord. Please find each of the seven letters which were written by the apostle John, yet were dictated by and originated from Jesus the Christ.
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I. Know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:1-7).
“And unto the angel in Smyrna write; These things saith the first. and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Revelation 2:8-11).
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou boldest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, wher eSatan dwelleth. ZBut I have a few things against thee, because tho hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the NIcolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:12-17).
“And unto the angel of the church in Thyatria write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reign and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will pout upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:18-28).
“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:1-6).
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutters; and shutters, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can chug it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my name name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:7-13).
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans with; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold not hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and Knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that you mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness to not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that you mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:14-22).
When reading each of these seven letters you will notice that unto each of the seven churches Jesus made one specific declaration that is included in each of these letters—“I know thy works.” It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand this single phrase, for although it is only four words in length, it presents us with the powerful reality that there is absolutely nothing that goes unnoticed by our Lord Jesus. More often than not, when this phrase was used to speak unto each of these seven churches, it was the prelude to that which needed to be addressed and corrected within the individual church and congregation. There were certain of these churches which received no correction or rebuke from the Lord Jesus Christ, but there were other church which needed to hear the voice of correction and rebuke among them within their midst. What is so incredibly intriguing about these seven letters is that when you begin reading each of these letters, and when you read of Jesus’ knowing the works of the individual congregations, that which follows will be words of affirmation, encouragement, hope, and the like. I am convinced that when these seven letters were delivered unto each of these seven churches—as soon as they began being read among the congregants, they immediately got spiritual chills and spiritual goosebumps. Consider the fact that unto each of these seven churches a letters was personally delivered which originated from the very mouth of Jesus. Not only this, but consider also that within each letter, there was a profound and powerful declaration that Jesus knew and was intimately acquainted with and aware of their works. Imagine the utter shock of those congregations who once they got past the initial declaration of Jesus knowing their works, and even proceeding to name those works, would go on to hear words of rebuke and correction. SHALL WE NOT TAKE REBUKE WITH EXHORTATION? SHALL WE NOT ALSO TAKE CORRECTION WITH AFFIRMATION? There is not a doubt in my mind that certain of these churches were utterly and completely shocked when they heard that Jesus knew their works, and how He would even go on to name those works, and yet He had somewhat or something against them. I KNOW THY WORKS, BUT…! I KNOW THY WORKS, BUT I HAVE SOMEWHAT AGAINST THEE!
When writing unto the church of Ephesus—as Jesus declared unto them that He knew their works—He would go on to speak of their labour, their patience, and how they could not bear them which are evil, and how they tried them which said they are apostles, and are not, and found them liars. Furthermore, Jesus would go on to speak of them how they had borne, and how they had patience, and fo His name’s sake had labour Ted, and did not faint. Towards the end of the letter Jesus would go on to speak of something else this congregation had—namely, that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He also hated. When speaking unto the congregation in Smyrna, Jesus would declare how He knew their works, and their tribulation, and their poverty, and of the blasphemy of them which said they are Jews, and were not, but were of the synagogue of Satan. When speaking unto the congregation in Pergamos Jesus declared of them that He knew their works, and where they dwelt—namely we’re Satan’s seat was—and that they held fast His name, and did not deny His faith, even in the days when Antipas was His faithful martyr, who was slain among them where Satan dwelt. As Jesus would move on to the next church in line—the church in Thyatira—He would speak of how He knew their works, and their charity, and their service, and their faith, and their patience, and their works once more. When He spoke unto the congregation which was in Sardis, Jesus spoke how He knew their works, and that they had a name that they lived, and yet were dead. What makes this congregation and church different is that He not only declared that He did not find their works before God, but He also instructed them to be watchful and strengthen the things which remained, and which were ready to die. When writing to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus only declared that He knew their works, but did not go on to immediately speak of those works. Instead, it would be later in the letter when Jesus would speak of how they kept the word of his patience, and how He would keep them from the hour of temptation, which would come upon the all the world. Finally, when speaking unto the church of the Laodiceans, Jesus spoke of their works, but only in terms of how they were neither cold nor hot, but only lukewarm.
Now there would be some who would wonder why I would choose to mention and include the seven letters which Jesus had written unto the seven churches which were in Asia. The reason these seven letters are so incredibly vital and crucial for our understanding the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation was because while on the surface certain of these seven churches appeared to have everything going for them, and appeared to be doing everything right, there were certain things which Jesus saw and noticed that needed to be corrected. I am sure that each of these seven churches—well, at least those which would go on to receive and heard words of correction and rebuke—had a very positive perception of themselves. There is not a doubt in my mind that those churches which heard and received words of correction and rebuke felt they had it all together, and felt that they were doing everything right in the eyes of Jesus who was and is the head of the body. Imagine their shock and dismay when they heard that Jesus actually had something against them—and not only that He had something against them, but would actually proceed to reveal that which He had issue with. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of self-examination within our lives as individuals, as well as us as a corporate body is not asking ourselves what we are doing right in the sight of the Lord, but that which needs improvement, and/or that which needs adjustment. It is incredibly easily to admit to our strengths, and to admit to that which we feel we are doing right, and admit to that which we believe to be good and pleasing in the sight of the Lord. It is something else altogether to face and confront that within our lives which not only needs improvement, but might also need to be extracted and removed. It’s amazing that when we seek to get to know another individual we almost immediately direct our attention to their strengths, and their “works” so to speak, and that which might appear to be good and well within their lives. When you go on a job interview more often than not you will be asked what one or more of your strengths are, yet very seldom will you be asked to list one or more of your weaknesses, flaws, or struggles are. I would dare say that those individuals, and that congregation that can’t be honest about their flaws, their weaknesses, and their struggles cannot and will not find grace to help in order to grow and mature into who they were called and created to be.
When you come to the sixth chapter of the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the Corinthian congregation you will find another area within this congregation that needed to be addressed, and which needed to be corrected. What you find written and recorded within this particular set of verses are words which pertain to how the Corinthian congregation handled disputes, differences, offenses, grudges, and the like among themselves. Within the first eleven verses of this chapter we find the apostle Paul writing unto them concerning their jaded and backward way of handling grudges and offenses. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul actually wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth concerning how they handled offenses, and disputes, and the like: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? IF then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not onethat shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkars, nor revivers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
When I read the words of the apostle within this passage, I can’t help but think of the words which Jesus spoke on two separate occasions—the first found within His famous Sermon on the Mount, and the second when the children were brought unto Him in the presence of the disciples. In the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find the following words which were spoken by Jesus when He took the commandments given unto Moses and flipped the script turning them completely on their head. Consider if you will the following words which were spoken by Jesus unto all those who gathered unto Him on that to listen to Him speak: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever this angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and them come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge delivere thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:21-26). Later on in the same chapter we find Jesus speaking words which essentially build off the foundation which he already laid—not only concerning being angry with our brother without cause, but also with knowing that our brother hath ought against us. Beginning with the thirty-eighth verse of the same chapter we find the following words: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which. Love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:38-48).
In the eighteenth chapter of the same New Testament gospel we find Jesus speaking very sobering words unto His disciples when they asked Him concerning who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus first begins with the following words in order that they might understand the importance of humility and innocence like a child within the kingdom of heaven: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive on such little child in my name receiveth me. But who’s shall offend one of these little once’s which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, but them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18:3-9). Beginning with the fifteenth verse of the same chapter Jesus would go on to speak of our brother trespassing against us, and how we handle it when our brother does indeed commit such an act against us. The following words strike at the very heart and core of our being because there is absolutely no one on the face of this earth who enjoys being trespassed against. There is absolutely no one on the face of this earth who enjoys being defrauded, or being wronged, and yet Jesus has very specific words concerning such trespasses and offenses within our lives: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect tot hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:15-17).
What’s even harder, and what is perhaps the most difficult reality found within this entire chapter is not confronting the brother who trespassed against us, or even dealing with the offense, but forgiving that brother who has trespassed against us. The apostle Peter asked Jesus how often his brother should sin again him, and he forgive him, and would then go on to speak of only seven times. Imagine the surprise and dismay when Jesus declared unto Peter, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Even more than this, is this particular chapter concludes with Jesus making this tremendous declaration unto His disciples, yet not only a declaration unto His disciples, but also unto every generation that would come thereafter. Jesus would conclude this particular lesson given unto the apostles by declaring that His Heavenly Father would do just like the judge did with that man who refused to forgive that one who owed him a much lesser debt than he owed, for which he had been forgiven. Even more than this is the fact that Jesus made it personal and declared that forgiveness—while it might very well be expressed from the lips and proceed from one’s mouth—must come from the heart toward every one who has committed a trespass against us. Jesus would conclude this passage by declaring that we are to from our heart forgive every one of our brothers and sisters their trespasses, and to not hold on to or harbor grudges. Jesus would begin by declaring that offenses would come, and would then go on to address how we are to deal with that brother or that sister who has trespassed against us. Jesus would then go on to declare that it wasn’t enough to confront that brother or sister who trespassed against us, and to deal with the trespass and offense, but to forgive that brother and sister from our hearts, and to do so for every one of their offenses and trespasses. I have written before, but if there is one thing this passage reveals it’s the tremendous need to take the limits off of forgiveness, and to remove all restrictions from delivering our brother(s) and sister(s) from a prison they aren’t even aware they are in—namely, the prison of offense and bitterness we harbor toward and against them.
The apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation that rather than dealing with their disputes and quarrels among themselves within the body of Christ, they actually took their brother(s) and sister(s) into the court of the law before the unjust. The question I can’t help but ask is while we might not actually take our brother or sister to a literal court before the unjust, how many times have we taken our brother(s) or sister(s) to trial because of the offense they have committed against us? How many times have we felt so entitled within our own hearts that we feel entitled to retribution and perhaps even vengeance for that which has been committed against us. The apostle Paul wrote how brother would go to law with brother, and would do so before unbelievers, thus nullifying and completely ignoring the words which Christ spoke unto His disciples. The truth of the matter is that when we refuse to forgive our brother every one of their trespasses, when we refuse to allow ourselves to be wronged and defrauded, we are actually elevating ourselves to a place of status within the body of Christ. While we might not verbally proclaim ourselves to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, we nonetheless profess ourselves to be the greatest within the kingdom when we feel entitled to holding an offense, and harboring a grudge, and refusing to forgive our brother every one of their sins and trespasses. Oh I can’t help but wonder how many prison cells and how many chains are present within our churches and congregations because we keep our fellow brothers and sisters in bondage to our demand for judgment, vengeance and retribution. It is both selfish and self-centered, as well as self-seeking when we demand retribution against that brother or that sister who has wronged and defrauded us. Each and every moment we bring our brother or sister to trial rather than forgiving them from our hearts we elevate ourselves to a place we were never intended or created to be. The question I have to ask is whether or not you are tired of living your life—not only as judge, jury and executioner, but also as warden of prisons which you yourself have created?