Forward looking statements

Future prospects impact present actions. That’s the idea behind company statements. If you ever happen to be reading a press release from a company that is listed on the stock exchange you may read of their latest financial statement and as often as not there will be an assessment by the company of the trends in profitability or sales with some comments about the expectations and plans for the coming months and years.

These statements on future plans and expectations are helpful for investors to understand how the company’s strategies and plans are likely to affect financial performance. The trouble is that the lawyers get a bit twitchy about this and they insist on ‘small print’ at the end of the statement. In the ‘small print’ you will usually see some sort of disclaimer that the press release includes ‘forward looking statements’ and that these are not necessarily going to happen because  they are only forecasts and predictions. Why the fuss – because forward looking statements impact present investment decisions.

We’re quite familiar with this in our daily lives. Imagine you are going on holiday tomorrow, two weeks in the Caribbean! – your day will be filled with thoughts of sun, beaches and relaxation and I suspect that work will get done with a speed and cheerfulness that is beyond the normal. Now imagine that tomorrow is the day you are due to visit the dentist for removal of an impacted wisdom tooth. The day might just feel a bit different.  Future prospects impact present actions.

In chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians we will see that Paul mentions two future prospects that he wants the Corinthians to know about in order to influence their present actions.

  1. Future prospects

The bible is filled with examples of God’s future plans. I heard it estimated that about a quarter of the bible is concerned with forward looking statements. These forward looking statements certainly seem to be provided to encourage adjustments in our present actions.

Sadly the church seems to have made two significant errors in dealing with God’s forward looking statements. One error downplays forward looking statements and claims that everything will pan out in the end and we ought to focus on the here-and-now. At the other extreme are people who are so overly interested in wild speculations (relating to God’s forward looking statements) that they have little interest in the here-and- now.

We must retain some balance in this respect and simply allow God’s word to speak with neither over interpretation and speculation nor dismissal and under interpretation. As we allow God’s word to speak we will find that glimpses into the future plans of God are both encouraging and helpful to our Christian lives.

The Old Testament prophet Daniel lived during particularly difficult circumstances. The nation had been given wonderful promises of future greatness as well as dire warnings of possible future judgement for unfaithfulness. They had messed things up and the result for Daniel was exile in the city of Babylon. Right through Daniel’s prophecy we see examples of God revealing future events. You may remember the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was given special revelation to know the details of the dream as well as its interpretation. The dream was God’s forward looking statement for the kingdoms of the earth and his plan for a final eternal kingdom. What a great encouragement to Daniel! The Babylonian empire would not last, neither would the subsequent great kingdoms of man, but God’s kingdom would eventually come and would last forever! Daniel was given a view of future prospects and he used this knowledge to inform his actions and attitudes in his present difficult circumstances.

From our position in history we can look back and see that many of the forward looking statements in the Old Testament regarding a coming Messiah were fulfilled to the letter. Now we can look forward to the completion of these prophecies as well as completion of additional forward looking statements in the New Testament. We don’t live in the best of days, the churches in our nation are largely empty or closed and people are indifferent or hostile to the gospel. As we study God’s plans for the future we can be encouraged to persevere and keep working in God’s church building project and to live lives that please God.

The Corinthians needed a few forward looking statements to encourage them too. Paul reminds them of two future prospects that should influence their present actions and behaviour.

  • Lawsuits

We already know that there was quarrelling amongst the believers in the church in Corinth. The quarrelling was all about the leaders and it seems to have resulted from immaturity and worldly thinking. In addition there was a serious sinful and immoral situation that had arisen and that needed to be dealt with by expulsion of the guilty party. Now we discover that the believers were not just quarrelling but were taking each other to court! Disputes had arisen between members of the church. Paul does not mention the nature of the disputes but they had resulted in the parties going to court. Amongst the Jewish people such matters would have normally been dealt within the community, but in the Corinthian situation, disputing Christians were asking the ‘ungodly’ secular courts to pass judgement. Usually disputes and civil law cases are best settled outside of a court room. Paul says ‘you dare to take it (the dispute) before ungodly for judgement instead of before the Lord’s people?’

Now Paul makes a forward looking statement – ‘do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?’ and ‘do you not know that we will judge angels’. If this is the case says Paul, surely you could find it amongst yourselves to make a wise judgement in these cases?

The Greek word Paul uses for judge can also be used to describe ruling or governing. In Revelation the apostle John is given a series of forward looking visions. The visions seem to follow roughly in chronological order and as the events in Revelation reach a climax there is a specific passage that speaks of ruling and judging. In the 20th chapter of Revelation John saw an angel who bound Satan, removed him from the earth and locked him up for 1,000 years. This action would prevent Satan deceiving the nations. Next John records that he saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. Amongst those who will judge are those who have suffered for their witness during the difficult period described in earlier chapters of Revelation. John further says that those who participate in this resurrection will then will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. What a remarkable revelation John was given and it seems to relate to Paul’s statement of a future role for believers as judges and rulers. As we understand this forward looking statement shouldn’t it have some effect on us in the here and now? Paul certainly expected the Corinthians to learn from this. How could they possibly entrust their internal disputes to unbelievers. The believers in Corinth had future roles as judges and not just of men but of angels too!

In the present circumstances the Corinthians were getting the church a bad name and were not at all behaving as those who would one day take on this remarkable role.

So how should they resolve their differences? By firstly appealing to those who had sufficient wisdom amongst their church – Paul says ‘Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?’ Secondly, Paul says that rather than cheating and doing wrong they would be better to be cheated and be wronged themselves. Why so? And here comes another forward looking statement; because the sorts of people who will inherit the kingdom of God are not wrongdoers. As believers the Corinthians had been washed, set apart and justified – and I think Paul’s point is that they should focus on living consistently with what God had done within them.

Just before we leave this section, Paul characterises the features of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. He describes people who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with each other, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers or swindlers. This was a good reminder to the Corinthians as well as ourselves that there are things we should avoid like the plague – we’ve been washed and set apart, how could we possibly indulge in such activities?

  • Immorality

Paul states in several of his letters that the gospel has set him free from the law. This is true, and under the gospel a believer is no longer under law but has a relationship of love with the Lord Jesus. His motivation for doing right is no longer law but love. The problem is that this new gospel thinking was easy to misrepresent: if we are no longer under law, then we are able to do whatever we like. This is of course not the case at all, but this view seems to have wormed its way into the minds of the Corinthians. Paul indicates that not everything is good, there are many things that do not benefit at all, furthermore some of the things we do can take control of us.

Next Paul seems to quote a Corinthian phrase – “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Here he is establishing something that is true in the relationship between two elements. Food has been made for the stomach and the stomach has been made for food, they fit together, they are made for one another. In contrast the body is not made for sexual immorality – its purpose is ‘for the Lord’. This greatly contrasts with the beliefs of our society today. In our schools our children are taught that as they mature they are made for sex, the education seems to encourage exploration of this when children become  ‘sexually active’. This activity is reckoned to be absolutely fine so long as appropriate protection is used. And if the sexual partner is of the same sex, no problem – be true to yourself. This is not education but corruption and sadly it is being paid for by our taxation! Paul says, no, no, no. The body was not made for sexual immorality, but was made for the Lord.

Paul now introduces a forward looking statement. Here it is and what a statement it is! ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also!’ This is of huge significance. Just as Jesus was resurrected in a new body, so will we! We have some information about Jesus’ new body at the end of some of the gospel accounts. It seems that he was recognisable as Jesus but he was also able to move from one place to another without the usual constraints of time and space. We know that we will be like him and will no longer be subject to the frailties of these bodies we currently inhabit. Just imagine that! If you are young, fit and healthy you may not be impressed by this, but some people suffer terribly from illness and we will all get old one day and come to realise the wonder of this promise of a new physical body. So in view of this remarkable forward looking statement, how should we be affected in the here and now? Paul says – we are united with Christ, our current bodies are members of Christ himself. So in the here and now, how could we become united with a prostitute? This was the immediate issue in the Corinthian church. Paul says never! How could they do it, such a thing means that the one involved becomes one with her body –  this is so wrong because we are already united with the Lord and will one day have a body like his resurrection body.

Paul gives a final warning about this – run as fast as you can away from sexual immorality. Joseph (he of the coat of many colours fame) found himself in such a situation and ran for his life! Paul says other sins are external to our bodies, but sexual sin is against our bodies, and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit – he is in us says Paul. Sexual sin violates the owner and occupier of our bodies. The American bible teacher Warren Wiersbe says that sex outside of marriage is like robbing a bank, the individual gets something from it but it is not his and one day he will pay for it.

In view of all of this Paul says, honour God with your bodies.