Sexual sin: I Corinthians 5-7

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 5-8.

“Sexual sins are no different from other sins, right?”

The people of ancient Corinth were notorious for their sexual promiscuity. The members of the Corinthian church came out of that culture, were surrounded by it, and some of them still practiced it. Paul warned them to avoid sexual sin. He identified unique features that distinguished it from other sins, and told them they must separate themselves from believers who kept on sinning in this way. He meant they should expel the unrepentant church members.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. I Corinthians 6:18-20

Paul warned that those who persist in sexual sin will not enter the kingdom. He said this was true for heterosexual and homosexual sin. In fact, he stressed that all persistent sin, not just sexual sin, was evidence of a lack of saving grace. The regeneration that occurs when a lost person believes in Christ leads to conviction about the wrongness of sin and results in a change in behavior. No change in behavior? Then there has been no regeneration.

Some people rationalize their sexual sin as the unavoidable expression of sexual appetites.  Paul said no to this. Sexual desires don’t justify their immoral fulfillment. People are not animals who have no control over their bodies; we are not to be mastered by our desires. The consequences of satisfying sexual desires immorally cannot be compared to the effects of satisfying a hunger for food. Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food, but our bodies were not made for sexual sin. Our bodies were made to glorify God.

The unique nature of sexual sin comes from its effect on the body. Sexual sin unites your body with another, but believers are united with God through Christ in spirit. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. How can the holy have this communion with the unholy? The Bible is telling us that there are permanent effects of sexual unions that people treat so casually – effects that may last into eternity.

Paul knew the advantages of the single lifestyle when it came to Christian ministry, but he also knew that sex within marriage protects believers from passions that lead to sin. Therefore, unless a person had the conviction of living as a single person, and had their sexual desires under control, they should marry in order to avoid the temptation to sin by having sex outside marriage.

We need to remember that Paul’s prohibition against fellowship with unrepentant sinners applied to church members only. He did not want Christians to avoid the lost, no matter what their sins were. They needed to hear the Gospel, and therefore Christians needed to remain engaged with them. Only through the power of the Gospel did they have any hope of overcoming their sin.

It was probably a slogan: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food!”—pass the potatoes. Probably they used this slogan for sex and drink as well. “Sex for the body and the body for sex!” … Paul opposed this view with all his might. He gave them a new and radically different slogan: “The body is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body.” The body is not just going to be destroyed; it is going to be raised. The body is not morally indifferent. It is for the glory of God. – John Piper

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Powerful foolishness: I Corinthians 1-4

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 1-4.

“Why does the world make fun of Christians?”

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. I Corinthians 1: 18

The foolishness of the Gospel

The gospel message seems like the utmost foolishness to unbelievers, and those who preach that message are counted as fools by much of the world. But the foolish words of the gospel have the power of God to save. The wisdom of the world has no such power. Believers shouldn’t be discouraged by the abuse of the world. Instead, we should take it as proof that we are on the right path and that God’s word is true.

The foolishness of Christ

The contemporaries of Jesus thought he was crazy, and little has changed today. Some call him a good teacher or a wise man, but few call him Lord. Most ignore him. He is a stone that God has put in the path of every person, meant to be the sure foundation that each one can build upon, but instead for most he is the stumbling stone over which they fall.

The foolishness of believers

The church took root and flourished among the unknown people. There were a few wealthy and influential persons, but most were poor and ordinary. Was this because the Gospel only appeals to the down and out? No, it was because God cares for all people, because he has compassion on those the world disregards, and it was to demonstrate the power of God’s word rather than the influence of men. The last became first, and those the world counted as mighty were shown to be powerless.

The foolishness of the Apostles

Paul called himself a fool for Christ, and his life was full of poverty and hardship. He said that even though the Gospel was advancing he and the other Apostles were still considered the scum of the earth. Yet he pressed on for the sake of the high calling and in order to bear many children in the Spirit. His foolish way of life was meant to be an example which his children should imitate.

The wisdom of the world

The so-called wisdom of the world does not lead men to God, and therefore it is ultimately foolish. Such wisdom is focused on the natural, material world rather than spiritual realities. It deals with the earth, not heaven. It cares about the present, not eternity. James says it is demonic.

The wisdom of God

God’s wisdom was secret, hidden from the world. He planned from before time and creation to reconcile the world to himself through his son, but the world couldn’t see his plan. Only those who were filled with the Holy Spirit could understand the salvation provided by Jesus. The natural man doesn’t accept or understand the things of God and they are foolishness to him.

The wisdom of Christ

Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. He is the word, God’s wisdom in written or spoken form. He is the life, wisdom revealed in action. He is the light, wisdom guiding us through the darkness. The mind of Christ is the fullness of God’s wisdom, and through the Spirit we share Christ’s thoughts, his mind.

The challenge for believers is to forsake worldly wisdom and human power. We must become fools in order to become wise. We must preach a foolish gospel in order to save the lost. We must take on the mind of Christ though the world scorns him. We must imitate the foolishness of Paul so that we can become spiritual parents to a new generation of believers. If we do these things, even though we are nothing, the power of God will accomplish great things.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul speaks of the man who is psuchikos. He is the man who lives as if there was nothing beyond physical life and there were no needs other than material needs, whose values are all physical and material. A man like that cannot understand spiritual things. A man who thinks that nothing is more important than the satisfaction of the sex urge cannot understand the meaning of chastity; a man who ranks the amassing of material things as the supreme end of life cannot understand generosity; and a man who has never a thought beyond this world cannot understand the things of God. To him they look mere foolishness. No man need be like this; but if he stifles “the immortal longings” that are in his soul he may make himself like this so that the Spirit of God will speak and he will not hear. It is easy to become so involved in the world that there exists nothing beyond it. We must pray to have the mind of Christ, for only when he dwells within us are we safe from the encroaching invasion of the demands of material things. – William Barclay

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A tale of two Christians: Romans 14

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Today’s reading: Romans 14-16.

“How can Christians deal with their differences?”

The grace of God through Jesus Christ imparts a tremendous freedom to believers: freedom from slavery to sin, freedom to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and freedom from the laws of the old covenant. There are also dangers in this freedom, including the dangers that believers will abuse their freedom by indulging in sin, and that conflict will arise between those who grasp the extent of their freedom by greater and lesser degrees.

Imagine two believers – Broad Bill and Narrow Nell. Bill and Nell agree on all the fundamentals of the faith including the infallibility of the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity, and salvation by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Bill takes a broader, more liberal view of the freedoms available to Christians while Nell accepts a narrower, more restrictive view of what believers can do. Bill does not require tithing while Nell insists on it. He sees no problem in sprinkling for baptism but she believes in dunking. He says there is no sin in drinking alcohol; she requires total abstinence. The list goes on, and varies from one generation to another. Thankfully, Romans lays down two principles that can help limit these conflicts in every generation.

The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14: 3-4

Don’t condemn your brother over differing beliefs. There are areas where believers disagree and both are within God’s will. These disputable areas in Paul’s day included eating certain foods (such as those sacrificed to idols), drinking alcohol, and observing holy days. One believer may observe more of these prohibitions or practices; another may observe fewer or none. Neither should look down on or condemn the other.

  • Whatever you do, be convinced in your own faith that it is the correct thing to do.
  • Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.
  • Don’t condemn your brother in the faith for these disputable matters. Instead, let each one give an account to God

As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Romans 14: 14-15

Don’t make your brother stumble over differing beliefs. In this situation one believer has more restrictions on what he or she considers permissible. The believer who has fewer restrictions should not do anything to weaken the faith of the one with more restrictions. The freer Christian should not use his freedom to weaken the faith of the less free believer.

  • No food is unclean of itself, but some believers may consider it unclean.
  • Act from love; don’t do anything to distress your brother who believes differently than you.
  • Restrain your freedom if necessary to keep your brother from stumbling.
  • Let each person act from faith.

In both these situations Paul urges us to act from faith. Whether you act from a more liberal or a more restrictive view, it should be based on faith. Each one should respect the other’s faith and leave it to God to approve or censure his servant.

If we must judge, certainly it should not be those who are linked to us by the ties of spiritual relationship. Are not all Believers one family in Christ? Wherever the root of the matter is to be found, there exists an overwhelming argument for undying unity. Why, then, will you take your Brother by the throat and drag him before your judgment seat and make him answer to you, Brother to Brother, and then condemn him? Shall a Brother in Christ condemn a Brother in Christ? When the outside world censures Christians, we understand it, for they hated our Master and they will hate us. But inside the charmed circle of Christian communion there should be esteem for one another, a defending of each other—we should be anxious to apologize for infirmity than to discover imperfection! Far be it from us to find flaws where they do not exist! – Charles Spurgeon

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Mind, body, and God’s will: Romans 12

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Today’s reading: Romans 11-13.

“How can I know God’s will?”

You’ve been there. Faced with a difficult decision, afraid to make the wrong choice, wanting deeply to please God, and wishing you knew what he wanted you to do. For many of these difficult choices God’s will isn’t revealed. In fact, his will may be permissive rather than restrictive. He allows you to choose based on the wisdom he has revealed to you through his word, prayer, and the counsel of believers.

There are also actions that God has clearly commanded, leaving no doubt about his will. “Be holy, as I am holy,” is one statement of God’s revealed will. Today’s passage in Romans is another, in which Paul takes us on a step-by-step journey that leads us into the center of God’s will.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. Romans 12: 1-2, 4-6

This path to God’s will begins with the command to become a living sacrifice. Normally sacrifices are killed and then placed on the altar. God doesn’t want our death; he wants our lives placed on the altar of service. He wants our actions committed to his kingdom. He wants our will submitted to his commands. He wants our words to magnify him and declare his grace to others.

Our sacrifice of self in service to God means that we cannot conform to the world. The world is focused on the present, on personal gain, on pride, pleasure, and possessions. All these things must be made less important than our devotion to God. Instead, we transform our lives by renewing our minds. We think eternally instead of living for the present. We fill our thoughts with God’s word instead of media filled with greed, pride, lust, and violence. This transformation begins as the Holy Spirit regenerates us when we accept Christ, but it continues through daily Bible study and worship services.

The journey to God’s will continues as we join the body of believers. The body isn’t just a symbol of the church; the church is a living organism full of individuals who each have unique functions like the organs of the human body. Those organs aren’t meant to function alone. We weren’t made to work as isolated believers. Our gifts, our unique spiritual abilities, were given to be expressed in the body. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews commands, “do not forsake the assembling together of yourselves.”

Finally we are told to use the gifts God has given us. God’s will for you is that you serve in the body through the supernatural abilities that were given to you when you became a believer. Romans 12 has a short list of these spiritual gifts that will be expanded later. The gift of prophecy allows supernatural discernment of God’s plans for the near future, which is meant to be shared so that the body can act accordingly. The gift of service means that one is empowered to meet specific needs in the body. The gift of teaching imparts the ability to effectively convey the truths of God’s word. Encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy are the other gifts Paul mentions in this passage. These gifts are not natural talents but supernatural abilities conveyed by God to the believer. They define the power and purpose of the believer as much as sight defines the purpose of the eye and hearing the purpose of an ear. Do you wonder what work you should do for God’s kingdom? Think about what you do best and effectively. What is your God-given super power? That’s what God wants you to do.

If you are seeking God’s will about which car to buy, or where to live, or what school to attend, you probably won’t find a certain answer from God’s word. His will may be to use the wisdom he has given you to make the right choice. But if you want to know God’s over-arching purpose for your life, that’s clear. He wants you to live sacrificially, to transform your mind Biblically, to join the body continually, and to serve with your gift supernaturally.

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In the fight, but already victorious: Romans 8

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Today’s reading: Romans 8-10.

“If God is for me, why is life still such a struggle?”

Our Position in Christ is that of the highest standing. We are children of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Our father is the king, with infinite resources at his command. Grace has removed all condemnation against us so that we stand in perfect harmony with our heavenly father.

Yet suffering still marks our Present in Christ. We suffer in Christ because of the fallen nature of the world which is “in bondage to decay.” We suffer because our bodies are still mortal even though are souls are bound for heaven. We suffer with Christ so that we may share in his glory. We suffer for Christ in order to carry the message of saving grace to those who are lost.

These sufferings are only temporary, even brief in comparison to eternity. Our Future in Christ is full of glory. We are God’s heirs, but we have not fully received our inheritance. Jesus has been preparing a place for us for 2,000 years, but we are not home yet. All creation groans as if in childbirth, laboring to bring forth “glorious freedom” for us. Jesus has freed us from the power and practice of sin, but one day soon we will be freed from the very presence of sin.

We can claim our Victory in Christ even though the battle still rages. It’s true that we have spiritual enemies in high places. We live in a world that follows the ways of darkness. But neither Satan nor the world will be able to separate us from the success that God has promised.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-39

In Romans 8:19 (Paul) uses a wonderful word for eager expectation. It is apokaradokia and it describes the attitude of a man who scans the horizon with head thrust forward, eagerly searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn break of glory. To Paul life was not a weary, defeated waiting; it was a throbbing, vivid expectation. The Christian is involved in the human situation. Within he must battle with his own evil human nature; without he must live in a world of death and decay. Nonetheless, the Christian does not live only in the world; he also lives in Christ. He does not see only the world; he looks beyond it to God. He does not see only the consequences of man’s sin; he sees the power of God’s mercy and love. Therefore, the keynote of the Christian life is always hope and never despair. The Christian waits, not for death, but for life. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

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This grace in which we stand: Romans 4-7

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Today’s reading: Romans 4-7.

Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. – Jonathan Edwards

There was a current which began in the Old Testament but which flowed quietly and often unnoticed. It burst forth when Noah found favor in God’s sight. It rushed more loudly when Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness. It languished in the Israelites’ long years of disobedience, but resurfaced in the lives of Daniel and his friends and in the promises of a new covenant made to prophets such as Ezekiel. Only in the life and resurrection of Jesus did it reach its flood stage, but since then the river of God’s grace has continued to spread across the Earth. Paul stood in the abundance of that river and declared its power to all who could not see it.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Romans 5: 1-2

The grace shown to Abraham

Abraham has always been Father Abraham to the Jews, but Paul taught that he is also Father to all those who live by faith, whether Jew or Gentile. “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God didn’t declare him righteous because of his actions, but because of his faith. Furthermore, God blessed Abraham before he was circumcised, and long before the Law was given. Abraham truly is Father Abraham, but he is the Father of Faith and he shows that all receive righteousness by God’s grace.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. Romans 4: 16

The grace through Jesus vs. the condemnation through Adam

Death entered the world through one man, Adam, and spread through him to all men. Adam’s trespass brought death to all. His judgment brought condemnation to all. His disobedience brought sin to all. But the one man, Jesus, is not like the original man. His gift of grace brought justification, righteousness, and life for all who live in him.

For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. Romans 5: 15-16

The grace that makes us dead to sin

Francis Schaeffer said that as surely as Jesus Christ had a birth date fixed in a certain time and place in history, you also had a birth date. As surely as Jesus died at a particular time in history, you, a believer in him, also died in Christ at a specific time and place when you believed in him. You died to sin, to your old self, and as Christ was raised to life on that particular Easter Sunday morning in Jerusalem, you also rose to a new life with him. Your old self was crucified with Christ on the cross. Your new self is united with Jesus. The reality of your death to sin and resurrection to a new spiritual life is as certain as the reality of your physical birth. And because you are dead to sin and alive in Christ, by God’s grace you are now able to choose to live a life that pleases God. Live in the reality of that freedom.

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. Romans 6: 13-14

The grace that frees you from slavery to sin

A slave has very little power. He or she must do what their master tells them. So were all of us before grace freed us. We were slaves to sin and unable to do anything but sin. But now, by grace, the chains of sin have been removed. We have now chained ourselves to God, who gives us the ability to lead holy lives which lead to eternal life.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6: 22-23

The grace to struggle

Paul was a practical man as well as an idealist. He knew the struggle involved in following Jesus. He knew the struggle with sin didn’t end when the chains of sin fell off. His mind was fixed to God, but his flesh still warred against his mind, causing him to do the very things he did not want to do. The fight would continue until his flesh died and God gave him an immortal heavenly body – that was the rescue which Jesus made possible.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7: 24-25 (The Message)

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Which path are you on? Romans 1-3

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Today’s reading: Romans 1-3.

“Aren’t there many ways to find God?”

The world believes that each man may find his own path to eternity, but Paul makes it clear in the book of Romans that there is one way, one path ordained by God, the Gospel way. Paul identifies at least two other paths that men are taking, and both are dead ends. There is the godless path that many men in the Gentile world take, and the legalistic way of the Law followed by the Jews. Only the Gospel road leads all the way to God.

Gospel Power

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17

The “Righteousness from God” is one theme of the book of Romans. Every God-fearing person looks for the source of righteousness, and from the outset Paul declares that only God can provide it. Men can’t find it on their own or earn it; it must come from God. The good news about Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to God’s grace. Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk to prove that God planned all along for men to find peace with him through faith rather than works. In this passage Paul explains who the just man is, the one who stands cleared of his sins before God. That man is the one who finds his righteousness by faith in God.

Godless Path

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Romans 1:28-31

Most of the world now and throughout history chose another path. They picked a godless way, not because there was no sign of God, but because they rejected the Lord. Romans describes the downward spiral of this lost way, from an initial knowledge of God, to a failure to glorify and thank God, to a darkening  of the heart, to foolishness and idolatry, and finally to sin, depravity, and shameful lusts.

God’s People

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2: 28-29

The future of Paul’s Jewish brothers is also an important part of Romans. Unlike the godless Gentiles, the Jews believed in God, and sought peace with him, but they looked for righteousness from the Law by keeping its precepts. The problem was that they failed to obey all the commands of they Law no matter how much they talked about them. As Paul said, “all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” The Jews thought their position as God’s people would save them. In fact it brought them a double condemnation because they knew the Law and still broke it. They needed a better way, a circumcision of the heart rather than the body.

God’s Provision

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3: 21-24

The righteousness men seek comes from God. It doesn’t come from the Law, though the Law makes it plain that they need help from God. It doesn’t come from themselves, for all men are desperately wicked. It comes freely by God’s grace through faith in the saving power of Christ’s death on the cross, which redeems sinful men from the penalty of death. This is the only way to be made righteous, and it only comes from God, and it is available to all men.

What did the sinner do? Instead of looking out to God, he looked into himself. He involved himself in vain speculations and thought he was wise, while all the time he was a fool. Why? He was a fool because he made his ideas, his opinions, his speculations the standard and the law of life, instead of the will of God. The sinner’s folly consisted in making “man the master of things.” He found his standards in his own opinions and not in the laws of God. He lived in a self-centred instead of a God-centred universe. Instead of walking looking out to God he walked looking into himself, and, like any man who does not look where he is going, he fell. The result of this was idolatry. The glory of God was exchanged for images of human and animal forms. The root sin of idolatry is that it is selfish. A man makes an idol. He brings it offerings and addresses prayers to it. Why? So that his own schemes and dreams may be furthered. His worship is for his own sake and not for God’s. – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible

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