How to be Emissaries of God

Emissaries of God

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 4:17-21

17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

18 Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.

19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.

20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?

Introduction:

Several times in our studies, we have seen Timothy mentioned as a companion in Paul’s travels, or as his fellow laborer. But this time, Paul states the reason Timothy was sent… the service that Timothy was to carry out. And, implicit in the assignment, is the authority of God backing His Emissaries.

What is an Emissary? The Dictionary defines an Emissary as “a person sent on a mission to represent another.” Paul was also such a person, then. So are the missionaries we support. So are we all, in the general sense. God has called each of us, individually and collectively, to be Ambassadors of Christ, according to 2nd Corinthians 5:20.

Timothy had a more specific assignment: He was to remind the people (to re-teach the believers) exactly what Paul had taught them originally. He had some other responsibilities as well.

When Jesus sent the eleven apostles, He authorized them to teach and to make disciples in all the world. He specifically commanded them to teach the believers all that He, Himself, had taught the Apostles. He said that they were to teach the believers to behave according to that teaching.

What Were Timothy’s Instructions?

We read in 1st Timothy 1:2-20 that Paul gave Timothy some very specific tasks when he sent him to Ephesus. He was to straighten out some tendencies toward false teaching and corrupt behavior that were springing up in that church.

In 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Paul instructed Timothy regarding how to select and appoint church leadership. (Ordination is not a “popularity contest.” It is not a “general election.” Timothy sorted out the character of the men in question. He determined by scripture who God had raised up to perform that work.

Then he appointed them publicly, and he recognized that calling. That entire process of examining the character and publicly recognizing such a person as an elder (a pastor) is called “ordination.” We see that both Timothy and Titus were commanded to “ordain elders (plural) in every church” (singular.)  

More Specific Instructions

Incidentally, 1st Timothy 4:12-16 underscores this concept. God sent Timothy, but Paul and other elders appointed, and recognized him. Because he had God’s backing as evidenced by prophecy and public ordination, he was to remember that other people’s opinion of his “youth” was no longer a valid concern. Paul told him to allow no one to despise his youth. Instead, Paul said to devote himself to being a good example for the believers, in every way.

12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. 16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Can we List His Instructions?

  • Let no man despise your youth.
  • Be an example for the believers,
    • in word
    • in conversation
    • in charity
    • in spirit
    • in faith
    • in purity
  • Until I come, give attendance to
    • Reading
    • Exhortation
    • Doctrine (teaching)
  • Don’t Neglect the gift that is in you.
    • In Timothy’s case, prophecy revealed the gift, The elders of his home church ordained him. (Presbytery is a transliteration of the Greek word “presbuteros,” meaning “elders.”)
  • Meditate upon these things.
    • Give yourself completely to the assignment.
    • In this way, the spiritual blessing and flourishing in your life will be obvious to all those around you.
  • Pay close attention to yourself, and to what you are teaching.
    • Continue with this assignment and lifestyle.
    • The result will be salvation for your hearers as well as yourself.
      • (“salvation” has three different tenses: what is meant, here?)

Can We Apply this Assignment to Ourselves?

We are Ambassadors of Christ. There is no question that, at least in some regards, all of this could apply to each of us. One thing I would immediately point out is that we are ambassadors of Christ, directly. We are not to be concerned with whether the Apostle Paul is going to show up in our presence and sharply rebuke us: (He is already doing so in the pages of the Book you hold in your hands!)

But we are to be cognizant of the truth that Jesus is going to return, without further warning, and our opportunity for faithful, voluntary service in this life will end forever. God has given you a gift, but it must be used today, in this life.

We cannot keep “putting off” the idea that we are servants of God, or thinking, “Well, I will do some growing, first, and then I will see how He wants me to serve!” No: the call of God is a “come as you are” event! He wants us to start where we are, today, and then allow Him to do the “cleaning up and straightening out” that is needed in each of our lives.

Choose Obedience First

When Isaiah’s call came in Isaiah 6:1-8, God said “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” And Isaiah immediately replied, “Here am I Lord! Send me!” Notice that Isaiah did not know what the assignment would be. He volunteered first, and then waited while God told him the assignment!

Paul gave Timothy and Titus a very specific ministry: He sent them to travel from church to church, to straighten out doctrinal problems and behavioral issues, and to set up qualified leadership in every church.

They were not pastors. They had an itinerant ministry, whereas the pastors (elders, overseers…always plural) did not. Paul gave the elders strict instructions to “stay put.” He told them to feed (tend) the flock they served. (Acts 20:28-31)

But God calls every believer to be an ambassador! He appointed every believer a priest in the Body of Christ. As such, He calls us to bring spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, as well as prayers for the other believers and the unbelievers around us. He re specifically commands us to pray for the leaders of the unbelieving world, as well as for the salvation of others.

Every believer has assignments that are specific to him or her alone. God calls each of us to a life of intentional discipleship, learning to follow Christ, and applying His written Word to our lives.

False Teachers

Some teachers rebel against sound teaching, and they teach others to reject God’s Word. Some go so far as to teach that Jesus will not physically return, but only will come in some mystic fashion and permeate the world with His presence in that way. Several cults teach something along this line of thinking. But it is a lie: He will return! He will return physically and visibly, as predicted in Zechariah 12:10 and Zechariah 14:3-5, and where He places his feet (on the Mount of Olives) will split wide open! (There is nothing “mystical” about that!)

The irony is that some of the very people who once taught that Jesus would never return (or that He had already returned in some invisible, mysterious fashion, but would not return physically) will be there, at the end of the Tribulation, to see Him physically return! They will be unable to “go back and change their minds.” Judgment will arrive with Jesus! No one will escape. Whatever they have done and whatever they have become will be permanent at that point.

Paul warned the rebels in Corinth that he would be coming to town to confront them personally. This is a good picture for us of the same warning that is given to the world today. Jesus will return and Judgment comes with Him!

God’s Word is not just rhetoric, not just wishful thinking: the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day had wonderful things to say, promising God’s intervention and saying that the siege of Jerusalem would fail. But God showed that their words were just that: “their words!” He said that they did “dream dreams,” but that they caused the dreams themselves! (Jeremiah 29:8)

So, What is the Difference?

God’s Word is not of human origin! His Word accomplished what He sent it to do! Romans 1:16 says that the Gospel of Christ is “the power of God unto Salvation to them that believe.” We have seen how God’s power has transformed each of our lives to varying degrees, and we can read the scriptural account of how the disciples were transformed. They were terrified men, hiding for fear of execution, when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were changed into fearless advocates of Christ, cheerfully accepting whatever it cost them to follow Jesus.

Paul says the Kingdom of God is not just about words, but about power…specifically, the power to make things happen! (I had thought the word for “power,” here, might be the Greek word, “exousia,” meaning “authority,” but it is not. It is the Greek word, “dunamis:” meaning, “the “ability to make things happen, physically.”

Paul knew that, if necessary, God would work through him to bring judgment on the rebels at Corinth. As an Apostle, he carried tremendous authority. In my case, I have no such authority. All I have is God’s Written Word. But the Authority behind the Written Word of God is the Living Word of God: Jesus Christ!

His Word will be fulfilled, to the letter! All we can do is either align ourselves with His Word, or ignore His Word, and eventually find that He is forced to oppose us!

Paul’s Conclusion

Paul asked the Corinthian believers how they wanted Him to arrive: In Gentleness and love, or, in Judgment and heavy consequences? We can ask ourselves the same question: When we see Jesus, will we be grateful, glad, and blessed to finally see Him face to face, or will we be dismayed and sorry to have wasted our lives in foolish pursuits?

The choice is ours, and we make our choices every day. We choose, moment by moment, how to respond to Jesus, the Living Word of God, by the way we respond to what we know of His Written Word.

We need to re-read these passages and meditate upon what they mean in our individual lives. God grant that we will make good choices as a result. He says that good choices in this area will result in our own deliverance, and will result in deliverance for others, as well. Our lives always affect others. Consider how your life will affect those in your sphere of influence. Will it turn hearts to Jesus, or will it turn them away?

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to follow You faithfully and act as Your Emissaries: Your Ambassadors. Teach us to use our lives wisely, so as to receive Your blessing.

How To Learn The Humility of Discipleship

The Humility of Discipleship

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 4:8-16

Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Introduction:

Remember the context, here, as we begin to study this warning to the Church at Corinth:

They were already displaying a great deal of carnality, division, and pride. Paul had already begun to admonish them regarding their sin, and this is simply a more pointed address to the source of their error.

In verse eight, Paul addresses their self-confidence and self-aggrandizement. He sounds almost as though he is mocking them, but he at least is highlighting their arrogance, by comparing their attitudes to those of the apostles.

Ye are Kings!

The Christians in Corinth had excessively high opinions of themselves: Theythought they were really something special. Possibly in their immaturity as new believers, they had simply become elated at their new position in Christ,  but it led to becoming inflated in their own minds.

They felt self-satisfied and smug, it seems. So, Paul is calling them out because of their pride. He approached them fairly gently about it, compared to some of the preachers of past ages. (Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” blasted his hearers and condemned them, saying that they were lower than worms and hanging on the brink of an eternity in Hell!)

Paul is very gently chiding these baby believers and leading them to see themselves accurately. He does something similar in Romans 12:3, where he commands the Roman believers to “not think more highly of themselves than they ought to.”

He went on to make three contrasting comparisons between the believers in Corinth and the Apostles who had actually introduced them to Christ.

Three Contrasts

  1. We are fools, but ye are wise!
  2. We are weak, but you (plural) are strong!
  3. And, we are despised, but you are honorable!

Even today, the church at large has attempted to make itself “attractive to the world” by attempting to look wise, strong, and honorable to the world around us. In a limited sense, that was what was beginning in Corinth. They felt as though they had “arrived,” and had a special “in” with God. But today it has gone further!

The organized churches of every stripe have built huge buildings, with amazing architecture, and tried to attract rich parishioners, even to the extent of rejecting those who “didn’t measure up.” James warned against this practice in James 2:1-4. He says if you are turning the poor away, or treating them differently, then you are in sin!

How Bad did it Become?

In some past ages, the so-called “church” has even taken on “military status,” literally having its own armies to back the armies of “approved” nations against those that were unapproved. The Spanish Armada (also called the “Invincible Armada”) was a classic example. The king of Spain sent it to attack England and force it to return to Catholicism. And, the Pope at that time had guaranteed the Spanish king that if the Armada made landfall in England, then the Pope would send in troops to participate in the invasion!) Providentially, the Armada never made landfall. The “Invincible Armada” turned out to not be so “invincible” after all!)

The Crusades were a similar travesty. And these were by no means the only examples.

Other Examples

The powerful “churches” of that time extorted money from the poor to fill the treasuries of their cathedrals. Then they tortured and killed those who disagreed with them. In no case did such behavior honor the Lord, and in no case did He approve of any of it at all. In fact, in many cases, that “Strong, Wise, and Honorable” organization was imprisoning, torturing, and killing His people! This powerful so-called “Church” considered as an “enemy” anyone who simply believed Jesus for their salvation, and refused to follow their teaching, So they tried to destroy them all.

We remember the Inquisition as a horrible, cruel time in history. But those people who declared themselves “wise, honorable, and strong” carried it out! Other church organizations have committed similar crimes. Jesus does NOT command believers to “attack unbelievers.” The unbelievers are precious souls for whom He died, the same as the Believers! He commanded us to take them the bread of life, and offer hope, not condemn them!

In Romans 1:22, Paul explains the problem: He says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!

What is Our Calling?

1st Corinthians 1:26-29 says, 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

If that is the sort of people God has chosen, then why on earth do we insist on appearing to not be that kind of person? Why are we so desperately trying to show the World that we are “Wise, strong, and honorable?”

You see, that is what the Corinthian believers were doing, too!

But, Aren’t We Supposed to Be Wise?

There is nothing wrong with doing what God says is wise. There is nothing wrong with allowing God’s strength to be our sufficiency, and if it brings good results, then the honor goes to God!

And, of course, if we behave in a manner that God says is honorable, then, the result will be mixed: those who hate the smell of Jesus will despise us along with Him. Those who see Him as their only hope will be drawn to us, along with Him. If Jesus is rejected, we should expect to be rejected along with Him! And we are to accept that rejection with Joy!

Hebrews 13:12, 13 says, 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus calls us to join Him in the rejection the World has given Him (and still gives to Him.)

So, What was the Problem in Corinth?

Several times, Paul confronted the believers of Corinth. He condemned their pride. Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Pride always has bad results! The Corinthian believers were not only torpedoing their testimonies by conceit, but they were wrecking their walk with Jesus because God hates pride!

Proverbs 6:16-19 says,16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Over and over, God condemns pride, in both the Old Testament and the New! So, Paul begins to offer the contrast between the Apostles and the believers at Corinth. They were heading down a dangerous path.

Isn’t it odd that today the media tells us to be proud? That pride is a wonderful attribute, when God says it results in strife and discord, and war?

What about the Apostles?

What does Paul; say the lives of the Apostles looked like? He said:

  • Hunger,
  • Thirst,
  • Nakedness,
  • Physically buffeted,
  • Homeless!
  • They labored, working with their own hands: (self-supporting)
  • Being reviled, they blessed.
  • When they were persecuted, they accepted and endured it:
  • Being defamed, they intreated
  • They were made as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things.

(Wow! What a great ministry! Sounds like a “recruiting poster for servanthood,” doesn’t it?) No, it does not! From a human perspective, it sounds like a great occupation to avoid!

Jesus did not say that discipleship would be “fun.” He never said it would be a “source of pride or position.” When the twelve disciples were bickering about who would be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven (the Millennial Kingdom,) He straightened them out by saying that the greatest would be those who approached Him as a child approaches. Without any self-will or arrogance. And that those who served would be the best rewarded. “He who would be chief among you, let him be your slave.”

The Apostles seemed to be the last in line for honor, in this world. As far as we know, the unbelievers eventually executed all of them were for the sake of Jesus, with the possible exception of John. (History is unclear regarding some of them.)

And Paul’s Conclusion?

Notice that he softens the admonition by saying that he is bringing this rebuke in love, as a father to his children. He had no desire to shame them, but he had to warn them of the trap into which they were walking. He reminded them that he, himself, had led them to Christ. His heart toward them was as a father to his children.

His conclusion was, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me”

In effect, he said, “Please follow our example! We Apostles have led you to Christ, and we have taught you how to walk with Him. Follow our example, and drop all this heady nonsense of pride and personal glory!

Some of this may sound foreign to some of you, but, if you think about it, I would expect that at least some of you may have run into these attitudes before and may even have fallen prey to them yourselves. In either case, God warns us that such conceited self-satisfaction in our “super-spirituality” is a guaranteed recipe for disaster, both as individuals and as a church.

We need to learn and embrace the humility of discipleship.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our true condition and help us to change, as You transform us through the renewing of our minds. Teach us to walk with You in true submission and humility, rather than insisting on our own way. Make us able ministers of your truth.

Learning Stewardship and Ministry: Faithfulness and Focus

Stewardship and Ministry: Faithfulness and Focus

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 4:1-7

1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

Introduction:

First, Paul begins chapter four, by asking the Corinthian believers to change their thinking. He called them to consider the apostles as being simply the “servants of Christ.” (The noun, “minister” just means servant.) Furthermore, Paul says, “See us as Stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Lately, we have discussed the concept of ministry several times. We have recognized, in every case, that ministry and servanthood were the same concept.

Stewards and Faithfulness

But, we have barely touched upon the concept of stewardship. A “steward” is someone who with responsibility and limited authority over some matter regarding personnel, or some piece of property, or some investment, perhaps.

Occasionally, the steward may have virtually no “honor” as a part of his or her stewardship. It may simply be “work” that needs doing. On the other hand, he or she may have political prominence, as “the keeper of the keys,” or some such thing. The only thing that all stewardship positions have in common is that the steward must be faithful to that responsibility. Therefore, it says, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (By the way, the Greek simply says “tis” which could be translated as “who” or “one.” This isn’t “just about men!”)

What is Faithfulness?

In some contexts, the word “faithful” simply means the person is a believer in Jesus. This is not that sort of context. In this context, the question is one of “reliability.” Is this person dependable at carrying out the task they have agreed to do, or the task to which they have been assigned?

Living things make this an especially important concept. For example, if you forget to water the house plants for a few days, some of them may die. But all of them will look bad. (Incidentally, “House plant care” is a difficult task for me, as I simply do not think about them: to my eye, they are just “part of the furniture.”)

But what if you have agreed to take care of someone’s pets while they are gone? Those animals are completely dependent upon some human, and, for the prescribed time, that person is YOU!

But, let’s say someone agrees to care for your livestock or pets. If you come home to discover that they have seriously neglected your animals, how will you feel toward the person who proved to be unfaithful? How will you judge yourself for having trusted such a person with your animals?

Now: what if your children are the ones you have entrusted to the care of another, and you find that your children have been neglected or abused?

Some government agencies have been unfaithful. They failed to care for children or the elderly. When the public heard about that failure, everyone was shocked and angry. Everyone wanted the abusers (and/or the “neglectful, careless stewards”) to be held accountable. (Guess what? God holds stewards accountable, too! And it IS God’s children at risk!)

Accountability

Hebrews 13:17 says God will hold the leaders in the churches accountable for “what happens on their watch,” so to speak. (“ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”)

In a church assembly where the people rebel against God’s Word, the shepherds are not looking forward to standing before Christ and having to answer for their own errors or failures.

In Ezekiel 34:1-10, we see God calling the Shepherds of Israel into account for their behavior, and the result in the flock.

God gave those shepherds a list of seven definite responsibilities toward His flock:

  1. Feed the Flock,
  2. Strengthen the Diseased.
  3. Heal the Sick,
  4. Bind up the Broken,
  5. Bring back those who have been driven away,
  6. Seek the Lost, and
  7. Defend the Flock against all Predators.

Accountability Today

Those responsibilities have not changed: they are still the collective task of the shepherds.

If the shepherds are collectively doing their jobs, in unity, and if the flock is behaving rightly before the Lord, then we can expect His blessing.  If not, then, to the degree we disregard God’s Word, we can expect to see His blessing diminished. That is simply the truth. It is a fact!

In 1st Samuel 2, God held accountable the High Priest Eli for the evil that his sons committed, because he was in a position of sufficient authority that he could have stopped them. But he chose to just “remonstrate with them”…and he got fat on the fruit of their evil doings.

The result? The people of Israel began to despise the Tabernacle and the offerings they brought! God told Eli that he had honored his evil sons more than he had honored God. It cost Eli his own life, the lives of his sons, and a lasting curse on the future of his entire family lineage!

Yes, obviously, the “Stewards of the Mysteries of God” are individually held accountable for their actions and the results of those actions.

Take it Seriously!

James 3:1 warns that we need to take seriously the responsibility of teaching. KJV says “Be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (Don’t just go “running after the spotlight:” as a teacher, you will also receive more severe judgment.)

In some cases, of course, this condemnation could be just from other people. Even the Unbelieving World is actively scrutinizing teachers and pastors, the shepherds of the flock of God. Obviously, the World is always eager to “catch shepherds in sin,” if possible. And sometimes they have gone so far as to deliberately produce a “trap” to make an innocent person “look bad,” publicly. But when a pastor commits a crime, it will be splashed all over the news.

God warns us to expect this “stricter accountability,” and it makes perfect sense. He has entrusted His flock to those leaders, and if they are guilty of misfeasance (or nonfeasance) of their responsibilities, then He will take action against them. The Ezekiel passage we just read is a clear example of that judgment.

Take it Personally!

Any honest servant of God fears failure in this area. None of us want to face the consequences of having fallen prey to greed, lust, or pride, and as a result of our sin, having led astray an assembly of believers. That is why the previous chapter says, “the temple of God (the flock of God) is Holy. If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” God will judge those who defile His flock through bad (or careless) teaching and bad (or careless) leadership!

And yet, Hebrews 5:12 states that “by this time you should have been teaching!”

God does call us to be His ambassadors and He does call us to grow up into responsibility. These warnings are not to dissuade us from seeking to serve God with our lives. Rather, they are a solemn warning that it is a serious business! Do not take it lightly!

And God is the Judge

Next, in verses 3 and 4, Paul says that the collective “opinions” or “judgment” of the Corinthian believers were not his primary concern. His only “Supervisor” and final Judge of his work was The Lord Jesus!

Romans 14:4 confirms that we are each, individually accountable to God. We are not to sharply criticize one another, nor even to hold one another in disregard. Each of us will stand or fall before God…and Paul goes on to say that “God is able to make us stand.”

On the other hand, Romans 2:16 says that God will judge the secrets of the hearts of men “according to the Gospel.” In terms of Salvation, the Gospel will be the standard… “What did you do with Jesus?

But in terms of Service, the standard will still be the Word of God: “What did you allow Jesus to do through you? What did you do with Him?” Did you walk with Him, and follow His leading?”

I can’t see anyone else’s heart. So, I cannot judge them (or their actions) unless their actions are truly rebellion against God’s Word. All I can do, as a shepherd, is keep declaring all the general commands given to all believers.

However, those who hear it and apply it to their own hearts will find that God leads them according to His Word. (Remember that Jesus is the Living Word of God: He never leads us contrary to the Written Word of God!) And God says that He will reveal it ALL in the end. Everyone will know!

The Apostles’ Example: “We are nothing Special!”

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

Paul says that he chose himself and Apollos as simple examples, comparing himself and his own ministry with that of Apollos. His conclusion has consistently been that neither of them was anything special! He has repeatedly brought us back to this simple comparison, first to put a stop to the sectarianism that was beginning in Corinth and finally, to root out any tendency toward the believers holding up themselves as “something special.”

The Implication: “And, Neither are You!”

The bottom line seems to be “If Apollos and I are nothing special (and we are NOT) then what makes you think YOU are so special?”

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, (boast) as if thou hadst not received it?

  • What makes you different than others?
  • What do you have that you did not simply receive as a gift?
  • And if you only have it as a gift that you did nothing to earn, why brag?

We all are called to discipleship! We all are called to service! And we all are called to stewardship at various levels. And we all are called to grow up, by feeding on God’s Word, obeying His Word, and walking with Him. We are called to focus our attention on Christ and His Word. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:19 “Focus on the light of His Word!”)

As a Personal Note:

Having received the gift (and assignment) of teaching and feeding the Flock, I no longer have the option to just “go do something else!” I cannot decide “Y’ know, I’d rather go back to commercial fishing!” (Remember, in John 21, that is exactly what Peter did, and the others followed his example. Jesus called him back and told him that was no longer an option.)

In addition, I cannot choose to go off and be a “hermit luthier:” a recluse, separating myself from other believers, and “just building violins.” I have to Focus on the job I was sent to do!

What about All of Us?

We are no longer our own masters. We are called to follow the leadership and yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is the Savior, the Master, and the final Judge at every level.

We need to keep that in mind.

Lord Jesus, Please teach us to respond to You as our true Master, and as the great shepherd. Teach us to feed upon your Word: to Feed upon You as the Living Word. Cause us to grow up into spiritual maturity and to embrace the responsibility of Discipleship!

How to Understand God’s Warnings Regarding False Wisdom

God’s Warnings Regarding False Wisdom

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 3:16-23

16 Know ye not that ye (plural) are the (singular) temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (Job 5:13)20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. (Psalm 94:11)

21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

Introduction:

The context, here, you may recall. was from the previous passage. There we learned that “we are laborers together with God.” We saw that the work we accomplish, working with Him has eternal value and brings eternal reward. But we also saw that work which He did not initiate, which we did according to our own plans, ignoring His plans, has no eternal value. “Discipleship” means following Jesus, and doing His Work in His way.

Now Paul goes a little further. He reminds us how important it is that we learn to allow God to lead us. Also, he teaches that we must learn to follow Him. He says that we (collectively) are the Temple of God. In verse nine, he said, “we are laborers together with God.” Paul also said, in that same verse, that, collectively, we are His cultivated field, and His building! (What kind of building? Well, Paul clears that up right here: collectively, he says we are the temple of God.

The Temple of God

Let’s give that some thought. It certainly does not mean that “we are a collection of stacked stones, and rooted to one place for eternity.” Believers are scattered all across the globe. There are very few places on earth where the Gospel has not gone (though, in some cases, it may have been centuries ago.)

In 1st Peter 2:5, he says that we are “living stones.” I used to struggle with that, as I imagined squatting, immobile, in the wall of a stone building, locked into place as a stone. That did not sound attractive. I was glad to discover in the rest of the Scripture that we are living stones; we are already a part of the Living Temple of God: the Church.

But verse 17, there is a stark warning: The Temple of God is Holy. The Church, at large, is Holy to God: We are His private property, set aside for His sole use! We are each individually declared holy before Him, but the Church as a whole is also Holy before Him.

It is not “just an organization.” It is an organism, having some characteristics of “organization” as does any life-form. But, as opposed to a human organization, where each member is often reminded that they are replaceable, each of the members of the “Church as a whole” is a living part of that Body of Christ; and each is precious to Him.

The warning, here, is not against defiling an individual (though there are other warnings about that.) It is a warning against corrupting or defiling the Church…the Body of Christ.

How can one “Corrupt” (or Defile) the Temple of God, the Church?

Teaching Immorality

Down through the centuries, there have repeatedly arisen men (or women) who taught immorality in the Church. There were always those who taught people to disregard God’s Word regarding moral behavior. too.

This goes all the way back to the various “Earth religions,” that all seem to have had their origins in Babylon. The Earth “god and goddess” duo, called Baal and Asherah were supposed to be deities of fertility …but their “worship” called for gross immorality, to be practiced with their “priests and priestesses”…for money, and or goods, which fed into the temples of those deities.

In modern times, various cults arose that also advocated promiscuity and drug use, as well as other evil practices. And all demanded money, to support their practice.

Today there are cults who openly encourage such sin, and it is increasingly showing up in churches that once (years ago) stood solidly as followers of God. In other words, it is nothing new!

Churches who do not join them, in their approval of all lasciviousness and sin, are persecuted, and blasphemed as “hateful,” when they have never behaved in any unloving manner: they have simply clung to the truth of God’s Word. In some places it has actually become illegal to teach the portions of God’s Word that clearly condemn such practices.

Other False Teaching

Historically and currently, some organizations actively try (and have tried) to dissuade believers from personally studying or believing God’s Word. They present themselves as very smooth and highly educated, and their words are framed to “sound like wisdom.” (Very similar to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden!) Organizations that managed to have themselves declared the “State Religion” (wherever they have been) immediately began suppressing the individual use of The Word of God, even burning the Bibles and sometimes burning the believers as well.

Sometimes the false teaching comes in a guise that does not forbid the study of the Word, but systematically misinterprets it to deny certain core doctrines and renders the believers ineffective in our mission as ambassadors of Christ. We truly have to study carefully to avoid such traps.

Warnings against False Wisdom

Colossians 2:8 warns us that we must not allow ourselves to be robbed (spoiled—  looted) by human wisdom and human philosophy, empty deceit, and the elementary principles of the World. We can easily allow ourselves to be drawn away into a condition where we can no longer work with God, and so we can no longer expect reward.

James 3:11-18 gives us some instruction as to “How to tell the difference” between God’s wisdom and so-called “wisdom” from an unreliable source.

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

First, James points out that, in general, good and bad do not emanate from the same source. At the very least, a spring that was inconsistent, sometimes having good water and other times not, would be unreliable as a source of drinking water. And, obviously, a Fig tree never bears olives.

Then, he goes on to give some character traits through which a human source of Godly wisdom can be identified, always supposing that we are talking about a believer to begin with. (If you already know that the person denies Christ, or denies the authority of God’s Word, then you avoid their counsel regardless of the outward signs.)

How to Recognize a Source of Godly Wisdom

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation (lifestyle) his works (overall behavior) with meekness (yieldedness to God, and humility) of wisdom.

The behavior of the teacher or counselor reveals their heart. If the behavior is consistently good, honest, humble, nonaggressive, etc. that is a good sign. If he consistently points people to God’s Word, that is a good thing.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

People who are combative, envious of position, constantly striving against others for dominance, are not a safe source of wisdom. If they can be approached, corrected, etc., without fear of rebuke, then that is a point in their favor. James goes into more detail in the following verses.

Other Possible Sources:

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

He leaves no room for doubt about the other three possible sources of so-called “Wisdom.” He says they all are from this list:

  1. Earthly (from the World)
  2. Sensual (literally “soulish:” From the Flesh…the old sin nature)
  3. Devilish (From the enemy, Satan)

Vital Clue:

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

If there is strife, then the enemy is at work, somewhere. If we follow that brand of wisdom then there will be bad results, whether immediately or in the future. Bad teaching begets bad practices; and together they bring bad results.

Seven Character Traits of Godly Wisdom

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

Notice that James provides a list of character traits that should accompany Godly Wisdom. And they all are supposed to be there: this is not a “smorgasbord.” The list includes:

  • Pure (No hidden agenda to satisfy his sin nature)
  • Peaceable (Not given to strife or contention)
  • Gentle (Treating people kindly, not sharply, not critical or accusing)
  • Easy to be intreated (approachable…accountable to others)
  • Full of Mercy and Good Fruits (Compare Galatians 5:22, 23)
  • Without Partiality (doesn’t play favorites)
  • Without Hypocrisy (not pretending, with outward piety: but rather living transparently.)

All of those things are supposed to be present and observable in the people to whom we turn for instruction and wisdom.

Consider the Desired Result

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Why are all those things so vital? Because they will have results. If you are hoping to see the righteousness of Christ developing and bearing fruit in people’s lives, this is the way to get there. The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace.

If a shepherd or teacher (or parent or spouse) is consistently unkind, grouchy, or argumentative, then the fruit of righteousness will not result in the lives of the flock, the marriage, or the children. The Peace of God, that He promised in John 14:27, has to be present and observable, for the Wisdom of God as seen here, to flow to those around you.

God knows the difference between Worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom, and He gives us clues by which to discern that difference for ourselves. But we have to be aware of the danger, and familiar with the clues, so that we can apply them consistently and correctly.

Paul’s Conclusion Regarding Human Teachers

Remember that the original discussion was about the divisions in the Corinthian church: and part of the arguments were based on “which teacher” people were following. (One said, “I am of Paul;” another said, “I am of Apollos,” while others (who were really “spiritual”) said, “I am of Christ.” Paul pointed out that ALL of them were practicing sectarianism, separating themselves from the rest of the body, and it did not matter “who they claimed,” when the result was disunity! All of it added up to Carnality, not Spirituality!

So, here, he concludes that all the arguments were empty and vain, and that they were to stop it! He said, 21 Therefore let no man glory in men.

So, How do we Apply it?

Don’t boast about “who taught you what!” It is fine to say where you learned something, when all you are saying is that “I didn’t come up with this on my own: another brother or sister pointed it out to me!”  But when we are trying to elevate one person above another, it is not honoring to God. Paul concludes that all the Godly sources of wisdom they had had (including Paul, Apollos Peter, and Christ, as well as the physical world itself, and the life to come, belonged to all of them! This is what we have in common! We are joint-heirs with Jesus!

For all things are your’s; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas (Peter), or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

And, by extension, he adds, because we belong to Jesus, we also belong to God, through Christ. The whole context points us back to the fact that we do not belong to ourselves, but to Him, our Creator and Savior and Master. And we are exhorted to learn to follow Him in His Wisdom, under His direction, and not be divided by petty differences. God help us to obey His Word.

Lord Jesus, bring us to a solid understanding of Your Truth, Your Word, so that we can look at the World with Clear Eyes, and see Your Wisdom as our only Light in the present darkness.

Salvation or Rewards: A Gift or Wages?

Salvation or Rewards: A Gift or Wages?

© 2024 by C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 3:9-15

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry (a cultivated field), ye are God’s building (In other places this building is called the “Temple” or “habitation” of God).

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Introduction:

We have seen the difference between the ministry of Paul and the ministry of Apollos. Paul said, “I planted, and Apollos watered. But God gave the increase.” Paul goes on to use a slightly different metaphor. Remember that he used two ideas in verse nine. He likened us first to a cultivated field, and then to a building.

So, as appropriate to the first metaphor, he said that he (Paul) had planted, and Apollos had watered. But then he moves on to the second metaphor…the building…an edifice of some kind. And in verse ten, he says, “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.”

Consider the Cultivated Field

When a farmer plants a field with seed, he doesn’t step back and say, “There is a fruitful field!” He waits and watches to see the germination take place and the leafing-out of whatever the young plants are. Finally, he is grateful to see the field bearing the fruit he hoped for.

What About a Building?

Consider how a General Contractor, specializing in concrete work, begins a project. He completes the excavation for the building site. Thinking ahead, he makes allowances for the wiring and plumbing that must also happen. He will lay down the necessary loads of crushed rock, onto which the concrete foundation will be poured. The contractor erects the plywood forms, into which he will pour the concrete. Ultimately, he will pour the concrete, making certain to leave no air-voids.

Finally, after the concrete is sufficiently cured, he will strip the forms from the newly cured concrete. Then he may hand-trowel a layer of finishing mortar onto the portions that may remain exposed. He may also apply various additives or sealants to enhance the longevity or looks of that foundation.

The Foundation is Complete and Permanent!

But at some point, he can say, “I have laid the foundation!” And, as a general contractor, he would then turn the work over to the other builders who will complete the structure in the prescribed manner, according to the plan of the Architect.

This is the metaphor Paul introduces in this passage: And the whole context teaches the result of the efforts of the subsequent builders.

Our question, then, becomes, “What am I accomplishing as I build upon the foundation which has been laid in my life?”

The Foundation

He says, “As a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.

In the case of the “cultivated field,” once the farmer had planted the seed, others completed the remaining cultivation. Those who watered that field did the rest, and God brought the increase. But, in the case of the building, once the foundation has been laid, the rest of the building is for someone else to accomplish.

In any physical building, if the foundation is of questionable quality, then the subsequent building is unsecure, regardless of the craftsmanship of the builders. If the ground under the “foundation” is unstable, then even the foundation is unsecure.

But, in this case, Paul identifies the Foundation: He explains in verse 13 that the foundation is Jesus Christ. (In other passages, we find that He is also the Monolithic Bedrock under the “foundation” in our lives.) Everything that has become “possible” in our lives, as new believers is only possible because of the absolute security of that foundation. Jesus said, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (And He was not referring to Peter!) Jesus is the Rock of our Salvation, and He is the Foundation of the Work God plans to accomplish in our lives.

The Gift

Think clearly about this: You did not lay the foundation! Someone else came to you with the Gospel of Christ and eventually, one way or another, you chose to believe it. God, through the agency of  that other person, laid the Foundation of Christ in your life at that moment. Paul brought Christ to Corinth, and, in doing so, he laid the foundation there in Corinth. They did not do it for themselves. It was the gift of God.

The Foundation was a gift! Salvation is a gift! What you do with that gift after having received it, is another matter. Paul warns that the character of  resulting overall construction is up to you to decide, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

The Warning: “Let Every Man Take Heed!”

Paul said, “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

“Take Heed!” (Pay attention!) Listen up! There is a caveat, here! A warning: Salvation is a gift! But rewards are not! This matter can easily confused us. Some teach that salvation is the reward for good behavior. That is absolutely false! You cannot earn salvation. You can receive it as the gift of God, precious beyond price and beyond imagination, or you cannot receive it at all.

Example one

I visited in the home of a man in Mexico, many years ago. He was a coppersmith…a very good one. He had personally hand-forged a beautiful copper pan for my wife as a gift. I do not speak even semi-fluent Spanish. However, during that evening I had shared the Gospel with this man. He rejected it, saying, it is too easy: “I have to earn it!” I thought for a moment, then felt in my pocket as if for money, and said, “So, how much do you want for that copper “casserole” you made for Ann?”

He instantly was furious: “No! That was a gift!

“That’s right, “I replied. “You are angry because I offered to pay for the gift you made for Ann, aren’t you?” He was still angry, so he blurted “YES!”

So I asked, “How much more angry do you think God may be, that you are offering to pay for the blood of His only Son?” His countenance changed, and his eyes went round, as he realized what he quite literally had been doing. I never saw him again, but I know that, at that moment, he understood the Gospel for the first time. What he ultimately chose to do about it, I don’t know. But I hope to see him in eternity.

Salvation is a Gift!

We have received a gift, each of us who has placed our trust in Christ. We have eternal life.

Example two

On another occasion, later, not knowing that the young lady to whom I was speaking was not a believer, I was only trying to teach her about her security in Christ. Eventually, I offered her a dime, saying, “Here: take this!”

She took it, and I asked, “Now, whose dime is that?”

She replied, “It’s mine, now!”

So, I asked, “But what did you do to get it?”

And she (bless her heart) said, “Nothing! I just reached out and took it!”  

And then she started crying! I was thoroughly confused, since I really didn’t understand what was happening. So, I finally prayed with her, and she gave me a ferocious hug, and then she and her husband drove away. That was January 9th, 1994.

Two weeks later, she explained to me that she was born again that day, as she simply believed God and received the GIFT of eternal life in Christ. GOD laid the foundation, that day, even though I did not at all understand what was going on!

And it was a gift!

But, Rewards are NOT Gifts!

The warning here is that we can receive rewards…or NOT, depending on how we respond to the Lord after receiving that gift.

I have frequently heard people say of someone who recently died that “He has gone to his reward!” And, in most cases, they were not even saying the person was a believer…only that they were dead! As an unbeliever, had I died before I was eighteen, my “reward” or “wages” would have been eternity in Hell! Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of Sin is Death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”

But, here in 1st Corinthians 3:9-15, Paul tells us that a reward is possible! And he says that the reward is commensurate with the work done, as we have either “worked with Jesus” or we have rebelled and “worked on our own…” choosing our own ideas of “how to please God,” as opposed to what His Word says.

The Building Materials

Paul continues his metaphor in verse 12, now likening the product of our lives, the “building” we are producing, as being of “different grades of building materials.” 

He chose two categories of materials: the first group, “Gold, Silver, Precious stones,” when considered as building materials, were completely outside the reach of anyone but the wealthiest of individuals. The second group were materials that even the poorest people could probably acquire, though there was still some expense, most likely, and a good deal of work as well.

It is not just about the cost of the Materials

One group implies “intrinsic value,” while the other does not! However, in verse 13, Paul tells us a far more important difference between the two groups: one is combustible, and one is not!

He says the final test of our works will not be so much upon how much work we did to accomplish it, how “important” it seemed, nor how “skilled” we are, but upon the intrinsic value of the materials and their permanence. He says that our work will be tested by fire.

So, where would a person get the “Gold, and Silver, and Precious Stones” that Paul mentions, here? Think forward a bit: In 2nd Peter 3:10, God also says that in the day of the final judgment, “the elements will pass away with a fervent heat and a great noise!” (Yes… but, “Gold and Silver and Precious Stones” are “elements,” too, aren’t they? Won’t they just be burned up?)

Materials From God are Eternal

Therefore, we are not talking about literal, physical wealth here, which none of those believers had, anyway. (Including the Apostles: Remember, it was Peter (and John) who said, addressing the lame man, “Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”)

The building materials God wants us to use, have to come from Him! That is why Jesus said, in John 15:5, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing!” The work has to be the direct result of our “pulling in double harness” with Jesus! That is why verse 9 says, “We are laborers together with God!”

The Result: Reward or Loss

Finally, in verses 14, and 15, Paul says that the result of the testing for permanence and value will be either that our work simply burns up like a barn with a haymow fire, or that it still remains, and a reward will be given. He points out that the foundation is permanent: He says that if any believer’s work burns up, the believer himself will still be saved, but “as one escaping through the flames.”

Was there a Reward for Lot?

Abraham’s nephew, Lot comes to mind as a prime example: He had already received great riches as a result of his travels with Uncle Abraham. But he squandered that fine start by moving into the City of Sodom. Ultimately, when God destroyed Sodom, Lot and his immediate family were saved, but they lost everything: The angels dragged them out of town, and whatever they dragged with them was all they had left. If it were not for the fact that, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, God specifically names Lot as being a righteous man, I would never have guessed he was a saved man! And that helps secure my faith that He will save me, too! He laid the foundation!

But the reward is another matter! Lot came out of the City of Sodom with essentially nothing but his life! His salvation was a gift! But, there was no reward for his behavior!

Will there Be a Reward for Us?

Paul tells us that we have a choice: we can learn to “pull with Jesus in double harness,” being “laborers together with God,” thereby receiving from Him (and building with) the materials that have eternal intrinsic value, and eternal substance that will outlast this life…or not.

Let’s pursue the goal of learning to walk with Jesus, as His flock: learning to work with Jesus as His partners in the Work of God. The result, whether we follow or not, will have eternal results, for better or for worse.

Lord Jesus, please teach us to walk with You and to serve as your agents here in the fallen world in which we live. We know that we are Your ambassadors, but we want to be faithful at that work, serving with You looking for eternal results.

Learn to See The Problem and the Symptoms of Carnality

The Problems with (and the Symptoms of) Carnality

© 2023 by C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 3:1-9

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (servants) by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

For we are labourers together with God: ye (plural) are God’s husbandry (Greek ”georgion”…a cultivated field, singular)  ye (plural) are God’s building (singular.)

Introduction:

Remember that in chapter two, Paul introduced the difference between a “Natural” man and a “Spiritual“ man. We saw that the “natural” man was unsaved…unregenerate, having only his old sin-nature. The “spiritual” man is in complete contrast. He was not only born again (“regenerate”), but also in direct submission to the Spirit of God. He not only has a new nature, but he is also in fellowship with God, and submitted to God’s direction. We chose to skip ahead to chapter three, to see that there also is a “third category.”

Paul describes the Carnal man, here in chapter three. This is a regenerate person, savedborn again, but one who is not currently in submission to the Lord. He or she is walking “in the flesh.”

The word “carnal” simply means, “of, or pertaining to flesh.”

When a person orders a bowl of “chili con carne,” in a restaurant, the name literally means, “chili with flesh…with meat!

So, Paul is introducing the concept of “fleshly living.” This idea gets treated in several places in the New Testament. It is by no means an “obscure” idea. (In Galatians 5:13-25, Paul addresses this contrast. He shows the difference between walking in the flesh (old sin nature) and walking in the Spirit, in some detail.)

The Problem of Carnality

The primary problem with Carnality is that you are separated from fellowship with God!

1st John 1:5, 6 states that “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all! If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth!

We are living a lie, when we are out of fellowship with the Holy God who bought us! Especially when we pretendi that “Everything is fine! I’m just praising the Lord!”

John goes on to show the simple act of repentance involved in restoring that condition of fellowship with God. (Your position in Christ is not in question. Your condition of either being in or out of fellowship with Him is in question.)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess means (“agree with God”)

This is not a “religious ritual” of any kind. This “confession,” usually, is to God, and not to others, unless others have been affected by our sin. There is no hierarchy of priests through which we must pass to approach God. We approach freely, through the Cross. No “self-flagellation” is called for. Nor is there even any “doing penance” required. (And certainly no “Hail Mary’s,” in which the penitent is actually reciting a prayer of worship to Mary.) Confession is not a “sacrament.” Also, there is no ritualistic “format” for us to follow. Confession is simply agreeing with God concerning your sins and then pressing on to walk with Him in fellowship again.

Another Result of Carnality

A carnal Christian cannot understand much of God’s Word. (And usually isn’t really interested, either, as the Word of God constantly sheds light on the life of the reader. When we are in sin, we don’t like to see ourselves as we are!) But, while we are out of fellowship with Him, we cannot understand beyond the “baby-food” concepts of God’s Word.

We struggle with the “solid food” servings. We either “choke” on them, rejecting the teaching, or we simply don’t understand it, and we walk away confused. Therefore, Paul sadly said that he could not feed them on “solid food.”

They were not able to bear the “solid food” teaching, because they were still babies. He could only feed them on “milk.”

Babies are Wonderful, But…

A newborn believer need feel no shame at being a babe in Christ. He is supposed to be a “baby Christian!” But he also is called to rapidly grow out of that status, by feeding on the milk of God’s Word! (See 1st Peter 2:2, KJV.) There is no shame in physical babyhood, either. We become concerned, however, when a physical baby fails to physically mature at a “normal” rate. We are to progress to the solid food of God’s Word, and to a mature response to God’s Word.

In Hebrews 5:11-14, however, Paul complains that the recipients of that letter should have been teachers by that time, but that, instead, they had regressed to being babes. The reason the Corinthian believers were still babies, is because they were “failing to thrive.” Paul was only correcting them, in this passage, and warning of the consequences if they continued in carnality.

The Hebrew believers, though, were a different case. Because of their Jewish heritage and upbringing, they (perhaps) knew God’s Word better than the Corinthians ever would. But they had backslidden into such deep carnality that they were having to return to baby-food, as opposed to “solid food.” They had to return to the foundational teaching of God’s Word.

Warnings to Pretenders

He scolded the Hebrew believers pretty sharply, and then (in chapter six) he warned that, if they were not really believers at all, but just “fooling themselves,” then the potential was there for eternal loss. This warning was for people who were just pretending to believe: those who were just “going along for the ride.” But those genuine believers in chapter five, who were simply “wallowing in the mire,” so to speak, he sharply admonished to “get up and get moving!”

Lost Opportunities

Later in this chapter of first Corinthians, we will see that there are eternal results for sinning believers, too, but that they themselves will be saved, though their potential rewards will be lost.

Consider what he was saying to the believers in Hebrews 5:12. If they were supposed to be teachers by now and were not, then they were missing out on opportunities to serve with Jesus! (Read 1st Corinthians 3:9 carefully!) We are called to be laborers with God!

The Hebrew believers were missing out on the opportunity to “join Jesus in double harness” and, together with Him, to do the work of God. What a tragic loss! We only get one shot at this target, so to speak: we either use the short life He gives us by investing it in His agenda, or… we don’t!

Eternity is not an opportunity for “do-overs.” We can’t “change our mind,” in eternity, and go back and do the things we should have done. We can “change our minds” now,  and choose to invest our time and our efforts, our abilities and our “wherewithal in general,” to join Him in His work.

Symptoms of Carnality

It seems odd that one of the “Symptoms of Carnality” that Paul first addressed was the pattern of division and sectarianism that was already taking root in Corinth (and elsewhere.)

Today, we still see that pattern of dividing over “who is our preferred teacher.” But, ironically, we frequently are taught to think that such “separatist” behavior is somehow a mark of maturity. The Pharisees seemed to think that way, didn’t they? Jesus called out the praying Pharisee, who claimed to be “Thanking God that he, himself, was one of the Good Guys, not like that poor slob over there!” (Luke 18:9-14) From outward appearance, the Pharisee seemed to be following the Law, but inwardly, it was just pious pride. There was no fellowship with God involved.

When we separate ourselves from other believers (even secretly) over non-essentials, we are in sin. The result will be carnality, and everything we do while out of fellowship is empty of eternal value. Jesus said the tax-collector in Luke 18:13 (“publican” in the KJV) went home justified ( it means “declared righteous”) by God, and the “self-justified” Pharisee, who declared himself to be righteous, did not! God did not approve of his self-righteousness!

There is a “self-satisfaction,” and a “self-justification” rooted in all “I know more than they do,” or, “I serve more than they do,” or even “I listen to a better teacher on the radio than they do….” You see, all of those things come from the flesh. It is carnality!

In Contrast

Paul had the humility to see that Apollos, far from being a “Johnny-come-lately,” was a powerful tool in God’s hand, just as he himself was. He said, “We are both just servants! God is bringing the results!”

Paul pointed out that while he and Apollos did not have the exact same assignment, they were both being used by God to achieve the same goal. Paul was taking the Gospel where it had never gone, as he says in Romans 15:20.

Apollos was being used to teach and to powerfully convict the hearts of those who had already heard the Gospel, but were still unconvinced. (See Acts 18:24-28)

And Paul recognized that neither he nor Apollos was anything “special.” He simply counted it a privilege to have his life be used by God to do the work of God. He lived by Grace, which is “unearned favor.” Some teachers attempt to make “grace” mean “power.” It does not: it means “unearned favor:” a gift. But it is by the gift of God that we are allowed to serve and given the wherewithal to do so.

Future Reward

Paul also knew that a reward for faithfulness was coming. He said, “and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” That word “every” is pretty important: It means that every single believer has the opportunity to serve. And it means that every single believer who consistently seeks to serve will also receive reward for his or her service.

What an amazing thing! In John 15:5, Jesus said, “apart from me ye can do nothing.” In Philippians 2:13, Paul confirms that “it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” And, here, in 1st Corinthians 3:7, Paul says that “God giveth the increase.”

But: the very next verse promises us that the “tools” through which He accomplishes His work will be rewarded as if they themselves had done it! That is a mind-boggling truth! We are not sent out to work “on our own,” at all! We either serve with Jesus, or not at all! But if we serve with Him, despite the fact that He is the One doing all the work, He promises a reward to us for simply “cooperating” and allowing Him to work through us!

Working With Jesus

He goes on to say that “we are laborers together with God!” God is doing the work. We have the privilege of “going to work with our Heavenly Father,” and doing with Him whatever He “sends us to do.” But he rewards us, as if we were the real workers. And He blesses us as we serve. We are not “blindly slaving away,” hoping what we are doing somehow has eternal value.

In terms of salvation, Jesus did every bit of the work, at the Cross!  But in terms of service, we always have a moment-by-moment choice: “Will I serve the Savior, by serving with Him, or will I just serve myself?

An Example of “Serving Self”

Years ago, when New Tribes Mission was first setting up one of their woodland “Jungle Camp” training programs, in Eastern Oregon, one of the necessary tasks (obviously) was to dig the pits for the various outhouses, there in the woods. It was a hard, thankless task, but it was divided between all the men, so that no one person was bearing the burden alone.

One of the trainees, that year, had been a pastor of a church somewhere before entering the mission. He evidently thought that was “special.” Another man, a friend of mine, when walking past the pit where this man was taking his turn digging, overheard him complaining, over and over, that This is no way to treat a pastor!”  

Do you see the difference between his attitude and that of Paul and Apollos? It was not a surprise to my friend when that man, shortly thereafter, dropped out of the training program. You see, he did not want to be aservant.” So, he was disqualified by God from serving.

How can We Follow Jesus’s Example?

Jesus said, in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many!” We need to examine our own motives and ask ourselves, “Who am I really serving? What would He have me to do? Where is my heart attitude in all of this?

Lord Jesus, please open our eyes to the difference between spirituality and carnality. Lead us to repentance, so that we can serve You in the newness of the Spirit, not allowing our old sin natures to undermine the work of God in our hearts.

What Were They Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/2016  C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016; Revised 12/2019, Revised 12/2023

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I used to take some time off work, every year, to spend Christmas with my family. When I got back to work, people greeted me in a friendly fashion, and several always asked, “Did you have a good Christmas?

That is almost just a “rhetorical question,” since the expected answer is always “Yes,” though “qualifiers” are acceptable. Expansion on what was good (or not so good) is also acceptable, to some degree. But what we are always expected to do, at most, is to tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who actually were present the Night of the Lord’s Birth. (By the way, I cannot prove that His birth was on December 25th, although there are some reasons suggesting it might have been. But the weather was not a deterrent. It is pretty warm in Jerusalem right now. Probably it was, that night, as well. So regardless of “when” the Lord was actually born, let’s just consider who was there, and then pose that same question regarding them:

What were They all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, “Angels we have heard on High, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” But… were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that the wise men (however many there were) were possibly as much as two years away, on Christmas morning…they were not part of the birthday experience at all.

We say, “Shepherds quake at the sight” (which was true!) But we sing all sorts of nice songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and lambs, and oxen, and Mary, and Joseph, and…honestly, most of that is just very pleasant fiction. So, let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?” Let’s take it one group at a time:

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!)

To Begin with: Which Angel?

Let’s read and see: Luke 2:8-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a lot of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds.

The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them glad tidings (good news) of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people.” (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?” It is the Gospel!)

He went on to announce the birth of the “Savior; Christ the Lord.” He told the shepherds to go and find the Baby  (Not Mary; not Joseph …the Baby!) and He told them where to look, and He told them how to recognize Him.

What about the Other Angels?

Immediately there appeared a multitude of other angelic beings (“the heavenly host”—the heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!” (Could they have been singing, as well? Surely they could! They were singing at the Creation! See Job 38:7 But the question always comes down to “What does God’s Word actually say?”) And then they were gone! They just disappeared into the sky!

But, by God’s command, what were the Angels doing? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the Baby!)” The Angels were worshipping the Baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, nor anyone else.)

How Important is Worship?

Now, think: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So, this is part of how we recognize and teach the deity of Christ. He is God!

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we really were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger!

They knew Him for who he was! The angels were not distracted by His infancy, nor his appearance of helplessness. They knew who He was! They worshipped Him as their Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! It says, “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) Those angels were not impressed by the surroundings, for better or worse, nor by the other people that were present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

But…What was Mary doing?

Well, what should she be doing? Mary was just a very young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby, her firstborn Son! She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, who was caring for her, but she was probably feeling pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told whether she even saw (or heard) the angelic host worshipping her Baby. She evidently heard about those events through the shepherds, because we can see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

But, how did she “feel” about the surroundings? Well, we aren’t really told…but even in that culture, women wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal, even then.

How “Special” should “Signs” be?

Some people today argue that the manger bed and the stable birth were commonplace for that era, and even preferable. I think we can safely say that is not true: How do we know that the manger bed and all the rest were not normal…not commonplace? Because the Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherds as being the specific signs by which they would recognize the baby.

Why would he give the shepherds “clues” that were completely ordinary, as “signs by which to recognize the Savior?” The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told! The songs speculating about her feelings are just that: Speculation!

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her Baby. The visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group—just trying to figure out what they were going to do next.

Suddenly these “grubby shepherds” came bursting in the door, looking for a baby, “dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” And there he was!

Did they give Mary “special attention?” Probably so, yes! Most people do give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph, and they saw the Baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the Baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned…The Savior, Christ the Lord!

And What was Joseph doing?

Well…we really are not told that, either. But consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see later that he had apparently died, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was an older man and freshly out of work. He had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, (in Galilee, where he had lived and worked,) due to this new “decree” from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, on foot, and a very poor man. Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work.

He may also have been thinking back to the visit he had experienced, from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée, Mary, had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior.

That must have been a difficult time for both Joseph and Mary: The neighbors were undoubtedly looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant. Or worse, that she herself was immoral and that he had simply chosen to “cover for her.” The stigma was there, and it was not going to go away.

Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but no one there offered him and Mary a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were there no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even openly ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.

So, What were the Shepherds doing?

That is the one question about which we are told a fair amount: They were just “minding their own business,” caring for their flocks at night, in the open fields. Possibly they were having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or perhaps walking around, watching over the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit.

Remember: When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate statements in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were frightened, nearly to death!

Isn’t it interesting that all the people in the Bible who really saw angels, or who really met the pre-incarnate Christ, or somehow saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid!

With or Without the Fear of the Lord?

Why is it that today, all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a “wonderful, peaceful experience” it was, just “flooding their souls with Joy?” My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced, becvause the ones who really did experience it were terrified, pretty much without exception. (Especially the men: Jesus seems to be pretty gentle toward the women.)

Calming the Storm and Revealing His Identity

When Jesus calmed the storm, for example, the disciples in the boat didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had already been afraid that they were all about to drown! These were seasoned, commercial fishermen, who were expert small boat handlers, and they all had been in storms before. But they were seriously expecting to die in this storm!

However, when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, He calmed the storm! And far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the true presence of God than they were of death itself!

A Supernatural Confrontation

So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night, all their lives. (How would you feel if your job was to protect yourself and the flock, but you were dealing with large, wild predators at night, armed with only a stick, a sling, maybe a sword, or some other rather “primitive” weapon?) They were already experienced and courageous, or they could not have done their jobs!

But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel of the Lord! His first words were to calm their fear, so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the Person of Jesus.

Supernatural Obedience, by Faith

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. (Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock. And evidently they did!)

The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and they hunted through the stables until they found the Baby and Joseph and Mary. They told other people around the area what had happened. They told about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally…they went back to their flocks. But they left behind them an amazed village, and within themselves, they had Great Joy for the privilege they had shared. (No vacation, no Christmas dinner, no stockings hung by the chimney…just “Great Joy!”)

Fulfilled Prophecy

Why the Joy? They were Glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that everything had been exactly as they had been told to expect. In other words, they thanked Him for His fulfilled prophecy.

I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Consider Micah 5:2 for example: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the primary witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded upon that beginning, and considered Who that Baby was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.

Finally…What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a “time of joy and peace”…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded His people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there!

It is important that we take time to consider who Jesus really is. Consider the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, He was the Creator! He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know…,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We look back, from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it.

How do we see Jesus?

If Mary had seen Jesus the same way as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been “snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby?” She couldn’t have seen Him that way!

But it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and that we be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us.

We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. As born-again believers, we are not “dragged in as an orphaned waif,” and simply “called” His child: We are born into His family by the new birth, and we live eternally as His child…His real child, born of His Grace.

Looking Beyond the Manger

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene.” (Look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the Tomb, and the Resurrection. Look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign.)

We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels, and they knew it better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn King! They guarded his humanity (though He surely needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God!

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior! He is God in the flesh, and our only Advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, of course, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. You see, in our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life!

So… Now What?

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too: especially because we know who He really is, whereas the Shepherds only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas Story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.

Also, none of the people in the Biblical, historical account just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do.

We need to rise above our “seasonal pattern” of just “putting away the decorations, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to just “get over” what He is doing in our lives: Rather, we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear eternal fruit!

God grant that we will do so!

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see You in your Glory, and to worship You as God. Allow us to love You in your humanity, but also to look beyond Your humanity and to worship You, and love You as our faithful Creator. Let us serve as witnesses to Your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts, as You transform our lives.

“The Mind of Christ,” and “He that is Spiritual”

“The Mind of Christ,” and “He that is Spiritual”

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 2:9-16

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

Introduction:

There are a number of questions that ought to come to our minds as we read this passage.

  • Who is the “we” and “us” in this passage?
  • What does it mean to be a “natural man?
  • How can we be “spiritual?” (What does it mean?)
  • How can we “have the mind of Christ?
  • (What other possibilities exist?)

Last time, we ended with verse 9. It says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”  We noted that some modern writers claim to tell us, in great detail, “what Heaven is like.” There are several books on the subject.

However, the Bible indicates that they have either deluded themselves, or they are simply lying. God says we do not know, and we cannot even imagine it. He says that no one has seen it or even heard about it from any reliable or authoritative source. (Paul was quoting Isaiah 64:4, here!)

But, in that case, verse 10 seems strange, because it says God has revealed them by His Spirit. God reveals what He wants us to know. He revealed them by the Holy Spirit, in the Written Word. And it isn’t very much. He has told us some very confusing details in Revelation chapters four and five. Those details are very interesting, but not very enlightening. Why? Because what He has in store for us is a surprise!

What is a “Mystery,” in the Bible?

The Bible calls a number of things “mysteries.” In the Bible, a “mystery,” means “something that has not yet been revealed, but (usually) is about to be revealed.”

This is not like an “Agatha Christie murder mystery.” Agatha Christie truly does give you “all the clues.” In her case, (if her readers are reading carefully enough, and not missing her clues,) they can “deduce the identity of the killer,” before the end of the book. Unfortunately, I am too oblivious to catch more than a few of the clues she plants in her story. I can read and enjoy the book, but I will not solve the mystery.

But in God’s case, the “clues” for what awaits believers after the end of measurable time, have never been given. He says the knowledge has never been accessible even by our greatest flights of imagination and fancy.

God does Not Revealall” Mysteries to us.

There are some mysteries in scripture that are simply too deep for humans, though we don’t like to admit it. We think that we should be able to “ferret out all the facts!” We think we should know about all of the universe, including the nature of God. And we think we should understand it all! Consider what folly that assumption is, and what arrogance it reveals in us!

We don’t even understand the physical world around us. But we think we should be able to grasp the deepest knowledge of the One who Created all of it! Only by revelation can we can even learn to know Him. It is only through His Word, as He reveals Himself to us. In our physical lives, much of what He does is invisible, just as He is. We only see the results. Then, we may rejoice in His wisdom and kindness, or, we may scoff and thereby become blind to His presence.

We make up very silly (and dangerous) video games about “fighting demons”…shooting them, as if they were physical beings. They are unseen. they are invisible, just as the Father and the Holy Spirit are unseen, and invisible.

We make such foolish mockery of the unseen world, mostly because we are utterly ignorant of its reality and the danger it poses to the ignorant soul. God takes pains to correct that thinking and to let us know the reality and the danger involved. But He also indwells every believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, so that we do not remain unaware.

Who is “We?”

This one is pretty simple: Paul is speaking “to believers,” as we saw in the first few verses of the book. And, he addresses them as being fellow believers. Therefore, all the time Paul speaks about the revealed Mysteries, he uses the inclusive “we,” and “us,”

When he talks about the unbelievers, he shifts his pronouns to “they” and “them.” It is important to know who the writer is talking to. (Also, who he is talking about, when that is the case.)

How does God reveal the “Things of God” to Human Believers?

Every week, we stress the necessity of learning the things of God as He reveals them in the Word of God. Last week we saw once again the link between The Lord Jesus and the Word of God. We saw in John 1:18 that “No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”

Jesus, the Only Begotten Son, is the One Who declares God! But in John 1:1, a few verses earlier, we can read that “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.”  In John 1:14, we read that “the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His Glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth!”)

In Hebrews 1:1, it says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by whom also He made the Worlds.”

Jesus is literally the revealer of God! He is the only member of the Godhead who shows up in human form to communicate the truth of God to fallen Man. He was the One in the Garden, calling, “Adam, where art thou?”

The Word Declares God

And God calls Jesus “the Word:” the “communication of God.” The declaration of all that He is! Finally, in Revelation 19:13, He is labeled “The Word of God.” So, how does God reveal to us “the things of God?” It is primarily through His Word! Jesus is the Living Word, But He has given us the Written Word and He calls us to read it, to memorize it, to meditate upon it and to learn to use it as the “Sword of the Spirit.”

He is the Living Word, said to be “sharper than any two-edged sword.” But He tells us to master the use of the Written Word, which is the Sword of the Spirit.

His sword, the Written Word of God, is the only effective weapon against our unseen enemies. All that stuff about “zapping demons with faith-bolts” is strictly comic-book stuff. (You can play those video games if that is what you want to believe. But I truly do not recommend it! They are utter folly!)

Not By the Spirit of the World

Notice that Paul says in verse 12, that the only reason we can even receive this sort of communication is that we have received the Spirit of God and are no longer led by the spirit of the world. He will explain this concept in verses 14-16.

An unbeliever can receive the initial message of the Gospel. He or she can make a decision based on that message. If they decide to “Believe God…” to “take Him at His Word,” then at that moment, whether they are aware of it or not, they also receive the Holy Spirit. He will permanently indwell them, and He immediately begins teaching them. After that point, they find that the Bible is increasingly becoming an “Open Book.”

Not by the Wisdom of Man

And in verse 13 he tells us not to take the received message, and try to pass it on to others using the “wisdom of man,” but rather, by the “Wisdom of God.” We are to compare scripture with scripture, so as to compare spiritual things with spiritual things. Remember, in Acts 17:11, God commended the Berean people for their response, “in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” That is a good response!

But, if we, as the messengers of God, are not “comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” and using scripture to explain scripture, then the listeners cannot hope to “go look it up.” They have no “standard” by which to measure our message. But if we stick to God’s Word as closely as we can, then they can check our messages against the Bible and find assurance that we have faithfully declared the Savior and His Word.

What is “The Natural Man?”

The Natural man is the unbeliever in his “natural state,” whatever it may be. He could be an ignorant laborer or tribal farmer, or hunter-gatherer, with zero formal education, or he could be a highly trained professional of some sort: engineer, scientist, philosopher or theologian. But without the Spirit of God indwelling him, he remains a natural man. He cannot receive the truth of God, and the majority of God’s Word seems to him to be foolishness.

If we reject the “entry-level truth” of the Cross of Christ, then we disqualify ourselves to move deeper into a personal knowledge of God. That is what God says: if you have a problem with that, or if you think it is somehow elitist or exclusive, you would have to take it up with Him. The fact is, the Gospel is the opposite of “Elitist or Exclusive.” Jesus said He came to offer salvation to the whole world. He died for the sins of the whole world. He says, “Whosoever will may come!” And the invitation is to anyone willing to respond in faith.

The Spiritual Man

The Spiritual Man has received the Holy Spirit by faith and is currently in submission to Christ by His Word and by His Spirit. So, it does not include “all saved people:” it includes all saved people who are walking with Jesus, in obedience to His Spirit and to His Word.. There are many examples in scripture of people who were genuine believers, but they ignored God’s Word and “became blind” and in the end, were found to be “working for the Enemy.” (We just recently studied Samson in the evening Bible Study…he was the perfect example of such a person!)

The Third Option

In 1st Corinthians 3:1-3 (we are not going there, just yet: we are just peeking ahead) we will read of a third kind of person: the Carnal Man. He (or she) is living in the flesh: allowing his/her old sin nature to rule. Such a person is living for self, and not in submission to Christ. And it can occur in the life of any believer at any time.

We choose to make decisions in the absence of God’s counsel, just because that is what we desire. The consequence is that we have “re-submitted ourselves” to the tyranny of sin, and, until we repent (change our minds) and confess our sin, so that we can be cleansed, relationally, we cannot “move on with God.” Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (the assumed answer is “NO!”)

As long as we remain in that state, we cannot understand God’s Word, we cannot grow as believers, and we retreat further and further into spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12-14 complained that those believers had (again) become babes. The ones in 1st Corinthians 3 were still babes, they were failing to grow. The ones in Hebrews 5 were going backward!

The Mind of Christ

This is an odd statement, but Paul says the spiritual man can “discern all things” (KJV says “judge,” but the word actually means to discern.) But then he says that others (unbelievers, perhaps?) cannot discern him. Perhaps it means they cannot understand his motives. I have seen that on several occasions, where I was making a decision by God’s direction, that would be totally clear to any believer, but unbelievers thought I was doing something completely crazy.

Why would that be likely? Paul quotes an Old Testament verse, Isaiah 40:13 to point out that no human is capable of understanding God’s Spirit or His thoughts. That is the reason! He gave us His indwelling Spirit, and He explains His thoughts and causes us to think as He thinks!

Spiritual Transformation!

This is what we saw in Romans 12:2, where we are commanded to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If you focus on God’s written Word, and look to His Holy Spirit to make it a living reality in your daily life, then you will truly be “thinking the Thoughts of God” and making decisions the way He would have you make them. In so doing, we literally have the mind of Christ! And the World will see us as strange and mystifying people!

They will see that we are doing right things: good things, even when it is to our disadvantage. (Psalm 15:4 “…he that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.” You keep your word even when it hurts you! How about Proverbs 25:21, 22? “If thine enemy be hungry, feed him…” You are consistently kind, even to people who hate you!) Yes, they will think you are strange!

Lord Jesus, Raise us up as students of Your Word, and let us feed upon the Living Word until we truly have the mind of Christ! We know that we are strangers in this World, but we are Your Ambassadors as long as we are here! Teach us to honor you by our lives!

“O Holy Night!” Why we Still Celebrate the Birth of Christ

O Holy Night! Why do we Celebrate the Birth of Christ?

© 2023  C. O, Bishop

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope! The weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.

Introduction:

Many people ask, “Why do we celebrate the Birth of the Messiah, when His death and resurrection are what are important?”

That is a reasonable question. Unfortunately, others question the truth of (or the relevance of) the Virgin Birth, saying “It really doesn’t matter whether that is true or not!”

Sadly, many of those people claim that all the “supernatural” occurrences in the Bible are mythological at best, and fraudulent at worst. Even worse, they usually deny the existence of true Prophecy, saying, “Daniel could not have known about these things so, obviously, the book is a much later forgery, falsely claiming Daniel as the author.”

Of course, the problem with all of these ideas is, they start with the assumption that the Bible is not the literal Word of God…and that there is no such thing as true prophecy, because “You can’t know things that have not yet happened!”

But, What Does God Say About Prophecy?

God says, in Isaiah 46:9, 10,“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:”

God demonstrates repeatedly His ability to foretell the future (with 100% accuracy.) He predicted events occurring anywhere between “the next few minutes” to thousands of years future. And, that unique ability is part of the “Credentials of the Creator.” God does not waste time convincing the Human race that He exists. But God does take the trouble to demonstrate Who He is, and What He is like.  He wants us to know Him, but on His terms.

The Earliest Promise of a Savior

God made the first promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15, immediately after the human race fell into sin. We were spiritually separated from God, and we were dead in sin. But He promised us the Coming Redeemer. We sing a Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night.” Placide Cappeau wrote the original French words in 1843. He eventually entitled it, “Cantique de Noël.”

We sing, “O Night divine, O Night when Christ was born!” But, in the original French, it was “Noel! Noel! (He is Born!) Voici le Redempteur!” (There He is! The Redeemer!”)

The English translator chose to “skirt” the issue of our needing a redeemer. (I do not know why.) He addresses only the Holiness of the Messiah, and what effect He would have upon the World. (All of which is Good…but without specifically redeeming sinners, none of that “Good Effect” can happen!) I don’t know why he avoided that point. But, happily, the French author recognized that the Promise of the Ages, the promise of our redemption, was beginning to be fulfilled in that Holy Birth!

God promised the coming Redeemer in Genesis 3:15. But He included the fact that the Redeemer would be “The Seed of the Woman.” No one else in history has literally fulfilled that promise! Therefore, the Virgin Birth was a critical part of the fulfillment! Isaiah 7:14 confirms it, saying “The Virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and shall call His Name Emmanuel.” (“God with us!”)

Worshipping the Son of God

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming; With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming, Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger, In all our trials born to be our friend;
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger! Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend! Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Both authors encourage us to hear the worship of the angels, and to join them in worshipping the infant Savior. Several Christian leaders have told me that “We aren’t supposed to worship Jesus.” That is very odd, because in Hebrews 1:6 it says, “…and, again, when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the World, He saith, and let all the angels of God worship Him!”

So… they are evidently saying,  “All the Angels of God are commanded to worship Jesus—God the Son—but we are not supposed to do so!” (How strange!) Jesus did receive worship from humans on several occasions during His earthly ministry… and He did not turn them away! When someone tells me to not worship Jesus, I have to wonder about their motive!

These lyrics correctly tell us to Worship the Redeemer, as did the wise men and the angels!

But, Why is His Birth so Important?

Jesus came to redeem us: to do so, He had to shed His Blood…to lay down His life. He had to fulfill the prophecies of His torture and the shame that was piled on Him: He had to specifically suffer death by crucifixion, as described in the Old Testament (Psalm 22, for example.) But, he couldn’t do it without having a fully human body!

Part of the “Law of the Kinsman Redeemer” was that the Redeemer had to be a near relative (we will be studying this law in the next few weeks in the Wednesday evening Bible Study, in the Book of Ruth.) If Jesus had failed to become Human and live His life out as an ordinary man, he could not be the Redeemer! He would not have been related to us!

How Did Jesus Become our “Near Relative?

Hebrews 10:5-7 says, Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

When did He say this? When He came into the World! The Virgin Birth was specifically how God the Father provided a fully Human but undefiled body for Jesus to offer at the Cross!

And He Was Free, Himself!

You see, the second point of the Law of the Kinsman Redeemer was that the Redeemer could not be a slave, himself. Jesus was never a slave to Sin, as all of the rest of us are, by birth! He alone had the Virgin Birth, and was born uncontaminated! (“A Body thou hast prepared for me!)

Thus, He Had the Price of Our Redemption

He chose to become a near relative; He demonstrated that He was not a slave to Sin,, Himself, and He had the price of our redemption! Therefore, when we consider that the Savior’s birth was the beginning of the ultimate fulfillment of ALL the promises regarding the redemption of Lost Sinners, then Yes, the Birth of Christ seems very important!

So, Who Is He Going To Be, As an Adult?

This Child was born in Bethlehem. (By the way, that was also spelled out, 700 years in advance! See Micah 5:2) And, he must be someone really special! But how was he to be “special?” Did He have Super-human capabilities? Or was He visibly something special?

No! Isaiah 53:2 says “…He has no form nor comeliness and when we shall see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”

Those who watched him growing up were unimpressed, except on a few rare occasions when He showed His wisdom (Luke 2:46, 47.) Their conclusion was that He was “Just a man! Just a Carpenter!” (Mark 6:3)

But, What had God predicted about Him?

Isaiah 9:6, 7 says, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Breaking down the List:

Notice the things we are told in this passage, about the Child who would be born; the Son, who was promised to be given:

  • He is born to us as a Child, and given to us as the Son!
  • The Government shall be upon His Shoulder (He will be the ultimate Ruler!)
  • His name shall be called:
    • Wonderful, Counsellor,
    • The Mighty God!
    • The Everlasting Father!
    • The Prince of Peace!
  • There will be NO END of His Rule, nor of His Peace!
  • This Child will reestablish the throne of David in Jerusalem, and
  • He himself will reign from there!
    • He will forever reign with Judgment and Justice
  • The Zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this!

Who is the LORD of Hosts?

One of the Names that appears in the Old Testament is “The LORD of Hosts” (sometimes translated as “Jehovah Sabaoth,” or “Lord Sabaoth.” As many are aware, the four-consonant “tetragrammaton” in the Old Testament is the personal name of the Creator. And yet, He frequently appeared in Person. When He did so, He was recognized as God in the Flesh.

But, John 1:18 says that “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” So, in passages like Genesis 18, who were people talking to? Abraham not only saw the LORD, but talked with Him, fed him lunch, and argued with Him face-to-face. So, who was he talking to?

By the given facts, we have to confess that the Person with whom Abraham (and others) spoke was God the Son…the only member of the Godhead who ever shows up visibly, and in Human form.

When the Lord of Hosts showed up in the Old Testament, it was Jesus! And, it says that His Zeal would be what would perform all that is in Isaiah 9:7. To me, that is Mind-boggling!

What Effect will He have on His People?

So, we move on to see what effect He has on those who place their trust in Him:

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we; Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Christ is the Lord, O praise His Name Forever! His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

Don’t Circumvent the Cross!

In the English lyrics the fact of the Redemption is passed over and the effect is stressed. Many world religions seek the effect of thepresence of God, without coming to Him on His terms. Cain wanted to bring a worship offering, in Genesis 4, without bringing the sin-offering first. He saw no need for the Blood! He was circumventing the Cross, as so many religions do today.

Jesus became our Redeemer by willingly bringing the required Price of our redemption. The Kinsman Redeemer had to have the “price of redemption (in our case, it was Jesus’s sinless life, laid down for our redemption.) And he had to be willing to pay that price. In the Book of Ruth, we saw that the nearest relative (who was unnamed) had the first three requirements:

  • Whoever he was, he was a near relative,
  • He was free, himself,
  • He had the price of redemption (money, in that example,)

But he was not willing! Boaz had all three of the first requirements, and he also had the fourth: He was willing! So, Boaz stands as an Old Testament figure of the Messiah…our Redeemer!

Jesus came to die! He willingly laid down His life for our redemption! In John 10:17, 18, He says, “No man takes my life from me: I lay it down of my own will, and I will take it up again!”

The Effects are still valid!

  • He taught us to Love One another!
  • His Law is Love.
  • His Gospel is Peace
  • He sets the Prisoners free…we are no longer slaves to Sin.
  • He frees us from the tyranny and oppression of satanic attack in our lives as believers.
  • And, yes, we sing songs of grateful praise!

Fortunately, despite the lack of the doctrine of Redemption in the English lyrics, this hymn still is teaching good doctrine, and it thrills our hearts to sing it. But it is especially good to know that the original French writer understood the core issue: This Child is the Redeemer!

Lord Jesus, awaken in us the Spirit of Worship and Praise. Raise us up as Your servants, and let us Praise Your Name, as the song says! Make us fearless witnesses for your Glory, to proclaim your salvation and redemption to those You came to save.

Paul’s One Message was Jesus Christ, and His Crucifixion

Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

Paul Preached the Message of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.

1st Corinthians 2:1-9

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Introduction:

It encourages me to know that Paul saw simplicity and direct reference to God’s truth to be of great value. Paul saw simple, direct truth was more vital than all the human reasoning that he could offer. Paul’s great education qualified and equipped him to contend with the world’s philosophers on their own terms. But he recognized the trap therein, and knew that approaching evangelism in that way would seldom or never bear fruit.

Remember: it says that “the World by Wisdom knew not God.” I

t does not say, “human wisdom was insufficient.” Nor does it say that “Sometimes it worked, but not always.”

It says, “After that, in the wisdom of God, the World by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” (1st Corinthians 1:21)

He warns us that our “clever approaches” don’t help. Rather, they can actually render the true message ineffective and fruitless.

Paul’s Response to the “Lesson”

Remember that, immediately before coming to Corinth, Paul had preached in Athens. Paul went to Corinth. He was feeling pretty beat-up and discouraged. The unbelieving Jews of the last three towns in which he had preached had run him out of town. Possibly he felt this was a great opportunity to “speak his own language” so to speak.

The world knew that Paul had a very good education, from human perspective. He attempted (just this once) to approach other such“educated men” by appealing to their sense of “reason.” And it simply did not work. He established no church in Athens. They saw themselves as “too smart for God!”

Are they “too good” for God, or “too smart” for God?

1st Corinthians 1:23 shows that the Athenians demonstrated how the message of Christ affected the Greeks. The Gospel offended the Jews (as Paul had seen in Thessalonica.) The Greeks just laughed at it. The Jews thought they were “too good,” or maybe “too religious,” or something, to even consider (let alone simply accept) the message of the Cross. And the Greeks often thought they were “too smart” to accept it!

Paul reflected on that experience, and he commented, “But we preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks, foolishness.”

And we still run into that problem today. Some people utterly reject the idea that they need a Savior. They believe in their own “moral superiority”. Even more numerous are those who believe in their own intellectual superiority. And they reject the concept, out of hand.

Confronting this truth in Person

I remember rejecting the message of God, myself, because I thought it was folly. Back then, I thought I was pretty smart: I thought I had all the answers. But I eventually discovered that I could not free myself from sin. I could not “be holy.” And I continually made errors in judgment! I was neither too good nor too smart: I was a condemned sinner.

For his own account, Paul had already known that truth. But in Athens, for some reason, he attempted to appeal to human reasoning. However, he quickly observed that it was not only ineffective, but it was truly counterproductive. He said such an approach could make the Cross of Christ be made “of none effect.” Paul was determined never to make the same error again!

How did Paul Approach Corinth?

He said he was determined to “know nothing except Christ and Him Crucified.”

He also said, And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Why was Paul in fear?

It could have been partly because of the beating he had received at Philippi. That natural fear may have been compounded in Corinth, when he was dragged before the magistrate, Gallio, until Gallio turned on the Jews and threw them out of the court.

But, he also may have been fearful of producing another failure before God. Athens had been a total bust where evangelism was concerned. Every faithful teacher or preacher of God’s Word is careful and anxious to not teach wrongly. We understand the potential for eternal impact upon the lives of others.

Paul strove to demonstrate the power of God in his own life, and in the Word of God as it transformed the lives of believers.

Why no “Enticing words?”

Paul concluded that his reason for the very careful teaching and his abstinence from “human wisdom” and “enticing words” was for one eternal purpose: “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

An evangelist may preach a brilliant message, and people may flock to hear it. But if they are just “persuaded by his brilliant rhetoric,” then those people may have only become “acolytes” of that particular teacher. Those who responded to the message may not have responded to the Gospel at all! And if he is an honest, sincere man, he would be dismayed to discover that result.

But that is actually the deliberate goal of many false teachers: In Acts 20:30, Paul warned that they will “seek to draw away disciples after themselves.” Paul referred to such people as “grievous wolves.” And Jesus referred to them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Godly Fear and the Light of God

Paul desperately desired to not commit errors that might produce false believers…false fruit. So, his earnest desire was that no one would be impressed with his articulate, well-reasoned and erudite speech. He wanted God’s light to come through unshaded and unfiltered by himself.

When we shine a physical light through a glass or plastic lens, we usually want a clear lens, so as to see clearly. Can there be a reason to want to filter physical light, or to reduce its brightness? Yes, of course there are many reasons we might need to do that. But under what circumstances should we want to filter or dim or color the Light of God’s Word? I hope we can agree that we would prefer to see His light clearly and without artificial colors.

As teachers, we want to transmit the full spectrum of God’s light. We want His light to shine without restriction. In the past we have pointed out that when the headlamps on our cars are covered with road grime, It becomes difficult to see the road at night. The light inside the headlamps has not grown dim, but the lens through which it shines is failing.

We do not want the failures and dirt in our lives to diminish the Light of God for others. That may have eternal consequences in their lives. And, that alone should be a major source of “Fear and Trembling” for any honest teacher. And Paul was no exception.

What about Teaching for Mature Believers?

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

At this point, when a believer is becoming very solid in his or her faith, Paul says he could go ahead and use logic and grammar and all the “proofs” for which people hunger. But it is still not to be the World’s “wisdom.” We are not “going along with the World consensus” as to the meaning of the Bible. Truth is not derived by popular opinion.

We use scripture to interpret scripture, and we show believers how incredibly well the entire Bible fits together as one book. As those entrusted to feed the flock, we teach the truth of His Word, and believers are delighted. We are thrilled by the way God’s Word is deeply and eternally true, not just superficially or temporarily. So we are called to feed the flock, and the specific food is called out.

Sheep Food Only, Please!

We do not “feed the flock” on philosophy, or politics, or current events, or personal opinions. As God commands, we feed the Flock of God on God’s Written Word.

We show the hidden wisdom in the Word of God, to which the unbeliever is blind. God gave us believers only a little of what went on before the creation: just a few solid facts and not much more.

And after the end of time as we know it, we have also been given very little. Just enough that believers can rejoice but nothing to satisfy the rebellious, demanding heart.

Paul points out that had the religious rulers understood the real truth, they would not have rejected Jesus and crucified Him. Their actions proved their position, as emissaries of evil, not of God. The rulers of this world still completely miss the eternal realities God teaches in His Word. World religions make up traditions and lore to explain their own existence and to justify their philosophical position. But there are many questions God simply does not answer.

What is the Alternative?

As a result, many of the religious leaders exercise their imaginations and answer such questions from their own point of view, not the authority of God. They come up with false and dangerous teachings. They tell us all sorts of things regarding the eternal state. Even so-called Christian bookstores, for example, frequently have various books spelling out all the details of heaven. (Where did the information come from? I don’t know! But God says it didn’t come from Him!)

Verse nine says “…as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man…:”  God has not been revealed it at all, nor has anyone ever been able to guess or even imagine what God has in store for His children. So, when people say such things, telling all about the unseen things, you should feel free to ask where that information is found.

If it isn’t clearly laid out in God’s Word, you are under no obligation to believe it! In fact, all the writers warn us to not believe it. Jesus warned against false revelations, in Mark 13:21. He warned specifically of those claiming to have identified some person as the second coming of the Messiah. He said, “Don’t believe them!”

What about Us?

We will do our best to continually feed the flock on God’s Word. We will study carefully;searching anxiously, to be sure we lead no one astray. We have no hidden agenda, and we are accountable to God for the outcome.

This epistle addresses each of you personally. Paul encourages us to feed heavily on God’s Word. We learn to search the scriptures to be sure the teaching is correct. We each are accountable to God for our response to His truth.

Lord Jesus, please raise us up from babyhood, as believers. Teach us how to become the men and women of God that You have called us to be!