COLOSSIANS #30: WORD.

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Our lives are to be centered around, and built upon, the Word of God. Let it sink deeply into your bones through music and songs. Let it sink into your mind through hearing and reading and talking with each other about it. Let it be the focal point of your “life together” with your family, and with your Christian community. Let it permeate your life with wisdom by doing what it says. This is no empty or idle word: this Word is Life to us.

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COLOSSIANS #30. COLOSSIANS 3:16

The word of Christ – let it dwell in all of you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, with grace, singing in the hearts of you to God.

Colossians 3:16, my “literalish” translation

I’m giving you my own more or less literal translation again. There are two things that are here in the Greek that most English translations don’t capture very well. Since I am not a professional translator, I did check myself with some of my most trusted language resources, and as best as I can understand, I do have it correct. As I have said before, professional Bible translators are trying to make the Bible readable in English, and you can see that my translation is somewhat incorrect in English, and not as readable as most translations. But there is an important nuance that I want to capture here.

Most translations make it seem that wisdom is attached to teaching and admonishing each other. In other words, they make it sound like we should teach and admonish each other with wisdom. Obviously, that’s not wrong as a general principle. However, there is a judgment call here in translation, and I think in this case, the more accurate way to put it is the Word of Christ should dwell in us with all wisdom. So, wisdom (in this verse) is about how God’s word dwells in us, more than it is about how we teach each other.

Some of you know that I’m not a fan of the old KJV (King James Version). However, the NKJV (New King James Version) actually gets that part of it quite right, and almost “literal” to the Greek:

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Col 3:16, NKJV

Another way of saying it would be, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and wisely.”

Wisdom is not just knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge, and to apply it in a right and thoughtful way. Jesus had some very specific instructions concerning wisdom and his word:

7 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

(ESV, Luke 6:47-49, bold and italic formatting added for emphasis)

Jesus makes it quite clear: To have His Word wisely means we do what he tells us to do. It means we must thoughtfully apply His Word to our lives in practical ways.

It’s not complicated. There are two parts: if the word is to dwell in us richly, we have to know it. In order to know it, we must read it and study it regularly and frequently. Secondly, if we are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us with wisdom, we must apply the Word to our lives in diligent, thoughtful ways. We can’t just know what it says, we must also live it, through the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is when Christians fail to apply the Word of God that they give Jesus a bad name. We’ve all met people who know the Bible well, but who are angry, bitter, unforgiving and so on. The fact that they know what the word says but don’t live it often turns people off, and makes them disillusioned with Christianity.

I want to make sure we get the importance of everything here. The text is talking about “the Word of Christ.” What is that, exactly? Remember, when Paul wrote, there was no “New Testament,” because it was actually being written at that very time. By saying Word of Christ, and not just “Word of God,” I think Paul is saying: “all of the Old Testament, plus the teachings of Jesus.” The Old Testament was already complete, and we have all sorts of evidence that the first followers of Jesus believed it to be God’s Word. Paul is saying, “the teachings of and about Jesus Christ are also part of God’s Word.” I doubt Paul knew that some of his own writings were going to be included in a “New Testament.” Even so, it is clear that fairly early on, Paul and the other Apostles had a set of core teachings given to them by Jesus. The New Testament is simply the written record of the teachings of Jesus handed down to us through the Apostles. The apostles wrote about the importance of the Word of God, and speaking prophetically, their words also refer to the teachings of Jesus which they passed on to us:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

(ESV, Hebrews 4:12)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(ESV, 2 Timothy 3:14-17)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(ESV, Romans 15:4)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

(ESV, 2 Peter 1:20-21)

Colossians tells us to let this Word of Christ dwell in us richly with wisdom. What that means is that the Bible should shape our lives. It should be one of the primary forces that influences who we are and how we live. Our verses today also give us some practical ways to let the Word dwell in us richly with wisdom: “teaching and admonishing yourselves with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, with grace, singing in the hearts of you to God.”

I am still using my own translation. It says (literally) teaching and admonishing yourselves. Paul is writing to them as a group of people, and I do think he means that we should be teaching, admonishing and encouraging one another in the Word. Obviously, that is what I am doing right now by writing this. But I also think he means that we should each individually be involved in personally learning and growing in the Word of Christ. We should be teaching ourselves, and getting the Word into ourselves through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

In the Psalms, sometimes the psalm-writer speaks to his own soul:

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

(ESV Psalm 116:5-7)

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation 6 and my God.

(ESV, Psalm 42:5-6)

It is a good thing to “speak the Word” to yourself. In fact, I often read the Psalms out loud, so that I get the Word not only “in my head,” but also in my ears.

So, we have a responsibility to others, to encourage them to let the Word dwell in them richly with wisdom. We also have a responsibility to our own selves to do the same. It is no accident that the Holy Spirit tells us through these verses to use psalms, hymns, and songs in connection with helping the Word to dwell in us richly with wisdom. When we sing, we are “preaching” to each other, and also to our own souls. Sometimes music helps the Word to sink deeply into our hearts in a unique way.

By the way, it is possible to “sing the psalms.” People have done a great deal of work to create versions of each psalm that can be sung to various hymn tunes. If you are interested in singing the psalms, please check out: http://psalms.seedbed.com/  I have no connection with this site and I get nothing from them for my endorsement. I just think it is a terrific, free resource for helping the word to dwell in us richly.

In addition to singing the Word, we must also read it, or listen to an audio version of it. But it goes far deeper than simply reading a chapter a day or something like that. Our lives are to be focused on and built around God’s Word. It should be something we talk about in our families. It should come up as a normal part of conversation with our fellow Christians. It should be with us at home, and when we travel. Moses spoke the Word of God to the people, and then added this:

18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

(ESV, Deuteronomy 11:18-20)

We are to lay up the word of God in our hearts and souls. We aren’t supposed to literally bind them on our hands, but God’s word is supposed to let them affect our actions ( that is the meaning of “bind them on your hands”) and our thoughts (the meaning of “between your eyes”). The Word is supposed to be present in our homes, when we are resting, and present when we are walking and traveling. It accompanies us to sleep, and greets us when we rise. As we go about our normal lives, God’s Word should be in the midst of us. We should be thinking about it, learning it, listening to it, and talking to others about it.

Later Moses emphasized again how profoundly important God’s Word is:

5 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.

(ESV, Deuteronomy 32:45-47)

It is no empty or idle word – it is our very life. I am going to quote to you from one of my own books:

Imagine there was a food that would make you lose weight, and help you maintain your ideal body weight. Suppose that same food cured cancer, and prevented any new cancer. It would help you sleep well at night, and give you energy during the day. It would help your body regulate your hormones properly, and be a big factor in preventing heart disease. Eating this food would be the best single thing you could do to maintain or gain health. If you ate this food regularly, long term, you would lead a healthy, vigorous life well into your nineties.

Now, there are two catches. The first is that you have to eat this food regularly, and long term, for the health benefits to really kick in. Second, the food has a funny taste. It takes a little getting used to. But there are all sorts of people and books that are available to help you appreciate the strange flavor, and learn to actually enjoy the way it tastes. Millions of people testify that after eating it regularly for a long period, they actually love it.

You struggle with your health in all of the areas helped by this food. But when a friend asks if you eat this miracle-food regularly, you say, “Yeah, I know I probably should, and I do occasionally, but I just can’t get over the flavor.”

To quote Forrest Gump: “My Momma always says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’”

Reading the Bible is the single-best thing you can do for your spiritual life and health. Sometimes, at first, it isn’t fun or easy. But if you do it regularly, and for the long term, it will profoundly shape and change your life for the better. It will build up and secure, not your physical health, but the eternal health of your very soul. The benefits of reading the Bible far outweigh those of a super-food that will only keep you healthy for ninety years or so.

Far too many people say, “I know I should, and I do occasionally, but I just don’t have the time.” Or, “…but I just can’t get into it,” or, “…but it’s kind of boring to me.”

Once more, I remind you of Forrest Gump’s mother. This is foolishness. If you want to be a Christian, you must immerse yourself in the Bible. It is life to you.

If you are struggling in your life as a Christian, is it possible that at least part of the problem is that you spend very little time reading, learning and soaking in the words of the Bible? If you don’t have much peace, or joy or love in your life, could it be that part of the issue is that you are starving yourself spiritually, by not reading the Bible regularly?

Now, I want to make sure you understand, I am not saying that reading the Bible will automatically cure every mental and emotional obstacle you struggle with. Sometimes the Christian life is just difficult. But even then, the Bible encourages us by reminding us that following Jesus does indeed involve suffering and loss, and giving us hope to persevere. And often times, we make it unnecessarily and especially difficult for ourselves, because we do not spend much time or energy dwelling on God’s very Word to us. (Tom Hilpert, Who Cares About the Bible, pg 183-184)

Let me make sure we have the basics down. The Bible is not a magic eight ball. We should not just flip it open, and start reading at some random place. The Bible is made up of 66 individual books within the whole Bible. The best thing is to read it book by book. If you have not regularly read the Bible, I encourage you to start with one of the books of the New Testament. Pick either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. On Monday, read Matthew chapter 1. On Tuesday, read chapter 2, and on Wednesday the next chapter, and so on. Each day before you read, ask the Lord to speak to you. You may be aware of him speaking through the Bible, or you may not. The influence and message of the Bible gets more powerful the more time you spend with it, so don’t stress if at first you don’t get a lot out of it. Stick with it. It is your life. When you finish with Matthew, start reading Acts, and then Romans, and then the next book all the way through to the end. Over time, you will begin to develop a more spiritual mind, and you will become more sensitive to God. But it happens with time and regular, frequent reading. This is not a quick fix for anything. The bible should be a lifelong spiritual diet. I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten in the last month, but I know that each one has played a part in nourishing my body. I know I enjoyed the curry I had last week more than any other food I’ve had in a while. That doesn’t mean I stop eating anything but curry. It doesn’t mean that only the curry helped my body. The spiritual food of God’s word is like that. It is all nourishing. We may remember some parts more than others, but it s all good for us.

My dear friends, the Word of Christ is your life. Have you ever wondered what life is all about? This is it. Center your lives around God’s word. Let it sink deeply into your bones through music and songs. Let it sink into your mind through hearing and reading and talking with each other about it. Let it be the center of your “life together” with your family, and with your Christian community. Let it permeate your life with wisdom by doing what it says.

THE BLOODLESS BATTLE

DavidSparesSaul

IT USUALLY TAKES MORE COURAGE TO REFRAIN FROM ANGER AND RETRIBUTION, THAN TO ACT ON IT

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1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?

1 Corinthians #3. Upside Down World. 1 Cor 1:26 — 2:16


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C.S. Lewis writes about heaven in his little book, The Great Divorce (the book is not about marriage or divorce, it is about heaven and hell). The main character arrives in heaven and witnesses many different interesting, joyful and fearful things. At one point, he sees a procession coming toward him. Angels are dancing around a person who is approaching, throwing flowers on the ground as they go. A choir of boys and girls stride alongside, singing the most beautiful music ever heard. Dozens of bright and beautiful animals also attend this celebrity. The person is a woman, clothed in brilliant light, beautiful beyond imagination. The main character in the book immediately assumes this must by Mary, mother of Jesus.

“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith, and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye, she is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

This is one of the points that Paul is making as he writes to the Corinthians. Apparently the Corinthians were proud of themselves spiritually, and they were drawn toward things that looked good on the outside. That was one reason that had begun to follow human leaders – they liked the way it looked to be associated with people they felt were successful or of good reputation.

But Paul is reminding them that God doesn’t work the world does, and he doesn’t evaluate things the way the world does. As the Holy Spirit said to Samuel:

Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. (1 Sam 16:7)

This is a major theme throughout the entire Bible, and Paul is reminding the Corinthians of this. Throughout Biblical history, God chose differently than most people would have. He used Jacob, the second born (and in those days the first born was considered to be most important, while other siblings were mere accessories). He chose Judah, not Reuben the first born of Jacob. He also chose Joseph, the 11th of twelve brothers. He chose Moses, the youngest of three siblings, a man who was not much of a speaker, to lead the people of Israel. He used a prostitute, Rahab, to help the invading Israelites, and she became an ancestor of the greatest king of Israel, who was himself the eighth brother in an ordinary family. He chose a teenage girl to be the mother of messiah. He chose a bunch of under-educated, thick-headed fisherman to bring to the world the eternally significant news of salvation through Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, God has consistently chosen the foolish, the weak, the despised and the things of no account. Jesus himself painted the same sort of picture of God’s kingdom:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. (Matt 11:25)

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matt 19:30)

The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:11-12)

In addition, the Corinthians themselves were not much account, when you got right down to it. Paul reminds them of this. He may be trying to poke a hole in their pride, but I think he was also encouraging them to put their confidence in God’s work, not in outward appearances, not in human leaders, and not in themselves.

Paul does not exclude himself from all this. In chapter 2, he says that he belongs in the category of foolish, weak and despised in the world’s eyes. If you remember from the first message on 1 Corinthians, Paul did in fact, arrive in Corinth shaken by his recent experiences in Macedonia. He isn’t just being polite – from all that we know, he would have been physically weak from travels and beatings, and emotionally fragile from the rejection and hatred that had been directed at him almost everywhere he went. Paul is reminding them that it was not his preaching or wisdom or impressive personality that led them to Jesus – it was the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think all this is very important to us in America in the 21st century. In America, we love winners. We love success. We often think that bigger must mean better. Let’s be honest here. Don’t you believe that the CEO of Wal-Mart is doing better than the owner-operator of a local appliance-repair store with two part-time employees? And by “doing better” don’t we really mean running a bigger operation, and making more money? But the small-time owner might be much happier than the CEO. He might have a better marriage, and have better relationships with his kids. He might have more significant positive impact on the lives of those around him, than the CEO. But we are inclined to judge only on external successes, and those are mostly judged on size and money.

Some of you have become aware that your pastor now drives a clean, nice-looking Mercedes-benz. People might observe that and say “He must be doing all right.” I hear people make those kinds of judgments about others all the time. But think about it – what kind of conclusion is that? Does the Mercedes say anything about my marriage? Does it say anything about my happiness, or how close I am to the Lord? Plus, most of you don’t know how much or little I paid for it. As it happens, the car is 16 years old with 142,000 miles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with it, but as measure of how anyone is really doing in life, a car is flat-out ridiculous.

I’m tempted to do the same thing as a pastor. I can start to think big churches are doing well, just because they are big, and I wonder about small churches – just because they are small. The church that Jesus left behind him was small. Paul started a bunch of churches, but most of the evidence suggests that they were all quite small.

Sometimes we get ourselves a tiny bit of depth, and we go beyond what looks good and start glorifying what sounds good. I think this is why so many people are led astray into the prosperity gospel. It sounds good to say that following Jesus is a way to get health and wealth in this life. You can build a big following quickly that way. Others sit and listen to preachers or mentors who put on a great show, but when it’s all over, there was very little substance to it. People in Germany used to say that when they listened to Adolf Hitler, they were mesmerized, but if they were told in cold factual, unemotional terms what Hitler actually said, they were appalled and repelled.

I take two things from this. First, I should be encouraged if I feel sometimes like I am of no account and insignificant in this world. God uses people like that. The world’s evaluation is meaningless. If I am small, weak, foolish, no-account, then I just might be useful and important in God’s kingdom.

Second, I need to learn to evaluate things the way God does, not the way the world does. Paul talks about this in chapter 2, verses 6-16. Paul says we can’t understand God’s way of thinking through human wisdom and learning and logic. He says instead, that we need revelation. Revelation is simply God revealing his Truth to us. Paul says this happens through the Holy Spirit. We can’t get it for ourselves by logic or judging with the world’s standards and tools. We need to ask for it and receive it from the Holy Spirit. We need to ask God to show us his way of looking at things. And we get that perspective because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, and reveals spiritual truth to us.

There are many things we can learn without God’s revelation. We can learn the laws of gravity, and calculus1 and how to make soup without special revelation from God. But if we want to see ourselves and others the way God sees us, we need revelation. If we want to know what God is up to in our lives, we need it. If we are to be effective in blessing others with God’s love and grace, we need His revelatin through the Spirit.

Now, I want to make some things clear. God’s ultimate, special-revelation is the Bible. He revealed his truth to the human writers of the Bible, and they wrote it down. All other revelation must be judged by the Bible. In other words, if you have a revelation that adultery is not sinful, it is not a revelation from God, because God’s ultimate revelation, the Bible, already tells us that adultery is wrong.

But we are supposed to live in a daily relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We should expect the Spirit to speak to us and reveal truth to us. (John 14:25; 15:26; 16:13-15)

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

The bible and the daily interaction with the Spirit work together. According to Paul in this passage, without God’s spirit, we wouldn’t really even get what the Bible is saying. We need the Spirit in us, doing what Jesus said he would do, which is to explain and teach us all that Jesus said. Without the Spirit, and His revelation, the Bible won’t make much sense to us.

As we consider these things today, let the Spirit reveal his truth to you. Maybe he is calling you out for judging by outward appearances and getting caught up in the standards of the world around us. Maybe he is speaking to you about feeling small and insignificant. Maybe he is just encouraging you to get closer to Him, so that you will know him better.

1Actually, I’m not sure that I could learn calculus without God’s special revelation.

1 Corinthians #2. 1 Cor 1:10-25

Last week, Paul established the fact that in Jesus Christ, the Corinthians lacked nothing. In Jesus Christ, we have all we need; in Him our spirits have already been made perfect. But we still exist, not only in spirit, but in body in this sin-riddled world. Now, Paul appeals to them (and to us) to let the power of God flow through their spirits into the lives they are living here and now.

The first issue he approaches, is division in the church. As always, we need to understand the context of this passage. Paul is not talking about theological disputes. In fact, from what we learn later that perhaps the Corinthians should have been having some theological differences, and standing up for what is right, even if it caused strife. Thus, in chapter five he calls them out for tolerating open sin in the church. In several other places in the letter he corrects them where they have gone astray from pure doctrine. So they weren’t actually having theological disputes, though, as I say, maybe they should have.

Paul also is not talking about meeting in separate groups in different places at different times. They had to do that. As in all places for the first 300 years of Christianity, they Christians at Corinth did not all meet together in one place. They met in small groups in homes at different times.

He explains specifically what he means by divisions: the Christians in Corinth are splitting into factions because they are following human leaders. In fact, they same to be putting human leaders in the same category as Jesus Christ. The ironic thing is that the human leaders themselves are not even in Corinth any more, and none of them want to be followed in this way. Paul urges the Corinthians to be united with the “same understanding and the same conviction.” In other words, he is saying “you all need to be on the same page,” and that “page” is Jesus Christ.

This is another reason that Paul began the letter the way he did, reminding the Corinthians of all they had in Jesus. They don’t have those blessings through Paul, or Peter (Cephas is the Aramic name for Peter) or Apollos. The life, forgiveness, grace, joy, wisdom, spiritual gifts – all come through Jesus, and only through Jesus. Paul says something interesting here. He says he is glad he didn’t baptize too many people, so that they wouldn’t become confused. This is a hint at part of the meaning of baptism. Baptism (received with faith) is an initiation into a relationship. This was part of the common meaning of baptism for the Jews, and the New Testament also seems to view it this way:

3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Baptism seems to be, in some sense, something that identifies and unites you with the person in whose name you were baptized. It is like an initiation ceremony. Several other places in the New Testament, it speaks of being baptized “into” Christ. The point Paul is making is that the Corinthians were not united with him, or Peter or Apollos. They were not initiated as followers of those three, or anyone else except Jesus Christ. They were not united with Paul or Apollos or Peter. They were united with Christ. The problem was, the Corinthians were losing their perspective and following the teachers, instead of the Person they were teaching about. To approach it from a different perspective, as a pastor and teacher, I believe firmly that if anyone follows me, I have failed. If anyone follows Jesus because of my words and actions, I have done my job.

There are two important truths here. The first truth is that all people who put their trust in Jesus Christ belong to Jesus Christ. Because of that, we are all brothers and sisters in Him. We are all on the same team, and we have the same Leader. The people who trust Jesus and go the Catholic Church are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who trust Jesus and go the Baptist church are my brothers and sisters too. Likewise for believers who attend Pentecostal churches, or Presbyterian congregations. People who do not put their trust in Jesus Christ are not my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they attend the same worship service I do. This is not my opinion – it is the spiritual reality of faith in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is trying to hammer home. It doesn’t matter which house you attend worship in. As long as you are not being led astray, it doesn’t matter which teacher/apostle/pastor you relate to the best. What matters is faith in Jesus Christ.

There is another reality also that is often forgotten. And that is, the people of God have never all belonged to the same earthly, human-led church. Even in the middle ages when virtually all Christians in Western Europe belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, there were millions of Christians elsewhere in the world who did not. Paul isn’t concerned about different churches in Corinth meeting in different places – in his time, they had to. He isn’t worried about the fact they had different bible teachers – in fact, it was a gift to the Christians in Corinth that were exposed to three such excellent teachers. True Christian unity doesn’t mean all Christians gathered together in one place, or belonging to one organization or having one human leader. But true Unity is found when we realize that all those who trust Jesus share the experience of knowing Him and walking with Him daily. It occurs when we truly live out the fact that all of us have the same savior and Lord.

I would like to see New Joy Fellowship grow. I would like to see us make disciples of more people. But I am not concerned in the least that we are just one of many, many churches in Lebanon, Tennessee. Pulling all the churches together into one organization would not achieve the spiritual unity Paul is talking about. We are already in spiritual unity with everyone who trusts Jesus, and we need to recognize it.

It is not about human beings and human teachers or human wisdom. This is why Paul launches into a discussion of wisdom in verse 18. He is reminding them of the message of Jesus, that it is not a message that comes out of human individuals or human wisdom. Paul’s discussion of this is longer than we can cover in one message, but I want to point out something he says here that is very important.

For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. Because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

Paul is pointing out that we naturally look for one (or both) of two things. He says that Jews look for a “sign.” He means specifically that they want to see a miracle in connection with faith. To put it another way, they want to know if their faith “works.” Does it bring positive results? I don’t think Paul intends to say that only Jews feel this way. Certainly, in Paul’s day, that was a typical approach not only of Jews, but of most middle-eastern cultures. Five hundred years later, Islam grew extremely rapidly in the middle-east precisely because Muslims were victorious in battle – Islam “worked.” This is one approach to faith, and it is actually fairly common even in America today. It is not unusual to hear a testimony like this: “My life was a mess, and then I started going to church and praying, and soon I was out of debt and had a happy marriage.” God does do that for people sometimes. And when we surrender to Jesus, we begin to live our lives more and more the way we were created to be. The result is that sometimes things go better for us – faith really does bring positive results. God really does miracles too. Paul knew all about that – he watched God heal people through him; he prophesied through God’s power; he even raised a dead boy through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we make a mistake if we think that the positive results in this life are the entire point of having faith in Jesus. And the message of the cross is very different from the message of the world. Mohammed, the founder of Islam ended up very wealthy. He had many wives and mistresses. He held a lot of political power. Jesus, in contrast, lived in poverty and celibacy his whole life, and ended up brutally executed in shame. His vindication was not through success in this life, but through resurrection. The fact that Jesus submitted to this kind of life and death is offensive to the “does this work?” mindset. The fact that Christianity is not an automatic path to an easy, outwardly successful life is also a roadblock to people who just want something to make their lives better, and to those who think that outward success is proof of God’s favor. Jesus call to his followers does not sound like the easy, successful life:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

Paul describes another mindset as well. He says that Greeks seek wisdom. Again, I don’t think Paul means only Greeks take this approach, but it was typical of Greek culture during that period, and it has become also typical in much of Western culture in the 21st century. This approach says, “I won’t believe it unless it can be proved intellectually. It has to make perfect sense.” I don’t believe you have to give up thinking to become a Christian. In fact, I think it is demonstrably the most intellectually cogent way of looking at the world. Even so, there are points at which we must take a leap of faith. We would be deceiving ourselves if we said that Christianity can be completely proved. It does require faith. At some point we must step beyond what we can know with our brains, and say “I believe. I trust you, Lord.” This is offensive to the intellectual mindset. Never mind that all worldviews require this, even atheism. Other world views (like atheism) allow their followers to at least pretend that faith is not required, and all is proved. But Christianity puts it right out there in the open: faith is necessary. Human intellect alone cannot arrive at the truth. This is not always well received by people with a primarily intellectual world-view. Actually, Paul puts it more directly: to people like that, it is foolishness.

So the central message of Christianity can appear foolish (it requires a leap of faith, a surrendering to something we cannot know with our minds alone) and weak (it does not always bring about success and prosperity in the world). Paul’s challenge here is to make that leap of faith, to put our trust in Jesus even when it doesn’t all make sense, even when it doesn’t all come out successfully in this life. This is not human wisdom. This is not a leap of faith to follow human leaders. In an initial, shallow way, it even seems counter-intuitive (though if you give it some reflection, you’ll see that it is not).

Is there some way in which the Holy Spirit is reminding you to leap today?