A Conflict Worth Having – Pt 1

Life in a faithful church is never easy. There’s always something brewing in a church, an undertow of opposition. There really is no rest. Paul and Barnabas found this to be true after completing their first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles through the ministry of these two men, and now others from Judea were coming down and teaching these Gentile converts that they have to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses or they could not be saved (Acts 15.1).

Legalism is rightly defined as adding human religious works to the finished work of Jesus Christ and insisting others follow your example. Legalism undermines the true Gospel of Christ. Acts 15.24 clearly says that these legalists were not sent from the church at Jerusalem. They arrogantly took it upon themselves to spread their doctrine. Paul and Barnabas stood firmly against these men and argued against their doctrine.

The church at Antioch determined that Paul and Barnabas should go to Jerusalem. Christianity began in Jerusalem. Christian doctrine issued forth from the apostles and was built around the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. It was time to put this question of Jewish legalism to rest once and for all.

As the two men traveled to Jerusalem, they described the conversion of the Gentiles to people. Many Jewish and Gentile believers rejoiced over this. When they arrived, the church itself received them gladly. Paul and Barnabas reported to the church regarding their first missionary journey. They spoke of all the things God had done with them; not about all the things they had done for God.

However, a sect of the Pharisees, who had become committed to Jesus Christ as the Messiah, stood up and said that it was necessary to circumcise Gentile believers and command that they keep the Law of Moses. So, these men received Christ as their Messiah, but continued to live as Jews. Most nominal Christian churches in our world today add good works to faith in Christ. This all started with these Pharisees in Jerusalem. This false doctrine has led many men and women to Hell. How would the church settle this issue?

Careful consideration is needed by church pastors when problems of any sort develop (Acts 15.6-11). This is particularly true with problems concerning the Gospel. The apostles along with elders carefully considered the matter before them. There was much dispute until the chief apostle rose up to speak.

  • First, Peter pointed out what had happened in Acts 10 with Cornelius (Acts 15.7). It was God’s will for Gentiles to hear and receive the Gospel through the mouth of Peter.
  • Second, God acknowledged the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit (Acts 15.8).
  • Third, there is no longer a distinction between believing Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15.9). All believers have hearts purified by faith in Christ.
  • Finally, Peter hits hard by asking a rhetorical question. “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15.10)? That yoke is obviously the Mosaic Law.

Now make no mistake. Many Christians today are equating sinful activity with this yoke and completely missing the point of Peter’s argument. Peter hammers it home in Acts 15.11: “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Pious Jews (Romans 7) are saved the same way miserable Gentiles are (Romans 6). We are saved by grace. All of us are saved by grace. However, it isn’t grace if you add the Mosaic Law, circumcision, or baptism to it. It isn’t grace if you add anything to the finished work of Jesus Christ! And that grace is received on the basis of faith alone. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Law-keeping Christianity is a great burden. “When you have done all those things which are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17.10). Jesus is telling us that even if you do everything you’re supposed to do, you are at best unprofitable. Many of the Pharisees boasted of keeping the Law, but they broke it constantly. We must be dead to the Law (Romans 7).

A Horrible Kind of Happiness

One of the key events in the history of Israel is the Babylonian exile. The Jewish people taken into captivity longed to return to Judah. Psalm 137 presents this longing in a heart-rending retrospect (vv. 1-3) that quickly turns defiant (vv. 4-6) and vengeful (vv. 7-9). The final lines of the psalm depict what one writer called “a horrible kind of happiness.”

“O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!”

The psalmist expresses the grief of his situation. He is not expressing the heart of God but reflecting the defiant, vengeful human heart that is part of our lives. The heart of God is found over and over again in the previous psalm: “His mercy endures forever.” God’s mercy is enduring (Psalm 136) while our torment is temporary (Psalm 137).

The Jewish captives in Babylon sat by the rivers in their place of exile, their harps hanging from trees. They were too grief-stricken to sing. Their captors urged them to do so but singing only made them long for home. They forget that their sins led to the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple. The destruction of Jerusalem demonstrates that God’s mercy endures forever, but His justice harmonizes perfectly with that mercy.

Still, there is this matter of Babylon and the atrocities she afflicted on the people of God. The LORD would make that right one day. The captives waited for that day. They pined away for the horrible kind of happiness relayed to us in verse 9. I admit that I have not suffered the fate of these Jewish exiles. This psalm is indeed very emotional and raw. However, there are three very important lessons to learn from it:

  1. Judge with the same standard by which you wish to be judged. The standard by which I judge the motives of the psalmist is the standard the LORD shall use to judge my own prayers of defiance and bitterness. Psalm 137.9 is a brutal verse. But I did not live the life of the psalmist. However, God does indeed see me. He knows my own heart as it is reflected back to him during the bitter moments of my life.
  2. God does not change. There is not an Old Testament God who evolves into a New Testament God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What has changed is our clarity of the way things are, the way they always have been. We have the entire Word of God, and it is our life. Since God has spoken to us in these last days by His Son, we had better listen. The Lord Jesus taught us to do good to those who hate and persecute us, to bless them and not curse them.
  3. Find the right kind of happiness in the Gospel. The cross of Christ changes everything. It removes a vindictive, vitriolic spirit. If we believe on the death of Christ for our sins and the resurrection of Christ for our righteousness, then the horrible kind of happiness in Psalm 137.9 will give way to the right kind of happiness among the blessed who are merciful. This is true because the merciful obtain mercy themselves. They understand their own need of mercy and see themselves in their Babylonian captors. They understand that only God is just and only God is able to put the world right.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.10-13)

It is not possible to live your whole life and obey all of God’s laws in the Old Testament except one. Yet if it were possible, you would still stand guilty of breaking the entire canon of law in the end. The law is whole. Anyone who breaks one facet of something that is whole, breaks its integrity. We see this in collectors who devalue an object because of slight discoloration or because it is no longer in its original packaging.

The point is that there aren’t many individual or separate laws in the Old Testament which are somehow unrelated to each other. The Law is one expression of the will of God. We have overstepped our boundaries by failing to do the will of God. We are operating against His will. We need wholeness and integrity. We need the discoloration caused by our rebellion to be removed. We need to be restored to our original packaging.

We must speak and act as those judged by the Law of Liberty. This is the same Royal Law spoken of in James 2.8. It is the Law of the Old Testament intensified by the Lord Jesus but fulfilled by Him as well. God revealed one Law on Sinai through Moses, His servant. Jesus came along as the Son of God and fulfilled the Law and the will of His Father. It has now become the unbroken Law of Liberty for the sons and daughters of God because of Jesus’ triumph over the grave. “For [or because] judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.”

James tells us that if we fail to show mercy, we better not expect mercy. Our relationship with the Lord God through Christ produces mercy in us. Jesus would say that “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7.2). If we live our lives in such a way that we fail to demonstrate living faith, we will face a merciless judgment at the end of those lives. “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

The LORD has said in Hosea 6.6 that He desires mercy and not sacrifice. Jesus used this verse from Hosea to confront the merciless Pharisees. They asked the disciples of Jesus why their Teacher ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus heard it and answered: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

We know that all are sinners: Pharisee, disciple, and tax collector alike. But not all sinners know that they are sinners. Mercy doesn’t cancel out judgment. It is not leniency that Jesus demonstrated. But those disciples of Jesus who show mercy need not fear judgment. Showing mercy doesn’t curry favor with God or earn His mercy, but it indicates that we are well-acquainted with God’s mercy. That is why we need not fear.

The Law is a revealer of God’s will and ways. It guides us in this present life. It also forms the basis for our future judgement. You may think that that is a problem. But remember the One who fulfilled all the Law for you. The Law requires that we keep every aspect of it perfectly. God considers our plight and sends us Jesus to keep the Law for us.

If we are Christians, we are bound to a different law. Our concentration is the Law of Liberty. This Royal Law of James is the measure of our conduct at present. It is also the measure of God’s judgment in the future.

James says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” Our destination is assured, but the future judgment will unfold in a way that demonstrates whether we loved well or not. The future measure of our judgment is love. How well do you love? Jesus will ask you, “How well did you love?” Then, your rewards are determined. Do you sense the loss resulting from a loveless, merciless life? Today, you must love others as Christ loved and with Christ’s love. Learn to love people who are as difficult as you are. If you don’t think you’re difficult to love, you are deceived. Love well. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Waking Up This Morning in Meshech and Kedar

Psalm 120 is first among 15 consecutive psalms titled, A Song of Ascents. Psalm 127 is in the middle of these psalms and is attributed to Solomon. There are seven psalms on either side of Psalm 127. The first side consists of Psalm 120 – Psalm 126. Five of these are written by unknown authors. Two are written by David. The second side consists of Psalm 128 – Psalm 134. Five of these are also written by unknown authors. Again, two are written by David. This is interesting and doesn’t appear to be a random organization, but the meaning behind the organization is elusive to me.

Most believe that the psalms were written for pilgrims who attended annual feasts in Jerusalem. The pilgrims recited these psalms as they went up to Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem is higher than anything surrounding it, it didn’t matter what direction you traveled. You always went up to Jerusalem.

Psalm 120
Plea for Relief from Bitter Foes
A Song of Ascents.

In my distress I cried to the Lord,
And He heard me.

Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips
And from a deceitful tongue.

What shall be given to you,
Or what shall be done to you,
You false tongue?

Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With coals of the broom tree!

Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech,
That I dwell among the tents of Kedar!

My soul has dwelt too long
With one who hates peace.
I am for peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.

The word distress means a circumstance so unfavorable that it causes great emotional pain. All of us have distress which comes into our lives at some point. If you live a consistent Christian testimony, distress seems to be a constant companion. Sometimes we respond to our distress by crying out to garner sympathy or pity from others. Other times, we cry out to authority to give us justice or help us overcome the cause of the distress. The psalmist cried out to the LORD, and the LORD heard him.

The psalmist cried out to the LORD for deliverance. The cause for all the distress is the deceit of another person. Someone was lying concerning him; therefore, the LORD heard him. The psalmist wonders, “What will be done to such a dishonest person, LORD?” He suggests that the LORD will rain down fiery arrows upon the deceitful person.

It seems that the psalmist struggled with the deceit because of where he was. He dwelt among people who didn’t believe. This is what distresses me about the upheaval in our world over the weekend.

Meshech and Kedar are not the places where he actually lived. Meshech is located well to the northeast of Israel, the far northern mountains. Kedar is located well to the southeast of Israel, the deep Arabian deserts. The psalmist lived among unbelieving people who hated peace, a peace with which he supported and with which he was well-acquainted. They speak of war; he speaks of peace. All true believers dwell in the tents of Meshech and Kedar.

It is interesting that this follows on the heels of Psalm 119, a psalm regarding the powerful words of God. This forms a stark contrast with the deceptive words of the world.

The Discomfort of Our Distressful Lives

We face an unavoidable fact: Distress will be a constant companion in the life of a believer. This leads to an unavoidable feeling: Pressure and pain are the result of prolonged distress. However, we need not to be enslaved to distress. It is also a goad toward hope.

Not all people seek the LORD in their distress. Here are six common ways people handle distress:

  1. They get bitter against God. They have a deep, seething resentment toward God and His people.
  2. They stop trusting in God. They simply think that if God has allowed this to happen, then He must not care or even exist.
  3. They grow hardened toward God. This same thing happened to the Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Distressful, multiplied plagues only serving to harden his heart.
  4. They seek counterfeit life in sin. Distress often serves as a catalyst to find some sort of escape from a sense of misery. Addictions to alcohol, food, entertainment, sexual immorality, and many other vices serve as such an escape. People handle distress by distracting themselves with sinful experiences such as looting and rioting and fighting.
  5. They look for people to provide that which only God is able to provide. This is certainly idolatry. This is also the problem with our desire for justice. We seek it from the wrong source. If I look for deliverance from my children, my wife, or a friend, I put them in an impossible situation. If I look for deliverance from racism and leave God out of the equation, I seek for my solutions in vain. Only God is able to deliver me from my distress.
  6. They seek to overcome distress in their own strength. Many people have that optimistic, can-do spirit. Youthful idealism vented its rage over the weekend. They were able to put distress out of mind and overcome it with the power of positive thinking. Change is possible. Distress for them serves as a vehicle to an inward, narrow life not a life with eternal quality to it. Distress cannot be overcome by any power which resides in me or comes out of me. Power for change and a meaningful life comes from relying upon the Holy Spirit.

As believers, we must do what the psalmist does. We must cry out to the LORD in prayer. We must look to Him for help.

Why does God allow distress in life? He allows it to remind us that there is a great conflict in the world in which we live. Meshech and Kedar want war; we want peace. We are pilgrims passing through and this world is not our home. We don’t ascend to Jerusalem; our ascent is toward the presence of God. Distress in the present ought to cause us to seek for God’s presence and power to reconcile people to Himself.

But don’t forget how the psalmist prays while in distress. He cried out to the LORD. There is a sense of sorrow, humility, and desperation behind that verb. He doesn’t trust in himself or anyone else. He trusts only in the LORD. This type of prayer perseveres with God. God hears us when we cry out in our distress!

Notice that the psalmist begins with the resolution to distress. He cried and the LORD heard him. The LORD will hear us too. We know it. The outward circumstances of my life don’t change all that much. I still struggle, but I expect struggle in Meshech and Kedar. However, inside me I find a light that generates hope. That light is from the LORD.

So, distress is necessary for pilgrims here. It is uncomfortable. But there is consolation and hope when I cry out to God. Are we not also pilgrims, even as the psalmist was?

“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2.11-12

God Gives Wisdom

One great enemy working against us in our pursuit of God’s wisdom is well-intentioned friends and family around us. People seek to draw us back again to the wisdom of this world. They think they know what is best. They say they are looking out for us, but they are diverting us from the path God intends for us. Wisdom acts like a compass to keep us on the narrow way.

Spiritual wisdom is not found in the academic subject matter we study. It is the gift of God. God gave men wisdom or the skill to build a beautiful sanctuary for Him (Ex 36.1-2). He gave men wisdom to produce healthy crops (Isa 28.23-26). God gives us wisdom through His Spirit to live a worthwhile life. He reveals what He has prepared for those who love Him. We receive the Holy Spirit so that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God the Father (1 Cor 2.9-12). James calls this wisdom from above (3.17). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1.17).

The Spirit provides us with wisdom and understanding, counsel and power, and knowledge and the fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11.2). The eyes of your understanding are opened by the hope of God’s calling (Ephesians 1.18). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. He will guide us into all truth (John 16.13). We have an anointing from the Holy One and by Him we know all things (1 John 2.20). The anointing abides or dwells deeply within us.

We have teachers, but for real wisdom all we need is the instruction and illumination of God’s Holy Spirit (1 John 2.27). We have understanding and wisdom thanks to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to know Him who is true. We are in Him who is true, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true God; knowing Him is eternal life (1 John 5.20). Unsaved people are referred to as natural. They do not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them; nor can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2.14). It is great shame when I react to life as a mere man, a natural person.

Spiritual wisdom is received through prayer. We must live according to the Word of God. So, we must know what the Word of God says. But we cannot understand the Word of God apart from prayer.

  • We must incline the ear toward wisdom.
  • We must listen to the Word of God.
  • We must apply our heart to understanding.
  • We must cry out in prayer for discernment.
  • We must lift up our voice for understanding.
  • We must seek after wisdom like we would seek for silver and hidden treasures.

“The LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2.2-6). We need the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, the eyes of our understanding being enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1.17-18). Pray and ask that we might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Colossians 1.9).

Spiritual wisdom is assured because of the power and promise of God. God is good to give to those who ask. He gives liberally and without reproach. God’s hand is always open. Don’t ignore it. He will not be stingy. He will not spurn you when you ask Him for wisdom. He delights in this. It will be given to you. When, how, and to what extent is up to Him. But He will give it.

All we must do is seek wisdom from the hand of God in sincerity and in truth. Ask in faith, with no doubting (James 1.6). God may withhold from me something specific. But I will receive something better instead. I really believe that. God has the power, and God is willing. If I doubt either one of these simple facts, I make God a liar. I’m not worthy of God’s wisdom. I don’t deserve it. But I ask and expect to receive wisdom because I am weak and needy. If I thought I was worthy, God would resist me. I believe I shall have wisdom simply because God has promised to give it to me.

Sadly, many times I am unaware of my need for wisdom. I start to actually believe I am competent when it comes to my thinking. How do I know this is happening? I am not asking God for wisdom. I am not feeding on His Word in prayer. I am trusting in my own heart. Proverbs 28.26 states that those who trust in their own hearts are fools, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.

If we lack wisdom, we must trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways we will acknowledge Him, and He shall direct our paths (Proverbs 3.5-6). We are often discouraged because we know we need wisdom and we don’t seem to have it. If we focus on how big the problem or difficulty is, then we will be terribly discouraged. We are insufficient to meet the need in our own strength.

If we focus on God, our hope is strengthened because He has promised, and He has the power to deliver. God can establish strength in the lives of others even through babes and nursing infants (Psalm 8.2). The treasure of God is in earthen vessels so that the excellence and power of God may be seen (2 Corinthians 4.7). God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9). If we doubt in the power of God to rescue us, we will sink beneath the waves (Matthew 14.30-31). If we doubt, we cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1.7). If we believe, then in accordance with our faith let it be to us (Matthew 9.29).

Contention Over Spiritual Elitism

Our understanding of the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians rests upon a contrast between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. Christ became for us wisdom from God (1.30). He is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1.24). We preach Christ crucified because we rest in Christ crucified. We cannot use persuasive words of human wisdom. We preach God’s wisdom in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (2.4).

Contention developed in the church at Corinth because they wanted something more than what Paul offered them. They understood what Christ came to do for their sin. They were saved, spiritual people behaving as unsaved, natural people. The way they saw it is that Paul gave them only milk when they wanted meat. They saw themselves as spiritual and wise, but they quenched and grieved the Holy Spirit by pursuing fleshly, human wisdom. They represent believers who are looking for the higher, mysterious life or the second door of consecration, a form of spiritual elitism.

These are people who are modern-day Gnostics, looking for hidden wisdom. Gnosticism was a problem for the church in the second century. Gnostics believed that they had gained a special kind of spiritual enlightenment, through which they had attained a secret or higher level of knowledge not accessible to the uninitiated.

“Gnostics also tended to emphasize the spiritual realm over the material, often claiming that the material realm is evil and hence to be escaped” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 56).

Those who do not receive the Holy Spirit do not have the wisdom of God found in the crucified Christ. Such people are clinging to a wisdom that is fading away with this present age. But we have received the Holy Spirit. We have the mind of Christ (2.16). All of us. Yet, we might be like the Corinthians in that we have the Holy Spirit, but our condition in life (thinking and doing) does not reflect our position. We are among the spiritual people in the world (2.7-13), but we are behaving carnally. We live life just like those who do not have the Holy Spirit (3.1-4).

As we come into 1 Corinthians 2, Paul’s preaching rests in wisdom from God not man. It is not wisdom found in this present age or wisdom supported by the rulers of this age. Here is how our new section begins…

1 Corinthians 2:6
“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”

The wisdom of this age along with the rulers of this age are coming to nothing. They must make way for the coming age, the Kingdom of God. Such wisdom belongs to those who are mature, namely all who receive the wisdom of God found in the crucified Christ. The mature are not an elite class of Christians; the mature are all Christians. We are complete because we are in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit (2.12). We are spiritual (2.15). It is wisdom for our glory as believers (2.7). It is for those who love God (2.9). It is wisdom revealed to us (2.10). So, those who are mature are all people in Christ. The problem is that we often behave in a way that looks immature. We are complete in Christ; we ought to act like it!

1 Corinthians 2:7–8
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

The wisdom of God is from God and for our glory. We are chosen in Christ. We find refuge in God’s Elect One. We are foolish and weak in the minds of those of this present age. But we must never forget that God is bringing the so-called wise and mighty ones of this present age to nothing (1.26-28). They are ordained for shame; we are ordained for glory. It is a glory we share with the Lord of glory (2.8). Why don’t the wise of this age grasp this wisdom from God? It is because they don’t believe.

We preach this wisdom from God. It is the Gospel or the testimony of God in the crucified Christ. This wisdom is a mystery or hidden wisdom in the eyes of unbelieving people. But this wisdom has been revealed to us. If unbelieving people had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Yet God ordained it so before the ages, even before He created the world.

1 Corinthians 2:9

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

What is Paul citing? How does it fit in with his argument? Paul seems to be citing Isaiah 64.4. Perhaps he adds a thought from Isaiah 65.17 as well. This citation supports the fact that people in the present age do not understand what God accomplished in Christ. The human mind cannot even grasp it. But also, God has prepared a great salvation for those who love him. This, too, is beyond our grasp. What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what has never entered the heart or mind of a man – this is what God has prepared for those who love Him. But now we have these things revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. They have been prepared for us who love God. These things constitute God’s wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:10a
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.

God revealed things prepared for those who love Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and not through human wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:10b–11
For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. What are the deeps things of God? The deep things are simply the depths of God’s wisdom. It is the mind of Christ (v. 16). Men know their own thinking. God knows His own thinking. If it were not for the Holy Spirit, the mind of man could not meet the mind of God.

1 Corinthians 2:12
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

Here is the heart of this paragraph. The things freely given to us by God are His deep things. They don’t belong to the spiritually elite. The deep things are God’s plan for saving people from sin. It contrasts with the wisdom of the present age. God’s wisdom is revealed to those who love Him. This revelation is given to us by the Holy Spirit because He alone knows the inner secrets of God. We have received the thoughts of God and the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. We do not have the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God. The Corinthian believers need to understand this. They have the Holy Spirit, and He is not from the world. Therefore, they must stop thinking like the world.

1 Corinthians 2:13
“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

Again, the things which were spoken or preached by Paul and other believers in Corinth constituted the wisdom of God. Man’s wisdom doesn’t teach us the wisdom of God, but the Holy Spirit does. “Explaining” is a possible understanding of the Greek participle “comparing” in v. 13. I think the verse is saying that we explain spiritual things through preaching what is taught to us by the Holy Spirit. We receive these spiritual things from the Spirit and pass them on to others.

1 Corinthians 2:14
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The natural man of v. 14 is contrasted the spiritual man in v. 15. These natural people do not receive the things of the Spirit of God. The shame is that the Corinthian believers are acting just like natural people. What do we learn from Paul about natural people?

  1. Natural people do not receive the things of the Spirit of God. It’s not only that natural people are incapable of receiving these things, they utterly reject them.
  2. Natural people do not receive these things because they count them as foolishness. You know who a person is by their response to Christ crucified, the wisdom of God.
  3. Natural people cannot know these things. They do not have the Holy Spirit. These things are spiritually discerned. The Holy Spirit illumines and ignites the Gospel within us. The Corinthian believers were enamored with human wisdom that was unable to discern or make appropriate judgments about what God was doing in reconciling the world to Himself.

1 Corinthians 2:15–16
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Natural people are unable to understand the things we have received from the Holy Spirit as spiritual people. These things are judged or examined by spiritual people only. Those who have the Spirit can discern God’s ways by following the leading of the indwelling Spirit. The “all things” referred to in v. 15 refer to all the things pertaining to the testimony of God, namely the Gospel. These matters were once concealed but now are revealed through God the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual people are the only people who have the capacity to know all things, including those things that those without the Holy Spirit know. That is, spiritual people can know both spiritual and natural things. But natural people cannot know spiritual things.

Some believers abuse the phrase at the end of v. 15, “Yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.” They believe that they are so full of the Holy Spirit that they are beyond correction or counsel from others in the local church.

The Corinthian believers view themselves as spiritual people who are now examining or judging Paul. Paul knows that truly spiritual people understand what God has done in Christ crucified. Such people are able to discern all things. They can make necessary judgments. They have the mind of Christ. What a shame that the Corinthians act as mere natural people who do not have the Holy Spirit.

Who has really known the mind of the LORD? Who can really match wits with God and instruct Him? Who among the believers in Corinth is so enamored with natural, human wisdom that he is now passing judgment on an apostle? The Corinthians have the mind of Christ but bypass the wisdom of God for human wisdom. Those lacking the Spirit do not have the mind of Christ or the wisdom of God.

Remember that man’s wisdom doesn’t teach us the wisdom of God, but the Holy Spirit does. So, my aim is to explain spiritual things to you through preaching what is taught to me by the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is receiving spiritual things from the Holy Spirit and pass them on to others. These things are freely given to us by God. This should be your aim in life: receiving the things of God in order to pass on the things of God. So, how do we pass on the things of God?

  1. We must develop an appreciation for spiritual things.
  2. We must diligently seek for spiritual things.
  3. We must deliberately apply spiritual things.

Developing Appreciation

We develop an appreciation for spiritual things when we see them as more valuable than anything this world offers. If the knowledge of Christ is truly excellent, then we ought to pursue it. Everything else ought to be counted as refuse when compared to it. The most beneficial thing we can do for our spiritual life is develop an appreciation for spiritual things.

Diligently Seeking

You will work diligently for what you appreciate. This is the inside-out life Jesus spoke of. The Christian life is not passive. You must diligently seek for God’s wisdom as one seeks for hidden treasure. This will mean attentive study of God’s Words. It will mean listening to preaching and taking measures to remember what is taught. It will mean a dependent posture in prayer before the Word of God. We diligently ask, “Father, enlighten me. Open up my understanding.” God will teach us if we have the hearts of dependent children diligently seeking Him. We seek prayerfully or it would be better not to seek at all.

Deliberately Applying

One of the great privileges of preaching is receiving greater and greater understanding of spiritual things. But this knowledge becomes useless and even quite harmful if I never deliberately apply it to both my private and public life. This is integrity or wholeness. Our sole purpose in life is to reflect the glory of God to greater and greater degrees. We are climbing to the heights of God’s love and descending to the depths of God’s wisdom. Our conversion must lead out to strengthening our brothers and sisters around us. We have freely received; we must freely give. Christianity always leads out to giving not merely receiving.

You have received good gifts from Your Father for the good of others around you. Don’t hide your light; let it shine in the midst of a sin-darkened present age. Shine as lights in the world. Hold forth the word of life so that you might show others the way of peace.

Forgive us for the pride we display as we gather more knowledge from Your Word but fail to apply it. Help us to see that we are only beneficial to others …only able to love them as You command, when receive from You to give to them.

Keep us from making Christianity complex and unknowable. Keep us from the novel expressions of Christianity. Help us to stay under the pressures of this life as we look to the glories of the life to come. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Contention Over Preaching

Paul is arguing in 1 Corinthians that God’s wisdom is viewed as foolish by those perishing in our world. He opens Chapter 1 by addressing reports he had received about division in the church. This division is marked by 1) contention in the church (1.10-17), contention at the cross (1.18-25), and contention over God’s chosen (1.26-31).

1 Corinthians 2.1-5 concludes the overall argument Paul is making, namely that God’s wisdom is viewed as foolish by those who are perishing. He strengthens the argument by considering God’s chosen method of communicating, namely preaching.

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2.1-5

As Gordon Fee writes,

“Thus, not only the means (the cross) and the people (the church in Corinth), but also the preacher (Paul) declare that God is in the process of overturning the world’s systems.”

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, 94.

We summarize these verses as follows:

  1. Paul reminds believers that faithful preaching is defined by the content of what is preached (vv. 1-2)
  2. It is also demonstrated in the form of the preacher (vv. 3-5).
  3. The content of preaching isn’t determined by the preacher.
  4. The form of preaching matches the form of the messenger or preacher.
  5. Both the content and the preacher are viewed as weak by the world.
  6. But God’s power is at work in the midst of this weakness. The reason why this is true is given in the final verse of Chapter 1: “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1.31).

The Content of Preaching (1.1-2)

  1. Preaching is not a philosophical pursuit of wisdom (v. 1a).

Paul gloried in the Lord. He was weak so God’s power would be strong. Therefore, the faith of the Corinthian believers rested in God and not in Paul.

Paul’s preaching did not contain the excellence of speech or human wisdom that impressed the Corinthians. The philosophical wisdom seekers in our world seemed to be engaged in something very noble. However, they are full of themselves, contentious, and competitive. They seek the glory for themselves. So, preaching is not a philosophical pursuit of human wisdom. What is it, then?

  1. Preaching is a persuasive proclamation of the testimony of God (v. 1b).

The content of good preaching is found in the declaration of the testimony of God. A synonymous phrase for declaring the testimony of God is preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good preaching contains God’s testimony to the world. He is saying to us: “This is my beloved Son; hear Him through faithful preaching of the Gospel. Look and live. Look, all you ends of the earth and be saved!” Who is Jesus? What has God done in Jesus to save us from our sins? All faithful preaching answers these questions.

  1. Preaching is a persuasive proclamation of Christ crucified (v. 2).

Why didn’t Paul acquiesce to the culture and shape his content with human wisdom? Why was he so narrow that he only declared the testimony of God? The answer is that he wanted content that was laser-focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s not that Paul didn’t seek to know anything else. He is merely saying his focus and passion is on Christ crucified.

Too many so-called preachers have messages filled with error, deceit, and uncleanness. They are men-pleasers. They shape their messages with flattery and drape them with a cloak to hide their greed. These preachers seek their own glory. They make demands of their followers. Their content is not tempered by compassion or gentleness. They have no love or affection for the people of God. They do not understand sacrifice. They are ungodly, unjust, and blameworthy. So, their content is corrupt.

The Form of the Preacher (2.3-5)

Paul had been with the Corinthians in weakness, in fear and in much trembling (v. 3). All of this seems appropriate for the message he preached. Whatever weakened Paul and left him trembling accentuated the power of God in what he preached. Maybe Paul was overwhelmed with the task God gave him in reaching the Corinthians for Christ. They should see the difference between philosophy and preaching by looking at the form of both.

Power is not found in the presentation or personality of the one preaching; it is found in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. This is true power. Paul’s form was certainly persuasive. It wasn’t persuasive in the sense of those who disputed and debated philosophy in Corinth. That power was tethered to the person and their oratorical skill. Paul’s form was not tethered to this world; it soared into an eternal realm. It connected the faith of the Corinthians to the unlimited power of God not the temporal wisdom of men.

The message of the cross, which is foolishness to the supposed wise among us, is the saving power of God among those who are believing. Faith is only as good as the object it rests upon. Our faith rests on the power of God. We need persuasive, powerful preaching that rests in Christ crucified not in the ability of the expositor or preacher.

I may even seek for understanding from the Scriptures but use that understanding in a way that does not benefit people. I might even use knowledge I gather from the Scriptures to hurt people. Someone recently sent me a clip of a preacher doing just that. He certainly gathered knowledge. He would say it came from the Scripture, but his conclusions and observations were hurtful. Phillip Brooks wrote, “Preaching is truth through personality.” I cannot be anyone other than who I am. But I cannot allow who I am to overwhelm the truth and obscure it. Back in v. 17 of 1 Corinthians 1, we read that it is possible to use the human wisdom of words and then the cross of Christ is made of no effect in the lives of people.

Remember our text this morning. Paul is forming a contrast between preaching Christ crucified and persuading with human wisdom and philosophy. There is persuasive human wisdom and Spirit-empowered proclamation. People tend to admire the philosopher and his profundity. He knows so much. Contemporary philosophers have researched and examined those who have gone before them and are standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. The logic and plausibility of their arguments are something to behold. Think also of those who are so able in speaking about their ideas. The turn of phrase, the apt illustration, and the forceful summaries and conclusions combine to produce powerful speeches. But Paul did not depend upon these things. They were not his starting point. His starting point was Christ crucified. As v. 2 states: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This became the foundation of hope and the motivation for obedience in Paul’s preaching. I want to pause right here and bring out two characteristics of faithful, biblical, and powerful preaching: 1) It is pure; 2) It is sympathetic.

Powerful Preaching is Pure

He will say in 2 Corinthians 11.3 that he would not want the devil to corrupt the minds of the Corinthians, to move them away from the simplicity or purity that is in Christ. Paul didn’t want to hitch his wagon to persuasive words of human wisdom. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t persuasive. He was. We just need to read Romans and follow the powerful and persuasive close reasoning of his arguments to know this. But Paul didn’t depend upon elaborate argumentation. He was plain, simple, and powerful. Paul relied upon the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Powerful, pure preaching comes from those who are determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Powerful Preaching is Sympathetic

Sympathy or empathy is built by finding what you need when you are still and alone before God. Once you are satisfied with His words to your heart, He burdens you to share it with others. It is God’s Word and God’s power at work in your life. When we are taught by God, we are burdened to testify to others, to be a channel of blessing.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and the power of God. Our faith cannot be in the faltering wisdom of men but in the power of God (v. 5). If this is true of my faith, it can be true of your faith as well. Then God alone receives the glory in all who believe on Him.

Paul’s teaches us in another place how to conduct ourselves in the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth (1 Timothy 3.15). One of the ways in which we conduct ourselves takes place behind the pulpit of a local church. When we gather as a church, there are two avenues of conduct established. Both avenues are active and not passive. 1) There is the one who preaches; 2) There are those who listen.

Active Avenues of Church Conduct

The Preacher

Those who preach in our church have the same message Paul preached. When I speak to you, my preaching is not confirmed by signs and wonders as it was in the apostolic time period. It doesn’t need to be because I am not preaching anything new. I am preaching the words we have in our Bibles. I have no power at all to bring you new revelation. We have all the revelation we are going to receive in the Bible.

However, my preaching can be a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is my aim. What I preach serves you best when it is endued with power from the Holy Spirit. This will bring the most conviction of sin and the most comfort of hope.

Still, my preaching comes to you through my personality (e.g., my background, intellect, vocabulary, and testimony among you). It is God’s words and God’s power that lead to your deliverance and salvation. If I have great ability, I also have greater responsibility. So, I must guard my time with God and with my study of His words. But I can’t start adorning my preaching with my own wisdom. I work up to my capacity. I have to use all God gives me. But I don’t depend upon my own abilities. I also acknowledge that those who do not have the same capacity as I have can be even more powerful in ministry. Why? It is because they are depending on the Holy Spirit and not on their own fleshly wisdom. Preaching is simply unleashing the power of God’s Word in any given auditorium on any given Sunday.

So, one active avenue of conduct in the church is found through the preacher. Another is found in…

The Hearer

This means that you have a role to play in your listening today. You don’t come to Heritage to be wowed by my syntax, turn of phrase, or eloquence. You come hopefully because you desire the sincere milk of God’s Word so that you may grow as a result of listening to it proclaimed. This is what makes factionalism over preachers today so sinful. Today, we say, I’m of John MacArthur, I’m of R.C. Sproul, I’m of Charles Stanley, or I’m of Charles Spurgeon, etc.

This is just as carnal as what was happening in Corinth. My boys learned in their Bible class the other day that we ought to receive truth as little children normally do. They tend to be dependent and trusting. In all of my years of education, small children embrace the Scripture eagerly, not as the word of man, but as the word of God. When I preach God’s words to you, I am giving you the testimony of God concerning His only beloved and begotten Son (see v. 1 in our text)!

You don’t need my help when you receive the testimony of God. You hear it and heed it. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5.11–12).

Active hearing of the testimony of God is your goal when you listen to faithful preaching. Seek deliverance from God and His word.

If you focus on the talents of a preacher, you will be disappointed, even if that preacher is Ezekiel himself:

“So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.”

Ezekiel 33:31–32

Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God alone gives the increase. This means that all of us need to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we meet together. May God make it so. Our gospel must not come in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance (1 Th 1.5)! Look to the Lord in prayer for the preaching of His Word before you assemble together as a church. If you will prepare for active listening each time we meet, you will leave with power from God leading to an eternal quality of life!

Perspectives in Proverbs: Prayer

The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.

Proverbs 15.29

Don’t you want God to hear you? Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16.24). All I have to do is ask. It’s easy to ask when my heart is right with God and others; it’s impossible when filled with pride. It’s reasonable for the Creator to call upon His creation to depend upon Him. I must open my mouth wide, and He will fill it (Psalm 81.10). When I ask, God consoles me, draws me near, and helps me to see life from Heaven’s perspective. If I ask and don’t receive, the problem is with me. I’ve asked amiss, perhaps. Lord, save me from asking without receiving. When I do receive, I will give you the praise and glory!

Contention Over the Chosen

One man wrote, “Not from the world’s ‘beautiful people,’ but for the most part from the lower classes, the ‘nobodies,’ God chose those who would make up God’s new people” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, 82). Early on in church history, Christianity was deemed the religion of slaves, women, and children. Many unbelieving people today look at Christians as weak-minded, not willing to face the cold, brutal world in front of them.

On the other hand, when I watch American believers politically interact, I see them moving toward the same direction as the early Christians in Corinth. The irony is that the Corinthians were ‘nobodies’ when God called and chose them. But now they want to be the ‘somebodies’ who are rejecting them (and God).

1 Corinthians 18-25 emphasized contention among three groups of people. The Jews sought for power, the Greeks sought for wisdom, and believers found a true understanding of power and wisdom in Christ crucified. The cross of Christ was a curse and an instrument of shame for the Jews. It was utter foolishness to the Greeks. Therefore, both groups are perishing. However, for those being saved, we see the wisdom of God and the power of God in the contention among all three groups at the cross. This contention still exists today.

1 Corinthians 1.26-31 focuses on the people who find refuge in the cross. If the cross and its message proclaiming Christ crucified seems weak and foolish in our world, what can we say of the people who identify with it? What kind of people will God choose?

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26–31

God has not chosen many wise, mighty, or noble people to fill the church at Corinth. Instead, God has chosen the weak, base, and despised. These are described as “the things which are not,” the ‘nobodies’ of the world. They are not the ‘beautiful’ people. Right at the end of our passage, we find out why God has made such a contentious choice. Paul partially quotes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:23–24

He who glories, let him glory in the Lord!

So, where is our self-worth as believers once we better understand God’s contentious choice? Hopefully we conclude that it is shattered and broken. What makes Christianity such a contentious message in our world today is that it accurately describes the human condition as utterly lost in total darkness and sin. Contention peaks because we want to hold onto autonomy. We desire a far-rosier outlook of the human condition. But God will not allow for this. Once we acknowledge a need for a Savior, we are admitting something about ourselves. We don’t just need God to help us get up because we’ve been knocked down. We are absolutely wrecked, dead in our trespasses and sins. Then comes the Good News!

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” – 1 Corinthians 1.30-31

Photo: Sue Oesterwind

Those prepositions in verse 30 are important. God is choosing in verse 28. We are in Christ Jesus because of the action of God in v. 30. God the Father gives true wisdom or salvation in Christ crucified, namely righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. God chose us in Christ. The only person who ever lived that deserved to be chosen by the Father is Jesus Christ the Son, God’s Elect One.

So, this is how this 1 Corinthians 1.26-31 progress:

  1. Most called are not wise, mighty, and noble (26).
  2. Instead, God has chosen the foolish, weak, and base to put to shame the wise and mighty (27-28).
  3. God does this so that no one would glory in His presence (29).
  4. God made Christ to become true wisdom for us in that salvation is all from Him and expressed by three theological terms: righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (30).
  5. This is the death-knell of human boasting and self-sufficiency. It leads to complete trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ (31).

Christ became for us true wisdom from God. But this true wisdom is not about a burgeoning intellect, a high social status, or persuasive rhetorical skills. These appealed to the Corinthians and many people in our day. This is what makes God’s choice contentious. God makes sinners whole, and He doesn’t need their help. Those who are well need no physician. So, only the sick come to Jesus. Are you willing to be number among those infected by the pandemic of sin? There is only one true ground found for boasting and it’s not found in the people who cling to the cross. It’s found in the Savior who went to the cross to die for our sins.

What does this say about us as believers today?

Overall, it says that we were groping around in the darkness, ignorant of true wisdom. What can we really know when we are separated from Christ? Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked.

  • “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Romans 3.11).
  • “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 52.2-3).
  • Christ became for us wisdom from God because God was in none of our thoughts (Psalm 10.4).

What did we really know of the depths of our sin and the beauty of His holiness? We saw ourselves as rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing. He saw us as we are: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (see Revelation 3.17). We need righteousness, sanctification, and redemption because we are condemned, defiled, and enslaved.

  1. We are condemned. We are found guilty before God. Remember, we are lawbreakers. “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3.19).
  2. We are defiled. We refuse to conform to the will of God. We pursue pleasure and sensuality at every turn. “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just at the others” (Ephesians 2.3).
  3. We are enslaved. This is why we must come to our senses “and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2.26). We have no power of our own to break free from our bondage.

Yes, we need true wisdom from God. We need righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We cannot get this wisdom on our own or find it in the world. God gives real wisdom.

  • “From His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2.6).
  • The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding. He enlightens us (Ephesians 1.18).
  • Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 2.14: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.”
  • Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 3.19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness.’”

Why are we so needy?

  1. We cannot remove our guilt. We cannot remove the scars of our sin with self-righteous religion. We cannot produce sorrow and tears that will wash away sin. We can’t even stop sinning. So we compound our guilt before God. The very best works we produce in this world are stench in the nostrils of God. Even our repentance needs to be repented of. Trust God’s Word when He says that we do not want to be found in our own righteousness.
  2. We cannot remove the stain of our defilement. Can you put to death all of the illicit passions of your flesh? Can you remove every ounce of your love for this present world? Can you transform yourself into God’s image in righteousness and true holiness? You will create something from nothing before you will be able to produce a life of holiness (sanctification).
  3. We cannot remove the chains of our bondage. Right up until the day we die, we will cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7.24)? Only Christ can set us free! He alone has purchased our redemption.

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30).

Wisdom Is Salvation

Christ Jesus became for us wisdom from God. Through such wisdom we are “able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and the length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.18-19).

  • “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5.5).
  • God commanded light to shine out of darkness. That light penetrates our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6).

Wisdom and Full Salvation

  1. We have righteousness. It comes through Christ. We are pronounced guiltless because we are robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are holy and without blemish as the bride of Christ. The righteousness of God belongs to all who believe (Romans 3.22). There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1). Not guilty!
  2. We have sanctification. It comes through Christ. We “put off, concerning [our] former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and [we are] renewed in the spirit of [our] mind, and …[we] put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4.22-24). When we see Christ, the God of peace will have sanctified us completely at His coming (1 Thessalonians 5.23). The Holy Spirit is working even now to bring us from one level of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3.18). We are set apart for God!
  3. We have redemption. It comes through Christ. He alone delivers us from the bondage of corruption and brings us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. If Jesus makes us free, we are free indeed. We are free to be right and live right. We are free to know Christ and live an eternal quality of life. The Scriptures open for us. The avenue of prayer is given to us. We are loosed!

Are you safely in Christ Jesus? Do you have an accurate self-image? Do you see yourself as utterly incapable of pleasing God with self-produced righteousness through moralism and religion? If so, then you are in a position to receive the righteousness of God through the work of Jesus Christ (grace) by faith alone. Undeserving and unmerited favor from God is always received by faith. If you die without wisdom from God, void of Christ’s righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, it would be better if you had never been born.

If you are safely in Christ Jesus, know that He alone is God’s Elect One. This is God’s contentious choice. No one else could do the saving. No one deserves to be saved. God’s choice is contentious because man wants autonomy and glory. Instead, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1.31) God forbid that any of us should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6.14)!

The Subtlety of Self-Deception

“Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’ But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?’ And Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak on.’” (1 Samuel 15:13–16)

1 Samuel 15.12 states Samuel, the prophet, rose early in the morning to meet up with Saul, Israel’s first king. Instead, Samuel heard that Saul went to celebrate at Carmel by erecting a monument for himself. Since Saul went to Gilgal instead of Ramah, he was probably attempting to avoid Samuel.

So, Samuel went to Saul for the purpose of confronting him. When they meet, Saul states that he kept the commandment of the Lord. It’s as if he knew that he would have to give an account of himself to Samuel, but he would rather put up monuments for himself than answer to the LORD’s prophet.

Samuel asks, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen I hear?” Samuel knows, but the question is meant to bring conviction upon the king.

Saul responds to the question in a way which shows he is self-deceived. He was commanded to kill the livestock belonging to the Amalekites. The LORD didn’t say anything about keeping the livestock in order to offer the animals for sacrifices.

Saul is very manipulative with his reply. That’s how we are when we don’t want to admit we are wrong. He says that he did destroy the rest of the animals as he was instructed, but the best of the sheep and oxen were saved. Only the best were saved and the rest, the great majority of the animals, were destroyed. Saul also is maintaining that the decision to keep the sheep and oxen wasn’t really his decision, but the people decided to spare them. He was basically saying, “Hey, Samuel, this was really out of my hands.” Saul didn’t see why he was wrong. He was a self-deceived manipulator and didn’t see it.

Samuel has had enough in the text. He tells Saul to be quiet. Samuel had cried out to the LORD all night. Now he will reveal to Saul what the LORD had said to him. Then, Saul replies with, “Speak on.” I will save the rest of what Samuel says for my next entry on this critical chapter in the Old Testament. I want to confine my thoughts here on self-deception. There are four clear warning signs of self-deception in our lives:

Misplaced Confidence

Saul really believed that he had kept the commandment of the LORD. However, his confidence was misplaced. We often display the same sense of misplaced confidence. Are we really putting to death all sin in our lives? We are commanded in the same way by the same God as Saul: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6.12). Jesus said that if you right eye cause you to sin, pluck it out. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. That’s how radical we should be about all sinful thoughts and sinful activity in our lives (Matthew 5.29-30). But often, we have the same misplaced confidence that Saul had about sin. We actually believe we’re fine the way we are. We say what Saul said in self-deceit: “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” It’s amazing to think that we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are doing what we should do and not doing what we shouldn’t. There is really no shame or sorrow for personal sin in our lives because we believe we are doing God’s will. Our confidence is misplaced.

Obvious Inconsistency

The fact that some of the animals were spared should have indicated that Saul is inconsistent. But self-deceit is misleading. The sounds of the animals betrayed him. His disobedience cannot be denied. Yet he does deny it. Samuel could say to you and me: “What then is this worldliness which is rampant in your churches today?” So many of us think we are consistently obeying the LORD. But our focus is temporal. It is on material things and useless information. We are addicted to social media. We squander time away with external activity and leave no time for inward reflection. We might not be involved in terrible sins, but we worry about the mortgage or what people think. We cannot see the obvious inconsistency in us.

Empty Excuses

Saul decided to shift blame on the people. He cannot control them as a leader. As a matter of fact, he says that they are the ones who disobeyed God. “The people took of the plunder” (21) and “I feared the people” (24) indicate that Saul believed he had to go along with them. We offer similar excuses. We obey the whims of people in opposition to the will of God. We run with the crowd and do the same evil they do. Will we offer these empty excuses and really be able to deceive the Lord Jesus at His judgment seat? Self-deceived people offer empty excuses for their behavior.

Powerless Lives

The Lord Jesus was rejected by men; Saul was rejected by God. It’s not up to Saul to decide how to obey God. Nothing was left up to him. We don’t get to call the shots either. If we do, we can expect God will reject us as well. We don’t have liberty to pervert the will and word of God. We are bound to the will and word of God so that we might have freedom over sin. Powerless lives are the norm in our world today. We are so accustomed to a powerless life, we wonder what a powerful life looks like. Verse 23 gives us the final outcome: “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.” What a lonely isolated place for us to be. So far from God and His liberating will for our lives. At first, we believe the voices telling us that our views of God’s commands are too strict and narrow, too difficult to keep. It’s a dangerous thing to dispute God when you’re supposed to obey Him. Our obedience can never go half-way; it needs to go all the way.