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BY G LENN PEASE CONTENTS 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. THE INDWELLING SPIRIT Based on I Cor. 3:10-16 THE CHRISTIAN AND SUICIDE Based on I Cor. 3:1-17 THE CHRISTIAN AND DIVORCE Based on I Cor. 7:8-16 DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE PART 2 Based on I Cor. 7:10-16 THE IDEAL AND THE REAL Based on I Cor. 7:12-16 THE PAULINE PRIVILEGE Based on I Cor. 7:12-16 THE THIRD CHOICE Based on I Cor. 7:17-24 SINS AND MISTAKES Based on I Cor. 7:25-31 DEVOTION TO THE LORD Based on I Cor. 7:32-40 LOVE M AKES THE SIMPLE COMPLEX I COR. 8 FROM START TO FINISH Based on I Cor. 9:24 to 10:12 AN ACT OF OBED IENCE Based on I Cor. 10:1-5 THE CONCEPTION OF COMMUNION CLARIFIED I Cor. 11:17-34 A MOVING EXPERIENCE Based on I Cor. 11:23-26 THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING INFORMED Based on I Cor. 12:1-11 TEST OF T HE T ONGUE Based on I Cor. 12:1-3 GIFTS UNLIMITED Based on I Cor. 12:4f GIFTS FOR THE COMMON GOOD Based on I Cor. 12:7f THE GIFT OF WISDOM Based on I Cor. 12:8f THE GIFT OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE Based on I Cor. 12:8f LAYING THE GROUNDWORK Based on I Cor. 15:5-11 THE BURIAL OF HIS BODY Based on I Cor. 15:1-11 THE GOSPEL AND THE BODY Based on I Cor. 15:1-12 THE CONTEMPORARY CHRIST Based on I Cor. 15:12-28 THE IMMORTALITY OF PERSONALITY based on I Cor. 15:35-49 BODY LOVE Based on I Cor. 15:35-49 THE RESURRECTION BODY based on I Cor.15:35-49 THE MYSTERY OF DEATH Based on I Cor. 15:51-58 WORK AND WAGES Based on I Cor. 15:58
1. THE INDWELLING SPIRIT Based on I Cor. 3:10-16
In the Old Testament the emphasis is on Jehovah, the God who is above us. In the Gospels the emphasis is on Jesus, the God who is with us. In the book of Acts and the Epistles the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit, the God within us. There can be doubt that this is the age of God’s indwelling. Pentecost began a new relationship between God and man. Jesus pointed to it when He taught His disciples in the upper room that the H oly Spirit, the Father and Himself would all abide in them. No
longer would God be one afar off, and one to whom you had to go. He will be nearer than your hands and feet, for He will be within. In the Old T estament this relationship was a promise, but at Pentecost it became a possession. In Ezek. 36:26-27 we read, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you...” The promise is of a two fold change. A man’s own spirit is to be renewed, and then God’s own spirit will dwell within. Man’s old spirit in incompatible with the spirit of God, and so there has to be a radical renewal of it before God’s Spirit can dwell within it. T he disciples of Jesus were prepared, and their spirit was renewed, and they waited then for the promise of the Father. Pentecost fulfilled that promise. There was fire and a demonstration of power at Sinai also, but it was a fire that stirred up fear rather than joy. Men were compelled by external power to bow and obey God. At Pentecost the picture is radically different, for God no longer stands above and apart from man. He comes within and demonstrates His power, and He gives His message through man. Keble wrote, The fires that rushed from Sinai down, In trembling torrents dread, Now gently light, a golden crown On every sainted head. Men became the temple of God. This was a basic fact and essential truth of Christianity, but it was one that was difficult to grasp, and it still is today one of the most difficult concepts for Christians to make real in their lives. The Corinthians had an especially hard time understanding this truth of the indwelling Spirit. Paul tries hard to get it across to them. They were very poor Christians, and they were ignorant and immature, and some of them were even immoral, they were still Christians. Paul begins this chapter by writing, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh...” He goes on to tell them how they are just like ordinary men yet. They are jealous, envious, and they fight over which man to follow. They are like children arguing over whose father is the strongest, and how many people their big brother can beat up. Then he comes to verse 16 and asks this question: “Do you not know you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” It is obvious they did not know, or at least never gave it much consideration. If they had, they would not have been such miserable specimens of the Christian life. In chapter 6 Paul repeats this question again after pointing out that if they realized the Holy Spirit dwelt within them, they would not continue to be immoral, and they would stop visiting prostitutes. Our bodies are to be used for the glory of God, for they are temples of the Holy Spirit, says Paul. Only very ignorant and immature Christians could be doing the things the Corinthians were doing with their bodies. Paul knew that the key to their being lifted to a higher level was in the truth of the indwelling Spirit. The more Christians are aware that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the more they will become like Christ. The tragedy is not just that the Corinthians did not emphasize this truth, but that it is still not emphasized today. It is a revolutionary truth, and yet it is seldom heard or practiced. Christians do not deny the doctrine of the indwelling Spirit, but they do ignore it. One of the reasons for this is the
fact that it is such a radical truth that even Christians fear to take it literally. It seems almost presumptuous to claim that you are a temple of God. It would be construed as pride for me to say that the trinity abides in me. People would either laugh or be disgusted. Can we take this truth seriously? Can the infinite indwell the finite? It may be hard to believe it, but it is basic to New Testament Christianity. W. T . Davison in his studies on the Holy Spirit writes, “T he religion of the N ew T estament is a religion of the Holy Spirit, and the Christianity of subsequent times that would realize the New Testament type under new conditions must also be a religion of the Spirit. Most of the declensions which have marked the religious life of Christendom have been due to forgetfulness of this fundamental fact, and all striking revivals of Christian life and power have sprung from its recollection and reinforcement.” It is a fact of history that revivals are always accompanied with a consciousness on the part of Christians of the work of the Holy Spirit. When Christians neglect this aspect of God’s relation to them, there is cooling off. This means Christians more often than not are ignorant of this truth. Sophir wrote, “For how long a period, even after the Reformation, were the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, His work in conversion, and His indwelling in the believer, almost unknown.” T his is the hardest truth to get across to believers, but one of the most important, for it is a truth distinctive to Christianity, and it is the source of the power to live the Christian life. Sir Monier Williams, a great oriental scholar, asserts that the consciousness of a personal union and fellowship with God is a unique feature of Christianity. He fails to find it in any of the religions of the East. Dr. W. L. Walker in The Spirit And The Incarnation says, “The Spirit is the great thing in Christianity. It is the distinctive doctrine, vital, fundamental and permanent” The power of Pentecost and of the early church was not in creed or ritual, but in the indwelling Spirit. A whole new relationship between God and man had come into the world. Peter said to the 3 thousand converts on the day of Pentecost, “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Then he says in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is to you and to you r children, and to all that are afar off, everyone whom the Lord ou r God calls to Him.” No longer was the Holy Spirit to be confined to the favored few. He would indwell every believer. Paul says He was even indwelling the Corinthians, who such poor Christians. Of course, they were grieving and resisting the Spirit, but they were still temples of the Spirit. Power for a victorious life of holiness was available to them, but they were not aware of it. James M. Campbell in his book After Pentecost, what? Compares the Christian who is ignorant of the doctrine of the indwelling Spirit to a fish who lies gasping in the sunshine only an inch away from the water. One flip would take him over into his native element, but there he lies in a sad plight as if the water were miles away. Christians are always near to abundant life, for God with all His resources dwells within, but we are so seldom conscious of this reality, and we do not know how to take advantage of it, even when we become conscious of it. Our whole way of life, and the total pattern of our culture make it hard for us to develop a consciousness of the inner life. We seldom meditate and develop an awareness of the world within. We do not think of preparation on the inside before we read the Bible, and yet men of the Spirit tell us it is the key to Bible study. George Fox wrote, “A man can understand inspired Scriptures only as he is in the same spirit in which they are given.” T he unique New Testament perspective is to see
life from within. It is to see with the eyes and mind of Christ who dwells within. We depend almost totally upon externals, but the poet reminds us: The outward word is good and true, But inward power alone makes new; Not even Christ can save from sin Until He comes and works within. The inner life is the greatest reality, and yet it is the most ignored aspect of life. Even Christians feel it is impractical and a waste of time to focus on what seems like self-centered introspection. There is to much to do, and so we give ourselves to doing rather than to becoming, even though the New Testament makes it clear that God cares more about what we are than what we do. Paul says in Col. 3:3, “Your life is hide with Christ in God.” God hides within us, and we are hidden within God. There is a mysterious hidden life that is the key to effective Christian living, and we must give this truth its rightful place in our lives. Flowers spring from hidden seed, and the fruits of the Spirit likewise spring from the hidden life of the believer. Only as we cultivate this deeply personal and private relationship to the indwelling Spirit can we be outwardly productive. If Paul expected the Corinthians to develop the inner life, how much more should we be expected to do so? The beginning point is simply in awareness and desire. Do you not know you are a temple of the Holy Spirit? T o know it, and to keep it in mind will develop in us a new perspective with new desires. A steady and consistent consciousness of the indwelling Spirit cannot help but make a radical difference in our lives. It calls for concentration, for the very fact it is a truth so much ignored shows it is a truth hard to grasp. It is like nerve action in the body. Muscle action we can understand, but the nerves are so mysterious and hard to figure out. So the hidden life of the indwelling Spirit is hard to be conscious of. To deny it or ignore it is as harmful to the spiritual life as a ignoring nerves is to the physical. Whether you feel it or not, your nerves are in operation for good or ill, and so it is with the Holy Spirit. We need to ask ourselves constantly this question of Paul: Do you know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within?
2. THE CHRISTIAN AND SUICIDE Based on I Cor. 3:1-17
Shakespeare said, "Against self-slaughter there is a prohibition so divine that cravens my weak hand." He was expressing the attitude of the vast majority towards suicide. We did not find that prohibition in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. The whole Bible does oppose the taking of one's life even if there is no explicit prohibition. Life is sacred; God is its author; we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice; we are to do all that we do to the glory of God. No one can doubt that self-destruction is sinful, and opposed to the whole plan of God. So obvious is this truth that it has been recognized to be evil by the majority of non-Christians. Pythagorus and Plato, the ancient Greek philosophers, condemned it "on the ground that we are all
soldiers of God, stationed at appointed posts of duty, which it is rebellion against our maker to desert." Aristotle and Greek legislators condemned it as abandonment of duty to the state. The ancient poets, like Lucretius the Roman, condemned it as cowardice. Buddhism and Islam condemn it. Practically all pagans have recognized it to be a sin. The rare exception is the Stoics whose goal of life was to avoid trouble and pain. If all did not go right, they encouraged suicide as a solution. Zeno the founder hanged himself when he broke his finger, and the famous poet that Paul quotes in Acts 17:28, Cleanthes, starved himself to death because his gums were sore. Apart from these we have the whole weight of the moral conscience of heathenism again suicide. That it is a sin we cannot doubt, and that it is a grave sin we cannot question, but what we want to do is to get some answers to some very important questions related to suicide. These may be only idle speculation for some, but there are Christians in our world who would feel them to be desperately relevant, and the day may come when American Christians will also feel this. Now is the time to ask the questions, and prepare ourselves for proper attitudes and understanding. T he first question is this: I. IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A CHRISTIAN TO T AKE HIS OWN LIFE? If we come to this question with preconceived notions, we will, of course, already have an answer before we examine the evidence. There is only one preconceived idea we can have, however, and that is that it is sin, and a grave sin at least as bad as murder. This means that we are seeking to determine if a Christian can do the worse kinds of sin. Jesus implied it was possible when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. He said that it was not only murder when you kill, but it was also murder when you are angry without a cause, and so full of hate that you call a brother a fool. This puts the believer in grave danger. This becomes meaningless if it is not possible for the believer to do such evil. T he whole New Testament implies by its moral standard and prohibitions that it is possible for a believer to commit any of the sins forbidden by the ten commandments. There is no basis for saying that the sin of suicide is impossible for the believer. It is morally impossible, just as stealing, adultery, lying, and covetousness. What does history tell us. The question was debated in the early church. One of the big questions was this: Could a Christian woman tak e her own life in times of persecution to escape the dishonor she would suffer by brute soldiers, who would rape her before she was killed? Eusebius, the church historian, Chrysostom, the golden mouth preacher, and Jerome, the Bible translator, all favored it as the lesser of two evils. Augustine condemned it, however, and later church councils did also. They passed a law refusing church burial to anyone who did so. The debate arose out of life's battles where women did take their lives to escape the awful fate awaiting them. Even Augustine allowed exceptions, since some were called martyrs and made saints. The modern Catholic Encyclopedia says this question is still open for debate. What is not debatable is the fact that true Christians did take their own lives. In more modern times we find that after the Reformation the question arises again. There was no problem with suicide in the so-called dark ages. It became a universal problem only since the Enlightenment. In Tirospol, Russia in 1897, 28 persons buried themselves alive to escape the census which they felt was evil and against God's will. In 1666 Russian Zealots looked for the antichrist to come so soon
that they urged Christians to escape him by suicide and entering into heaven. Whole communities hailed with enthusiasm this gospel of death, and they put it into practice. Such fanaticism characterized the Anabaptist also. They claimed they were setting up the kingdom of God, and they brought destruction on themselves when they tried to rebel and make society socialistic. Luther and his princes went to war and killed over 100,000 because of this fanaticism. This was not suicide in the same sense as it was with the Russians, but it was close to it in terms of the folly of it all, and in terms of getting Christian people so fired up over fanatical ideas that they were willing to die for some man made scheme. The purpose of sharing this history is to show that God's children can, and have, been victims of false and fanatical leadership, and have even tak en their own lives as a result. Martyrdom was so prized at one time that Christians fought to be killed. Some early Christians deliberately threw themselves to their death under the delusion that a violent death gained merit. Leslie T. Lyall in his book Come Wind Come Weather gives an account of evangelical reactions to the Communist takeover in China. Christian leaders were disgraced and accused by other Christians of crimes and sins. He reports that people of evangelical persuasion were driven insane, and a number of them committed suicide. T hese he mentions were leaders and not just new Christians. They were people like T. H. Sun who was editor of the Christian Farmer. Some were pastors, and one was archdeacon James Fu who was accused by his own sons. How are we to look at this? First we must recognize the differences in cultures. To be accused by ones own family and friends, and have public demonstrations, and have it put in the paper was, for an oriental mind, a burden beyond us to comprehend. The saving face attitude is a part of the Christian life in the orient, and this type of thing could crush the heart of even the strongest. It will not do to say that maybe none of them were true Christians. That could very well be, but it begs the whole question, and ignores the testimony of their lives. Since there is no basis for believing that it is impossible for a Christian to take their own life, it is better to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Bible makes it clear that the most godly of men can develop all the symptoms of loneliness and despair that lead to suicide. Moses who was tired and discouraged cried out to God in Num. 11, "The load is far to heavy! If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now; it will be a kindness. Let me out of this impossible situation." Moses spoke with the mind that fits the majority of people who commit suicide. Then there is Elijah who was emotionally and physically exhausted in his battle with Jezebel. He cries out to G od in I Kings 19, "I've had enough. Take away my life. I've got to die sometime, and it might as well be now." Keep in mind, we are not looking at the words of new believers who could not take the pressure. These were pros, and the cream of the crop of God's best men. Job and Jeremiah both cursed the day of their birth they fell so low in depression. What about the prophet Jonah who was so embarrassed because God in His mercy did not destroy Nineveh after He preached that He would. He cried out to God in despair in Jonah 4, "Please kill me Lord: I'd rather be dead than alive." Life was unbearable, and that is precisely where the suicide is when he takes his life. From the time you ate breakfast this morning until the time you eat breakfast tomorrow one thousand people will have killed themselves on this planet. And not a day goes by but that some of that thousand are born again Christians. Christian doctors, psychiatrists, and those working with suicide prevention centers as well as pastors know this to be true. I have counseled a number of Christians who were suicidal.
Billy Graham has acknowledged that Christians can so fall under the deceptive power of Satan that they can be enticed into suicide. Duane Peterson who headed the Jesus People Organization published many letters from Christians who attempted or succeeded in suicide. Leslie Weatherhead, the well known preacher and author in England writes, "When Captain Oates-a valued colleague of Captain Scott in his epic journey to the South Pole-found that frost-bite in his feet was holding up his companions, he walked out into the blizzard to lay down his own life and was rightly labeled, "A very gallant gentleman." No one would criticize a man who, after a shipwreck, leapt to certain death in a stormy sea because a raft containing women and children was already over filled." What he is pointing out is that there are circumstances in which the taking of one's life is an act of heroism.
You might think it is dangerous to make these facts known, and ask, won't this encourage Christians to take their own life? Not at all. The reason the Bible does not hide the deep negative emotions of the best of God's people is because G od knows that the key to conquering Satan's temptation to suicide is the freedom to share your burden and be accepted. No Christian will ever be defeated by the devil or depression who can feel free to share their despair without fear of rejection. Christians need to know they can commit suicide and will if they refuse to use the weapons God has given to outwit the enemy. If I fell and sprained my back I would not hesitate to share with you about the pain, and get your encouragement and prayer. But if I fell into depression and life became a dark pit with no light penetrating into my gloom, I may try to hide that from you, and in so doing be playing right into Satan's hands. If I could treat my mental injuries as I do my physical injuries, and be honest and open about them, I would discover they were often easier to heal than the physical ones. All of this is to say that we need not fear to talk of suicide and despair. Nothing is more necessary than to get the gloom out into the light of God's love and understanding. It is the only way you are going to beat it. Since most human beings consider suicide at some point or another, it is folly to feel you are some kind of freak or weirdo if the thought ever comes to you. Fear it and hide it, and it could ensnare you. Face it and fight it, and you will certainly win. Having thoughts of suicide is not a sign you are not a Christian. Don't let Satan deceive you. Many of the greatest people God ever used in history had these same thoughts. If you recognize this you will disarm Satan of one of his most powerful weapons against you. Christians can and do commit the grave sin of suicide, but they would do it far less if they could only realize it is no different than temptation to any other sin. Christians are tempted to lie, cheat, steal, and every other sin, but because they know it is possible to fall into these sins they fight the temptation. Bu t when it comes to suicide they feel so depressed over it that they tend to yield to Satan ou t of sheer despair, and feeling forsaken even by God for such a horrible desire. Don't let Satan get you into a guilt trip where he can persuade you that you are so unworthy that suicide is all you deserve. Since all the evidence indicates it is possible for the Christian to commit this sin, the next question is all the more important. II. IS SUICIDE UNFORGIVABLE? If a Christian does take their own life for any number of reasons such as, to avoid what they think to be a greater evil, or out of devotion to a fanatical leader, or because pressure to the breaking point, do they commit a sin so evil as to forfeit their salvation? We know Ju das was not forgiven, but
the N ew T estament nowhere condemns his suicide, but only his betrayal of Jesus. Judas was not lost because of the way he took his life, but because of his betrayal. Nothing he could do after that could add to his condemnation. Jesus made it clear that there is only one sin that is unforgivable both in this world and the next, and that was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. If suicide was also unforgivable, Jesus would have said there are two such sins, but he said there is only one, and suicide is not it. So then the question is, is it possible to be forgiven after one is dead? Catholics have their purgatory, and so they say very definitely the answer is yes. Protestants have no such doctrine, and so they have to wonder how sin can be forgiven after death. If a Christian dies with some sin unconfessed, will he enter heaven with a sinful soul? T his is, of course, not possible, and so the common view is that when a Christian dies he is made whole by the blood of Christ. If this be so, then we have no basis for saying the same is true of the suicide who is a Christian. This sin will be cleansed by grace just as all other sins. In debate on this issue one of the first text to come to the surface is, "Thou shalt not kill." I do not know of anyone in all of history who does not agree that murder is forbidden by God, and that it is one of the gravest sins. Self-murder then is obviously also a grave sin. But this says nothing about it being unforgivable. David plotted to murder the innocent Uriah to cover up his adultery with his wife. It is one of the most despicable sins of history. Yet I know of no one in all of history that does not recognize that David was forgiven for that grave sin. What he did makes the suicide victim seem mild in comparison. The suicide may be laying down his life for the sake of others. David's sin was pure evil, and yet he was forgiven. The Bible has been searched from cover to cover to find a shred of evidence that suicide is worse than murder, and after reading dozens of books by those who have done the searching, I know of no Bible verse that support the view that suicide is unforgivable. Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, said, "If there is forgiveness of sin at all, there is surely forgiveness of suicide." Bonhoffer and Thielicke are two other great theologians who agree. All you have to ask is the question, did Jesus die for this sin also, or is this one He left out when He took on Himself the sins of the world? Unless you would risk the wrath of God by adding this sin to the only one Jesus said was unforgivable, you have to leave it where Jesus left it, and that is with all the other forgivable sins. Joseph Bayly, one of the outstanding evangelical authors, says that he finds nothing in the Bible that alters his conviction that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from the sin of suicide. John R. Rice, a great fundamentalist leader who has influenced millions, responded to a letter about a Christian girl who committed suicide. He wrote, "I am so sorry about your sister, but I'm sure you can have sweet confidence that she is with the Lord, and now happy." This is from a fighting fundamentalist who split hairs over all kinds of issues. Why? Because he knew the Bible gives no basis for thinking there is any difference in the destiny of a Christian who dies by the sin of suicide then the Christian who dies with the sin of lust, envy or pride in his soul. Where then does the idea come from that so many Christians have in their head that anyone who commits suicide is automatically damned? It is a tradition that grew out of the middle ages, and has not yet died, but like many old wise tales and superstitions it clings to men's minds. The motive of the tradition was good. It was to so frighten people with the fear of hell that they would not dare kill themselves. It probably saved many lives through the centuries, and still does yet today. But there
is a better way, and that is the way of truth. If the Bible does not teach it, then it is false doctrine, and it is wrong to use false doctrine even if you do good with it. It is better to use true doctrine and do more good in the will of God. I have no desire to go and steal, or lie, or murder, because I know it is forgivable. Nor do I feel less repulse by suicide because it is forgivable. But I feel more secure knowing that if I should be deceived and fall into the snare of Satan, I am not cut out of the family of God. I have assurance in Christ, and this makes me stronger to face up to the causes of depression that could lead to suicide. I do not need to suppress it in fear, but I can openly face it in faith and conquer it. This is better than going through life scared stiff that I could kill myself and end in hell. To prevent suicide by fear does not lead to the abu ndant life, but to prevent it by faith does. This brings us to our text at last. This is the only New Testament text I am aware of that is used to show the danger of suicide, and to support the view that if one does take his own life he is forever damned. On the surface it appears to be a sound argument, but closer examination reveals it to be another case of taking Scripture out of context to prove something that the passage is not even hinting at. The whole context makes it clear that Paul is not talking about their bodies as such, but about themselves as the church-the temple-the dwelling place of God. T he problem is that they are a disgrace to the temple. All their divisions and strife and envy are terrible, and Paul rebukes them and warns them that if they destroy the temple of God, they will be destroyed by God. Self destruction is not the issue here, but the destruction of the body of Christ-the church. To read suicide into this passage is called eisegesis, or a reading in of what is not there. It is an abuse of the Bible to use this passage to deal with suicide. It may seem to be a logical implication, however, since they body of a believer is the temple, and even if Paul does not refer to it, self destruction would be destroying the temple of God, and would be worthy of being destroyed by God. The only problem with this deduction is that it proves too much. It proves more than those who use it would want to admit. It proves that one can lose his salvation by doing anything that mars his body. This would lead to damnation for smoking, drinking, getting a tatoo, and many other self inflicted injuries. Nobody wants to take this to its logical conclusion, for it damns millions of believers. The Greek word used here is worth studying. There are ten Greek words translated destroy in the KJV. The differences are very great. Some mean to kill; some to demolish; others to lay waste or to make of none effect, and still other to mar or corrupt. The word here is phtheiro which means to mar or corrupt. It does not even mean to mar or corrupt thoroughly, for there is another word for that which is diophtheiro. So the KJV translators had a right to give weaker meaning to the first use of it, and say defile, for envy and strife do not demolish the church but they do defile it, and bring evil into the holy place. The whole point is, if you try to draw teaching about suicide from this text, you end with a view that Christians are in danger of losing their salvation for anything that mars of defiles their body, or the church. Even those theologians who strongly believe that it is possible for a believer to be lost do not take this passage as support, for they recognize with all biblical scholars that this, though a serious matter of judgment, cannot be applied to the loss of salvation. It does teach that the Christian who causes division in the church is in danger of judgment, but even such an unholy Christian as this will not be damned for his hindrance to Christ. If it could be made to mean this, it would be taken advantage of
by those who warn of Christians losing their salvation. Therefore, to use this passage to prove that suicide is unforgivable is foolish, for it does not even prove that abou t the very sin that it is written about, which is church division. If anything can be inferred from this passage about suicide, it would be that there is more hope for the suicide than for the trouble maker in the church. If suicide cannot be forgiven because the person doing so is dead, then neither can any other sin, and we are caught is the same dilemma that led the early church at one point to baptize people just before they died so they could die without sin. We need to face the fact that most every Christian will die with some sin in their life. If nothing else, there are the sins of omission. If one needs to be free of all sin to go to heaven, then all sins are unforgivable is not forgiven before you die. This is theology not found anywhere in God's Word. All sin can be forgiven after death, and must be, and this includes the sin of suicide. Paul says in Rom. 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that would include the sin of suicide, or his statement is not true. If all we have said is true, what are the implications? It means that the Christian must be on guard and recognize they can be victims of Satanic forces; they can be misled by fanatics; they can be crushed by psychological warfare, and circumstances can lead them to lose all interest in life. These dangers are real, and they call for increased devotion and maturity in Christ. It calls for the practice of the Biblical exhortation to bear one another's burdens. It calls for a commitment that goes beyond all that life has to offer, so that we can say at the lowest ebb with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Satan is still going about seeking who he may devour, and not one ought to know better than Peter that Satan is more than a paper lion. He has real teeth, and he who stands must beware lest he should fall. Self-destruction is just one of the many grave sins that Christians can be ensnared with. If we had time we could examine many of the forces that compel people to self-destruction, and we could see that all of us are subject to these forces. Our defense against these, as well as all forces of evil, is constant commitment and growth in Christ. All sin is possible for the believer, but it is to be avoided, and we must include more subtle sins as well. John Howe said, "What a folly it is to dread the thought of throwing away life at once, and yet have no regard to throwing it away by parcels and piecemeal." All of life is sacred and needs to be used for the glory of God.
3. THE CHRISTIAN AND DIVORCE Based on I Cor. 7:8-16
Dave Howell, The World Service Secretary Of The YMCA, was going to give a speech on his experience in Liberia. There were three speakers before him, and the first mentioned that Howell had come from Libya to be there, instead of Liberia. Howell whispered to the next speaker that he would appreciate it if he could correct the mistake. This second man rose to speak, and referred to Mr. Howell, there guest from Nigeria. Howell nudged the speaker who was to officially introduce him, and reminded him to set the record straight. The gentleman nodded, and rose to introduce him. He said, "Now it is my pleasure to present Dave Howell from Siberia." There are some situations where it is so hard to set the record straight,
because you cannot get people to be accurate by focusing on details. Agassiz, the Swiss Naturalist, was one of the world's best teachers, and many of his students became famous, because his first lesson was on detail. New students would come to his study, and he would give them a fish in a jar. He would tell them to observe it, and he would be back. He would be gone for hours, and the student had nothing to do but watch that fish, and count the bones in the fins, and the number of scales. They would get disgusted and discouraged, but when the professor returned, he did not relieve them of their task of observing. For three days they spent hours looking at that fish, and they learned the knack of careful observation of all detail, and the rest of their lives were benefited, and they went on to become the best in their field. If you want to be the best at anything, you have got to be an observer of detail. This is not the same as being picky, and a person who is devoted to the trivial. Paul warned about getting all hung up on foolish questions dealing with genealogies. There is also the folly of dwelling on detail. Like the man who said, "My wife and I had an interesting fight last night. She said it was five days since our last fight, and I said it was four." Detail is only crucial when our understanding of more major issues depends on our grasp of detail. This is certainly the case with this complex chapter of I Cor. 7. Paul is making all kinds of distinctions in this chapter, and if you do not give heed to detail, you will miss the essence of his whole approach, which is, a clear recognition of individual differences. One of the first things you learn in counseling is that people who have the same problem are radically different. You can not deal with people like barrels on an assembly line. You have to deal with them as persons, and to do this, you have to reject legalism as your guide. If the church would have followed Paul in rejecting legalism, and have dealt with people as individuals, there would never have been the dark ages of the church, and the folly that has done so much harm to God's people. Just one illustration out of many dozens reveals the point. St. Benedict, as a youth of 16, fought off lust for a beautiful maiden. So determined was he, that he cast off his simply garment, and threw himself into a thicket of brambles and nettles. He thrashed and rolled until his body was lacerated from head to foot. This crude, but successful, method of conquering the flesh made him a hero, and he founded a monastery, and gained a great following, and did great things for the kingdom of God. So far so good, but the church officials said, "What is good for St. Benedict is good for everybody," and they passed a law that said all priests were to abstain from sex. They were not to marry, or if they were married, they were to stop sleeping with their wives. All clergy were to be celibate, or lose their office. Some actually were successful. One holy man kept his wife at a distance for years, and when she approached him on his death bed to see if he was still breathing, he gathered up his strength and said, "Woman depart! Take away the straw, for there is yet fire here." The tragedy, however, is that this legalism forced the non-gifted to live a life they were not fit for. The result was centuries of Christian scandal. By forcing everyone to be celibate, they made a mockery of all the Bible teaches about sex. Sex starved priests, by the thousands, who could have been happily married, were visiting prostitutes, sleeping with parishioners, making all kinds of arrangements with nuns, and, at one point in the tenth century, the Archbishop of Sens had the entire Abby of St. Peter filled with concubines. Temple prostitution became as common as it was in pagan Corinth.
You cannot begin to imagine the mess Christians have made in history by not paying attention to Paul's advice. He is constantly making distinctions, but legalists make no distinctions. They just cast everybody into the same mold, and say this is it, there is no other perspective. Paul says to avoid to being a fool you have got to recognize that people differ. They differ in their gifts, in their personalities, and in there circumstances. For example, in verse 8 he says it is well for the unmarried and widow to remain single, but then he immediately says it is better for them to marry than to burn with passion they cannot control. It is well to stay single, but better to marry if there is this difference in their makeup. So Paul clearly puts the burden on the individual. There is no rule here that applies to all. Which is best for you depends upon you, and only you can know what you are capable of handling. It is folly to make a rule which applies to all which does not recognize individual differences. T he church has tried it many times, and it always leads to tragedy. Those who learn nothing from history are condemned to repeat it. Two tired donkey's came to a stream on a hot day. One carried a load of salt, and the other a huge pack of sponges. The one carrying salt went in first, and when he came out the other side he called back and said, "It was easy and delightful," for his burden was lightened as the salt dissolved in the water. The second donkey plunged into the stream and the sponges filled with water and he drowned. The point is, do not assume that what is a blessing for you is a blessing for others in Christ. It may very well be a burden to them. Celibates who feel all should be celibate, and marrieds who feel all should be married, are dangerous legalists, for if they had the power they would impose their preference on everyone. History is full of this kind of nonsense. Paul will have no part of it. He recognizes distinctions, and honors individual differences. We see him maintaining the same spirit as we come to his dealings with divorce. He makes a distinction between marriages of two Christians, and marriages of a Christian and a non-Christian. His point is, divorce in never good, but it may, in certain cases, be the only alternative that makes sense. The case he deals with is a non-Christian mate who refuses to live with his Christian spouse. If the non-Christian gets a divorce, Paul says in verse 15, let it be so, for the Christian mate cannot be bound in such a case. It is obvious to all that a non-Christian can just say, "I refuse to try and save this marriage," and go off and get a divorce. The divorce Christian, in this case, does not need to have the slightest guilt for being divorced, unless, of course, they were terrible mates. For now, let's focus our attention on verse 10-11, where Paul deals with two Christians who are married to one another. He first addresses the wife, and gives a clear word of warning that it is not just his authority, but from the Lord. The Christian wife is not to get a divorce. By not paying attention to detail, I always saw this as a warning not to separate, as if the mere act of separation was itself wrong. Paul is not writing here about separation, but about divorce. This is clear from the 11th verse, where Paul says, if the wife goes ahead and does what he says not to, she should remain single or unmarried. Obviously, a mere separation does not make her single or unmarried. She has gotten a divorce, and so Paul is saying the same thing to the wife as he does in verse 11 to the husband-don't get a divorce. The one thing that is clear in the Bible is that divorce is never the best way to go. Divorce is negative. Nobody ever rejoices that a divorce is a part of their life. The most liberal Bible interpreters recognize that divorce is a sad ending to a beautiful dream. The cults even agree, there is no praise for divorce. Paganism, and even secularism join in the universal agreement that divorce is not success, but failure. But the fact is, it is a reality. It always has been, and always will be. It is
a growing menace in our culture, and Christians can no longer be smug about it, for it is no longer a problem of the world only, it is a major problem of the church. The church can never escape the changes in the culture, and the result is, Christian marriages are breaking up at a faster pace than ever in history. It is not new, however, for Paul dealt with a culture where the same problem existed. He is writing to Christian couples, telling them not to divorce each other. You may think Paul knew very little about women, but he proved you wrong, right here. He told the Christian wife she was not to divorce her husband. Then in the very next sentence, he tells her what to do after she ignores that first command. Don't let anybody ever tell you that Paul did not understand women. Paul knows some of the problems in Christian marriages are so bad that it is superficial to assume there will never be a divorce. Instead, he assumes there will be, and so he goes on to say what the next step is after a Christian wife does get a divorce. Paul was a realist. He would like to see all obey the first rule, but he knew he had to have a back up plan, for those who would ignore it. For example, let's get back to the Corinthian husband who is still going to the temple prostitute. Paul knows he will not prevent this sin among all the men. The result will be, some of the wives will be divorcing their husbands. They have a right to do so, for Jesus made it clear, this is a valid reason for divorce. If a mate cannot be faithful, God does not demand that anyone live with such a person. This explains why Paul does not lay it down as an absolute law, that the Christian wife should never divorce her Christian husband. To do so would be to rob her of a God-given right, and Paul knows he cannot do that. All he can do is go on to urge her to remain single, and try to bring about a reconciliation. Paul is hoping that Christian wives can be channels of God's grace, and rise above their rights to a divorce, and strive to forgive their husbands, and keep their Christian marriages alive. Paul has as great faith in women. He believes that they can let the grace of God triumph over sin, and win a victory. You notice, he does not have any elaboration after telling the husband not to divorce his wife. It is almost as if he is saying, if a husband disobeys, and does divorce his wife, the game is over. He does not ask him to stay single, and try to be reconciled to his wife. I don't know how much we can read between the lines, but it seems as if Paul is saying, he has more hope of a wife seeking reconciliation then a husband. In the Corinthian context, and in much of history, the wife usually gets a divorce because she is hurt and betrayed. She can be persuaded to forgive and try again. The husband usually gets a divorce because he wants another woman. He is not likely to be forgiving and be reconciled, for he has nothing to forgive, in that he is the guilty party. Whatever the case for the divorce, Paul is confident the wife is most likely to still save the marriage by not getting married to another, but remaining single, and seeking reconciliation. Paul does not add another verse saying what this Christian wife should do if she ignores his second command, like she did the first. What if she not only gets divorced, but then, instead of remaining single and seeking reconciliation, she goes off and remarries another Christian? Paul does not say, here is what you should do if you do what I told you not to do, after you did what you shouldn't. In other words, Paul is not covering all the possibilities by any means. What he is doing is establishing a pattern for Christian counseling, based on grace rather than law. If a Christian does not chose the ideal, then you have to deal with them where they are, and shoot for another goal which is best on that level. The Christian cou nselor is not to be concerned so
much with punishment for sin and failure in marriage, as with trying to gain victory over them. Christians are making wrong choices all the time, and in the area of divorce and remarriage they make a lot of mistakes. They often chose to ignore God's will, and deliberately sin, and get their lives messed up. Paul's approach to life is the Christlike approach. It often can be misunderstood as being soft on sin, but in fact, it is the key to victory over sin. Jesus could have justly had the woman taken in adultery stoned, but instead, he told her, go and sin no more. That was quite a light sentence for so serious a sin, but Jesus knew you can bless people out of sin more effectively than you can blast them out. Grace experienced by the guilty in forgiveness and acceptance saves people from more sin than does condemnation. The goal of Paul is to help the Corinthians get out of the vicious circle, where sin runs their lives, and enter into an orderly and godly pattern of life, where they can experience peace. He does not once hint at any form of punishment for those Christians who are still trying to live like pagans in the realm of their sex life. He does not mention excommunicating this Christian wife who goes ahead and gets a divorce. He does not suggest that the single who struggles with fornication, or goes to the temple prostitute, should be rejected. Is Paul being too soft on sin? He is, if the goal of the church is to punish sin, but if the goal of the church is to win people out of a life of sin, and help them live a life pleasing to God, then Paul is doing what has to be done. Loving the sinner, and accepting the sinner, while condemning the sin. The legalist, in contrast, is not as concerned about the person as he is about the sin and its punishment. T he goal of the legalist is to see that the law is obeyed, or the penalty is paid. Churches, like individuals, tend to operate on a value system that is guided either by legalism or grace. The result is, you have many churches where this Christian wife that Paul writes to, would be made to feel rejected, and would be forced to leave. Listen to the testimony of one such contemporary wife. "Its been 19 months since I've been a member of church, and it will probably be 19 years before I am again," said the young woman angrily. "I sang in the choir, attended every worship service and worked in the Sunday School. When my husband began to have trouble, we went to the pastor. He gave us a lot of advice and tried to help, but it didn't work. We were divorced. Right about that time the pastor was saying from the pulpit that divorce was the biggest sin in America today. Well, I didn't want to mess up his precious little group of saints, so I just quit going to church. And no one asked me back. The church isn't for the divorced." This is not an isolated case. There are many thousand who have felt the same way, and many have their testimony in print. June Carter Cash, the wife of Johnny Cash, wrote about her life, and the fact that they were both previously divorced. They both became Christians, but they were hurt most by Christians who could forgive thieves and murders, but who, for some reason, felt divorce was unforgivable. She wrote, "There are those in the Christian church who will never forgive us for those broken marriages. But Christ died for
people like me. People who mess up their lives and stand shaking in their boots with guilt, wondering if they're really going straight to hell. But he tells us to repent, and if we really do this and know in our hearts that He has forgiven us, then the sin is no longer ours. That's what I did. And if they cannot forgive me, they must answer for that. Please remember-we are justified in Jesus when we believe, but it can take a long time to be sanctified." Never once does Paul single out the Christian caught in the tragedy of divorce for special punishment. The plea of Mrs. Cash is the very thing that Paul is responding to in this chapter. He is dealing with Christians who are justified by faith, but who are not yet sanctified by a life of obedience. Without the loving spirit of Paul in striving to guide such people, the church tends to become legalistic. They say that now you have fallen short, you cannot teach any more, or be an officer in the church. There are times when violating God's will does demand severe discipline. In chapter 5 Paul does demand that the man living with his fathers wife be excommunicated. But in this chapter he does not suggest any such thing for those who are divorced. In fact, he has compassion for those in circumstances beyond their control, such as the Christians married to a non-Christian who wants to leave. In verse 15 he says if the non-Christian spouse divorces the Christian, the Christian is no longer bound. In other words, Paul does not expect a Christian man or woman to be a slave to a non-Christian, and their life style. If they go off and end the marriage the bond is broken, and the Christian is free to remarry a Christian. This merciful treatment of the divorce has been a part of Christian history. Let me share with you a brief outline of the history of acceptable divorce in the church. By acceptable I mean, one where there is a right to remarry and be blessed by the church. 1. Jesus said if adultery enters a marriage, this can be a legitimate reason for divorce. 2. Paul says, a non-Christian leaving a Christian is a legitimate reason for divorce, and the Christian mate is not bound, but free to remarry. 3. The early church added that abandonment by a mate leaves one free to remarry. 4. When barbarians raided the Roman Empire, and carried people off to be slaves, if a mate was so taken, after a period of waiting, there was freedom to remarry. 5. When a mate joined a convent or monastery, the other mate was free to remarry. 6. If one, unknowingly, married someone they found to be near of kin, they were free to divorce and remarry. 7. If one discovered they were married illegally, such as being married to a bigamist, the right to divorce and remarriage was granted. 8. In our day it is common for a Christian wife to discover she has married a homosexual. Even the most conservative churches permit her to divorce and remarry. There are no doubt others, but these are those I have picked up in reading Christian history. What they reveal is that the Bible does not give us all the possible problems we may have to face. It gives us principles that can be applied in all ages and circumstances. What God has joined together let not man put asunder is true, but all agree that there are many marriages that are not God's doing, and so man is free to put them asunder. The divorced single is no different than the never married single, or the widowed single. They all either have self-control, and can remain single, or they burn with passion, and must seek a marriage partner. Those who put divorce people into another category that Paul does not mention, become
very superficial in their dealing with the sex drive. There are those who say that a divorce person must stay single, even they do burn with passion. Paul says it is better to marry than burn, but they insist it is forbidden that they marry, and so they must burn. These legalists, because of their stubborn resistance to all remarriage, reverse Paul, and say, it is better to burn than to marry. Paul wants the burning passion of the Christian wife to drive her back to her husband, and be reconciled. But for the Christian who is divorce by the non-Christian, there is no going back. He, or she, if they do not have self-control, are free to seek a new mate. The encouraging thing to see in our day is that more and more churches are developing Paul's attitude. The goal is no longer to punish, but to help people overcome gu ilt and grief, and begin again. The six thousand member South Main Baptist Church is the largest of Houston's 222 Southern Baptist Churches. They have 70 0 singles, many of whom are divorced, in their active membership. They have a program for healing, and helping the divorced to start over. This is just one of many, and we see that Paul did not write this chapter in vain. In spite of periods of legalism, the church has been able to catch his spirit of love for the fallen and failing. Paul's message has gotten through to millions. Divorce is always a negative thing, but God works in all things, even the negative, for good, and this should be our goal in relating to all who have experienced divorce.
4. DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE PART 2 Based on I Cor. 7:10-16
I got a kick out of the story I heard the other day. This man had gone to a psychiatrist, and after a great deal of examination he asked the doctor, "What is wrong with me?" The doctor replied, "I think you are crazy." "I demand a second opinion," the man insisted. "Very well," said the doctor, "I also think you are ugly." The only relevance of the story to our theme is that we are also looking for a second opinion on this issue of divorce and remarriage. We have looked at what the Old Testament said, and now we want to look at what the Apostle Paul said. The Corinthians had just about every problem known to man, and so we have their problems being dealt with in Paul's letter to them. This becomes our blessing, for because of their problems we have authoritative counsel on how to handle them. What we get from Paul confirms what we studied before. Divorce is not God's best, and it is never His primary will. However, sometimes it is inevitable in a world where everyone has a sinful nature. The principle we are seeking to establish is that whenever divorce is legitimate the right to remarry is assumed. Moses and Jesus both assumed that divorced people would remarry, and both gave assurance that it was proper and acceptable to do so when the divorce was valid. Paul confirms this in verse 15 by telling the Christian who has been divorced and deserted by a non-Christian mate that the marriage has been dissolved, and they are no longer bound. Those who do not like this conclusion go to verse 39 where Paul says, "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives." They say this has to apply to the one that Paul says that is not bound in verse 15. It cannot be both ways. You can't be bound an unbound to a mate at the same time, and so they say this principle is superior to the words of Paul in verse 15. The confusion is the result of carelessness
with terms. Everyone agrees that a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. That is an absolute principle, and I have never heard or read of anyone even trying to find an exception to it. There are no exceptions. When you introduce the subject of divorce, however, you are dealing with different terms and relationships. When a wife is divorced from her husband for adultery, as Jesus said, or for desertion, as Pau l says in verse 15, she is no longer his wife, and he is no longer her husband. If they were still husband and wife, they would still be married in the sight of God, and, therefore, bound to each other. Paul could only say to the wife in verse 15 that she is not bound, because the divorce from her non-Christian husband made her no longer his wife. Everywhere that a true divorce takes place the terms husband and wife no longer apply. We saw in part 1 in our study of Deut. 24:1-4 where divorce changed the husband to a former husband, and set the wife free to remarry. Paul is not saying in verse 39 that a former wife is bound to her former husband as long as he lives. That is the very thing we are establishing that is not true to Scripture, and that is why Paul says in verse 15 that a mate properly divorced is not bound. We want to look now at what appears to be an exception to the principle we are expounding. In verse 11 Paul tells the Christian wife who has divorced her Christian husband that she is to remain single and not remarry, but rather seek to be reconciled. Here is a divorce where remarriage is clearly forbidden. Why? Because in verse 10 Paul says this kind of divorce is forbidden. It is not acceptable for two Christians to get divorced. Paul does not get into the exception of adultery being a valid cause. He is just dealing with divorce in general. The kind of divorce he is dealing with here is not valid, and so in God's eyes it does not break the marriage bond. Neither mate has the right to remarry in such circumstances. One only has the right when the marriage bond is broken. This is really not an exception then to the principle we are expounding. Forbidden divorce naturally does not give the right to remarry. If you are married it cannot be legitimate to remarry, for this would be bigamy. The point of the principle we are seeking to establish as being consistent with all of Scripture is that God expects all unmarried people to have the right to marry. If you are not married, there is no reason you should be hindered from getting married. A legitimate divorce returns a person to the state of being unmarried, and in that state they have the same right to get married as anyone else who is single. They will have the same desires and needs that lead them to get married in the first place. There is no Scripture that says God expects them to remain unmarried. In fact, all of Scripture expects that they will remarry. If marriage is legitimate for all unmarried people, then all we have to do is establish that divorce makes a person no longer married. Paul does this in verse 11 where he is dealing with the most unacceptable kind of divorce in all of the Bible. It is the divorce of a Christian wife from her Christian husband. Note that Paul says that if a Christian wife does this which is forbidden, she is to remain unmarried, or as some versions have it, she is to remain single. There is no getting around this clear word of Pau l. Even an illegitimate divorce returns a mate to a state of singleness where they are no longer married. This Christian wife is now single says Paul when she divorces her husband. She is not free to remarry, however, because in God's eyes the marriage bond is not broken, and as far as He is concerned the man is still her husband, and they are to strive for reconciliation. Now you can see that if the divorce is legitimate, and is based on adultery or desertion by a non-Christian, the Christian is returned to a state of being unmarried with no marriage bond existing. There is not a hint anywhere in the Bible that this single person is not free, like all other unmarried people to enter into a relationship that will
lead to marriage. We need to study these verses carefully to get as much light as possible on this issu e. The first thing Paul does is make clear who he is addressing. In verse 8 he addressed the unmarried and widows. Here he addresses the married, and in v. 12 he addresses the rest. Ignoring this simple fact that Paul is addressing different categories of people has led to misuse and abuse of this passage. If you read 20 commentaries, 19 of them will point out to you that the rest that Paul addresses in v. 12 are also married, but they are dealt with separately because they are involved in a mixed marriage with a Christian and a non-Christian. This is a totally different category than those in verse 10 and 11 where both are Christians and both are members of the church. Some commentators who are more determined to defend their own views than they are to listen to the Word pay no attention to Paul's distinction here. Listen, for example, to how one of them avoids Paul's conclusion by forcing Paul to contradict himself. Commenting on verse 15 he writes, "There are those who make this verse an argument for a remarriage of divorced people where they point to the statement that a brother of a sister is not in bondage in such cases. But this argument is negated entirely by the other statement of Paul in which he says, "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband." Do you see what he has done? He has ignored the word of Paul to the Christian divorced by the non-Christian to whom he says, "You are not bound." He goes back to the word of Paul to the two Christians to whom he says that they are not to remarry. He takes the word that applies to the two Christians and applies them to the Christian and non-Christian, and he just ignores Paul's conclusion that they are not in bondage. He says they have to be in bondage yet, and not set free to remarry because Paul said they are to remain unmarried, paying no attention to the fact that Paul draws a clear distinction between the two categories of people. This is clearly a stubborn refusal to allow Paul to speak for himself. It is done in order to avoid a conclusion that Paul comes to that does not fit one's conviction. It is a deliberate abuse to take Paul's conclusion on the Christian couple and apply it to the couple in the mixed marriage, for Paul comes to two different conclusions. To ignore this is to reject the Word of God for the tradition of man. You might differ with Paul when he shares his own conviction, but no one can question him when he states what the Lord of the church himself speaks on the issue, which is the case here with two Christian people. We need to get this distinction clear in our own minds. In verse 6 Paul says, "I say by permission not of command." He knows his own conviction is not of absolute authority, for in verse 7 he says he would prefer all Christians to remain single as himself, but he knows other Christian feel equally strong in their conviction that every Christian should be happily married. Christians have different gifts Paul says, and so he knows they will have different convictions, and he does not expect that his will be acceptable to all. In verse 12 he again says, "I say, not the Lord." In verse 25 he says, "I have no command of the Lord but I give you my opinion." It is important that we pay attention to this distinction between what is clearly commanded of the Lord, and what is Paul's conviction. Allen Redpath, the one time pastor of Moody Memorial Chu rch in Chicago, wrote concerning these statements of Paul, "In other words, he is using his own judgment supported by what he believes to be the authority of the Holy Spirit. That does not invalidate this teaching in any way. It does, however, recognize that in matters concerning marriage there is no law so inclusive as to apply to every situation. Each case will call
for the careful exercise of human judgment under the direction and au thority of the Holy Spirit." What Redpath says makes so much sense to pastors who have to wrestle with real life situations where there is no clear word from the Bible. Pau l is doing that in this context, for he is confronted by issues that never before existed. Paul could not look to Jesus for a word on a Gentile married to a Jew who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. It did not exist in the day of Christ, and so Jesus never spoke to the issue. Paul had to deal with it without help from Moses in the Old Testament, or from his Lord. He had no choice but to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit for wisdom to do what was best. This is what every leader has to do as he faces situations not covered by Scripture. In verse 10 Paul says he does not have to wrestle with this issue, for he has the word of Christ on it. Whether two Christians should get divorced or not is not a question at all. It is not a matter of majority vote of the Apostles, or of Paul's conviction. It is a matter of the Lord's command, and Paul says the Lord has said no to such a divorce. Note that Paul begins in verse 10 with the wife, and then gets to the husband in verse 11. This is in contrast to all of the rest of the Bible. Why? Because Paul faces a world totally different from the world of Moses and Jesus. Women did not have the right to divorce, and so there was no word to them about not doing it. Paul, however, faces a world where women had the right to divorce their husbands. They have equal rights in the New Testament, much as is the case in our own day, and so Paul deals first with the women. The Lord's command in the G ospels applies to wives as well as husbands, and so Paul says a wife should not depart or separate from her husband. The wife is told not to depart because divorce for her means leaving her husband and going back to mother, or elsewhere. Divorce for the husband means to put away, or send away, and so we see two different words are used to describe the women's perspective and the man's, but they both mean divorce. Paul says a wife should not depart, but Paul knew that saying you shouldn't do something to a woman does not mean she won't do it. It didn't stop Eve, and Paul knew that just because it was the Lord's command would not stop all Christian women from doing it. He goes on then after saying you shouldn't do it to say, but if you do, what you shouldn't do, here is what you should do, when you do what you shouldn't. In other words, Paul had a backup plan. He was no ivory tower idealist. He knew that real saints still live like sinners, and so he shows what needs to be done when a Christian wife fails to do what is best. Paul says here is what is the next best thing after you have missed the best. Paul's method here is a great lesson. Like Paul, we must be asking ourselves all the time, what is the next best thing to do when we have missed God's best? Some Christians are so pessimistic that when they fail to reach the ideal they collapse in despair and feel defeated. The proper attitude is this: I have failed to follow the path to the best, but now which direction can I go to still be in God's will, and receive the second best, or the third, or the 99th best? This is Paul's approach to life, and it is the only realistic approach. Paul does not go on to look at all the other possible problems that could develop if this wife also rejects his second command like she does the first. What if she does go ahead and remarry after he says this is not acceptable? If she remarried, she would be guilty of adultery, and would thereby destroy the marriage bond, and kill the union she had with her Christian husband. Paul is hopeful that Christian couples will see what a blot this would put on the church, and so avoid this kind of scandal. If the wife remarries another Christian in the church, and the husband goes on to remarry a Christian in the church, it is not far removed from wife-swapping, and the church would be disgraced before the world. Paul says two
Christians having serious marital problems may be forced to separate, and that is bad enough, but they are to remain unmarried, and seek by all means to overcome their problems and be reconciled. Christian couples have an obligation to Christ, and to His body the church to make sure they get all of the marriage counseling available to avoid divorce. If divorce comes, they are to be open to reconciliation. Even when a Christian cou ple get involved in a situation where adultery happens, they should labor hard to bring about healing and reconciliation. Every author you can read agrees that two Christian people should pay any price to save their marriage. Paul does not deal with every possible exception. What if a Christian husband goes off to live in adultery with another woman, and this leads to divorce? I know of a pastors daughter where this was the case. Her husband is now married to the woman he went off to live with. The marriage bond was dissolved, and there was no reason based on the Bible or tradition that would make anyone assume that he was still her husband. She is now a single woman again, and she is free to remarry. I know of another pastors daughter who was divorced because she discovered her husband was homosexual. Nothing in the Bible deals with this situation, and so, like Paul, we have to deal with it seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. She got her divorce and remarried a Christian man, and there was no way to see that this was not a wise thing to do. The bottom line in all of this study of divorce and remarriage is this: Every situation has to be considered on its own merits, and decisions need to be made in such a way that the grace of God dominates over any kind of legalism. This is a difficult subject, and the only way to be right most of the time is to make love the priority.
5. THE IDEAL AND THE REAL Based on I Cor. 7:12-16
Mary was branded as a backslider when she divorced her husband of 20 years. Her church asked her to resign from all her roles, and the outrage pastor demanded-how could you? Mary endured the pain of criticism as long as she could, and then she moved away. T he pastor of her new church questioned her about her divorce. She burst into tears and sobbed, "No one knows what I went through. He was a homosexual, and we hadn't had sex for 14 years. I pleaded with him to go for counseling, but he refused, and would stay away for days with his friend. Finally, I told him you have 18 months to get counseling. If you don't, I'm going to leave you." This man was a Sunday School teacher, a board member, and good giver to the church, but 18 months later she left him. They seemed like an ideal couple, but no one knew the reality of the situation, and so she was condemned as a wicked Christian wife. No one could help her until they left the level of the ideal, and began to deal with her on the level of the real. That, of course, could not happen until she shared the real, but she could not do that with people who refused to listen to the real. The ideal is for two people to get married, and have a lifetime of sharing the joys and sorrows of life. Adam and Eve had plenty of heartaches with the fall, loss of Eden, and one son killing the other. We do not have a record of all they endu red, or of all they enjoyed, but it was a lifetime of both together, that is the ideal, even in a fallen world. Unfortunately, the ideal is not always attained. Even God's people could not maintain the ideal,
and so God permitted divorce for His people. You would think God's people could hold to the ideal, but it was not so. God is a realist, and He knew there was no point in expecting His people to reach the ideal when their hearts were hard. God accommodated Himself to man. He came down to their level of attainment for their sake. It was grace and mercy that brought Him down to the level of permitting divorce. Men were so determined to leave their wives for other women that if the law did not permit it unless their wives were dead, they would be tempted to murder their wives. It was to prevent this worse evil that God permitted divorce. Divorce was the lesser of two evils, and God is realistic. He will not demand the ideal if it leads to intolerable evil, for then the ideal is a sham. Better to permit the lesser evil than to promote the greater evil. This is the principle that guides Paul as he deals with the issue of the Christian and non-Christian marriage. The ideal is to keep this marriage alive, and hopefully win the non-Christian to the Christian faith. Paul makes it clear, if the non-Christian wants the marriage, the Christian is to strive for this ideal, and not get a divorce. The real ideal is to always have two people married who are Christians. But the fact is, all through history you have deal with the mixed marriage of the Christian and non-Christian. This is a lesser level than the ideal, but on this level there are still ideals to reach, and so the Christian is encouraged to live with the non-Christian and make it work. But someone will say Paul wrote to these very Corinthians in II Cor. 6:14-15, and warned them not to marry non-Christians, for what fellowship has light with darkness? Paul is trying to prevent the problem that leads to so much divorce by warning of the conflict such marriages produce. The ideal is to avoid the conflict by not falling in love with a non-Christian. But in our present passage, Paul is dealing with the real, those who have already missed the ideal. They are already in a marriage with a non-Christian. Does Paul say it is hopeless? Not at all. He says, if the nonChristian is willing to live with the Christian, the marriage can work. I know of marriages where the mates are happy, and truly love each other, even though one does not trust in Christ as their Savior. It is a problem, but people can have good marriages in a less than ideal relationship. Is it a sin for the Christian to be one with the non-Christian? Not at all. It is a sin not to satisfy the sexual needs of the non-Christian mate. But if it is wrong to marry a non-Christian, how can it be right to live with them and meet their sexual needs. We need to see that an act of sin does not mean the same as a life of sin. If a Christian girl marries a non-Christian, that is an act of sin. It is the sin of rebellion, disobedience, and ignorance. They are out of God's will in marrying a nonChristian. Once they have committed this sin,they need to repent, and seek God's forgiveness, but this does not mean they must reject their non-Christian partner. They do not now live in sin, by remaining faithful and loyal to this one they sinfully married. On the contrary, they live in sin only if they refuse to be faithful and loyal to their mate. God accepts their marriage as valid, and one they have an obligation to make work. Here is reality, a child of God married to a non-Christian, and the child of God is under obligation to this unbeliever. God did not want his child in this relationship, but now that it is real, they have an obligation to strive for an ideal marriage on that level. Paul says in verse 14 that the non-Christian is sanctified, or consecrated, through the believing mate. The result is, the children born to such a union are not pagan children, but Christian children. Paul is saying, on the spiritual level the Christian genes are dominant. When a black and white marry, the children are always dark , and never totally white, because the black genes are dominant.
So when a Christian and non-Christian marry, the child is always a Christian child, and never a nonChristian. In other words, God looks upon all children from a mixed marriage as a part of His flock. They are not saved by merely having a Christian parent, but they are a part of the Christian community where they will likely become part of the kingdom of God. Timothy was a product of just such a marriage. In Acts 16:1 we read, "A disciple was there named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek." This implies he was not a believer. Here is a non-Christian father who gave birth to a son, and he became a leader in the Christian church. Many great Christians have had non-Christian father's or mother's. One parent being a Christian means that the children are not unclean, says Paul. They are not part of the pagan world in darkness, and cut off from the people of God. Not at all, they are part of the people of God, and set apart to be in the service of God. A marriage of a Christian and a non-Christian is not ideal, but it is a tolerable reality that can even produce fruit for the kingdom of God. Therefore, the Christian is not to use the non-Christian as an excuse for divorce. The believer is not contaminated by the unbeliever, but just the opposite is the case. The unbeliever is made acceptable because of the believer. The non-Christian is not saved by being married to a Christian, but he does gain a unique status before God, as one who is part of the community of God's people. He is lost, but he is still part of the Christian community, and is having an influence in that community. If it is positive, and he is growing, then there is a good chance he will come to Christ, and become a full fledged member of the community. If he rebels, and finds the whole relationship intolerable, he will probably leave the marriage, and find a mate to his liking in the pagan world. What this means is, if one partner is a Christian in a marriage, you have a Christian family. That family is part of the kingdom of God. It is not ideal or complete, but, nevertheless, it is included in the kingdom. God is not offended that the Christian loves, and makes love, to a pagan mate, nor does in consider the offspring of such a union illegitimate. Again, we see God adapts to reality. It is not the ideal, but he does not ring his hands in despair and refuse to have anything to do with the mess. He says, I will deal with the real, and bring good out of it. Paul does not say, if a marriage is not made in heaven, you can treat it as of no valu e on earth. Not so-it is legitimate, and precious to God, and you can count on it, God will even hear the prayers of this non-Christian mate for his children, for God considers them His children. So we see, there is an ideal even in the less than ideal relationship. But in verse 15 Pau l go on to deal with reality of not being able to maintain this secondary ideal. What if the non-Christian mate refuses to live with the Christian? If they refuse to seek the ideal, the Christian has to face this reality. Paul says the Christian is not bound. When the Catholic church refused to let Christians be free in such a circumstance, this became a major battle in the reformation. Listen to these words of Martin Luther:
"But shouldn't the Christian mate wait until his non-Christian spouse comes back or dies, as has been the custom and canon law until now? Answer: If he wants to wait for his mate, that is up to his good will. For since the Apostle proclaims his free and unbound, he is not obliged to wait for his mate but may change his status in the name of God. I wish to God that people
had made use of this teaching of St. Paul, or would begin to make use of it where man and wife run away from each other, or one leaves the other sitting, for much whoring and sin have resulted from them. This has been increased by the senseless laws of the pope, which, indirect contradiction to this text of St. Paul, compel and force the one mate not to change his status on pain of losing his soul's salvation, but to wait for the run away spouse or the death of the same. This means that the brother or sister in such cases is tru ly bound in irons, because of the wantonness and wickedness of another, and for no cause is driven into the danger of unchastity." The reformers were angry at the Catholic church because they were indifferent to the hardships they created for people because of their legalism. They would not make provision for people who were back in verse 2 of this chapter, where they were full of temptation. Paul said such should get a wife or husband. The Catholic church said no, not even if you have been divorced, or if your nonChristian mate has left you. The Catholic church clung to its ideal, even when it had already been shattered. They refused to come down from the ideal to the level of the real. The reformers said this is sheer folly. God knows better than that, and the church ought to follow His lead. You need to come out of the ivory tower, and meet people where they are. Luther said, any Christian who is divorced and finds himself in the position of verse 2, should remarry. Remarriage is always right, rather than living in immorality. There is a great deal of guilt over this issue. Many people struggle with whether they have a right to remarry. Typical of many is the letter to Dr. C.S. Lovett. "Dr. Lovett, my husband divorced me 6 years ago to marry another lady. He is still living. Would I be living in a state of adultery if I married again?" Dr. Lovett replied that there is no such thing as living in a state of adultery. Adultery is an act of sin, and not a state. Of course, if you are committing adultery over and over again, you could be said to be living in a state of adultery. Bu t is sex by any legally married couple, adultery? Most agree that once adultery has been committed, and a marriage bond is severed, and a new marriage is entered into, even if the sin of adultery was the cause of the divorce, the new marriage is not a living in adultery. If two people sin by divorcing without a Biblical reason, and remarry, they do commit adultery, but they do not live in adultery, for once the former marriage is dead, sex in the new marriage is not adultery, but an obligation. The point is, once you are married to a pagan, or to an adulterer, or adulteress, you have all the same obligations as any couple who marry wisely. You may be guilty of sin for getting into such a marriage, but once you are in you are not living in sin. You cannot live in sin with someone who is truly your mate. The woman, whose husband divorced her, and then she remarried, cannot commit adultery by remarrying, for she is no longer a married woman. Her husband, by remarrying, has shattered their marriage bond, and however guilty of sin he was in doing so, his present marriage is a real marriage, and he is not living in adultery. He committed adultery by getting married, but he is not living in adultery, for his new wife is his only wife. His former wife does not have a husband, and so if she finds herself, as a single, in great need of love, and cannot be happy single, there is no reason in the world she should not remarry if she finds the right partner. She would not be living in adultery, or
even committing adultery, for she is not married, and if her partner is not married, there are perfectly free to marry with no sin whatever. This is what Paul means in verse 15 when he says, the brother or sister is not bound. Not bound means free. There is no marriage bond binding once the unbeliever has deserted. The Christian is free to remarry because the union is dead. This is the key to all valid exceptions. If a marriage is dead, and cannot function to fulfill the purpose of marriage, and it cannot be restored, it is no longer a marriage, and people are free to remarry. Paul prefers everyone to stay single. It is the perfect solution to divorce. Marriage is the primary cause of divorce, and so you prevent it by never getting married. But Paul is a realist and he knows people will burn with passion they cannot control if they don't get married. The divorce single is in this same boat. Paul's logic must be seen here also. It is best not to remarry, but if you are going to burn and be tempted, then get yourself a mate. Those who reject remarriage, and demand that divorced singles remain unmarried are idealists who refuse to deal with the real as Paul did. Nobody ever wanted people to stay single more than Paul, but Paul recognized this is not possible for a great many. Those who force Christians to remain single when they could be happily remarried, often drive these Christians into an immoral lifestyle. They are actually forced to live in sin to avoid an act of sin, and this is folly. Paul would have all giving singleness a try, but if the sexual frustration is intolerable, his principle is simple, better to marry than to burn. That goes for never married, widows, and the divorced. To say the divorce single does not have this option is to say, it is better for them to become prostitutes, or live with somebody than to remarry, for remarriage is absolutely forbidden. The facts of life make it clear, the divorced person is often in greater temptation than anyone, for they have enjoyed marital sex, and there need is usually greater than that of the never married. Men tend to see the divorced woman as a likely partner, because of being deprived, and she too is open to greater temptation because of this attitude of men. The philosophy of life that Paul teaches is, aim for the ideal; strive to reach the highest; stretch for the best, but when that goal is not attainable, make the best of the real level you are living on, for in those cases, the real lived at its best is the ideal.
6. THE PAULINE PRIVILEGE Based on I Cor. 7:12-16
Thousands of young boys walked past the Bathwell Castle in England, and none ever dreamed of climbing up the chimney to carve his name at the top. There was one exception, however. One boy did the unusual, and his name was David Livingstone. That boy went on to become one of histories most famous missionaries to Africa. Browning wrote, You see lads walk the street. Sixty the minute, what's to note in that? You see the one lad astride the chimney stack.
Him you must watch. Browning is saying, keep your eyes on the exception, for the exception may be more significant than the rule. The age old saying that the exception proves the rule is nonsense. What it proves is that the rule is not all there is. It proves the rule does not cover all cases, and to say it does, in the face of an exception, is to say that a black sheep proves that all sheep are white. The exception does not prove the rule, it breaks it, and shows that reality is more complex than the rule. Science must constantly reckon with exceptions. It cannot say, light is always a wave, for there are conditions under which light behaves like a particle. This exceptional behavior cannot be dismissed as irrelevant, but must be incorporated into the total picture. Darwin had to postpone the publishing of his book for 29 years, because he had to be honest about exceptions. Often he would exclaim, "This little beast is doing just what I did not want him to do." Ignore exceptions, and you become, not a seeker for truth, but a manipulator of facts to get your own way, and a narrow minded legalist, whose only concern is getting your own way. The Bible demands that you be open to the power of exceptions, for only those who are, are open to the spirit of grace. Even under Old Testament law we see examples of exceptions that allow grace to dominate. The law forbids the Jews to marry Caananites or Moabites, but Rahab the Caananite and Ruth the Moabite are in the blood line of Jesus. They became exceptions by their faith, and played a major role in God's plan. The Jews recognized the need to be flexible, and open to exceptions. It was the law that all male babies be circumcised on the eighth day. It was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. But there were conditions that could alter this law, and allow for an exception. A Rabbi wrote, "If a mother has lost 2 sons by the fever following circumcision, the operation on the third should be deferred until he is grown and strong." Here was a circumstance where holding to the letter of the law would be cruel. You destroy the whole spirit of the law if you cannot adjust to exceptions. This was the whole point of Jesus breaking the Sabbath laws to heal people. He was making it clear man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man, and, therefore, it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. The rule is for man's good, but if the exception is even better, then the rule can be broken. T he exception is more important than the rule, if it accomplishes the purpose that made the rule good in the first place. Exceptions are so vital to the whole plan of God that there would be no New Testament without the power of the exception. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, is the blanket of condemnation that falls over the whole of humanity. All, that is, except one. There is one glorious exception to this rule, and that one exception-the Lord Jesus Christ, by not falling short of God's glory, made it possible for there to be a perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. In other words, through this one exception the door is opened for grace to triumph over law, and allow all men to escape the condemnation of the law. God's entire plan of salvation is based on the power of the exception. Jesus stressed the motivating power of the exception in His own ministry. The 99 followed the rule, and they stayed in the fold, but the one exception wandered away. Jesus says the exception is what dominates the shepherd's mind, for he leaves the 99 and goes after the one to seek and to save it, and when he does, all heaven rejoices over that one exception being found. T he point is, sometimes it is the exception that matters most. Those Christians who refused to deal with exception
tend to become legalists, like the Pharisees, and depart from the spirit of Christ. Much of the conflict of Catholic and Protestants was over this very issue. Jesus made it clear in M att. 5:32, and 19:9 that there was an exception which made divorce legitimate. That exception was adultery. The word actually covers all forbidden sexual relationships, including sex with animals. Jesus is saying there are some things no mate needs to tolerate. He does not say they have to divorce for this behavior, but they are free to do so, if they cannot forgive and be reconciled. The Catholic church had to reject this exception. Their legalistic system did not permit them to be open to the Lord's exception. They had developed the concept that marriage was a sacrament. A sacrament is a means of grace, and once you have experienced a sacrament, you have received something from God that can never be undone. Baptism is another of the sacraments, and so once you have been baptized, they say, you have received the grace of God, and this can never be undone. Applied to marriage, the Catholic church said, there can be no such thing as divorce, for once married it is like being baptized, and you can't undo it. Only death can end a marriage. Now, of course, they had to deal with intolerable situations, and so they called marriages like Jesus and Paul deal with, not true marriages, and, therefore, able to be annulled. The history of this is a terrible scandal, for people married for many years, with large families, could get their marriage annulled, if they knew the right people, and had the power. The Catholic church had to deal with exception, but they did it by pretending there were no exceptions. Then came the Protestant reformers, and they began to question the Biblical right of the church to impose on people what God did not. The first thing the reformers did was to reject the idea that marriage was a sacrament. This was clearly a man made idea, for marriage is universal. All men, even pagans and atheists, get married, and they do not receive grace in doing so, and so the whole idea comes from the Catholic desire to get power in people's lives. The reformers discovered that Jesus not only allowed divorce for the exception of adultery, but that Paul allowed another exception here in I Cor. 7. Desertion by a non-Christian became the second exception the reformers allowed. The Catholic church at the Council of Trent in 1563 blasted the Protestants for heresy. The two sides became locked into their positions. The Catholics became more legalistic than ever, and the Protestants became more soft hearted than ever. Luther felt that the exception Paul allowed was based on the recognition that the marriage was dead. You cannot keep alive that which is dead. T his lead to their being still more exceptions. Once you depart from the absolute of the Catholic church, you open the door to more and more exceptions, and this is what the Protestants did. Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and Zwingli, all agreed that divorce was permissible for other reasons that destroyed the whole purpose of marriage. They added such things as: 1. Impotence: If sex is not possible, and is yet vital to ones partner, they said there is no marriage, and divorce and remarriage is legitimate. If a mate refused to meet the sexual need of the other, as Paul stresses in the first part of this chapter, they forfeit their right to be married. We are getting into touchy territory here, for the reformers are now going beyond Jesus or Paul, and we are in the area where the Bible does not speak, and it did not end here. 2. Leprosy became another cause for divorce, for this made marriage impossible. Other sicknesses
were soon added, such as mental illness. 3. John Calvin added extreme religious incompatibility. And Italian leader in Naples became a Protestant and fled to Geneva where Calvin's authority was strong. His wife remained a Catholic and refused to come with him, even after he settled down and invited her to join him. Calvin said the marriage was dead. He dissolved it, and the man was allowed to remarry. The Protestant view seems to open up more and more reasons for valid divorce and remarriage, for life seems to get more and more complicated. What if a man's wife became a witch? What if she tried to poison him? Were these not just as serious as adultery and desertion? The Puritans tried to limited divorce to the two exceptions of Jesus and Paul, but these other issues forced them to consider more exceptions. In the late sixty's, the Baptist Convention of Canada called upon the government to recognize divorce for incurable insanity, chronic alcoholism, and repeated prison sentences. There is much more of the history of this battle, but we have seen enough to get the picture. The Catholic position of absolutely no divorce led to all kinds of cruelty and hypocrisy. But the Protestant view of divorce for anything that destroyed the purpose of marriage led to more and more exceptions. One refused to let the water of liberty flow at all, and the other produced a flood. The conflict goes on to this day, and Christians still tend to fall into one category or the other. They are either so anti-divorce they refuse to accept the exceptions, even of Christ and Paul. Or they are so open to divorce they accept it as inevitable for numerous reasons. It is hard to stay in the middle, but it is important to try and strive for balance. Which way you lean depends largely on how you interpret Paul in this paragraph which deals with what have come to be called, The Pauline Privilege. Having studied the history of the interpretation of this passage, I have to take my stand with the Protestant Reformers, and recognize that Paul has added an exception that Jesus never dealt with. There were no Christian and non-Christian marriages when Jesus spoke, but Paul had to deal with this issue, for when the Gospel came to Corinth, and all of the Gentile world, many families were divided. On top of this, Christians were in the minority, and non-Christians were the majority. Where that is the case there are always Christians who fall in love and marry non-Christians. Paul would not have had to warn Christians not to do it, unless they were doing it. Paul was dealing with a major social and spiritual problem that did not exist in the time of Christ. That is why Paul begins this paragraph in verse 12 by saying, "I say, not the Lord." He has no word of Christ on this issue, and he has not received any special revelation. It is a complex subject the Corinthians have asked him abou t, and Paul is saying, here is my best judgment on the issue. Notice, Paul did not say the Bible has the answer to everything, and then quote a couple of proof texts to settle the matter. He says just the opposite, and says that we have no word of God on this problem, because it never before existed. Paul is, therefore, setting a precedent for the entire history of the church. He is saying that there are all kinds of new problems that can arise that are not dealt with in Scripture. The Bible is not an exhaustive rule book to cover all of the issues that life can bring. T here is no law for everything under the sun. Instead, there are principles that the believer must apply to make the best judgments as new issues arise. Paul said that his best judgment in the case of a non-Christian deserting a Christian mate, was that the Christian had no marriage, and was not bound. All of the reformers said, by being not
bound Paul meant they were free to divorce and remarry. The assumption is that the non-Christian has left to remarry another non-Christian more to his liking. If this is not what Paul meant, then there is no sense in saying they are not bound. If they had to remain married to that mate, even when they were gone, and had remarried another, there is no way to say they were not bound. They would be nothing but bound, and they would actually be slaves to the non-Christian deserter, who was free to do as he or she pleased, while the Christian had no freedom at all. Believe it or not, some Protestants took this view that Paul meant by not being bound, that they were merely not bou nd to try and win their mate to Christ any longer. Some comfort, after they have taken off and remarried. The cruelty of this view has hurt many Christian lives, and made them slaves when Paul's whole purpose was to set them free. T he majority of Protestants, however, recognized that Paul had already established desertion as a legitimate basis for divorce and remarriage. This Pauline Privilege has been a guide to the church through the centuries in dealing with new situations. There are circumstances that make a marriage no marriage, and when these circumstances are that severe, the marriage is dead, and grace and mercy demand that the victims be given a chance for a new beginning. I have read of many pastors who solved the problem of how to deal with divorce people by saying, they just don't deal with them at all. There are to many uncertainties as to who is to blame, and who is lying, and so they just wash their hands of the whole mess. This is the no risk legalistic approach. It solves everything for the pastor, and solves nothing for those who are suffering. In contrast, we have the Pauline approach. The Corinthians have messed up their lives. Their sin and ignorance has taken them into complex relationships that have created suffering and sorrow. They need help to find a way to get their lives straightened out so that they can live meaningful lives for Christ. Paul says, I don't have all the answers, but I'll do my best to give you the guidance you need to get back on track. God took this attitude and Paul's advice, and made it a part of His Word, and by so doing He says to the whole church, this is the way to go to be Christlike, and to build my kingdom. Deal with people where they are. Whatever their mess, there is always a way to go that leads to life, for sin can be forgiven, and there can be a new beginning that leads to happiness. Look at how Jesus dealt with the woman at the well. Hollywood cannot produce a more messed up person than her. She was married five times, and was living with a man who was not her husband. It is likely she was divorced from several of her five husbands, for there is no hint that they all died, or were poisoned by her. She was a person that most counselors would be happy to avoid. Jesus accepted her as a person of value, and by so doing He won her, and she became the best evangelist we have any record of in the Gospels. She was not the type of woman you go looking for to be a leader. She had done everything all wrong, and had gone down every path God had forbidden. Yet, Jesus saw her as a precious person worth saving, restoring, and using for His kingdom. The point is, Jesus did not treat this often divorced woman as one guilty of unforgivable sin. On the contrary, He so forgave her that He allowed her to become His disciple and witness. This kind of grace is scandalous to many Christians. They refused to believe a person can make so many mistakes, and still have the right to be happy in Christ. There legalistic minds demand that she pay for her folly, and they refuse her the right to remarry and be happy with another mate. They demand
that she remain single for the rest of her life, regardless of her misery and temptation. You can go this route if you chose, for many good Christians do, but I have made my choice to go with the reformers, and chose the way of Christ and Paul, which is the way of grace that allows exceptions, and permits the victims of a dead marriage to remarry in the Lord. If I err, let me err on the side of love, and not on the side of legalism. Does this view of the reformers encourage divorce? Not at all, the reformers hated divorce and fought against it on all levels. They just faced up to the fact that you have to reckon with exceptions. To ignore them, in order to be an absolutist, is to put law above love, and precepts above persons. God did not do it in the Old Testament; Jesus refused to do it in the New T estament, and Christians must refuse to do it as long as history lasts. Exceptions that fit the Bible principles do not open the door to sin, but they open the door of mercy to those who otherwise may be dominated by sin. The exceptions permit us to make people our priority. This is the goal of the Pauline Privilege.
7. THE THIRD CHOICE Based on I Cor. 7:17-24
Hubert Humphry's father was a druggist in a small town in South Dakota. He had to come up with a way to increase profits at his soda fountain. He began to push the idea of putting an egg in his malts to enrich them. Nobody was ordering the new malt, so told his clerks to ask people if they wanted an egg in their malt, but nothing happened. Then he got the idea to have the clerk face the customer with an egg in each hand, and they would ask, "Would you like one or two eggs in your malt?" Profits began to rise at last, for this clever approach caused people to forget they had a third choice, which was, no egg at all. Life is constantly playing this trick on all of us. We are always being forced into eitheror choices, when in fact, the best may be neither-nor, but a third choice. Edward Whymper was the first man to conquer the Matterhorn in 1865. Every climber before him tried the two approaches on the Southwest side. He tried those two approaches 7 times himself, because all the experts said these were the only two ways to make it. He decided to defy the wisdom of all the guides, and make a third choice. He went up the Eastern side, and he made it to the top. Everyone thought there were only two choices, but Whymper showed them there was a third and better choice. The Pharisees were forever trying to get Jesus trapped by their either-or questions. They asked, "Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?" They were saying, take your stand Jesus, either you stand with those who give their loyalty to the state, or you stand with those who give their loyalty to God. Which of the two is your choice? Jesus is too clever for their trap, and He says, you are forgetting the third choice, where you can be loyal to Caesar with what is his, and loyal to God with what is His. It is not a matter of either-or at all. It is a matter of both-and. May G od spare us from the folly of thinking life is always a matter of either-or, and that there are only two choices. Of course, this is often true, and it is definitely true in life's most crucial choices. Either you receive Christ as your Savior, or you reject Him. Either you are saved, or lost. There is not third choice here. But this is not the issue that is confusing the Corinthians, and has confused Christians
through the centuries. The Corinthians had made the right choice for Christ, but now as Christians they thought there were only two choices open to them. Either remain just as they were and change nothing, or reject all of their past and change everything. The first would indicate nothing had happened, and would make conversion meaningless, so they decided choice two was their only alternative, and so everything must change and be different. This radical commitment sounds very noble and highly spiritu al, but in real life it proves, all to often, to be unwise, for it produces enormous instability and insecurity. Paul sees this in the Corinthians, and he is concerned about them. Therefore, he writes this paragraph to somewhat dampen their spirits, by showing them there is a third choice. If you have ever cooked on a grill, you have had the experience where the fat drippings begin to burn out of control, and you have to sprinkle water over the coals to bring the flames under control. It is not Holy Spirit fire that is burning when people are getting hurt and becoming unstable by their enthusiasm. Not everything Christians do is wise, just because it is done with such burning enthusiasm. The Corinthians were caught up in the-change is everything syndrome. If its new its better, and so change to what is new. Gentiles who became Christians heard of the Jewish covenant in circumcision, and they were enthused about that, and wanted to be circumcised. Jewish Christians were enthused about the freedom of the Gentiles to be God's children without circumcision, and they sought, by means of surgery, to remove the effects of circumcision, in order to be like the Gentiles. Of course, this was a ridiculous idolizing of change for change sake, and not only added nothing to the church, but detracted from it by implying that Christianity promoted the uprooting of everyone's heritage. Christians were changing all kinds of things that did not need changing, but needed preserving. T hey got carried away with change to the point that they became unstable. When Christians become unstable, they do not appeal to the world, and they stir up division among themselves. Paul, therefore, was writing to these Corinthians Christians, and making stability one of his main themes. It is the motive behind all that he says in this chapter. He is telling these fanatics for change that change is not necessary in everything. If your marital status is that you are single, and can handle it, you don't have to marry. If you are married and become widowed or divorced, you don't have to remarry. If you are married to a non-Christian, you don't have to get a divorce and marry a Christian. There are all kinds of things you don't have to change. There are exceptions that Paul recognizes, but his main point is that you can remain just as you are in so many ways, and be a healthy and stable Christian. Even the slave who accepts Christ can learn to be a happy stable Christian as a slave. Paul has learned to be content in any state, and he is convinced this is a key to Christian stability, and that is why he urges this on the Corinthians. The choice is not, either is nothing is changed, or everything is changed. There is a third choice he spells out, and it is the choice of balance, where you change some things and leave others unchanged for the sake of stability. Between nothing and everything is something, and this third choice is the best. A lot has changed since Paul's day, but the amazing thing is, that with all of the changes, everything is still so much the same. It's like this letter and response: "Dear Abby, Six years ago, when I first married, every evening our dog would bark at me, and my wife would bring me my slippers. Now my wife barks at me and the dog brings me my slippers. What shall I do? Troubled. Dear Troubled, What's your problem? You're still getting the same service."
Radical changes can leave everything pretty much the same. The centuries since Paul wrote have brought many changes, and the issues of circumcision and slavery are not relevant to us today. But there are new issues that put people into the same conflict the Corinthians had. Today there are many who are becoming Christians who are in prisons. They are very much in the same boat as the slaves Paul wrote to. There are many who become Christians who belong to liberal churches, and who go through the same battle the Corinthians had. To what degree do I change my external affiliations? What rituals should I change, or what should I cling to? Christians in every age have to wrestle with the issue of change. The principle we need to see is that change must begin as internal, rather than external. The external is the most conspicuous choice, however, and so people tend to put it first. The Corinthians were caught up in a fervor for external change. Change your external relationships; change your external environment; change your physical appearance, and status. Paul throws a wet blanket on this fire, and says, this is zeal without knowledge. It is much ado about nothing, for external change, in itself, may be completely worthless and without meaning. The Gentile who gets circumcised has chosen a change that equals nothing, and the Jew who gets surgery to eliminate the marks of circumcision, has gone to a lot of bother, equally for nothing. Paul rejects the idea that change is good in itself. Paul is saying, don't waste your energy on changing the external, it is the internal change that is most needed. Paul says his rule in all the churches is the same-stay where you start. T he Christians first responsibility is to be a Christian where they are. That is why Jesus told the Gaderene demoniac he could not follow him, but was to go home to his own people. They were the people who would be the most impressed by his radical healing, and his new found faith. His greatest impact would be on those who could see the change. So brighten the corner where you are was the message of Jesus. Paul is saying the same thing to the slaves who have come to Christ. You have got to learn to be a Christian where you are, and show that it makes a difference to be a Christian in any situation. If you can't be a Christian where you are, how do you expect to be a Christian where you have never been? Now, let's be aware, Paul was a ware of exceptions. H e would not say to a converted prostitute, just stay where you are and be a good Christian prostitute. Some externals demand immediate change. Paul recognized that enthusiasm for external change can be a form of escapism. The Christian wife who is married to a non-Christian is saying, if only I could get out of this relationship, I could be a good Christian. The fact is, only when she learns to be the wife God meant her to be to this non-Christian, will she be a good Christian. The strong desire for external change is often a desire to escape obligations and responsibilities. Paul's point is, do not try to become a better Christian by external change. Instead, take your state, whatever it is, and, however short of the ideal, and learn to grow where you are planted. Do not hold up escape as your only hope. Look at change in your attitudes, and internal life, as the way to deal with dissatisfaction. This holds good for singles who long to be married; for marrieds who long for divorce; for the divorced and widowed who long for remarriage; for Jews who long to be like Gentiles, and for Gentiles who long to be like Jews, and for slaves who long to be free, and for the many dozens of other states of life people find themselves in, which they long to change. The only way you can be adequately ready for external change is to come to the point where you no longer need it to be a good Christian. In other words, when you learn to be content in whatever state you are, and can find meaning in that state, you are ready to be a mature Christian in other
states. The first goal of the Christian than, is not to change, but to find meaning in your present status, whatever that might be. A doctor came to the famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankel, and told him he just could not be reconciled to the death of his wife. He was full of stress and grief. Dr. Frankel asked him how his wife would have taken it had he died first. "Oh," he said, "It would have been terrible for her." And he described how intolerable the situation would have been. Dr. Frankel pointed out to him, that by his surviving, he spared her all of that suffering. The mans attitude changed immediately, and he was able to come out of his pit of depression, for his present awful state now took on meaning. He thought the only hope for meaning was in an external change of circumstances. He was trying to escape, but it wouldn't work. The key he found was not in external change, but in internal change, and by that means he was able to find meaning in his present state. This is Paul's message to all who are in states they do not care for. Your priority should not be escapism, but stability, which begins with the inner man, and its adjustment to the present state. Reject this approach to life, and go the way of escapism, and you end with nightmares more often then a dream come true. I can never forget the wife who felt she could never be happy until she was divorced. Her husband wanted her to stay with him, and I joined him in pleading with her to remain, but it was all in vain. Her mind was filled with the fantasy that she wou ld be gloriou sly free, and could really enjoy life as never before. She got her divorce. A few months later she called me aside in the hospital where she was a nurse. She said, if only I had listened to you. She had tried to find happiness in a couple of affairs, and soon learned that such freedom was not the gold she thought it would be. She did not feel enriched at all, but poorer than ever. She said she was lonely, and longed for the security of her home and husband. Now it was to late. She had been duped and deceived by seeing what seemed to be the glory of change, and when she got it, she had to live with the curse of change. It is not an absolute law, but it is a basic principle of life: Change the inner man and you can be content in any state. The Jew does not need to be a Gentile to be a happy Christian. The Gentile does not have to conform to Judaism to be a happy Christian. The single does not have to be married to be a happy Christian. A married person does not need a Christian mate to be a happy Christian. The slave does not need to be free to be a happy Christian. You can be a happy Christian right where you are in almost any state, so stay where you are, and develop stability, is the message of Paul. Don't worry about changing where you are, until you change who you are. In a world where change is worshipped, Paul's message is simply, beware, change can be dangerous. We live in a culture where progress, advancement, and speed, are key ingredients. All of these mean change is a basic part of life. The idea of staying put anywhere rubs against the grain of our culture. We thrive on the very thing that Paul warns us about. We encourage change as rapidly as possible. It a new convert can be sharing his testimony to the nation a week after he becomes a Christian, we are thrilled. The faster people can be propelled to the top, in any area of life, the better we like it. Paul knew the dangers of emphasizing change over stability. He wrote to Timothy about selecting leadership in the church, and wrote in I Tim. 3:6-7, "He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."
Paul was a realist. He knew that good Christian people pushed into too much change to rapidly could become better servants of the devil than servants of Christ. They are not allowed to stay put and develop stability where they are, but are thrust into places and positions where they are not able to cope with the temptation to abuse their power. History is filled with the collapsed lives due to man's compulsion to change everything on the outside, regardless of inner changes. Paul says, don't go the route that leads to disaster. Instead, let internal change take precedence over external change. The Christian faith is both firm and elastic. It can change everything, but it can also establish everything, and, thus, preserve and conserve. Christianity is meant to be both conservative and liberal. Conservative in that it does not change anything just for the sake of change. It holds fast to what is good, and strives to sanctify all that it touches. It is liberal in that by sanctifying all that it touches, it changes it, and changes it for the better. It is not either conservative, or liberal, for there is a third choice, and that is a balance combination of the other two that preserves the old, as it creates the new. Francis Bacon was one of the most brilliant minds England ever produced. His essays are still classics in the literature of ethics. His wisdom has no doubt helped many to stay on the right track. He would have died with the highest respect had it not been for an external change he was not prepared to handle. He was made Lord Chancellor of England, which made him, not only the most learned man in the empire, but one of the most powerful. He was an authority on ethics, but he became unethical, and was convicted of bribery and financial corruption. He lived the last five years of his life a disgraced man.His inner man was not prepared to handle the pressure of the external change. It happens everyday, and it happens to Christians. That is why Paul says, stay where you are, until who you are, can handle a change in where you are. Stability comes before change, for the stable person can make change beneficial. The unstable tend to make change a curse. Jesus said the wise life is the life built on the rock. Those who build on unstable sand will fall, and there building is all in vain. Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians. Stay put and lay the foundation for stability, before you get caught up in the spirit of change. Everyone needs change, but everyone also needs the lack of change. The choice is never, either change, or don't change, but rather, regulate change based on what your inner stability can handle well. For the good life, and the life that will honor Christ, we must all make this third choice.
8. SINS AND MISTAKES Based on I Cor. 7:25-31
Bruce Larson in Dare To Live Now, tells of his experience as a new recruit during World War II. He sat down to his first breakfast in the mess hall, at Fort Benning, Georgia. He saw something in a large bowl that looked like cream of wheat. He scooped out a lot of it into his bowl, and poured milk and sugar on it. A tall mountain boy sitting across the table from him was bug-eyed, and he asked, "Is that the way you eat grits?" Larson says, as a Chicago boy he heard of grits, but never had seen any. He did not want to admit his ignorance, so he said, "Yes, this is how we eat them in Chicago." It was awful tasting, but he manage to down the whole bowl. He learned that they were meant to be eaten with butter, salt, and pepper. Some days later the same soldier sat at his table, and he ate another bowl of grits with milk and sugar, rather than admit he had made a mistake.
Had he admitted his mistake, he would not have needed to sin, by telling a lie. Human nature hates to admit to mistakes. We all freely admit that nobody is perfect, but we hesitate to exhibit ourselves as proof of the rule. But the fact is, mistakes are distinct from sin. This means, not everything that we do that may be unwise, is a sin. It is not necessarily a violation of God's commands or will. Paul makes it clear in verse 28 that if the Corinthians do not give heed to his advice, they do not sin. If you don't sin by ignoring Paul, what is it? It all depends on how it turns out. If you find you are in all the trouble he tried to spare you, then you have made a mistake. He warned you, but you did not listen. Now you must suffer the consequences, but the fact remains, you have not sinned. If you find you overcome all of the problems, and are very happy, and your marriage does not hinder, but even helps, your service to God, then you have not sinned, nor even made a mistake, but have, as we say today, lucked out. You took a risk, and you won. We are in a very unique portion of Scripture in this seventh chapter of I Cor. We are not dealing here with absolute issues of right and wrong. We are dealing with issues that are very complex, and where the question is not, what is right or wrong, but what is the best under the circumstances. The result is, the choice will not be for sin or righteousness, but for what is wise, or for what is a potential mistake. Let's not minimize mistakes, for though they are less than sins, they do violate wisdom. They are not necessarily less costly than sins, however. If I steal a thirty cent candy bar, I have sinned, and I need to confess it and be forgiven, and make restitution by repaying the thirty cents. This is not a costly sin, even though Christ had to die for that one too. But if I make a mistake, and get married to the wrong person at the wrong time, I have not sinned at all, but that mistake may be extremely costly. It was no sin that someone left off a mere hyphen in the instructions fed into the guidance system of Mariner I, but that mistake caused it to go off course into oblivion, and cost the nation two millions dollars. Mistakes can be costly, but they can also be trivial. Like the pastor who preached on gossip, and then closed the service with the hymn, I Love To Tell The Story. Many mistakes are harmless, and even humorous, but they can also be horrendous. Paul takes mistakes seriously, and that is why he offers his opinion on the matters the Corinthians struggle with. Paul is not laying down a set of laws to guide the church for all time. He is not even telling the Corinthians they are laws for their time. He is simply giving them his advice as to how they should conduct themselves in the circumstances they find themselves in. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is that of ignoring Paul's attitude, as he gives this advice. Most are not as wise and humble as Paul. Most tend to become legalistic, and they demand that their advice is absolute. Paul refuses to take this attitude. He says if you ignore my advice, which I feel is the best Spirit led decision I can come to, you do not sin. Ignoring even the best advice is not a sin, even though it may be a great mistake. How many counselors can openly admit that their advice is not equivalent to the Word of God? It is Paul's honesty and humility that keeps this passage from being meaningless. If it was given as a command for all Christians, for all time, it would be disastrous advice, preventing 2000 years of the history of Christian marriage and families, which have been for the glory of God. The value of this passage is in its emphasis on circumstances. Paul is saying, circumstances do make a difference. What is wise for a Christian to do will vary with the circumstances. Changing times demand changing approaches to life. If the times are calm and peaceful, Paul is all for marriage and families, and living peaceably with all men. But if the times are full of danger and
tribulation, he is for detachment from the things of this life. Paul is saying, when the things of earth are insecure, and all in a flux, and radical change rob you of all the values of this life, this is no time to try and sink roots into the earthly. It is time to be radically non-involved with earthly values, and totally devoted to those values which last forever. Circumstances make a difference in the advice you give. If a young girl comes to you saying she just met a young man two months ago, and he asked her to marry him, and she comes asking if she should say yes, and you inquire, and learn that he is returning to Iraq to fight as a mercenary soldier to make a quick buck, what would your answer be? I hope you would consider the circumstances, and not treat that couple just the same as two from the same community who are going to settle down there, where they have roots. Circumstances make a world of difference in what is wise. But if that girl goes ahead and marries the vagabond adventurer, who goes off to make his fortune, she does not sin, if he is a Christian. If he leaves her and gets killed, and she goes through great grief, she will have made a painful mistake, but she will not have sinned. Her pastor may have warned her of her risk, and the sorrow she would face, but her rejection of that advice is not the same as rebelling against God. It may be, but it is not necessarily so, and Paul recognizes that. Paul makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no human advice is on the same level as God's commands. The pope, councils, church leaders, professors, and pastors, make many pronouncements, and give much advice on how we ought to live. Most of it is good and wise advice, just like Paul's advice to the Corinthians, and it is aimed at preventing problems. However, the Christian has a right to evaluate this advice; look at the risk of ignoring it, and then choose to take that risk. If it turns out bad, and he suffers, he is not a sinner to be condemned, but a saint who has made a costly mistake. The point is not that it is okay to make mistakes, in contrast to sin. We have already shown that mistakes may be worse than a sin in terms of consequences and cost. The point is, in the realm of Christian advice, and the risk of mistakes, the Christian has to give careful consideration to the circumstances. Is it best to be married or single? Paul does not give an absolute answer, for this would be absurd. The answer is, it all depends on the circumstances. Is it best to remain a slave, or gain ones freedom? It all depends on the circumstances. Later, in chapter 8, Paul deals with eating meat offered to idols. Should a Christian do it or not? It is not an absolute matter of right or wrong. It all depends on the circumstances. We do not necessarily like this approach. We like things wrapped up with no loose ends. We want all the rules of life, like the Ten Commandments, clear and absolute. But when you try and apply all of man's wisdom and experience, like you do the Word of God, you end up with the spirit of the Pharisees, rather than the spirit of Christ. Edna was a Christian writer who prayed for two weeks before she sent her first manuscript to a publisher. She got her book published, and she was convinced she had the formula for success. She began to tell other Christian writers why they failed. Her pride was a pain to endure, but she soon got her chance to be humble. Her next book, in spite of her formula, was rejected by six publishers, and it took two years to get it published. She was so depressed, she almost gave up writing. She had to learn the hard way that her convictions, and even her experiences, were not the guide for all writers. She was saying by her pride,follow my advice, or you sin. This is what the Pharisees were saying to Jesus. You follow our authority, and conform to our
image of the Messiah, or you sin, and are worthy of death. Paul was a Pharisee, and he put many Christians to death, because they did not obey the laws of the Pharisees. Paul knew what it was to put human opinion on the same level with the commands of God. But here, we see the redeemed Paul with a totally different attitude. Only God's commands are absolute. Man's wisdom and advice is to be evaluated relative to the circumstances of life. Disobeying God is always sin, but disobeying man may be only a mistake. You never have a right to sin, but you do have the right to risk a mistake. Paul says do not seek marriage in the circumstances you face, but if you do marry, you do not sin. I want to spare you the troubles you will endure, but if you chose to suffer, you are not out of the will of God. Paul recognizes that some Christians will prefer to take their chances, and risk the sorrows of marriage in tough times. But he goes on to warn them not to put all of their eggs in one basket. Don't devote your life to the good, and miss the best. Romeo and Ju liet so gave themselves to romantic love, that it became a form of idolatry. When one died, all meaning to life was gone for the other. Paul says, the wise Christian will not put anyone on that level. In verse 29 he says something that is easily abused and misunderstood. He says, let those who have wives live as though they had none. There are many wives who can testify that this is one part of the Bible their husbands obey. Paul did not mean what some practice in ignoring their wives. He is simply saying to the married Christian, you cannot devote your life to the values of marriage and family, for all of these will soon pass away. In the urgency of the times, you must give yourself to the values that will not pass away. The emergency of circumstances demand that all secondary priorities be kept secondary, and the focus of life be on the first priority, the kingdom of God. To the best of our knowledge we do not live in the same circumstances as the Corinthians did. Nevertheless, our focus too must be on the things of God, and not on the things of earth, even when they are precious values that we want to preserve. If we are so devoted to life's values and joys that their loss robs us of meaning, we are not prepared for the end of history, and the coming of Christ. We are building on an inadequate foundation. Only the cross and Christ crucified give us values that nothing in history can take from us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. So much is relative, but here is your absolute, and loyalty to Him is to be your primary concern as you struggle with many issues of life. You come to Christ to receive forgiveness, and to get your priorities straight. The ideal is to avoid both sins and mistakes, but they are not the same, and we ought not to accuse ourselves or others for sin when mistakes are made by making wrong choices that are unwise in the circumstances.
9. DEVOTION TO THE LORD Based on I Cor. 7:32-40
Few groups of people in history have fought a more bitter battle than the Pilgrims who came to Plymouth on the Mayflower. So many of them died from sickness, that at one point only four of the original couples still had each other. Edward Winslow and Susanna White had each lost their mates. They were both convinced that God did not intend for them to remain single. So, in spite of the short time their mates had been dead, they asked Governor Bradford to unite them in marriage. It was the first wedding of the Pilgrims in their new land. The feasting, gaiety, and laughter, of the wedding was a healing gift from God to these people oppressed by so much sadness. It boasted their spirits
and gave them a renewed sense of hope. These godly people were thankful for marriage, as godly people have been ever since Adam saw Eve, and said, now this is more like it. Marriage is God's idea, and He proclaimed it good. It is honorable in all says the book of Hebrews. We do not have to labor the point, for it is universally accepted that marriage is both beautiful and essential. Yet, in this 7th chapter of I Cor., the Apostle Paul seems to have it in for marriage. The nicest thing he can say for it seems to be that it is not a sin, which is hardly an exalting compliment. The one thing we can say for Paul is that he is consistent. He tells the never married to stay single, and he tells the divorced to stay single, and he tells the widow to stay single. As far as Paul is concerned, the number one choice is to stay single. Paul is saying it is not wrong for any Christian to get married, but there are circumstances that make it better if they are not married. Paul said he did not baptize many people, but you get the distinct impression that he married even fewer people. He sounds a great deal like the man who defined a bachelor as one who never made the same mistake once. Maybe Paul, in his travels, stayed with some families that left him with a very negative impression, and he went away thanking God for the blessing of escaping all that hassle. We don't know all of the reasons for Paul's negative attitude, but when it comes to marriage, he seems to be a confirmed believer in Murphy's Law, which says, if anything can go wrong, invariably it will. He assumes that marriage and trouble are synonymous. In verse 28 he does not say troubles are possible, or even likely, he says they are a certainty. "Those who marry will have worldly troubles and I would spare you that." Paul knew that marital bliss can turn to marital blisters. I read of one bitter wife who said she would gladly get a divorce if she could figure out how to do it without making him so happy. The value of this passage for us is that it counteracts the dreamy idealism of the romantic. People who think holding hands, and gazing into each others eyes, solves all of life's problems are not ready for the realities of marriage. Pau l's purpose is not to spread pessimism, for he is a positive thinker. He knows the Christian can do all things through Christ who strengthens them. He knows that God will work in all things for good with those who love Him. He just wants Christians to be realistic about the obligations that go along with marriage. We do not live under the same circumstances as the Corinthians, but Paul's point it still valid for all generations. Marriage is not the promised land, but is still part of the wilderness journey. Life in general is full of problems, and getting married does not shelter you from them, but often compounds them. One of the reasons divorce is so high is because of unrealistic expectations. They jump into marriage thinking it will be the solution to all of their troubles, and when they discover it isn't, they figure they must have married the wrong person, and so they divorce and try again. They are always looking for that marriage that will bring utopia. The whole process is a subtle form of idolatry, where people expect to find in marriage what only God can supply. Gordon and Dorthea Joeck in I Take Thee write, "Marriage, as life itself, is made up of many and varied ingredients: Struggle and achievement, success and failure, joy and pain. Marriage does not remove us from vulnerability to life's difficulties and bring us only its joys. To expect this is unrealistic preparation for married life." This is what Paul is conveying to the Corinthians. Paul's attitude gives a needed realistic perspective to counteract the myths of marriage. It is a myth that happy married people do not have problems and stress. This myth does a great deal of harm, for people who marry soon discover they do have problems, so they assume something went wrong, and
maybe they were not meant for each other. Nobody in the Corinthian church could ever get married, and be so deceived, for Pau l makes it clear, even if two Christians, who are madly in love, get married, they will have troubles and conflicts of interest that demand painful adjustments. This sounds very negative, but the fact is this attitude can save people from the worst problem of marriage, which is to enter it with the illusion that all their problems are over. The best marriages of the most godly and loving people have problems, and Paul refuses to white wash it, and pretend that Christian people escape what is inevitable in a fallen world. Kenneth Chafin, dean of Billy Graham's school of evangelism, and pastor of a seven thousand member Baptist church of Houston, tells of his experience as a newlywed. On their first morning in their new apartment, his wife Barbara made her father's favorite breakfast. It was a biscuit split open and toasted with a slice of cheese on each half. It wasn't bad he thought, but neither was it the thrill of his life. The second morning she made the same thing. When the biscuit came out the third morning, he exploded, and wanted to know if that was the only thing she knew how to make. She was hurt, of course,but fortunately they talked about what was happening. As far as she could remember, her father never varied his breakfast menu. She thought she had found the perfect breakfast, and was planning to make this for the rest of their lives. He made it clear that he loved variety, and was not like her father at all. One of the hardest areas of adjustment in marriage is you suddenly start living 24 hours a day with someone who is different than the people you have been living with all of your life. That is one of the reasons troubles are inevitable. Maybe the family you lived with enjoyed being messy, and it didn't bother them at all. Now you suddenly realize the person you married is someone who is picky neat. Maybe your family always squeezed the toothpaste, but now you discover there are people who roll it up, and you don't understand why anyone would do it that way. You might be a night owl, and suddenly discover you are united to an early bird. There are endless trivialities that mean trouble in adjusting to your mate. Life is never static so that you can finally adjust to each other, and be done with the struggle. Each age of marriage brings new problems. The child bearing period is not easy. Children are such a blessing, and bring so many pleasures to life, yet there is an enormou s price to pay. Many marriages are destroyed by all of the hassle of raising children, keeping them well, and getting them educated. Then comes the empty nest period. The children are gone and the hassle is over, but still there is no utopia. If the children are all a couple has lived for, their marriage is now empty without the kids. The mother has loving labored for 20 some years, and now what she has learned to do best does not even need doing at all. This can be a time of great depression and loneliness. Her husband may not even understand, for he is at the peak of his career, and is happy and fulfilled. He is a success, and she feels like a failure, and it is a prime time for both to be tempted to some sort of an affair. T hen comes retirement and all is reversed. The wife has adjusted, and has found ways to make her life meaningful, but now he is lost. What he has done well still needs doing, but not by him, and he now feels useless. The whole point of this overview of marriage is to show us that Paul was not just being a killjoy. He was look ing at life as it really is, and trying to get Christians to see that marriage calls for deep commitment, for better, or for worse, for both will be inevitable. What I hear Paul saying is, if you are willing to pay the price don't take the merchandise. If you are not willing to struggle and adjust, and sacrifice, so your marriage can be a channel of God's love in
the world, then don't do it. Stay single, and be more effective for God's kingdom. Paul does not buy the philosophy that says, troubles will always make you a better Christian. We know that they can, but anybody who goes looking for them is stretching the truth. In verse 32 Paul says I want you to be free of anxieties. There is no virtue in suffering what can be avoided and prevented. Paul is a strong believer in an ounce of prevention being worth more than a pound of cure. Paul is actually trying to prevent marriages that will lead to all of the troubles he warns of, and end in divorce. I have to confess that I have never tried to prevent a marriage. I am a product of our culture where romantic love is an idol. Anyone who is in love, I have felt, are legitimate candidates for marriage. I still feel that way, but I realize that Pau l's attitude must modify my own. He writes in a different context, and times do differ, but the fact remains, it is too easy in any age to treat marriage lightly, and not examine the seriousness of what it means to get married. Someone said, the proof that Paul was never married is that he writes as if all mates do, is try to please each other. This whole passage can be very superficial if you take it out of context, and try to impose it on all of history. We know history is filled with married people who have been devoted servants of God, and who have changed the course of history for His glory. Married people are not just worldly minded and spending their whole life devoted to earthly things. Most of the churches of the world are founded on the family. On the other hand, the singles whom Paul so exalts, who give themselves to Christian service, have also been great servants all through history. Singles have been dominate in the thrust of world wide missions. But the fact remains, there are many singles who do not devote themselves to Christian service, any more than uncommitted married people. We dare not take this passage out of the context of Corinth, and make it a reflection on all of history. Paul is telling us what he has observed in the life of the Corinthians, and what he saw was that the married people tended to devote their lives to one another, and the singles tended to devote their lives to Christian service. This is often true in our culture as well, but in no way can it be seen as a rule of life, it is only a tendency that is common in all ages. When you are married you can't be home pleasing your wife, and out somewhere else in Christian service at the same time. You can't be home cooking your husbands favorite meal, and still be engaged in Christian service all afternoon. Marriage brings limitations, and if Christians are going to be fighting over these limitations, and feeling guilty, and making others feel guilty, they are going to make a mess of their marriage. Paul says if this be the case, you are better off to stay single. One lodge member asked another why the lodge meeting was canceled. He responded, "The Grand-All-Powerful-Invincible-Supreme-Potentate's wife wouldn't let him come." Such are the limitations of marriage. Christian history is full of examples of Christian leaders who had very unhappy marriages. John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism changed the course of history, and influenced millions of people for Christ, but they had unhappy marriages. William Carey, the father of modern missions, had a miserable marriage. It would be easy to say, they would have been better off single. Possibly it is so, but Paul who recommends it highly also recognizes the dangers. If these men, by not being married, could not control their passions, they may have become immoral, and ruined their chances of doing great things for God. Many have also traveled this path. So Paul could say to them, it is no sin that you are married, even though you are not the most qualified people to make a
marriage happy. It is good that you married, but would have been better had you not needed to be married. There can be no question about it, Paul preferred the single life for himself, and considered it the best choice for just about everybody else. What is important for us to see is, Paul is sharing his perspective and not laying down a law. He is not anti-marriage as many Christians have been in their legalistic fight to exalt celibacy. Many groups have prohibited marriage as a unworthy state, but Paul would have no part of such nonsense. He is simply saying, just as a soldier does not take his wife onto a battlefield, so the Christian in time of great conflict ought not to marry, unless compelled by the strongest passions. Devote yourself to the battle, and do not get sidetracked with lesser battles, which are inevitable part of marriage. The key verse that helps us apply all this is verse 35. Paul tells us clearly, his motive for being so negative. "I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." Paul's motive is very positive, but he uses negatives to get there, for married people need to see the dangers in order to avoid them. Paul is not against marriage after all, but just opposed to the blind entering into it, unaware of the problems inherent in it. The immaturity of Corinthians, and the instability of the times, made marriage a high risk, and that is why Paul was so negative, and promoted singleness. What all this means for us today is, we must see marriage as for adults only, and not just in years, but in maturity. Christians must be matu re enough to recognize the reality of negatives in marriage, and be willing to commit themselves to work through the adjustments needed to make it work. They need to be people who recognize the danger of idolatry. They need to be willing to encourage each other in Christian service, so that their marriage does not make them less devoted to God, but more so. Mature love can lift people out of the realm where the Corinthians are struggling. There will still be problems,but there can also be a life dominated by joy and Christian service. Paul becomes an optimist when he gets to chapter 13, and writes about the power of love. He says in verse 7 that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. If they have a mature love, they are ready for marriage. F. Alexander Magoun points out in his definition of love, the other side of marriage: "Love is a passionate and abiding desire on the part of two people to produce together an emotional climate in which each can flourish, far superior to what either could achieve alone." Paul would agree that this optimism is legitimate if love is mature, and ready to make sacrifices. The complex issues of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and singleness, are not matters of cut and dried rules. You are dealing with people and their relationships to other people. The complexity can be enormous, and so there is no single rule to fit all. The one question for the Christian in all his relationships needs to be, what will contribute to my being a better Christian? Because Christians have different personalities and circumstances, there answers will vary, but their goal can be the same whether they chose to marry or stay single. That goal is, as Paul says, devotion to the Lord. If any choice you make in life hinders that, you are making a mistake. If any discussion or relationship you chose is an aid to this goal, you are on the right track. The measuring rod is not marriage or singleness, but your devotion to the Lord.
10. LOVE MAKES THE SIMPLE COMPLEX I COR. 8
Dr. James H. Robinson, a great black preacher in New York, tells of how he use to sit on the steps of the public library in Knoxville. He would watch the white people go in, and he would be filled with resentment because he wanted to read and learn, but the doors were closed to blacks. He came to hate white people, and he would look up at the high water tower and wish he could poison it and kill all the white people in Knoxville. There were 3 reasons he never did it. 1.He didn't have the poison. 2. He was afraid of high places. 3. He could never figure out how he could keep from the drinking the same water. The complexity of his evil scheme is what prevented it from becoming a reality. Thank God for complexity. If evil was always easy there would be even more of it, and a man like D r. Robinson may never have become a child of God and a servant of the kingdom. Complexity is a comfort. Much of our security in this life is based on complexity. Man has devised locks and alarms to protect his possessions. Vaults and guards protect his banks, and numerous methods are devised to make it too complex for robbery. But complexity is also a challenge. People love to go into politics and wrestle with the complex issues of society. They strive to come up with a plan that benefits the majority. Scientists love to labor with the near infinite complexity of diseases to figure out a way to conquer them. Most of the challenges of our world that motivate people to dedicate their lives to a cause are based on the reality of complexity. Complexity is a comfort and a challenge, but it can also be a curse. If every Christian had the same background, the same culture and the same personality, life would be so much simpler. It may be boring, but it would be simple. Needless to say, this is not the way life really is. Christians have all different backgrounds, and they come out of radically different cultures. Their personalities are like fingerprints, and no two are exactly alike. This can be a comfort and a challenge, but history forces us to face up to the fact that this complexity can also be a curse. It is a curse because people don't life other people to be different. They like it when all Christians see everything from the same perspective. If the viewpoints get too diverse there is suspicion that somebody is on the wrong track. This was the problem in the church of Corinth. Some of the Christians there felt it was no problem whatever to eat meat offered idols. After all, the idols did not really exist, and so it is a meaningless ritual that does nothing to the meat by being offered to an idol, and so why be uptight about it? Giving it up was almost like becoming a vegetarian, for practically all meat was offered to some idol. If your pagan family, which you came out of to become a Christian, invited you to a wedding, a funeral, or just a family picnic or social, you would be served meat that had been offered to an idol. It was a part of the pagan culture. Many
Christians had no problem with relating to their pagan family and friends by eating this meat offered to idols. Life would have been so simple if other Christians had not taken an opposite view. These Christians said that the idols are real, and that they represent real evil spirits and demons. Therefore, the Christian cannot be loyal to Christ and still eat meat that has been offered to his opponents in the spirit world. They had an conscience that was sensitive to this issu e, and they were offended by Christians who had the audacity to profess the name of Christ and then indulge in eating such desecrated meat. This is where the curse of complexity comes in and which explains why people love westerns so much. In a western the good guys and the bad guys are so obvious. You always know whose side to be on. It is such satisfying simplicity, and it helps us escape from the real world where things are not so simple. The Corinthians Christians were on two different sides of this issue, as Christians often are on most controversial issues. Each group thought the other group must be a pack of mutations and misfits in the body of Christ. It was no minor matter limited to a handful of Christians. This was a major conflict in the church. At the first church council described in Acts 15 the leaders of the church, with Paul present, came to the conclusion that this was one of the things Gentile Christians would have to do, and that is to abstain from meat offered to idols. The problem was that this was the Jewish leader's telling the Gentiles what was good for them. It was the Jewish conscience trying to impose itself on the Gentile conscience. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he did not go along with this decision. Had Paul agreed with the decision he would have just told the Christians who were eating meat offered to idols to stop doing it immediately. Paul did not do this, however, but in fact, he defended the wisdom of those who recognized it ought not to even be an issue because strong Christians can eat it with no less loyalty to Christ because he knows the idols do not exist. Paul does not say that these Gentiles need to conform to Jewish convictions, but he does say that love demands that they be sensitive to other Gentiles who have a weak conscience on this issue. If it is a matter of legalism, Paul was on the side of those who chose liberty. But if it was a matter of love, Paul was on the side of those who chose to limit their liberty for the sake of the weak. So is it right to eat meat offered to idols? Paul says, "Yes and no." We don't like this answer, for we like a simple black and white decision. But the complexity of life will not allow Paul to be superficially simple. It all depends on whether the issue is one of legalism or love. This is a crucial distinction in knowing the will of God in areas where Christians disagree and see from opposite perspectives. Whether I am obligated to surrender my conviction or fight for it all depends on this distinction. Those who do not bother to make this distinction use this passage in a way that makes it a denial of all Paul fought for in the early church.
Paul clearly tells the strong-minded Christians that love demands that they limit their liberty in Christ in order to protect their weaker brothers who are supersensitive and need support. T he Christian who will not make a sacrifice for the sake of another Christian's security is a poor specimen of a Christian. Those who take this out of a context of love and put it into a context of legalism are obscuring Paul's message, and they are using it for blackmail to get their own way. Paul is not giving every legalistic fanatic the right to force the church to conform to his convictions. If this is what Paul is saying, it is a direct contradiction to all he fought for, and all that Jesus fought against with the Pharisees. Many sermons have been preached on how the strong are to give way to the weak, but few have practiced it, for it would lead to the absurd conclusion that the church is to be guided by its most ignorant, weak and incompetent members. Those least set free by Christ, and most in bondage to the old life would be the pace setters. This would mean that if you had one sensitive saint in your fellowship who was brou ght up to believe you should never eat out on Sunday, and never go for a drive on Sunday, and never watch TV on Sunday, you would all have to conform to this legalistic conviction less they be offended. Paul would say to this, "O you foolish Christians. You are not under the law, but you are free in Christ. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery and turn Christianity into a form of Phariseeism." Paul opposed Peter to his face because Peter had a sensitive conscience, and he was backing away from eating with Gentiles. Paul did not say, "I don't want to offend your sensitive conscience Peter." On the contrary, he condemned Peter for letting the Jewish sensitivity weaken his stand for Gentile equality. Paul would not tolerate a legalistic conscience trying to regulate the liberty we have in Christ. Paul followed in the steps of Jesus who shattered the legalism of the Pharisees. He broke all of their ceremonial laws, and he ignored their Sabbath laws that hindered his ministry of healing and doing good. They were so offended that they crucified them, but Jesus did not back off from the battle for religious liberty. The New T estament nowhere supports the idea that Christians are to conform to the minds of legalistic people. H istory shows that every step of progress in the church has been opposed by the sensitive conscience of legalistic people. Musical instruments were fought by those who said it is immoral to praise God with a mere thing when the Bible says, "Let all that has breath praise the Lord." Christians fought back and not only used all things to praise God, but even adapted secular tunes with which to do it. Battles have been fought over almost everything including colored glass, heat in the church and communion cups. If strong Christians would have feared to offend the sensitivities of legalistic Christians the church would still be in the dark ages, or never even gotten that far. It would still be nothing more than an exclusive Jewish church.
Many Christians who are truly godly feel it is evil to vote. Are we to give up our support for the best leaders we can vote for because we do not want to offend these brothers? Many Christians feel it is a lack of faith to buy insurance. Are we to leave our loved ones unprotected because of their conviction? W e could go on endlessly with all the areas of life where Christians have different convictions, but the point should already be clear. W hen it comes to issues of legalism, the Christian is not only not under obligation to conform to the conscience of another, he is obligated to fight in order to change and overcome that conscience. He is to pursue the liberty we have in Christ in order to promote it and preserve it for the good of others. Eating meat offered to idols is a legalistic issue between Jews and Gentiles, and so Paul takes his stand with the Gentiles. As a matter of right Paul would say the Gentile Christians have freedom to eat that meat without feeling guilty. Paul was opposed to any law demanding that Gentile Christians conform to Judaism, but because life is complex this issue is more than just a matter of legalism. It has personal ramifications that go beyond the battle of legalism, and make it a matter of love. In this chapter Paul is not concerned about Peter's feelings, or how the council of leaders in Jerusalem feels. They are mature Christians, and Paul will deal with them on the level of debate and argument as to what is legitimate in Christian liberty. Bu t here Paul is concerned about the pagan believers who have just recently come out of their idolatry to faith in Christ. In verse 7 he refers to those who are the center of his concern, and they are those who do not have a clear grasp of the unreality of other gods. They have for all their lives believed in these gods, and for them to eat the meat dedicated to these gods is to feel guilty of disloyalty to Christ. Their conscience has been programmed, and for them to eat this meat is like stealing from their neighbor. They feel guilty and their conscience bothers them, for they sense they have sinned. If this sensitive person sees other more mature Christians eating this meat he is encouraged to go ahead also, even though he feels it is wrong. T his violation of his conscience will damage his spiritual life. He is by this act rejecting the Lordship of Christ, for to him it is claiming another god over Jesus. This could very easily lead to new Christians returning to their pagan ways and be lost to the church permanently. It happens all the time all over the world in the lives of those who come ou t of a pagan culture and then slip back into it. This is an altogether issue than someone who is trying to force you to conform to their legalistic conviction. Here are people who do not have roots. They are in an unstable transition, and they can be easily led astray. Paul is saying that Christian love demands that the strong Christian be sensitive to these people. Love demands that strong Christians be willing to sacrifice some of their liberty for the sake of these weaker believers until they too become strong. This is how love makes the simple complex.
11. FROM START TO FINISH Based on I Cor. 9:24 to 10:12
You don’t have to be an expert on racing to know that you don’t get a prize just for signing up, but many feel that is all that is needed to be a winner in the Christian life. They think that you do not have to budge from the starting line as long as your name is on the list of contestants. Paul, however, made it clear that the Christian life is a struggle and a challenge, and it calls for suffering, sacrifice and service. Before he died he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown.” You see there is a cross before the crown. There has always been a tendency to bypass the cross and gain the crown. The flesh desires comfort and not challenge; ease and not effort. Now I lay me down to sleep is our favorite theme. We want to receive the reward without running the race. A sign in the window of a sporting goods shop said, “See us for camping supplies so you can rough it smoothly.” We want all the blessings and none of the burdens. There is a church in Florida that has put in rocking chairs in place of the pews. They are perfectly balanced so as to give the maximum amount of rocking for the least amount of effort. There is nothing wrong with rocking chairs, but there presence in the sanctuary is a symbol of how we seek to avoid the cross for the sake of comfort. This is nothing new, for Paul found the same tendency in the Corinthian church. They had the idea that now that they were Christians they could take life easy. The flesh began to dominate their lives and they became immoderate in eating, drinking and sexual practices. Paul seeks to correct their foolish thinking by comparing the Christian life with the life of the contestants at the Isthmian games held every two years just 8 miles from Corinth. He refers specifically to the runners, and in so doing he teaches that there are 3 qualification necessary to be successful in the Christian race. I. COMMITMENT v. 24-25 The men who wanted to enter the contest in the arena had to commit themselves to a rigorous ten months of training. They gave up all sensual pleasures, and they had to be in bed early. They had to eat special food and have no alcoholic beverages. This was not just a suggestion, but it was demanded before they could even enlist in the races. Paul, like his Lord, used the examples of the world to teach Christians. He is saying that they need to stop and consider what your favorite runner goes through in terms of self-denial in order to win a perishable crown. It was a wreath of parsley, ivory or pine. They do it for a bit of self-glory, and will you offer less to gain the crown of eternal glory? What is eternal life worth to you? If a man will gladly live a life of committed self-control and constant exercise to get a piece of pine on his head and a crowd cheering him, how much more ought you to be committed to gain the crown that is incorruptible. Paul is not criticizing the athletes. He is just using them as examples of commitment. Even the philosopher Seneca saw the folly of men who devote more energy than sports than they do for developing a good life. He wrote, “What blows do athletes receive in the face, what blows all over the body, yet they bare all the torture from thirst of glory. Let us also overcome all things, for our reward is not a crown or a palm branch or the trumpeter proclaiming silence for the announcement of our name, but virtue and strength of mind and peace acquired ever after.” Even a thinking pagan wonders at the mixed
up values of men who will commit themselves to the trivial, but who will not lift a finger for the essential. We have lost the biblical concept of the Christian life as a race. We make conversion represent crossing the goal, when it really is just stepping up to the starting line. We are in the race between of the grace of God. He paid our entrance fee on the cross to get us in, but then we have to do the running, and to run well we need to prepare ourselves. We need to practice self-denial, and we need to exercise our soul in prayer, and strengthen our minds by wrestling with the Word of God. Failing to do so results in a superficial Christian. The problem is not that we do not have a glorious and thrilling Gospel. The problem is that we do not have enough trained and committed instruments to communicate it. The instrument makes all the difference in the world as to the quality of music it produces. Two men in O ld London met on the street and began to talk. Just then a street organ struck up a tune. It was a rickety old instrument that wheezed and groaned. One of the men wanted to move on and get away from that awful tune. The other said, “It is not the tune, for that was written by the great Handel, and it is ‘See The Conquering Hero Comes.’” The other responded, “Well then Handel wrote a poor thing.” A month later the man who knew Handel’s music invited his friend to go with him to the Handel’s festival. As they listened to symphony the friend went into rapture in his praise of it, and he asked what that was called. When his friend told him it was the same music they heard a month earlier on the street he was amazed. The instrument made all the difference. In order to be the best possible instrument for communicating the good news of God, we need to be trained and committed. We need to examine our lives to see if we are a race course type Christian, or a rocking chair type Christian, and if we find ourselves sitting at the starting line, we know we lack the commitment necessary. II. CERTAINTY. v. 26-27 This is an age of anxiety and uncertainty, and the masses of the world do not know where they are going. There is no fixed star and nothing steady to hold on to. A French aviator in his book Night Flight tells of being lost in the sky at night. He caught a faint whisper from the radio control operator, and he frantically asked him to flash the signal at the air field. When the operator replied he had already flashed them and he saw nothing, he knew he had not found a light to guide him home. So many have no light to guide them, but the Christian does, and he is to look to Christ to keep him on cou rse. Paul says he does not run like a man running aimlessly. Paul had a clear aim and goal. He had many setbacks, but he always knew where he was going. He was always pressing on toward the mark. His eyes were always focused on Jesus. As Calvin said, “In him alone is the whole stuff of our salvation.” Nothing is more dangerous than uncertainty as to one’s goal. If you are not sure what you are running for, you will not be very zealous, and more than likely you will choose a lesser goal than the crown of righteousness and joy in Christ. Paul says to know your goal and keep pressing toward it. You may be fast and full of energy, but if you are running all over the landscape, no one will thank you, and especially the judge who awards the crown. It is not just action that is important, but your aim. Religious activity is not enough, for it must be Christ centered to be an adequate goal. Paul changes his metaphor from runner to boxer, and he says I am not wasting my energy by hitting wildly, but I take careful aim and make every blow count. The Christian is no part time amateur, but a
professional, and it calls for our very best. His certainty as to his goal causes him to use every means possible to attain it. Here is where men fail, for they think it is enough to want and wish for great values without working for them. Every young couple wants a happy marriage, and they all want it to work out for the best. They desire a good end, but they are not willing to use the means to attain it. You can’t arrive at your goal if you do not use the necessary means to get there. Every parent wants their child to grow up to be a wonderful person, but so often they think that loving them and desiring that goal for them takes care of it, but it is not so. Love does not train a child. That takes sacrificial effort, and all the wishing in the world will not accomplish that goal without the proper means. Paul says in verse 27 that he finds one of the greatest obstacles in his way is his own body. The Bible does not teach that the body is evil, for Jesus took on the form of human flesh and gave it dignity. It does teach that the body is an instrument of either good or evil. It is a bad master, but a good servant. Paul says that he keeps his body under. The Greek word for keeping under refers to a solid blow right under the eye. He says that he is no air beater, but that he beats his body black and blue to bring it into bondage. He does not destroy it, but he makes his body his slave by keeping his soul on top and his body under it. Because he is certain of his goal he disciplines his body to make sure it does not slow him down. The Christian who allows his body to dominate him will be beaten to the canvass by crushing blows of selfindulgence. III. CONSISTENCY. v. 27 Even with a committed attitude and a certain aim you are not assured of success without consistent action. You not only have to start and keep on going, but you have to finish. You must persevere to the end. If a Greek runner obeyed all rules and had his ten months of training, but the night before the race had his fling by staying ou t late and eating and drinking to excess, all of his preparation would in be vain. Paul says that he never lets up, but is constantly running and fighting lest after telling others the rules he ends up disqualified. Paul is saying to the self-indulgent Christians that you are babes in Christ who are relaxing in your running. You spurt ahead now and then, but spend most of your time on the bench when you should be consistently striving for the goal. Just being in the race is not enough, for you have to keep running to gain the crown. In chapter 10 he illustrates by saying that all our fathers were in the race as well. They were all baptized and had their name on the roll. They drank the spiritual drink, but many were not pleasing to God, and they fell before they reached the promised land. He goes on to say that this is an example for us. You can be baptized and partake of the Lord’s Supper, but this will not carry you across the goal line. You must be obedient and give yourself to concentrated and consistent effort to pursue the will of God. Even the best of men like Moses fell before the finish line. Ike Skelton Jr. was stricken with polio as a boy. A doctor in Kansas City told his parents that nothing could be done. Ike had such a will to win, however, that through months and years of painful recovery he never gave up. He became a student at Wentworth Military Academy and joined the track team. When the big meet of year came Ike entered the two miles race. His legs had recovered, but his arms were still useless, and so his teammates taped his helpless arms to his side. He went all the way, and it made no difference that his opponents had already finished two laps before him. He gritted his teeth and tore across the line into the arms of his teammates. One of them said, “The rest of them came in first, but they didn’t beat this boy.” It is he who endures to the end that shall be saved. We must run with the determination until we die. It is not enough to tell others the way, for you must go the way yourself.
Paul says that he is no signpost Christian. A sign points to a place, but it never goes there itself. Paul says that he practices what he preaches, and he goes where he points. We need to take the words of Paul seriously. Just as a magnifying glass can concentrate the rays of the sun and start a fire while it remains cold itself, so a Christian can be an instrument through which others can receive the Son of Righteousness, and yet remain as cold as ice themselves. Paul had perfect assurance of his salvation, and that nothing could separate him from the love of God, but he didn’t give up persistently pursuing the path to perfection. It is not enough to start, but we must run all the way to the finish line. An unknown poet wrote, Its prizes call for fighting, For endurance and for grit, For a rugged disposition, And a don’t know when to quit.
12. AN ACT OF OBEDIENCE Based on I Cor. 10:1-5
The whole duty of man is to love God and keep His commandments. From paradise lost to paradise regained this is the teaching of the Bible. The one condition for man's abiding in Paradise was obedience to God's command. In Rev. 22:14 we read, "Blessed are they who do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life..." Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments, and you are my friends if you do whatever I command you." The whole plan of God revolves around the issue of obedience. Sin is disobedience, and it was by disobedience that the angels lost heaven, man lost Eden, Moses lost entrance to the Promise Land, Saul lost his crown, and Judus lost his soul. All loss can be traced to disobedience, and all gain can be traced to obedience. Paul sums it up in Rom. 5:19, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." It was the obedience of Jesus unto death that became the foundation for our salvation. If you study the word obedience through the Bible you will discover that every person who is pleasing to God, and who was used of God, was so because of their obedience. Baptism is above all else an act of obedience. Jesus commanded the church to go into all the world and baptize, and so for those who perform the act of baptism it is primary an act of obedience. The New Testament makes it clear that all who believe in Jesus as their Savior are to be baptized, and so for those who submit to do so it is an act of obedience. It is important that we grasp this so that we understand it is obedience that matters. In itself baptism has no value apart from the spirit of obedience. It is no big deal to have been baptized, but it is a big deal to have obeyed the Lord's command to be baptized. The obedience is the big thing. Baptism is a symbol, but obedience is an actual act of the will, and that act of the will is more important than the symbol. A wedding ceremony is a symbolic act of commitment, but as any mate knows, it is the actual love and affection of the partners in life that makes the marriage truly beautiful, and the wedding ceremony. So it is with baptism. If they will is not committed to obey Christ as Lord, then the symbol of baptism is of no more value than a wedding ceremony for two people who do not intend to love each other. A symbol only points to something else, and if the something else is not there, the symbol has no power in
itself to produce it. A wedding will not make two people love each other, and baptism will not make a person live in obedience to Christ. A wedding is a public proclamation of your commitment and determination to be loving and loyal to your mate. A baptism service is a public proclamation of your commitment to be loving and obedient to your Lord. The wedding is itself an act of love, however, for to make a public proclamation is itself an act of the will, and a choice that is loving. So also baptism is more than a symbol. It is an act of obedience and thereby and act of love. Baptism is not something Jesus does for us, but it is something we do for Him. It is our response of love and obedience to His command. There is a baptism of the Spirit in which He does something for us as He fills us with His Spirit in order to empower us to accomplish His will. But water baptism is something we do for Him, just as the Lord's Supper is an act of obedience. We are doing it in remembrance of Him because He commanded us to do it. Baptists require that the person being baptized be old enough to make a choice, for only when the will makes a choice can it be an act of obedience. If we kidnapped people in their sleep and gave them a shot so they would not awake, and then brought them to the church and baptized them, and then returned them to their home, that would not be an act of obedience. T hey would not have made a choice. When baptism is done to a person rather than by a person it takes on too much the nature of magic rather than an act of obedience. The Baptist position is that the value of baptism is not in the water, but in the will of the one being baptized. The question is, is it their will and choice to do this in obedience to Christ as Lord? The reason I selected this passage in I Cor. 10:1-5 is to illustrate this basic truth that it is not baptism that makes the big difference, but it is obedience. Paul is showing us that the Old Testament people of God experienced what is equivalent to the two ordinances of the church-baptism and the Lord's Supper. They were baptized in the cloud and in the sea, and they ate and drank the supernatural food and drink that God provided, and this was a partaking of Christ. They may not have understood these things, but the point is, G od gave His people some very special experience. N evertheless, Paul says in verse 5 that most of them were displeasing to God, and they were overthrown in the wilderness and not allowed to enter the Promised Land. What does this say to us? It says that you can experience many good spiritual things in life and still be displeasing to God. Just because a person has had a miracle in his life does not mean he is a super spiritual person. T he Israelites had numerous miracles happen to them, but they were disobedient, and so all their miracles meant nothing. The supernatural protection God gave by immersing them in the cloud and by taking them throu gh the depths of the sea had no lasting effect because they did not have a will to obey God. Paul's whole is that it is the will to obey and not experiences that really matter in the long run. Those marvelous experiences were great and wonderful, but in themselves they were of no real value if they did not motivate men to obedience. We need not envy them or others who have marvelous miraculous experiences if it does not lead them to a life of obedience. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are commands Jesus gave to the church, but to experience them is not of great significance unless they motivate us to live in obedience to Him. In other words, the power of any experience lies in the continuous obedience of the person who has them. A miracle without obedience is of no lasting value. A commonplace experience with an obedient will is pleasing to God, and it will lead to great reward. It is the will that makes baptism significant.
Note in verse 2 that Paul says the Old Testament people were baptized into Moses. This means they were by their experience linked to Moses and his law. Moses became their leader and his law was to be their guide. Obedience to the law of Moses was the fulfilling of their baptism. In the New Testament we are baptized into Christ, and we are linked to Christ and H is body the church. The law of Christ then becomes our guide, and our key to happiness is in obedience to the teachings of our Lord. That is why Jesus said in the Great Commission that those baptized are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Baptism is, therefore, an initiation into the fellowship of those who obey Christ, and who will continue to obey Him more completely as they grow in His understanding of His will. Baptism is an act of obedience that is the door into a life of obedience. Because of this baptism is usually performed on those who are young and immature in the faith. Is not an act of mature commitment, but a beginning act of faith and obedience. Most people who are baptized are not giants of the faith, but they are usually babes in Christ. It is a starting point and not a finish line. This means that the real test of the Christian life is not in the decision to be baptized, but in the life of obedience that follows. Just as a wedding is symbolic of love that is to persist continuously after the wedding, so baptism is symbolic of the obedience that is to continue afterward. Baptism is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ, which is the foundation of our salvation. It is also symbolic of the Christian life, which is to be a constant struggle to bury the old man as one dies to self, and rise to walk in newness of life. Baptism is not a sign that one has conquered, but it is a sign that one has entered the battle to strive for the victorious life in Christ. Baptism is symbolic of the life long commitment of the believer to overcome the old nature, which says no to God, and to build the new nature that always says yes to God. The old and the new is what baptism is all about. It is the death of the old, and the resurrection of the new. The Christian is a person whose life revolves around the funeral and the wedding. Paul had a funeral every day by dying daily. He was constantly bearing the old self that wanted to resist God, but he was also rejoicing daily in a wedding atmosphere as he saw all things becoming new as he yielded himself as a loving bride to his Groom the Lord Jesus. In baptism we commit ourselves to a life long battle of death and resurrection. The Christian warfare is never over because the old nature will not remain in the grave. It will persistently pester you to live for the values that will pass away, and so you must be constantly burying this old self. T he new self in Christ will constantly have a tendency to lose its enthusiasm. The desire to be a warm and loving Christian will fade and grow cold as you get rejected by the world. The new nature sometimes just wants to lie down and give up. That is why the Christian life is a life of resurrection, and why we are constantly urged to develop a devotion life of Bible study and prayer. That is why we are always talking about Christian fellowship and faithfulness in worship. These are the means needed to rekindle the flame of life that the forces of darkness are always seeking to qu ench. Jesus went immediately from His baptism into the wilderness to be tempted. He was tested to see if He meant what He said by His baptism, which is that He truly wanted God's will for His life. This is the test that all of us have in life, and our baptism is to be a constant reminder of our commitment to die to self and be resurrected to walk in obedience. This act of obedience is to be a symbolic reminder that the goal of our entire life is to be a person of obedience.
13. THE CONCEPTION OF COMMUNION CLARIFIED I Cor. 11:17-34
The pyramids of Egypt are symbols of man's desire to be remembered. Man alone among all creatures builds a tomb to perpetuate his name. He builds houses, but so do muskrats and birds. He organizes into cooperative society, but so do bees. He forms armies with captains and generals, but so do ants, which also have hospitals for the sick and schools for the young. Other creatures weave, spin, set traps, and hunt game, but none ever bury their dead and set up a marker for a tombstone. Man alone has a desire to be remembered, and he alone instinctively senses that death is not the end, but that the real person is somewhere continuing to exist, and they want to be remembered. On the night Jesus was betrayed, only hours from the cross, He too expressed a desire to be remembered, but He did not request that they build a towering tomb or a marble monument, or any material memorial at all. He only asked that they observe a simple service in remembrance of Him. Its very simplicity makes it all the more appalling that men could pervert it into anything but what it was meant to be, and more amazing yet that they should begin to do so only 20 years after its institution. As we look at our text we immediately see that Paul is trying to solve the problems of a local church involving the Lord's Supper. His handling of the problem falls into three sections we want to consider. We see the perversion of the Lord's Supper by the Corinthians; the purpose of the Lord's Supper according to Christ, and the peril of the Lord's Supper for the careless. I. THE PERVERSION OF THE LORD'S SUPPER. Try and imagine what would happen if we observed the Lord's Supper by everyone bringing their own meal. The bread would be distributed during the meal and the wine at the conclusion. Add to this the presence of people who are not converted plus Christians just shortly converted from paganism. This is the picture we see at Corinth. The idea was beautiful to have what was called an agape feast at the same time they observed the Lord's Supper. It was a literal reproducing of the setting in which Jesus instituted it. He and His disciples had a Passover meal on that occasion. But what happened was that they began to secularize the church and make it like one of the Greek clubs that met for a common meal. It became a mere satisfying of the physical appetite. The meal became an end in itself and its significance as a memorial to draw their minds to the remembrance of the cross was being forgotten. Verse 20 says it was not the Lord's Supper but their own supper they came to eat. On top of this it became a scene of thoughtless indifference to human need. It became a stasis seeking banquet in which those who could bring all the best things did so. And the poor were left to look on in envy as they chewed their dried bread. It was not pot luck, but each brought their own meal. The result, of course, was as Paul indicates in verse 17 that they went away from the Lord's Supper worse than when they came, and they were bad enou gh then. In verse 22 he writes, "Shall I praise you for this? I praise you not." This love feast led to such disorder that it was finally prohibited completely by the Council of Carthage. You might ask how such corru pt conduct could come into the church even to the point of drunkenness, as Paul charges in verse 21? It is a very simple process. All you need to do is bring the world into the
church and you soon have a church of the world-not only in it, but of it. The Corinthians used the Lord's Su pper as an excuse to continue their pagan banquets, and the result was that the purpose of the Lord's Supper was perverted and became paganized. Paul does not write them off as hopeless, but goes on to teach them. II. THE PURPOSE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER. Verse 24 and 25 have been two of the most influential verses in history. How one felt about them has often been a matter of life and death. The question is, are they literal, or are they symbolic? These words were read in the first evangelical communion service ever held in Zurich, Switzerland on April 13, 1525. Zwingli the famous Swiss reformer had convinced the people that they were symbolic, and by approval of the town council and order of service was published a week in advance telling the people that the Lord's Supper would be observed like never before. As people gathered in the great cathedral they saw tables with linen cloth and platters of unleavened bread, and wooden beakers full of wine. Zwingli preached a sermon in which he restored in the minds of the people the centrality of Jesus in the Lord's Supper. From then on people had both elements every week, and a service in their own langu age. Zwingli felt it was time that Christians considered Christ as the center of their faith. He began by restoring the simple and symbolic meaning of the Lord's Supper. Ever since the free church tradition has held a similar view. The Roman church sees the words of Jesus as literal. The bread and wine by a miracle actually turn to the body and blood of Christ. If God actually wanted to do so this would be no problem, but it is not good interpretation. To believe in miracles where none are necessary is not a virtue. It is obvious that when Jesus broke the bread and said, "This is my body," He meant that this represents my body. It could not literally be His body as He stood there or His blood would have been flowing onto the floor. They were Jews, and they were commanded of God not to eat blood. It took Peter along time to even eat and unclean animal. You can imagine his shock if Jesus was asking him to literally eat His body and blood. Everywhere else the words of Christ are recognized as symbolic. When he says I am the vine, or I am the door, Jesus is using symbolic language. It was common to use such language in His day, for symbolic language can be powerful. Do not say it is only a symbol, for this is to underestimate the value of what is priceless. The American flag is only a symbol, but it represents a nation of great power, and so it has power in itself. It stirs us loyalty and devotion, as well as emotion. If you are on your knees in mud as enemy shells are exploding all about and you see a plane fly over with that symbol on it, it can change your whole outlook and give you courage and renewed hope. It represents the power to rescue you and deliver you from what seems to be a hopeless situation. There is power in a symbol if there is power in what it symbolizes. W. E. Sangster, the famous British preacher, told of a British soldier who was arrested in a foreign port and falsely charged with being in a shooting incident. He was condemned to die before a firing squad. The British Consul protested the injustice, but failed, and so he asked to be at the execution. As the firing squad took position he ran and threw a British flag over the condemned man. He shouted, "Shoot if you dare!" They didn't dare and the case was reheard and the soldier was acquitted. Can a flag stop bullets? It is only a symbol, but a symbol stands for something, and if the something it stands for is powerful, then the symbol is also powerful. Therefore, do not say that the Lord's Supper is only a symbol, as if that lessons its value. Language
and mathematics are systems of symbols, but they are not of less worth because of that. The Lord's Supper signifies the greatest fact in a person's life. It is a symbol of his death that men might live forever. The purpose of this memorial is that you might never forget that this is life's greatest fact. There are dangers in symbols, however, which we must not overlook. There is the danger of familiarity. The symbol becomes meaningless and just something that you do as a form with no great significance. It is easy to think that since the symbol is not that which is symbolized, what difference does it make how we treat it? This lead the Corinthians to completely abuse the Lord's Supper. An example of what can happen by a thoughtless attitude toward a symbol is the shock W. E. Sangster received at the 150th anniversary of the first Sunday School in England. On the platform a minister sat with a gold cross on his watch chain, and he was absentmindedly cleaning his fingernails. The second danger is just the opposite. It is that of making the symbol greater than what it symbolizes. T he stars and stripes have no more meaning to a pigmy in Africa than a wash towel because he does not know of the history of the nation for which it stands. Likewise, the Lord's Supper has no value for the one who does not know the Christ for whom it stands. There is no inherent merit in partak ing of it. All of value comes from understanding the one it represents and what He did. That is why it is only for the saved. The purpose is to remember Christ and His death for you. This is not possible for one who has never accepted that death for themselves. There is a danger in making too little of it and in making too much of it, and the third danger is in limiting the value and power of it to a particular form or method of partaking. One of the greatest cau ses for division in the church is the fact that a dozen different groups feel that their form of observing the Lord's Supper is patented in heaven, and all others are invalid. Whenever you have anyone claiming a monopoly on the blessings of God you have trouble because Christians in other groups know you are deceived. Let us not be so concerned about details that we miss the whole pu rpose. Mr. Fritz from Southern Rhodesia says that they use cool aid for wine. In some places it is fish and wine. There are numerous different types of cracker and bread used. The point is, the purpose is not in the form or in the elements, but in the mind and heart of those who partake. Jesus said do this in remembrance of me. The purpose is not fulfilled by any outward action, but by the mind which focuses on what Christ has done. Objectively Jesus is always present, but subjectively Christ comes and goes according to the degree of our concentration on Him. Therefore, let us fix our thoughts on Christ in order to remember Him and what He has done for us. Next we look atIII. THE PERIL OF THE LORD'S SUPPER. The peril is a matter of conduct more than character, but because it has been misunderstood it has kept many tenderhearted Christians from partaking. It is said that Washington stayed home on communion Sundays because of these words of warning. Fewer words have caused so much distress among Christians, but the clouds in their sky are of their own making. If you read v. 27 carefully you will see that it is dealing with the manner of eating and drinking and not the character of the person. It is the conduct that is unworthy, and not the person. None are worthy, but that is not the issue. It is the way they are acting that is unworthy. John the Baptist was not worthy to tie the sandals of Christ, and are we worthy to sit at His table? No, we are not worthy of such honor. I would fear the man who says he is worthy to partake. Unworthiness is
a qualification for coming. You must recognize that you rely completely on His sacrifice for your salvation, for there is no way you are able to merit it. But this is different from unworthy conduct. Paul refers to their conduct in verses 33-34. They are making a meal out of it and not waiting. They are turning this time of fellowship into a time of insulting others. It is like taking down the flag and wiping your feet on it. This unworthy conduct is what brought judgment. God will even take the life of one of His children rather than see them become so irreverent that they fall from grace. When the Christian gets involved in sin to the point of danger God may chastise them in a physical manner. We have eliminated this agape feast in our day and so the danger of gluttony and drunkenness is no longer a problem, but there is still the danger of un-confessed sins and un-Christ-like attitudes. We can avoid all peril by turning our minds completely to the thought of Christ so that we fulfill the purpose of the Lord's Supper by doing it in remembrance of Him.
14. A MOVING EXPERIENCE Based on I Cor. 11:23-26
A beautiful temple was erected in ancient Greece. It was a masterpiece of architecture. When it was completed there was a vacant niche high up on the front for a sculptured work of art. The statue was to be selected by competition. On the appointed day there were two competitors for the place of honor. Both works were veiled. In the presence of the vast crowd it came to watch the ceremony, the smaller statue was unveiled first. It was indeed a work of art, and the crowd roared with approval. As the statue was lifted higher, however, it lost its appeal, and the praise of the crowd grew fainter. By the time it reached the niche the crowd was silent. It was of little value when raised so high. It was brought back down and the other statue was unveiled. It was not as delicate and graceful on the first close-up look. The crowd was uncertain, but as it was lifted the crowd suddenly saw its value and charm, and they gave their shouts of approval. It was made for the heights. The artist of this work designed it to be seen from the heights where it was to be, and not up close, and so the result was that he won the place of honor. When Jesus selected the Last Supper as His memorial, He did the same thing as that wise sculptor. He could have chosen something far more impressive when seen up close. He could have had a gorgeous marble monument erected, but only a fragment of His body, the church, would ever see it, and time would mar its beauty. So instead, He selected a simple act of breaking bread and sharing the cup together as His perpetual memorial. He chose this because from a distance of 2000 years it has the same simple and sublime meaning to His disciples as it did to those of His own day. Jesus selected a memorial that was big enough for the kingdom He expected to build on earth. The result is we will be participating in the greatest supper on earth. There has never in all of history been a supper to which so many are invited. All over the world Christians meet to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of their Lord. It is the Lord's Supper, and no king, dignitary, or millionaire has ever had a supper so vast. This very night millions will meet at His table in remembrance of Him. It is the longest table on earth, for it goes around the world. There is nothing like it in all the world.
In memory of the Savior's love We keep the sacred feast, Where every humble, contrite heart Is made a welcome guest. Author unknown. Not only do we participate with millions in this great memorial supper, but with multitudes of millions in the past. The communion of the saints includes those who have entered His presence. It is a prelude to the day when we will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of our Lord. This supper is so simple, but as such sublime meaning because of its multi-directional implications. It has special meaning for a New Year's Eve service because it points our minds to the past, present, and future. We want to spend some time looking at each of these directions. The three fold value we are to gain by participating in this memorial supper are1. His pardon for the past. 2. His power for the present. 3. His promise for the future. All of us need all three as much and more than we need food and drink. It is a supper for the soul to do for the inner life what our daily meals do for the body. Let your soul be filled and delighted with these three dishes of soul food. I. HIS PARDON FOR THE PAST. This supper is a commemoration of the finished work of Christ in our behalf. It is a celebration of His work and His words, "It is finished." He has paid the penalty for sin, and now there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We should forget our sins of the past that have been forgiven, but we should never forget why it is we are free to forget them. When we remember Jesus as He asked us to, we cannot help but thank Him for His love and grace. The Christian is one who can be thankful every time he looks into the past, for the best thing that ever happened to the Christian happened in the past. It happened first at Calvary where Jesus died for him, and then it happened personally when he received Jesus as his personal Savior. The past is always worth celebrating for the Christian. Communion is to be something like going through a box of old pictures. They bring back memories of the blessings of the past, and they warm your heart with recollections for which you are grateful. The Lord's Supper is to be like a living picture that brings to your mind that greatest act of love ever done for you. We tend to think of it as a solemn ceremony, but the fact is, it is to be a celebration. Jesus is no longer on the cross in agony. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His suffering is completed, and so is our salvation. We can look back, not in sadness, but in gladness, for our pardon has been purchased, and we are free because of Jesus. So look back, rejoice, and be thankful. SecondlyII. HIS POWER FOR THE PRESENT. Communion speaks of a present experience. It is not just the past work of Jesus that we need. W e need his present work in our lives, and this present work takes place as we thank H im in remembrance of His past work. Remembrance of Jesus keeps Him and His Spirit a present reality in our awareness, and this helps us live now as Jesus wants us to live. Our present remembrance of what H e did in the past motivates
us to seek His forgiveness for the present. Our contemporary sins are to be confessed, and are weak-hearted commitment is to be admitted. Communion is to be a present experience of renewal where we, in our Lord's presence, compare our lives and attitudes with His. We are to look at ourselves in the light of His love and compassion, and see how far we fall short, and then renew our original requests for Jesus to come into our lives and live in us. Only then can we gain the power to press on to be what He wants us to be. An unknown poet wrote, O Master, through these symbols shared, Thine own dear self impart, That in our daily life may flame The passion of Thy heart. The Lord's Supper is a commemoration-we look to the pardon of the past and give thanks. It is a communion-we see our present need for power, and we stand in His presence, confess our weakness, and call upon Him to empower us anew to live for Him now. It does not stop there, however, for Paul says we show forth the Lord's death until He comes, and His coming speaks ofIII. HIS PROMISES FOR THE FUTURE. We can look ahead with the same assurance as we look to the past, for the future is guaranteed by the past. Jesus went to prepare a place for all who trust Him, and when He is finished He will come again. We who are waiting will enjoy forever the paradise of His presence. Remembering the past thrusts us also into the future, for on the cross Jesus promised the dying thief that he would enter paradise with Him. That same promise is the hope of every believer. Again, an unknown poet put itChrist, forgive if I should break This bread or of this wine partak e, Then walk the path of fear. Remove from us the spear Of cringing, mocking unbelief. Give us the faith of Golgotha's thief. The thief said, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." We also, as we remember Jesus, need to pray, "Lord remember me," and be assured that He does. This gives us hope. The very elements of the supper speak of future hope, for bread and the fruit of the grape both become what they are through suffering. They are excellent symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. Grain must be ground and broken until pulverized, and then baked in an oven to become bread. Grape juice must be pressed out by force. The elements speak of the painful process which leads to a precious product. They are symbols of the promise of Christ that it will be worth it all, for all our trials and suffering will be overcome and transformed into blessings beyond our dreams. A poet wrote, Till we join the host of heaven, Till we keep thy feast anew, In thy courts above, be with us. To thy promise ever true! The Lord's Supper is a moving experience because in a brief time it takes us from the distant past through the present into the infinite future. That is, it can do this if we let it move us to look back at His
pardon, look up to His power, and look ahead to His promise, and then praise Him who has put past, present, and future altogether for those who love Him. We look back and thank Him for His pardon. We look up and pray for His power. We look ahead and praise Him for His promise.
15. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING INFORMED Based on I Cor. 12:1-11
A new bride was showing a visiting friend her first garden she had ever planted. The friend notice several small green clusters at one end of the garden and asked what they were. The bride said proudly, "They are radishes." "Really," said the visitor, "most people plant them in rows rather then clusters." "They do?" responded the puzzled bride. "That's strange-they are always in bunches in the store." Ignorance in many areas of life can be humorous and harmless, but in many other areas it is a terrible curse. Dorothy Davis, as a young missionary wife, tells of how hard she had to work to save natives from their ignorance. It has always been a custom for the natives she worked with to give birth to their children in chicken coops. They let the baby drop on its head and lie on the dirty floor with the chilly mountain air blowing in. Many have died unnecessarily. Panic reigns when twins are born, and she has collected photos of twins that have been raised in order to persuade them that multiple births are not a calamity brought on by a malicious demon. Several families have not let their twins die because of her efforts. The light of the Gospel is pushing back the forces of darkness all over the world, but the fact is, ignorance is still Satan's most powerful weapon, and there is plenty of it still around. Ignorance is one the major causes for Christians missing out on God's best. This was true in the early church, and it is still true today. A devout woman was sent by her Christian psychiatrist to see a man who practiced faith healing. The faith healer upset her by telling her that psychiatrists were instruments of the devil. Here was a case where one Christian was seeking the help of another member of the body, but that part of the body would not recognize him as part of the body. This is the very problem that plagued the church at Corinth. They were ignorant of the great differences that exist in the body of Christ. In their limited view each tended to think that only those who were like them, and those who had their gifts, were truly a part of the body. This lead to division in the church and a lack of cooperation that allowed Satan to hinder the progress of the church. Satan's great task in this world is to keep us ignorant and uninformed concerning the truth of God. If the truth shall set us free, then ignorance will keep us in bondage. In Eph. 4:18 Paul writes of the Gentiles who are, "..alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them." Ignorance is the enemy of all men, and Paul knew it could still be a curse to God's own people. He knew that Jews had failed to receive God's best because of ignorance. They had a zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge, and he writes in Rom. 10 :3, "For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness they did not submit to God's righteousness." Here were zealous dedicated people who wanted only the best, but in their ignorance they rejected God's best. Ignorance is truly a curse, for it makes the best people do the worst things. Because it can even make Christians miss God's best, one of Paul's most urgent statements in his Epistles is, "I would not
have you to be ignorant brethren." He uses this phrase most often in writing to the Corinthians, for their ignorance was creating a lot of confusion. The good that came out of it is that because of it we now have Paul's enlightening chapters on th gifts of the Spirit to be our guide, and the guide for all the church through time. The purpose of these chapters is to inform Christians about the value and function of the gifts of the Spirit so that they might be a blessing rather than a burden to the church. The Corinthian church did have some excuse for their ignorance until Paul wrote these chapters, but we have no excuse for being ignorant and uninformed. In fact, it is a sin for a Christian today to be ignorant concerning spiritual gifts, for we have this clear revelation. Alfred North Whitehead said, "Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice." No Christian has a right to remain ignorant on the issue of spiritual gifts. The Corinthians had all of the gifts and yet they were far from being an ideal church because of their ignorance. This teaches us that it is not the gifts that are the key to being what God wants us to be, but rather, the intelligent use of the gifts. We have God's revelation before us, and our task is to go over it verse by verse so that we can be informed and better prepared to be instruments of these gifts in our day. Verse 1. "Now concerning spiritual gifts." Gifts is not in the Greek and many recommend it be translated spiritualities. Paul has been dealing with the carnalities, that is the problems with the flesh. Now he is going to get into the problems of the spiritual life. It is not only the body that can foul us up in our Christian life. Even the spirit can be a problem to the Christian who is uninformed. In verse 2 Paul reminds the Corinthians of how they were moved and led astray to worship dead idols. The Greek or pagan idea of being spiritual was to get so caught up in a fever of emotion that the mind was no longer in control. The less self-control you had the more you were under the control of the divine spirit. The highest spiritual experience was to be in a state of ecstasy. The modern equivalent would be what we call the holy rollers. They are so caught up in a spirit of emotion that there is a frenzied rolling of the body because it is no longer under the control of the mind. The great Greek philosopher Plato said, "It is by madness that the greatest of blessings come to us." Again he said, "No one in possession of his understanding has reached Divine and true exaltation." Paul is writing to show that this is not the Christian teaching. Just the opposite is the case. The highest gifts and blessings are not those that by pass the mind, but those that use and expand the mind such as prophecy and teaching. Pagan worship tended to be very lively, and Paul is not trying to quench the spirit of enthusiasm, but he is trying to make it clear that Christian enthusiasm is not the same as pagan enthusiasm. The one is emotion gone wild, but the other is to be emotion under control. The history of the church reveals a constant battle to maintain the balance. Some churches go so far in control that they quench the Spirit and have nothing left but ritual and formality. This leads to dead orthodoxy. Other churches neglect the rules for order and allow total freedom. This leads to chaos and the contempt of the world that Paul refers to in 14:23 where he says that outsiders who hear a whole church speaking in tongues will declare that they are mad. The goal of the church is to seek a balance where the spiritual gifts are free to function, and yet where there is order that appeals to the minds of both believers and unbelievers. This is not an easy balance to maintain, and the result is that most churches are missing out because of one extreme or another. There is either too much order so that Spirit is quenched, or too much freedom so that the human spirit abuses the things of God and brings reproach. Let us not pretend that we have arrived at the perfect balance, for such pride will keep us from seeking to improve our worship and bring it more into conformity with the
ideal. As we go through these chapters we will try to relate what Paul says both the problems of his day and those who have risen in the church of today because of the charismatic renewal. We will also try to wrestle with some of the puzzling questions that enter the minds of many. Let me begin by answering one of my own questions, which is, why did God give gifts to these Corinthians when He must have known that they would abu se them? Why did He let them make a mockery of Christian worship by giving them gifts that they were too ignorant to handle properly. If God knows what is going to happen, why does He go ahead with actions that lead to the problems like these Paul had to deal with? Let's look at some of the implications of these questions. 1. The first thing that we need to see is that just because something is God-given does not mean it must be used for good. God-given gifts can be used for both evil and foolish purposes. Many gifted people in history have been tempted to use their gift in pride, and for self-glory or self-advancement. A God-given gift can be abused, and so no individual is above the criticism of the body. W e are to test all of the spirits, and only hold fast to what is good. Every person and ministry must be tested and evaluated, for even godly people can lead us astray. 2. W e cannot force God by our theology to do what He does not choose to do. I have the power as a father to open my children's mail when they are in school. I can know what their friends write to them, but I do not exercise that power. God can know exactly what you will do with every gift He bestows upon you, but does He have to exercise that power? Is it impossible for God to limit His power and give gifts, and then wait to see how they will be used? Is God always robbed of surprises that come when His children obey and do well because he is forced to know everything before hand? We cannot know for sure what God chooses to know and how He might limit himself in His relationship to man, but we do know for sure that H is knowledge is never the cause for our behavior. God allows us to respond wisely or foolishly to what He gives us. If we want to abuse His gifts and do harm to ourselves and others, that is a choice we are free to make. He gives guidelines, however, so that we have light to follow, and we will be held accountable for following that light. No one can ever say that God knew that I would be foolish and He let me do it, and so it must be His will. Not so! God said thou shalt not kill or steal, and yet many are murdered and things are stolen every day. God's knowledge of their disobedience is not the cause of their disobedience, for His will is always that people obey. No one can say that God must have known that I would disobey and so I had no choice. I had to do what God knew I would do. This is wrong, for you had a choice, and God willed for you to make the choice of obedience, and what God wills for you to do you can always do. If you didn't do it, it is your choice and not God's will that is to blame. There are too many Christians in this world who have gotten mad at God and left the church because of the folly of other Christians. It is important for all of us to recognize that God is never the author of any Christian's folly. The problems of the Corinthians with the gifts of the Spirit were due to their ignorance, and it is the same with problems of Christians today. We need to keep the distinction clear between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Himself. The Holy Spirit is the third person in the G odhead, who is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all. The H oly Spirit does not make the house of God a place of chaos, nor does He do anything that is harmful to the body of Christ. If Christians do these things, and even use the gifts of the Spirit to do them, it is
because of their ignorance. God gives us the freedom to do evil even with good, but His Word is given that they might instead bring good out of evil. The key to this whole subject of spiritual gifts is to be found in not being ignorant, or from the positive view point, in being informed and knowledgeable about the natu re and purpose of the body of Christ. A question that is frequently asked is, what is the difference between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit? One of the primary differences is that every Christian is to manifest all of the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits are part of the Christian character that are to grow and develop in each life. The gifts, however, are given to various individuals as the Lord wills. No member of the body has all the gifts, just as there is no part of your physical body that can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Each of these abilities belong to a specific member of the body. And so also in the body of Christ no member can do all things. Each is dependant upon others. The fruits deal with character, whereas the gifts deal with power to perform some ministry to the rest of the body. The fruits deal with what you are, but the gifts deal with what you do. The gifts will pass away, but the fruits will last forever. The fruits are more of an indication of the depths of your godliness. The gifts are for a function and do not necessarily reveal depth of love for Christ or the body. A gifted person can do wondrous things and still not be loving. Paul wrote in chapter 13 that he could have all of the gifts that would leave the world spell bound and still not have love, and so still be nothing. The fruits are more basic than the gifts. The gifts must always operate under the control of the fruits or they can do more harm than good. We are not to be so enamored of the gifts that we do like the Corinthians did, and give our all for the gifts, but leave the fruits behind. Better that you never discover your gift than to discover it and then use it in an ignorant and unloving way. Make love your aim says Paul, for this is our goal to use all gifts in a way that expresses the love of Christ.
16. TEST OF THE TONGUE Based on I Cor. 12:1-3
Before he became president of the United States Abraham Lincoln was a captain in the army. He was drilling his men one day during the Black Hawk War. As he marched along with his men he came to a fence with a gap in it. He wanted his men to go through that gap, but for the life of him he could not remember the proper words of command to get his company to go endwise through that gateway. Lincoln describes in his own words how he got through this embarrassing situation: "I shouted, company halt! Break ranks! You are dismissed for two minutes, after which you will fall in again on the other side of the fence." That was not the right way to do it according to the book, but he got the job done. Life is filled with situations where you cannot remember the right words, but you somehow get by with some sort of a substitute. For example, when you introduce a man to a woman are to you to say the man's name first or the woman's? If you are not reviewing such details of etiquette you forget this things, but the point is, whatever you say, be it by the book or not, you get the job done, and few will be offended. We all say many things that are precisely correct, but they are overlooked because very few are perfectionists like the English teacher who came upon the scene of an accident. She rushed to the side of a dying man. He looked up at her and whispered, "I think I'm done for." She responded, "Please don't end your last sentence with a preposition."
There are many things we may not say right, but then neither are they terribly wrong. On the other hand, there are some things that are always wrong, and they are to be avoided at all cost. You should never shout "fire" in a crowed building when there is no fire. That is no mere minor mistake and slip of the tongue. That is a direct and definite evil. There are some things you cannot do with the tongue and escape condemnation. Paul is dealing with one of these things in verse 3 that is true for all people for all time in all places. This is an absolute that Paul is dealing with, and it becomes a permanently valid means of testing the spirit of all men. Paul's absolute principle is, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, 'Jesus be cursed.'" No matter how gifted a man is, and no matter how marvelous are the wonders he performs, he is clearly a fake if he curses Jesus. On the other hand, however ungifted a man might be if he acknowledges that Jesus is Lord, he is a true member of the body led of the Spirit. Paul's main concern in dealing with gifts is that Christians will get carried away in all directions because of the great diversity of the gifts. Therefore, he makes sure that the primary focus is on Jesus. The real issue in any spiritual matter is, where does it put Jesus? If Jesus is not exalted as Lord you have missed the boat no matter how exciting and enthusiastic your worship is. If Jesus is glorified as Lord your worship may be plain and simple, but it is led of the Spirit. Here is the test: Not how excited are the people, or how great is the music and speaker, but what is done with Jesus? If He is left out, or in any way degraded, you do not have Christian worship, but pagan worship. If Jesus is exalted, you have Christian worship regardless of the nature of the service. Right off then, we must get it straight in our minds that there is not any absolute in a worship service other than the place of Jesus Christ. His Lordship is all that ultimately matters. This means an Episcopalian service, which is extremely ordered, and the Pentecostal service, which is extremely free, can both be valid expressions of Christian worship if Jesus is exalted as Lord by those who worship. Form is not the key factor, but focus is. If Jesus is not the center you are being lead astray by a false spirit. Paul reminds the Corinthians in verse 2 of how they were led astray in their pagan religion to worship dumb idols. Satan is not opposed to religion and worship. He is the author of much religion, and he delights in the worship of idols. Idolatry has given him more victims than almost any other weapon. If he can get Christians to get so excited about certain gifts that they forget the Giver, he is more than willing to promote spiritual gifts. That is what is happening at Corinth as former pagans who were very emotional in their worship are coming into the church. They took a liking to the more emotion-centered gifts such as speaking in tongues. It was a legitimate gift of the Spirit, but they got so caught up in the gift that it became the center of their thinking and worship. Jesus was pushed to the back seat, and tongues became in charge of the worship experience. Some in the church had apparently gone into a state of ecstasy where they came under the control of the old demonic spirits of paganism, and they cried out, "Jesus be cursed." This may have been a mystery to those who heard, but since the spirit was obviously moving and the words were spoken in a state of ecstasy, and by tongues, they did not question it. They assumed that it must be all right, but Paul is saying it is not so. Nothing is all right and an authentic leading of the Holy Spirit that puts Jesus down. All the tongues and miracles and high emotions are no proof of true spirituality. The real test is the Lordship of Jesus. The real test of the tongue is not found in the gift of tongues, but in the confession of Christ as Lord. What we see here is the possibility of Satan using a gift of the Spirit to bring confusion into the
church. Because he can do this, the whole issue of gifts and tongues is a controversial matter. Some feel tongues are of the devil, and they point to pagan examples. Satan can and does use tongues for his purpose. But we need to be honest with all of reality and recognize that God also uses tongues. It was one of the valid gifts, and Paul did not forbid tongues, but only their abuse. We will study this in detail later, but we need to make it clear from the start. We live in a world where Christ and Satan are often using the same weapons. Satan goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah seeks to lead His people to victory over the rebel roaring lion. Satan like a serpent seeks to poison all that is good, but Jesus is lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness as an antidote to all the evil serpent's stings. We are to look to Him and live. God is the author of the beauty of sex, but Satan turns it into a beastly drive that destroys lives. God is the creator of alcohol that can be used in medicines that bring health, but Satan uses it to bring massive sorrow and death in the world. We could go on listing the ways Satan perverts all that is good, but the point is that discerning Christians do not stop using any gift of God just because Satan abuses it. The answer to abuse is not abandonment, but the proper God-ordained use. When we get to tongues I think we can show that many today in the charismatic movement have found a proper use for this gift that is biblical, reasonable, and of no offense to those who are not seeking it. Dr. Kurt Koch, one of the world's authorities on the occult and Christian counseling in his book Charismatic Gifts tells of the woman who spoke in tongues at a meeting of Christians for prayer. Each time they met she spoke in tongues. They decided to test the spirit in her. They asked the spirit to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. The spirit would not respond. Finally they commanded in the name of Jesus that you tell us the truth-do you confess Jesus Christ as Lord? They did not expect the response they got. Suddenly a male voice issued from the woman saying, "No, I hate him." They had put the spirit to the test and discovered it was demonic. Dr. Koch has many examples of this type of thing where Satan has counterfeited the gifts of the Spirit. But he does not reject tongues because of this, for he recognizes they can be authentic. We just need to test the spirits by their confession of the Lordship of Christ. There are Christians in many denominations who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and use the gifts of the Spirit to exalt Him. That is the real test says Paul. That is the basis of our unity. We do things differently, and we even think differently on many issues, but the one thing all have in common, who are truly led of the Holy Spirit, is that they can say sincerely that Jesus is Lord. This is the foundational universal creed. If you don't start here and keep all centered around this creed, you risk getting sidetracked and off center, and this can lead to confusion and abuse of the gifts. What does this mean for us in day by day living? First of all, it means that how we use the name of Christ reveals what kind of spirit is dominating our lives. When you hear a person use the name of Jesus as a curse word you can rightly assume that they are not Spirit-filled. It is possible for Christians to get so caught up in the world of secular speech that they will use the name of Jesus in slang. This careless use of the tongue reveals that they have allowed their tongue to become a tool of Satan just as the Corinthians did. They were duped by the pagan spirit of wild ecstatic worship, and the modern Christian is duped by the enthusiastic spirit of the secular cursing, but it is the same spirit and not the Holy Spirit. You cannot judge that a person is saved or not by his tongue, and the use of the name of Jesus, but you can judge his spiritual state. If a person does use the name of Jesus in degrading ways, you know for sure that he is not a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Christian at that point. He could get right with God the next day
and use his tongue to exalt Jesus, but at that point he is more of an instrument for the spirit of darkness than for the Spirit of light. The Spirit-filled Christian is one whose tongue always exalts the Lordship of Jesus. It is important that we make the Lordship of Jesus the basis for our fellowship and unity. Paul goes on to describe the great diversity in gifts and ministries. The Pentecostals do things so much differently than we do, but that does not mean they are wrong. They have a different function to reach different people. So also the Episcopalians have a different way of worship and a different outreach to different people. The great number of different denominations need not be a disturbing fact if we look at it in the light of the great need to reach all kinds of people for Christ. Paul is saying that differences are normal and to be expected. What good would a body be if it was all just a mass of ears or eyes? It could do a great job of hearing or seeing, but there is much more for the body to do than that, and so there are many members with differing gifts. If everybody in the church was just like us, most of the work of the church would never get done. Jesus needs a body with great diversity, and that is what we see in the world. The Corinthians had to see that they were not the whole body, and that is what we need to see. The world is full of Christians who are doing things we cannot do because we are not gifts to do them. How do we know they are part of the body? We listen to their profession, and if we hear that Jesus is Lord, they have met the test, for only Spirit-led members of the body will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Secondly, we look for the fruit of the Spirit. It is technically possible for someone to say Jesus is Lord and not be sincere, but the fruit of the Spirit is proof that one is Spirit-filled and led. The question is often asked, what is the difference between the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit? One of the primary differences is that every Christian is to develop and manifest all of the fruits, but the gifts are given to specific individuals as the Lord wills. No member of the body will have all of the gifts. No eye will ever be able to hear, smell, and walk. The gifts are distributed to make all members of the body interdependent. The fruits deal with character and what you are, but the gifts deal with service and what you do. The fruits are always good, but the gifts can be abused and misused. We discover our gifts by observing how we respond in certain situations. C. Wayne Zunkel says we are to imagine a church social where one of the members knocks over a cup of coffee or spills a plate of food on the floor. Someone in that room will begin immediately to clean up the mess. This person likely has the gift of service. Another member may have no interest in the mess, but they throw an arm around the person and show loving support, and this exhibits the gift of encouragement. Another member may be examining the situation and seeing that this could have been prevented by locating the coffee in a different spot. He has the gift of organization or administration. The point is, look at what you like to do and the way you respond in various situations, for this will give you a clue as to what gifts you may possess. Whatever your gift, the test of its authenticity is do you use it to exalt the Lordship of Christ?
17. GIFTS UNLIMITED Based on I Cor. 12:4f
A college professor of debate thought it would be well for him to select some outstanding speaker and learn everything he could about his life, his speeches, and his writings. He chose Patrick Henry as his ideal. It was not long before the subject of Patrick Henry was becoming obnoxious to those around him.
He became a man with a one track mind. All he talked about to friends and relatives, and in class, was Patrick Henry. One night the debating society decided to play a joke on their obsessed professor. They decided to trap him in a situation where his favorite topic would be irrelevant. At the meeting the chairman called the group to order and said, "We would like our professor to give us a demonstration of extemporaneous speech tonight. We are going to ask him to speak for 3 minutes on horse colic." They thought they had him on the spot, but the professor stood; faced the group, and began: "What is horse colic? Why, tis nothing but a ball of wind, roaming hither and thither within the abdominal confines of the horse crying out 'give me liberty or give me death.'" And with that the professor was off again on Patrick Henry. Almost everything can be interesting at some point, but almost nothing is interesting all the time. People with one tracked minds bore us. We are not made for enjoying a rut where life is limited to one theme, or one routine. We are made for variety. It was William Cowper, the great hymn writer, who gave us T here Is A Fou ntain Filled With Blood, and God Moves In A Mysterious Way, who coined the phrase, "Variety if the spice of life." He didn't just make that up, he got it from the facts of natu re and Scripture. God is in infinite Spirit with a love for infinite variety in all that He does. Every leaf, every blade of grass, every star and galaxy are all different. God did not crank out this universe like a machine stamping out pieces of metal. He made it more like a master artist makes his painting. Mrs. Dwight Morrow had a chain made by a well-known Mexican chain maker. She liked it so much that she ordered six more just like it. He agreed only if she would pay a higher price for each chain he made because making them all alike would be monotonous. Artists demand variety. They liked to put a personal touch of difference into all that they make. How much more the Author of all art? An anonymous poet put itWhat skill, O G od, could equal T hine! No two alike, in size or line, In dome above, in sea or land, Mid flaming worlds, or grains of sand, And man hast made more wondrous far, More varied than flower, bird, or star, His very finger-tips design, Reveals a loving skill divine. Every once in a while we refer to some unique character and say, "When God made him He broke the mold." The fact is, God never used the same mold twice for anybody. Every one is unique, and there is no one else anywhere just like us. God is a God of infinite variety, and He always will be. C. S. Lewis said, "Heaven will display far more variety than hell." No one will ever be bored in heaven. One of the curses of hell will be the curse of never ending sameness, but heaven will be never ending variety. We do not have to wait for heaven, however, for God has given us much variety on earth, and great variety within the church. This is what Paul begins to express in verse 4. He emphasizes three times the variety of gifts, and of service, and the variety of working. All of this variety comes from the same Lord. God is the one source of all this variety in the body of Christ. This truth has so many profound implications for our lives that even a partial grasp of it can change
your attitudes and actions in many areas of life. One of the first things we need to look at is the problem of the Corinthian church because of their failure to live the Christian life in the light of God's love for variety. The same problem develops today in churches where some unique experience, such as speaking in tongues, is emphasized. Just because this experience is so unique it appeals to many people as it did to the Corinthians. They began to blow it all out of proportion and make it the key to spirituality. Since not all of the members received this gift, those who did not were made to feel like inferior Christians, and they had the feeling of not belonging. In verse 15 Pau l describes them as a foot saying, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body." Or in verse 16 like an ear saying, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body." Paul says this is nonsense. A body does not consist of one member, but of many. It is folly to take any one gift, or even two or three, and say that those who have these are the only members of the body. The tongue speakers were guilty of a one tracked mind. They were in a rut and blind to the infinite variety in the body. They said, "We are the tongue of the body, and only those who speak in tongues like us are part of the body." They set up a man made standard by which to judge who is in the body of Christ and who is not. What Paul is doing here in stressing variety is shattering this kind of narrow thinking. Any man made system that seeks to put God in a box and under the control of men is not consistent with the revelation God has given us through Paul. Let me now apply this emphasis of Paul to one of the major controversies that surrounded the whole issue of the gifts. One of the most debated question is, how many gifts of the Spirit are there? Bill Gothard, whose gifted ministry has touched the lives of many thousands through his Basis Youth Conflicts Seminar, insists that there are only 7 authentic gifts, and the rest are ministries and manifestations. Some others see the 9 gifts listed here as a parallel to the 9 fruits of the Spirit, and they insist that 9 is the magic number. Dr. John Walvoord, President of Dallas Theological Seminary finds 15 gifts in the New Testament. One of the finest books on the gifts is Leslie Flynn's book with the title Nineteen Gifts Of The Spirit. Dr. Kurt Koch in his book Charismatic Gifts deals with 24 gifts. All of these men are gifted and godly scholars, and yet they all come up with different numbers. What do we do when authorities disagree? The best thing to do is to recognize that the reason they vary so much is because the Bible does not give any listing of all the gifts. There is no hint that there is any limited number of gifts. Therefore, I conclude with the majority of those who have studied the gifts in depth that there is no specific limited number, but that there are, as Paul says, a variety of gifts, and that variety is like all the variety of God-it is without limit. This conclusion is very important if we are to avoid many of the problems that result from trying to limit the Holy Spirit. In the Intervarsity publication Spiritual Gifts And The Church, the author states one of the problems: "For a church or group of churches to concentrate on a limited number of gifts, forgetting the great variety presented by the New Testament, will inevitably result in a partial and incomplete ministry on their part with consequent loss of blessing both inside and outside the fellowship." There is just no point in trying to limit the Holy Spirit, for in doing so you risk missing something good. The reason Paul is putting such a heavy stress on variety here is because the Corinthians were trying to limit the Holy Spirit. They were falling into a rut where they limited the Spirit to their experience. They were content with their showy gift of tongues for example, and they began to make others who did not have this gift feel inferior and left out. The same thing happens today where Christians get a narrow and limited view of the work of the Spirit. They narrow down to the few gifts they have and make all who do
not possess them feel like they are not a part of the body. Those with the gift of tongues are constantly struggling with this problem, and many in churches where this gift is stressed feel just like many of the Corinthians felt. They feel inferior and rejected, and not a part of the body. In verse 15 Paul refers to the foot who says, "Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body." Or in verse 16 where the ear says, "I am not an eye, so I do not belong to the body." Paul says this is nonsense, and that no part of the body is any less a part of the body just because it does not have the gifts of another part of the body. Every member of the body has a function, but there is a great variety, and when this is not stressed you do damage to the body. When you put a limit on the gifts, and those who do not see that they have one that is on that list, you create problems in the body. Many a Christians are made to feel just like those in Corinth felt. Those with showy external gifts made those who did not have the gift feel cut off from the body. Many today wonder today wonder if they have been passed by because they do not have the gift of tongues. Many feel so inferior that they go through great agony trying to possess the gift, and they are as frustrated as an ear that struggles to get the gift of sight. All of this needless mental suffering in the body of Christ can be avoided by heeding the words of Paul on the variety of gifts, the variety of service, and the variety of worship of the Holy Spirit. Variety is the spice of life for the church because it gives everyone a role to play. Every member of the body has a function. There are hundreds of bones, muscles, nerves, veins, arteries, glands, as well as vital organs that keep the body operating efficiently. The body is a mass of variety of functions. God does not expect any part of the body to try and perform the functions of other parts of the body, and cry out for the ability to do so. Are we to suppose that Christ, who created such a variety of tasks to be done in the physical body, lost His creative love for variety when He created His spiritual body the church? Jesus expects His body to do the most important work on earth in fulfilling His Great Commission. Does He then give His church only a handful of gifts to get the job done? No, He gives His body great variety. If we limited the gifts we hinder the body. Those who look over the list and do not find a gift they possess tend to feel left out. The whole point of Paul is to help all Christians feel like a working part of the body. He was fighting any tendency to limit the function of the body to the few. Any Christian who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord is part of the body, and has some gift to add to the body. Paul says that sometimes the unseen parts of the body are more important than those that are seen. This means there are some who have no gift that is listed and visible, but who are still a part of the body. Paul does not mention all parts of the body, just as he does not mention all of the gifts of the Spirit. He just gives some examples of both, but we know he could have given many more. Why are they not all listed so that we could get a final count? It is because God does not have a number to which He is limited. He may have gifts for the body today that were not needed in the New Testament day, just as some were needed then that may not be that important today. If history goes on there may be new gifts needed in the future that do not exist today. William O lson in his book The Charismatic Church says, "Every gift that is needed for the successful operation of worship and service is a gift of the Spirit." If this is true, then the door is open for constant fresh winds of the Holy Spirit to blow into the church with variety. The test is clearly given, and if the gifts exalts Jesus as Lord, and ministers to the body, then it is a gift of the Spirit. Music is not listed in the New Testament, and those who limit themselves say this ability is not a gift. It is a natural talent they say. Others are equally strong in insisting that it is a gift. The point is, both are right, and both need to see the
whole picture and not just their part of it. Many secular people have a great talent with music. Some of these people have an encounter with Jesus and surrender to Him as Lord, and they become a part of His body. Now their talent is used for worship, and for the edifying of the body. T he talent that did not move anyone to Jesus is now being used to do so. The talent has been converted to a gift of the Spirit. A talent that is surrendered to the Lordship of Christ becomes a gift. John R. W. Stott writes, "Was not Charles Wesley's ability as a hymn writer as much a gift as his brother John's gift as an evangelist?" He feels there is the gift of song and the gift of poetry. He writes in his book Baptism And The Fullness Of The Holy Spirit, "I venture to suggest that, as with deeper experiences, so with spiritual gifts: Ou r God is a God of rich and colorful diversity. Our human tendency is to try to limit God within arbitrary confines of our making..." Paul does not give us a listing of the gifts that is exhaustive. His list is only suggestive. Every time he writes of the gifts he mentions new ones. He is not dealing with a fixed number because he knows the Holy Spirit well enough to know that you cannot catch him in a list and limit him anymore than you can catch the wind in a box so as to make it blow just where you want. The Holy Spirit is sovereign, and he does work so as to satisfy our love for lists, and our compulsion for classification. In the book of Acts the Holy Spirit sometimes came into lives before baptism and sometimes after baptism. Sometimes he came with the laying on of hands, and sometimes without the laying on of hands. Sometimes his coming was a two-step experience, and other times it was a one step experience. We can save ourselves a whole lot of trouble by facing the fact that we cannot limit God. Therefore, let us expand our thinking and enjoy all the great variety the Holy Spirit gives to the body of Christ.
18. GIFTS FOR THE COMMON GOOD 12:7f
Based on I Cor.
Back in the mid 1800's a light-colored moth was very common in the industrial city of Manchester, England. When these moths landed on the bark of the trees they blended in so well that the moth eating birds could not see them, and the result was that they multiplied rapidly. Some of the moths were born with dark wings, however, and when they landed on the light bark they were easily spotted and devoured by the birds. Then there came a change in the environment. The growing industry led to more and more factories until they trees of the city began to turn dark with soot. Now it was the light-colored moth that was in trouble, for the birds could see them, but the dark winged moths were hidden against the dark bark, and they began to multiply and became the dominate moth in the area. God has to so made nature that those living things that best adapt to their environment survive and grow. T hat is why nature is so full of variety, for God has built into it the freedom of adaptability. Explorers of the islands off the South American coast have discovered that each island has finches that are just alike except for their beaks. Some have developed beaks for cracking nuts, while others have beaks for eating fruits, and still others have beaks for probing into the cracks of bark to get insects. Each has adapted to survive according to the nature of the food supply available to it. Adaptability is the key to survival and growth. That is why we see variety in the human race as well. Each of the races has come from common parents, but they have developed different colors and bodily features because these variations were necessary in adapting to the environments in which they lived.
The Lord made the world so jam-packed with variety that something can survive just about anywhere. There is life on the mountaintops and in the lowest valleys. There is life on the driest deserts, and life in the depths of the sea. God has so made nature that some form of life can adapt to any kind of environment. Doesn't it stand to reason that if God wants His message of eternal life to go into all the world, that the body that carries that message must also be very adaptable? Jesus needs a body where some of the members can feel at home in the great cities of the world working with business people, but others who feel called to work among natives living in huts and eating berries and snakes. The reason the church has survived the changes of the centuries, and will continue to do so till the end of history is because it is designed to be adaptable to all of the cultures of the world. Christianity can grow anywhere because its Lord is not a dead hero but a living Leader and Head, who by his Holy Spirit gives gifts to his body to adapt in fulfilling its purpose in any environment. When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the upper room at Pentecost, none of them were editors, mechanics, pilots, linguists, librarians, nurses, bookkeepers, computer operators, or printers. Today the body has all of these and many more varieties of skills, talents, and gifts to reach the kind of world the body lives in today. The Holy Spirit will provide the body with whatever is needed to accomplish its task in a changing environment. That is why we see a revival of interest in the spiritual gifts. We live in a world where Satan has been able to open the door for the occult in civilized cultures like our own where for centuries this type of supernatural evil was limited to pagan cultures. The church was able to grow and touch our culture with the Gospel without the use of the showy and more supernatural gifts. Now that Satan has spread occult influence all through our culture we see Christ reviving some of the supernatural gifts that have been dormant for many decades. They are needed now for the same reason they were needed in Corinth. The church today must compete for men's souls against the forces of darkness that work wonders and appeal to the emotions of men. In a culture where Satanic healing is common the Holy Spirit gives the gift of healing to some members of the body of Christ. Where mediums and messengers of Satan are doing wonders the Holy Spirit gives the gift of miracles to some members of the body of Christ. As in biblical days, the Lord always gives His people the gifts necessary to counteract and defeat the counterfeit works of the devil. By Satan's power the magicians of Egypt could turn their rods into serpents, but Moses by the power of God turned his rod into a serpent that devoured the serpents of the magicians. So it is all through history. The Holy Spirit enables the people of God to adapt to any situation so as to be more than a match for the workings of Satan. Let us not, therefore, be too quick to judge the professing Christian with a unique gift and ministry. He may be different for the very good reason that different is necessary to get the task of the church accomplished in a changing environment. You and I may not need the gift he has. We may not need to experience it or manifest it because it would serve no real purpose in our environment. I have never felt the need to have the gift to cast out demons because I do not work among people who are demon possessed. In contrast, some of the missionaries feel a deep need for this gift for they see it constantly. The greater the supernatural influence of Satan in a culture, the greater is the need for supernatural gifts in the body of Christ. How then can we know what gifts are of value for us to seek? Paul in verse 7 gives us the answer to that qu estion. We need those gifts that help us best adapt to the needs we face to get the will of God done. The Philips version of this verse goes like this: Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may use it
for the common good." The Living Bible has it, "The H oly Spirit displays God's power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church." Paul makes it clear that the value of any gift is in what it does for the body. The test is not whether it exalts the one with the gift or not. Does it lead to him having the greatest TV audience, or the most books sold? T his is not the question, for the real issue is, what does his gift do for the good of the body? If the body is healthier and happier because of anyone's gift, that gift is being used in harmony with the Holy Spirit's intension. If the gift divides the body and leads to loss of strength, the gift is being abused for selfish ends, and not for the good of the group. No Christian can ever be so independent that he can do as he pleases. He does not ever have the right to even do miracles if by so doing he hu rts the body. Love is to be our aim says Paul, and if my gift does not help, but hinders, the body, then I have an obligation to control that gift and not exercise it, for that act of love is far more valuable than the gift. Paul writes in chapter 13, "If I have all faith and can even remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing." In other words, if the body does not want the mountain removed, but I do it to demonstrate my amazing faith, I may get a kick out of manifesting my gift, but I have injured the body. I have acted in an unloving way, and so my gift, however marvelous, is of no value whatever, for it has not been adapted to meet the needs of the body. Whatever I do for self-glory that does not minister to the body is a pain in the neck. The eye does not see for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole body to get it where its going, and to avoid obstacles and injury. The eye that forgets this and is so busy just seeing for itself, and then lets the body walk into a swamp is an unloving eye. It has failed to fulfill its purpose in the body. Seeing is not just for the eye, but it is for the common good of the whole body. What we see Paul establishing here in these first few verses is the application of the teachings of Christ to the life of the body. Jesus said the whole law of God is summed up in two commandments. The first is to love the Lord with your whole being, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. In verse 3 Paul has established that those truly led of the Spirit will confess Jesus as Lord. Any gift that denies the Lordship of Jesus, or degrades Him in any way, is clearly off the track and guilty of idolatry. Whenever the gift fails to manifest love to the Lord as supreme it is a violation of the first commandment. The gift has become more important than the Giver. Now in verse 7 Paul stresses the second commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself. Here is the second priority, and this becomes the test by which we determine the value of all the gifts in the day by day operation within the body. The idea of doing your own thing is growing in our world. There is no doubt much truth to it. It fits the very idea we have been expressing that God is a God of infinite variety, and the gifts are greatly varied. This can lead to abuse, however, if diversity is not linked to a common good. Differences for difference sake is not Paul's idea, but rather, differences for the sake of the common good. If diversity does not work for unity it is hindrance and not a help to the body. Fritz Pearl's Gestalt Prayer gives us an example of the common concept of doing your own thing. "I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, And you are not in the world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, And if by chance we find each other its beautiful. If not, it can't be helped."
This is the kind of thinking that led to problems in the church at Corinth, and which has led to problems in the modern manifestation of the spiritual gifts. Paul says that it can be helped, for you do your own thing, but you do it for the common good or you just don't do it. People tend to say, "What God gives me I am going to use regardless of how it affects the rest of the body." The Corinthians said that because they had the gift of tongues they would use them in the worship service. It was a matter of indifference to them that nobody else could understand what they were saying. They were enjoying the ecstasy of it all, and if the other members did not enjoy it, they just were not as spiritual. Paul says to them that they are wrong in their value system, and that their priorities were not those of the H ead of the body. Paul says that consistency with the Head, the Lord Jesus, demands that we manifest all gifts only in ways that will be for the common good of all members of the body. The Head never desires what is harmful to the body, and so we know that any gift that is used in such a way that the body is hurt, divided, or hindered from doing its work, is a manifestation of the depraved spirit of man, or the demonic spirit, and never the divine Spirit of Christ. What comes from His Spirit always leads to harmony and unity in the body Paul's emphasis here is that all parts of the body may be different, but they all work for the common good of the whole body. When my ears hear good music all of me enjoys it. When my eyes see beauty even my unseen spine tingles with delight. There is no part of the body that does its own thing for its own sake. Every part of me does its own thing for the sake of the whole body. This is the ideal the church is to strive to attain. Every one of us needs each other to have God's best for our lives. None of us is self-sufficient so that we can experience all of God's blessings in isolation. We need each other, and that is why the Holy Spirit gives variety of gifts to the church. It is for the common good of the body. The Holy Spirit does not pick out some members of the body and give them special gifts so they can be glorified and exalted. Each is gifted that they might be effective servants and channels of blessing to the whole body. Paul is saying just what Jesus said, and that is that it is the servant who is the greatest of all. The first duty of the Christian is to be Christ-centered, and then the next step in Christian maturity is to be body-centered. This is an area of great weakness where we all tend to be as guilty as the Corinthians. We do not have an adequate sense of loyalty to the body. We tend to think of I too much, and of we too little. It is only when we have developed the we attitude that we can be the kind of body that is moving toward the ideal for the local church. Leslie Weatherhead, the great English preacher, could not help laughing to himself when he overheard two dear old ladies talking at breakfast. It was during the war, and one said to the other, "I hear we won the battle of Tobruk." Wheatherhead said, "If the maid would have hit them with the least thing they would have been in bed for a week, but nevertheless they felt they were a part of the Desert Rats battling for liberty." They had a strong sense of identity, and they were one with those men on the battlefront. So it is with the battle of sports. When the news comes on and it is reported that your school won, you shout, "W e did it! We did it!" You may not even have been there, but still it is we who did it. We did it because I am a part of the group that won. Identification with a group leads to a we feeling and we attitu de. Lack of this we feeling is what hurts the church today just as it was hurting the church of Corinth. When this is absent the feelings of envy and jealously creep in and quench the spirit of love. The gifted person who lacks the we spirit tends to get proud of his gift and uses it for self-glory. This makes others in the body either angry or envious. Those members who are not so gifted and who lack the we spirit tend to
look at the very gifted and feel hurt and left out. All of these aches and pains in the body of Christ are eliminated, however, when we develop the we spirit. The we spirit recognizes that every gift is for the good of the whole body. If somebody does a beautiful job of singing, I should not look at that person with envy and wish I had that voice. I should thank God for the blessing that we all receive through that voice. The voice is not for the singer only, but for all the members of the body. We all have that voice because it is a part of the body. It is we who have a good teacher, and it is we who have a gifted leader, and it is we who have a delightful encourager and servant of the body. It is the whole body who has the gifts and not just the one with the gift. The value of the gift is that it blesses all the members of the body and not just the one who has the gift. We should be saying that we really sang great this Sunday, or we really taught a good class. People will wonder when you took up singing and teaching, but you explain that you did not say that you did it. It is we who did it. I do not say I won the football game, or I won the battle. It is the we that did it, and the we includes all who are a part of the group. If the church does anything, it is the we who have done it. A mouse that walked across the bridge on top of an elephant said, "Boy, did we shake that bridge." He had the right attitude because they were together and it was a we situation. Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing." We cannot shake the bridge alone anymore than that mouse could, but with Jesus we can do all things. It is not a do it yourself project, but a we do it together project. This is the test of all the gifts. Does the gift benefit the body and build the we spirit. Only those that build the we spirit are of the Holy Spirit, for only the we spirit in a church can enable that church to adapt to all the needs of the body.
19. THE GIFT OF WISDOM Based on I Cor. 12:8f
A little Protestant boy came walking into his house with a big black eye. His mother said, "Where on earth did you get that shiner?" He said, "The O'Reilly kids hung it on me." "Why" she asked? He replied, "Well, I was over at their house making some cracks about the Pope." His mother said, "Certainly you knew the O'Reilly's were Catholic?" "Sure I did," said the boy, "But I didn't know the Pope was." Here was a little body that had to suffer unnecessarily because he lacked, at this stage in his life, both wisdom and knowledge. The body of Christ has also suffered much in history because it lacked these gifts. The Corinthians were doing and saying things that hurt other members of the body because they were more concerned about their individual gifts then about the health of the whole body. This self-centered attitude has been a common problem in the body of Christ right from the start. The 12 Apostles argued among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. The spirit of individualistic striving for self-glory has been a major problem in the church all through history. The harm this has caused the body has been unnecessary suffering, however, for the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, and by means of these gifts has communicated in these very chapters we are studying all that is necessary for any local church to overcome the problems that come with the gifts. The strife, envy, and jealously of Christians can all be overcome if they will
listen to the wisdom of what Paul says here. The first gift that Paul mentions is that of wisdom, and the second is that of knowledge. These are first because without them all of the other gifts can be used foolishly and in ignorance. Paul began this chapter by telling them, "I would not have you to be ignorant." The only cure for that is knowledge, and so Paul is exercising is gift as he writes these words. When you read and study these chapters you are benefitting from the gifts of wisdom and knowledge that Paul had for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Paul did not receive these gifts for his own sake, but for the sake of the body. He was not having a problem himself that demanded that he have this knowledge. It was the body that was having the problem, and he was gifted to meet that need of the body. He is an excellent illustration of the fact that the gifts are not for the one who has them, but they are for the whole body. Solomon had the gift of wisdom, but he went astray himself. Nevertheless, his wisdom is recorded for the benefit of all God's people. The gift was not just for Solomon, but for the guidance of all the people of God. The gifts can be abused and hurt the body because the Holy Spirit gives gifts just as we do. If I give you a gift, I let go of it, and it is no longer mine. If I keep what I give you and control it myself, I have not really given it to you. If I truly give you something, you then have the responsibility for its use. If I give a child a knife, he can go and cut off the tail of the cat, or he can whittle out a wooden toy for his brother or sister. He can do fun things with a target, or he can do harmful things like throwing it into the garage door. My intention in giving it was that it be always used for good, and never for foolishness. But once it is given the choice is up to the one who has received it. This explains how something good given to us by God can still be used in a harmful way. That is why God gives us an owner's manual. He made the body of Christ, and He knows how the gifts are to be used to benefit the body. We have the Bible as our owner's manual to guide us in the proper use of the gifts. In it we have the guidelines for living, and the prescriptions of the Great Physician that are needed to cure the ills we develop when we fail to follow these guidelines. Every time we study the Bible we are benefitting from the gift of wisdom. Before we look at the gift of wisdom let me share with you an outline that classified these 9 gifts that Paul refers to in verse 8 to 10. There are many different ways these have been classified, but the one I like best is this three-fold classification. A. TH E DISCERNING GIFT S. Deals with intellect and knowing. 1. Wisdom. 2. Knowledge. 3. Discernment of spirits. B. T HE DYNAMIC GIFTS. Deals with the will and doing. 1. Faith. 2. Healing. 3. Miracles. C. THE DECLARAT IVE GIFTS. Deals with emotions and speaking. 1. Prophecy. 2. Tongues.
3. Interpretation of tongues. These gifts cover all aspects of the life of the body. You have covered the intellect, the emotions, and the will. Under these basic categories there may be many other gifts. And keep in mind that they are not isolated from each other, but work in interrelated harmony. The first gift we want to look at is that of wisdom. I. WISDOM. The first thing we need to do is to show how this gift differs from the gift of knowledge. Ideally they go together just as tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues. In 14:13 Paul tells the tongue speaker to pray for the power to interpret. Without interpretation the tongues are of no value in church, and Paul goes on to say that if no one has the gift of interpretation the tongue speaker is to remain quiet in church. In other words, some gifts are not able to stand alone. Those who say all the gifts are always available to the church are being optimistic beyond what Paul says. Paul makes it clear that some gifts may not always be available. This fits wisdom and knowledge as well. The two go hand in hand and depend upon each other. Knowledge digs out the facts and come up with biblical truths and principles, but wisdom puts this knowledge to work. Wisdom has to do with the practical application of knowledge. The medical researcher spends months and years in his lab seeking to discover how various chemicals affect the body. When he discovers something that helps the body fight a disease, he does not doing anything about it. He goes on to another task of research. His job is to gain knowledge. Other men take that knowledge and produce a drug and distribute it. The doctor then has the task of wisdom, which is seeing that the discovery gets applied in real bodies. He did not discover, develop, or distribute the medicine, but he is the one who sees that it gets applied to where it is useful. In the body of Christ you have those with the gift of knowledge who spend their lives doing research in the Greek and Hebrew, and in all of history to discover truth. Then those with the gift of wisdom take what they discover and seek to apply it to practical everyday living. This is the task of the preacher and teacher. Knowledge alone is not enough without wisdom. What good is anything if you don't know what to do with it? Knowledge of Bible truth mu st be applied in life to be of value, and knowing how to apply it is wisdom. All Christians need the gift of wisdom. Jesus said we were to wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Paul prays for all Christians in Eph. 1:17 that God may give them the spirit of wisdom. He tells the Colossians to let the word dwell in them richly in all wisdom, and to walk in wisdom toward them that are without. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God." These are just a few of the many references to the need of wisdom by all believers. The same word is used in all cases, and it is the word Sophia, which means skill or wisdom. This very valuable and essential gift is not just for an isolated member here and there. This is to be a common gift in the body of Christ with every member having it to some degree. Are there then degrees in the gifts? Very clearly is this the case. Just as there are varieties of gifts, so there are varieties of degrees of each of the gifts. No two people with the gift of knowledge have just the same knowledge, and just the same amount of knowledge. Just as one gifted singer may be better than another gifted singer, so it is with wisdom. Jesus increased in wisdom, and He was filled with the Holy Spirit at all times. He grew in degrees of wisdom, and so do all believers. Paul obviously had more wisdom than those in Corinth who had the gift of wisdom, for they were not solving the problems he wrote these chapters to solve. Paul had a high degree of wisdom. He also had a greater capacity for the least of the gifts. He says in 14:18, "I
thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all." But he goes on to say that he has the wisdom not to waste his time and everybody else's by speaking in tongues in church. Paul knew how to use the gift as a private means of devotion, and not ever create a problem for anyone else. There are definite degrees in the gifts, and especially the wisdom. The gift of wisdom is what helps us use the other gifts in a positive way. Charismatic authors tend to see this gift as a temporary rather than a permanent gift. They stress that it is a sudden enlightenment of the Holy Spirit for the solving of some difficult and perplexing problem. This is a true evaluation of how the gift often works in the body. Solomon's wisdom in solving the dispute of the two mothers over the baby is a good example of this gift in a uniquely high degree. Similar is the story of the two men in the church who were in conflict over how to divide a piece of land fairly. The land had been given to both of them. a gifted member of the church had a word of wisdom for them. He suggested that one of them divide the land in two equal parts as he saw fit, and then let the second man get first choice as to which half he wanted. You can see how this simple word of wisdom would guarantee the satisfaction of both men. The gift of wisdom may be given to any member of the body who needs it in a crisis situation. Jesus said to His disciples that they would be dragged before governors and kings, and H e said in Matt. 10:19-20, "When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Here is a case where the gift is not permanent, but comes to them in the hour of crisis so that they are able to speak in wisdom. Herman Riffel, a Baptist pastor for 20 years who has traveled over the world giving lectures on the gifts of the Spirit, tells of his experience of this gift in his book Christian Maturity. He had an assignment to speak in another county to 200 Christian leaders who were well trained in their own field. He had to speak twice a day for 10 days on a subject that could be very controversial. He had always been a man of careful preparation, but this time the Lord gave him no freedom to prepare even an outline. He went and spoke with great liberty and freedom, and out of what he said he later formed his own outline for future presentation of the material. T his one time experience he felt was the operation of the gift of wisdom. He says that this same wisdom may come to a mother who does not know which way to turn in a critical point in the training of her children. There may be an issue of conflict in a business meeting where Christians just cannot agree on which direction to go. In the heat of debate one member may share an insight into the problem that suddenly brings all minds into harmony and agreement, and the issue becomes resolved. That is the gift of wisdom. I see this gift in operation in my life with Lavonne. I share my problem with her, and if I am caught in a bind and do not see how I can resolve it, I let her know what the issue is. She will suddenly see the solution and say, "Why don't you do such and such," and I am amazed, for I have far more education, but she sees the solution in a moment and gives me the wisdom that I could not see. This is why communication is so important in the body as well as in marriage. People tend to think that because they are the one who knows all about the situation that they should have the answer. But it is not so, for the Holy Spirit may give the wisdom to some other member of the body. We under estimate people because we forget that any member of the body may have the gift of wisdom at any one time. Wisdom is so practical because it is able to prevent problems that develop over the other gifts. Envy and jealously is the problem the Corinthians had, and this has been a problem all through history. James felt it too and says in James 3:16, "For where jealou sly and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder
and every vile practice." But then he says in verse 17, "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits..." James is saying the same thing as Paul is saying to the Corinthians. All things in the church must be done decently and in order. All of the conflicts over gifts can only be solved by a proper exercise of the higher gifts such as wisdom. This is the gift Paul is exercising in the writing of these chapters. Wisdom is the key to overcoming all of the conflicts in the body that result because Christians are still plagued with a fallen human natu re. In the first conflict of the early church where the Greeks were complaining that their widows were being neglected by the Hebrew Christians who showed favoritism to their own widows, the conflict was resolved through men of wisdom. Acts 6:3 says, "Pick out from among you 7 men of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom..." The gift of wisdom is essential for anyone who is trying to solve problems of conflict. This gift is a key to good counseling for family and marriage conflicts. We see that this gift may come upon any member in a crisis, or it can be an abiding gift in those members whose role in the body is that of maintaining peace, order, and harmony. It is the antidote to the spirit of strife that enters into all human relationships. This is one of the gifts that every member of the body is to seek for and to possess to some degree. Every Christian is to develop the mind of Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
20. THE GIFT OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE Based on I Cor. 12:8f
When Abraham Lincoln was a young lawyer in Springfield, he was approached by a man of wealth, who wanted to hire him to collect a debt. It seems that the poor man who owed him the two dollars and fifty cents denied the debt and refused to pay. Lincoln did not like the job, but after much persuasion he agreed to take it if the man would pay his fee of ten dollars in cash. The client readily produced the ten dollars. Lincoln then went to the poor man and gave him five dollars of the money on condition that he would immediately pay the alleged debt. He agreed and did so. The rich man was delighted with the quick results he got from his lawyer. Lincoln made five dollars easy money, and the poor man was two fifty to the good instead of two fifty in debt. Lincoln had the ability to take a case of conflict and turn it into a blessing for all concerned. This is one of the primary purposes of the gift of wisdom in the body of Christ. Paul scolds the Corinthians for going to law against one another. He says in 6:5, "Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood?" Paul implies that every body of believers should have someone with the gift of wisdom adequate to settle disputes among members. This gifted person would always settle the dispute in a way far superior to a secular judge. The first major conflict that developed in the early church had to do with the Greek complaint that their widows were being neglected. The Hebrew Christians were in a majority, and they were showing favoritism to their own widows and neglecting the widows of the minority. How did the 12 Apostles handle this dispute? We read in Acts 6:3, "Pick out from among you 7 men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom." This was the beginning of the office of deacons in the church. We see that wisdom
is the gift essential for those who are trouble-shooters and peacemakers in the body. By means of this gift the Holy Spirit can add oil where friction threatens to break down the smooth operation of the body. If you want to go deeper in your service to Christ, earnestly desire that God would give you wisdom. Wisdom will make you a peacemaker in the body. It will enable you to give words of counsel to your fellow Christians in conflict. It will enable you to give an answer to the world for the faith that is within you. Wisdom is one of the higher gifts because it ministers to all in love. It is a hard gift to abuse and use in a wrong way, and, therefore, we are to desire it earnestly. Now lets look at the gift of knowledge. Most authors dealing with the gifts tend to underestimate the working of the Holy Spirit. They limited this gift of knowledge to a supernatural receiving of information that cannot be learned by human study. This is clearly one aspect of the gift of knowledge, but to stop there is to make this gift such a rare specimen that it is almost as extinct as the dodo bird. Paul did not even list this gift along with those that are possessed by just a few, and so we are justified in assuming that this is one of the gifts available to all members in varying degrees. The highest degree is on the level of the miraculous, but there are numerous gifts of knowledge on levels below that. We will almost always miss out on something that God has for us if we try to limit the Holy Spirit, and fail to stress His love for infinite variety. Dr. Criswell, who was pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, stated a foundational truth when he said, "We all have differing gifts and differing degrees of the same gifts." This is especially true as we study the gift of knowledge. It covers such a wide variety of experiences that no translation can express them all. It is of interest to note how the Living Bible selects the most down to earth and least supernatural aspect of the gift. It translates, "Someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching..." this is portraying the gift almost on the level of a natural talent, and some are critical of this, but the fact is, the gift of knowledge covers both the knowledge that comes direct from God, and that which comes indirectly through the study of resources. How do we know this for sure? It is because God used both in producing the Bible for His people, which is the greatest product of the gift of knowledge in the world. We read in Jer. 1:9, "Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, behold, I have put my words in your mouth." The prophecies of Jeremiah were given to him directly by God. He did not have to study. On the other hand, God used Luke to write inspired Scripture as well, but Luke was a gifted scholar, and the Holy Spirit inspired him to produce his Gospel through research. Luke introduces his Gospel, as the Living Bible expresses it in Luke 1:2-3, "Several biographies of Christ have already been written using as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eye witnesses. However, it occurred to me that it would be well to recheck all these accounts from the first to the last and after thorough investigation to pass this summery onto you." Luk e was not less inspired than Jeremiah, but Jeremiah never cracked a book, while Luke studied many and interviewed eyewitnesses before he recorded the Word for the body. Both had the gift of knowledge, for both are part of that which is Scripture inspired of God, which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness. Beware of any attempt to limit the Holy Spirit to a level too high or too low. He plays all the notes in the music of life, and that means all of us, and not just the super brilliant Christians, should be excited about this gift. We should be excited because all of us can have this gift, but also because it is vital to the understanding of how all of the other gifts are to be used for the glory of God and the good of the body.
The problem in Corinth, and the problems with the gifts today, all revolve around the lack of the gift of knowledge. Paul scolds the Corinthians in chapter two for being unspiritual and behaving just like ordinary men. This was especially disturbing because the mind of Christ was available to them. T hey could have known how to avoid all of their problems, for God made it clear by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who searches even the depths of God. Paul writes in 2:12-13 , "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit." The Bible is itself the greatest example of the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. The degree to which we grasp what the Spirit is saying to us through Paul's instruction is the degree to which we ourselves possess the gift of knowledge. Paul received this knowledge direct from God, but you and I receive it by study, thought, meditation and listening. The end result is the same in that we possess the mind of Christ and know what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God concerning the gifts. Knowledge makes all of the gifts a blessing, but ignorance can lead to some of them becoming a burden. Paul received this gift for the sake of the body that the problems of the Corinthians might be solved, and that the same problems be avoided by other churches all through history. We see then how the gifts of wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand as instruments for resolving conflict in the body. When these two gifts are eagerly sought and allowed to function the church labors in unity and harmony, and all is done in order. Whenever friction and division dominate a church, as they did in Corinth, you can be sure that those responsible are guilty of ignorance, and the Spirit has been quenched in the area of wisdom and knowledge. On the other hand, if you and I as members of the body grasp what Paul is teaching we will be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. Looking at degrees again we can see that all members of the body can have the gift of knowledge. They must have it to know what God wants them to know, but some can know it and understand it so well that they can teach it to others. And so the gift of knowledge in a high degree is essential to one who has the gift of teaching. The non-teacher can possess the same knowledge, but they may lack the ability to effectively communicate that knowledge to others. The gift of knowledge is a part of almost all of the other gifts, and so it is a foundation gift from which all must start in seeking to discover and develop any of the other gifts. Quite often in Scripture the gift of knowledge, like the gift of wisdom, is a specific enlightenment on a particular problem. For example, when Jesus asked, "Who do men say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God." Jesus then said in Matt. 16:17, "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonas! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Peter had received a direct insight into the nature of Christ. This does not mean that Peter had all the right answers for everything from then on. It was many years after Pentecost before Peter received another special gift of knowledge and understood for the first time that God is no respecter of persons, but loves the Gentiles equally with the Jews. We see then that Peter as an Apostle and teacher, and as an author of Scripture, who had the gift of knowledge, still received specific gifts of insight from time to time. Even those with the gift of knowledge do not know everything, but like Paul, they see through a glass darkly on many of the mysteries of life. Even the gifted person only knows in part, and so they must live by faith and not by sight. Peter learned that God is no respecter of persons by direct revelation. You and I learn it by studying
the Word. Peter's original gift was far more supernatural then any gift we might have, but our enlightenment from the Word is no less a gift of the Spirit. Those who do not have the Spirit cannot understand the truth of God. When we come to know the mind of Christ either directly or from the Word it is a divine discloser of knowledge and not a product of human reasoning. The more highly gifted impart knowledge to the body, and other members of the body need only a lesser gift to grasp what has been given. The differing degrees of this gift help us to understand how we can reconcile the idea that the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, and at the same time we are to earnestly seek them. There is no way we can cause God to give us direct insight and information. This is His sovereign choice. But there is something we can do to make ou rselves prepared instruments for insight. We can study to show ourselves approved unto to God. We can expose our minds to the Word, and be open to the enlightenment of the Spirit. I prayed earnestly for this gift at age 18 and God granted me a love for the Word that has compelled me to study it ever since. None of my knowledge has come like that of Jeremiah, but all has come like that gained by Dr. Luke. It is less supernatural, but no less the gift of the Spirit. Paul urges us all to earnestly desire the highest gifts, and two of them are the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. One Sunday afternoon a private airplane took off and crashed. T he pilot and his family were killed. The Federal Aviation Association came and spent hours checking the wreckage. They concluded that the pilot had attempted a maneuver the plane was not built to do. More knowledge could have saved him and his family. What you don't know won't hurt you is a saying based on ignorance, for the fact is, what you don't know can kill you. Knowledge is essential to the health of any life, and the life of the body of Christ is no exception. The church needs people with knowledge in order to be effective. That is why the promotion of Bible Study is ceaseless in the body. Every member needs to know God's Word better. We need to be a people who are aware of our ignorance and are ever asking questions about why things are as they are. Dr. M. Scott Peck in his book Further Along The Road Less Traveled says that he made a great medical discovery a decade after he finished medical school. He writes, "I discovered that we know hardly anything about medicine." He says that doctors do not know why people get most diseases, and they don't know why certain medicines work on some and not on others. He goes on to say that science does not know what makes the laws of nature work as they do. There are now many things modern man knows so little about, and the key to progress is people who ask why? Mentally healthy people have a taste for mystery and they are forever asking why things work as they do. The spiritual journey is also a quest for truth that compels us to ask why. There is so much we don't know, and we must be asking why, and really want to know, in order to grow. He is saying that life is full of mystery because God wants us to be mystified, for this stimulates curiosity and leads man to discover more and more of the truth. He writes again, "In my practice, my patience would sometimes say to me, not in a psychotic but in an ordinary existential way, "Gee, Dr. Peck, I'm so confused," and I would say, "That's wonderful!" And they would say, "What do you mean? It's awful." And I would say, "No, no, it means that you're blessed." And they would say, "What? It feels terrible. How can I be blessed? And I would say, "You know, when Jesus gave His big sermon, the first words out of His mouth were: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'" There are a number of ways to translate "Poor in spirit," but on an intellectual level, the best translation is "confused." Blessed are the confused. If you ask why Jesus might have said that, then I must point out to you that confusion leads to a search for clarification and with that search comes a great deal of learning."
Dr. Os Guiness says we cannot always know why about a lot of things in this life, but we can keep on seeking to know why, and meanwhile trust in the God who knows why. He knows the meaning of that which is meaningless to us, and we need not fear to be persistent in asking why until we discover some answers. Job could not find any answer that made sense to him. His friends had answers that he knew were wrong. All he could do is say, "Thou gh he slay me yet will I trust him." Job sought for answers to his why, but meanwhile he trusted that God knew why and the end result was that he was right. God did know why, and Job was rewarded for trusting him when he didn't have an answer. God did not condemn him for asking why and seeking for answers because God wanted him to seek in order to reveal how little man really knows about why things are as they are in this world of so much suffering. The gift of knowledge is for everyone to some degree, and to some in a great degree. The body of Christ needs to be intelligent in order to get anywhere in fulfilling the purpose of God. A body without brains may serve a purpose in a museum, but it is not an asset in the kingdom of God. But as important as this gift is, even at its highest level it is of no ultimate value without love. In chapter 13 verse 2 Paul writes, "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Lack of love spoils all the gifts. You can be a know it all and still not be an asset to the body if your knowledge makes you proud and unloving. The church needs gifted people, but the number one need for every church is for loving people. A loving person who hasn't discovered their gift is more precious than one who is multi-gifted but unloving. This makes it clear then that the dividing of the intellect and emotions is meaningless. They are one, or they are nothing. You can't be a brain without a heart. The knowing person has to be a loving person or his knowing is of no value. Knowing this is one of the most precious gems that every Christian is to gain by their gift of knowledge. When you know that no gift is of value without love, you have arrived at a high level of the gift of knowledge. Tell a starving man that he needs food and explain the digestion system and he will probably not be very grateful for your profound insights and knowledge of the body. He would be grateful, however, if you could give him something to eat. The gift of knowledge in that context will not be as effective, as would be an act of love in sharing some food with him. It may be that knowledge will help him after he is fed, but until his basic need is met he will not be impressed with any knowledge. Every gift has its place, but when it is out of place it is like a nose on the bottom of your foot. It will be a pain, and it will hinder rather than help. Love is always appropriate, but it takes the gift of knowledge to know when other gifts are appropriate. May G od bless us all with more and more of these gifts of wisdom and knowledge.
21. LAYING THE GROUNDWORK Based on I Cor. 15:5-11
One of the most novel debates in the history of Christianity was that over the question of whether or not Adam and Eve had a navel. The man in the street could hide his conviction, but the artist had to face the issue squarely and choose a side. His works made it clear whether he was pro or anti-navel. Michaelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel came out strongly for the pro-navel side. He was
strongly criticized by Sir Thomas Broune, however, who called it a dreadful mistake “in that it implies that the Creator affected superfluities or ordained parts without use or office.” Anti-navelists said that God does not create what is useless, and so why would He give them a navel when they were not born by the normal process? But the pronavelists argued that if they lacked navels they would be imperfect specimens of mankind, and God does not create imperfections. Every argument was met with a counter argument. Christopher M orley described the situation perfectly in his poem The T wins. Con was a thorn to brother ProOn Pro we often sicked him: Whatever Pro would claim to know, Old Con would contradict him! In opposition to Michaelangelo other artists painted Adam and Eve without navels. If men were aiming to appear uttering ridiculous, they could not selected a better subject to debate, for with this one they hit it right on the button. The issue died down for a long time, but was revived again in 1944 in the Congress of the United States. Assuming that navel affairs came under their jurisdiction, a subcommittee of the House Military Affairs Committee opposed distribution of the booklet The Race Of Mankind to all soldiers. One of the grounds of their complaint was that an illustration depicted Adam and Eve with navels. It is easy to see how the evolutionist could use this to support his contention that Adam and Eve were born from some preman creature. On the other hand, if they had no navel, it would be a sign of their being the direct creation of God. It is a question difficult to resolve. The point of even bringing up all this navel nonsense is that it illustrates just how involved men can get over an issue that is pure speculation without a single fact or thread of evidence on which to stand. Some of the arguments on both sides are sound, but that is all they are-sound there is no solid ground on which to rest. The best argument has no better foundation than the worst. Each side can appeal to faith, but there is no basis for faith without facts. Many Christians get confused at this point, and they think that faith can be a substitute for facts. Whatever you call that which believes without evidence, it is not biblical faith. Credulity, superstition, or blind faith maybe, but it is not biblical faith. Biblical faith is always based on facts, and is supported by evidence. If we would keep this in mind, we would avoid many of the foolish mistakes Christians have made. A. T. Pierson, one of the great defenders of the faith in the 19 th century, considered it a Christian duty to demand proof and evidence of what is proclaimed as Christian doctrine. If you swallow everything you hear proclaimed as Christian truth, you will soon be a walking encyclopedia of error. Heresy, nonsense and false ideas are constantly being communicated by both liberals and conservatives. The Christian is obligated to test everything and try the spirits to see if they are of God. In his book Many Infallible Proofs Pierson says, “There is a kind of doubt that is entirely right,
and of that sort is the doubt of one who does not believe what he has no reason to believe, and what he has no proof of as true.” He also says, “A faith not firmly founded upon good evidence deserves not the name of faith... Nothing is to be accepted unless based on good evidence.” These statements are confirmed as we examine the argument of Paul in this chapter on the resurrection. Paul’s procedure and pattern in this argument is almost as valuable to us as is the content of his message. Paul teaches us how to defend Christian truth, and how a Christian should conduct himself in controversy. Many Christians do great harm to the cause of Christ, even in defense of the truth, by failing to follow Paul’s pattern. If a truth is worth defending, it is worth the effort to be honest, factual and logical. Fallacies are never justified even in defense of the most vital truths. Let us, therefore, learn from both the message and the method of Paul as he lays the groundwork for his argument on the resurrection of the dead. First we consider how heI. ACCUMULAT ES EVIDENCE. Paul does not launch off from the clouds of speculation. He begins on the solid ground of eye-witness evidence. The heart of Christianity is the Gospel, and the heart of the Gospel is the resurrection of Christ. Paul’s whole argument depends upon the reality of the resurrection. An historical fact can only be proven by historical evidence, and historical evidence comes to us largely by means of eye-witnesses. The resurrection, like every other historical event, depends for its validity on the testimony of eye-witnesses. That is why Pau l records this list of those who had seen the risen Christ. He did not depend on his own testimony as sufficient proof. Paul is aware of the fact that even honest men can make mistakes. They can have unusual subjective experiences, and so one man is an inadequate basis for proof. Almost all nations have required at least two witnesses to convict a man of a crime. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name that He would be there in the midst. Jesus is with us when we are alone as well, but no conviction or interpretation of Scripture coming out of that private fellowship can be considered authentic unless it is confirmed by others. We do this in our business meetings also. No motion is ever considered on the basis of one person making it. It must have a second to be considered. A distrust for pure individuality runs through our whole system. Charles Seignobas writes, “It is a principle common to all sciences of observation, not to base a scientific conclusion on a single observation. The fact must have been corroborated by several independent observations before it can be affirmed.” On the basis of this principle Paul does the most scholarly job of accumulating evidence. Matthew only records two appearances of the risen Christ; Luke only three, and John only four, bu t Paul has five plus his own, and one of them to a group of over 500 people. Even at that Paul is not exhaustive in his evidence, for certainly he must have heard to the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the other women. Paul, however, did not list them, for they were not as powerful as witnesses. Women did
not have the same status as men, and Paul is concerned only with the best evidence at his point. He left out the men on the road to Emmaus also, for they were obscure and not well known. The point is, Paul was selective in his evidence to give the greatest impact without unnecessary facts cluttering up his argument. As an unknown poet wrote, Examples I could cite you more, But be contented with these four, For when one’s proofs are aptly chosen, Four are as valid as four dozens. So it is with Paul’s list here. He has given what he feels is the most powerful and well balanced list of eye-witnesses. He has selected 3 individuals and 3 groups. The 3 individuals, Peter, James and himself are key leaders known to all in the church. Paul is using one of the most common and valuable appeals in argument, which is the appeal to authority. If you can quote outstanding authorities to support your position, your view will have greater weight. It is a legitimate and biblical procedure in debate. Defenders of the faith have always depended upon this a great deal in controversy with the world of unbelief. Let us not misunderstand this appeal, however, and think au thority is in itself a sufficient proof of anything. This is contrary to the whole spirit of Protestantism. When Martin Luther was forced to reply before the Diet of Worms he said, “Since your imperial Majesty requires a plain answer, I will give one without horns or hoofs. It is this, that I must be convinced either by the teaching of Scripture or by clear argument. I cannot trust the pope or councils by themselves, for both have erred. I cannot and will not retreat.” Luther would have accepted proof and evidence from authority, but authority in itself does not produce truth, it can only be a witness to truth. The greatest authority in any field must still back up his ideas with evidence. Paul was a great authority himself, but he does not by authority command the Corinthians to believe. He lays before them evidence to compel belief. The fact that great leaders like Peter, James and himself are believers in the resurrected Christ is powerful evidence, because each of them was in a negative relationship to Christ at the time of the resurrection. They were not in a psychological state that could lead to wishful thinking and hallucinations. They were not caught up in an ecstasy of hopeful expectation. Instead, Peter was a denier of Christ; James was a disbeliever, and Paul was a despiser. He saves his personal testimony for last because it is the most powerful. He was the least likely person to ever be a believer, for he hated Christians, and the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ was nonsense to him. Paul’s method here has become commonplace in Christian evidence. We take the man who was formerly atheist or criminal as an example of the power of the Gospel. It is a valid practice, for it shows the reality of conversion in a visible way, and it shows that if such a person can be converted, then anyone can. In the 1930's, for example, a boy by the name of John Cifelli was a member of a gang in Toledo, Ohio. His job was to steal cars. The gang would repaint them and
resell them. He was caught and served 32 months in prison. He spent years traveling with various carnivals and began to drink heavily. He went to a rescue mission and heard the Gospel but he was not interested. All he wanted was the free meal and bed. In 1963 he went to Galesburg, Ill. He sought out the nearest tavern and then visited the Rescue Mission. He liked to sing How Great Thou Art, and so he requested it and they sang it. He stayed there doing odd jobs and after much effort by a local pastor he trusted in Christ as his personal Savior. He went on to become the superintendent of that mission. He married a Christian woman and ordained into the ministry. Personal testimonies like this by the thousands down through history cannot be dismissed by the honest mind. They prove that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Paul then goes on to make sure that no one charges him with choosing isolated cases. He selects three groups of witnesses of the resurrection. He has the 12, and then the larger body of Apostles, and finally the 500 disciples who saw the risen Christ. There is a strong collective testimony as well as personal testimony. Paul had an appeal to quality when he selected the 3 individual leaders, and now he has appeal to quantity. Numbers are not unimportant. When you can get over 500 people to testify to having seen something there is not a court in the world that would reject it as inadequate evidence. Paul was so zealous in accumulating evidence that he apparently had personal interviews with some of these 500 . We know he had an interview with Peter and James, but it is implied he talked with other witnesses as well because he says that most of them are still alive. In other words, though some have died and the evidence is buried, most of the evidence is still available to anyone who wants to take the effort to look these people up as I have done. Check it out for yourself is what Paul is saying. This is the best evidence possible, for it is evidence you can personally examine and not just take someone else’s word for it. There is more to be said on this, but we need to move on. The important thing is to simply recognize Paul’s attitude in gathering this evidence. He was a great man of faith, but also a great man of facts. He does not suggest by word or act that proof and evidence is contrary to faith. Paul would add to the word of James who said, “Faith without works is dead,” and say that, “Faith without facts is also dead.” Jesus expected us to love God with all our minds, and this demands that we have seeking minds ever in search for facts and evidence to confirm our faith. Jesus gave men evidence of His Messiahship in His miracles. He satisfied the longing of John the Baptist for evidence to support His claim to be Messiah. He gave Thomas the evidence he longed for to prove that He had risen. Our faith would be stronger, and we would be more effective witnesses if we had the same zeal of Paul in gathering facts, testimony and evidence to prove the truth of what we believe. Next we see how heII. AVOIDS EMOTION Paul is dealing with people who do not find his views acceptable, and others who
are uncertain and on the border. If he would call his opponents a pack of meat heads and scatterbrained ignoramuses, he would lose the ear of his opponents and push the border line people over into error. Studies on debates have proven time and time again that emotional language of name calling and ridicule are very effective for nonChristian goals, but very ineffective for Christian goals. If you are interested in only getting cheers from those who already think like you, nothing is more effective than name calling. Voltaire and Ingersall traveled widely and kept people in stitches as they ridiculed the Christian faith. Their cause was destructive and negative. If that is your goal to tare down, then ridicule is a powerful weapon. Paul’s goal was to build up, however, and not to tare down. A Christian should never be in an argument for any other reason but to extent the truth into areas now held by error. Paul wrote to convince the disbelievers, and bring those on the border over on to solid ground.
Paul’s goal called for cool, calm and unoffensive language. He must be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Daniel Webster said, “Keep cool: Anger is not argument.” I have heard men arguing for a position I agreed with, but they lost my vote and respect because they had nothing better to do than blast the opponent’s view and call them names. A man who does not deal with the issues, but engages in name calling insults the intelligence of his audience. He is a liability to his cause even if he is on the right side. Many men with less wisdom and love than Paul would have split the Corinthian church in half. Paul avoids the emotion filled arguments that kindle the fires of anger. Without a doubt Paul felt more emotion than he reveals, for the issue was vital to Christian faith, but he controls his emotion and follows the course of calm reasoning. When the Spirit of truth guides a man in controversy he will be honest in his logic, and will not use the cowardly weapon of name calling. Jesus in confronting Satan answered argument for argument and won out on the basis of a more accurate and reasonable interpretation of the Scripture. All the name calling in the world would not settle the issue then, and it would not with Paul, nor will it with us today. May God help us each to learn to be Christian in controversy and follow the pattern of Paul. Accumulate evidence so that your argument is based on solid facts, and then avoid emotion by a cool dignified presentation of those facts and their implication. Let us follow the pattern of Paul who was an expert in laying the ground work.
THE BURIAL OF HIS BODY Based on I Cor. 15:1-11
Doctor Martin von Butchell was a London dentist who lost his wife in 1775, and was reluctant to part with her. There was no law against it, so he had her embalmed, and kept her in a glass case in his home. He introduced visitors to her as my dear departed. Word spread of this spectacle, and the good doctor was forced to take action to stem the tide of sightseers. He had to put an add in the paper informing people that only those he was personally introduced to could see his wife, and those only
from 9:00 to 1:00. Eventually he remarried, and the new Mrs von Butchell was not fond of the presence of the dear departed, and so the doctor was forced to arrange for a suitable burial. It would have been a grave mistake not to bury her, but he had plenty of time to get the job done. The burial of Christ, however, was a rush job if there ever was one. Since nobody expected Jesus to die, there were no arrangements for Him to have a suitable bu rial. The victims of crucifixion were usually left to be eaten by birds and wild animals, or thrown, like worthless garbage, into the dump, and burned. This was the likely fate of the two thieves who died with Jesus. For Jesus, however, there was a swift but suitable burial. None of His family did it, nor did any of His chosen disciples. Surprisingly, the two men who buried Jesus were the two men who, while Jesus was alive, were afraid to make a public show of their faith in H im. Joseph of Arimathea was a recent disciple, and Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night. Both of them were Jewish leaders who feared the Jews, but now, when Jesus is dead, they are the only ones who go into action to see that the body of Jesus gets a suitable burial. In John 19 we read that Joseph went to Pilate to get permission to take the body, and Nicodemus went to buy seventy five pounds of myrrh and aloes. Together these two men wrapped Jesus in strips of linen with the spices. In verse 40 John is careful to tell us, "This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs." Jesus received from these two leaders an official Jewish burial. There was no funeral, no eulogy, no orations, for the greatest man who ever lived. There was only this quick and quit burial, bu t it was a dignified burial. There was a garden tomb near the place of the cross, and it was a tomb where no man had ever laid. T here they placed the body of Jesus on that first Good Friday, late in the afternoon. Jesus died about three in the afternoon, and so by the time they got permission and prepared the body it would be getting late. John implies that they had to hurry, for the Sabbath was approaching, and no work could then be done. Chapter 19 of John ends with this verse describing the urgency, "Because it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there." There was no time to make other arrangements, so they did what had to be done, and hurriedly got Jesus's body prepared and into the tomb before the Sabbath. So hasty was the burial that the women who stood at a distant watching were not satisfied it had been done right, and so they got more spices and prepared to go back after the Sabbath to give Jesus a completely suitable burial. It is just like women to think that they men did not do it right, and so they would have to come behind and finish the job. It could be they were right, for Joseph and Nicodemus were public officials and not undertakers. Maybe their hasty job was far from professional. But God, in His providence, knew that even a poor job would last the weekend. That was all the longer Jesus was going to be in that tomb. We can thank God that His plan does not always call for everything being done as good as the women want it done. If Jesus was going to be buried for centuries, that is one thing, but if only for a few days, then the way men do it will be just fine. The interesting thing about the burial of Jesus is, that in spite of the fact that all four Gospels record it, and in spite of the fact that Paul makes it one of the three historical facts of the Gospel, you can hardly find an author that has written anything about the theological significance of Christ's burial. It is, without a doubt, one of the most neglected, ignored, by-passed, and avoided subject in the history of Christianity. It is not that commentators do not mention it, but the problem is, that is all they do. In volumes galore the authors will go on for pages about the death of Christ, and then
merely mention the burial of Christ before going on to a lengthy discussion of the resurrection. When I read the NIV of I Cor. 15:3, I got motivated to discover new truths I never saw before. Paul says, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance." Then he lists the three facts of the G ospel. Paul says the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are matters of the first importance. We all know the death and resurrection are vital, but I never heard anybody say the burial of Christ was of great importance, so when I read that I got excited. I was going to find out why Paul put the burial of Christ on the same level with His death and resurrection. To my surprise, I discovered nobody would tell me. I looked up the burial of Christ in some of the great theologians of our century, and it was not even in the index. I figured the older theologians would deal with it, but I was wrong. Martin Luther states it in his catechism, but with no explanation. Calvin in his Institutes, of over 800 pages of theology, has less than one half of a page on the burial of Christ, and says as near to nothing as possible. I turned to the preachers for help. Certainly D. L. Moody in his sermon, What Is The Gospel, would expound on all three of the facts of the Gospel. But he didn't. And so it went with all the authors I searched. Then it dawned on me: The Apostles Creed was my answer. The Apostles Creed and some of the other great creeds of history have the statement, Christ was dead, buried and descended into hell. I knew there were many books written on the creeds, so I went to the seminary library and found dozens of books. Pay dirt at last? Wrong! Most of them just skipped anything to say on the burial, and the few that did had almost nothing to say of significance. I was beginning to regret that I ever got excited about the burial of Christ. It was a puzzle to me why Paul even mentioned the burial of Christ. It seems like such an incidental detail. I wondered if I was trying to make something of nothing. Certainly the burial of Christ cannot be a part of the saving Gospel that the church is to carry into all the world. Paul must have just slipped this in with no deep thought. Bu t then I discovered that Paul in his own preaching of the Gospel actually included the burial of Christ. Dr. Luke records one of Paul's sermons that he preached on his first missionary journey. In Acts 13, after dealing with the death of Jesus, Paul writes in verse 29, "When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in the tomb. But God raised Him from the dead." Paul actually preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the Gospel. Paul meant it; the burial was to him a vital part of the Gospel. But why? That is the question. If we look at that weekend that changed the world, we see an interesting fact that few ever consider. It took six hours on the cross for Jesus to die. It took from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. It took only seconds for Jesus to rise from the tomb. When He comes for His bride those Christians still living will be transformed in a twinkling of an eye. I am sure it took no longer for Jesus to go from a dead body to a Risen Redeemer. That means six hours and a few seconds of the weekend are involved in the two great facts of the Gospel: Christ's death and resurrection. But the third great fact, the burial, not only took several hours in preparation, it was the only one of the three that covered all three days of that weekend. He was buried on Friday, He stayed buried all through Saturday. This was the only complete 24 hour period in this Christ event. Then He was still buried on Sunday morning, and so He was buried some part of all three days. For sheer quantity of time the burial of Jesus was the dominate theme of the weekend that changed the world. But this
longest of the three facts of the Gospel is the least considered in Christian history. The whole of the Gospel happened in a short space of about 36 hours. It was the most important span of time in all of time, but the greatest portion of it Jesus was buried. The silence on this subject is awesome. Everybody acknowledges that it was important, but nobody will say just why. It is in the creeds, and, therefore, it is to be believed as basic doctrine, but there are no reasons given as to why it is basic. The mystery of the burial of Christ aroused my curiosity all the more when I considered that this fact had to be like the other two facts of the Gospel. It had to be good news. Christ died for our sins, and that is good news. He was raised on the third day, and that was good news. But why is it good news that He was buried? To be a fundamental fact of the Gospel it has to be established that Christ's burial was a positive thing, like His death and resurrection. But I was at a dead end at the tomb of Christ. Where could I go, oh where could I go, where could I go, but to the Lord? T hat is what I did. I decided the Bible itself has to have the answer as to why the burial of Christ was good news. I got my concordance, and began to look up everything the Bible had to say about burial, and what I found began to shed some light on this issue of Christ's burial. I discovered that it was considered a curse in Israel not to have a proper burial. Eccles. 6:3 puts it in very strong terms: "A man may have a hundred children and live many years, yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a still born child is better off than he." This sounds radical to place proper burial on this level of importance, but it is not. It was the orthodox view of Judaism. Asaph in Psa. 79:3 laments that the worst of times have befallen Jerusalem, for there was no one to bury the dead. Proper burial was a basic goal of life to the Jews, and to miss it was the ultimate indignity. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "It is esteemed the greatest calamity that can befall a person." Isaiah confirms this, and describes God's judgment as coming in the denial of decent burial. We read in Isaiah 14 :18-20: "All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch....Like a corpse trampled under foot. You will not join them in burial, for you have destroyed you r land and killed your people." Jeremiah adds to this gloomy picture more darkness as he describes the judgment of God on Jehoiakim in Jer. 22:19: "He will have the burial of a donkey-dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem." Jeremiah gives several other gruesome accounts of people slain and not buried, but with their bones strewn over the ground with no one to care about them. In II Kings 9:10, Jezebel received the worst of curses. Her body would not be buried, but would be devoured by dogs. There is more evidence, but there is no point in elaboration, for it is not in dispute. It was a curse not to have proper bu rial, and it follows, therefore, that it was a blessing to have a proper burial. Jesus clearly suffered the curse of dying on a cross by crucifixion, but H e did not suffer the greater curse of having His body cast into the garbage dump or thrown to the dogs. He was given a decent and honorable burial in accordance with the Jewish customs. He received the highest honor His body could receive after death. Jesus expected this final honor to His body, for it was clearly a part of God's plan. In Matt. 26:12 Jesus said of the woman who poured out and expensive jar of perfume on His head, "She did it to prepare me for burial." And then He added this amazing tribute to her in verse 13: "I tell you the truth, where ever this Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has
done will also be told, in memory of her." Jesus put a great deal of importance on this loving act of preparation for His burial. It seems like a rather trivial incident in His life, but Jesus turns it into a perpetual memorial for all time. This woman who prepared the body of Jesus for burial was one of the greatest women of all time. But since we do not grasp the importance that Jesus placed on His burial, it all seems like much ado about nothing to us. We have missed one third of the Gospel because we have not seen the significance of the burial of Christ. It meant so much to Jesus, and it meant so much to the Jews. Yet, the few who even bother to comment on the burial of Christ link it to the first or the third fact of the Gospel. 99.9% of authors who refer to the burial at all, will say it was to confirm the reality of Christ's death. But, of course, it does not such thing, as the history of people being buried alive demonstrates. Most just do not have a clue as to why the burial is mentioned. The problem with those who just consider the burial as another step down in the humiliation of Christ is, it is bad news and not good news. It only makes sense for Paul to stress it if it can be demonstrated to be good news. This means the burial has to be linked, not to the defeat of the cross, but to the victory of the resurrection. A closer look at Paul's language shows that this is exactly what Paul is doing. He says Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and He was raised the third day according to the Scripture. He does not say He was buried according to the Scripture. He only says, according to the Scripture, twice. This leaves us with two options: That Paul meant to say, the burial was not according to the Scripture, or that Paul links the burial and the resurrection, and means, these two are according to the Scripture. It is obvious that Paul meant this last idea, for the Scriptures do speak prophetically of the burial of Christ. Isaiah 53:9 says, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death." So what we have here is Paul linking the burial of Christ, not to the death of Christ, but to the resurrection of Christ, making it a part of the beginning of victory rather than a continuation of defeat. Once Jesus died for our sins, and the price was paid, there was an immediate change for the better. Death was the last step of Christ's decent. After that it was an upward march. The body would no longer be disgraced, but have an honorable burial, for the curse was over, and the victory was already begun. The death of Christ was a curse that He suffered for us, but His burial was not a curse, but was dignified and honorable. It was an immediate act of honor for His dead body. We need to get the idea out of our heads that burial was in any way negative. Jesus considered it a great act of love to prepare His body for burial. These friends did their greatest act of love by coming forward to take His body and prepare it for the tomb. It was all according to the highest honor in Judaism. The Bible stresses that the body of Jesus saw no corru ption. On the cross Jesus was mutilated, but after the cross not another bad thing happened to His body. They broke the legs of the two thieves, but not those of Jesus. His body was protected from any decay. This was no minor matter but is stressed in the Bible. Peter, in his famous sermon at Pentecost, quoted Psa. 16, "You will not abandoned me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One see decay." He goes on to explain that this referred to the Messiah, for David is still in his tomb buried. Jesus, however, is not, for He rose from the grave in His body which saw no decay. If one great Apostle made this a basic part of his message, we could say that was his own unique perspective. Bu t if the Apostle Paul makes a big issue out of the body of Jesus having no decay, then we have to face it, this was a part of the original Gospel that the early church took into all the world.
In Acts 13 Paul announces that he is preaching the Good News that God has promised to the fathers, and is now fulfilled in Jesus. He proceeds to expound on the issue of no decay in the body of Jesus. Four times in four verses he uses the word decay. It is so impressive as evidence of my point that I want to read it all. Verses 34-37 read, "The fact that God raised Him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: I will give the holy and sure blessings promised to David. So it is stated elsewhere: You will not let your holy one see decay. For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep, he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay." The burial of Jesus without decay fulfilled the promise of God to David. The idea of being able to die, and not be subject to the consequences of death was to the Jews what the dream of heaven is to us. This was the ultimate victory in their minds, to escape the corruption of death. It was, therefore, a very relevant part of the Gospel that moved the Jews and the Gentiles to respond to Christ in faith. For He died, but never saw corruption in His body. His burial was not defeat, but victory, the victory that men long for over death. It lead to the whole vast world of embalming and mummification of bodies in Egypt. But as amazing as it was for preserving the body, it did not prevent decay, for even the best of mummies suffered decay. Man cannot prevent decay, but the burial of Jesus without decay was already a symbol of the full victory over death. His body never saw decay, and never would, for it would be raised and perfected, and never experience the defiling touch of death. Why is the burial of Jesus part of the good news? Because it reveals that even in death Jesus was no longer the victim, but the victor. His body was already on the winning side, and was not under the power of death. This does not have the appeal to us it did to the people who first heard the Gospel. It is because we have been so powerfully influenced by the Greek philosophy of life that does not put great emphasis on the body. The burial of Jesus and all it means to the honor of the body will only be good news to those who have a high view of the body, and high hopes for the body. The fact that so little is made of the burial of Christ in our Western culture reveals that we have a low view of the body, and have a hard time identifying with the full Gospel. We have let one third of the Gospel slip into near oblivion because it is no longer important to us, or to the people we preach to, that the body of Jesus saw no corruption, and that our bodies will also escape eternal corruption and be perfected as was His body. The body of Jesus was a perfect specimen for sacrifice for our sin, and even after man mutilated it, it was pure and without decay. His body and blood were the perfect tools to do the job of redemption. You need to have the right tools to get a special job done, and this incorruptible body and blood of Jesus was the only tool capable of redeeming man. Peter states it clearly in I Peter 1:18-19. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." Even in death the body of Jesus was incorruptible. When Jesus atoned for all sin the power of death was ended, and He demonstrated that, not just in the resurrection, but in the being buried and still experiencing no corruption. The poison that Adam had put into the veins of man by eating the forbidden fruit, and which caused all men to die and return to dust, was at last purged by the second Adam, and now the body of man, the first man of the new humanity of the second Adam was free from this poison, and its power to produce decay. This is
good news for those who are interested in the physical destiny of man. The Gospel does not revolve around the spirit, but around the body. Christmas exists for the sake of Good Friday. Jesus had to be born into a human body in order to give His body in sacrifice for our sin. Jesus did not die in spirit, He died in His body, and He was buried in His body, and He rose again in His body. The body of Christ is the center of good news. Man is body, soul, and spirit, and if his body is not saved, he is not saved, for man is not complete, and truly man, without a body. Paul is stressing that the plan of salvation includes the salvation of the body. The body is designed to house an eternal soul, to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and to inherit and eternal destiny. The greatest temple is not that of Solomon or Herod, but the temple Jesus said H e would raise up in three days-the temple of His body. Paul says we are to glorify God in our bodies. The resurrection life is a life where the body is used to glorify God. The business of the church in our Western culture it seems is to save souls and not bodies. You can find hundreds of volumes on soul-winning, but do not waste your time looking for body-saving books, for they do not exist. And that is why the second fact of the Gospel has become a forgotten fact. It was good news for the Jews and the Gentiles of the Apolstolic period, but it has not been for the Western mind for centuries. We have not learned to appreciate the body and to honor it. It is the source of sin and weakness, and not a temple to be glorified and treated with dignity. The whole burial story of Jesus is a story of dignity. 1. The dignity of preparation-perfume before He died, and spices and perfume after. 2. T he dignity of place-a rich mans tomb where none had ever been laid. 3. The dignity of person-Jesus was treated like a king, fulfilling the promise to king David. In a world where the body is treated with so much contempt, the burial of Jesus can be a powerful aspect of the good news. The Gospel offers people hope for the body, for it reveals God's love for and respect for the body. He will take this corruptible thing and make it incorruptible. That is one of Paul's points later on in I Cor. 15 . Paul's whole point in this great chapter is that the body is important to God, and the event of Christ's burial is positive proof of it. If you take the body lightly you not only disagree with Paul, you disagree with God, and lose a third of the good news God gives us in the Gospel of His Son. Paul intended Christians to think more of the burial of Christ, and what it means, far more than we do. The proof of this is in Rom. 6 where he stresses that we are buried with Christ in baptism. Paul makes it clear that baptism is to symbolize all three basic facts of the Gospel: The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. There is no escaping the evidence. We have so absorbed the burial of Jesus into His death that we have buried it as a distinct part of the Gospel. I do not intend to start a crusade to restore, for most every body in the world who has been saved by hearing and responding to the Gospel would only be able to see the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. We know that two out of three ain't bad, for trusting a Savior who died and rose again does save, even if you never think of His burial. But for us who have been exposed to this evidence, there is an obligation to take this evidence seriously, and not only be aware of it, but share it where it can be seen by the hearer as good news. Paul wrote in II Cor. 4:10-11, "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to
death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body." The body is a vital part of the Gospel and Christian living, and that is why the burial of Christ's body without decay is one of the three basic facts of the Gospel. It adds a key dimension to the good news we are to share with the world.
23. THE GOSPEL AND THE BODY Based on I Cor. 15:1-12
Captain James Saunders of the U. S. Navy taught a graduate class on the principles of agreement. As a demonstration, he would give each member of the class a piece of white paper, and ask them to chew it. The paper had been treated with a chemical called phenylthiocarbimide. Some reported that it tasted bitter; some said it was sweet; others said it had no taste. A vigorous argument would break out as to who was right. Each was arguing from personal experience, and so they were positive they were right, and the others wrong. Then Captain Saunders would explain that this chemical taste different to different people. So they were all right, even though they had opposite answers. Life and reality are paradoxical enough so that both sides of an argument can be equally right. This should be kept in mind in any debate which is based on subjective experience. On the other hand, when we come to matters of historical fact, it is either so, or not. An event like the resurrection is a fact, or it is fiction. Both views can be held, but only one can be correct. This is true of all of the facts of the Gospel, and, therefore, there can only be one right position when it comes to any revealed fact. If this was not so, all of Paul's argu ments in defense of the faith would be futile. We do not often realize it, but much of Paul's writing is argument. He is constantly answering critics, and challenging them, and by skilled logic, refuting their errors. We can be thankful for the debates of the early church, for without them we would not have much of what we do have in the New Testament. Controversy handled improperly has caused much harm in the church. But when it is conducted in the proper spirit it can be a great blessing. Eliminate debate and open discussion, and you stifle the spirit. Freedom to question and argue keeps the church fresh and alive. If the Corinthians had not been allowed to question the resurrection of the dead, we would never have had this enlightening chapter on the subject, and we would have lost one of the most informative chapters in all the Bible. Lyman Beecher said, "No great advance has ever been made in science, politics or religion, without controversy." Jesus was in a constant storm of debate, and so were the apostles, and so has every Christian who has been used of God to plow new fu rrows into the harden ground of man's rebellion. Robert Hall wrote, "However some may affect to dislike controversy, it can never be of ultimate disadvantage to the interests of truth or the happiness of mankind." Of course, this does not mean we do anyone a service by being contentious and starting arguments over every issue. William Penn said, "It were endless to dispute over everything that is disputable." Paul warns us not to get into foolish disputes which only promote strife and do not edify.
Paul saves his energy to debate issues vital to the Gospel, and that is what we see him doing in this chapter. We seldom think about it, but the resurrection of the body is a major issue. We don't think about it because no one around us challenges it. The lack of controversy on the issue has made it a non-issue for most modern Christians. It was a real issue in the Corinthian church, however, for as Paul says in verse 12, some were saying there was no resurrection of the dead. Some Christians were still hung up on their pagan beliefs about the immortality of the soul. The Greeks very clearly believed in the immortality of the soul, but the body to them was evil and the source of all sin and weakness. Therefore, they believed when the soul escaped the body at death it was good riddance forever. When Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens about the resurrection of the dead, they mocked him. T he idea of the body being raised was folly to the Greeks. Even after some of them became Christians they could not accept the teaching that the body would be raised. They thought they were being far more spiritual in rejecting such a materialistic concept of the resurrection. Paul is here defending the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. He shows that it is based on the Gospel itself, and to deny it is to tamper with the very foundation of the Gospel. The Christian belief is that the body is not the source of all evil. The body can be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in the incarnation, took on a body of flesh, and thereby made the body of eternal and infinite worth and dignity. The body is not contemptible, but is a part of God's highest creation. Man will be, for all eternity, as G od originally made him: A creature of body and spirit. Any contempt for the body is a carry over from paganism, and is contrary to the spirit of the New Testament. A denial of the resurrection of the body can easily lead to a rejection of the resurrection of Christ Himself. The Corinthians did not realize the serious implications of their position, and so Paul writes to point these out. Paul does not say excommunicate the heretics who are undermining the foundation of the Gospel, but instead, he takes the cool approach of persuasion. The way he goes about this is a lesson in Christian love and courtesy in controversy. He said in chapter 13 that if he had the eloquence of an angel, but did not love, he was but sounding brass and a clanging symbol. So he argues in love with a cool calmness rather than in anger and with contempt for his opponents. Paul is not interested in winning a debate, but he is interested in persuading his opponents to return to sound doctrine. Paul knows that effective persuasion depends upon finding a common ground on which to stand with your opponent. Any argument in which common ground is not established is worthless, and only the foolish will pursue such a futile debate. Common ground is essential to gain any value out of controversy. Paul, therefore, does not launch right ou t into the sea of controversy, but he first builds a solid dock from which he and his opponents can make a common start, and to which they can return if they are tossed by the waves of contention into confusion. Paul doesn't even raise the main issue until verse 12. First things first says Paul. Let me remind you Corinthians of the fundamental facts on which our faith rests. Paul had preached the Gospel to them, and they responded, and its power had already been demonstrated. Now he is going to put in written words exactly what the essence of the Gospel is. Thanks to Paul we have a concise and clear definition of the Gospel. Words are constantly changing, and unless you have a clear definition of what a word means, you cannot go far in an argument without confusion. Words can expand or shrink with time, and mean more or less than they originally did. For example, the word journey was born in France, and was a word that meant a trip of a single day. Now the word takes in every kind of traveling. It is no longer specific, but
general. On the other hand, the word meat began with the Angles Saxons as a broad general word including all that was edible. Now this word has been slimmed down to mean fleshy foods only. Paul made sure that the Gospel would not expand or contract by defining it with three never changing historical events. This would insure that the word would always have a steady and consistent content. The Gospel which saved the Corinthians, and which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, is the good news of three historical facts: The death of Christ for our sins; His burial, and His resurrection. Paul says this is the ground on which you stand, and in which you are firmly rooted, and by which you are saved, if you hold it fast. We see Paul's strategy here. He says we begin on the level of the facts which are vital to our salvation. Let us be sure of this, anything that would cause us to doubt or deny one of these vital facts endangers the very foundation of Christianity, and are own salvation. One thing is for sure, on which we all can agree, and that is, there are three facts of the Gospel we must be committed to, and we must hold them fast no matter what. Let them go, or anyone of them, and your belief has been in vain, for Christianity is no longer true. The opponents of Paul, you see, agree with this. The Gospel they have received and believed is what they see eye to eye with Paul. If Paul can go on to show that their view of the resurrection of the dead destroys one of these three foundation facts, then he has forced them to give up their error, or destroy their own foundation. The Gospel, therefore, is the foundation. It is the common ground on which a meaningful debate concerning the resurrection can take place. Depart from these three facts, however, and all such arguments are as futile as beating the wind. It is of interest to note how often a great subject divides into three categories, as does the Gospel. If we were to study nature, we can divide it into three kingdoms: Animal, mineral, and vegetable. If we want to study matter, we have three forms: Solid, liquid, and gas. If we study man, we have body, mind, and spirit. If we study God, we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we study earth, we have land, air, and water. If we study our government we have three branches: Executive, legislative, and judicial. If we study the names of Jesus, we have Jesus, Christ, and Lord. He fulfills prophecy as Prophet, Priest, and King. T ruth in so many areas seems to rest on a Trinitarian tripod. This might explain why the traditional sermon has three points. To preach the Gospel you need three points: The death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel is not anything Jesus said, it is all in what He did. The Sermon On The Mt., the parables, and all the other teachings of Christ are precious and priceless, but they are not the Gospel. Christianity can be compared to other religions and philosophies as to its teachings and ethics, but when you come to the Gospel, there is no comparing, for there is no other who died for sin, was buried, and rose again. T he Gospel stands alone. Christ is the Fact of facts, the Bible's theme, Who stands alone, august, unique, supreme. I. CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS. All that can be said about the cross and atonement are in these words: Christ died for our sins. Paul does not give us any complicated and elaborate theory about the atonement, but he just states it simply-Christ died for our sins. This is the first fact of the good news, and if you don't get this across in witnessing you have not communicated the Gospel. If people have the idea that Jesus died as a great martyr, or as an example of great love and courage, then they do not understand the Gospel. Jesus died for only one reason, and that was, for our sin.
Men must see this in order to recognize that they are involved in the death of Christ. They are the cause of it, do to their sin, and they are beneficiaries of it in salvation. Sins, is in the plural here. Every sin we commit involves us in the death of Christ. If a man has sinned only once in his life, he is partly responsible for the death of the Son of God. All can say with the poet, 'Twas I that shed the sacred blood, I nailed Him to the tree; I crucified the Christ of God, I joined the mockery. Author unknown In Justin McCarthy's play, If I Were King, a riff-raff leader of Paris was sentenced to die by hanging. At the gallows such a tumultuous protest was raised by the mob assembled that the king agreed to spare the villains life on one condition. He said, "I shall grant life and liberty to Francois Villon if any one be found willing to take his place on the gallows and die his death, that he may live his life." Can you imagine what good news it would have been for Villon to hear a volunteer step forward to take his place. Villon represents all mankind under sentence of death due to sin, and Jesus Christ represents the volunteer who takes his place. This is good news-Christ died for our sins. II. HE WAS BURIED . This seems like an insignificant detail of which we seldom hear anything. Yet Paul makes it one of the basic facts of the Gospel. How often do we ever mention the burial of Christ in witnessing? Is it possible that we have missed something? Could it be that we have neglected a vital part of the good news? The record of how His body was taken from the cross, and treated, and wrapped in expensive spices and laid in the tomb, is in the New T estament, but we fail to see how it is relevant in preaching and in witnessing. Nothing could be more relevant to Pau l. His whole purpose is to defend the doctrine of the resurrection of the body with the personal identity preserved. His case would be difficult withou t the fact of the burial of the body of Christ. The Romans and G reeks both burned the bodies of the dead. Had Joseph of Arimathea not asked for the body of Jesus to give it decent burial, it may have been burned. Christians have traditionally opposed cremation because it shows contempt for the body. James Stalker says it is a hard and shallow philosophy that is indifferent to what happens to the body, and so, has contempt for funeral ceremonies. When I read that, I thought of bull sessions in college with pre-sem students, and how we talked of out witting the undertakers outrageous prices by having our bodies sunk in the ocean, or eaten by wild animals, or some other clever and economical scheme. Possibly without even realizing it we have a streak of paganism in our Christian makeup when it comes to the dignity of the body. The body of Jesus was given the best of care, and the women were returning on Sunday morning to do even more. The Bible makes it clear that His body saw no corruption. The body of Lazarus was stinking before it was raised, but the body of Jesus saw no corruption. It was preserved and thereby, demonstrated the victory of Jesus over death on the cross. Death could not touch His body and decay it. Jesus died for our sin, and then, in being buried, laid down in the very grip of death, and it could not touch Him. The burial of Christ was predicted by Himself. When the woman broke the jar of costly ointment and poured it over his head, He said in Mark 14:8, "She has anointed my body before hand for burying."Jesus even makes the experience of Jonah symbolize His burial. In Matt. 12:40 He explained that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man was to be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Time does not permit us to look at all the implications of Christ's burial, but the three obvious values can be quickly listed. 1. His burial demonstrated the reality of His death. Even His enemies consented to His burial, assured that He was dead. One cannot truly rise from the dead unless one is truly dead, and so the burial stands between His death for sin and His resurrection, as a proof of both. 2. Burial becomes the method by which we symbolize our commitment to Christ in baptism. Paul says for we are buried with Him in baptism unto death. 3. It teaches us to recognize the dignity of the body even after death. When Christianity spread, the funeral flames ceased, and after a few Emperors were baptized as Christians there was not a body burnt in all of the Roman Empire. III. HE WAS RAISED ON T HE TH IRD DAY. The perfect tense in the Greek emphasizes that Jesus was raised and is still risen. Lenski, the Greek scholar, says it means, "Christ is now and continues to be in the condition of one who was raised from the dead." In contrast, Lazarus was raised from the dead, but is not now in that state of having been raised. The point is, the resurrection of Jesus was a past event, but one of continuously contemporary significance. The resurrection of Jesus was no mere case of the survival over death, but rather, the reversal of death, and the conquering of death. The very first words that John heard from the lips of Christ when he was caught up into heaven, and fell at his feet were, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one, I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." The powers of hell have done their worst, But Christ there legions hath dispersed. In the first two Gospel facts death seems to be victor: He died and was buried. But then comes the third fact that transforms the other two into victories: He was raised on the third day. Those who suggest that the resurrection of the body of Christians is not necessary are as blind to the facts of the Gospel as men can be. A two legged tripod is worthless, for it will never stand, and neither will the Gospel without all three of its essential facts. To remove the resurrection would be as foolish as removing one third of the foundation of the Empire State Building. There is no stopping at one third, for the whole structure will collapse. The resurrection is what gives meaning to the other two Gospel facts, and is the foundation for Paul's whole argument on the resurrection of all the dead. That is why he goes on to give proof of the resurrection. Paul calls no witnesses to the stand to testify that they saw Christ die, or be buried, but all his witnesses are asked if they saw the risen Christ. None of the three legs of the Gospel are dispensable, but this third one bares the most weight, and, therefore, calls for the greatest support. There are many thrilling implications that grow out of this Gospel of three facts. The greatest implication is that all of us are obligated to be three point preachers, going everywhere sharing the good news of Christ's death for our sin, of His burial, and of His resurrection.
24. THE CONTEMPORARY CHRIST Based on I Cor. 15:12-28
A mother said to the toy salesman, "Isn't this a rather complicated toy for a small child?" The salesman responded, "This madam is an educational toy. It is especially designed to help a child adjust to living in the world of today. No matter which way he puts it together, it will be wrong." This might seem to be an overly pessimistic view of modern life, but the fact is, in spite of all the advances man has made, they have gained no more happiness, but possibly even less because of all the tension that goes with modern living. There seems to be no great purpose behind it all, and no great goal toward which man moves. Progress is an end in itself, and all that is assumed to be progress is built on a very uncertain foundation. The lack of a unifying principle has left modern man in confusion. We know more than ever, but for what end? W e have more than ever, but for what purpose? What good are improved means if one has not established improved ends? What good is it that we can move faster than ever if we don't know where we are going? Theodore Gill has said, "We have studied our poor paradoxical, chaotic society, and analyzed it, and graphed it, and put it down on charts and missed the point completely. We have made of life a bridge without ends: A laughable thing that starts nowhere and doesn't go anywhere, and so does nothing in between." We live in an activist society where everyone is going like mad and working like mad, but where few ever stop and ask themselves why? Activity without a goal or pu rpose is futility. Men fear to ask the question why, for it scares them. Why always gets into the realm of the ultimate, and a secular society does not care about the ultimate. The Christian, however, cannot be content on that level. The poet has described what is going on in our secular society. Many the voices, in print and sound, Flinging their self-serving "How's" around: How to succeed and how to be clever, How to provide without future endeavor, How one's resources to multiply, How to live fully-but never a Why. Lord, give us voices to help us know The why and the whither of ways we go; Voices that give to our life more meaning, Voices to solace whatever life's gleaning, Dependable voices, relaying thy word, Above life's confusion and strife to be heard. That prayer has already been answered. The Apostle Paul has been just such a voice through all the ages to give Christians a unifying principle for life. That principle is the fact of, and the awareness of, the reality of the Risen Redeemer. That which gives all of life and doctrine meaning is the Resurrection. T he fact that Jesus is alive and is a contemporary Christ is the foundation on which we build. Jesus is not a once upon a time Savior, but He is a contemporary Savior. All history is unified in Christ, for He was, He is, and He shall ever be. When people lose the awareness of this reality they lose that which makes Christianity unique and distinct from all other religions. In Ralph T urnbull's book, The Pathway To The Cross, he tells the story of a Moslem who said to a Christian, "We Moslem's have one thing you Christians do not have. When we go to Medina we find a coffin and know that Mohammed lived because his body is in the coffin. But when you
Christians go to Jerusalem you find nothing but an empty tomb." "Thank you," said the Christian. "What you say is absolutely true, and that makes the eternal difference. We find in Jerusalem an empty tomb because our Lord lives and we serve a risen Christ." If Jesus was still in the tomb, and not a living contemporary, then however, great a man and teacher He was, He is of no more value to us than any other dead man. Any religion will do if the best only gets you to the grave. If death ended the life of Christ and the cross was the last chapter in His story, then we might just as well be pagans, or godless altogether, and join those who live without purpose or hope. There is no unifying principle that can make life meaningful unless it goes beyond the grave. If death ends all, then all is ultimately meaningless. Browning cried out in a passionate passageIf this be all And other life awaits us not-for one I say tis a poor cheat, a stupid bungle, A wretched failure. I, for one, protest Against it, and I hurl it back with scorn. If death is the end, the toy salesman was right, and the best kind of toy to teach children to adjust to life is the one that is wrong no matter how you put it together, for no matter how you put it together, nothing is right if death is darkness without light. But why dwell on it, and why introduce such depressing thoughts into our minds? W hy linger around the edges of the negative when there is the great field of the positive to explore? Most sermons on Easter morning will deal with the positives and the proofs of the resurrection, but our approach by way of the negative is not only the legitimate and biblical, but can be equally as powerful in producing conviction. Paul believed in the power of negative thinking as well as positive thinking. Paul wrote I Cor. before the Gospels were written, and he takes an extremely negative approach. He compels us to face the consequences of what would be if Christ was not a living Lord. He follows this line of thinking right to the most horrible conclusions, and he demonstrates that everything stands or falls with the reality of the resurrection. Without it Christians have no unifying principle. All of our activities and beliefs are as meaningless as those of the godless who work so hard for they know not what, and who speeds so fast toward they know not where. Christianity is only another cog in the complex wheel of contemporary confusion is Christ is not a contemporary companion, who is delivering us, guarding us, and giving meaning and purpose to our lives. A first century Christ will not do for 21st century Christians. The modern Christian needs a modern Christ. The living Christian of today needs a living Lord of today. I trust that our study of Paul's logic here will make us all more aware of the reality that Jesus Christ is our contemporary and not just a person of the past. Too many people think of Jesus just as an historical person only. The difference in the two views is the difference between victorious Christian living and the timid fearful life of uncertainty. I read a story that illustrates the difference. A traveler going on foot through the woods of Canada came to a river that he had to cross. He was not acquainted with that area, and it being early in the winter, he did not know how thick the ice was. Therefore, with extreme caution he got down on his knees and crawled slowly across the ice. When he arrived on the opposite bank he sat down
with a sigh of relief, for it had been awful strain on his nerves. As he sat there he looked back across the river and saw a man coming toward the ice with a team of horses pulling a sleigh filled with wood. When he reached the banks he drove his team across the ice and up the other bank into the woods. The man on the bank blushed, but he was so grateful he had not been caught in the middle of the river on his knees when that better informed woodsmen had thundered across. Too many Christians are crawling through life because they are uncertain about the foundation they have in the risen Christ. Paul makes it clear that the resurrection is not just a fact, but it is the fundamental fact that gives meaning to all other facts. We must be sure of this foundation or nothing else will be adequate to give life stability and purpose. It doesn't make any difference if you believe the incarnation or the redemption from sin purchased on the cross, for it all crumbles into shifting sand if the solid rock foundation of the resurrection is removed. Paul is so strong on this because some were denying that the dead could rise. That is what Paul says in verse 12. it seems inconceivable to us that a Christian would deny the resurrection of the dead, but this is because we are not aware of the distinction between immortality and resurrection. These Christians believed in immortality and life beyond the grave in the way the Greeks did, but they had rejected or not understood the unique Christian doctrine of the resurrection. Christianity did not introduce the idea of immortality into history. This had been believed in by men from the beginning. The Greeks in the New Testament believed in the immortality of the soul. The soul would escape from the prison of the body at death and continue in some vague existence of neither joy or sorrow. T he Old Testament view, except for a few isolated cases, does not rise much above this gloomy level. Christ brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He revealed it to be not just of the soul but of the whole man through the resurrection from the dead. When God made man he made him body and spirit, and he said it was good. Man is not fully man unless he is body and spirit united. If death wins the body and keeps it forever, then death destroys man and leaves him only partially redeemed at best. Jesus, however, is a Savior of the whole man, and so the resurrection from death is a unique and distinct revelation of the Gospel of Christ. Some Corinthian Christians, not aware how serious it was to ignore or reject this distinct revelation in Christ, went on believing the old concept of immortality of the soul. Paul writes to show them what the consequences are. He says in verse 13 that the first thing that follows from the denial of the dead rising is that Christ did not rise, for He was dead, and if the dead do not rise, it follows that He is not risen. And if Jesus is not risen, Paul goes on to say, I have nothing to preach, and you have nothing in which to believe. If you take the resurrection out of your theology, you might just as well take the filament out of your light bulbs, or the sun out of your solar system. When it goes, all else goes with it. As Hayes said, "You cannot cut down the tree and still harvest it's fruit. You cannot put out a light and still walk in its illumination." All of Christianity rests on the foundation of the resurrection. Either Christ is alive and is a contemporary, or Christianity has no good news. There is nothing worth preaching if Christ has not conquered death. It would have been better had the disciples of Christ gone back to fishing and considered the cross the tragic end of the greatest of men, but still one who could do no more than others to give us hope. It is only empty and vain babbling to talk of atonement and forgiveness of sin if the grave is the end. One just as well die un-forgiven as for forgiven if the grave is the end of the line. We sing, "In the cross of Christ I glory," but that is only because of the rest of the story. Good
Friday would be bad Friday without Easter. There was no glorying in the cross until it was seen through the empty tomb. The story is only gory, and there is no hope of glory if Calvary is the last page in the book. If Jesus is a crucified Christ and not a contemporary Christ, Paul says that faith in him is an empty hope. No matter how marvelous the teaching of Christ, or how challenging and comforting his ideas, they are all empty if death conquered Him. Faith is only as valuable and powerful as its object. If I have faith that John Brown will meet me at noon, but there is no such person, my faith is vain and will be totally ineffective. Faith not based on fact is fantasy. Unless the resurrection of Christ is a fact faith in Him and his ability to deliver from death is as vain as faith in Peter Cotton tail to do the same. Paul is saying that unless the resurrection is a real historical fact our emphasis on the real meaning of Easter is on the same level with the significance of rabbits and eggs. Paul goes on and says that if the resurrection is not true, he has been a false prophet misrepresenting God, and Christians are still in their sins. Those who had died in Christ have perished, and Christians are the most pathetic, pitifully deceived creatu res on the face of the earth. There is no need to expound at length on these dark consequences. The impression could hardly be made stronger. If Christ is not a living contemporary, there is not a single value in the whole of Christianity. No one could go further than Paul in painting a picture of such pessimistic and gloomy consequences of a denial of the resurrection. You are not suppose to put all of your eggs in one basket, but Paul does it, and it is the Easter basket that he chooses. Paul reduces all of the issues to one simple question-is Jesus alive? T here is only one door, and if it opens, it opens into a vast world of eternal truth. If it will not open, we are locked in to a small dark room without light or hope. Henry Barstow wrote, If Easter be not true, Then faith must mount on broken wing, Then hope no more immortal spring, Then love must lose her mighty urge, Life proved a phantom, death a dirge, If Easter be not true. But it is true and Christ is risen! And mortal spirit from its prison Of sin and death with Him may rise! Worthwhile the struggle, sure the prize, Since Easter, yes, is true!
Christianity it not complicated at all. it is a simple matter of believing in the living Christ who conquered death. If that is true, then all else he taught and did is true, and you can rely on Him as your hope, for He is the Door, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is your all in all, for if Easter is true, Jesus is everything. If Easter is not true, Jesus is nothing. The resurrection is an absolute, and all other truth is relative to this reality. The resurrection is the Rock on which our redemption stands or falls. That is why Easter is the most popular day of the year for church attendance, for it is the message that people need most to hear.
A soldier wounded in World War II laid out on the field until he fell into unconsciousness. It was on Good Friday, and when he regained consciousness he was in a hospital on Easter. He said to the chaplain, "Chaplain, you can stand anything on Good Friday when you are certain of Easter Day." The contemporary Christ was his unifying principle that gave purpose to all of life, and it enabled him to face anything with assurance. This is the Gospel that the church is to give the modern world. Johnstone G. Patrick wrote, "The Gospel which the church is preaching to the world every Easter is not an embalmed memory of something that lit up the screen of the past... It is the offer of an up-too-the-minute fellowship with a living Person, risen and radiant, vital and victorious." John Donne said that we are conceived in a closed prison in our mother's womb. When we are born we are set free, but only into a larger prison, for we are still bound to the flesh as we march toward the tomb. It is only as we are born from the tomb in resurrection that we are finally free, and enter into the full liberty of children of God. If you eliminate this last hope, you cut us off from the greatest hope God has ever given to man, and that is the hope of being free forever to be fully what God intended us to be. Death did something terrible to Jesus, but Easter is the good news that Jesus did something wonderful to death. He conquered it and transformed it into a means by which we enter into a higher level relationship to God. That is why after beatings, stoning and imprisonment Paul could shout, "Rejoice in the Lord always." The Messiah was being rendered by a choir of 400 0 voices. Just before the Hallelujah Chorus there was complete silence. Then suddenly the base section sounded out, "He shall reign forever and ever." The altos lifted it a little higher, "Forever and ever!" T he tenors lifted it still higher, "Forever and ever!" Then a soloist broke in, "How long shall He reign?" And one thousand sopranos responded in unison, "Forever and ever!" Then the entire chorus of 4000 burst forth with, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah." That is the meaning of Easter. It is joy in your heart and a song on your tongue because Jesus is alive forever and is a contemporary Christ. A Christian toy maker ought to produce an educational toy that helps a child learn the message of Easter. It would be a toy that no matter how it is put together comes out right. This is the vital hope of every person who confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is a contemporary Christ.
25. THE IMMORTALITY OF PERSONALITY based on I Cor. 15:35-49
F.W. Boreham, the great Australian preacher, made a fascinating discovery in the book of Job. Job, as you recall, was very wealthy, but in the first chapter he is totally wiped out. All of his livestock and all of his children perish is disaster. When we get to the last chapter, and the battle is over, God is pleased with Job. God rewards him with twice as much as he had before. He had 7000 sheep in chapter 1; in the end he had 14 000 sheep. He had 3000 camels in chapter 1; in the end he had 6000 camels.
He had 500 yolk of oxen to begin; in the end he had 1000 oxen. He had 500 donkeys at the start; in the end he had 1000 donkeys. Everything doubled, for the Lord gave him twice what he had before, it says in v.10. But Boreham rightly asks, how can it be said he had twice as many of everything when he had only the same number of sons and daughters? He had 7 sons and 3 daughters to begin, and it says he had 7 sons and 3 daughters in the end. This figure did not double as did all the others. Why? Boreham says the answer should be obvious. When you lose animals you have lost them forever, but when you lose a child you lose them only for a time. They are still yours even though they are with God and not in your presence. So Job really had 14 sons and 6 daughters, but only half of them were on earth. The other half were separated from him, and were in the presence of God. Persons do not cease to exist because they die is the clear implication, and this is the teaching of both the O ld and the New Testaments. Wordsworth wrote a poem called We Are Seven. It is about a little girl being asked how many are in her family. She tells of those grown up and moved away, and of a brother and sister in the cemetery, but she insists they are a family of seven. The inquirer persists-How many are you, then, said I, If they two are in heaven? Quick was the little maids reply, O master! we are seven. But they are dead; those two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven! Twas throwing words away; for still The little maid would have her will, and said, Nay, we are seven! Her stubborn conviction is based on both the Old and New Testaments, which stress the truth that once a person, always a person. Personality and individuality is the whole point of immortality. Every human being that is conceived is a unique creation with the potential of eternal fellowship with God. Death can step in and rob life of development at any point. That is why death is an enemy. Let us never forget, even in this most optimistic chapter in the Bible, Paul still calls death the last enemy to be destroyed. Our hope of victory over death ought not to blind us to the tragic side of this great enemy, and lead us to become superficial and whitewash the evil this enemy can do. It can rob us of much, but it cannot rob us of our eternal personality. That is why Paul makes such a big issue out of the resurrection of the body. The body is the greatest symbol of our reality as a personality. We are linked forever to the identity we have gained in the body. If Jesus was not raised in His bodily form, how could anyone ever be sure it was Jesus? If Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mt. of Transfiguration as just two glorified forms, how could anyone ever know they were Moses and Elijah? For immortality to have any real meaning the body must be raised immortal, for without the body a key element of the person is missing. Salvation is not complete unless the whole person is saved. Sin is what made the body a hindrance to the spirit. Sin is what led to the body's decay and death. If Jesus died to restore all that sin has
robbed us of, then that has to include the body. Paul in Rom.8 tells us the reason for much of the suffering in this life is the fact that we live in fallen bodies. Our bodies are subject to pain and sickness and all the evils that sin has brought into this world. We get cancer and have heart attacks and get hit by cars, not because God wills it, but because we have bodies that are not yet saved. Paul says we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. We are saved right now, if we have trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are a part of the family of God and have eternal life. But the fact remains, our bodies are still subject to death. We are not completely saved until the resurrection of the body, and we are again a total personality with body, mind, and spirit. The spirit is resurrected in time when we are born again by faith in Christ, but the body is not resurrected until Christ comes again. In this second resurrection our body and spirit are reunited forever, and only then will we be completely saved. When we go back to the creation of man we see God creating the body of Adam first, and then breathing into that body the breath of life. Man was a body even before he was alive. The body was the first part of man, and according to Paul, it will be the last part of man to be saved. The first Adam started with an earthly body and then the spirit was added. T he second Adam was Jesus. He was already an eternal spirit, and he added to his spirit a body, in order to become a man. Adam and Jesus were put together just the opposite way, but with the same two parts. Adam was body to which spirit was added. Jesus was spirit to which body was added. Neither of them was a man until they were both body and spirit. Man is never completely man until he is a combination of body and spirit. Since death divides the two and separates them, man can only be completely man again if the two are restored. That is why the resurrection of the body is such a vital part of God's plan, and basic to Christian theology. Paul says in verse 54, only when the perishable puts on the imperishable will death be swallowed up in victory. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed because the body is the last part of man to be saved. Only when your mortal body becomes immortal can you sing the final victory song. The marriage supper of the Lamb that begins the eternal celebration is really a double wedding. It is the uniting of Christ with His bride, but it is also the uniting of body and spirit of all the redeemed. Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire and life reigns forever in that kingdom where man shall be with his Redeemer, united always, as body and spirit. It is easy to understand why Christians are confused about the body. It is of no consequence what happens to the body. It can be buried, cremated, dropped in the sea, or preserved like a mummy, but it does not matter. Yet, we see that the body is a vital part of our salvation, and heaven will not be complete without it. How can the body be so insignificant and at the same time be so important? How can it be nothing and yet be everything? Paul answers this for us in verses 42-44. He has a series of 4 contrasting pictures of the body. Four terms are used to describe the body that is buried. It is perishable, dishonored, weak, and natural. It almost sounds like Paul is talking about taking out the garbage. But then in contrast he writes of the resurrection body that it is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. He has taken us from garbage-like to God-like. You do not pick one or the other, but recognize both as being tru e, and part of the whole paradoxical picture of the body. If you focus on the body of flesh that dies, you have a very weak and perishable object. A mere germ, or a fall, or a piece of flying glass, or any number of things can bring it down to the grave. It is not only not fit for eternity, it cannot even survive very long in time. And epitaph in Medway, Mass.
make clear how flimsy a grasp this body has on life. Beneath this stone, a lump of clay Lies uncle Peter Dannels, Who too early in the month of May Took off his winter flannels. This body is so feeble and frail that death can rob it quickly of all power. Franklin Roosevelt was a powerful man as President of the United States, but as soon as life left his body he lost all power. He had a specific program written out for his funeral. It was to be small with only two representatives from each house of congress. But relatives and national leaders agreed to ignore his last wishes, and they did it up great. He was sown in weakness and could not do a thing about it. They honored him with an elaborate funeral, but all the pomp and glory could not hide the fact that the body is sown in dishonor. Abraham Lincoln had one of the most expensive funerals ever. A special funeral train took his body from Washington to Chicago after lying in state. There it was transferred to the new rolling palace built by George Pulman. It was called the Pioneer, and was built too big for most train tracks. It was too high and too wide. Railroad officials had to send out crews ahead of this rolling palace to cut back platforms, widen bridges, and make numerous changes for the body of Lincoln to ride in luxury from Chicago to Springfield where he was buried. Paul did not know about this, of course, when he said the body is sown in dishonor, but he knew of the Pyramids and the elaborate funerals of Rome. Paul is not saying the body is never honored in burial, but that the body is weak and helpless and without glory and power. Lincoln did not enjoy the luxury of his final ride. Paul is saying the dead earthly body cannot enjoy any of the luxuries of time, but the resurrection body will be able to enjoy the luxuries of heaven forever. Spurgeon tells of the blind and lame men led to the stake in England. As they were being tied to the stake, the lame man said to the blind man, "Cou rage brother, this fire will cure us both." Paul is saying that is good theology, for the resurrection body will have nothing of the defeats of the body of time. Everything will be cured, and we will dwell in bodies that will never suffer again. It is raised in power and glory says Paul, and this has led to all kinds of speculation. Martin Luther, Spurgeon, and many others are convinced that all God's children will become supermen and superwomen. T hey will travel, not at the mere speed of light, but at the speed of thought, and be able to go anywhere in the universe instantly by an act of the will. Hitler, by satanic inspiration tried to produce a super race, but he failed. Jesus will achieve that goal forever when all believers are united with their glorified bodies. Christians have conceived all kinds of fascinating things about this body. I am inclined to believe Sir Oliver Lodge when he said, "I will not believe that it is given to man to have thoughts, nobler or loftier than the real truth of things." In other words, if you can imagine it, reality is going to be even greater. I cannot conceive of anyone getting to heaven and saying this is nice, but not as great as what I thought it would be. The resurrected body will have unlimited enjoyment, and unabated employment in the eternal kingdom. We can never conceive in time all that this will mean. We are now creatures between the animal and the angel. Our body in this life keeps us closer to the animal, but our new bodies will let us rise to the level of the angel.
The spiritual body is the final home God has planned for those who love and trust His Son. It sounds like a paradox to call something a spiritual body, for spiritual means non-physical in our minds. But in the resurrection Jesus gains a total victory for all creation, both natural and spiritual. No longer are they contrary as now, where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Materialism is often the enemy of the spiritual in time, but in eternity the two will be united as one. We will enjoy forever the beauty and pleasure of God's material creation, as well as the beauty and pleasure of the spiritual. When God created man of body and spirit, He said it was good. God will not let Satan and sin rob Him of that good. It will be restored forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Jesus is perfect God and perfect man combined forever in His resurrected spiritual body. The whole point of His Incarnation, death, and resurrection was to make it possible for us to become like Him. We celebrate Christmas, Easter, and the cross becau se these represent the means by which Jesus made our total restoration possible. Because of these events and our faith in the Christ who experienced them, we can be with Him and like Him forever. All that He has shall be mine; All that He is I shall be, Revel in His glory divine I shall be ever as He. Oh how glorious and resplendent Fragile body, shalt thou be, When endued with so much beauty Full of health, and strong and free, Full of vigor, full of pleasure That shall last eternally. Author unknown The universe does not seem very practical right now. What good is a creation of billions of light years across, when men can see and explore so little of it? It is like buying Australia for your cat, or the Pacific for your goldfish. It seems impractical until you see the goal of God for man. Jonathan Edwards, the great American scholar, said he expected to use his spiritual body in going from one part of the universe to another beholding the glories of God. No matter how much a person travels in this life, they haven't seen anything yet. God has grandeur awaiting us that will make the grand canyon seem like child's play in comparison. All that God has for us is beyond our imagination, but the way to get in on His eternal blessing is very much within the grasp of our imagination. We need to see Jesus on the cross dying for our sins. We need to see him buried and then rising again to conquer death. We need to see Him ascending to the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to intercede for us. We need to see Him as our Savior, and ask Him to dwell in our hearts. If we do this we can have full assurance of being in that final resurrection where our bodies and spirits will be reunited. It is in Jesus that we have the hope of the immortality of personality.
BODY LOVE Based on I Cor. 15:35-49
I don't care how widely traveled you are, I know you have never sailed among the Island of Langerhans, or drifted lazily down the Aqueduct of Sylvius. Nor have any of you ever strolled along the banks of Hunter's Canal, or watched the sun go down behind McBurney's Point. None of you have ever ridden through the Tunnel of Carti, nor have you ever climbed the Pyramids of Malpighi. I can say this with confidence, not because I know where all of you have ever been, nor because all of these places are fictions and unreal. On the contrary, they are more abundantly real than most of the places you have ever been. But I can say this because all of these places are parts of our body. The Islands of Langerhans are small masses of tissues in our pancreas. The Aqueduct of Sylvius is part of the brain. Hunter's Canal is in the thigh. McBurney's Point is a spot on the right side which is tender to the touch in acute appendicitis. The Tunnel of Carti is in the inner ear. The Pyramids of Malpighi is in the kidneys. The point of this little anatomy lesson is that there is a great deal about our bodies that we do not know. We live in them, but we know more about the house our body lives in than we know about our bodies, which is the hou se of our spirit. Sophocles said, "Numberless are the world's wonders, but none more wondrous than the body of man." We live in this wondrous temple 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year. We never leave this house in which we dwell until we die, for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This body we dwell in is the first part of man that God made. Man was a body before he was anything else. As Paul says in verse 46, the natural comes first than the spiritual. Man was first a body as a part of God's creation. Then God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul. Man is a combination of the creation and the Creator. He has a material and a spiritual reality. He is akin to the animal, mineral, and vegetable on the one hand, and a kin to God and angelic beings on the other hand. In God's ultimate plan we can safely say that man is the best of both worlds. He is a mixture of both the dust and the divine. As soon as man begins to lose his awareness of the reality of this combination, he loses his understanding of just who man is, and of the role his body plays in God's plan. All through history men have followed three basic philosophies concerning the body. T hey areThe body is nothing. The body is everything. The body is something. We want to examine each of these philosophies, for only by doing so can we come to a clear understanding of the biblical view of the body. This is important in understanding I Cor. 15, for this is the body center of the New Testament. There is no other part of the Bible where there is so much on the body, and where it is so basic to Christian doctrine. First let's look at the viewI. THE BODY IS NOTHING. This does not mean that those who hold this view reject the existence of the body, but they do
reject its significance. They say the body is not a value or an asset, but it is a liability, and so it is to be despised and held in contempt. Heraclitus considered death a blessing because it got rid of the contemptible burden of the body, which he called a fetter and dark abode of the soul. Epictetus called the body a corpse, a beast of burden, a product of filth. He referred to himself as, "A poor soul shackled to a corpse." Pathogarus called it a soma-semas, that is a body tomb. Plato and Socrates felt that the body defiled the soul, and man could never be at his highest until he escaped the prison of his body and entered into the immortality of the soul. Seneca the Roman said, "I regard the body as nothing but a chain which monocles my freedom." Dr. Ralph Stob in Christianity and Classical Civilization writes, "It can be put down as a mark of the Graeco-Roman world that men wanted a deliverance from the body..." There was another side to this, and some Greeks had a high view of the body. Aristotle came along and took an opposite stand from Plato, and he made the body of first priority, and he said it was before the soul, even as Scripture teaches. Bu t the negative philosophy is want dominated the New Testament world. It gave rise to the great enemies of Christianity, who were the G nostics. They picked up on the anti-body doctrine and made it fundamental to their theology. They said the body is evil and the source of all sin. Because of this they rejected the Incarnation. They said that Jesus could never take on a real body, for God is holy and could never enter into sinful flesh. He had to be in a phantom body, for real flesh is totally evil. This negative body thinking influence both later Judaism and early Christianity. It was a part of the culture and people could not escape it without deliberate efforts to resist it. In the Wisdom of Solomon 915 it was written, "This contemptible body weighs down the soul..." Some Jews felt this way. Some Christians picked up this negative spirit and developed Asceticism, which is a very anti-body form of Christianity. The body was no friend, but was an enemy. You had to fight it constantly and deny it as much as possible. This led to celibacy in the church. Truly spiritual people would not marry and engage in the practice of sex, for this was a body centered activity. Some of the church fathers said that sex even in marriage was a polluted way of life. Origin, one of the church fathers, went so far as to castrate himself to thrust the foul desires of the body from him. We do not have the time to trace the impact of Greek thought and Gnosticism in the history of the church, but let me assure you that it can be traced even into the present day so that many Christians feel about their body that which comes from Plato more than that which comes from the Bible. Christians are often more a product of their Western culture than they are a product of God's Word. The reason is obvious. They live in the culture 24 hours a day, and live in God's Word maybe 24 hours a year. The Greek view is not the biblical view, for it says the body is negative, and what matters it the immortality of the soul. The anti-body feelings were so strong that at one point in Christianity it was considered giving comfort to the enemy to bathe. Some of the saints went for years without a bath, and vermin would fall from their bodies as they walked, and this was proof of their hatred for their body. Some of you probably have children who have a touch of Gnostic philosophy because they hate to bathe, but fortunately most Christians who have anti-body feelings do not carry it to such a logical conclusion. Christians can, however, as Christians were in Corinth, carry their low view of the body into their
theology and corrupt the Christian doctrine on the resurrection of the body. The idea that the body is nothing is anti-Christian, and totally out of line with the biblical view of the body. Next let's look atII. THE BODY IS EVERYTHING. Novalis expressed this view as strongly as anyone when he said, "There is but one temple in the world, and that is the body of man. Nothing is holier than this high form...We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body." The materialist says the body of man is all there is of man. T here is no non-material spirit, but only matter. This is the view of the atheist and the secularist. The conclusion you come to with this view is, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." If the body is everything, than all life is good for is sheer animal pleasure. If it feels good, do it, for physical pleasure is all there is. In contrast to those who say the body is evil, this view says the body is the only good, and anything that deprives the body of pleasure is evil. This leads to the rejection of all moral restraint and a libertine life-style. The body becomes an idol, and men worship it by devoting all their time, talent, and treasure to its exaltation. This view is totally anti-Christian, but it is a very popu lar view in our culture. Evolution is taught in the schools, and youth get the impression that they are just another animal, and if their is a soul and a spiritual part of them, they do not get much insight into that. They become almost totally secular. I wonder how many young people are writing things like this essay I found on anatomy written by a young boy: "Your head is kind of round and hard and your brains are in it and your hair is on it. Your face is in front of your head where you eat. Your neck is what keeps your head off your shoulders, which are sort of shelves where you hook your overall straps...You arms you got to have to pitch with and so you can reach the biscu its. Your fingers stick out of your hands so you can scratch, throw a cu rve, and add arithmetic. You legs is what you got to have to get to first base, your feet what you run on, and your toes are what gets stubbed. And that is all there is of you except what is inside, and I ain't seen that." We live in a culture where this is the common view. The body is everything, and without some instruction that will be the total view of persons. Next we look atIII. THE BODY IS SOMETHING. Between the two extremes of those who say the body is nothing, or that the body is everything is the biblical view that the body is really something. It is not a trivial something, but a tremendous something, and a something without which we can never be fully what God made us to be. When God made the first human body, that of Adam, He had made the body ou t of which every other human being would come. For out of Adam He took Eve, and out of them came all other humans. In Adam all humanity was in a single body, and G od pronounced it, not just good, but very good. This body was the handiwork of God, and God made it to last forever. God was not just playing around with clay forming a body only to squash it and roll the lump into some other shape. He made Adam's body with the potential for immortality. He tells us this in Gen. 3:22, "And the Lord God said, the man is now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take hold of the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So God banished Adam and Eve from Eden, which was a place where they could have lived forever had they not eaten the
forbidden fruit. The body God made was not weak and inadequate house for man. It was created to be his eternal palace. But they ate the wrong fruit, and God did not want man to live forever as a rebel, and so access to the tree of life was cut off. Even so, Adam lived 930 years before his body gave out and he died. Death was an enemy and a punishment, but you can also see how death was essential for God's plan to save man. If he never died, he would be an immortal sinner like Satan. God did not want such a fate for man, and so it was ordained that he die. This made if possible for him to be redeemed and resurrected to life, not as an immortal sinner, but as an immortal saint. Even the great enemy death is used in the long run for the good of man. Better to die and rise to live forever holy than to live and never die, but be forever unholy. The choice was to let man live forever in hell, which is separation from God, or let him die and be raised to be forever with G od. W ith these two options I think we can all agree that God made the best choice for us, even though it would cost His Son the tasting of death for every man. The body is a God-made wonder, and should be honored as such. There is nothing Christian about treating the body like dirt and thinking that one is more spiritual because his body is weak, drab, filthy, or suffering. You don't have to go to the other extreme and replace praying with jogging, but the fact is, there is nothing anti-spiritual about a clean healthy body. Adam had the best and there is no hint in the Bible that the body of Jesus was anything less than an ideal specimen of health and strength. There is no virtue in being sickly or unkempt. Many a fool has developed mu scles of steel and the lungs of a race horse, and still broke all the commandments, and so there is also no ultimate virtue in health and strength in themselves. The Christian view is that the body is not everything, but it is something, and something important to the total man. It should be treated with honor and loving care so it can be the best of what God made it to be. You don't worship it, but neither do you whip it. You work it by discipline to be a tool for God's glory, and you dedicate it as a temple in which God can dwell. The defamation of the body is anti-Christian, for it is a denial of the body as God's handiwork. The deification of the body is also anti-Christian, for it is idolatry, and it puts the body in competition with God. In between these two extremes is the dedication of the body to be what its Creator intended; recognizing that He loves His handiwork enough to send His Son into the world to redeem the fallen body of man as well as his lost soul. In cooperation with God's plan the Christian is to love his body and discipline it to bring it under the control of God's standards. We often blame the body for our sin and folly, but the fact is, it is not the body at all, but our minds choices to force it, or to not discipline it. C. S. Lewis gives us an insight into the plight of the body by means of this verbal conflict of body and mind; "You are always dragging me down, said I to my body. Dragging you down replied my body, well I like that! Who taught me to like tobacco and alcohol? You, of course, with your idiotic adolescent idea of being grownup. My palate loathed both at first, but you had to have your way. Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep.
Who does his best to keep you from talking too much or eating too much by giving you a dry throat and headache and indigestion? Well what about sex? said I. Yes what about it retorted the body. If you and your wretched imagination would leave me alone I'd give you no trouble. You give me orders and then blame me for carrying them out.” Lewis is making a powerful point. The problem is not the body, but the things the body is forced to do by the mind. Sex is absolutely no problem as far as the body is concerned. God made the body for sex, and He built the body to enjoy great pleasure in sex. He told man to practice sex and populate the world. Then in the New Testament Paul makes it clear in I Cor. 7 that sex is to be a regular part of married life. Paul goes so far as to say, not only is it not a sin to have a lot of sin, but it is a sin not to, for soon as you cease to satisfy one another in marriage Satan will tempt you to find satisfaction outside of marriage. The Christian method of preventing immoral sex is not to denounce the world of sexuality as the devil's plot, but rather to promote moral sex, and to exalt the joy and pleasure that God intended for the body. Don't blame the body is the point. The body is good and its sexuality is another of God's wondrous works of art. The way the body functions is not man's problem, for that is God's gift. The problem of man is that he will not discipline his body to function within the guidelines God has established. If you want to blame anything, blame the disobedient spirit of man, but don't blame the body and start dragging in all this Gnostic heresy and foolish Christian asceticism that rejects the body as evil. The body is not evil and sex is not evil, and nothing the body does is evil. There is no evil function of the body. It is God's handiwork and it is good. If it is treated right and loved right it will not seek the false and fake love that makes it a tool of evil. Nobody knows more about the immorality of the body than Paul. He wrote more about lust, impurity, debauchery, orgies, and all forms of sexual immorality than anybody. You can't add anything to Paul's knowledge about sexual corruption. Nevertheless, Paul says sex is good and the body is good, and is even the temple of the Holy Spirit and the agent by which all the gifts of the spirit can be expressed. The point is, you do not fight evil by rejecting the good. You do not hold the body in contempt just because it is a gate Satan so often uses to get to us. This is as senseless as breaking down your front door because you are sick of germs getting into the house by that route. Satan is clever. He has convinced Christians all through the ages to throw out some of God's best blessings because he gets his agents to use them as weapons. If evil can use the body to promote its line, then the Christian says we must attack and reject the body. We do not fall for this in conventional warfare. If Russia comes out with a tank or a supersonic airplane, we do not demolish our tanks and planes, and refuse to use the same weapons as an enemy. Instead, we say how can we make our tanks and planes better, and more efficient and powerful. That is the biblical approach with the body. Satan does use the body as one of his primary weapons. Some Christians react by saying the body is an enemy, and they develop anti-body life-styles. The Christian who listens to God's Word will see the body as a key weapon in the battle for righteousness. The body is not our enemy. It is an
ally and one of our greatest friends. It is made of the dust of the earth, but it is not contemptible. It is God's doing and the source of all who gives us life. We do not despise the earth even though its dirt can be used in negative ways. It is not always pleasant when it gets on your rug, and the body has it unpleasant side as well, but it is nevertheless a friend and source of great blessing. The body of man is something because God made that body to live forever. We tend to think that death is natural to the body, but it is not. Death only happens to the body as a judgment. It does not die natu rally. It has to be killed by force or by disease. The body is designed to keep renewing itself. The cells that form the body keep replacing themselves so that we have a new body every 7 years. There is no reason why they should not keep doing this indefinitely. Science can only tell us that for some unknown reason degeneration sets in, and each generation of cells becomes less efficient until death occurs. It is not natural at all. It is unnatural and contrary to the way the body is built. It is built to experience natural immortality. Adam and Eve's bodies would have lived forever had they not sinned, but ate of the tree of life. This is not a far fetched idea, for we have examples of natural immortality even in God's fallen creation. The Ameba does not get born, grow old, and then die. T hey divide into two daughter cells, and pass on all their substance, and leave no corpse behind. If they die, they die by accident and not by nature. The Paramecia also live forever if no accident kills them. Man has protected a single celled Paramecia as it went through 20 thousand generations in the lab over a period of 37 years. That first cell they started with never died, but it lived on and on for an equivalent of a quarter of a million years. The living for nearly a thousand years by Adam and some of his descendants is not in the least hard to accept in the light of what we know about natural life and the potential of cells. Before man loused up the body it was designed to live forever. Sin poisoned the system of God's cellular renewal, but it took time to destroy this marvel of God's handiwork . And so for generations the body still lived on for centuries as it renewed itself. Even today the body does not die naturally. It has to be killed by external forces. Arthur Constance says there has never been a case of natural death on record. Dr. Hanns Selye, the world's authority on stress, says that he never found in all his autopsies a man who died of old age, and he does not think one will ever be found. Everybody dies because something kills them. The point is, man's body is not like a car or a pair of shoes. These things age naturally. T hey only have so much potential and no more. When that is gone they are worn out and useless. But the body of man is built with far more potential than is ever used. But death comes as an intruder and as an enemy of the body, and it robs it of its potential. Paul says death is the last enemy to be destroyed, and when this enemy is out of the way man will have a body that will live forever. Modern man has already discovered in the lab that death is an outside force and not anything that is inherent in life itself. They have confirmed that death is a foreign agent and not natu ral. T hey have taken the cells of rats and chickens and have nourished them in test tubes for 30 years. They just go on dividing and living without death being a part of the picture. Science has already demonstrated that if you can get an environment that is free from the poison fingers of death, cells can live forever. This excites man to try and figure out how to conquer death, but he never will be able to do it. But God can, and He has promised to destroy death and give us bodies that will never die.
What man can get hints of, but can never produce, he can have freely as a gift of God. He can have eternal life in Jesus who submitted His body to death that He might conquer death and give all who trust Him victory over death. This body is such a gem of God's creation that He will not be satisfied until it is totally redeemed. Paul in Rom. 8:23 says this too is what we wait for as Christians, which is the redemption of our bodies. In Phil. 3:21 he says again that we eagerly await the coming of Christ because He will, "Transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." To be anti-body is to be anti-Christ, for He lived in an ideal body in time, and He dwells in a perfected body for eternity. His goal is to see that all who love Him have their bodies raised and transformed like His. To be in any way negative toward the body as a philosophy of life is to be on the opposite side from Christ. Satan's goal is to see both body and soul cast into the lake of fire. The goal of Jesus is to see both body and soul saved and united with each other and Him forever in heaven. The body was made to live forever, and the plan of salvation is not completed until man is in a body that will do just that. So the body is not everything, but it is something, and a powerful, valuable, and honorable something.
THE RESURRECTION BODY based on I Cor.15:35-49
One of the strangest articles I have ever heard of was the one titled Who Ate Roger Williams. This great fighter for religious liberty, and the founder of the first Baptist church in America in Providence, R.I., died and was buried in a very insecure casket. The result was an apple tree broke in and a large root went right through his body. This led to some very strange speculation. Since part of the body of Roger W illiams would have been absorbed by the root and taken up into that tree, it is probable that some of these molecules became part of it's apples. Thus, the foolish question--who ate Roger Williams? Now this could hardly be a problem from even the most anti-cannibalistic perspective. The problem is a theological one that men have been wrestling with for centuries. How is God going to get the body of Roger W illiams back together again for the resurrection? T his gets enormously complex if you think of how his molecules could end up scattered all over the world, and becoming parts of many other bodies which will also be in the resurrection. This may sound absurd, but it has been a serious theological issue since the early church. Tertullian, one of the ancient church fathers, was a fighting fundamentalist on this issue. He insisted that the very body that was buried is the body that will rise at the resurrection. Every hair and every tooth of this body will be raised, and not a fraction will be lost. This may have been a great comfort to those who died with a fine head of hair and a full set of teeth, but what about those who had lost their hair and teeth? Are they to be stuck forever with the literal body that was buried, or can they anticipate some improvement in their resurrection body? Even more perplexing were the questions about the Christians that were fed to the lions, or those many who were burned at the stake. More modern Christians have added their own examples of problems with the body. What of those lost or buried at sea, and eaten by shark s or other predators? What about those who have died
in planes and various explosions where the body has disintegrated without a trace? T here are just too many seemingly hopeless cases where the body, for all practical purposes, ceases to exist. These complex situations have led to much doubt about the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. St. Augustine, way back in the 4th century, spent a good deal of his time writing answers to all kinds of questions about the resurrection of the body. W hat about abortion? Will these little bodies be raised, and if so, what kind of body will they have? Augustine said they were alive and they died, and since all the dead will be raised, he saw no reason why they would not qualify. This has been the general belief of Christians ever since. He said all will have equal bodies. All will be like Christ in the prime of life, and so all children will have mature bodies, and all old people will have young bodies. All defects will be done away with, and all that is lack ing will be added so that none need fear they will have a body they do not feel comfortable with. Believe it or not, Augustine had to deal with questions like--will all of our body be resurrected? Will all that was ever a part of us be a part of the resurrection body? What about all the hair the barber has cut off over the years? If all of this is to be restored to us, Harry will be the only fitting name in heaven, and the hippy style will be the style forever. Others asked about finger nails and about over weight Christians, and still others asked about the deformed. You cannot think of a question today that was not already asked in the fourth century. There are few theological issues that have produced so many questions in people's minds, as this issue of the resurrection of the body. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa T heologica, the most famous theological work of the middle ages, and the primary basis for Catholic theology, goes on and on, page after page, dealing with questions about the resurrection body. Will the resurrection body have hair, nails, intestines, sex organs, sweat glands, blood and other fluids of the body? He wrestled with problems most of us never lose any sleep over. For example, if Adam rises with his full original body, Eve will not be able to rise at all, for she was made from Adam's rib. If he gets it back in the resurrection, there is nothing left for Eve to rise with. God must have a lot of good laughs at His children's perplexities, just as we parents and grandparents have at children's perplexities. When my grandson Jason was just over a year old he developed a ridiculous problem that gave me many a laugh. He became conscious of the world of balls, and he was spotting them everywhere. The clincher came when he began to spit out his peas, and refuse to eat them because they were balls. Before that revelation dawned on him he was perfectly content to eat them, but once he discovered they were balls they were unfit for human consumption. Our daughter tried to mash them, but it was to no avail, for mashed balls are still balls. Fortunately, string beans don't look like balls, and so he still got his vegetables. Much of what we do in life is on this same level in the eyes of God. If anyone deserves a good laugh, it is God, and so all of our nonsense is not completely wasted. Paul is writing this greatest of all chapters on the resurrection because of the questions of the Corinthians. Some of them were very strange qu estions. The saying is, there is no such thing as a foolish question, and that holds true even though Paul begins by calling their question foolish. Had they not asked this question about the resurrection body we would never have had this inspired answer. We can say, thank God for those who asked this foolish question. Paul calls it foolish, not because he felt it was an unworthy question, but because of the misconception behind it. They are locked into a narrow assumption about the body. They think of it as having only one form of
existence. Paul goes on to show that God is the creator of many kinds of bodies, all of which are adapted to their environment. God is not limited as to the kinds of bodies he can make. We see God's variety and versatility in nature, and so it is foolish to think God will have a problem providing us with bodies that will be fitting for eternity. Don't be foolish, just open your eyes to what God is doing all around you, and you will see that what is complex to you is simple to God. The foolishness of the Corinthians is in their feelings that all of the complex things that can happen to the body are somehow going to make it tough for God to get it all together. Paul says God has given us in nature just the illustration we need to grasp the solution to all our problems with the resurrection of the body. Nature is the handiwork of God, and in it we see how his creative wisdom functions. In Sunday School we planted seeds to illustrate the reality of the resurrection. Paul says there is no better way to illustrate the resurrection. It covers both sides of the paradox of identity and difference. The plant is directly identified with the seed that is buried, yet the plant is so radically different from the seed, that there is no resemblance. A plant, flower, fruit, or vegetable looks nothing like the seed it comes from. It would be a dull and boring world indeed, if all that ever came from seeds was more seeds. The seeds do come, but with them comes the plant clothed in beauty, and with values of all kinds. Nature helps us see how the resurrection body can be related to this old body that dies, and yet be so radically different from it. The seed of the old is there, but it will be clothed with beauty and values that go way beyond this old body. The seed helps us see the two key issues of identity and improvement. Take the body of Jesus as an example. His resurrection body was the same body that was buried, and yet it was so radically different. His resurrection body had the nail prints in His hands, and the wound in His side. His voice was the same, for Mary Magdelene recognized Him by His voice. His mannerisms were the same, for the two on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. All of His disciples came to recognize Jesus in His resurrection body, for it was the same body He had when He was with them before the cross. Yet it was a new body--a transformed body. It was a body that could come and go at will. It could vanish and go through doors. It could take on other forms as it did when He walked the road to Emmaus, and was not recognized by two of His disciples. It was a body no longer subject to the laws of nature, and no longer a limitation to the spirit. It was a spiritual body and thus, totally subject to the spirit. When He chose to ascend to the Father He did not need to consider gravity, for His body was no longer subject to that law. When the Bible says we will be like Jesus it does not mean we will be millions of clones, and all alike. God's creativity will be more manifested in the new heaven and the new earth, and not less. There will be infinite variety and differences. We will be like Him in that we too will have resurrection bodies like His. We will have bodies that will forever maintain the identity we had on earth, yet bodies so improved, they are like the difference between a seed and a beautiful flower. The seed of the old is ever there, but also the beautiful new beyond compare. This gives us the best of both worlds. We will be able to recognize and fellowship with all the saints of history, and know them as Moses, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet all of the fears of being somebody you do not like and having a body you do not like are eliminated, for you will have a body improved beyond your wildest dreams. The first thing Paul does is assure Christians that the death of the body is nothing to worry about. The seed itself dies and decays, yet out of it comes new life of far greater beauty than what has died. The preservation of the body is of no importance to Paul. The body of Jesus saw no corruption, and
spices were put on His body to preserve it from any decay. This was a fulfillment of a prophecy, and was an honor accorded that most unique body that ever was. It was the only virgin born, sinless body, that ever did, or ever will, exist. There is no hint in the New Testament, that I am aware of, that suggests Christians should strive to preserve their dead bodies. The Egyptians became experts at this, and thanks to them we can all go to museums and see what a mummy looks like. If you have seem one you know they are not really an inspiration. The body is designed by God to return to dust. All the apostles and the saints of the Bible are now dust. This is no cause for worry or sorrow. The seeds you have planted over the years are also dead and gone, and are merely dust somewhere in the ground. You do not care because you have reaped a harvest of good things from those seeds. You do not want to save your seeds for the sake of having seeds. Y ou lose them in order to gain what they can produce. So the loss of the body is like this loss of your seeds. It is lost in death, but it will be raised up as a beautiful new body that is far superior, just as a plant is far superior to the seed. Many Christians insist that God will gather all of the molecules of the body and reunite them in the resurrection body. For an omnipotent God this is tinker toy level of creativity. No Christian who believes in the God of the Scriptures can have a problem with this conviction. T here are even analogies in nature. One day the great chemist Faraday left his workshop and one of his assistants knocked over a silver cup into a jar of acid. The cup disintegrated and the assistant was in deep distress for the cup no longer existed. When Faraday returned the assistant had to confess to his blunder. Faraday took some chemicals and put them in the jar of acid. In a moment every particle of silver was precipitated to the bottom of the jar. He lifted the silver out of the jar and sent it to a smith who recast it into a beautiful silver cup. If finite man can recover every molecule of some disintegrated matter, how much more can an infinite God recover every molecule of the bodies of men and restore them? Nobody can doubt God's power to do this, but many doubt that this is the plan of God. Most feel that the molecules of this body of time are irrelevant to the resurrection body. The great Spurgeon, for example, focuses on the analogy of Paul with the seed. The seed is the source of the plant, but the particles of the seed remain in the ground. A seed that weighs a fraction of an ounce may produce a tree of several tons. Every seed produces a plant of far more matter than it contains. So the old body is the source of the new body, but the new will have little to none of the old body in it. Spurgeon says, "...not the identical particles of the same matter any more that the self-same particles of the seed spring up to make a blade, and to make a full corn in the ear." If Paul's analogy is to be tak en seriously, we see that God does not even need a whole seed to make a beautiful plant, for much of it remains in the ground to decay and disintegrate. The seed is a means to the end, and not an end in itself. The goal of God is the new body, and not a preservation of the old body. Identity is not preserved by maintaining or preserving the molecules of the body of a person. We know that every seven years we have a whole new body. All the old molecules are gone and are replaced by new ones. If you have lived 49 years you have already had 7 new bodies. Not one molecule of the former bodies is now a part of your present body. You are not, however, any less the person you were several bodies ago. Identity of the person is not dependent upon the molecules of the body. Spurgeon tells of the great hatred the Romanists had for the reformer Peter Martyr. To show
contempt for him they dug up the body of his wife and put it in a dung hill. Protestants took the body and reduced it to ashes to protect it from such abuse. T hey mixed the ashes of it with the ashes of a Catholic saint. This prevented further desecration, since they would not want to desecrate their own saints ashes. Spurgeon says this mixture of the ashes of two bodies is no problem for what happens to the body is of no consequence for the resurrection. That is why Christians everywhere have concluded that cremation is not a problem. Are we to fear that the Holy Spirit does not know the genetic code to every body He has indwelt? Does He not have the key to His own temple? Of course He does, and that is why nothing that happens to the body can make any difference in the resurrection. When we invite Jesus Christ into our lives we become temples of the Holy Spirit. The body of Jesus was such a temple. He said destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. He spok e this of his body. T his is the same source of power that will raise up our bodies. Paul says in Rom.8:11, "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." This is why it does not make any difference what happens to the body. The body is not the source of life, but the Holy Spirit who dwells in it is the source of life. The life-germ, or the seed from which our glorified bodies will come is not dependent upon the molecules of the body, but upon the power of the Holy Spirit. All he needs is one molecule of the old body to raise it up. Our present body started with a microscopic seed and egg, and all the rest came from that. Why should we think God needs more matter to produce our new bodies? Man has developed the capability of taking a single cell of a frog or other creature, and raising up a clone, which is an identical body to the parent. Are we to suppose that God has not advanced that far, and needs a whole body to produce a new body? Don't ask me how God can pack into a tiny seed all of its potential to produce stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits of such beauty and value--all I know is I see it happening all the time. Don't ask me how the Holy Spirit can take one molecule of my old body and produce a glorified body, but what I see Him already doing in nature makes it easy to trust Him to do what He promises. You have your choice as to what you think is the most spectacular miracle--God gathering all the scattered molecules of the body together, or G od raising it up from whatever remnant of the seed remains. Either way, the end result is a body we will all be thrilled to inhabit.. Spurgeon said, "I believe that when I shall enter upon my new body, I shall be able to fly from one spot to another, like a thought, as swiftly as I will.... It shall flash it's way across that shoreless sea, and see the glory of God in all His works, and yet ever behold His face." The spirit is willing now, but the flesh is weak. Then the spirit will be willing and the flesh will be strong to follow, and accomplish all that the spirit wills. Our present body, like the seed, has to die to produce the glorified body of eternity. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, for flesh and blood cannot cope with the life God intends for us in eternity. Those alive at the Second Coming will experience death and resurrection all in the same instant, for their bodies have to be changed before they are caught up to meet Christ. If they were not changed it would be a terrible experience. With my fear of heights I would probably faint long before I reached the clouds. Sky-diver types would enjoy the rapture in their earthly bodies, but even they wou ld not last long. We need bodies adapted to the new environment and the new challenges of eternity. Therefore, death is a necessity for our bodies. The seed must die for us to
enjoy the flowers, and these bodies must die for us to enjoy the beauty and power of the resurrection body. Death is an enemy that will finally be destroyed, but God incorporates it into His total plan, and uses it as a tool to bring about greater life. We see it in nature where the death of the seed is the stepping stone to all of vegetable life. Save the seed and spare it from death and you rob yourself of all it can produce. Give up the seed, and lose it, and you get back abundant life. Paul says this is an analogy of what God is doing in the history of man. Death is not terminal, but germinal. It only gets rid of that which cannot last, and sets free that which will last forever. Death, of course, is not the cause of this, but is only a slave of Christ, who led death captive. Jesus is the one we look to, and Paul says of Him in Phil.3:21, "Who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." Look to nature for illustrations of what God can do, but look to Jesus if you want assurance of the resurrection of the total man--body, mind, and spirit.
28. THE MYSTERY OF DEATH Based on I Cor. 15:51-58
A librarian commented concerning a woman just leaving her desk that she could get more out of a mystery novel than anyone she knew. "How is that?" asked her co-worker. She replied, "She starts in the middle so that she not only wonders how it comes out, but also how it began." This illustrates what a great many people are doing with life today. They have no idea how things began, or of how things will end up. All they look at is the middle of the story. They see the contemporary scene only, and the result is that they have too much mystery on their hands, and life is confusing. They have what we could call spiritual amnesia, which leaves them stranded in the present with no roots in the past, or goals in the future. Mystery in itself is not only valuable, it is essential for making life an adventure, but to live in this much mystery is to be miserable. One has to have some basic answers. When mystery reigns fear is on the throne as well. Henry St. John said, "Plain truth will influence half a score of men at most in a nation, or an age, while mystery will lead millions by the nose." The unknown is always frightening and so it becomes an ideal basis for controlling people and their money. Religion in general and cults in particular take full advantage of people's ignorance about life after death. Since people do not know the unknown it is impossible for them to prove any claim to be false, and so in fear they bow down to those who speak with authority. The witch doctor had such power over whole tribes becau se of his claim to know something about the darkness, which the masses do not know. One is always at a disadvantage when he is ignorant of the enemy. Nations know this, and that is why the intelligence forces our vital to survival. We try and find out every possible move of the enemy. We use spies and reconnaissance planes to keep current of enemy movements. Not to do is
to give the enemy the advantage of surprise. Death is an enemy, and we ought to know all that can be known about this enemy, and not be content with leaving it as a total mystery. In order to protect believers from being at the mercy of mystery mongers who sell their ignorance God has given, through Paul, some clear answers concerning the mystery of death. They are not answers reserved for the elite and spiritually superior. They are public information for the benefit of all. There is so much revealed in I Cor. 15 alone that it would take a whole series of messages to expound it. This does not mean that there is no more mystery. There will always be some mystery simply because we are finite and cannot comprehend infinite truth. Some poet has written, Shall my gazes see with mortal eyes, Or any searcher know by mortal mind? Veil or after veil will lift-but there must be Veil upon veil behind. As long as we are in these bodies there will be veils, but it is our responsibility to lift those veils and remove them where God has given knowledge. T here is no merit in being ignorant of that which God wants us to see concerning death. Paul begins the final paragraph of his long discourse on death and resurrection by saying in verse 51, "Behold I show you a mystery." Henry Vaughn wrote, Dear, beauteous death, the jewel of the just, Shining nowhere but in the dark; What mysteries do lie beyond the dust, Could man outlook that mark! Paul is saying that is exactly what we are going to do. We are going to look beyond the dust into the realm of ultimate destiny. Not, however, because we have any faculty capable of grasping the unknown and reducing it to the known, but because God has revealed it. It is a mystery that Paul is going to show us, and a mystery is a truth that cannot be known except by revelation. In other words, if it is not revealed it will remain in the realm of the unknown beyond the powers of man to discover. The first aspect of the mystery is that we shall not all sleep. Not all Christians will die. There will be those who enter the realm of eternity directly from this life without going through the valley of death, just as Enoch and Elijah did in the Old Testament. In the case of the Christians, however, it will not be because they are such unique servants of God, but simply because they live at the end of history. The pattern of what is normal is not followed at the beginning or the end. The first of God's children on earth, who were Adam and Eve, were not born, and the last of His children on earth will not die. Both are dwelt with by God directly and uniquely. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. He is the source of life and the goal of life. In between the beginning and the end God established a pattern guided by natural law. All people come into the world by birth and leave it by way of death. Only the last generation will leave this world without sleeping the sleep of death. The New Testament often refers to death as sleep, and this is a real revelation of the Christian attitude. Sleep describes death as simply becoming unconscious to this world. Byron wrote, "Death, so-called, is a thing which makes us weep, and yet a third of life is past in sleep." Natural sleep, however, is pleasant even to the beholder, for one knows the sleeper is at rest gaining strength to rise again and be active. Death is a sleep from which the body does not recover, and so there is no more
communication. Even the certainty of seeing them again does not eliminate the fact of a real temporary loss. Therefore, though death is sleep for the Christian, it is still a sad lost for those who are left behind. The paradox of the sleep of death is that though it appears to be a permanent sleep to those alive, it is really the end of all sleep for the one who is dead. It is the last sleep from which one wakes to sleep no more, for never again will there be a need for daily recuperation. The paradox is that all our lives we are dying, but at death we cease to die if we are in Christ. The unbeliever has another death to die called the second death, which is the death of the spirit when it is eternally banished from God's presence. A German proverb says, "As soon as we are born we are old enough to die." All our lives we are dying even as we live. About every 7 years we have an entirely new body. The old one is dying and disappearing on a daily basis. Our baby body dies and is replaced by the body of youth. It dies and is replaced by the body of adulthood. It dies and is replaced by the body of old age. When this last earthly body dies then we receive a body that is immortal, and which shall never die. Death for the Christian is the end of death and the beginning of life without death. John Donne wrote, "One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be more; death thou shalt die." This is the experience of all believers until the second coming, but those alive then will not need to die, for Paul says they too along with the dead must be changed. Death is not essential to entering the kingdom of God, but a transformation is essential, and so every believer living and dead will be changed when Christ comes again. Paul had just stated in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Those who felt that the Lord might come in their lifetime could fear that it would be to their advantage to die first less they get caught in their immortal bodies, but Paul assures them that there is nothing to fear, for all will be changed. Paul goes on to stress that when this change takes place, and we have all put on immortality, then death shall be swallowed up in victory. It is significant that Paul uses the word victory three times in this context dealing with death, and never once uses it in all his other writings. Paul is making it clear as possible that death is an enemy, and a very powerful one, but that in Christ we can gain the victory over this most monstrous of foes. Back in verse 26 Paul says that death will be the last enemy to be destroyed. I emphasize Paul's strong language because lack of understanding on this point has caused Christians to think of death in a strange way. Paul does not stand shaking hands with death as a friend, but he stands in Christ victorious over it as a defeated fiend. It is the enemy of God, of Christ, and of man. The Christian, like anyone else, can see the blessing of death in many situations. A person lingering in great and incurable pain is blest by the relief of death. But to build our theology about death around some of the benefits it can bring is foolish, and it leads to all kinds of superficial ideas that make death the loyal and obedient servant of God rather than His enemy. Any time you automatically use the cliché, "It was for the best, or his number was up, or God took him," you substitute sentiment for the clear Word of God. Many Christians act and talk as if they were pagan fatalists when it comes to the matter of death. This ought not to be, for it does great harm to our concept of God. Many people who hear the statements, when they have lost a loved one feel anger that God would act like a cruel tyrant in taking their loved ones. Many people would rather be lost than worship a God who twists people into knots of pain and crushes the life out of them. If you are
promoting such an image of God by conveying the idea that all death is His will, then you should do it in the name of some other god rather than the God of Scripture, for He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. God does not will all death. If that was so, what is all the fuss about in trying to blame tyrants for their atrocities. If God alone is the author of all death, then He has determined that people will die at the hands of cruel tyrants. They are merely His servants fulfilling His will if this view is true. Why blame Hitler for killing six million Jews if it was God's appointed time for them? T his is horrible theology, but Christians promote it because they do not stop to think of the implications of what they say when they claim all death is God's will. If you study death through the Old T estament you will discover that much death is not God's will and that His laws are often designed to prevent death when it would be certain without these laws. We need to recognize that death is truly an enemy and that it is the wages of sin. It is part of the kingdom of evil, and that is why it will have no place in God's eternal kingdom. We can only face it with a positive spirit because Jesus has conquered it and promised to bring us all out of the realm of death into His Father house. Death is a defeated foe, but it is still an enemy. This is not a mystery, but a clear revelation of God through the Apostle Paul in this chapter.
WORK AND WAGES Based on I Cor. 15:58
It is probably a fictitious story, but a wife who had her husband cremated was asked if she wanted his ashes in an urn. She said, “No. I want them put in an hour glass to set on the mantel. That lazy rascal never did a day’s work in his life, but I’m going to keep him busy from now on.” George Bernard Shaw said that an eternal vacation is a good working definition of hell. We won’t stop to debate his theology, but simply accept the truth of the idea that he is conveying. Man needs a vacation, but his greater need is for a vocation. God made man to work. The first thing God did with Adam was to give him a job. Gen. 2:15 says, “T he Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Man started with no sin and no unemployment. Some feel we have made a lot of progress since then since we have many people who do not have to work . They think of work as degrading, and they consider utopia to be where there is universal unemployment, and all you do is loft and enjoy life. The next best is to keep enough people working to meet your needs. Like the man who said it will be some time before his leg is well enough to go back to work. When his friend asked why that was, he replied, “Because compensation has set in.” You hear a lot of talk among workers about how they loathe to work, and many practice what they preach. Many talk of the day when they were retired as if they at last will be free to live. A good number of such men are bored stiff even on vacation. There seems to be an ambivalence in men at this point. He hates work and loves work at the same time. We know where the love of work came from, for God made man in His image with the capacity to create and the love of doing so. The historic Protestant viewpoint is that there is dignity in manual labor. Jesus spent the greatest portion of His earthly life as an carpenter. When Peter said of Him that He left us an example that we should
follow His steps, he was not referring to His manual labor, but there is no reason to doubt that this aspect of our Lord’s life also has an important lesson for our life. William Torrent wrote, My Master was a worker with daily work to do, And he who would be like him must be a worker too. Then welcome honest labor, and honest labors fare, For where there is a worker, the Master’s man is there. Jesus not only dignified labor by His life but by His choice of disciples, for He picked them, not from idleness, but from the labor force. He called them from their jobs. He wanted men who were prepared to work, for He says in John 5:17, “My Father worketh heitherto, and I work.” Work was at the very heart of God’s plan. The kingdom of God, like Eden, was to be without unemployment. It was not His intention to call men out of darkness into light so that they could relax and do nothing, but that they might see the need to labor in bringing others out of darkness. Jesus was a worker, and He chose workers to be the means by which He would build His church. The question remains of why men hate work in spite of the fact that God has ordained it, Christ dignified it, and the church has honored it from the beginning. The answer appears to be that it is because the world has perverted it. The world philosophy has a knack of turning good into evil. It has created a moneytheistic society in which the almighty dollar has determined the course of industry. Men who have studied the problem of modern industry are saying that the worker is dissatisfied with his work life because it has lost its meaning. His work is often boring because it seems so routine, useless and uncreative. T he only motive that keeps him at it is his wages. It has been proven that work that is meaningless is not just neutral but positively harmful to the worker. Dostoevsky, the Russian author, has pointed this out in the House Of The Dead in which he describes his reflection while in the prison camp in Siberia. He writes, “I have sometimes thought that the way to crush and annihilate a human being completely would be to set him to do an absolutely senseless and useless thing. If her were condemned to poor water from tub to another and back again, or to pound sand in a mortar, or to carry a heap of earth backward and forward, I am convinced that he would either commit suicide within a few days, or murder some of his fellowsuffers in order to suffer death at once and be delivered from his moral torture, shame and degradation.” The guards in Hitler’s concentration camps proved his judgment to be accurate, for they kept prisoners busy at completely meaningless work until it was so intolerable that they would run against the high-voltage wires around the inclosure and electrocute themselves. Work without meaning is a positive evil. Douglas Steer in his book Work And Contemplation relates a story from a labor expert named Whiting Williams. It is a perfect illustration of how necessary meaning is to work. A squad of day laborers were hired one morning and put to work digging holes about 3 feet deep. When it was finished the foreman inspected it and ordered the workmen to fill it up and come to another point and dig another hole of the same depth. This went on for most of the morning, but then the foreman noticed the workers in a huddle. Their spokesman came over and said, “We’re going to quit, you give us our money, you ain’t going to make fools out of us.” The foreman was surprised, and then understanding broke over him and he said, “Don’t you see that we are trying to find where the broken pipe is located?” “Oh,” he said, and
hurried back to the men for a word of explanation. He returned and said, “Where do you want us to dig next?” T he knowledge that what they were doing had purpose made them glad for the work. Meaning is the key to the love of work, and lack of meaning is the cause for the hate of work. No man can be happy who must devote half of his conscious life to a job that is trivial, harmful or meaningless. Does Christianity have an answer for the modern worker who is becoming more and more a victim of the impersonal industrial machine? Yes it does, for as we have said, God made man to love work, and He has given man work to love. God calls no one to a meaningless task. He gives work of such meaningful nature that our attitude can be like that of Winifred Holtby who prayed, “Give me work till my life shall end, and life till my work is done. God solution to this problem of work is the same as His solution to all human problems, and it is the Gospel. Paul has been spelling out the truths of the Gospel and the great hope it gives to the believer. He stresses the objective reality of the resurrection, for this is the basis on which all of life gains ultimate meaning and purpose. If it is not true, Paul says you faith is in vain, all of life is a deception, and there is no hope. He goes on to give evidence for the reality of the resurrection, and what the outcome of it will be for the believer. The great hope of a meaningful eternal life with Christ without any of the limitations of our weak and sinful bodies. We look to the future of victory over death and hell, and over all the enemies of God. Then in the last verse he draws a practical conclusion to all he has said, and in this verse we find a meaningful work and an adequate wage. The Lord’s work is that work that will give life meaning regardless of how we make a living. God does not promise to give us a great job, but He does promise to make our job great if we do His work. The great tragedy is that the work of the Lord is limited to Sunday, and to a handful of workers. This is not the biblical picture at all. Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren.” He was not addressing a ministerial association. He was addressing the congregation of all the people. No where do we find that the work of the Lord is the job of the few. It is the work of everyone, and no matter how little your talent and ability, if you are in the kingdom of God by faith in Christ, you have a job. There is no one unemployed in the kingdom of God. If you are doing nothing for Christ, you are doing nothing for eternity. There is a work therapy farm called the Gould Farm near great Barrington, Mass., which is operated by Christian people for the purpose pf aiding mental patients to regain their ability to face society again. The method they use is to get people to do meaningful work for the good of the group. When the patients first come they are often like the man who just sat and watched everyone else. He felt lost and like a stranger, and he did not catch the spirit of the place. After a week of this a storm came up and split a limb on a large tree and it endangered the main house. He was asked to give a quick hand. He was hesitant, but because of the danger of the situation he began to work and became engrossed in doing his share. He later said, “Why you feel that you belong as soon as you do something for the place.” So it is in the church of Christ. You really become a part of the church when you enter into the work of the Lord. That farm would be a total flop if the staff did all the work, and so it is in the church. When you see a church that is growing and meeting its goals you know it isn’t because God loves the people in that community more than others. It is because the people have caught the vision and everyone is abounding in the work of the Lord. They are working and witnessing. Work is the essence of success in any field. Michael Angelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.” Alexander Hamilton said, “All of the genius I have
is merely the fruit of labor.” We could go on quoting great leaders in every field and find this same truth. Wilfred Funk, editor and publisher said, “I have never discovered a genius who spoke of talent, or even of inspiration, but only of bru tal work.” If we want to gain the ultimate blessing of a meaningful life, it means that we must abound in the work of the Lord. Notice that Paul says always, and not just on Sunday or Wednesday. It is not just when there is activity at the church. The Lord’s work is to let light shine all week. That which can give meaning to your manual labor is to do it for the glory of Christ. It is to do a good job in order to have credibility as a witness. A Christian who gripes and complains and shirks his duty in the presence of non-Christians is not going to impress them with any jargon about the meaning Christ can give to life. When Paul says always we must take it literally and realize that whenever we are in presence of unbelievers we are engaged in the Lord’s work. All of our attitudes and actions are revealing to them what Christianity is. We sing, “I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining everyday.” If your neighbors and fellow employees heard that would they be impressed, or would the suspect you were measuring with a micrometer, which means the gain would not be perceptible to the human eye. This kind of growth can hardly be compatible with Paul’s use of the word abounding. It means to flow over the edge. If one is always flowing over the edge in the work of the Lord it will be observable. It is this attitude in other realms that has caused such rapid progress. Edison’s wife urged him to take a vacation. He said, “Alright, but where should I go?” She said, “Decide where you would rather be than anywhere on earth and go there.” He responded, “Very well, I’ll go tomorrow.” The next day he went to work in his laboratory. If only we could live as if the work of the Lord meant as much to us. The reason for much lethargy in the church is the same as the reason for such in industry. Men feel the wage is inadequate, and there is no good return for the effort put forth. Paul says this is not so, for our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Nothing done for Christ is meaningless and without a worthy wage. Philips puts it, “Be sure nothing you do for Him is ever lost or wasted.” Herodotus said, “The bitterest sorrow that a man can know is to wish very much to do something and not be able to do it.” But there is a worse tragedy than that, and it is to do it and then find out it wasn’t worth doing. This is never the case for those who will do the work of the Lord. It is such a privilege to serve Christ that it would be worth paying to be allowed to do it, but Christ grants all believers the job of meaningful and worthwhile work of doing His will. The kingdom of God will never cease to offer people work and wages that will give life meaning and satisfaction. May God grant that we will see the blessing of making every day a labor day for the Lord.
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