Preaching to Be Forgotten and For God to Be Glorified

“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:3–5 (ESV)

What did Paul mean when he wrote of his “weakness…in fear and much trembling?” Clearly, Paul was connecting his preaching to these things (“…my speech and my message…”). I think that Paul’s words here are a much-needed correction to the celebrity culture within the Western church today.

The Apostle to the Gentiles stood before this church in Corinth as a weak man. He did not have the polish and trappings that the false teachers of Corinth had, and to many, this was a severe disadvantage. Although they might not say it this way, there are many who would imply strongly that the message is secondary to the method. If you don’t have a media empire pushing your message, then the world won’t listen and you’ll be ineffective. I wonder how Paul would have responded to that sort of thinking. Well, we don’t have to wonder because his Spirit-inspired words are given to us.

In his commentary on these verses, Alan Johnson clarifies what Paul is saying: “…[Paul’s] proclamation (wider than only preaching) of the “mystery” of God, namely, Jesus Christ as the crucified One, was in keeping with the sole focus on the cross because Paul consistently, deliberately presented himself not self-confidently but in self-effacement, not in strength as a “successful” person but in weakness and fear, with much trembling (v. 3).”  (Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, vol. 7, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 62.)

Paul isn’t working to build his brand. He isn’t seeking to launch a well-strategized media plan that incorporates all the latest channels for all the up-and-coming evangelical elites. He isn’t buddying up to those more popular false teachers in order to share the limelight while justifying this as focusing on the majors and overlooking areas of disagreement in the name of “grace.” Nope. Paul is not about Paul. He unashamedly points to himself as a weak and fearful man. His words were perceived by the Corinthians as implausible and foolish–because that was what the unvarnished gospel sounds like to unregenerate ears. Paul didn’t seek to “fix” it.

And since Paul wasn’t trying to boost his own brand, he didn’t care what others thought about him so long as they saw Jesus. Paul was weak–he didn’t feign weakness to seem more spiritual. He was scared–but God was his strength. He wasn’t practiced and polished in his delivery, intentionally–so that people wouldn’t walk away impressed with this servant’s speech, but so they would walk away worshipping his God.

Paul focused on the cross in his life, message, and methods. In our glitzy evangelical world of super conferences, social media blitzes, and multi-books deals, we are all too often a faint shadow of this servant of God. May we join with George Whitefield in saying, “Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted.”

We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Back Down (weekend repost)

“In a time of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Let us determine that we will not be shamed into silence or inaction. We will speak, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel, let us resolve that we will not bow.”

Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced, 38.

It is interesting to read about the Apostle Paul’s experience in Jerusalem in Acts 21-26. In these chapters, Paul is constantly allowed to share with different audiences his testimony in one way or another. Incredibly, in many instances, he isn’t allowed to finish his explanation of why he believes in Jesus Christ.

Read the rest of the post here: We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Bow Down

The Use of Scripture for Strengthening Weak Hands

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation— the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who rescued me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from the man of violence. For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.” (Psalm 18:46–49, ESV)

The other day I read a social media post from a Christian who attacked those that use the Bible to teach “piety” or “moralism” in sermons instead of simply pointing to Jesus’ saving work on the cross of Calvary as an act of worship. In other words, the Bible is all about what Christ has done and not about what Christians should do. Another way it is often stated is that we should teach the indicatives of the Bible (what God has done through Christ) and not so much the imperatives (what we should do as Christians). This has led some who teach this view into a dreadful form of antinomianism that gives way to a shipwrecked life.

I understand the failure of some preaching that twists the Bible into a life-manual for fixing our problems. These types of churches and the sermons they produce seem to be a religiously themed self-help motivational courses. Theology and doctrine are downplayed, and God is only taught in the sense that He is the power that you need to tap into to get the life you want. That is abuse of the Bible and the God of the Bible, and make no mistake, this is wrong.

But it is also wrong to say that the Bible is only about what God has done for us at the cross. I only need to point to the book of Ephesians to show that in a letter of six chapters, the first three chapters are dedicated to proclaiming the glorious theology of salvation through Jesus Christ, BUT the second three chapters deal with the implications of that change in the life of a person, including several imperatives. In other words, the Bible is not simply about the indicatives and what God has done for us, but flowing out of the indicatives are some very important imperatives that can only truly be accomplished in a God-pleasing way through the active role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a regenerate person. Christians are called to obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I say all of this because in my reading through Psalm 18 this morning I was once again enamored with the radical change that dwelling upon the Scriptures has in the heart and mind of the child of God. This psalm has a heading, also called a superscription that tells the reader the context in which it was written. In the case of Psalm 18, it was written when David was being hotly pursued by his enemies, including Saul. Knowing how close to being caught and murdered he was, David recalls the terrifying place he was in and how he called out to the Lord desperately, and the Lord heard his cries. It is a wonderful psalm that pictures God rising from His heavenly throne and ascending upon the back of an angel to save His child David with the vengeance of a warrior.

But is this passage simply for me to read and appreciate? Does it not instruct me, and those that I would teach it to that our God loves His own, and that He is moved by our cries to come to our aid and save us? You see, this passage is meant to do more than describe David’s personal experiences. It was put into a song so that the people of Israel would praise their God who saves–but who saves more than just the king. He is the God who saves His people, from the greatest to the least in the kingdom. I can apply this text to myself and others by calling Christians to cry out in prayer in their times of need. God answers prayer! We must be people of prayer!

This is the glory of the Bible. We do not need to choose between what God has done and what we should do in response. The two go together and shouldn’t be separated. And this psalm is a wonderful place to go to strengthen weakened hands when the battle has become too much and the broken and weary need to be reminded that God hears our cries. So, when you study the Bible, make sure you not only teach it accurately, but also make sure you apply the text to the lives of those who need to have their weak hands strengthened.

Sowing Seeds of the Flesh (part 3)

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8, ESV)

Paul took seriously the destructive nature of sin in the life of those that claimed to be believers. Although he knew the sting of those who were trying to do good works to gain favor with God, he also knew that the Christian life is one which will produce the fruit of the Spirit in the life of those that are redeemed.

Having described these both, Paul addressed those that were self-deceived. I wrote about this in my first two posts which you can read here: Sowing Seeds of the Flesh (part 1) and Sowing Seeds of the Flesh (part 2). Today, I want to point out what Paul says regarding those that sow seeds of the flesh.

If you sow to the flesh you will reap death.(v. 8a)

Paul is referring to the section in chapter 5 and the works of the flesh. He is saying that if you sow these types of activities and attitudes, then you should not be surprised to reap the fruit of these things, which he calls “corruption.” Here is what Paul wrote:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21, ESV, emphasis mine)

This word “corruption” in Galatians 6:8 is a very graphic word. It is used to describe something that is rotting, putrid, decaying. Since Paul is speaking of the flesh here, he is painting a picture of a rotting corpse.

Is this not what Jesus said in Matt 16:24-26? Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me (v. 24). If you look at the works of the flesh, whether in Galatians 5, or elsewhere, it becomes clear that they are centered around “me.” They are self-centered. Here Jesus calls us to the opposite, even to the point of giving up our own physical life for Christ, if called to do so.

And then he says in Matthew 16:25-26 what Paul restates in Gaatiansl 6. He says that there is no profit in gaining everything to bring comfort and safety and pleasure to this flesh, this body, while losing your eternal souls!

The flesh is rotting away, brothers and sisters! If we feed this rotting corpse with what it lusts after, we will not gain anything at all. We will be sowing seeds of destruction for our eternal souls. Christ is calling us to more. He is calling us to a life of self-denial. I don’t me monkish living. That is death. I mean denial of the things that bring spiritual death. Those works of the flesh that may appeal to our sin-nature, but in the end work like rat poison to our souls!

Conclusion

There is the story told of a town where there were two mines. One was very prosperous and the other one was not. As such, the prosperous mine paid its workers better than the other. A miner thought he would try something. He worked all week for the less prosperous mine, and at the end of the week, on payday, he went to the prosperous mine to receive his wages. The manager asked him if he worked at the other mine, and he said he did. Then he told him that he needed to go there to collect his wages. But the miner said that the prosperous mine paid better wages and he wanted to be paid their wages instead of the meager wages of the poorer mine.

The manager said that he must gather his pay from the mine he worked. It is not possible to receive pay from one when you work at another.

My friends, the wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is death. How can some be so deceived to think that we can sin and collect the wages of heaven? How can that be?

Work for the Master. His wages are good. Do not sow to the flesh and you will not receive the payment of rotting flesh as your reward.

And if you have planted a lot of seeds of your own destruction, know this. Christ came to swallow up death for you, to take away the wages you earned and to give you His wages, to give you the fruit of His perfect, righteous life. 

Christ died as the payment for your sins so that the fruit of your sin–what you deserve–would not come about. Instead, with Christ as your Savior, you will reap the fruit of righteousness. Won’t you give your life to him today?

Sowing Seeds of the Flesh (part 2)

On Friday I pointed to Paul’s admonishment to the churches in Galatia regarding the way the deeds of the flesh are manifest like the fruit that is borne of wicked seeds. You can read part one here: Sowing Seeds of the Flesh (part 1). Our actions and attitudes are like seeds that we are constantly planting. It may take some time, but they will eventually bear fruit.

Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8, ESV)

What does Paul mean when he says, ““Do not be deceived…” (v. 7a)?

The word “deceived” means to wander, or to go astray. It can also used of those who are led astray or lead others astray. Paul has already spoken of the fact that the Galatians were straying. In Gal 1:6, he spoke of his astonishment that they were so “quickly deserting” the Lord who had called them in salvation. And in Gal 3:1, Paul used even stronger language. He asked who it was that “bewitched” the Galatians into following this false gospel that was consuming the heart of the Church there. It was as if they had been put under a spell.

But Galatians isn’t the only place where Paul speaks of being deceived. In 1Cor 6:9 he warned the Corinthian church of the false teaching that says that somehow sin and the Kingdom of God are compatible. In other words, don’t worry about some fundamentalist understanding of the Law of God. Don’t worry about how you live. There is grace abounding to sinners, so live how you want, because God is love and he would never condemn anyone to hell. 

Paul says, don’t let this kind of lie deceive you into being eternally damned to hell. God does care about our souls. That is why he calls us to the gospel of Jesus Christ and then calls us to live a life of holiness that reflects that inner change. This is a lie similar to what the Galatian libertines were saying.

In 1Cor 15:33 Paul once again sounded a warning about deception. In this passage he warned the church of the false idea that a Christian can stay unstained by the world of sin that we live in while he “wallow[s] in dens of iniquity.” (Timothy George, NACNT). There are some even today who want you to think that as a blood-bought Christian you are free to do anything that an unbeliever does and that by virtue of your redemption you are like Teflon–nothing sticks to you!

Don’t be deceived! Second Corinthians 6:14-18 is clear! You may remember well the sinful world that you came out of and you have enough God-given sense to stay away from that filth because of the carnage and destruction it brought to your life before Christ.

And then someone comes along, and we are afraid of the labels “legalist” and “Pharisee,” so we allow them to pigeon-hole us into thinking not only that they are not sinning by indulging the flesh, but we are tempted to follow suit in our own lives. Don’t be deceived!

A legalist and Pharisee seek to be redeemed by their own righteous keeping of the Law. And if you are doing that, you are a Legalist. You need Jesus because all your righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God.

But if you trust in the blood of the Lamb to set you free from your sins, and you want to obey God in the big as well as little things because you have been redeemed and you want to walk in the Light as He is in the Light (1Jn 1:7), YOU ARE NOT A LEGALIST. YOU ARE NOT A PHARISEE! You, my friend, are a faithful servant of God. You are HOLY! You are GODLY. For sure, God is working “in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (Phil 2:13) so he deserves all the glory–but You ARE working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), testing yourself to see whether you are actually in the faith (2Cor 13:5)! Do not be deceived!

When we think that what we believe or how we live has no real importance in our lives, we are either being deceived or are self-deceived. And we are more than likely deceiving others in trying to justify our own sin. Paul tells us, “Do not be deceived!”

But Paul says more. He goes on to say, “God is not Mocked.”(v. 7b).

God does not command or admonish so that we can choose to obey or ignore him. God is not some weak old man who is powerless to do anything but watch us helplessly as we sin. God is not joking. He is not suggesting when he commands. He is not hoping we will obey. He is not playing when he speaks. The fool who thumbs his /her nose at God will find that, in the end, the tables have turned. THERE IS A PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

What do I mean by “Payday?” Verse 7 paints us a picture from agriculture–from the farming community that Paul lived in. He says, “What you plant, is what you will sow!” You can’t get watermelons from tomato seeds. You can’t get peaches from corn kernels. You can’t plant green beans and hope to get grapes. And Paul is telling the Galatians and by the Spirit he tells us, You can’t live a wicked life of sin and hope that you will bear the fruit of the Spirit! Our actions produce consequences! Your words produce consequences. Your thoughts produce consequences. Your activities produce consequences.

It used to be that if you were a young boy playing baseball in the street, that if you broke a neighbor’s window, your dad would take you over to the neighbor to apologize and make arrangements for you to replace that window. Today we live in a different culture. Today people want to live without consequences.

Today people sue McDonalds for getting fat. They sue the company that made the navigation system in their car after they drove off the road and into a lake because the GPS told them to do it. They complain to the principle of their school because the teacher didn’t make their kid smart.

And that mentality is not new. In Galatia, the false teachers had taught that they didn’t need to worry about the consequences of their actions. They could live how they wanted–Grace! Grace! Let us sin that grace may abound! MAY IT NEVER BE, was Paul’s answer! And it ought to be our answer. We must see that we will reap what we have sown!

Tomorrow we will look at verse 8 and the negative consequences of being deceived by this lie.