The Facts of Faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

I want you to stop for just a moment and think about the greatest vacation you have ever taken. Do you have those special memories locked into your mind? Good! Now think with me: what made that vacation so memorable? Great food, great fun, great sights, and great fellowship, right? Now, when you left on this vacation did you just jump on a plane and take off? Of course not! Before you departed on your dream vacation, what did you have to do? You had to make sure you could take the necessary time off from work. You had to have saved enough money to get to and fro. You had to book airfare and lodging. You had to research the location you were traveling to. Perhaps you even had to learn a foreign language. Upon reflection, you had to put a lot of thought and effort into your vacation, didn’t you?

The same truth applies to moving to a new city. What do you do when you finally decide you are moving? You visit the new area and check out the neighborhoods, the schools, the climate, the churches, the restaurants, the gyms, the shopping areas, and the entertainment options. You do your homework in advance and discover everything you can about the new city because it’s going to be your new home.

What I find so surprising and tragic is most people give more thought to vacations and relocations than they do their eternal destination and their quality of life there. We don’t prepare for our trip to our eternal home. I hope that we can change that as we study through 1 Cor 15. In 1 Cor 15 we come to one of the most important chapters of the Bible—the resurrection chapter. Interestingly, this chapter is the longest chapter of any New Testament epistle, and the book of 1 Corinthians is the longest epistle in the New Testament. Paul’s words in this chapter divide into two distinct sections. The first section (15:1-34) makes the case for the reality and certainty of the resurrection. The second section (15:35-58) explains how the resurrection is possible and discusses the nature of resurrection bodies. Paul spent so much time on this topic because the Corinthians had come to believe in life after death without bodily resurrection.

Yet, Paul is not trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus but to argue from it that Christians will be resurrected. The Corinthians evidently believed in the immortality of the soul but had bought into the popular Greek view that once a person takes his last breath, it was curtains for the physical body. Not so, says Paul, and he argues in great detail from Scripture and from reason that there is a future for our physical bodies, as well as for our souls. But before he can adequately defend the believer’s resurrection, he has to deal with Christ’s resurrection, for His paved the way for ours. In 1 Cor 15:1-11, Paul exclaims, “What goes down must come up.” In these eleven verses, Paul imparts two features of the gospel.

  1. The gospel is trustworthy(15:1-8). In this first section, Paul explains the contents of our relationship with God. In doing so, he particularly emphasizes the validity of the resurrection. Again, Paul does not try to prove that the resurrection of Christ actually happened. Instead, he assumes the resurrection as fact. In these verses, he simply wants us to know that Christ has risen from the dead. Paul begins by stating in 15:1-2: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” As with some of the other topics dealt with in this letter, Paul starts answering the problem even before he defines it in 15:12. What Paul is saying now is no different than what he shared with the Corinthians previously. The gospel still works today. This is certainly not the first time the Corinthians have heard this truth, rather Paul is reminding them of something they have forgotten. Paul uses this phrase when he wants to share something important (cf. 12:3). It is as though a father is sitting down with his son and saying, “Now I want to go over your responsibilities around the house one more time…” I can relate to this, as I am sure you can as well. The bulk of our faith is review. As Christians what we really need is to be reminded of what we already know.We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. When we do this, we experience a new surge of life and love for Christ.

Paul wants to remind his readers of what the gospel is. The term “gospel” means “good news.” This is the message that Paul preached to the Corinthians for the eighteen months he served as their pastor. Paul is writing with the confidence that the Corinthians are bona fide believers.

  • Paul states that they have “received” the gospel. The verb “received” speaks of a response in the past. Salvation is the miracle of a moment. If the gospel worked for you when you believed in Christ and it’s not working for you now, you changed, not the gospel.
  • Paul states that the Corinthians “stand” on the gospel. The verb “stand” indicates present stability on the basis of past action. Archimedes, a 2ndcentury Greek scientist and mathematician, once said, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.” The gospel gives us a place to stand. Jesus Christ is our stability and security.
  • Paul affirms that the Corinthians are “saved” by the gospel he preached. To be “saved” means “to be delivered or rescued.” The words “are saved” should be translated “are being saved” to reflect the present tense verb. There are three phases to salvation: past, present, and future. Having received the gospel at a point in the past, God begins to work on us so that we become more like Him.If we hold fast the gospel we initially received we will experience spiritual health. The phrase “unless you believed in vain” is referring to the hopelessness of our faith apart from Christ’s resurrection (cf. 15:14, 17).

Paul has great confidence in this gospel message because Christ’s death and resurrection is prophetically and historically verifiable. In 15:3-5, Paul is going to clearly and succinctly share the core elements of the gospel. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” An important phrase immediately jumps out because it is repeated in 15:3-4: “according to the Scriptures.”

In the Old Testament, God predicted that Christ would die and rise again. One of the strongest arguments that Jesus is the Christ is how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. In 15:3, Paul states that he delivered to the Corinthians the gospel he had received from other apostles. This gospel was “of first importance” and foundational to everything else in the Christian life. Underline that phrase “of first importance” in your Bible. We can discuss and debate the Charismatic gifts of 1 Cor 12-14 and other non-essential issues, but the gospel is “of first importance.” It is a non-negotiable. The reason for this is the gospel did not originate from Paul or any other man; rather it was received from God and then delivered to people. It is God’s gospel, not ours. No one would have ever devised a plan of salvation like this one, for mankind always tries to obtain salvation the old-fashioned way—“to earn it.” But the good news of the Christian gospel is that salvation is a free gift—costly to Christ but free to us. Here are the facts of the gospel.

Fact 1: “Christ died for our sins.” There are three important elements to the first fact of the gospel. First, Jesus Christ. Say that powerful name out loud a few times. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ, not Buddha, Mohammed, not even God. You believe in God? Good! But God wants to know: what are you going to do with His Son, Jesus Christ? Responses such as: “I go to church every week and I’m a good father or mother” have nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ. Second, Jesus Christ died. One quarter of the gospel accounts focus on the death of Christ. Plenty of other information was left out so that we would grasp the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the issue is what happened on the cross and why did it happen? Third, Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus did not die as a good example; He did not die because He was a nice martyr; Jesus Christ died for our sins. Sin is a concept one doesn’t hear a lot in our culture today. We hear about illnesses, addictions, and disorders, but we don’t hear much about sin. Yet, the truth is: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of every man, woman, and child that has ever lived. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross.

Christ had to die because you and I were in trouble with God. What puts us in trouble with God is our sin. Just so that there is no doubt, let me clarify what sin is: Sin is anything contrary to the character and commandments of God. To boil down this definition even further, sin is merely leaving God out and failing to worship Him properly. If you have ever done this, you’ve qualified yourself to be a first-degree sinner. The only reason God made you was to leave Him in. He created you to have fellowship with Himself. But you and I have continually rejected His affections.

As a result, Paul and the rest of the biblical writers teach that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The word “for” means “in the place of, because of.” This is substitution. A substitute is a person who takes the place of another. We should have died for our sins but Jesus died in our place. Jesus took your place that you might have His place. He took your hell that you might have His heaven. That is His substitutionary death. It is the heart of the gospel. Jesus’ life does not save us. His teaching does not save us. He saves us by His death on the cross. There is no other way to get rid of our sins. The good news of the gospel is that when Christ died for our sins, He died for our past, present, and future sins. He covered all of our sins for all time. Are you having trouble forgiving yourself for sins you have committed? Remember, Christ’s death was sufficient for your sins. His death satisfied God’s wrath against sin.

Fact 2: “Christ was buried.” Christ’s death was not an accident that left Him lying for a while along some deserted roadway. He did not endure His agony away from the notice of the crowd; rather, His death was the center of the city’s attention. Furthermore, as the center of the city’s attention, the scene was one of deliberate execution. This was a public execution by soldiers whose own lives depended upon their ability to carry out the death sentence. There were no heroic efforts to save His life. No emergency unit was called to rush His body to a trauma center where it could be placed on life support systems until vital signs returned. The evidence states that Christ actually died and spent three days in a tomb. His death was confirmed by His executioners, who didn’t take any chances but plunged a spear into His side. Then He was carried away, wrapped according to the embalming custom of the day, and placed in a tomb, sealed by a heavy rock. The emperor’s seal was placed on the tomb to warn grave robbers, and a guard was posted to make sure that no one brash enough to risk his life to steal a dead body would be able to do it. All of this is a reminder to us that what happened three days later was not just a physical resuscitation. Christ didn’t rally from a nonfatal injury. He was not buried alive. He died! 

Fact 3: “Christ was raised.”  Jesus Christ arose! Buddha has died. Mohammed has never arisen from the dead. What makes Christianity distinct and true is that the Messiah of Christianity is no longer in the grave…His bones are nowhere to be found…He is alive! The firm foundation of the Christian faith is an empty tomb. Peter Larson said, “The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”

When you buy something at a store, the clerk accepts your money and gives you a receipt confirming that the bill was paid in full. If there is ever a dispute about whether the payment was made, all you have to do is produce your receipt. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He uttered the Greek word tetelestai, which means, “Paid in full.” The payment for sin that God demanded has been paid, and the empty tomb is proof that the payment was received and the debt satisfied. The resurrection is our “receipt” from God the Father that He accepted His Son’s payment for sin on the cross.

Fact 4: “Christ was seen.” Paul notes that Jesus appeared to Peter and the apostles. This is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. It is amazing that the first person, after all of the women at the tomb, the resurrected Christ appears to the very one who had denied Him three times. This ought to encourage you. God is a God of restoration. He has forgiven you for all of your sins—past, present, and future. All that He wants is for you to run to Him like Peter did (Luke 24:12).

Now that we have looked at the facts of faith, can I ask you a question? Do you know the gospel better than you know sports statistics, movie lines, and song lyrics? Could you preach the gospel message in your sleep? Are you that comfortable presenting the facts of faith? If not, you should be. There is no more important message in this world.

The great Emperor Napoleon had three commands he gave his messengers as they conveyed his messages to various sections of his army. Those three commands were, “Be clear! Be clear! Be clear!” Those who are entrusted with proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ must also be clear. So let me be clear right now: You have sinned against a holy and righteous God (Rom 3:23). The penalty for your sin is eternal separation from Him (Rom 6:23). Yet, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins (Rom 5:8). He then demonstrated that He was God by rising from the dead (Rom 1:3-4). Today, He asks you to trust in His person and work (Rom 3:21-26; John 3:16).

You know, a teacher can stand up every Sunday and tell the truth and never teach the gospel. For example, I can say, “Diphtheria is a bad disease.” Now that is the truth, but that isn’t good news. But if I say, “Here is a medicine that can prevent diphtheria or cure diphtheria,” that’s the good news. And that’s the gospel. Will you believe the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ today?

In 15:6-8, Paul moves from the message of the gospel to a strong argument for the resurrection of Christ—historically verifiable witnesses. He records, “After that [His resurrection] He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Paul’s main argument is that there were still eyewitnesses to the resurrection living at the time he was writing this first letter to the Corinthians. Paul is inviting people to check out the reality of the resurrection for themselves. He is saying, “There are nearly five hundred people who, some twenty years ago, saw Jesus after His resurrection. Ask one of them.” This is very convincing proof of the resurrection, because Paul would never have challenged people like this in a public letter that was going to be circulated if these eyewitnesses had not in reality seen the resurrected Christ. Paul was convinced that his witnesses would confirm the facts. While it might not be impossible for a small group of twelve to have a vision or even an optical illusion of a risen Jesus, this would be impossible with as large a group as five hundred.

Paul gives another convincing proof: Jesus also appeared to James. James is Jesus’ half-brother, who did not believe in Him until after the resurrection. He grew up in the same home with Jesus, but he rejected Him until after Jesus rose from the dead. After his encounter with the resurrected Christ, James became the leader of the Jerusalem church. What another great reminder that God is a God of grace.

The people that Paul mentions were living too close to the time of Christ’s resurrection to effectively deny it. They simply could not explain away this great historical event any more than a person today can effectively deny the reality of the Holocaust. There are people today who try to deny the Holocaust, but they don’t get very far because there are still too many survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. In 1981, 10,000 of these survivors held a four-day gathering in Jerusalem. In an interview, Ernest Michael, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, held up his hands and said, “These hands have carried off (for burial) more corpses than I care to remember. And some say that the Holocaust never happened! We know; we were there!”

Likewise, the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote were living far closer to the time of Christ’s resurrection than the people who met in Jerusalem in 1981 were to the Holocaust they survived. You and I, of course, are almost 2,000 years away from the resurrection. We can’t talk to eyewitnesses like the people to whom Paul originally wrote his letter. Nevertheless, we have the testimony of Scripture and plenty of changed lives.

Since this is the resurrection chapter, it is appropriate to touch quickly upon Paul’s notion of death. In 15:6, Paul states that some of the believers who witnessed Jesus “have fallen asleep.” The verb translated “sleep” (koimao) is often used in the Bible as a euphemism for death when speaking of believers. This metaphorical usage by its very nature emphasizes the hope of resurrection: Believers will one day “wake up” out of death. Unbelievers “die”; believers “fall asleep.”  Death: separation. A Christian does not die, we fall asleep, and we turn over from one world to another world. We are alive! An unbeliever dies because he is going to where God does not exist. Death is not having the life of God in you.

In 15:8, Paul also refers to himself as “one untimely born.” The Greek term here is the word for a miscarriage or an abortion. Paul means that spiritually speaking he was like an aborted fetus or a stillborn child. He is referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church. Before his call and conversion, Paul was spiritually dead but he was miraculously given life through God’s grace. This image fits the theme running through the chapter of God’s power giving life to the dead. Like Paul, though, when you believe in Christ what goes down must come up.

[Paul has hammered home his point that the gospel is trustworthy. Now he will demonstrate that…]

  1. The gospel is life-changing(15:9-11). Paul explains that the proof of the gospel is its inherent power to change lives. He will demonstrate this by sharing three characteristics. First, the gospel leads to the recognition of sin. In 15:9, Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” All of the others to whom Christ appeared were believers, whereas Paul was a violent hateful unbeliever. He chased down the early Christians and sought to have them incarcerated or even killed. As a result, Paul never ceased to be amazed that, of all people, Christ would have appeared to him. I don’t think a dream about Jesus could ever have produced the kind of humble assessment of himself that Paul came to. It took a direct encounter with the living Lord, the very person he had rejected, to help him see his sorry state. Here, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles.” Elsewhere he labeled himself “the foremost” of sinners (1 Tim 1:15) and “the very least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8). Paul understood that apart from Christ, he was nothing. Like Paul, do you see and feel your own sin? Do you grieve over your sin? Are you more concerned about working on your sin instead of other’s sin? It is so easy to be consumed with the sin of others (e.g., spouse, children, boss, neighbors), yet a mark of godliness is a concern with your own sin.

Second, the gospel results in a total transformation of character. In 15:10a, Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” Paul may have been a mess when Jesus found him, but Christ didn’t leave him that way. Because of God’s mercy and grace Paul became a great missionary, preacher, and theologian. It is only the one who has experienced the power of the resurrection in his life who can experience such a thorough transformation in character and then give the credit to God.

I love the phrase, “I am what I am.” I grew up watching Popeye, who used a similar phrase, “I yam what I yam.” When Popeye eats his spinach, he becomes strong. When you and I eat up grace, we become strong. Popeye had to take his spinach. He had to open the can, gobble it down, and do his thing! Similarly, you and I must do the very same thing. We need to gobble up grace and let God empower us to accomplish His work in and through us.

Lastly, the gospel produces a redirection of one’s entire life. In 15:10b-11, Paul writes, “…but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” In response to God’s grace, Paul worked harder than everyone else. Paul does not believe, however, that he is repaying the divine grace shown to him with hard work. Rather, Paul is like a child who joyfully gives his mom a birthday present after having spent the parents’ own money to buy it.

All of Paul’s effort and energy was bound up in God’s grace. In the same way, we are saved by grace and we minister by grace. “Grace” is mentioned three times in 15:10. In a general sense, the word “grace” means “an undeserved expression of kindness.” Grace therefore is in the expression of the kindness of God that is given to those who do not deserve it. That involves not only the initial grace of salvation but every other expression of undeserved help we ever received from the Lord. Don’t let this point escape you.

In 15:11, Paul now reprises what he wrote in 15:1. “We preach” includes all of the apostles, and the present tense conveys that it continues to be their message. Christ’s resurrection is the common denominator on which all are in accord. It is the nonnegotiable and cannot be jettisoned without gutting the Christian faith. What comes down must go up.

Your physical body that God brought into this world needs to be taken out of this world. What comes down must go up. Jesus Christ died, was buried, arose, and was seen. Since Jesus Christ came down, He must go back up. The same is true for every believer in Christ. Your body awaits physical resurrection. One day you will be given a glorified body, you will stand before Jesus Christ, and you will be made like Him (1 John 3:2). In the meanwhile, God asks you and me to live in the light of that day.

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Help wanted – teachers and preachers

Several years ago, a group of American tourists embarked on a Carnival Cruise Line tour. In Costa Rica, a dozen senior citizens got off the ship to take a bus tour. After sightseeing at a local beach, the seniors’ tour bus was held up by three assailants, armed with a gun and a knife. One of the men, a 70-year-old retired member of the U.S. military, overpowered one of the three muggers—who was 20-years old—by placing him in a headlock/sleeper hold. The young man never woke up from it. The other senior citizens likewise began defending themselves, causing the remaining two accomplices to flee for their lives.

Sometimes the most unlikely people use the most unusual means to protect and preserve others. I would like to suggest that this is true of the teaching ministry of the local church. The ministry of teaching is conducted by unlikely people through an unusual means to protect and preserve God’s people. Thus, teaching about Jesus Christ is one of the foundational tasks of the church. Few Christians will disagree that teaching is essential. After hearing this statement, most Christians will nod their head in agreement and offer up an internal “Amen.” But immediately thereafter, a yawn will slip out and most Christians will quickly tune out. This occurs because most of us don’t consider ourselves teachers. Yet, the sobering reality is that God calls all of us to be teachers of Jesus Christ (see Rom 10:14).

In our last two lessons in the book of 1 Corinthians (1:18-25, 1:26-31), Paul has demonstrated that God deliberately chooses foolish and weak methods and messengers to shame those who are wise and strong. Now in 1 Cor 2:1-5, Paul uses himself as a prime example of foolishness and weakness. In these five verses, we will learn that the effectiveness of the teacher and the teaching lies in one’s dependence on God’s power. However, if this is to be realized we must fulfill two objectives: (1) The content of our message must be Christ, and (2) the delivery of our message must be God’s power.

  1. The content of our message must be Christ(2:1-2). Paul writes, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.“ Paul reflects back on his year-and-a-half ministry in Corinth (see Acts 18:1-18). He begins by reminding the Corinthians how he did not preach (“I did not come…”). Paul had not dazzled his listeners by his rhetorical or philosophical prowess; he had simply proclaimed the truth about God. Now this was certainly unusual in first-century Corinth. In Paul’s day, Greek orators followed certain well-established conventions when they entered a city. Great crowds flocked to hear them because they spoke in the style of traditional Greek rhetoric—with extensive quotations, with literary allusions, and with a refined style that made them seem brilliant, witty, charming, and entertaining.

Yet Paul utterly rejected this approach to preaching, although he could have done it himself. As a well-educated rabbi, he knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, he could hold his own in any argument. If Paul wanted to show off his intellect, he certainly knew how to do it. But he rejected that approach. Instead, he proclaimed “the testimony of God.” The word “testimony” is a legal word that refers to something one presents in a court of law. Paul was conscious that God is a Judge. He was speaking in the presence of a Judge and he was presenting His witness (2 Tim 4:1). He knew what the truth was and was announcing it boldly. Paul was not preaching his testimony about God; he was preaching God’s testimony about God (“the testimony”). His message came from God, not himself.

For many today “proclaiming” is a bad word. They say, “Don’t preach to me!” “Don’t judge!” Many preachers, afraid of being thought arrogant, avoid talking about preaching. They prefer to think of what they do as “sharing.” However, if I only make suggestions or throw out a few ideas and opinions, I would be guilty of arrogance. My opinions are no better than yours. But I am not declaring to you my words; I am declaring to you God’s very words (see 1 Pet 4:11a). Therefore, I can preach to you with authority.

But preaching is not just for pastors. You too can preach with authority to people in your life. Whether we believe it or not, there are people who are looking for a man or woman to preach God’s Word with authority. Could you host a Bible study at your state job? As a small business owner, how will you preach to your employees? Preaching doesn’t require a large crowd and auditorium. You can preach wherever God has placed you to serve Him. The only question is, “Will you answer His call and proclaim His testimony?” 

In 2:2, Paul explains why he preached as he did: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The word translated “I determined” means Paul made a conscious choice to do things a certain way. He didn’t fall into it by chance or by force of habit. Paul preached as he did because he chose to do it that way. That same choice confronts every Christian messenger. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by good and worthwhile things. We can preach about social issues, the political debates of our day, the crisis in the Middle East, or the decline of the family. We can tackle Bible prophecy or we can major on predestination or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a place for all those things, but that place is never at the center. For Paul the choice was clear: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He started there and that became the center of his preaching. Once the center was in place, every other truth could be arranged around it. But Jesus must be in the middle of all things and all things must be properly related to Him.

This verse cannot be taken absolutely, as if the only doctrine Paul taught on was the crucifixion, but refers rather to its centrality in his preaching. It is not enough for us to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was, but the world largely believes that already. And it is not enough to say that He came down from heaven. Many already believe that. It’s not even enough to say that He was born of a virgin. We must go all the way and declare that God Himself came down to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must say that when He died on the cross, He paid the ultimate penalty to deliver us from our sins.

Think about it: If people want to know about sports or the latest news they can read the paper (on the web) or turn on the TV. These days you can watch Fox, CNN, or other news programs. You can surf the Net and watch 500 channels or listen to the radio. If it’s news or sports or the weather or the latest world crisis, there are plenty of ways to follow the story. But if you want to know how to be right with God, if you want to know how to have your sins forgiven, if you want to know how to go to heaven, then you need the message Paul preached: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Note that Paul uses the perfect tense here for “crucified” (cf. also 1:23; Gal 3:1), which suggests that his focus was not as much on the historical event of the cross but on its ongoing effect for those who believe in Jesus, namely, that in this event they can find personal justification, redemption, and sanctification (cf. 1:30). The point is that the death of Jesus Christ covers everything. Jesus is the one person that fixes everything!

One final thought before we move on: To give people what they need sometimes you must not give them what they want. Most parents learn this early on. When your daughter is sick she may want another cookie, but what she needs is the medicine the doctor prescribed. If you love her you’ll give her what she needs, not what she wants. The same is true as we speak to others about Christ. They may want to hear other things; we must tell them about Jesus, for He alone can save them. Do not back down from people. Do not kowtow to others. He wants us to have a solitary focus and agenda.

[The content of our message must be Christ. Now Paul will share a second objective…]

  1. The delivery of our message must be God’s power(2:3-5). Paul again shares an autobiographical account: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Paul did not come to Corinth with any degree of self-confidence. Rather, he came “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” Corinth was a hard city in which to minister. Paul’s reception there had discouraged him to the point that preaching was difficult, because of the inner doubts and uncertainty he faced. He wasn’t the picture of confident self-assurance that many of us may associate with the apostle Paul. He responded in a totally human fashion, which I find greatly encouraging. Like Paul, we live and serve in a difficult city. We want to serve Christ and speak up for Him but sometimes it can be downright scary. Nevertheless, we press on. Even when we find ourselves tongue-tied or just plain forget what we were supposed to say, we must strive to teach.

Occasionally, someone asks me if I get scared or nervous before I teach. The answer is yes, and it happens every single time. No matter how many times I’ve taught or how well prepared I am there is always a sense of nervousness that comes just before I stand up. I hope I don’t ever lose that, because if I do I need to stop teaching. If speaking for Christ ever becomes routine, then something has gone wrong inside your heart. We need “holy nervousness” when we witness to others lest we fail the Lord or fail the person to whom we are speaking.

I am comforted by the thought that Paul was a man like I am—a man of like passions, if you will. As I consider his life, I realize that nothing in Paul could explain his success—except God! The New Testament doesn’t give us any descriptions of Paul’s appearance, but Paul himself quoted his opponents who said of him, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10). We do have this early description of Paul that comes from outside the New Testament: He was “a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long.” If that is accurate, then Paul was no first-century Brad Pitt. He wasn’t much to look at and he didn’t wax eloquent in the pulpit. Imagine two members of the Corinthian church meeting each other in the marketplace: “Hey, who’s preaching this Sunday?” “Paul.” “Paul? Oh, no! I’ve invited my neighbors to church this Sunday. I thought Dr. Smartypants was preaching. Paul is just not very attractive. He is hard to understand. He’s too deep for me. And his sermons are so long.”

Yet, Paul was all about the power of the Spirit. In 2:5, Paul explains that the power of God is the word of the cross (cf. 1:18). Note the striking contrast—the wisdom of men versus the power of God. If you build on one, you cannot have the other. Paul’s concern throughout this passage is self-reliance. It’s not that he doesn’t want us to preach to the best of our ability—he most certainly does! He just doesn’t want us to rely on our own gifts and strength.

In the late 90’s a British company developed a product called “Spray-On Mud” so city dwellers can give their expensive 4×4 vehicles the appearance of having been off-road for a day of hunting or fishing without ever leaving town. The mud is even filtered to remove stones and debris that might scratch the paint. This product sold very well. When it comes to teaching there are many who are more concerned with the outside than the inside. They wax eloquent and wipe fresh pastry speech all over the place. But this type of teaching has no place in our lives as followers of Jesus. Jesus was a carpenter. He was down and dirty! The Bible was written in Koine Greek, the language of the common man. God wants us to rely on His strength to preach Christ-exalting words. When we preach or share Christ our desire should not be that others say, “What a wonderful teacher!” Our desire is that they should say, “What a wonderful Savior!”

So how can we be foolish teachers for Christ? Several biblical principles may help.

Pray for a prepared heart. Ask the Lord that He would supply you opportunities to preach His Word. Pray for boldness to be willing to walk through an open door (Col 4:3). Pray that those you speak to will be receptive.

Meditate on Scripture. As you read God’s Word, ask the Lord to speak to you. Pray for insights into the text. Think about this Scripture continually. Follow a crock pot approach. Let the Word sit, soak, and simmer in you. This will ensure that you are always prepared (1 Pet 3:15).

Listen to people. When we listen to people’s hurts we can learn a lot. Often the felt needs of people will well up sermons within us. God will actually bring a Scripture passage to mind that we can share.

Focus on the essentials. Don’t get lost in the minutia of theological details. Instead, focus on the testimony of God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul says that the power is in the gospel. Make sure that you keep the main thing the main thing.

This passage has communicated that the content and delivery of our message must be Christ and the power of His cross.

Telephone poles play a crucial role in developed countries. They support lines of communication that enable people to “reach out and touch” others in just about any corner of the globe. And in many communities, telephone poles carry power lines that make it possible for people to use lights and appliances. Think about these poles and the vast roadside forest they form. What is their shape? They look like crosses, don’t they? Telephone poles remind me of the cross of Christ. Think of the “lines” of communication and power it carries. Because of that cross, God listens to the prayers of any believer on the face of the earth. And because Jesus shed His blood on that cross for lost humanity, believers in Christ have a deep desire to “reach out and touch” others with the message of the gospel. For the apostle Paul, the cross was everything. He had one message when he wrote to the Corinthian believers: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The cross was the heart of Paul’s communication and the basis of his power. The next time you see a telephone pole, think about the cross of Christ and how much it means to you.

You’ve Got a Friend

What do you want from a church? If you’re like most people, you want dynamic preaching, awe-inspiring worship, and great ministries for children, teens, and adults. You want the whole kit and kaboodle. Yet, most Christians have a pet preference in what they want from a church. For me, it’s preaching. When I was younger, I began listening to Dr. Tony Evans preach expository sermons. As a result, I fell in love with God’s Word and biblical preaching. When I have looked for a church in the past twenty years or have visited other churches, I am always interested in the caliber of the preaching. I have learned over the years, however, that many Christians don’t share my preference. They deem worship, programs, and even facilities as more important. Now, we can quibble about what area of ministry is most important, but it may very well come down to personal preferences.

Nevertheless, there is a church priority that we can all agree on: friendship. Whenever we ask a new member why he or she decided to become a member, the person didn’t say, “I just love the preaching.” “The worship is amazing.” “There are great kid’s programs.” Quite the opposite, nearly every single new member would say, “I love the friendliness of this church, and I’ve made some great friends.” It began to dawn on me that friendships are incredibly important. I think of the friends that my family has made and the love that we have for this body. The thought of telling certain people that we are leaving the church is honestly beyond my comprehension.

When everything is said and done, deep down, all of us value friendship and community. We can’t deny it, we can’t suppress it, and we can’t shake it. God wired all of us with a need for friendship. Jesus’ words in John 15:12-17 apply to everyone—to those who have friends and to those who feel they don’t, to the extrovert and the introvert. As we seek friendship with Jesus and one another, we can develop deeper and deeper relationships. Friendships make the church go forward.

In 15:12-13 Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends. “There are three observations worth noting in these two verses. First, Jesus focuses on the priority of love. John brackets Jesus’ words at the beginning (15:12) and the end (15:17) with the command for Christians to love one another. John’s emphasis in this passage, and the whole Upper Room discourse, is love for believers (cf. 13:34-35). Therefore, I will not be discussing love for your unbelieving neighbors or coworkers. Instead, I will be emphasizing the importance of loving the family of God.

Second, Jesus commands disciples to love one another. Jesus doesn’t issue a suggestion or a recommendation. He commands His disciples to love one another, because Christian love isn’t a feeling; it’s an act of the will. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “This is My commandment, that you like one another.” That isn’t a choice. Let’s face it, there are some Christians you like, and there are some you don’t like. You don’t like their personalities, their preferences, or their priorities. You don’t have any chemistry. That’s okay. You still can love them even though you don’t like them because love is a choice to seek their highest good. This is an issue Jesus can command us to do, because it is a decision of the will.

This type of love goes against the grain of our society. Love, we are told, cannot be turned off and on like a water faucet. You either love someone or you don’t. Yet, agape love can be turned on like a water fountain. If I am thirsty, I can leave our classroom and walk down the hall to our water fountain, turn the handle, and drink. It’s a decision of my will. Likewise, love seeks others’ greatest good and God’s highest glory. Today, will you practice agape love with those in your family and church?

In marital counseling, couple are sometimes asked to use a legal pad and pen and write down their expectations of one another. Some partners would say, “I have an unconditional love for my spouse.” Of course, in as gentle of a tone as possible, I say, “You’re lying to yourself.” All finite, sinful humans have expectations of others. We even have expectations of God. When God doesn’t do exactly what we think He ought to do in our personal lives, we get mad at Him, or at the very least disappointed with Him. This is especially true in our relationship with others. You and I have expectations of those we love, and when they don’t meet our expectations, we become frustrated. So I have couples write down all their expectations of one another, and then I say, “If your spouse fails to meet all of these expectations, will you still love him or her?” Will you exhibit agape love to other believers in your life (e.g., your children, your siblings, your parents, and your fellow church members)? Friendships make the church go forward.

Third, Jesus has demonstrated love through selfless service. In 13:1-17, Jesus selflessly washed the disciples’ grimy, grungy, grotesque feet. On the one night of all nights that they should have put Jesus first, He served them in memorable fashion. Jesus’ entire life consisted of putting others first. In 15:13, Jesus refers to His death—the ultimate expression of His love for the disciples. So Jesus lived and died as a selfless, sacrificial servant. He’s the example that we are to follow. Interestingly, most people of character would willingly lay down their lives for their spouse or children. But honestly, this isn’t too terribly impressive. Unbelievers and believers alike are willing to demonstrate this momentary act of courage and bravery. For the believer, this means immediate entrance into Jesus’ presence, so there is ultimately no loss… he would even die as a hero, to boot! It’s far more difficult to die to yourself on a daily basis for those whom you love. True sacrifice isn’t just dying for a loved one, but more importantly, living for that loved one. Sacrifice is essential to genuine friendship and love.

Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was, for many years, the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. In about 1980 Dr. McQuilkin began to see signs of memory loss in his wife, Muriel. For the next decade he watched as his wife’s career of conference speaking, radio shows, and television began to erode and disappear. In the mid 1980s she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her deterioration continued to advance rapidly. This situation naturally posed a crisis for Dr. McQuilkin. As president of a thriving college and graduate school, how could he meet the needs of both his wife and his job? Many well-meaning Christian friends and colleagues encouraged him to put Muriel into an Alzheimer’s unit, but McQuilkin couldn’t bear the thought. As Muriel’s condition worsened, he made a decision that was “a matter of integrity” (his words). He resigned from Columbia to care for his wife full time. Some people thought McQuilkin was choosing this task at remarkable social and professional cost. They felt like he was throwing away his career—one that God had provided. But McQuilkin found tremendous joy in serving his wife who had unselfishly demonstrated forty-two-years of love for him.

Would you choose to care for your spouse in a case of long-term sickness? Would you be willing to sacrifice your career or your interests? Would you turn down a promotion or even quit your current job in order to spend more time with your children and grandchildren? Would you choose to say no to some of your social activities in order to spend more time with others? Would you selflessly step out of the ministry limelight and let another brother or sister occupy your church position? When you carry out these types of selfless and sacrificial acts of love, God’s program moves forward, because friendships make the church go forward. Friendships are important to everyone, but they’re especially important to Jesus, the creator of friendship.

In 15:14 Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus is speaking to His eleven disciples. In short order He will use these men to change the world (just read the book of Acts). Jesus is seeking intimate friendship with His disciples, so He gives His closest friends the condition for friendship—obedience—primarily to love other believers. This has nothing to do with the disciple’s salvation; but it does have to do a lot with their sanctification (i.e., Christian health and growth). “Friend” is just another experiential term such as “abiding” or “fellowship.”

Jesus is a friend to us by His grace. He has removed the enmity that separated us from God through His death on the cross for our sins. Those who place their faith in Jesus’ work experience His friendship. But this does not mean that Jesus considers you a friend to Him. We are a friend to Jesus by living a life characterized by obedience. Although no one is perfect, as we grow in our obedience to Christ we experience different degrees of friendship. We all have different types of friends. A person can be a casual friend, a social friend, a close friend, or an intimate friend depending on his or her love and loyalty. Likewise, all believers are God’s friends in one sense, but abiding believers are Jesus’ friends on a deeper level because they seek to obey Him consistently (cf. Ps. 25:14).

Jesus fleshes out this theme of friendship further in 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Jesus said that He no longer calls His disciples slaves, implying that He had done so in the past. One of the common titles God used for the prophets in the Old Testament was “my servants the prophets. “There is nothing wrong with the description “servant” or “slave” (doulos). Jesus and the New Testament writers use this term frequently of believers. However, there is something intimate about the title “friend.” In the Old Testament, only Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Abraham was declared justified in Gen 15:6, but he was “saved” earlier. Yet, it wasn’t until Gen 22 when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac that he was called “the friend of God.” Abraham had walked with God for about thirty-five years before He passed this spiritual test. Clearly, this was not salvation, which Abraham already had; this act of obedient faith was true friendship with God. As a result, Christians, Jews, and Muslims identify Abraham by the title “the friend of God.”

Like Abraham, we have the same privilege of friendship with Jesus if we yield to His will in our lives and remain occupied with Him. The result is intimacy. In former times God had not revealed His mind fully to His people. However with the coming of Jesus He revealed His plans, as to friends rather than as to slaves. A slave is expected to do what his master instructs him to do, whether or not he likes it, and whether or not he understands why he is commanded to do it. The best analogy today would be found in the armed forces. The change would be from the status of a “private” in the army to a “pal” of the sergeant. When new recruits are sent to boot camp, it is to train them to be “slaves.” That is, it is to train these men to obey orders, instantly, and without question. If the sergeant orders a private to dig a hole four feet square, the private is to do it. If the sergeant then orders the private to fill the hole back in again, he is to obey without hesitation. The private is virtually the sergeant’s slave. The private would never think of expecting the sergeant to explain his reasons for giving any order. But that same private may become a “pal” to that sergeant. They may become drinking buddies or workout partners. The sergeant may share things with his pal that he would not share with other privates.

Similarly, as we become Jesus’ friends, He will disclose His plans and purposes to us. He will share His thinking, His goals, and His motivations for doing things. As a result, we will come to know His heart and mind. We will experience a greater degree of insight into the Scriptures. We will hear the voice of God more clearly. Our thoughts will become more like His thoughts. We will carry out His purposes on earth as they are in heaven. He will express His love to us in new and fresh ways. On account of our obedience nothing will block the flow of fellowship and friendship. Our intimate friendship with Christ will make the church go forward.

This builds up to Jesus’ powerful words in 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” In Jesus’ day, a would-be disciple chose the rabbi under whom he wished to study and sought acceptance as one of his followers. Rabbis didn’t take the initiative to choose and pursue their disciples. This would have been considered beneath men of such position. However, Jesus broke all societal norms and chose His disciples and then called them to follow Him. Clearly, the implication is that Jesus chose His disciples for salvation. So whenever you hear anyone claim, “I found God,” remind such a person that God found him or her! We were all running away from God, but He (“the hound of Heaven”) chased us down and captured our hearts. As a result, we believed in Jesus for salvation. But God is never content to let us sit on our salvation; He expects us to fulfill His purposes. First, we are appointed to go and bear fruit. Jesus uses Great Commission language, “Go.” In this context, to “go and bear fruit” refers to loving other Christians. As we fulfill the Great Commandment, the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples. Evangelism will naturally and inevitably take care of itself. The result will be fruit that remains for all of eternity. The second purpose in our service is to pray for fruitfulness. Asking the Father through prayer in Jesus’ name is necessary for fruit-bearing to happen. Jesus linked prayer and fruit-bearing in a cause and effect relationship. Prayer plays an essential role in the believer’s fruitfulness.

The final verse of this section (15:17) once again hits the familiar theme of love and friendship. In case we have forgotten, Jesus says, “This I command you, that you love one another.” Again, the command goes forth: We are to love one another. Friendships make the church go forward.

I once read an article about a baseball player, Albert Pujols (pu hohs), the first base for the LA Angels. Pujols is arguably one of the greatest baseball players in the world. He is also a Christian gentleman who strives to share the gospel with every player who reaches first base. Pujols is a selfless man who puts the needs of the team first. Even though he could command all kinds of money and make himself the top priority, he wants the best for his team. In our day and age of athletes holding out, renegotiating contracts, wanting more and more money and more and more guarantees, Pujols is a breath of fresh air. He reminds us that sports are not about me, myself, and I … they are about team.

Missionaries devote their lives to fulfilling the Great Commission. Most go to Bible College and even seminary. Many have to go to language school. Nearly all have to raise their own financial support. Yet, research indicates that most missionaries who return to the States and discontinue mission work do so because they can’t get along with other missionaries. Sadly, some missionaries put their own goals, personalities, and philosophies ahead of God’s kingdom agenda of teamwork.

Typically, people who leave churches don’t depart because of the preaching, the worship, or the programs. Instead, they leave because they don’t sense the church is a team, or better yet, a family. What they want are friends. We are all responsible to take initiative and show love for one another. As we do so, we provide the greatest witness for Christianity. Friendships make the church go forward.

The Power of Love

I am working on getting my second book published. I did a little research on book titles. Here’s what I discovered: Amazon.com lists 507,878 book titles about heaven, 547,195 about sex, 766,921 about God, and 884,737 about money. Isn’t this astounding? Even more staggering is the fact that one topic beats out all of these—love. There are 922,816 that contain love in their title.

Love is a popular word in our society. Our world is desperately seeking true love. There are all kinds of dating services, escort services, personal classifieds, bars, clubs, and social organizations. There are illicit websites and chat rooms where you can pursue love without leaving your own home. You may also get emails encouraging you to try an affair. All of these opportunities promise “true love” or “real love.” But this is an example of the classic country song by Johnny Lee, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…looking for love in too many faces.” I’ll stop there. The point is: Our world craves love, but they can’t find fulfilling and lasting love.

Love is also a frequent word in the Bible. The Bible uses the root word “love” over 500 times from Genesis through Revelation. Interestingly, for our purposes, the word love is used only twelve times in John 1–12, but in John 13–21 it is used forty–five times! Hence, in the last twenty–four hours of his life, Jesus uses the word love repeatedly. The closer He travels toward the cross, the more love is on His heart and mind. In John 13:31–38, Jesus suggests that the key to impacting the world is for Christians to love each other. So why is the church having so little impact on society? We’re not giving the world what it so desperately craves—love. Yet, the church ought to be Jesus’ solution to the lack of true love in this world. We ought to be able to say, “Look for love in the right place.”

Our passage begins in John 13:31–32 with an important footnote and Jesus’ ultimate prediction of love. The footnote is simply: “Therefore when he [Judas] had gone out” (13:31a). One can almost hear Jesus heave a sigh of relief when Judas closes the door behind him. Once Judas departs, Jesus hunkers down with His believing disciples and articulates the cross and the importance of love. Jesus declares, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (13:31b–32). What is the key word in 13:31b–32? It doesn’t take a Greek scholar to discern this. Five times in two verses Jesus uses a form of the verb “glorify” (doxazo). Notice as well the past tense verb “glorified.” The cross is as good as done in Jesus’ mind. For Him death is not a mournful tragedy, but a magnificent triumph. It is glorious not gruesome. At this very moment which seems to spell defeat, dishonor, and disaster for Him, the Son of Man is in reality glorified! Later in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus explains that He glorified His Father by finishing the work the Father gave Him to do (17:4). This is also how we glorify the Father. What has God called you to today? How does He want you to sacrificially express your love to others? Will you finish the work He has given you?

Jesus explains in 13:33 that His purposes for the disciples are not complete. He says, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Many people long to go to heaven to escape their present trials and tribulations. Others talk about how they just want to get away from the evils of our world. While I understand this type of thinking, Jesus explains to His disciples, whom He dearly loves, that they cannot come with Him to heaven just yet because their work on earth is not done. It is a wonderful thing to anxiously anticipate Jesus return. This is a critical element of the Christian life. Paul promises the crown of righteousness for all who love Jesus appearing (2 Tim 4:8). Yet, we also need to relish the privilege of fulfilling God’s call upon our lives while we still have breath. His purposes for you are not complete.

One of the clear-cut purposes that God has for Christians is found in 13:34–35. Jesus declares, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (13:34). Jesus issues a command for you and me to love one another. Of course, the primary question that must be answered in this verse is: Why does Jesus call the commandment to love one another “a new commandment?” Love itself is not a new commandment; it is an old commandment found in Lev 19:8 and Deut 6:5. The Greek word translated “new” (kainos) speaks of what is new in the sense of unused or fresh, rather than something recent or different. It is not so much that the commandment hasn’t been given before as that it has a different quality about it, a quality of freshness that differentiates it from any other. To put it simply, this new commandment has a new object and a new measure. The object is now “one another.” In the Old Testament the command was “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The Jews had watered down the Mosaic teaching so they could love whom they wanted and hate whom they wanted. But Christ changes the object from “neighbor” to “one another.” This leads to the question: Why does Jesus command disciples to love other disciples? Why not exhort disciples to love the world? For Jesus, it is a matter of priorities. Jesus is first concerned about believers that have a unique and special relationship with Him. God loves His kids more than He loves children of the world. Jesus also realizes that we can’t truly love the world until we first love fellow believers. Finally, as we shall see in John 13:35, Jesus knows that when believers love one another as God intends the world will sit up and take notice. This can result in many being drawn to Christ.

The commandment is new because of its object, but also because of its measure. The measure of this love is, “as I have loved you.” Earlier in chapter 13, Jesus gave His disciples a new standard of love. He did this by washing their feet (13:4–17). In doing so, He humbled Himself and served His disciples in an intentional and tangible way. Jesus is calling us to love others as He did. This sacrificial love also reaches out to Judas as he’s about to betray Christ. Jesus wants you and me to sacrificially love other believers to death if necessary. It is a vastly greater love that gives up one’s own life for another, that sacrifices self-interest to promote the interests of another (15:13). The sacrificial work of Christ on the cross is the “new” standard for the Christian’s love for fellow-believers. In 13:34–35, the word Jesus uses for love is the Greek verb agapao and its noun form agape. Of the four words for love in the Greek language, this one is the capstone. 

Essentially, it means to seek the highest good of another. Agape love sacrifices for others. It is an act of the will. It is a decision, a commitment. Love is not about your needs or my needs; it’s about God’s will. When Jesus says “as I have loved you,” He sets Himself up as the standard by which His disciples are to forever measure their love for one another. He is telling them, “I left the splendors and comforts of heaven because I loved you. I called you to be Mine, knowing full well your faults. I taught you, even when you were stubborn and closed-minded. I corrected you when you stepped out of line. I washed your feet on the way to my death. When you denied me and betrayed me, I loved you with an everlasting love. All this was for your highest good. My interest was not in myself, but in you. Like Jesus, we can say: Look for love in the right place.

It is interesting to note the obvious—the command to love other believers is called a “commandment.” This is not an elective class. We understand the difference between required and elective classes. Jesus is making it clear that love is a required 101 class; it is not an elective. Without specifically commanding His disciples to love one another, there existed the very real possibility that this essential activity would be neglected. It seems that we are much better at and much more apt to deal with love as a noun or an abstract concept than as a verb. We prefer talking about love to demonstrating it. When it comes to love, “When all is said and done, there is far more said than done.”

Yet Jesus wants you to love with this kind of supernatural agape love. This means you can love your spouse regardless of how he or she treats you. You may say, “I don’t like my wife.” Well, you don’t have to. There’s a difference between like and love. You are not commanded to like your spouse; you are commanded to love your spouse. There may be some people in our church you can’t stand. That’s okay. However, Jesus is commanding us to love one another.

In 13:35, Jesus declares that when we love each other we will become a magnet to the world. He says, “By this all men [people] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is giving the world the right to examine our credibility. The world can see if we’re for real. If you and I love one another everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. The word translated “know” (ginosko) does not refer to a theoretical knowledge but to a knowledge gained by first-hand, rub-of-the-shoulders observation. How can you reveal to the world that you are Jesus’ disciple? By demonstrating love for fellow believers! When people see this kind of uncommon love exemplified in the Church they are naturally curious. They begin to wonder if the gospel could be true. They begin to believe that Christ DOES bring transformation. On the flip side, when we fail to show love we invalidate the message. People don’t believe there is real transformation in Christ. We make the idea of Christian community very unappealing. People ask, “Why would I want more stress and conflict in my life?” I don’t need Christ or His church!

It is important to notice that there is an “if” (ei) involved in 13:35. Believers can violate the love command. Failure to love does not mean I am not a Christian, but it means the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian.

Therefore, if we expect unbelievers to know that we are Christ’s disciples, we must show the mark. The early church displayed the mark. Tertullian, a church father who wrote a century after the gospel of John was written said that unbelievers saw Christians loving one another and commented, “Behold, how they love one another.” Even today, nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many places you can go and find communities of shared interest. There are many places you can go to find people just like yourself, who live for sports or music or gardening or politics. But true agape love is hard to find. Ultimately, it can only be found in the church. Look for love in the right place. So how can we grow in our love for one another? Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Speak well of the church. Strive to always speak well of your church without using “but language.” “I really like my church, butmy pastor isn’t very friendly.” “I appreciate the worship at my church, but I don’t like a lot of the songs the worship team picks.” “I like the children’s ministries, but the adult ministries don’t meet my needs.” The simple conjunction “but” cancels out everything positive you’ve said. This is also relevant when discussing other churches in your county. Don’t say, “I really appreciate the church on the west side of town, but they are too charismatic.” “I like the pastor of the church on the east side, but the rest of the other staff pastors are jerks.” If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all. The truth is: Every church has its own unique strengths. You and I can always find positive things to say about any evangelical church. So today, commit to only speaking well of the church.
  • Learn to express your love to believers.Speak loving and encouraging words to another believer. Look a fellow believer in the eyes and say, “I love you.” Say to a brother or sister, “I care about you,” or “I believe in you.” Reach out and touch someone through appropriate physical touch. Instead of just a handshake, high-five, or chest bump; touch someone’s shoulder, give a half-hug or a full hug. Do a loving action toward someone who has hurt or offended you. This will help free you from the bondage of bitterness. This is the Jesus factor, choosing to bless instead of blister someone who has wounded you.
  • Strive to serve other believers.Would you pray that God would burden your heart to serve a brother or sister in your life? What does this person need? Could he or she use free babysitting? Does this person need a piece of furniture that you could provide? Perhaps this person needs a skill-set that you can meet (e.g., home repair, automotive care). Today, will you offer to meet this person’s needs? Will you be Christ’s face, hands, and feet?

Chapter 13 concludes with three verses that seem a bit misplaced. In fact, many commentators include these verses with chapter 14. Yet, I see these verses fitting rather nicely with 13:31–35. John’s concern is that you and I don’t assume that we can pull off agape in our own strength. Naturally, John brings up another episode with Peter. Look at 13:36a:“Simon Peter said to Him [Jesus], ‘Lord, where are You going?’” I want you to notice that Jesus spoke some of the most profound words about Christians loving each other, and Peter did not hear a word of it. He asks a question that skips over that whole subject entirely (13:34–35), and he goes back to what Jesus had said about going away for a while (13:31–33). That was what got his attention, and he heard nothing else. You’ve got to love Peter! He’s so much like you and me. “Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later’” (13:36b). In other words, “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Jesus acknowledges that Peter will eventually go the route of suffering. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified upside down. Regardless, Jesus makes it clear that Peter’s time has not yet come. But Peter responds to Jesus with some audacious words: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You” (13:37). Peter assures Jesus, “I’m your main man. When everyone else leaves you, I’ll be by your side. I’m not a flaky disciple. You can count on me, Jesus.”

Now before we come down too hard on Peter, we need to remember Peter was an example of faith. He was often a spiritual stud.

  • He was one of the “inner three” with James and John.
  • He was the one who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man” after the miraculous catch of fish.
  • It was Peter who answered the Lord’s question: “Who do you say I am?” with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
  • It was of Peter’s confession that the Lord said, “On this rock I will build my church.”
  • It was Peter who stood up to defend Jesus in the Garden.
  • It was Peter who followed Jesus (with John) into the court after His arrest.
  • It was Peter who ran with John to the empty tomb.
  • It was Peter who jumped in the water after the resurrection to swim to shore to see Jesus.

However, in this particular instance, Peter inadvertently expresses his impatience and self-reliance. As a result, Jesus follows up Pete’s claim with some sobering words: “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (13:38). This is brutal! Jesus takes a spiritual 2×4 upside Peter’s head. His point is: Peter you can’t be faithful to me in your own strength. You can’t acknowledge Me publicly or live what I have taught you unless you abide in Me.

This word is so relevant for you and me as well. After reading this lesson, you will most likely get into some “intense fellowship” (i.e., a fight) with your spouse. Instead of exhibiting agape, you will pour out your wrath. This evening, your children will push your buttons and you will likely become angry instead of exercising patience. This week, you may learn that someone in your church has been gossiping about you or even slandering you. Your temptation will be to respond in kind and give this individual a piece of your Christian mind. These are all natural fleshly impulses that we all feel. Yet God is calling us to live a supernatural life that is dependent upon His strength. John is informing you and me that we can’t live the Christian life on our own for even an hour. We are weak and susceptible to sin. The only way that we can exude agape love is by constantly abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, will you make a commitment of your will that you will obey Jesus’ new commandment and display agape? If you do, you will be able to say to others: “Look for love in the right place. You can look at my marriage, my family, and my church. My passion is to glorify Jesus by showcasing the love that He has instilled in me. Look for love right here, right now…in me.”

Quality Inn & Suites has a large sign with the words, “Free Hot Breakfast.” Now I must tell you, I am a huge breakfast lover. Well, every time our family drives by this Quality Inn, I want to drop in and say, “Yes, I would like a ‘free hot breakfast.’” Unfortunately, I would have to pay between $70–110 a night to enjoy their hot breakfast.

The church should have a proverbial sign that reads “Free Agape.” The difference is—there should be no charge for our services. You don’t have to put money into the offering. You don’t have to promise to serve. You don’t have to be particularly lovable. You just have to be a person created in God’s image with dignity, value, and worth. If the church is to make a difference in its culture, we need to love one another and then extend love to a world that desperately needs Christ. Then, and only then, can we honestly say: Look for love in the right place.

Choose your relationship – lose your religion

Brad Pitt. Just the mention of his name causes women all over the world to melt. If somehow you’re not familiar with Brad Pitt, he is a movie star featured in many films including Legends of the Fall, Fight Club, Troy, Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He was married to Jennifer Anniston from the TV show “Friends,” and is currently married to popular Angelina Jolie.. In an interview with a German Web site, Pitt was asked if he believed in God. He smiled and replied, “No, no, no!” Pitt insists he is not a spiritual person: “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, and then there’s no point thinking about it.” In the meantime, Pitt claims he’s found happiness in life. He says, “I am on the path I want to be on.” And right now, that path is a 2½ hour drive from Berlin to Prague on one of his many motorcycles. When asked by the reporter how many motorcycles he owns Pitt responds “Sorry, but I’ve got a problem with that. To be honest, I don’t know how many I have.” Pitt admits his family and a couple of his motorbikes are his most important possessions in life. In this list he also included Jolie’s backside, along with a prized Michael Jackson t-shirt.

Apparently, this good old Midwest boy lost whatever religion he may have had. Yet, despite what our world may say, the Bible teaches that no amount of fame and fortune means anything apart from knowing Jesus Christ personally. Unfortunately, there are many people like Brad Pitt who are losing their religion. But there can be great wisdom in “losing your religion” because religion is humankind’s attempt to reach God. On the other hand, Christianity is God reaching down to humanity through the person and work of Christ. The religious and irreligious alike need to understand that nothing and no one is saved apart from Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:1–11, Paul challenges you to lose your religion; choose your relationship. He provides two directives that lead to a right relationship with Christ.

1. Shred your religious résumé (3:1–6). Since religion doesn’t save, Paul urges you to renounce your religious background and tendencies. He begins 3:1 with the infamous phrase: “Finally my brethren.” The word “finally” (loipos) makes it sound like Paul is wrapping up his letter. However, he is only at the halfway mark. He has written sixty verses (1:1–2:30) and still has forty–four more to go (3:1–4:23!) As you can imagine, the phrase “finally my brethren” has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers. A little boy was sitting with his dad in church and whispered, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son!” This story is humorous because there is so much truth in it. We all know that when a preacher says “finally,” he’s not really done. In most cases, he is merely warming up! Admittedly, many preachers (undoubtedly myself included) inadvertently tease the congregation by giving the impression that they are landing the sermon, only to descend, fill up, and lift off again. Of course, we preachers could argue that the translation “finally” in 3:1 provides us apostolic precedence!4 Regardless, here the Greek adjective loipos doesn’t mean “finally”; instead, it is a transitional marker that should be translated “so then.”

Paul now issues a command: “rejoice in the Lord.” Literally: “You all keep rejoicing in the Lord.” Throughout Philippians, Paul emphasizes the theme of joy. The words “joy” (chara), “rejoice” (chairo), and “rejoice with” (sunchairo) appear a combined total of sixteen times. Here for the first time, however, Paul follows his admonition to rejoice with the qualifier “in the Lord.” This phrase (or “in Christ”) is the key phrase of Philippians and occurs nearly twenty times. It echoes the language of the Psalms that admonishes the righteous to “rejoice in the Lord and be glad” (Ps 32:11) and to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (33:1). In both of these instances, the psalmist urges the worshiping community to praise the Lord for what He has done for them. In other words, regardless of your circumstances, you can always rejoice in God’s attributes and His provisions. While happiness depends upon happenings; joy depends upon Jesus. It is a decision of your will. You can choose to celebrate Christ in the midst of the most difficult circumstances in your life. This happens when you reject discontentment and instead choose to praise.

In Africa there is a fruit called the “taste berry.” It changes a person’s taste so that everything, including sour fruit, becomes sweet and pleasant for several hours after eating the berry. (Since I hate vegetables, I’m on a quest for some taste berries.) Praise could be considered the “taste berry” of the Christian life. When you spend your day in praise and gratitude even the sour circumstances in your life can taste sweet. While this may seem trite to you, it is nonetheless true. If you praise God for who He is and what He has done for you, gratitude will well up within you. As a result, rather than asking God to remove pain, suffering, and trials from your life, you may find yourself praying that He accomplishes His will in the midst of them. I challenge you today to take a notecard and write down the characteristics and attributes of God that are meaningful to you. You may also want to write down the many good gifts that God has given you. Spend time reading through this card daily (perhaps several times a day) and watch God transform your perspective on your adverse circumstances.
Paul concludes 3:1 by saying: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” What are “the same things” of which Paul writes? They are Paul’s frequent exhortations to rejoice during affliction (cf. 2:28, 29; 3:1; 4:4). Paul writes, “It’s no problem for me to wax eloquent on the need to rejoice in the midst of suffering. The Lord knows I’ve had plenty of experience in this endeavor.” More importantly, Paul declares that his repetition is a “safeguard” (asphales) for the church. This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.” Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure. The reason is simple: Words sink in over time. Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. So today “rejoice in the Lord…and again I say REJOICE!”

In 3:2–6, Paul discusses the danger of religion and religious people. He begins with a warning in 3:2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”This is very strong language—definitely not very PC! Three times he calls these religious zealots derogatory names. Three times he uses the word “beware!” Paul’s word to the church is: Look over your shoulder and look ahead. Pray, but don’t close your eyes. Although it may appear that Paul is referring to three different groups of people; he is describing three distinguishing characteristics of a single religious group called Judaizers. These Jewish extremists believed that circumcision and other works were necessary for salvation. So after Paul shared the message of faith alone in Christ alone in Philippi, they came onto the scene and told the church his message was inadequate. They had the audacity to insist that the uncircumcised Greek and Roman Philippians were not saved after all. Now you can see why Paul is so righteously indignant and downright ticked off!

First, Paul calls the Judaizers “dogs.” In any day and age, it’s not a compliment to be called a dog; however, in Paul’s day it was a real slap. Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on road kill, filth, and garbage—they were vivid images of the unclean. Rabbis called Gentiles “dogs” because they did not believe in the one true God—Yahweh. The great irony of this rebuke is Paul turns the table on his fellow Jews and declares: “YOU are the ones who have rejected God! You are the ones who are leading people astray through your false teaching. YOUare the dirty dogs!
Second, Paul calls the Judaizers “evil workers.” The term “worker” (ergates) is typically used in a positive sense of a laborer or missionary. But here Paul adds the adjective “evil” (kakos) to denote a worker who perverts God’s purposes. This is true spirit of treachery.
Third, Paul calls the Judaizers “the false circumcision.” The term translated “false circumcision” (katatome) literally means “mutilation.” Instead of using the typical biblical term for circumcision (peritome, cf. 3:3), Paul refuses to dignify this false teaching by giving it a biblical name. Circumcision, the Judaizers’ greatest source of pride, is interpreted by Paul as mutilation. He is saying, “YOU have mutilated the flesh of these young brethren!”
In 3:3, Paul contrasts false religion with a relationship with Christ. Specifically, he certifies that the church is the true people of God: “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul declares that Christians are not mutilators of the flesh. Instead believers are the true circumcision, spiritually speaking. Paul gives three evidences that Christians indeed are the people of God rather than the unbelieving Jews.

First, Christians “worship in the spirit of God.” In this context this phrase could mean that our worship is internal, not merely external. However, this word for “worship” (latreuo) connotes servanthood or service or coming under the authority of someone. So Paul is likely suggesting that believers are called to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), yet are also called to external expressions of that worship.

Second, Christians “glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s word for “glory” (kauchaomai) can mean “to boast,” and, together with two other closely related words (kauchema and kauchesis), is often used in his letters to indicate one’s confidence. We are the true people of God, says Paul, because we boast that the Messiah has come in Jesus.

Third, Christians “put no confidence in the flesh.” “Flesh” (sarx) here refers to “earthly things or physical advantages.” When you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you dare say, “We made it didn’t we? Jesus, you did your part by dying on the cross, but I also did mine through my works of righteousness. We partnered together in my salvation.” I can’t think of a declaration more repugnant to the Lord. Instead, we must fall on our faces and acknowledge that we don’t deserve God’s goodness and grace.

In 3:4–6, Paul seems to respond to those religious objectors who might be brazen enough to say, “Well, Paul, perhaps you prefer grace because you don’t have the works or the religious pedigree that we do.” Paul squashes this notion like a bug when he declares: “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul was the crème de la crème. He was a religious connoisseur. In this passage, Paul presents a succinct list of seven reasons why he could boast in the flesh. The first four relate to his birth:
(1) “circumcised the eighth day”: he was a legitimate Jew from the beginning, not a proselyte; (2) “of the nation of Israel”: he had a pure lineage that traced directly back to Jacob (i.e., Israel); (3) “of the tribe of Benjamin”: the tribe of Benjamin provided Israel with its first king and remained loyal to the house of David; and (4) “a Hebrew of Hebrews”: he was not raised as a Hellenistic Jew, but in a family that retained the Hebrew language and customs. The last credentials relate to Paul’s achievements: (5) “as to the Law, a Pharisee”: he was a member of the strictest, most orthodox and patriotic sect of Judaism; (6) “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”: he was a zealous defender of the integrity of Judaism, and before his encounter with Christ, he aggressively sought to overthrow the early Christian communities; and (7) “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”: from the outward perspective of conduct and observance of the Mosaic law, he lived by the book. By rattling off his credentials, Paul successfully demonstrates that he can beat the Judaizers at their own religious game!
What do you boast in? Where does your confidence lie? Perhaps you have claimed one or more of the following. I was…born into a Christian country, raised by Christian parents or grandparents, baptized or confirmed in a church, or educated in a Christian school. Maybe even now you claim…I am a church member, I read my Bible and pray, or I am a good person. While these are blessings and privileges, they do not make you a Christian, or put you in good standing with God. Works have their place, but not when it comes to salvation.
I don’t want anyone to be impressed with my education. It’s all from God! So lose your religion; choose your relationship.
[Paul is clear. In order to have a right relationship with God, you must shred your religious résumé. His second directive is equally straightforward.]
2. Know your ultimate purpose (3:7–11). Instead of trusting in your religious résumé, it is crucial to trust the person and work of Christ. This section forces you to ask: What’s really important in my life? Paul writes in 3:7: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The word “but” marks a sharp contrast with the previous section. The “things” that were gain to Paul is a reference to his religious résumé (3:4–6). The term “count” (hegeomai) is used three times in verses 3:7–8. It is a mathematical term that means “to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard.” The word “loss” (zemia) is only found in two other places in the New Testament. This is a business term for “forfeit.” Paul is saying that at a point in the past when he was converted to Christ, he made a decision of his will to count everything that he had accomplished as loss—making no contribution whatsoever to his salvation. He transferred his trust from his own supposed works of righteousness to the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness. Today, if you have never believed in Christ, transfer your trust in your own works to Christ’s perfect work.
Verses 8–11 constitute one long sentence. The main part of the sentence is: “I count all things to be loss.” The rest of the sentence is made up of three subordinate clauses that present three reasons to lose your religion and choose your relationship. In 3:8, Paul moves from a past act to a present lifestyle. Not only did Paul count all things loss in the past; he continues to do so in the present as a believer. He puts it like this: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” In his present Christian life, Paul counts all of his achievements as “loss.” This refers to works such as writing Scripture, preaching Christ, evangelizing unbelievers, planting churches, and mentoring missionaries and pastors. Granted, all of these works of service are wonderful; however, they do not measure up with “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” Ultimately, Paul concludes that these works and many more are “rubbish.” Now this translation is fine if you live across the pond in the UK; however, most Americans don’t use this term.

Let me explain. They try to be prim and proper. But the Greek term that is translated “rubbish” (skubala) means “dung, excrement, poop.” This term is so strong that some Greek scholars even use expletives to define this word. However, if I used the appropriate expletive, it would be the only thing you would potentially remember about my lesson. But I will unashamedly and unapologetically use the word “poop.” Paul says, “Human accomplishments are ‘poop’ compared to the pursuit of knowing Christ.” Even Isaiah 64:6 declares that our righteousness is like “filthy garments” (see the NET’s literal rendering: “a menstrual rag”)

Our “good works” apart from Christ are putrid in God’s nostrils. They cannot earn salvation or even maintain salvation. Even impressive religious works that aren’t carried out by abiding in Christ cannot win God’s favor or bring eventual reward. They will result in “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). I want to come to the place in my life and ministry where I truly believe this. I want to be a man who clings to Christ because I recognize that I can’t do anything apart from Him (John 15:5). May I lose my religion and choose my relationship. I pray this for you as well.
In 3:9, Paul indicates that he longs to “be found in Him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul insists that salvation is the work of God. The phrase translated “through faith in Christ” is better rendered “through the faithfulness of Christ” (see NET). This means Jesus Christ initiates and sustains salvation. Someone came to an Orthodox priest one day and asked, “Father, are we saved by faith or by works?” The answer was filled with wisdom. “Neither. We are saved by God’s mercy.” What a great insight! Salvation comes from God. It was His idea and He ought to receive all the glory. Your only response should be to appropriate His offer. This is what the Bible calls “faith” (pistis). It is simply taking God at His Word by receiving His promise that Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him. This is what it means to be “found in Him.”

Would you humor me and take a piece of paper (with your name on it) and your Bible? Let your Bible represent Christ and the piece of paper your life. Now take the paper, place it in the Bible, and then close the Bible so that the paper is completely covered. Now the paper (your life) is “in” the Bible (Jesus Christ). It’s not enough be “near” Christ or “next to” Christ. True salvation means to be “in” Christ so that when God looks at you, He doesn’t see you, He sees Jesus instead. Your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven, forgotten, forever! That’s what Paul means in 3:9 when he speaks of “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
However, Paul doesn’t stop with faith in Christ. He doesn’t want you to sit, soak, and sour because he’s not satisfied with mere “fire insurance.” Instead he longs for you and me to press on to maturity in Christ. In 3:10, Paul shares his mission and ultimate purpose in life: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

To “know” (ginosko) Christ does not mean to have head knowledge about Him, but to “know Him” intimately and passionately. Ginosko and its Hebrew counterpart yada can even be used of sexual intercourse. Here, in this context, however, to know Christ is to experience intimate fellowship with Him and live out His life. Paul wants to know Christ’s resurrection, but not just in an intellectual sense. Paul wants to be resurrected in a spiritual sense on a daily basis. He also wants to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Most Christians would prefer to skip this aspect of knowing Christ. Yet, suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. Over the course of my life, I have battled back pain. Similarly, if you are a member of God’s family, it is guaranteed that you will share in the suffering of Christ. It is hereditary. Yet, suffering will grow you up in Christ like nothing else. Lastly, Paul yearned to be conformed to Christ’s death, which means a daily dying to self and living for Christ. The story is told that when James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship that had carried him there sought to turn him back by saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert’s reply demonstrates the meaning of Philippians 3:10. He said, “We died before we came here.” This is what it means to be conformed to Christ’s death. For Paul and for you and me, knowing Christ can get better and better. Karen and I have been married 28 years and I can testify to you that a Christ-honoring marriage can get better and better with every passing year. Similarly, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I love and appreciate Him. Is anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus Christ? If so, ask the Lord to give you a greater passion for Him.

Finally, and I really do mean, finally, Paul concludes this section with an unusual and surprising statement expressing a desire to “…attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). The NASB begins this verse with “in order that”; however, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Greek text. Instead, it is the adverbial phrase ei pos which means “if somehow” (see NASB margin). This leads to several observations.
First, whatever Paul means by “the resurrection from the dead,” he is unsure that he will attain it. It is unlikely, then, that he is referring to his bodily resurrection.
Second, the term translated “resurrection” (exanastasis) literally means “out-from resurrection.” It appears that Paul’s hope is not simply to be physically resurrected, but to gain what he calls the “out-resurrection.” The compound form points to a fuller participation in the resurrection.
Third, attaining to the resurrection from the dead is dependent upon being conformed to Jesus Christ’s sufferings and death. Paul knows that he has to do something in addition to place his faith in Christ. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection is required, sharing His sufferings is required, and conforming oneself to His death by laying down one’s life for others is required in order to participate in the “out-resurrection.”
Fourth, this out-resurrection is a reward, not a gift of grace. Verse 14 likens it to a “prize.” Paul is concerned with achieving a distinctive resurrection life—a new life that stands out from the rest. This calls to mind Hebrews 11:35, which speaks of a “better resurrection” for those who suffer. Jesus speaks of believers being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” for humility, servitude, and obedience (Luke 14:14). Paul is not merely hoping that he will attain physical resurrection. That’s a done deal! He is confident in his salvation. Rather he is seeking to be distinctively resurrected; resurrected to stand before Christ who will approve his life and give him important new responsibilities in the age to come. Thus, in this single passage, Paul hits justification, sanctification, and glorification. Yet, his goal is that the Lord Jesus Christ receives all glory, honor, and praise.

You are likely familiar with the story of the Titanic. But you may not have heard of a rich lady who was in her cabin when the order to abandon the ship was given. There was no time for packing possessions. She noticed two things on her dressing table: her jewel box and a bowl of oranges. She made a rapid assessment of what was most valuable to her given the urgency of the situation. Wisely she abandoned her jewels and grabbed the oranges instead. She recognized that they might give nourishment on the open sea whereas her jewels would be worthless to her. Likewise, you are called to invest your life in a pursuit that doesn’t seem very significant to the world, the pursuit of knowing Christ. In this life knowing Jesus will provide you purpose and significance. More importantly, if you live your life for Christ, in the life to come you will be eternally grateful. Lose your religion; choose your relationship. Make sure today that you choose Jesus Christ. The Bible declares, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Don’t delay; choose Christ today! Seek to know Him intimately. Live for Him all the days of your life. You will never, ever regret it.

The Way Up is Down

Work Your Way Down the Ladder (Philippians 2:5-11)
In Lewis Carroll’s famous book, Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through the mirror in the living room to find a world on the opposite side where everything is backwards: Alice wants to go forward, but every time she moves, she ends up back where she started; she tries to go left and ends up right; up is down and fast is slow. Similarly, Christianity is a kind of looking glass world where everything works on principles opposite to those of the world around us. To be blessed, be a blessing to others. To receive love, give love. To be honored, first be humble. To truly live, die to yourself. To gain the unseen, let go of the seen. To receive, first give. To save your life, lose it. To lead, be a servant. To be first, be last.
In Philippians 2:5–11, Paul will explain that the way up is down. That’s right: Down is up, up is down. The way to be great is to go lower. The way up is down. The logical flow of Philippians has been building up to this great truth. After addressing the church as a unified whole (1:1–2), Paul offers a prayer for them to achieve this unity (1:3–11). He then gives his own life as a model (1:12–26; cf. 4:9) and urges the church to live lives of humility and unity without (1:27–30) and within the church (2:1–4). Finally, Paul arrives at a crescendo and turns his attention to the powerful example of Christ Himself in 2:5–11. This is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. Many scholars believe that this is the best passage in the Bible to defend and explain that Jesus Christ is God. However, this will not be a systematic theology lesson because it is found in a context that stresses the need for unity in the local church. In these verses, Paul issues two commitments to living an upside-down life.

1. Imitate Christ’s model of humility (2:5-8). The way that you can imitate Christ’s example is by giving up your “rights.” Paul begins this section with a command to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Verse 5 builds a bridge between 2:1–4 and 2:6–11. It serves as a transition from Paul’s exhortation to his illustration. The word “this” (touto) refers back to 2:1–4, particularly 2:3 where Paul encourages believers to have “humility of mind.” To “have this attitude” means “to develop an attitude based upon careful thought.” Paul is inviting you to rethink your attitude based upon Christ’s attitudes (2:6) and actions (2:7–8). Mark Twain once said, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” I think we’ve all felt this way from time to time. Obviously, living up to the attitude of Christ is not easy. It’s a pursuit that humbles every believer to dust; nevertheless, we are commanded to pursue this lofty goal. How is your attitude today? Does it line up with Jesus Christ or with your natural tendencies and inclinations?

Scientists have succeeded in causing chickens to sound like quail. Researchers took tissue from parts of the quail brain thought to control the bird’s call and implanted it in the brains of five chicken embryos. The experiment worked! The hatched chicks sounded like quail rather than chickens. When you believed in Christ, God implanted His mind into yours and you become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). However, unlike the chickens who sound like quail forever, you will not sound and act like Christ for the rest of your life without continually fostering and putting on His mind (Rom 12:2). This can be done through daily Bible reading, listening to praise and worship music or an audio Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians who encourage you in your walk with the Lord, and spending time getting to know Christ Himself through prayer. Though there are a variety of things you can do to renew your Christlike mind, the key is to do something every day. I think it’s easy to make the mistake of trying to accomplish too much too soon. Of course, when we fail to achieve our goals, it’s tempting to want to quit because we feel like a failure. However, God’s heart is that you and I would take baby steps and make forward progress each day. In other words, don’t try to cram; instead, just do at least one thing to cultivate the mind of Christ. Today, you can grow in grace and truth by asking God to give you an attitude adjustment. Perhaps you need to acknowledge a bitter and vindictive attitude? Maybe you are a chronic complainer who needs to see God’s perspective for your suffering and trials? Regardless, every Christian can benefit from an attitude tune-up. Ask God to search your heart today and reveal the attitudes that grieve Him.

Paul now fleshes out his fundamental command in 2:6–8 by using Jesus as his illustration/model. In 2:6, he writes, “…although He [Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped…” Before Christ invaded this planet, He existed in the form of God. Notice Paul does not say that Jesus “came to exist” or “entered into existence.” Instead, he uses a present tense participle translated “existed” to indicate ongoing existence. Since the time frame of the passage is clearly eternity past, Paul asserts that Jesus Christ existed eternally “in the form of God.” The English word “form” can be misleading here because it suggests shape or outward appearance. Yet, the Greek word translated “form” (morphe) refers to the essential nature of something or someone. In this context, Paul is saying that Jesus’ nature and character corresponds with God. In Paul’s day, the word morphe was used of a Roman stamp. Official government documents were sealed with wax. While the wax was still hot, they would press a ring or stamp into it bearing the emperor’s insignia. The impression made in the wax was an exact representation of the insignia on the ring. We do something similar today when we wet a rubber stamp with ink and then stamp it on a piece of paper. The impression on the paper is the exact image of what is on the rubber stamp. Paul says, “That’s the relationship Jesus Christ bears to God the Father. Jesus is the exact representation of who and what God is. Jesus has never been a junior partner to God, but rather a full-fledged member of the Godhead, equal with the Almighty Father in every way, shape, and form, from eternity past. So when you and I talk about Jesus Christ, we are not talking about someone less than God. We are talking about someone who is the “express image” of God.

Though Jesus was fully God, He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus was not grasping to get something; He already possessed deity. However, He did not regard being equal with God something to be used for His own advantage. Though equal with God or equally God, Jesus did not seize this as an opportunity to further His own interests at the expense of the Father. Jesus willingly released all of His personal rights. Some have suggested that the expression is identical to the phrase “in the form of God.” More likely, however, the expressions differ.“The form of God” speaks of Jesus’ essence or nature as God, whereas “equality with God” speaks of the glories or prerogatives of God. Together the two expressions are “among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the New Testament.” Therefore, it is imperative that I emphasize to you that Jesus Christ is God. Perhaps you’re saying, “Isn’t that a given?” It may have been in years past, but this can no longer be assumed…even in evangelical churches. Research from April of this year (2009) reveals that 22% of Christians strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat. This is tragic! Jesus Christ claimed to be God and He demonstrated that He was and is God! If Jesus is not God, then life has no purpose and salvation is a farce. We might as well go party! Fortunately, the Bible is clear that we can stake our present life and the life to come on the deity of Jesus and the salvation that He offers.

Instead of holding on to His personal rights, 2:7 explains that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus came down from heaven to earth in the greatest stoop of all time. Instead of climbing the ladder, Jesus stepped down, one rung at a time. But this leads to a question: What does the phrase “emptied Himself” mean? We can be sure of one thing: This phrase doesn’t mean that Jesus emptied Himself of any of His divine attributes (emptying by subtraction). If Jesus did such a thing for even one moment, He would cease to be God. Fortunately, the next clause in 2:7 explains the meaning of “emptied Himself”—“taking the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus’ act of “emptying” Himself was in His act of “taking” on a human nature. It was emptying by addition. In other words, Jesus, being God, “emptied Himself” byadding humanity. Thus, the phrase “emptied Himself” is only a metaphor, just like when Paul says, “I am being poured out like a drink offering” (2 Tim 4:6). Similarly, Paul is not suggesting that Jesus’ internal organs or His human attributes were poured out like liquid from a bottle. The point that he is trying to make is that Jesus Christ practiced self-denial and self-sacrifice for our sake and became “God-in-a-bod!” What an astounding, unfathomable thought. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven and came to dwell on earth to serve others. He understood the way up is down.

Paul fleshes out this concept further by stating that Jesus took “the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men” (2:7b). Paul could have said that Jesus took on the form of a human being. That would be humiliation enough for God. There is a general Greek word for humanity that Paul could have used here, or he could have used a word that means a male as opposed to a female. But Paul uses neither of these. Instead, he chooses the more specific term doulos, which means “slave” or “bond-servant.” In other words, Jesus became a particular kind of man, a slave, the lowest position a person could become in the Roman world. He wasn’t born in a mansion or a king’s palace, but in a dirty stable among the animals. The Almighty God appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The King of the Universe, the Lord of glory, voluntarily became a pauper for our sake. He had to borrow a place to be born, a boat to preach from, a place to sleep, a donkey to ride upon, an upper room to use for the last supper, and a tomb in which to be buried. He created the world but the world did not know Him. He was insulted, humiliated, and rejected by the people He made.

The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation. Jesus went as low as He could possibly go. This means no matter what you go through, no matter how low you may get, you can never sink so far that Jesus cannot get under you and lift you up. He can identify with you in any situation, no matter how hard: poverty, loneliness, homelessness, rejection, you name it.

Jesus descended the ladder and arrives at the bottom rung in 2:8. Paul writes, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This verse reminds us that Jesus “humbled himself.” No one humbled Jesus; He willingly and graciously offered Himself to death. The implication is that you and I should do the same. As you read this verse, it is easy to sense Paul’s astonishment. He can’t believe that Jesus—God Himself—died! But to think that He experienced “even death on a cross” is mindboggling! The Romans reserved the agonizing death of crucifixion for slaves and foreigners, and the Jews viewed death on a cross as a curse from God. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. The weight of the victim’s body hanging from his wrists caused his joints to dislocate as he tried to push up on his feet to breathe and keep from suffocating. Eventually, the victim was no longer able to push himself up and finally suffocated. Jesus endured that horrible trauma, not to mention the spikes through His wrists or the pain of the cross’ rough wood scraping against His back, shredded from the beating He had received with a cat-of-nine-tails. Jesus suffered as no one else, but it wasn’t the physical pain that caused Him the most suffering. Neither was it the taunting and humiliation He endured from His enemies as they watched Him die. The agony Jesus endured on the cross was the abandonment He suffered as God the Father turned His back on His son (Matt 27:46). The price that Jesus paid for humankind is staggering. Paul urges you to ponder the wonder of Jesus. As you reflect upon Him today, may you be overwhelmed by all this great God has accomplished for you. The way up is down.

Athanasius (296–373), Bishop of Alexandria, noted that crucifixion was the only death a man can die with arms outstretched. He said that Jesus died like that to invite people of all nations and all generations to come to Him. Today, will you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Will you transfer your trust in yourself to Jesus perfect person and His perfect work? The moment you do, you will cross over from death to life and spend eternity with God (John 5:24; 1 John 5:9–13).
Interestingly, the primary thrust of this passage is not evangelistic. Instead, it is written with the express purpose of motivating believers to be humble and unified. Today, do you need to die so that a relationship can live? What does your wife want or need from you? What does your husband desire from you? What do your children need from you? Leaders are not to abuse their power and position to further their own interests, but to pursue the best interests of others. Instead of grabbing for their “rights,” they begin to give to relationships. Instead of using others as means to their own ends, they serve others as ends in themselves. In your work life, instead of striving for upward mobility, why not pursue downward mobility?
Remember, the way up is down.

After reflecting on Jesus’ downward mobility culminating with His death on the cross, you may declare, “Lord, I would die for You or for someone I love.” As Fred Craddock has said, “To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom—I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all. But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give up a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”

Yet, there are no shortcuts in the Christian life. If you want to follow the model of humility, you must take the high road, which requires getting low for others! It requires continually serving regardless of personal cost. This is how you imitate the model of humility. The way up is down.
[Jesus’ humiliation is not the end of the story. God raised Jesus up from the grave of His humanity and exalted Him in heaven as the God-man. Thus, the second commitment that Paul gives is…]
2. Appropriate Christ’s lordship of creation (2:9–11). True biblical humility occurs when one recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ. Paul explains: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9–11). The phrase “for this reason” shows a cause-effect relationship between Christ’s self-humbling (2:8) and His exaltation (2:9). First, there was the cradle, then the cross, and then the crown. In these verses, Paul imparts two significant blessings to the humble Christ.

First, God exalted Jesus to the loftiest height (2:9a; cf. Ps 2). The word translated “highly exalted” (huperupsoo) is used only here in the New Testament and can be literally rendered “super exalted.” In other words, Christ received the highest exaltation—in a class by itself.

Second, God gave Jesus the name, which supersedes all other names (2:9b; Heb 1:4). In contemporary Christian circles the common misinterpretation of this passage is that the reference to the “name” (onoma) means specifically the name Jesus. But, it is the name given to Jesus that is the issue here. Here, God bestows on Jesus the name “Lord” (kurios). At this great name, “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This statement is taken from Isaiah 45:23. The context of the quotation from Isaiah is taken up with the uniqueness of “Lord” (Yahweh) in contrast to lifeless idols. In the Isaiah passage, Yahweh, and Yahwehalone, is unique and the only One who creates, redeems, and sustains (45:17–18). Thus, the passage is a powerful statement about Yahweh’s supremacy. It is precisely this supremacy, which is conferred on Jesus in 2:10–11. Note again the process, though. While on earth His name was often despised and He had no great titles. He was called “a friend of sinners,” and a “blasphemer.” Because He did not conform to the world of His day, He did not have an important title beside His name, distinguishing Him. Yet because He did not live to make His name great on this earth, God has made His name supremely exalted in the world to come.
The three regions described in 2:10 seem to be heaven, earth, and hell. The beings in heaven that Paul refers to are angels and believers who have died and whose spirits have gone into the Lord’s presence. Those on earth are people still alive on the earth. Those under the earth are unbelievers awaiting resurrection and Satan and his angelic beings. All will acknowledge Jesus’ lordship one day (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:20–21). The whole purpose of the working out of salvation is the glory of God the Father. The end is attained when men yield to His will and acknowledge Christ as Lord.
These great verses are a reminder that worship is a choice for us now, but one day, every human being and spirit being will worship God for all time. There are no atheists or agnostics in hell. The world may not bow or confess to Jesus today, but it’s going to bow sooner or later. On that day, it won’t matter what anyone thinks, because every person is going to recognize that God sent Jesus to die for Him. There are two ways of honoring Jesus’ name: voluntarily or involuntarily. Those who do it now, show faith at work; those who do it on the last day, will do it by sight.

Surprisingly, the primary application of this passage is for the believer. The implication of Paul’s argument is that many believers need to bow the knee and confess with the tongue that Jesus is God in every area of their lives. In the course of my Christian life, there have been areas that I have included or excluded Jesus from. What I was saying is: “Jesus, you can be God in this area, but you can’t be God over this area. I want to keep this area for myself and I will be my own God.” Paul’s point is: One day you and I will bow the knee and confess with the tongue at the judgment seat of Christ that Jesus is God/Lord over every area of our lives. This is Paul’s point in Rom 14:11 when he quotes Isa 45:23. My desire is to bow now and confess now that Jesus is God over area of my life. What area of your life have you excluded Jesus from (e.g., your marriage, family, work, church, personal life)? Today, will you invite Him to take over this area of your life because He is Lord and God?

The good news of this passage is that God will exalt believers who humble themselves. In the future, God will reward a life lived now in self-denial. That is the obvious implication of Paul’s illustration. Perhaps you think it is selfish to serve the Lord for a reward? Was it selfish for Jesus to endure what He did because He knew He would receive a reward? Motivation is the key. If you submit to God and to others for the glory of God rather than for selfish glory, as Jesus did, your motivation is correct and He will reward you. The way up is down.

Becoming … an authentic Christian

Becoming an Authentic Christian – Dealing with hypocrisy
Sunday School, MBC, March 30, 2014

What does it mean to be a hypocrite?

We live in a society in which so much is artificial.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF ARTIFICIAL THINGS IN SOCIETY TODAY? Christmas trees, wood laminate, brick or stone façade, hearts, sweeteners, plastic surgery, etc.

WHAT, THEN, WOULD AN ARTIFICIAL CHRISTIAN BE? WHAT EXAMPLES CAN YOU THINK OF WHERE SOMEONE WAS AN ARTIFICIAL CHRISTIAN? They act pious in church – but during the week they live a double life. They say all the right words, but when you turn around, you get stabbed in the back.

In this lesson, we will look at a passage where a couple of Christians tried the route of being artificial.

READ Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Sapphira learned that God does not tolerate artificiality. In their negative example, perhaps we can learn a little of what it means to be an authentic Christian.

There are times when we idealize the early church. I have even heard of pastor speak of their churches being like a New Testament church. We talk of all the great miracles they did. We envy their intense sense of community and caring. It really seemed like a powerful time. Sometimes, however, we forget about THIS story. You won’t hear too many sermons on Ananias and Sapphira. On one hand, it is a story of one of the great scandals of the early church, while, on the other hand, it is a story of punishment that many find harsh and excessive.

Nonetheless, we sometimes learn best from negative examples. I learned the negative side effects of excessive consumption of alcohol from my brother. One night he came home and threw up all over our front door. The next morning, my dad woke him up early and made him clean it all up. I can honestly say that from that day I chose to never get drunk. It had that much impact on my life.

THIS story can’t help but shock us into thinking about the severity of sin. To fully appreciate all the parts of this story, we need to get some background. The church, at this time, did have a very intense and caring fellowship. They not only met together frequently, but they also shared meals and something else that is still profound today – $ HOW WAS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH USING PROCEEDS OF PROPERTY THAT WAS SOLD AND DONATED BY MEMBERS? They pooled their financial resources and sold their belongings; using the money to help those in need.

Ananias and Sapphira wanted it to look like they were doing this as well. However, they hedged and decided to reserve a portion of the money from the sale while saying that they gave all the money.

WHY DID THEY DO IT? WAS IT GREED? DID THEY JUST WANT THE PRAISE? We don’t know why they chose to lie; only that the sin was so severe that the death penalty was enforced.

WAS THIS PUNISHMENT HARSH? WOULD IT BE APPLIED TODAY?
WHAT IS GOD’S VIEW OF SIN – ALL SIN, ANY SIN?

The judgment on Ananias and Sapphira would certainly have sent forth a message that God’s power was with this group of believers. Consider the fact that it sent “great fear” to the whole church and ALL WHO HEARD ABOUT IT. They were not afraid that the same thing would happen to them. Rather, this FEAR that filled the church was a reverence or awe for the power of God.

We also need to consider the unique situation of the early church. It was just getting started. People were looking at this group and asking things like, “Can we trust these people?” “Is this just a passing thing or a real movement of God?” “Are these people for real?” (Are they authentic?)

The questions the people asked then are just as important today. Nothing destroys a religious movement quicker than hypocrisy.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF HOW HYPOCRISY HAS HURT THE CHURCH IN MODERN TIMES?
Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Peter Popoff, Mike Trout

On May 3, 1987, the story of Gary Hart’s fling with blond model and actress Donna Rice finally erupted into a national scandal.
As it unraveled, the tale included accounts of her visit to his townhouse in Washington, a boat trip to Bimini, off the coast of Florida, as well as assorted reports about the promises he had allegedly made to her about their future together.
Gary Hart showed no remorse.
On May 5, he admitted he’d made a “big mistake” but insisted he had done “nothing immoral.”
On May 8, Hart announced he was withdrawing from the Presidential race.
On May 25, Hart’s picture with Donna Rice sitting on his lap appeared on the front page of a national weekly — along with an account of their overnight trip to Bimini.
On Sept. 22, Hart told Ted Koppel on ABC-TV’s Nightline that he had not been “absolutely faithful” throughout his marriage.
On Dec. 15, Gary Hart announced he had decided to re-enter the Presidential race.
On Jan. 9, he told a newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa, that, if elected, he “wouldn’t be the first adulterer in the White House.”
By Jan. 13, he had received almost $1 million of taxpayers’ money for his campaign.
On Jan. 15, at the Democratic Presidential candidates debate in Iowa, he maintained that “there is a difference between public morality and private morality.”

At this critical time in the history of the church, ANY sign of hypocrisy had to be dealt with swiftly and surely. God certainly does not execute those who lie or practice deceit today. If He did, people would be dropping like flies all around us. But this story emphasizes the importance of authenticity in the life of the church and in the lives of Christians. We have to be people who are what we say we are.

A man sat down to supper with his family, saying grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, “Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?”
He answered confidently, “Of course.”
Then she asked, “And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?” Not so confidently, he answered, “Why, yes, I believe so.”
The little girl concluded, “Then which do you think God believed, Dad?”
The man was suddenly aware that his mealtime prayer had become a rote, thoughtless habit rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God. By not concentrating on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak in.

HOW CAN WE BE AUTHENTIC? WHAT ARE SOME WAYS OF DEALING WITH HYPOCRISY? Let me suggest three ways:

1. The aim low approach. If you keep your standards low enough, it is much easier to hit those standards and you won’t be considered a hypocrite. In marriage, that equates to the following change: instead of as long as we both shall LIVE; it would be as long as we both shall LOVE. In politics, the change is from honesty to plausible deniability (Clinton).

2. The live and let live approach is a variation of the aim low approach. The most important part of this approach is to never say or even imply that there is a right or wrong in the behavior of a person. If you do, then it is being “judgmental” and if there are any flaws in what you are doing, then you will be a hypocrite for pointing out flaws in another. The reference for this is in Matthew where Jesus tells us to remove the plank from our eye before we notice the speck in another. But, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING JUDGMENTAL AND CONFRONTING WRONG BEHAVIOR? Jesus confronted people all the time. The key is not being blind to our own faults.

WHAT PROBLEMS DO YOU SEE WITH THESE TWO APPROACHES?
Both methods avoid hypocrisy, but do so by destroying the values on which a healthy society is based. What kind of society would we be if we never questioned wrong behavior? We couldn’t confront racism, abuse, neglect, anger, or anything else!

3. A healthier way to avoid hypocrisy is with spiritual honesty.
HOW DOES IT HELP US? It allows us to be open about our own shortcomings and confess that we are sinners. We never pretend that our sins are any worse or any better than anyone else.

The following words are from an old engraving on a cathedral in Labeck, Germany:
Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us:
You call Me master and obey Me not.
You call Me light and see Me not.
You call Me the Way and walk Me not.
You call Me life and live Me not.
You call Me wise and follow Me not.
You call Me fair and love Me not.
You call Me rich and ask Me not.
You call Me eternal and seek Me not.
If I condemn thee, blame Me not.

When we confront someone, we do so only after prayerful self-examination, and we give the other person the right to confront us in a similar way if they see us doing something that is wrong. We don’t present ourselves as better than we are – or better than the other person is. We confess we fall short at the same time we are trying to leap ahead.

Because of people like Jimmy Swaggert and the Bakers, we know that every era will have hypocrites. But if more of us reach for spiritual honesty, our witness will survive their falls, and God will bless the faithful witness of His children.

The expression “face the music” is said to have originated in Japan. According to the story, one man in the imperial orchestra couldn’t play a note. Being a person of great influence and wealth, he had demanded that he be given a place in the group because he wanted to “perform” before the emperor. The conductor agreed to let him sit in the second row of the orchestra, even though he couldn’t read music. He was given a flute, and when a concert would begin, he’d raise his instrument, pucker his lips, and move his fingers. He would go through all the motions of playing, but he never made a sound. This deception continued for two years.
Then a new conductor took over. He told the orchestra that he wanted to audition each player personally. One by one they performed in his presence. Then came the flutist’s turn. He was frantic with worry, so he pretended to be sick. However, the doctor who was ordered to examine him declared that he was perfectly well. The conductor insisted that the man appear and demonstrate his skill. Shamefacedly he had to confess that he was a fake. He was unable to “face the music.”
In the realm of Christian service, many professing believers go through the motions, but they are only pretenders. Someday they will be called upon to stand before the Judge of heaven and earth, and their deception will be revealed. God will then separate the “phonies” from the real Christians. No one will be able to hide in the crowd. Each will be made to “face the music.”

As mentioned earlier, the church will always have hypocrites. But each of us has a choice in how we will respond. Let me give you some applications to consider:

1. Find a person to be your spiritual advisor. This should be a mature Christian of the same sex who you trust and can be vulnerable.

THE BIBLE PASSAGE THAT ADVISES US TO CONFESS OUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER IS James 5:16. Do not confess because you are searching for absolution or forgiveness. Do it because it helps you become accountable to another person. Do it because God’s forgiveness can be best felt through another human being. Do it because it will reduce the temptation to be a hypocrite.

WHY DOES CONFESSING TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING REDUCE THE TEMPATION TO BE FALSE? When you confess to someone else, you realize that another person know you exactly as you are, and this reduces the temptation to be false. That is the essence of vulnerability.

2. Read scripture daily, remembering to apply it to yourself.
Psalm 119:105
Proverbs 6:24
Joshua 1:8
Each time you read, ask “what is this saying to ME?”

3. Encourage Christian friends to give you both supportive and developmental feedback. This can only be done in small groups or though intimate relationships with other people. We all need affirmation and accountability. Feedback helps us to grow to be authentic.