Come alive!

A radical change is expected and required when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. When no change becomes apparent, we begin to wonder if there has been a genuine conversion or if the one who was truly saved understands God’s Word concerning sanctification and discipleship.

 

Those who can identify with the agony of Paul in Romans 7 will rejoice with him in the ecstasy of Romans 8. Do you desire to serve God and to obey His commands and yet find it impossible to do so? If not, then you should go back to the beginning of Romans and start reading again. Either you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you fail to understand what God requires, or you do not see the futility and inadequacy of merely human effort. But if you have come to that point of despair of which Paul speaks, then you have come to the point of dependence upon God. Read on, my friend. There is more good news for you. The solution to your problem is now the topic under discussion in Romans 8.

Let us look to the Holy Spirit, of whom theses verses speak, to enlighten our minds concerning those things which we would never grasp apart from His divine illumination (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

 

No Condemnation
(8:1-4)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Paul’s condition, as described in the last half of Romans 7, was agonizing and frustrating. With his mind, he served God, but with his flesh he served the law of sin (7:25). Paul’s dilemma is two-fold. First, there is the matter of his sins, committed as a Christian. Second, there is the problem of righteousness. What can deliver him from his sins? What can enable him to be righteous? Verses 1-4 deal primarily with the first problem and briefly allude to the second, discussed more fully in verses 5-11.

 

Paul’s first problem was that of his sin and of the condemnation which sin brings upon sinners. The solution to the problem of sin Paul describes here may be summarized in this way: For all who are in Christ, by faith, there is no condemnation for sin, but rather the condemnation of sin in the flesh.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:1-4 is fundamental to the Christian life. The Christian need not be overcome by guilt or by fear, due to his sins. The cross of Jesus Christ is the solution from sin and its condemnation, for all who are justified by faith. The death which Christ died was for all of the sins of the one who receives His work, by faith. Pre-Christian sins and post-conversion sins are covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is no license to sin, as Paul shows in Romans 6, but it is the assurance that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ Christians have been delivered from divine condemnation. The forgiveness of sins Paul describes in Romans 3:21–4:25 applies to all the sins of the one who trusts in Christ.

There is no condemnation! What a wonderful truth to the ears of every believer. But there is more. The death of Christ has delivered us from condemnation. While our Lord’s death at Calvary delivered us from condemnation, it also delivered sin to condemnation. In Christ, God condemned sin. God condemned sin in the flesh. The flesh was sin’s stronghold. It was the “handle” which sin found by which to lay hold of us and to bring us under condemnation. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He came in the flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. And when He suffered the wrath of God and the penalty of death in the flesh, sin was condemned in the flesh. In that very realm of the flesh, in which it seemed sin could not be defeated, God overpowered sin, condemning it in the flesh. Because of Jesus Christ, we are not condemned. Because of Him, sin is condemned, and in the flesh. For the Christian, the shackles of sin are surely broken.

 

Paul’s first problem is that of sin and its consequences. The second problem is that of righteousness. The sin which Paul wished to avoid, he committed, in the flesh. The righteousness which Paul desired to practice, Paul avoided, due to his flesh. The problem was with his flesh. With his mind he could serve God, but in his flesh he could not produce the fruit of righteousness. If sin dominated him through his flesh, then something greater than him must empower him to live righteously in his fleshly body. The solution is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The problem was not with the Law and its requirement. The “Law is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The flesh is simply not able to achieve what the Law requires (for reasons Paul is about to spell out in 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit is able to empower us to do that which the Law required (8:4). The righteousness of God is accomplished, not by walking according to the flesh, but rather by walking according to the Spirit. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by the flesh, but it can be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. Paul is soon to explain how and why this is so.

 

The foundation for Christian living, living righteously, has been laid in verses 1-4. The Christian is not under condemnation because he is in Christ Jesus, who bore the penalty for all our sins. Sin is under condemnation, through the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness which the Law requires and which we find impossible to achieve, God achieves in and through the Christian, through the prompting of and power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has delivered us from the penalty and the power of sin.

Not by Means of the Flesh, but by His Spirit
(8:5-11)

The truth Paul gives in verse 4, which he explains in verses 5-11, is not new. Centuries earlier, the Lord told the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

God’s work is never accomplished by human effort but only by divine enablement. It has always been this way.

The righteousness which the Law requires cannot be realized by walking according to the flesh, but only by walking according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 are devoted to explaining and illustrating this truth, so that Christians will forsake seeking to please God by means of the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 give us two sides of one coin. Verses 5-8 explain why it is impossible to please God by means of the flesh. Verses 9-11 explain why it is possible to please God by means of His Spirit.

THE FUTILITY OF WALKING ACCORDING TO THE FLESH (5-8)

5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The futility of walking according to the flesh is spelled out in these verses. The conclusion to Paul’s argument, developed in verses 5-8, is stated in verse 8:

THOSE WHO ARE IN THE FLESH CANNOT PLEASE GOD.

The basis for this conclusion is developed in verses 5-7. Here, Paul gives us three reasons why it is impossible for those in the flesh to please God. Let us consider each of these reasons.

First, those who are “according to the flesh” have their minds set on the flesh. They have a one-track mind. They are like an AM radio which can receive only signals on this band. FM signals are not received and cannot be. The spiritual dimension of life—that unseen realm which is only grasped by the enablement of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and which can only be believed by faith (Hebrews 11:1)—is only perceived by those who are in the realm of the Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are “according to the Spirit” have their minds tuned to the things of God and to His Spirit.175

 

If a Christian is walking “according to the flesh,” his mind will not be on spiritual things but only on earthly things. When Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His death on the cross, our Lord rebuked him for having his mind set on the flesh:

“Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33).

Jesus’ words here also make it evident that Peter’s fleshly mindset was a reflection of Satan’s views and values.

In verse 6 Paul gives the second reason why those who are in the flesh cannot please God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” It took me a long time to take the verb is seriously. Elsewhere Paul tells us that sin leads to death, and righteousness leads to life. Here Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is death. There is a significant difference between that which leads to death and that which is, in and of itself, death. God’s wrath is both present (Romans 1:18) and future (Romans 2:5). God’s salvation likewise has a past, present and a future dimension (Romans 5:1-11). So too death is both present and future. Death is much more than physical death. Death is separation from God. The fleshly mind is so alienated from God that those whose minds are set on the flesh are dead, alienated from God, limited only to the physical world and their distorted perception of it.

 

Third, those who are in the flesh are not merely ignorant of God and unaware of His existence; they are actively hostile toward God and toward His Law (verse 7). Fallen men hate God, they reject His authority, and they resist His Word:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

 

Those who are unsaved are “in the flesh,” and as those in the flesh they serve Satan, in mind and body. They may not consciously serve Satan, but they do consciously seek to indulge their flesh, fulfilling its lusts. And in so doing, they reject God and rebel against Him.

No wonder it is impossible for anyone to please God by walking according to the flesh. The flesh cannot and will not comprehend the things of the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The flesh hates God and rebels against His authority and His Law. And even if unsaved men wished to do right, they could not do so.

Consider these illustrations. Serving God in the flesh is like trying to manufacture sophisticated silicon computer chips in a garbage dump, rather than in a “clean room.” Pleasing God in the flesh is as impossible as trying to train a wolf to be a sheep dog. Being righteous in the power of the flesh is like trying to teach a corpse to dance. It simply cannot be done.

Now we know why Paul was not able, in the flesh, to keep God’s Law, even though in his mind he agreed with it and desired to obey it. Now we know why those who would fulfill the requirement of the Law cannot do so by walking “according to the flesh.” Let us next turn to verses 9-11, where Paul explains why those who walk according to the Spirit can fulfill the requirement of the Law and so please God.

 

IN THE STRENGTH OF HIS SPIRIT (9-11)

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.

How different is Paul’s approach to the spiritual life from that of many today. Paul does not seek to motivate Christians by questioning their salvation or by suggesting that, by sin, they can lose it. He does not suggest that unspiritual living is the result of failing to possess the Spirit but bases his teaching on the certainty that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit. And he does not appeal to guilt or fear but to grace and assurance. Chapters 5 and 8 especially underscore this. Paul assumes that his readers are genuine Christians. If they have been justified by faith, then they have the Spirit dwelling within. If they do not possess the Spirit, then they cannot be saved. Christians, according to Paul, do not need to receive the Spirit, but to respond to the Spirit, in faith and obedience for assurance, guidance, empowerment, and a host of other ministries.

 

Paul, and every Christian, faces two problems as dealt with in our text: first, the problem of sin; second, the problem of righteousness. Our problem with sin is that we do it. Our problem with righteousness is that we do not, and cannot, do it. God solved the first problem by condemning sin in the flesh through the death of our Lord at Calvary. Now, in verses 9-11, Paul tells us how God has provided the solution for the second problem.

 

God’s Law reveals the standard of righteousness. The Law tells us what righteousness is like. The Christian agrees with the Law of God, that it is “holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our flesh. As Paul has shown in verses 5-8, the flesh cannot please God. God has provided the means for Christians to live in a way that enables them to fulfill the requirement of the Law and to please God. God’s provision—for Christians only—is the power of His Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.

 

The flesh is dead, because of sin. But the Spirit is alive, living within us, so that righteousness will result. The Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is the same Spirit who raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead (verse 11). Our problem, as Paul says in Romans 7:24, is “the body of this death.” Our bodies, which are dead due to sin, so far as doing that which is righteous, the Spirit will raise to life, as He raised the body of our Lord to life. And so the problem of righteousness has been solved. We cannot, by the flesh, please God and do that which is righteous. We can, by means of the Spirit, fulfill the requirement of the Law and please God.

 

And so the two problems (1) of sin and (2) of righteousness have been solved, by God, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for sin for all who are in Christ, by faith. Sin, on the other hand, has been condemned in the flesh. The righteousness which we could not do, because of the deadness of our fleshly bodies, God accomplishes through His Spirit, who raises dead bodies to life.

The Implications of Paul’s
Teaching in 
Romans 8:1-11

Romans 8:12-17 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

In verses 12-17 Paul applies the principles he has just taught in verses 1-11. The application to Paul’s teaching is given in verse 12. Verses 13-17 provide the support for the application.Verse 17 serves both as a conclusion to verses 12-17, as well as an introduction to Paul’s next topic, sonship, suffering, and glory, discussed in verses 18-30.

Paul gives his readers no specific commands. He lays down no rules. After all, the Law has set the standard. Those things which Paul will lay down as specific applications find their biblical basis in the Law (see Romans 13:8-10). Instead, he speaks of the Christian’s obligations. Paul’s words in verse 12 inform us that we have no obligation to serve the flesh and strongly imply that we do have an obligation to serve God in the Spirit. This reiterates what he has already taught in verse 4 and explained in verses 5-11: We shall fulfill the requirement of the Law when we walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

One thing has puzzled me as I have attempted to understand Paul’s words in verse 12: Why does he apply his teaching by speaking to his reader in terms of obligations? Why not duty? Why not obedience? Why obligations? I think I am beginning to understand what he means. We feel obligated to another only when we believe they have done something for us. “One good turn deserves another,” we say. When someone does us a favor, we feel obligated to them. When someone does us harm, we do not feel an obligation at all. Traveling overseas offers an illustration of this. When a car comes to an intersection and has to wait for a moment, a man may very well push through the crowd, get out his small array of equipment, and begin to wash your windshield. When he has finished, he hopes you will feel obligated enough to him to give him some money. We feel obligated when someone has rendered us a service.

Thus, Paul speaks of obligations. The fact is many Christians feel obligated to the flesh. This is why Paul must remind us that we have no obligation to the flesh. The flesh has done us no favors. It has acted independently of our minds, causing us to sin and to fear divine condemnation. The flesh is instrumental in our doing things of which we are now ashamed (see 6:21). We owe the flesh nothing.

Why then do we feel obligated? Why is it necessary for Paul to tell us we are not obligated to the flesh? The reason, as I understand it, is simple: even though it is not true, we feel that the flesh has performed some beneficial service for us. Let me suggest some ways Christians might come to this false conclusion.

There are those who tend toward the libertine extreme of error, supposing that God’s grace in Christ is a license to sin. They believe that once they have been justified by faith, they can continue to live as they formerly did—in sin—with no guilt or condemnation. If Christ paid the price for our sins, they reason, then why not sin all you can? The false assumption is that the pleasures of sin and the lusts of the flesh are really good. Thus, living in sin is good for the present, and the forgiveness of sins is our guarantee of heaven in the future. Those who foolishly think and behave in this way wrongly conclude that they owe the flesh something because it has been so good to them.

The legalist feels the same obligation to the flesh as does the libertine but for what seems to be the opposite reason. The legalist may sincerely believe he is avoiding sin and practicing righteousness, but he is doing so through the flesh and not through the Spirit. Legalism tries to fulfill God’s Law by means of human effort and not by walking in the Spirit. The scribes and Pharisees believed they were overcoming the flesh, but they only appeared to do so and this by means of the flesh. It is the outward appearance which the legalist judges and not the heart (see Luke 16:15). The outward appearance of righteousness may very well be the result of serving God in the flesh. I am reminded of a song I once heard: “Workin’ like the devil, servin’ the Lord.”

 

We do not owe the flesh anything. The flesh accomplishes nothing which is righteous. The flesh is subject to sin and to death. Whether the flesh produces self-indulgence or self-righteousness, it cannot please God. We owe it nothing. In fact, it is so hostile to the Spirit that we are obligated to put to death the deeds of the flesh. All too many Christians, including myself, are far too busy catering to the flesh rather than crucifying it.

Having summarized our obligations, both negatively and positively in verse 12, Paul goes on to support his exhortation with two arguments. The first argument is not new, but simply a summarization of what he has already said. The second argument is new to this chapter. The first argument has to do with the consequences of living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit (verse 13). The second introduces the doctrine of the Christian’s sonship (verses 14-17).

Verse 13 gives the first reason why we are obligated to the Spirit but not to the flesh. It all comes down to the consequences of following the one or the other. If you are living according to the flesh, you must die. “The mind set on the flesh is death” (8:6). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). When one chooses the path of the flesh, it is a one-way street, and its destination is death. To follow the flesh leads to death as certainly as Interstate 35 North leads to Oklahoma City and beyond. I cannot go south to Houston and be on Interstate 35 North. I cannot reach righteousness and life by living according to the flesh. This is a certainty, as evident in the word “must.” “… if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (verse 13).

Just as certainly, living by the Spirit leads to life. Paul says this in such a way that it presents us with a paradox:

If we seek to live according to the flesh, we will surely die.

But

If we, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live.

Paul’s point here agrees with the teaching of our Lord: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

 

Paul’s words in verse 13 indicate that the Christian is to be far from passive in living out his life in the Spirit. We are not to be striving to be righteous in the strength of our flesh, but we are to be putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul’s words indicate not only a strong distinction between the flesh and the Spirit but an intense animosity. This is stated emphatically in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:16-17).

 

There is no peaceful co-existence with the flesh. We will either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will wage war against the deeds of the flesh which seek to dominate and destroy us. We must take this struggle seriously. We must choose sides. We dare not choose the flesh. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit. Therein is righteousness, life and peace.

There is yet another reason for our obligation to the Spirit—our sonship as those who have been justified by faith. This sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verses 14-16, the present dimension of our sonship is predominant. In verses 17ff., the future dimension of our sonship is in view.

In verse 11 Paul argued that those who are saved have the Holy Spirit living within them. Now in verse 14, Paul argues that all who are being led183 by the Spirit are God’s sons. Walking in the Spirit not only means walking in the power which the Spirit provides but walking in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit. As Paul has said elsewhere, “… it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). From our text in Romans, we know that the Holy Spirit is God’s instrument through which this work is accomplished.

WHAT IS A SON OF GOD?

Before going further, we must pause to be certain that we understand the meaning of the expression, “son of God.” What does Paul mean when he speaks of being a “son of God”? Let us consider this expression from the context of the Bible as a whole and then go on to see how Paul is using sonship in the context of Romans 8.

ADAM AS A SON OF GOD

Luke’s genealogy of our Lord begins with Joseph,185 and it ends with Adam. The final words of the genealogy read: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Adam was “the son of God” we are told. He was the son of God in that He was the creation of God. God was, so to speak, Adam’s Father. Adam was created in the image of God and as such was commissioned to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28). By his sin, Adam rebelled against the authority of God. He could never rule over God’s creation as a reflection of His image. There would have to be another “son of God.”

THE ISRAELITES AS SONS OF GOD

Adam and Eve lost the right to rule, but they were given the promise of deliverance through a son (Genesis 3:15). With the passage of time, it became evident that God was raising up another son—the nation Israel. At the exodus, this “son” was begotten:

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.”’” (Exodus 4:22-23).

This nation, this “son,” was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Speaking of Israel’s exodus, the prophet Hosea wrote: “Out of Egypt I have called My son” (Hosea 11:1).

Paul recognized this “sonship” of Israel, and so he wrote: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons …” (Romans 9:3-4a).

The Jews had a strong sense of their sonship, but in a distorted way:

“You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God” (John 8:41).

Like Adam, the nation Israel failed to rule as God had commanded. They rebelled against God, over and over. And so God removed their right to rule. Though they claimed to be sons, they did not act like sons. There would have to be some other “son of God.”

ISRAEL’S KINGS AS SONS OF GOD

God gave Israel a king as they requested. He gave them Saul (see 1 Samuel 8). After Saul was removed and replaced by David, the man after God’s heart, God made a covenant with David known as the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant God promised David,

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16.)

The words of verse 14, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me,” are very significant. The relationship between God and His appointed king was described as a father/son relationship. When the descendant of David was coronated, it was with the words, “Thou art My son” (see Psalm 2:7).

A king from the line of David was to be the “son of God” through whom God’s rule was to be established over the whole creation. This “son” was not to be David nor would it be Solomon. Both David and Solomon sinned, as did all of their sons who reigned on the throne of David. If there was to be a “son of God,” it would be a very special “son of God” indeed. As the Old Testament revelation continued to unfold, it became evident that this “king” who was to be God’s “son” would be a very special person. He was described as being both divine (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5) and human (“son of man,” see Daniel 7:13-14 and also Psalm 2:7-9). Whoever this “son of God” was to be, he would be a very special and unique person. And so He was.

JESUS AS THE SON OF GOD

Adam failed as a “son of God,” as did Israel and all the kings from David on. All hopes for God’s rule on the earth focused upon the coming Messiah, the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; see also Galatians 3:16), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Psalm 2:7). The “Son of God” was not to be Israel, as a nation, but Jesus of Nazareth. And so, when Jesus was brought from Egypt to Israel by His parents, Matthew cited this text from Hosea as being fulfilled by the return of our Lord from Egypt: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15, citing Hosea 11:1).

Jesus was the “Son” for whom every true believer had been waiting. It is little wonder that at His baptism the Father would speak these words: “This is My beloved Son …” (Matthew 3:17).

It is also little wonder that the temptation of our Lord resembled the testing of Israel in the wilderness or that our Lord’s responses to Satan’s solicitations should come from the Book of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Satan’s great effort in the temptation of our Lord was to divert Him from His role as the Son of God.

When Peter made his great confession, it was the confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Son of God: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

At His transfiguration, God the Father again identified Jesus as His beloved Son (Matthew 17:5). The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was unique in His identity and role as the “Son of God” through whom salvation would be accomplished and who would subdue the earth and rule over all creation.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM, AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.” And of the angels He says, “WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE.” But of the Son He says, “THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. THOU HAST LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, THY GOD, HATH ANOINTED THEE WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE THY COMPANIONS” (Hebrews 1:1-9).

ALL CHRISTIANS ARE SONS OF GOD

Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” through whom all of God’s promised blessings are fulfilled. All who are justified by faith are joined with Him in an inseparable union (see Romans 6:3-11). By faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah, men may become sons of God:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

John answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Sonship, therefore comes to all of those who have a new birth, through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is to this sonship that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian, bears testimony:

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16).

We are God’s children, sons of God, by faith in the Son of God.

THE SONSHIP WE AWAIT

Our sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verse 17, this future dimension is introduced and is the subject of Paul’s teaching in verses 18-30. While we enter into sonship by birth—the new birth—our entrance into the future blessings of sonship comes by adoption.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:19, 23).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the “Son of God,” but His return to the earth to subdue His enemies and to rule over all creation is yet future. Our part as sons of God is future as well. Paul speaks of this future hope in Romans 8:18-25. As Paul explains in Galatians 4:1-7, there is a time when a son is kept under guardians and managers until the time comes for him to be put in authority. This process Paul refers to as adoption. When Christ returns to the earth to rule over it, we will receive our full adoption as sons and rule with Him. It is for this future dimension of sonship that we wait in hope. Our present sonship is a marvelous blessing and privilege, but there is much more to come. The blessings of our future sonship show our present sufferings in identification with Christ to be a small thing in the light of the glory yet to come.

SONSHIP AND OUR OBLIGATION TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT

With this survey of what it means to be a son of God, we return to our exposition of the text. Paul begins in verse 12 to make application of his teaching by speaking to the Christian concerning his obligations. The Christian is not obligated to the flesh, but he is obligated to the Spirit. In verse 13, Paul gives the first reason for our obligation to the Spirit but not the flesh: living according to the flesh leads to death; living according to the Spirit leads to death for the deeds of the flesh, but life for us.

Verses 14-17 continue the contrast between these two ways of walking. How different they are. Walking according to the Spirit is described in verse 14 in terms of being led by the Spirit. How different this is from the way of walking in the flesh. Walking according to the flesh is slavery, and its motivation is fear (verse 15). Walking according to the Spirit is not serving a slave master but obeying our Father as He leads us by His Spirit. It is not a matter of slavery but of obedience, rooted in a deep sense of love, gratitude, and thus, obligation.

How different are these two ways of walking. When we walk according to the flesh, we serve as slaves motivated by fear. We are overpowered and overrun by it. When we walk according to the Spirit, we are led. We serve our Father out of a deep sense of obligation, not fear. We owe the flesh nothing. We owe our Father everything.

As we leave Paul’s words of application in verses 12-17, let me point out that the very spirit in which Paul applies his teaching is consistent with his teaching. The Christian’s walk according to the Spirit is a walk of obedience, based upon our obligation to God, based upon His goodness and grace to us. There are no harsh words, no dictatorial commands. Paul is not a sergeant here addressing new recruits but a brother reminding us of the goodness of our Father. God’s Spirit is a gift from the Father to every Christian. He reminds us that we are sons. He leads us and empowers us so that we may act like sons to the glory of the Father.

Sonship is a glorious position with great privileges. Sonship does not come without suffering however. If we are to identify with our Lord in His future manifestation as the Son of God, we must now identify with Him in His rejection and suffering. It is this dimension of sonship to which Paul turns in verse 17. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our struggles Paul will explain in verses 18-27, matters which we will consider in our next lesson.

Conclusion

I must ask you: Are you a son of God? Have you become His child by faith in the Son of God? If not, why not become His son now? All you must do is acknowledge your sin, your desperate need for the forgiveness of your sins and your need for the righteousness which God requires for eternal life. That forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment of God. That righteousness is found in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness God will impute to you on the basis of faith alone, apart from any works you might do, apart from any merit of your own. To receive God’s gift of salvation in His Son is to become a son of God.

If you are a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ, this passage is foundational to your Christian life. Let me conclude by summarizing some of the major truths Paul teaches in this text and suggest some ways these truths apply to us as Christians.

(1) The Christian life is possible because our sins have been forgiven, our guilt has been removed, and God’s Spirit has been given. What was impossible for us to do as unbelievers, and even impossible for us as Christians in our own strength, is possible through the enablement of the Holy Spirit of God.

(2) The Christian life is impossible in the power of the flesh; it is possible only in the strength of the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever can only live according to the flesh by which he is enslaved. The Christian has a choice. The Christian can live in the realm of the flesh or in the realm of the Spirit. He will live in one of these two worlds. He will walk in accordance with one of these two ways—the way of the flesh or the way of the Spirit.

(3) From the Christian point of view, there is no good reason to walk according to the flesh and every reason to walk according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The one who walks according to the flesh must die. To walk in the Spirit is life and leads to life. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured that God is your Father, and the Spirit is your guide and your strength. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured of your present sonship and an even greater sonship in the future. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit, but there is no obligation to walk according to the flesh.

(4) There is no middle ground between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. We are either walking according to the Spirit, or we are walking according to the flesh. Many Christians seem to think there is some neutral ground. Jesus said it long ago: there are but two masters; we will either serve the one or the other (Matthew 6:24). We will love one and hate the other. We will live to the one and seek to put to death the other.

(5) The flesh and the Spirit share nothing in common. They are incompatible. Indeed, they are mortal enemies (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17). Why is it then that one of the key words in the Christian world today is integration? For example, many are trying to integrate psychology and theology. Why? Is there something necessary to living righteously which God has omitted either in His Word or in His provisions for us? Peter does not think so (2 Peter 1:3-4). Neither does Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

(6) The distinction between the Spirit and the flesh is fundamental and foundational in the Scriptures because it provides us with a biblical basis for separation. All too often we make distinctions but the wrong ones! For example, we distinguish between that which is “secular” and that which is “spiritual.” Herein lies the false assumption that those in “full-time ministry” are working at that which is spiritual while those with “merely secular” jobs are involved in that which is not spiritual. Falsely we assume that certain activities (like prayer, worship, and Bible study) are spiritual, but others (like washing dishes, changing diapers or the oil in the car) are not.

 

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 says this is wrong. Consider this principle: IT IS NOT WHAT WE DO THAT MAKES SOMETHING SPIRITUAL OR FLESHLY, BUT HOW AND WHY WE DO IT.

Whether we work at preaching, painting houses, or washing dishes the issue is whether we are doing it by means of God’s Spirit or by means of the flesh.

Some of the activities which appear most spiritual are those which can be, and often are, done in the flesh. For example, prayer can be accomplished in the flesh, or in the Spirit:

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).

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We are all in this together!

Ever since I was 15, I have been fascinated with bodybuilding. Professional bodybuilders are interesting creatures. They are incredibly disciplined and will do anything, legal or illegal, to win a bodybuilding competition. Due to the competitive nature of bodybuilding, in order to win a competition one cannot have any weak body parts. For example, if your calves will not bulge like diamonds in the rough you will never be able to be a competitive bodybuilder. If your lats will not flare like a king cobra you will not progress. If your biceps will not grow a peak like the Himalayas you might as well hang it up. For all of their peculiarities, bodybuilders understand the value and significance of every single part of the body. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. Every single body part must develop and function at its absolute best.

Did you know that God is also interested in bodybuilding? He is…although His idea of bodybuilding is of a different nature. God wants to build every muscle in His church. He doesn’t want there to be any superior or inferior body parts. He wants everyone and everything to be symmetrical. There can be no undeveloped or lagging parts. God expects every part of the body to grow and do its work.

In our passage, Paul is going to discuss the importance of church teamwork. This is expected because the Old and New Testaments have a corporate emphasis. This is not to depreciate the fact that people become Christians on an individual basis, but that once one is a Christian the focus is always on the health, unity, and well-being of the whole. In 1 Cor 12:12-31, Paul will inform us that everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

  1. Appreciate the solidarity of the body(12:12-13). These first two verses give the theological basis for the body imagery that is developed in the rest of this passage. Paul states that every part of the body is essential because every believer is a member of the church. In 12:12, he writes, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” This verse is a tongue twister and can be a little confusing. It can help to change the word “member” to “organ,” like the organs of the body. The term “body” is introduced in 12:12 and then repeatedly employed by Paul 18 times throughout the remainder of the chapter. The word “one” occurs five times in 12:12-13. Hence, the emphasis is on unity and oneness. Our body of many members is unified in one body. Paul is so intent on driving home this point of our oneness in the church that he refers to Christ as the church. This is one of the places in Scripture where all believers collectively are called “Christ.” Paul had received an inkling of this truth on the road to Damascus when he fell to the earth and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) He had been persecuting Christians, not realizing that in so doing he was persecuting Christ. Saul, who later became Paul, would one day learn that every believer is a member of Christ’s body. Likewise, you and I are members of the body of Christ…and we are one body.

 

In 12:13, Paul explains the reason for the oneness of the church: we have all been placed into the body of Christ. Paul puts it like this: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul argues that every Christian has experienced Spirit baptism. Notice the word “all” as well as the past tense, “were baptized.” Every believer shares in this experience. It occurs the moment we trust in Jesus Christ. In Spirit baptism the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ. He makes us a part of His church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit means if you belong to Jesus Christ, you belong to everyone else who belongs to Jesus Christ. This means the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a matter of having a certain level of spiritual maturity, achieving some advanced spiritual state, or receiving a “second blessing.” On the contrary, every believer experiences Spirit baptism regardless of his or her race or social status. We are now on equal footing in the sense that we are all members of the body of Christ.

The phrase “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” is confusing because biblically it refers to one trusting Christ as Savior, but it is used today of an empowering, yielding, post-conversion experience in the lives of believers. I do not deny the reality of this subsequent experience, but I prefer the description “Lordship experience.” We might also speak of deeper fillings of the Holy Spirit.

The figure of drinking of one Spirit recalls John 7:37-39 where Jesus invited the thirsty to come and drink of Him to find refreshment. Baptism and drinking are both initiation experiences and take place at the moment we believe in Christ. In the first figure the Spirit places the believer into Christ, and in the second the Spirit comes into the Christian.

 

Now, having been introduced to this important analogy between the human body and the body of Christ, I would say there are two key problems that constantly plague the church and prevent us from enjoying unity in diversity. Those two tendencies are what we might simply call an inferiority complex and a superiority complex, or self-pity and pride. When certain Christians think they just don’t have anything to offer and therefore fail to participate in the life of the church, the body cannot be complete. On the other hand, when some think of themselves as God’s gift to the church and don’t allow others to contribute their gifts, again the body cannot function well. If this passage teaches anything, it teaches us that both inferiority feelings and superiority feelings are out of bounds in Christ’s church. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

  1. Do not underestimate your importance to the body of Christ(12:14-20). In these verses, Paul, in a somewhat humorous vein, attempts to get his point across that every member of the body has a different role to play, but that all of these parts are needed in order for the body to function as a unit. He personifies two different body parts—the foot and the ear—to say, “Because I am not the hand/eye, I am not of the body.” In this section, certain members have an inferiority complex. In 12:14, Paul writes, “For the body is not one member, but many.” Paul is making a simple statement of fact that every part of the body, every organ, is valuable. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

In 12:15-16, Paul writes, “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.” The phrase “I am not a part of the body” occurs in both 12:15 and 12:16. This is an indication of a feeling of insignificance: “No one thinks that I am important or significant. I have little to contribute to this ministry. I don’t really matter to this church.” The foot is jealous of the hand because he is covetous of the hand’s prominence. The hand is in the public and in the limelight, but the foot is in confinement inside a shoe. We rarely permit our feet to go out in public. We manicure hands and put ointment on them. We make hands beautiful by putting rings on them. We put jewelry on the hand but rarely on the foot. Hands take a scalpel and do delicate operations. They play the piano or violin. No wonder the foot feels inferior! During a church vote, no one in a meeting says, “Raise your foot” it’s always “Raise your hand!” The foot thinks, “The hand has so much dexterity, it can pick up things so easily.” The foot has an inferiority complex because the hand is out in the limelight!

 

Yet, the body would be in bad shape without a foot. Did you know that you use more than 200 different muscles to walk? If your feet and their muscles are not working well you aren’t going very far. Furthermore, if you dislocate a tiny bone in your foot your whole body is miserable. Feet are awfully important. So why should the foot say, “I don’t count; I’m not important; no one ever notices me; no one cares about what I do. If I do anything, no one sees me or cares about me. I don’t belong. I might as well give up.” No, God rewards the foot based on being a foot. If you have been gifted as a foot it’s easy to look at those gifted as hands and think how skilled, how capable they are, and that you’re not important at all. However, all God expects is that you do what you can with what you have. Remember that each part of the body is important. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

 

Similarly, the ear feels inferior to the eye. The eye is out front whereas the ear is on the side. No one ever talks about the ears. Lovers do look into each other’s eyes; they do not look into each other’s ears! The only one who looks in our ears is our mother and all she ever says is, “Wash those dirty ears!” They say wonderful things about the eye. Eyes come in color. Poets write poems about the eye but never about the ear. There is nothing very impressive, appearance-wise, about ears. Has anyone ever approached you and said, “You have incredibly attractive ears?” I seriously doubt it. Yet, your ears are critical.

 

Unfortunately, some at Corinth who lacked the more spectacular gifts of others were discouraged and began to ask whether they had any place or function in the church. So Paul moves from the sublime to the ridiculous by envisioning an absurd scenario. In 12:17, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Try to picture being an “eye-body”—one massive six-foot eye! How gross it would be if the whole body was an eye. How useless and unattractive. You couldn’t hug or kiss. You wouldn’t have anything to kiss with, unless you “batted each other” when you got up close. You would get hurt all the time as you rolled around the house. We would see everything but hear nothing. Think of trying to drive a car or getting into bed. It isn’t so wonderful being an eye. The same could be true if the whole body was an ear. The body depends on union of all the members to function, so it is utterly ridiculous for the body to consist of one member. If all the church had was the pastor/teacher, how impoverished would that church be? A body with just an eye would not be able to hear. A body with just an ear would not be able to smell. We must always recognize that any public ministry is built on a private ministry. My teaching is only as powerful as our praying. The worship is only as fruitful as our nursery. The point is that we need each gift for the body of Christ to function.

 

In 12:18-20, Paul emphasizes that God sovereignly places the gifts in the church that He desires. Paul writes, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.” Paul makes it clear that God is the one that has gifted every church the way He wants her gifted. Notice that God “placed the members…just as He desired.” The church is all about the sovereignty of God. We are one because of God’s work. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

[Beginning at 12:21, we have a transition from those who feel inferior in their gifts to those who feel superior. In this section, we see members who suffer from a superiority complex.]

 

  1. Do not overestimate your importance to the body of Christ(12:21-26). Paul explains that we need to squash spiritual pride because we all need each other. He writes, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” With this statement, Paul seems to be getting closer to the difficult issue being faced in Corinth. As we have seen on several occasions in this letter, pride was indeed a problem among the Corinthians. Paul needs to get across that all of the members in Corinth need each other, and no one is dispensable.

 

In 12:22-25, Paul continues his rebuke: “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less presentable are all critically important. Paul rejected the Corinthians criteria for evaluating which gifts were most honorable. They had chosen the most visible or audible gifts for selfish reasons. The sole purpose of the gifts was to build up the body of Christ; the true criterion for the greatness of any gift would be its usefulness to the body of Christ.

How does this apply to the church? Every church has people who are out in the forefront and love the public spotlight. But what is really essential to the ongoing life of the church is the people behind the scenes—those who serve faithfully and quietly (and often are the ones who make the leaders look good).

We tend to forget that many of the strengths we so admire in one person are often incompatible with the strengths we admire in another. The grace of a figure skater is useless to a Sumo wrestler. The diligent research and study of my favorite theologian doesn’t leave much time for the globetrotting compassion of my favorite missionary.

In 12:26, Paul pens one of the most powerful verses in the Scriptures: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” If you’ve ever been sick with a cold or the flu you know that a simple cold, cough, or sore throat can affect your entire body. Last year, I had the flu twice. I was so sick that I was scared I was going to die and then when I didn’t, I wished I had. This little bug didn’t just affect my stomach, it affected my whole body. I ached from the tip of my head to the bottom of my feet. I experienced chills. I ran a fever. I was in flat-out agony. When one part of your body suffers, the whole body is brought down.

 

Paul took the theme of mutual care one step further. As members of the same body we are so closely bound together that we actually share the same feelings. What causes joy for one member delights the whole body. When one member suffers the entire body hurts. Most of us do a better job empathizing with those who suffer than we do rejoicing with those who are honored. If we could ever come to the conviction that we are truly family, it would change many of our attitudes about ourselves and others in the church. I know that I receive greater joy in seeing my children achieve than in my own achievements. If we are family, why is it so difficult to see another member of our own body receive honor? Our measure for evaluating our gifted self-images is not another body member, but our faithfulness in employing our unique gift for the good of the family itself. We must desperately yearn for the success of others.

[Now that we have done away with spiritual inferiority and superiority complexes, we are ready to…]

  1. Celebrate the diversity of the body(12:27-31). Paul takes the analogy of the physical body and applies it practically in terms of gifting and how ministry is to be expressed. In 12:27-28, Paul writes, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” Paul lists eight kinds of members with special functions. The ranking of the first three items corresponds to their building up the local church. We will briefly discuss these definitions.

Apostles: As a spiritual gift, this is the ability to begin and/or to oversee new churches and Christian ministries with a spontaneously recognized authority.

Prophets: The ability to receive and proclaim a message from God. This could involve the foretelling of future events, though its primary purpose as seen in 1 Cor 14:3 is forthtelling: “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” This gift provides a word from God to a specific group, not the normative Word of God to all believers.

Teachers: The ability to clearly explain and effectively apply the truths of God’s Word so that others will learn. This requires the capacity to accurately interpret Scripture, engage in necessary research, and organize the results in a way that is easily communicated.

Miracles: The ability to serve as an instrument through whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power. Miracles bear witness to the presence of God and the truth of His proclaimed Word, and appear to occur most frequently in association with missionary activity.

Gifts of healings: The ability to serve as a human instrument through whom God supernaturally cures illnesses and restores health. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal. Inner healing, or healing of memories is sometimes associated as another manifestation of this gift.

Gifts of helps: The ability to enhance the effectiveness of the ministry of other members of the body. This is the only usage of this word in the New Testament, and it appears to be distinct from the gift of service. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.

Gifts of administrations: This word, like helps, appears only one time in the New Testament, and it is used outside of Scripture of a helmsman who steers a ship to its destination. This suggests that the spiritual gift of administration is the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration.

Various kinds of tongues: The ability to receive and impart a spiritual message in a language the recipient never learned.

 

Why does Paul include two lists in a single chapter? The two lists are critical to Paul’s broadened understanding of spiritual gifts. The first list enumerated only the prized gifts of the Corinthians, the miraculous ones. In the second list, Paul literally pulled the top and the bottom out of the first list and expanded the accepted definitions of spiritual gifts. He added leadership abilities and service abilities. God’s expectation is that every Christian will serve in the local church. Yet, someone may say, “I am an inactive Christian.” There is no such thing. That is like saying, “I am an honest thief” or “I am a godly prostitute.” An inactive Christian is a paradox in terms. No Christian is without a special, supernatural gift from God. Inactive Christians are about as good as a bump on a pickle. There is no such animal as an inactive Christian biblically.

 

Paul prepares to close out this passage with a third list of gifts in a descending order of priority. Each of Paul’s seven questions expects a negative answer. Paul writes, “All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” Paul’s point is that it would be ridiculous for everyone to have the same gift. Variety is essential. It is wrong to equate one gift, particularly speaking in tongues, with spirituality. All of the believers in the Corinthian church had been baptized by the Spirit (12:13), but not all of them spoke in tongues (12:30). Thus, Paul deals a deathblow to the theory that speaking in tongues is the sign of the possession of the Spirit, for the answer “No” is expected to each question.

 

Paul’s final words are found in 12:31: “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” The command to “earnestly desire the best gifts” is not addressed to the individual but to the collective church. The implied “you” is second person plural in the Greek. We cannot select our gifts because that is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. However, as a congregation we can “earnestly desire” that the “best gifts” (superlative gifts) be manifested among us. The “best gifts” are those that benefit the general body of Christ. In chapter 14 Paul lists “prophecy” as a greater gift.

 

Paul advised the Corinthians to seek some gifts more than others because some are more significant in the functioning of the body than others. While the bestowal of gifts is the sovereign prerogative of the Spirit (12:8-11, 18), human desire plays a part in His bestowal (cf. James 4:2). This seems to indicate that the Spirit does not give all His gifts to us at the moment of our salvation. I see nothing in Scripture that prohibits our viewing the abilities God gives us at birth as part of His spiritual gifts. Likewise, a believer can receive a gift or an opportunity for service or the Spirit’s blessing on his ministry years after his conversion. Everything we have or ever will have is a gift from God.

 

My three children like certain types of food. If I am scooping them a bowl of ice cream or cutting them a piece of cake, they always ask for more before they have even begun to consume what I have served. My response is always the same: “Before I give you more, you need to eat what you have.” In the same way, before we can expect God to give us more gifts or use us more fully, we must serve with what we have.

I want you to imagine a large puzzle, say, one with about 500 pieces that we are going to attempt to put together. As with every challenging jigsaw puzzle, each piece is different in shape and often in color. Furthermore, every piece is needed in order to finish the puzzle, and there are no extra pieces. If we weren’t certain of that we wouldn’t even start the puzzle. Who needs that level of frustration? Each piece, of course, fits in only one place. If we try to force it into a place where it doesn’t fit, the corners get bent and then another piece is prevented from taking its rightful spot.

Our church is very much like this jigsaw puzzle. There are over 2000 individuals who call Mobberly their church home. Each one has unique talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Furthermore, every one of them is vital to the big picture, to the proper functioning of this church—there are no spares or extras. If one person tries to do something that someone else is better suited to do, we end up with two people out of place. This means we all need to discover our spiritual gift and serve in the most fruitful way possible. Everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

Unwrap your gift and use it!

I want you to stop for just a moment and think back on all of your Christmas celebrations. When you were growing up, can you recall a Christmas where you really wanted a particular gift? In your childish ways you didn’t just request this gift, you nearly demanded it. You felt like your life would not be complete if you didn’t receive this gift. You wanted this gift so badly that you could taste it.

Imagine that instead of opening THAT gift with exuberance and gratitude you opened the package, yawned, said “ho-hum,” and casually laid the gift aside without expressing any gratitude. How do you think the gift givers would have felt? They would have been devastated after spending time and money locating this gift for you. If it was from your parents, they were excited to bless you with this gift and watch you put it to use.

Now imagine how the Lord must feel when He gives gifts to His children and they never make the effort to find out what the gifts are, never thank Him, and never put them to use. It must be incredibly disappointing to the Lord to see so many of the gifts that He has given shelved away and never used or shared with others.

Today, I’d like to see us put an end to this common phenomenon. In 1 Cor 12:1-11, Paul is going to tell you to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others. This passage addresses the topic of spiritual gifts that runs all the way through chapter 14. In these verses, Paul expresses two realities to you and me to encourage us to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others. Like a wide-eyed child in pajamas on Christmas morning, let’s begin to unwrap these verses on spiritual gifts.

  1. Jesus is the validation of spirituality(12:1-3). Before Paul launches into his discussion on spiritual gifts, he wants to focus first on the common work of the Spirit in each one of our lives. In 12:1, Paul lays down a basic introduction to the paragraph and indeed the next three chapters. Paul indicates his concern that the Corinthians not be ignorant of certain truths about the things of the Spirit. Paul writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.” The phrase, “Now concerning,” reminds us that Paul is responding to another question from the Corinthians. It is worth noting that the word “gifts” is in italics, meaning that it is not in the original text. Thus, the noun “spiritual” (pneumatikos) can be rendered “spiritual gifts,” “spiritual persons,” or “spiritual things.” It is likely that “gifts” and “persons” were so closely connected in the Corinthians’ minds that Paul used the word “spiritual” to imply both. Perhaps the question could be restated as follows: “Don’t the spiritual gifts prove that we are spiritual persons?”

Remember, the Corinthians were the most gifted church in the Scriptures while at the same time the most carnal church in the Scriptures. They were a church of divisions, immorality, and distortion in doctrine. This serves to remind us that a great spiritual gift is no indication of spirituality. It is possible to be gifted and not spiritual. In this case, the Corinthians were getting high on their spiritual giftedness instead of recognizing the source of the gift—Jesus Christ. As a result, Paul informs the Corinthians that he does not want them to be “unaware” or “ignorant.”

As we progress throughout chapters 12-14, we shall see that the Corinthians are emphasizing the gift of tongues above everything else. Therefore, Paul has to bring about order in the church and remind the Corinthians that all of God’s people have gifts and all are equally valuable to the health and vitality of the church.

In 12:2-3, Paul discusses three different responses to Christ: the rejection of the pagan, the rejection of the Jew, and the faith of the Christian. Paul is clarifying who possesses the Spirit and who does not. In 12:2, Paul reminds the Corinthians of their idolatry during their pre-Christian lives. He writes, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.” Many of the Corinthian believers had been pagans. These Gentiles worshipped various idols that could not speak or help. A second response is the rejection of the Jews. In 12:3a, Paul writes, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’” Here, Paul speaks of the typical response of the Jews. Not all of the Corinthians were Gentiles before believing in Christ…some were Jews who did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. The final response is found in 12:3b, where Paul writes, “…and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” To say that Jesus is “Lord” is to say that He is God. In the context of the Jewish world and the OT, this confession essentially affirmed that Jesus was God. This was a counter-cultural assertion. A citizen of the Roman Empire was required to declare, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians who believed that Jesus was the only Lord couldn’t say this. It was really a challenge to faith. Thus, Paul’s point is this: No one can say that Jesus is Lord except through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural act.

Why does Paul bring up these three responses to Christ? He does so to refute the claims of those Corinthians who assume that they alone possessed the Spirit. Paul wants all of his readers to understand that salvation is the greater leveler. Every member of the Corinthian church who has trusted in Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is incredibly valuable to God. This is also true in our church today. If you have believed in Christ, it is because God did a supernatural work in your life.

[Paul is clear: Jesus is the validation of spirituality. Now in 12:4-11, Paul is going to explain another reality.]

  1. Variety is the spice of church(12:4-11). In this section, there are three emphases: the source of our gifts, the goal of our gifts, and the distribution of our gifts. First, in 12:4-6, we will see the source of our gifts from the triune God. Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” Paul tells the Corinthians that there’s not a single gift or even a one-size-fits-all box of gifts that believers are given. In these three verses, Paul uses the word translated “varieties” three times because God loves variety. Every snowflake, every set of fingerprints, every leaf on every tree, and every grain of sand is different from every other. God never makes an exact replica. Instead, God says we are wonderfully different from one another. And He encourages diversity in His church by gifting each one of us uniquely for ministry. Yet, in spite of this variety believers are united by the same God. Each member of the Trinity (the Tri-Unity of God) has a role in spiritual gifts: the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts, the Lord Jesus places people in ministry, and God the Father empowers people to do ministry. In light of these biblical truths, there are three responses.
  1. First, you must discover what spiritual gift the Holy Spirit has given you(12:4). The Greek word for “gift” is charisma, from which we get our English words charisma and charismatic. The charispart of the word means “grace.” The ma portion of the word is the passive suffix meaning that it is grace given. They are “grace gifts” that enable a person to glorify and serve God. The one who exercises his or her gifts could rightly be called charismatic. (So charismatic is not a name for just a few of the gifts.) These grace gifts are not earned; they are not the result of hard work; they are not even ones we choose for ourselves. And they may, or may not, be related to our natural skill set. Remember, God has not gifted you to do what you want to do; He has gifted
  2. you to do what He wants you to do. The grace gift(s) that God has chosen in His sovereignty to grant you are expressions of His love. In the exercise of your spiritual gift from God you will find fulfillment

That’s why the question, “What is my spiritual gift?” is so important. Unless you know the answer, you’ll never be 100% effective in your service for Jesus Christ. You may spend your life doing something for which you were not gifted by God and so be frustrated and ineffective. It’s sort of like taking one of those big offensive linemen and putting him out at wide receiver. He can’t run and his hands are like bricks. But put him at left guard and he’s right at home, because he was born to knock other men on their backside. In the same way, some people throw up when they are forced to go door-to-door witnessing. They aren’t gifted in evangelism. But put those same people over the finances and because they have the gift of administration, they are incredibly successful. There are others who could never get up and teach a class, but they know how to lead a small group because they have the gift of pastoring. Still others work behind the scenes caring for the sick, bringing over meals, comforting those in sorrow. They have the gift of mercy, but don’t ask them to speak in public. The very thought makes them break out in hives.

So take the time to discover your spiritual gift. Begin today by carrying out these four steps:

  1. Pray specifically for God to reveal your gift.
  2. Ask mature Christians who know you what strengths they see in you.
  3. Look for open doors of opportunities to try different areas.
  4. Follow the desires of your heart.

I challenge you today to unwrap your gift and use it to serve others.

  1. Second, you must plug into ministry (12:5). Jesus died to give you the gift (charisma) of eternal life, but He also died so that you could serve Him with your spiritual gift (charisma). When you and I fail to do so, we fail to carry out one of the purposes in His death. God has given you a spiritual gift to benefit others around you. That is why it is a tragedy if you don’t know what your spiritual gift is, if you’re not in the process of finding out what it is, or if you’re not using your gift for the body. That means the body of Christ is not benefiting from your supernatural endowment. God wants to know, “Who is benefiting from the gift that I gave you?”

Now I need to state that the discovery of spiritual gifts flows out of service. Whenever you see God gift His people, it’s because He has given them a task to perform, not vice versa. The problem is that we have a generation of Christians who sit, soak, and sour every week waiting for God to reveal their gifts to them before they get busy serving. These people will never discover their gifts. Instead of “gift-hunting” these folks need to be “Spirit-hunting.”

What is more important than serving in the area of your spiritual gift? The answer is simple: exhibiting a servant’s heart. This means showcasing initiative and reliability. My wife is the ultimate servant. She rarely if ever asks me to do anything. She serves me like I am a king. But once a year or so, she asks me to do something for her. Of course, I am glad to do so. But what I really love is to do something for her when she doesn’t ask me to do anything. It could be a simple task like make dinner, fold the laundry, vacuum the house, or make a child’s bed. There is great joy in serving when you are not asked.

It is also worth pointing out that one of the greatest pleasures in this life is serving others. Research indicates that serving has an overwhelmingly positive impact on one’s spiritual growth. Furthermore, church members state that serving others has brought them as much or more joy than other spiritual disciplines. I would also add to this research my own conclusion that the only people who are ever fulfilled or content in a local church are those that are actively serving. I rarely, if ever, receive complaints or whining from those on the front lines of ministry. Hence, one great reason to serve is to live a fulfilled life.

  1. Third, you must depend upon God for the results (12:6). The Father Himself is responsible for the variety of effects. Literally, the word is “energizings.” That means, logically, that we are not responsible. It takes a great weight off of us when we are trying to serve the Lord in ministry. What we are called to is faithfulness in exercising our gifts in the places where Christ directs us. Then God takes full responsibility for the eternal impact.

Is it possible for someone to walk in the Spirit without exercising his or her gift? Absolutely not. The Holy Spirit will reveal Himself in a special way through you, through the exercise of your gift. To refuse to use your gift is to say “No” to the Holy Spirit and to deprive His church of blessing. Many of us have underestimated the consequences of refusing to serve in our personal lives. God disciplines His children for a lack of participation. Therefore, unwrap your gift and use it to serve others.

Now that Paul has described the source of our spiritual gifts, he gives the purpose of spiritual gifts. In 12:7, he writes, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” This is the key verse in this section. Paul again reminds us that we have been given a spiritual gift for the benefit of others. Unfortunately, too many Christians are like young children with their Christmas gifts. They have their stash, and they do not want their brothers or sisters to touch their gifts. The parents have to spend part of Christmas playing referee because of the children’s unwillingness to share a gift. In most cases, those children added nothing to the purchase of their gifts. They made no contribution to what was under that Christmas tree, yet they hoard their gifts as if they personally bought and paid for them.

Is your church stronger because of you? Nutritionists speak of “empty calories.” In order for these calories to be processed the body must use some of its nutritional resources, yet empty calories do little or nothing to nourish the body in return. Calories from other types of food, however, that only take from the body’s strength as they are metabolized, replenish it.

Do you receive more ministry from the church than you minister to it? I wonder what needs, long-term or temporary, God is going to meet by placing you here at Mobberly? Have you asked yourself that question? God intends for every member of the church body to be served by it, and there are times when even the most spiritually mature members will receive more ministry than they give. Nevertheless, the goal for each of us should be to serve in the church in such a way that it is stronger because we are there.

Everyone who really wants to can do something to strengthen the work of the church. I’ve visited many homebound or nursing home Christians who maintained a ministry even though they could never attend the church. They prayed faithfully, some even as a part of the church’s prayer ministry. Some have a ministry of encouragement through cards or calls; still others are determined to be an encourager to all who visit them. Some of our seniors tirelessly volunteer at our church. They are not retired, they are “refired” to serve the Lord. Regardless of your limitations of time, strength, or money, your church should be stronger because of you.

Are you a consistent worker or a convenience worker? Too many people have decided that they will serve in the church only occasionally and when it’s convenient. They are convenience workers rather than consistent workers. The church needs servants: people who will make long-term commitments and be dependable. The classic example is a Sunday school or Bible study teacher. She or he prepares faithfully every week and serves God in His church, loyally and steadfastly. Of course many other ministries require the same regular commitment. No church can be effective without people like this. However, there is a lack of commitment in the church. Fewer people want to commit to an ongoing ministry. More and more leaders hear, “I’ll help out when I can,” and “Call on me when you really need me.” Yet the truth is most of us want the benefits of the nursery, the benefits of teaching, and the benefits of children’s ministry without being involved.

The late Bud Wilkinson served as the chairman of the President’s Council for physical fitness during the Johnson administration. Someone once asked Wilkinson what role professional football had played in America’s physical fitness. Wilkinson responded with these words, “Absolutely none. In football you have 22 players on the field desperately in need of rest being cheered on by 50,000 spectators in the stands desperately in need of exercise!” Unfortunately, that is true in many local churches. The members see the pastoral staff as the “players” in ministry but view themselves as merely spectators. If the church is doing well, the members cheer. If the church begins to decline, the cheers quickly turn to jeers. That may make for exciting football, but it is a lousy way to run a church. Paul says God’s pattern for the church is that every member be involved in ministry.

In 12:8-10, Paul brings out the idea of the diversity of the gifts as he lists nine of them. When we look at the list as a whole several characteristics emerge: (1) The gifts would have been prominent in the worship service. (2) They are the gifts most frequently referred to by people today as “miraculous.” (3) Many of the gifts are directly related to speech and revelation. (4) It follows that we would find little continuity between these gifts and any abilities possessed before one becomes a Christian. In these verses, it is not Paul’s desire to explain what he means by each and every gift listed. They are simply enumerated to show the diversity involved in the Spirit’s work.

However, I will quickly explain the gifts without bogging down into too much explanation or controversy.

The word of wisdom: God-given insight into the mysterious purposes and workings of God.

The word of knowledge: God-given insight into what God is doing in the world.

Faith: the ability to confidently believe God for changes and spiritual growth that will enhance the purposes of God. A person with this gift is quick to believe God for things they may never see.

Healing: the faith to believe God for healing. Individuals can serve as agents of God’s healing power.

Effecting of miracles: gives a person the ability to call on God to do supernatural acts. The best use of this gift is that of believing God for miracles that will bring glory to Him and cause others to consider God’s will for their lives. This gift can refer to miraculous healings but also to the casting out of demons and other “signs and wonders.”

Prophecy: a declaration of God’s will to God’s people. Prophecy is for edification and encouragement and does not necessarily exclude teaching and doctrine (14:3, 31).

Distinguishing of spirits: the ability to know when truth or error is being spoken and whether a prophet is a true or false one.

Various kinds of tongues: the ability to speak in a Holy Spirit inspired language. It is worth noting that the gift of tongues is last in Paul’s list. This is true whenever Paul mentions tongues in 1 Corinthians. One thing we should acknowledge is that Paul considered “tongues” to be a natural part of worship; however, he did not expect that everyone would have the gift of tongues.

The interpretation of tongues: the ability to interpret tongues.

While you may not have any of these miraculous gifts, stick around until next week and you will learn about some other gifts. But don’t bog down in what your gift is…just serve.

Paul closes our passage in 12:11 with these words: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” This is a great summary of this whole section. It’s also the fifth reference to the Holy Spirit as the giver of gifts. Paul emphasizes once again that every believer is spiritually gifted. These gifts are not for some spiritual elite, but the entire body of Christ. We are all gifted. We are all called by the Lord to minister with the gifts He has supplied.

Each believer, regardless of his or her gifts, ministries, and the manner and extent of God’s blessing, demonstrates the Holy Spirit through his or her life. All three of these things manifest the Spirit’s presence, not just the more spectacular ones in each category. Believers who have spectacular gifts, ministries, or effectiveness are not necessarily more spiritual than Christians who do not. Each believer makes a unique contribution to the common good, not just certain believers.

The story is told of a boy who did his household chores and left his mother this note: “For cleaning my room, $5…For washing the dishes, $3…For raking the leaves, $10…Total: $18. You owe me, Mom.” The mother read the note while the boy was at school and put $18 on the table. With it she left her own note: “For bearing you nine months in the womb, throwing up for three months, no charge. For cooking your breakfast every day, no charge. For washing and ironing your clothes, no charge. For staying up all night when you were sick, no charge. Total: Grace.” When the boy read that note, he ran to his mother and asked, “What more can I do to let you know I am grateful?”

Our salvation cost a lot, but it was no charge to us. In grace, God has given us eternity. In grace, He has given us forgiveness. In grace, He has done more for us than we could ever do for ourselves. One thing you can do to show your gratitude is to pray, “Holy Spirit, as I serve the family of God, show me how You have gifted me. Reveal to me what supernatural enablement You have given me that I can use for the common good of my brothers and sisters in the family of God.” He’ll answer that prayer every time!

Valuing the temple

In 1889 a most unusual structure was built. When it was first built for an international exhibition the citizens of the city called the structure “monstrous.” They demanded it be torn down as soon as the exhibition was over. Yet, from the moment its architect first conceived it, he took pride in it and loyally defended it from those who wished to destroy it. He knew it was destined for greatness. Today it is one of the architectural wonders of the modern world and stands as the primary landmark of Paris, France. The architect was Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower.

In the same way, we ought to be struck by Jesus Christ’s loyalty to another structure—the church. Jesus entrusted His church to an unlikely band of disciples, whom He defended, prayed for, and prepared to spread the gospel. Today Jesus remains loyal to disciples like you and me. Although we make many blunders and are weak and foolish, Jesus, the architect of the church, knows His structure is destined for greatness when He returns.

Do these sentiments sound like pie-in-the-sky optimism? Does this seem a little far-fetched to you? If so, I can understand where you are coming from. But I need to ask you an important question: Have you ever contemplated how much God loves the church? In 1 Cor 3:16-17, Paul is going to inform us that God dwells in the church and values the church like no other entity. God says, “Long live the church!” We must join His chorus and shout, “Long live the church!”

 

  1. We should value the church because God dwells within it(3:16). Our passage begins with the phrase, “Do you not know?” This phrase appears ten times in 1 Corinthians and serves as a common literary device to pose a rhetorical question. It is one of Paul’s favorite expressions and he invariably uses it of something his listeners should know but don’t. Typically, “do you not know” even refers to something Paul has previously personally told the Corinthians. So here is something that ought to have been a matter of common knowledge, but they had either forgotten it or rejected it. (This phrase is the equivalent to our “come now!”) The question Paul asks is, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Corinthians presume to be wise (3:18-23), yet Paul must ask, “Can it be that you who boast in ‘wisdom’ do not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This question is a stinging rebuke that centers on the failure of the Corinthians to recognize who they are. These “wise guys” should have had this down pat, but they did not grasp this elementary truth.

 

In this context Paul is not talking about the individual Christian; instead, he has in mind the local church. Two primary reasons support this. First, the context concerns the local church. The previous section concerns the judgment seat of Christ (3:10-15). It speaks about how God holds us responsible for the quality of workmanship and materials we use to build His church, upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who build on the right foundation with the right materials will receive a reward, but those who build sloppily will suffer loss and find their work burned up at the judgment seat of Christ. The loss will not be the loss of salvation, for 3:15 promises that the person himself shall be saved, but it will be serious, for such a Christian will be saved so as through fire.

 

Not only does the context support the view that Paul is speaking of the local church, the grammar does as well. The word “you” in this verse is plural in Greek. In English the word “you” is ambiguous—one cannot always tell whether it is a singular “you” or a plural “you,” for both are spelled the same. People from the South, of course, have removed that ambiguity. When they mean more than one person they say, “ya’ll.” Well, here in 3:16 Paul uses the Greek word for “ya’ll.” Literally it reads, “Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are a temple (singular) of God and the Spirit of God dwells in ya’ll.” Clearly ya’ll, the passage before us concerns the local church.

Paul states that the local church is a “temple of God.” There are two primary words for temple in the Greek New Testament. One signifies the entire temple, including the outer courtyard, which even Gentiles could enter. But the other word denotes just the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, which could not be entered by Gentiles or sinful Israelites, or anyone, for that matter, except the High Priest, and him only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The word “temple” (naos) used in 3:16-17 is this latter word.

 

Paul is saying that the group of believers at Corinth, who constituted the church in that city, was a sanctuary of God, a holy of holies. This was true not only of the church of Corinth; this is also true for our church and every other church. Imagine that! We are a temple of God. God Himself has called us holy and significant. “Long live the church!”

 

Paul goes further in 3:16 and states that the Holy Spirit “dwells” in the church. This verse is telling us that when believers gather together for corporate worship and fellowship the Holy Spirit is there in a unique way, creating unity, confirming truth, and ministering to needs. The Spirit of God is here right now, not just because I’m here or just because you’re here, but because a believing church is here.

Tragically, many Christians dismiss the importance of the local church. They argue from verses like Matt 18:20 that when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, He is present; therefore, I don’t need to attend church. I can “have church” at home or at work if I am with at least one other believer. The only problem with this proof-text is that this verse is not talking about public worship; instead, it is dealing with church discipline. The two or three witnesses are gathered for the purpose of confronting an erring Christian! This verse is not implying that Christians do not need to attend church. Far from it!

Church attendance and participation is critical. Although your salvation is not dependent upon your church attendance, your Christian maturity is. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to be obedient and fruitful apart from the local church. We need to keep this tension in the forefront of our minds. The following key principles will help you increase your commitment to the local church.

Commit to attend church every Sunday unless you are sick. Unless you make a commitment upfront that you will attend church every single Sunday, you will not. It’s really as simple as that. Your commitment to attend church has to be every bit as strong as your commitment to go to work or feed your children. Without this type of commitment there will always be an excuse to not attend church. Does that mean you cannot go out of town on vacation? Of course not! We all need to get away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. But when you do take a vacation do not take a vacation from the people of God. Instead, when you go out of town on vacation find a church where you and your family can worship. It is helpful for you and your family to see how other Christians worship. It also provides a great source of encouragement to the pastor and the people of the church that you visit. And it teaches your children that church is a serious priority in your life and should be in theirs as well. Moreover, it pleases the heart of God when you include Him in your vacation plans. “Long live the church!”

 

Refuse to speak critically about the church. When you are tempted to say something derogatory about your church or any other church, pause for just a moment and imagine that Jesus Christ is standing next to you. If He was standing next to you, what would you say? If you are like me you would bite your tongue. When another Christian says something critical about your church or another church, how should you respond? We should consider responding the very same way that Jesus Christ would respond—with holy agitation! Jesus died for the church and He doesn’t appreciate it when the church is unduly criticized. Instead of kicking the church we should be crying out, “Long live the church!”

[Paul has just informed us that God dwells in the church. The question that begs to be answered is: Just how serious is God about His church? In 3:17, Paul will open our eyes to some sobering realities.]

  1. We should value the church because God values it(3:17). How much does God value the church? More than we can possibly imagine. The church is so important and of such a high priority that God will go to any lengths necessary to protect and preserve it. This is conveyed to us by means of a threat. Paul writes, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” This is not just a theoretical and hypothetical warning, for the kind of grammar Paul uses here makes it clear that this is a real possibility; in fact, he assumes it is happening right now. Someone is in the process of destroying the temple at Corinth—the body of believers. It is also worth noting that the word translated “any man” (tis) in the NASB is not speaking specifically of the male gender. The term includes all mankind and should be translated “someone” (NET) or “anyone” (ESV, NIV, NKJV). So women, you’re not off the hook. You can’t tune out just yet. You need to recognize that Paul is writing to you as well.

 

Now the natural question is: Who are these temple destroyers? Many scholars believe that these temple destroyers must be unbelievers. The problem with this view is that only Christians are mentioned in the immediate context (3:5-17). Furthermore, there is no indication that Paul has transitioned to speak of unbelievers. The natural interpretation of this verse is that believers are under consideration. This ought to disturb all of us! Paul is saying that it is possible for true Christians to destroy local churches. This means that the greatest threat to our churches comes from within, not from without. The greatest enemies of the church are insiders, not outsiders. Nevertheless, long live the church!

 

How does one go about destroying a local church? There are countless ways—far too many to expound upon. Thus, the specific cause of the ruin must be found in the present context (1:10-4:21). If we were to whittle down the cause of church destruction into two words, they would be “worldly wisdom.” The whole thrust of 1:10-4:21 is to dismantle worldly wisdom and its various expressions.

A church can be destroyed by divisions (1:10-17; 3:5-8). In Corinth most of the divisions stemmed from preaching cults. Everyone had his or her favorite preacher and they weren’t bashful in saying so. This resulted in “divisions” (1:10) in the body of Christ.

 

These verbal wars undoubtedly led to other sins, like gossip and slander. In every church there are some who sow seeds of discontent; whenever they have a chance to badmouth some program or some leader in the church, they do it. That’s how temple destroyers get their kicks. Yet, you and I must see ourselves here. All of us to one degree or another have said things about others that are sinful. We can’t continue to tolerate these verbal sins. Even though they may seem relatively innocent they are capable of destroying a church. After all, divide and conquer is a strategy of Satan.

Alan Redpath (1907-1989), a well-known British pastor and author, once formed a mutual encouragement fellowship at a time of stress in one of his pastorates. He asked his people to subscribe to a simple formula applied before speaking of any person or subject that was perhaps controversial. T—is it True? H—is it Helpful? I—is it Inspiring? N—is it Necessary? K—is it Kind? If what I am about to say does not pass those tests, I will keep my mouth shut! And it worked! May we follow this simple acrostic and honor Christ with our tongues.

A church can be destroyed by bad theology and methodology (1:18-25; 3:18-23). If someone individually chooses to begin to live according to the wisdom and the practice of the world, he begins to corrupt and damage the church. He is building with shoddy material, with wood, hay and stubble, which will not stand the test of the fire, and therefore he is marring the building of the church. When someone seeks to make the church impressive and powerful by the methods and the standards of the world, he is corrupting and damaging the church. If someone becomes consumed with a particular doctrine and emphasizes this theology above all others, destruction is imminent. Down throughout time churches have split over both theology and methodology. Having right theology and methodology is important, but we must not divide over non-essential issues. God values His church and doesn’t want us unnecessarily divided.

 

It is worth noting that pastors can also frequently destroy churches. One way is to preach false doctrine. Another way is to lull people to sleep spiritually by telling them just what they want to hear. Pastors can also destroy churches by riding hobbyhorses. They can get into the spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, Calvinism/Arminianism debate, and end times. Pretty soon they become known as experts and their entire ministry revolves around their area of interest. Watch out!

A church can be destroyed by indifference and non-involvement (3:12-15). Paul noted that some of the Corinthian builders were building with worthless building materials (i.e., wood, hay, straw). Consequently, the building was rickety even though the foundation was flawless. This is a dangerous trend. Many churches have died on the vine because no one was willing to carry on the ministry. Thus, it is imperative that every member serve in at least one capacity. Are you serving your church today? What would your church be like if every member was just like you?

 

Those who are dividing the church are destroying it. This is because the church of Jesus Christ is a living organism, not just an organization. You can divide a pie into six pieces without destroying it; you are just preparing to serve it. This is because a pie is an organization. But if you divide a dog in two you have destroyed him, because he is an organism. The Corinthian church was being divided into four cliques or parties (1:12). Thus, it was in danger of being destroyed.

Is destroying the local church really that serious? Paul apparently thinks so. In 3:17, he goes on to say that if anyone destroys the temple of God, “God will destroy him.” Notice that the punishment fits the crime: destroy and you will be destroyed. Does this mean eradication, extermination, or eternal punishment in hell? A quick look at the word translated “destroy” in a lexicon informs us that it means “to desecrate, harm, corrupt, or spoil,” not to exterminate. It is never used by Paul to refer to destruction in hell. It can, however, refer to judgment upon the believer.

 

The following bullet list suggests four ways that God’s discipline can strike a Christian who is in the process of destroying the temple—the local church.

Excommunication: In the Old Testament, one of the penalties for defiling God’s dwelling (whether the tabernacle or the temple) was separation from the nation. The Lord spoke this word to Moses and Aaron: “But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person must be cut off from among the community, because he has polluted the sanctuary of the LORD; the water of purification was not sprinkled on him, so he is unclean” (Num 19:20 NET). God takes the holiness of His dwelling seriously. The Israelite that fails to recognize this will suffer the consequences of excommunication. This also occurs in the New Testament in 1 Cor 5:5.

Sickness: Of particular interest is the account of Uzziah, who succumbed to pride after gaining various military successes and then went into the temple (naos), the Holy of Holies, and was punished with leprosy. In the New Testament, when the Corinthians are guilty of abusing the Lord’s Supper the Lord disciplines them with weakness, sickness, and eventually death (11:30).

Physical Death: Throughout the Old Testament, temporal death was the penalty for defiling the material temple (Exod 28:43; Lev 16:2). The Lord commanded Moses, “Thus you are to set the Israelites apart from their impurity so that they do not die in their impurity by defiling my tabernacle which is in their midst” (Lev 15:31 NET). Sins against the Jerusalem temple were taken very seriously in Judaism. Examples of God sending divine discipline on His people for defiling His tabernacle include: Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-3); Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6-7); and Uzziah (2 Chron 26:16-21). God also executed death sentences upon Christians in the New Testament. In Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:30 (see also 1 Tim 1:18-20; Jas 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17).

Eternal loss: The word “destroy” (phtheiro) is a future active indicative verb, which indicates that God’s response will be after their offense. However, the future tense could also suggest that God’s destruction has an eternal component. Contextually, it seems that this is a reference to the last day (3:13). We know from the preceding verses (3:13-15) that the builder in question will not lose his salvation, but he will lose his reward. Thus, in addition to physical ruin or death, God’s destruction may also include the complete obliteration of the Corinthian destroyer’s life’s work at the final judgment. We must always bear in mind that the end result for a temple destroyer is shame and remorse at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10-11; 1 John 2:28). Many believers need to reconsider why they are suffering. It may be that the consequences of their actions have caught up with them. We must never underestimate the value that God places on relationships and unity in our local churches. He is dead serious about His temple.

 

There is a bumper sticker that reads: “If you value your life as much as I value this truck, DON’T TOUCH IT!” That is what God is saying to His church: “You touch My temple and you will have Me to deal with. And you don’t want to have to deal with Me. I take it seriously when you are involved in destroying My temple…so seriously that I will destroy you!”

When I was growing up I participated in some pranks. Some of the things my friends and I did were not very cool. Fortunately, we had some boundaries and common sense. Whenever we saw a “No Trespassing” sign we stayed away. We would not go near that person’s home. We knew that whoever lived there was not playing games. We were afraid that if we messed with that person, we’d be messed with. In the same way, God has posted a “No Trespassing” sign on His church. Those who choose to ignore this sign do so at their own peril. God promises us that if we destroy His church, He will destroy us. Yet, God says, “Long live the church…and the Christian!”

 

Why does God get so “ticked” about someone destroying His church? First, the church is the place where His name is revealed. We must be reminded that when the world considers God it typically looks at God’s temple—the church. When the world sees a destructive temple it then draws its own erroneous conclusions about the character of God—based solely on what it sees in God’s people. In the process God’s reputation is damaged. While Satan can never destroy God’s character he certainly tries to damage His reputation, and he does it through the people of God.

Second, the temple of God is holy. The irrefutable reason why God’s judgment falls is given at the end of 3:17: “for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” It’s hard to refute God’s reasoning here, isn’t it? If God’s temple is holy, and if we are that temple, then it only stands to reason that God, who cannot tolerate sin, must judge those who sin against His church. I think the local believing church deserves a great deal more respect than it gets from many Christians today.

 

In the Old Testament, the Holy of Holies was so sacred that anyone caught desecrating it or even touching forbidden objects was summarily judged. Well, the local church is also holy to the Lord. If God judged the desecration of His temple in the Old Testament, do you think He will overlook the desecration of His temple in the New Testament? We don’t have any sacred objects that can’t be touched and we shouldn’t have any sacred cows that can’t be butchered, but we do have a sacred task to perform. Therefore, we must be holy in both our conduct and our calling.

Far too many of us are like the Susan B. Anthony dollar of a bygone day. The Susan B. Anthony dollar failed to catch on. One of the primary reasons being that it looked and felt too much like a quarter. People couldn’t tell the difference, so the Anthony dollar fell into disuse and was soon taken out of active circulation. A lot of us Christians are like that. We are worth a dollar, but we look like a quarter and live like “chump change.”

In the church of Jesus Christ every member is like one of two people. We are either destroying the church or building the church. There is no middle ground. God says, “Long live the church!” We must join His chorus and shout, “Long live the church!”

Deep thinking with the Holy Spirit

It has been said, “Any idiot can be complicated; but it takes genius to be simple.” Indeed, the most effective oral and written communicators are those who take profound truths and make them simple. This has bearing on every area of our lives. When we communicate with others either individually or corporately, we must be clear and simple. The well-known acronym K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) applies here.

Although the apostle Paul is a deep thinker, he always strives to bring his great learning down to common folks like you and me. However, the passage that we will be looking at has endured a most unfortunate history of application in the church. Almost every form of spiritual elitism, “deeper life movement,” and “second blessing” doctrine has appealed to this text; however, each of these is nearly 180 degrees the opposite of Paul’s intent. Unfortunately, this trend continues today. By appealing to “the deep things of God” and “secret wisdom” all kinds of false doctrines are being perpetuated and widely accepted. Therefore, we must be on the alert against this passage and others like it being abused. Our goal must be to understand why Paul has written this section of 1 Corinthians and how it applies to our lives.

The book of 1 Corinthians expresses Paul’s heart for a dis-unified church to become unified (1:10). Thus far, Paul has humbled everyone including himself. He has said to the Corinthians, “Your message is foolish (1:18-25), you yourselves are foolish (1:26-31), and I am foolish (2:1-5).” Outside of that everyone and everything is just fine. Now in 2:6-16, Paul states that the only way the Corinthians and you and I can live a wise life is by having the right perspective and power. He will argue that without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark. Paul begins by addressing the right perspective in 2:6-9.

  1. True wisdom is cross-centered(2:6-9). In order to be truly wise and to consistently exercise a wise perspective, we must have a proper view of wisdom. Throughout this overarching section (1:18-2:5), Paul has declared that wisdom is found in “the word of the cross.” Thus, in 2:6-9, Paul can write, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.’” If you are a Bible student it is worth underlining the word “wisdom.” The word “wisdom” (sophia) is repeated five times in the first three verses. The apostles (“we”) speak the message of the cross to those who are “mature.” The “mature” are those believers who recognize and embrace God’s wisdom in the cross. Since Paul does not divulge who among them is “mature,” the readers must decide for themselves whether they qualify or not. This same principle applies to us today. Are you a mature Christian? If so, how have you arrived at that conclusion? Paul argues that we are only mature if we have the right perspective on the cross. Is the cross your solution to church conflict? Is it the means of unity? Then you are mature. Is the cross your solution to your marriage and family difficulties? Is it the means of reconciliation? Then you are mature. Is the cross your solution to work conflict? Is it the means of getting along with your boss and coworkers? Then you are mature. We never move on from the cross of Christ—only into a more profound understanding of the cross.

Although in the next chapter (3:1-4) Paul will discuss those who are immature and fleshly in their Christian walk, his expectation is that all Christians will live according to the right perspective. We cannot make excuses for ourselves and assume that maturity belongs to the spiritually elite. God’s heart for you is that you press on to a cross-centered life. Will you refuse to settle for stale Christianity?

In these four verses, Paul will tell us three aspects of God’s wisdom:

The wisdom of God is eternal (2:6). The wisdom that Paul declares is “not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away.” It is not like the wisdom that may come from Oprah, Dr. Phil, or influential political officials. The wisdom they utter is here today and gone tomorrow. However, God’s wisdom is eternal. Isaiah the prophet said it best, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8). Since God’s wisdom revealed through His Word is eternal, how can we not invest in it?

The wisdom of God is beneficial (2:7). Paul informs us that God’s wisdom is a “mystery.” The word “mystery” refers to truth that God had not revealed previously. The message of the cross is a further unfolding of God’s plan and purpose beyond what He had revealed and what people had known previously. Paul makes this clear when he writes that the cross is “the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory.” This stresses the plan and sovereignty of God. It also demonstrates that God has our good in mind—our glorification.

The wisdom of God is supernatural (2:8-9). The Jewish and Roman rulers responsible for Jesus’ death did not understand the purpose and significance of the cross, so they crucified “the Lord of glory.” The phrase “Lord of glory” implies the divine fullness. It also ties in with the saints’ glory (2:7). It is through union with Him that we will experience glory. Paul explains that the reason these authorities crucified Christ was because they lacked the supernatural wisdom of the Spirit. Paul then cites Isa 64:4. This passage is not about heaven, although it’s often used at funerals. It is clear in the context of Isaiah 64 that it means life, here and now. God wants to reveal these things to us. He has done so out of love. Trusting Him for understanding and cultivating this love relationship with Him means that we will grow in greater and greater understanding of wisdom. Yet, without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark.

[Paul has just said that the right perspective is to recognize that true wisdom is cross-centered. He goes on to share with us the right power in 2:10-16.]

  1. True wisdom is Spirit-directed(2:10-16). Paul will state that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals deep things to Christians. Therefore, if we want to grow to maturity in Christ we must rely upon the Holy Spirit’s power. In 2:10-11 Paul writes, “For to us [the apostles and mature Christians] God revealed them [deep thoughts] through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The wonderful mysteries God has prepared for those who love Him are not knowable only by a select group of Christians. Any and every believer can understand and appreciate them because the indwelling Holy Spirit can enlighten us. However, without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark.

Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit searches the very depths of the heart and mind of God. He can do this because He is God—the third member of the Trinity. Paul’s point is that the Holy Spirit functions within the Trinity the way our human spirit functions within us. Our spirit is the innermost part of our being. It’s where our deepest, most private thoughts reside. To put it another way, no one knows you better than you! The reason is that you live with you. I don’t care how well your spouse knows you or how long you have been married, no one knows you like you do. No one knows your private thoughts and those deep internals struggles you keep hidden. Because we have a spirit, we are usually our own best interpreter. That’s why when two people get into an argument, one of them will often say, “Don’t try to tell me what I mean. I know what I am saying!”

Therefore, if you really want to know someone perfectly you would have to tune into his or her spirit. The Holy Spirit is tuned in to the deepest thoughts of God. He has access to the innermost workings of the Godhead. Just as no one knows the deepest thoughts of a person better than his own spirit, no one knows the deepest thoughts of God better than the Holy Spirit.

What is the difference between SCUBA diving and snorkeling? SCUBA divers want to be able to go deep under water to see all that was there. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is like a deep-sea diver who can go down into the depths and find out what’s down there. That’s why the Bible says that even when you don’t know what’s going on, the Spirit can help you because He dives down deep. He gets way down there where the action is. He goes “deep-thought” fishing to connect us to the mind of God.

Since this is true, are you dependent upon the Holy Spirit in your Bible study? In your prayer life, do you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you God’s wisdom so that you can pray effectively? In your marriage and family, is your prayer, Holy Spirit fill me so that I can be who you want me to be?

In 2:12-13, we learn that God is pleased to reveal His deep thoughts to us. Paul writes, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” The moment you trusted in Jesus Christ you were given the Holy Spirit as a “pledge” of your salvation (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). One of God’s purposes in giving you the Holy Spirit is so that you may know the things He has “freely given” to us. There is no charge attached to the Holy Spirit’s ministry of illumination. It has been provided to every believer so we can get God’s answers to life realities. We have the Spirit of God, who knows the innermost thoughts of God and can communicate these realities to us. This means we don’t need more of the Spirit; the Spirit needs more of us.

In 2:14, Paul explains why some people do not respond to the Holy Spirit: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” A “natural man” is a person who does not have a supernatural dimension—he or she is without the Holy Spirit. Their natural values are physical and material. A person like that cannot understand spiritual things. They are controlled by feelings, moods, urges, felt needs, desires…by natural reasoning, logical choices made on the basis of goals centering on this life—success, wealth, power, and pleasure. Such a person does not “accept” the things of God for they are foolishness to him.” The term “accept” literally means “to welcome.” It is a word that was used frequently of the practice of hospitality. Thus, I think 2:14 can best be translated, “The unbeliever does not welcome the things of God.”

Paul also states that the unbeliever cannot understand the things of God. There are two different words in Greek that are translated “to understand” in our English Bibles. One means to understand intellectually, while the other is often used to mean understand experientially, or “discern the true nature and importance of something.” It is the latter word which is used here. Paul is not saying that an unbeliever cannot understand the facts of the Bible or that he cannot grasp basic theology or even that he cannot interpret Scripture correctly. Rather, what he is saying is that he cannot know the things of God experientially—he can’t discern whether those things are true or good or valuable.

The best way I know to illustrate Paul’s point here is with the concept of radio waves. There are many, many radio waves in this room. But we can’t hear them because we don’t have receivers to pick them up. Our ears are not tuned to those frequencies. The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. The unbeliever doesn’t have the spiritual receiver, the Holy Spirit, to enable him to appreciate God’s truth. He is like a deaf critic of Bach or a blind critic of Michelangelo.

Therefore, we should not get angry when unbelievers act like unbelievers. How else are they supposed to act? The deaf cannot hear, the blind cannot see, the lame cannot walk, the dead cannot move, and the natural man cannot understand the things of God. How sad it is that many Christians castigate unbelievers for sinning when sinning is merely a part of their job description. Yet, we allow believers to live any old kind of life without any rebuke, discipline, or accountability. There seems to be a terrible double standard. We should not become angry, irritated, or impatient with unbelievers. On the contrary, we should have a great empathy and love for them. While we should also have love and empathy for believers, we must stop letting believers live like unbelievers. We’ve got it all backwards. We need to understand that the only reason we ourselves aren’t still living as natural men and women is that God miraculously entered our lives. It is a gift of grace that we can now see reality. So we have nothing to be proud of; we’re not superior to natural men and women, just saved. That’s the only difference.

Paul gives a contrasting perspective in 2:15: “But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.” We hear the term “spiritual” being used a lot today, and often very carelessly. People call themselves “spiritual” because they are seeking ultimate answers, whether in the paranormal or in New Age philosophy or in Eastern mysticism or even in their inner self. But the NT uses the term “spiritual” to describe someone who is related to the Spirit of God. Spiritual persons are those Christians in whom the Spirit has really become the fundamental power of life (cf. Gal 6:1). Paul is describing people who consistently obey the teaching of the Holy Spirit. As a result of that consistency, they have great potential for being used of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 15 says, “He who is spiritual appraises all things…”

The verb “appraise” means to appraise the worth of something. In the art world, there are certain people who are fulltime art appraisers. They can look at a painting and say, “That’s a forgery. It’s worthless.” Or “That’s worth $5,000 at auction.” Or “That’s a Rembrandt. It will fetch at least $7 million.” These appraisers are well paid because they have the ability to spot the real value of a painting. Paul says that because we have the Holy Spirit, we can properly appraise the real value of things.

Contextually, this phrase doesn’t really mean “all things;” it means “all spiritual things.” Being a Christian doesn’t give one any special advantage in understanding calculus or in learning German. (I’m living proof of this.) A person’s I.Q. doesn’t automatically change when he gets saved, but his spiritual “I will” certainly does. The mature believer has a receiver for spiritual radio waves and his receiver is tuned in. He can therefore discern, appreciate, and understand the essence of spiritual truth. That means that we really can exercise moral judgment, because we have thoroughly studied the mind of the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. We have prayed about difficult issues and have examined them from every side; we have put them through the grid of biblical absolutes. Therefore, we have the courage to take a position on values and issues that the natural world is totally confused about. We have the courage to speak out on the wrongness of abortion, the destructiveness of the homosexual lifestyle, and the sins of materialism, racial bigotry, and oppression of the poor and needy.

There is another clause that follows immediately in 2:15: “…yet he himself is appraised by no man.” This phrase has been terribly misunderstood by some Christians. Some have suggested that this verse teaches that the Christian should not be judged by anyone. Yet, later in this very letter Paul will command believers to judge the flagrantly disobedient in their midst (5:3-5), to evaluate those who claim to bring words from the Lord (14:29), and to examine themselves to see if they are behaving appropriately enough to take the Lord’s Supper (11:27-32). Here, therefore, he is thinking primarily of being unjustly evaluated by non-Christians (or by Christians employing worldly standards), who have no authority to criticize believers for their misbehavior, since they themselves do not accept the standards they employ in making their judgments.

In reality, the natural world can’t figure us out. We are an enigma. They can’t understand why someone would volunteer for children’s ministry or youth ministry year after year, or give 10% of their income to the Lord’s work. They can’t appreciate why someone would want to talk about Jesus. Our lifestyle appears strange to the people of this world. We will hold convictions that other people don’t, based on a different set of absolutes. We will be kind and compassionate at times when others are cruel. We will be intolerant when other people are very tolerant. It’s all because we have insight into the mind of God.

Paul closes out this section in 2:16 with these dramatic words: “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” Here Paul quotes Isa 40:13 to remind us that we can’t know the mind of God apart from the Holy Spirit.

Fortunately, Paul writes that “we have the mind of Christ.” Going back to 1 Cor 1:10, Paul urges us to be of the same mind. This means to share the mind of Christ, which is focused on unity and community life (see John 17).

In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul urged his readers to adopt the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). He then spoke of the death of Christ. To have the mind of Christ is to participate in the pattern of the cross. God’s heart is that we put to death our selfish ambitions and humble ourselves before one another.

In the old television detective series, Columbo, viewers were always told at the beginning of each show who had carried out the crime. Then the fun began as Columbo set about finding the criminal, unearthing information that the viewers already possessed. Watching Columbo was different from the experience of watching other mystery shows. If truth has already been made available to you, that necessarily affects your life experience and the choices and decisions you will make. As Christians, we have the opportunity to live life having been told ahead of time about truths that are hidden from the world. What we believe about life essentially informs and influences how we live and how we make decisions. The information we have about life is the basis on which we make our way in life.

Paul has declared that true wisdom is cross-centered and Spirit-directed. It is available to you today if you will merely adopt the right perspective and the right power.

You are never alone

Hezekiah 6:1 says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Can I get an amen? Perhaps a “Preach it, brother?” No? Why not?! “This is not a biblical citation,” you reply. You are correct. Despite what many Christians think, “God helps those who help themselves” is likely the most often quoted phrase that isn’t in the Bible. This saying is usually attributed to Ben Franklin, quoted in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757). Franklin and his contemporaries adapted it from one of Aesop’s Fables—Hercules and the Waggoner (6th century BC). In the story, a waggoner’s heavy load becomes bogged down in mud. In despair, the waggoner cries out to Hercules for help. Hercules replies, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” It’s rather ironic that a polytheistic tale appealing to Greek mythology has now made its way into what many believers think is in the pages of Scripture.

“God helps those who help themselves” is not merely extrabiblical; it is also unbiblical. It is polar opposite of the message of Scripture. The Bible insists that God helps the helpless. Today, if you are feeling helpless and hopeless, don’t despair. If you are feeling lonely and discouraged, don’t lose heart. Jesus has a word for you. In John 14:15–31, on the eve before His death, Jesus imparts to His distressed disciples His final words. In these waning moments, He declares: God helps those who help themselves to Him. This is the message of John 14 and the whole Bible. In every area of spiritual life, from beginning to end, God only helps those who help themselves to Him.

This passage begins in 14:15 with a “hinge” verse. John links the previous section (14:1–14) with this section (14:15–31). Previously, Jesus taught about His relationship to the Father. Now He explains His relationship to the Holy Spirit. He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Jesus doesn’t command His disciples to love Him, but to obey Him. Love and obedience are linked throughout this passage. This is because John’s use of “love” (agapao) isn’t an abstract emotion, but something intensely practical that involves obedience. Whenever I read this verse, I think of the notorious line that many men use on women, “If you love me, you will…” I think one of the best comebacks to this pathetic line is: “If you love me, you will keep Jesus’ commands.” In the heat of the moment, you may also need to remind yourself, “If I love Jesus, will keep His commands.” This is a motivating verse because Jesus conditions our love for Him on our obedience. In what specific area of your life is Jesus seeking obedience from you? Will you obey Him today?

Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t expect mere raw determination or dogged discipline from us to pull off His commands. Instead, He seems to say: As you attempt to obey Me, I will give you My enablement—the Holy Spirit. Jesus puts it like this: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (14:16). Jesus promises a “Helper” that will be with us forever. The Greek word translated “Helper” is parakletos, or for smoother English, paraklete. Not parakeet, paraklete. We’re not talking about a colorful little bird that sits in a cage and sings; we’re talking about the Holy Spirit—the third member of the Trinity. Paraklete is very difficult to translate into English. Most English versions render the term “Helper” (NASB, ESV, NKJV), “Counselor” (NIV, HCSB), “Comforter” (KJV), or “Advocate” (NET, NRSV, NLT).

Perhaps the ambiguity of the word emphasizes that the Holy Spirit helps us in many different ways. It’s not just that He consoles us in our sorrow, but He also makes us strong in the face of opposition. The term Paraklete is like a diamond; it means something slightly different depending on how you hold it toward the light and view it. Yet, since you are probably hoping for the Cliff Notes® version, “Helper” is the most all-encompassing translation. The only real drawback to “Helper” is the term can suggest a subordinate rank. I immediately think of Hamburger Helper®, which implies that you can accomplish a great meal if you just use their handy-dandy mix. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is not just looking to help you out when you’re in a pinch; rather, He wants to consume you and take over your life. Remember, God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps those who help themselves to Him.

As a father I always tried to help my three kids learn to ride a bike without suffering too many scrapes and bruises. First there would be training wheels and a steadying hand on the handlebars. Then would come the day the training wheels came off, and I would run alongside the bike, one hand under the seat, giving instructions—“Now relax. Keep your wheel straight. Steady! I’ve got you! You’re doing great!” Crash! I would then pick up my child and encourage him or her to try again. Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, encourages us, holds us up, picks us up, dusts us off when we fall, and gets us going again. The Holy Spirit’s eternal patience and encouragement with us ought to give us the same heart for our children when we are teaching them how to ride a bike or drive a car or anything else. I know, that application hits a little too close to home. Yet, this point is critical. The Holy Spirit is continually grieved and quenched by our behavior, but He still persists in love and care for us. What an amazing God!

But perhaps you’re still not satisfied. You may feel that the Holy Spirit is the third-string member of the Trinity, following God the Father and God the Son. Before you start feeling like you’re receiving inferior care, note the phrase “another Helper.” Two different Greek words can be translated “another”—allos (“another of the same kind”) and heteros (“another of a different kind”). The word Jesus uses to describe the coming Helper is allos, which means another helper just like him! Jesus is comforting His disciples by assuring them they don’t need to be troubled at His leaving because He is sending a “Helper” just like Him. There will be no loss in the exchange. If you’ve ever wanted to walk and talk with Jesus like the first disciples, you can experience something even better—the Holy Spirit! Unlike Jesus when He was on earth, the Holy Spirit is always present and will be with you forever.

In 14:17a, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is also called “the Spirit of truth.” He is “the Spirit of truth” because He communicates and bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of Truth” is an important title given to the Holy Spirit and is also used in 15:26 and 16:13. This emphasis upon “truth” reminds us that the primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a commitment to interact with God’s truth. Jesus says that “the Spirit of truth” is a Person “whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (14:7b). 

Jesus states that the world “cannot receive” the Holy Spirit because they do not have a relationship with Him. In June 2009, America moved to Digital TV. If you have believed in Christ, the Holy Spirit abides with you and is in you. This means that the best help you have for whatever problem you face is inside you, not outside you. One fundamental reason many Christians don’t get the help they need when they are afraid, lonely, or weary is that they go to the wrong person first. Instead, as Christians, we must learn to ask the Holy Spirit to encourage us, comfort us, and strengthen us. God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans [lit. “Fatherless”]; I will come to you.” This verse affirms the biblical doctrine of adoption, which may be the most healing and comforting doctrine in the entire Bible. In our society, parents have been known to abandon their children. New mothers have left their babies in alleys or on doorsteps or even walked away from older children at home. In contrast, Christ doesn’t abandon His children. When you’re a member of His family, you’ll never be an orphan; you’ll never be lost in a child custody battle. In fact, Christ is saying to His disciples, “I’ll be closer to you than ever before! When people hurt you and disappoint you, I will be there for you. You can count on Me. I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6; cf. Josh 1:5; Heb 13:5).

In 14:19–20, Jesus continues: “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” It seems best to take Jesus’ words to be a reference to His resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection will increase the disciples’ faith that He is God.

Jesus returns to His emphasis upon love and obedience in 14:21–24: “‘He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.’”

These verses appear to state that Jesus loves us more when we obey Him and that He loves some believers more than others. This requires some clarification. Your obedience doesn’t make God love you more than He would otherwise. God’s love for all people is essentially as great as it can be. However, in the family relationship that Jesus is describing, your obedience allows God to express His love for you without restraint. When there is disobedience, God doesn’t express His love as fully because He must discipline you (cf. Heb 12:4–11). Without question, some believers love Jesus more than other believers do. This results in some believers obeying Him more than others and enjoying a more intimate relationship and greater understanding of Him than others enjoy. I have three children whom I love equally. However, if any of my children are rebellious and disobedient, I have to discipline them. This doesn’t affect my love for them—it is simply another expression of my love. But if their rebellion persists, we may not be able to be as intimate as I would like. I may not be able to give them some of the privileges or rewards that come from obedience. My love for my children doesn’t change, but our fellowship may change. If you have a wayward teenage or adult child, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Three other observations are in order. First, the verb “disclose” (emphanizo) in 14:21 means that Jesus will make Himself known to obedient believers through the Holy Spirit. Second, the word translated “abode” (mone) in 14:23 is the same word translated “dwelling places” in 14:2. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us, but He and the Father also dwells with us to the degree that we obey Him. Third, all this emphasis upon obedience is for our own good. When you do what you want to do instead of what Jesus wants you do, it always turns out bad, at least in my experience it does. I have never regretted one occasion of obedience to Jesus, but I have regretted countless episodes of disobedience.

In 14:25–26, Jesus shares with His disciples another role of the Helper: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” If you ever wanted to know how it was that the New Testament came to be written, your answer is right here. The disciples didn’t walk around Galilee with little note pads waiting for Jesus to say something so that they could take notes and then negotiate a publishing contract. They had absolutely no intention of writing anything. They never expected Jesus to leave. But later—much later for some of them—the necessity arose to preserve the things that had happened so that those of a new generation could know about them. That was when they began to write. However, I think that by extension we can see a valid application of the text. The reason the Holy Spirit would put these things into the minds of the apostles was because He wanted to put them into our minds. It is the Spirit who puts the words into Scripture, and it is the Spirit who helps us recall what we have read when we need it.

If you were a Christian when you were in high school or college (and maybe even if you weren’t!), you probably got serious about prayer just before a big test. You may have prayed, “Oh God, help me remember the things I’ve studied.” My prayer was a little different than that. I used to pray that He’d help me remember things I never studied. I didn’t just want reminders, I wanted direct revelation. Yet, in most cases, the Holy Spirit didn’t remind me of something I never bothered to learn. So if you’re looking for spiritual recall, it’s critical that you immerse yourself in God’s truth. There are many reasons for reading the Bible, going to church, and being a member of a small group. But one major reason is that it gives the Holy Spirit something to bring up, some truth to work with. Yes, He is the Spirit of truth, but He doesn’t drop truth on you unless you’ve been studying the truth.

Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I don’t really care about my Bible recall. I can take it or leave it.’ Whoa! Right now you may not feel like you need it, but I can assure you there will come a time when you will need it, and you will wish you had saved away some Bible on the hard drive of your mind. Most of the time when I suddenly find myself faced with a crisis, I don’t have the opportunity to say, “Um…could I get back to you in a week or so? I’d like to do some homework on this, then I’ll figure out what we’re supposed to do here.” Sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment, don’t you? You have to decide what you’re going to do. You have to choose Response A or Response B, and putting it off isn’t an option! How do you prepare yourself for those moments? By immersing yourself in the Word.

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have shown that the brain can learn simply from listening to different types of music. ‘It turns out that mere exposure makes an enormous contribution to how musical competence develops,’ said Henkjan Honing, one of the researchers. In the past, experts believed that the only way to shape musical abilities was through intense training, but this research suggests that exposure to music can similarly change the brain. Just as listening to music can shape our brains, exposure to God’s Word can change our souls. With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit changes us. We become more receptive to God’s message to us, and we gradually become more like Christ as we seek out God in our lives.

When your life is saturated with Scripture, you will experience the peace of Christ. Jesus exclaims, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (14:27). Jesus promises His disciples peace, but not just any peace. Jesus offers His very own peace. The phrase, “Do not let your heart be troubled” harkens back to 14:1a. But Jesus now adds the phrase: “nor let it be fearful,” because He is about to depart and His disciples are becoming increasingly anxious. As a result, they desperately need the peace He offers. It is worth noting that the Greek’s notion of “peace” was absence of war. The Jews’ notion of “peace” was blessing and unity. Jesus’ bestowal of peace accords with the Jewish view. In other words, Christ’s peace adds something to life rather than subtracts something.

We are used to thinking of peace as the absence of conflict, or the absence of stress, or the absence of worry. However, Christ’s peace includes the absence of distress but it also includes the presence of blessing. In fact, maybe we could go so far as to say that the absence of distress is the result of God’s blessing. Jesus is offering a peace that is a settled sense of well-being and security. What is your situation today? Whatever it is, if you have the Holy Spirit you can have peace in the midst of it because He lives within you. So don’t allow anxiety, worry, and fear to rob you of Christ’s peace. Instead, spend some time this week meditating on John 14:27. This is a verse that’s also worth committing to memory. Just write this Scripture down on a 3×5 card and tape it to your bathroom mirror, the steering wheel of your car, or your desk. As you read this verse several times a day, it will become committed to memory. Everyone needs peace, and you can find it in Christ. Just remember: God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:28, Jesus utters a fascinating verse: “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Previously in 10:30 Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” In this verse, He was speaking of His essential coequality with God (as one sharing the Godhead with the Father). Here in 14:28, Jesus is merely referring to His voluntary position as servant under God (as one sent by the Father). Jesus is saying that He is the humble, submissive Son who submits Himself to the authority of His Father. The words Jesus spoke to His disciples: “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father” are rather relevant to us. Although God has given us people and things to enjoy, it’s important to hold them with a loose grasp. Someday, God may choose to take them from your hands, and the loss will be less painful if you’re not clutching them so tightly. What are you clinging to? A job…a person…your family…material possessions…the past? Always remember, the Lord not only gives but He may someday take away that which He has, for a time, entrusted to your care. If He does, your possessiveness could find you in a tug-of-war with God.

This passage closes in 14:29–31 with these words from Jesus: “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” There are some interesting tidbits in these three verses.

First, in 14:29, Jesus tells the disciples that He has told them all these things before they happen, so that when they do happen the disciples may believe. This does not mean they had not believed prior to this time; over and over John has affirmed that they have (cf. 2:11). But when they see these things happen, their level of trust in Jesus will increase and their concept of who He is will expand. We too must pray that our faith in Jesus continually increases. Pray: “Lord Jesus, increase my faith.”

Second, in 14:30, Jesus declares, “the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” This phrase constitutes an idiomatic rendering of a Hebrew expression frequently found in legal contexts with the sense “he has no claim on me.” The expression, therefore, means not, “he has no power over me,” but “he has no legal claim or hold on me.” Christ will not capitulate His mission to be obedient to the His Father (cf. 14:31). We, too, must seek to obey Christ and fulfill His will in our lives no matter what.

Third, Jesus and the disciples most likely leave the Upper Room and embark on a nocturnal walk that would lead them to Gethsemane. Perhaps they even passed vineyards on the way, which would provide a fitting backdrop for Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15). The language is deliberately spiritual and alludes to the trial and the attack from Satan which awaits Jesus and the disciples.

If I were to take out a pen and begin writing, I could record anything I wanted to record. But if I removed my hand, the pen would simply fall on the paper and lie there. My pen has no life of its own. My pen contains all the raw materials I need to write with, but it has no writing ability on its own. In order for this pen to function, it must be joined to the life in my hand. When that happens, my pen can form letters it could never form by itself. It can compose clauses and phrases and put them together to make sentences because it is in my hand, and my hand is alive. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, He can write things that you could never write on your own. He can achieve things you could never achieve on your own. But if you live in the flesh and rely upon your own power, you’ll drop like a discarded pen because there is no spiritual life in your flesh, your unredeemed humanity. 

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.