Don’t believe the lie

Many years ago a man in San Francisco was caught speeding. The man blew through an intersection without realizing there was a camera on the traffic light. A couple weeks later he received in the mail a picture of his car and a ticket for $40. Since he had never had a ticket like this before, he decided to have a little fun. So he wrote out a check for $40, took a picture of the check and sent the picture back to the police department. A couple of days later, the police responded in return and sent him a picture. This time it was of handcuffs. He got the point, and they got their money.

There are some laws that we just can’t get away from. One such a law is this: Trusting in religion brings condemnation. Religion on the whole has been Satan’s great counterfeit to true spirituality. Religion has done far more damage to the church than all the atheists, communists, and world-class sinners. Religion is Satan’s greatest lie because it keeps so many people out of God’s heaven. I guess you could rightly say: Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The overall purpose of Romans 1-3 is to level humankind under sin. Paul begins with Gentiles who are guilty of blatant disobedience (1:18-32). He then pronounces the moralist guilty of counterfeit obedience (2:1-16). Now in 2:17-29, Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, goes after his own people the Jews and demonstrates that even the Jew is a sinner who stands guilty before God. Paul issues two timely warnings that have greater relevance to us.

 

  1. Beware Of Religious Overconfidence (2:17-24).

With this section Paul begins a long sentence in which he piles up description after description of the Jews’ privileges (2:17-20), only to show that these blessings mean little because Jews have not lived up to their privileges (2:21-24). Like all good speakers, Paul begins with the positive. In 2:17-20, he summarizes three great privileges or advantages the Jews held over the Gentiles. The first privilege of the Jews is their name. Paul writes in 2:17a, “But if you bear the name Jew.” The name “Jew” means “praise to Yahweh.” This name reminded them that they were privileged among all the people of the world—they were God’s chosen people. So proud were they of this name that many of the Jews living in Gentile cities used it as a surname such as (insert your name), Jew.

 

In the same way, many modern day churchgoers pride themselves in their names: conservative, charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical, Baptist, and Presbyterian just to name a few. It’s so easy to brag on a preacher or writer. Yet, a principle that we must always bear in mind is: When people are steeped in religion, they talk about names and churches; when people are steeped in Christianity, they talk about Jesus. We must be careful to distinguish between religion and a relationship with Christ. Religion is all pain, no gain. A relationship with Jesus, however, is the difference between pain and gain.

 

The second privilege of the Jews is their book. In 2:17b-18 Paul writes that the Jews “rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.” The Jews possessed the Old Testament and were the keepers of the Law. They knew God’s will in a way the Romans and Greeks never knew it. They knew what was right and what was wrong. They were a people of the book! Sadly, they often failed to see the big picture (i.e., recognize Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament) to fulfill their primary calling (i.e., be a light to the Gentiles). Likewise, a great danger that we face in the 21st century is getting high on our knowledge of the Bible without allowing it to affect our lives. Unlike the Jews, we utilize the full revelation of God’s Word—all sixty-six books. We have multiple versions, cutting edge Bible software, thousands of internet search sites and the Bible on CD and Mp3. Here in America we have every opportunity to know God’s Word. But we must ensure that we don’t fool ourselves into assuming that we know the God of the Bible when all we really know are the contents of the Bible. As R.E.M. once sang, “We need to ‘lose our religion.’” The reason for this seemingly extreme measure is religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The third privilege of the Jews is their works. In 2:19-20, Paul lists four advantages the Jews made for themselves: “. . . you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” These are pretty heavy claims, yet Paul never contradicts them. Each of these claims is good if used in the right way. If you widen the lens to take in all three advantages, they are all outward—a name, a book, and a series of good works. None of those things touch the heart, and since they don’t touch the heart, they can all be faked. They require no inward change. Without a change of heart, the Jew has no advantage at all! The truth applies to us as well. We must be careful not to place confidence in our Christian service, whether it’s children’s ministry, youth ministry, the worship team, or pastoral ministry. Our confidence must be in Christ, not works.

 

Do you like to watch boxing? I bring up boxing because in 2:17-20, Paul was shadowboxing. In 2:21-24, he abruptly turns aggressive and his blows become lethal as he confronts the Jew with the disparity between what he teaches others and his own manner of life. Paul’s right hand comes over the top and breaks the jaw of the Jew with four consecutive questions. This series of questions is an attempt by Paul to turn the complacent Jew back on himself to search his own soul. The Jewish religious leaders of Paul’s day were notorious for their inconsistency and hypocrisy in respect to the Scriptures.

 

Paul begins with the thesis question in 2:21a, “. . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” The word “therefore” (oun) links 2:21-24 with 2:17-20. Paul argues that, given all the amazing advantages listed in 2:17-20, it seems that the Jews would teach themselves. It is important that we apply the sermon to ourselves first. John Calvin said, “If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

 

In 2:21b, Paul writes, “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?” The Jews were stealing from one another, perhaps by collecting extreme interest or cheating on business deals. They preached against stealing, yet they themselves broke the eighth commandment. Paul follows this up in 2:22a with, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” The Jews preached against adultery but were also guilty of breaking the seventh commandment as well. Finally, Paul questions the Jews again in 2:22b, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” God’s Law commanded Israel to destroy pagan temples in Canaan (Deut 7:1-6) and zealous Jews sometimes acted on this statute. However, they often broke the second commandment by confiscating the temples’ treasures (Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:18-19; 20). This isn’t the obedience that God demands. Verse 23 appears to be a fifth and final question; however, it is likely a statement since there is not a question mark in the Greek text. Thus, this verse should be translated: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (ESV; cf. NET, NLT). On one hand the Jews boasted in their knowledge of the Law, yet on the other hand, they were guilty of breaking the Law and dishonoring God. We would call this hypocrisy!

 

After doing a search on “hypocrisy” on the web, here is what I found:

Def: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

(1) Driving School owner drives drunk;

(2) a fire station goes up in flames because it didn’t install a smoke detector; (3) a robber who dresses up in police clothing;

(4) a Lowe’s Home Improvement store that failed to pass a building inspection; and

(5) Typo checking software that has a typo in their press releases. 

 

What about for us?

  1. Texting while driving, yet yelling at your children or others not to do it. Guilty as charged on this one. And perhaps the best of all hypocrisy examples in the modern world.
  2. Saying, “I have black friends” as if you have no prejudice against the race, but then holding tighter to your purse or locking your doors at the first sight of a black man. If you were brought up with fear of people of other races, maybe it’s time to work on letting it go.
  3. This is one of the most obvious examples of hypocrisy: thinking that gossip is bad, and then repeating it to a friend. This needs no explanation.
  4. Saying, “No child should go hungry,” but then neglecting to donate to a food bank or doing something about it. If you can afford that daily cup of fancy coffee, you can afford to give to someone in need.
  5. Here’s another one of the best hypocrisy examples out there: espousing the whole work/life balance thing but then not really modeling it yourself. Who is not guilty of this one from time to time?
  6. Telling your teenager to slow down on the road, but then you roll through a stop sign ‘cause you don’t want to miss the season premiere of God knows what. Try to model good driving habits for your kids always.
  7. Telling your children that stealing is bad, but “borrowing” some paper clips or other items from your office to take home. It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.
  8. Complaining about the government, but not voting. This makes us so mad! Let’s just stop there. Now, with all these in mind, go do better, be better and live better.

 

 

Such examples demonstrate that hypocrisy remains a problem today. It is both timeless and universal. But our major concern shouldn’t be with the Jews of Paul’s day or even other contemporary examples. We should be concerned with ourselves. Do we also commit the same or similar sins that we denounce in others? Do we slander the welfare cheats yet take deductions on our income tax return to which we’re not lawfully entitled? Do we rebuke the pornographers publicly, yet vicariously live out other people’s sexual adventures through the media? Do we decry the breakdown of the family yet head for divorce court when faced with difficult marriage problems? What about you? Are you practicing what you’re preaching? Does your life match up to your lips? If not, humble yourself, forsake the spiritual snobbery, and submit your life fully to Christ. 

 

The hypocritical behavior of the Jews led to a disturbing result in 2:24. Paul explains: “For ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU’, just as it is written.” This quotation can be traced back to Isaiah 52:5 LXX (cf. Ezek 36:20-21) where God is mocked by the Gentiles on account of Israel’s disregard for and disobedience of the Law. The Gentiles knew that Israel was God’s “chosen people.” They expected them to live accordingly. When the Jews violated God’s Law, the Gentiles “blasphemed” (blasphemeo) God’s name. In other words, they developed a wrong attitude about God. On one hand, the Jews were so jealous for God’s name that they would not even pronounce it; they would substitute another word for God instead. Yet, their conduct caused the Gentiles to blaspheme that very name. The Jews utterly failed in their calling to make God known. Will we?

 

Friederick Nietzche (1844-1900) once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. Nietzche was so right! We are our own worst enemies. The acid test is not so much what we say about ourselves but what the world says about God because of us! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Does your life point people to the Savior? Or, does your life cause people to blaspheme His holy name? We must recognize that there is nothing that God is more concerned about than His Name (i.e., His reputation and glory). Our job is to live godly and make Him look good before the nations. If we’re striving for practical righteousness in our lives, the world will sit up and take notice. If they see that we live lives of humility, integrity, and purity, they may just be attracted to what we believe.

[Confidence in one’s good works provides no assurance for salvation. God requires complete obedience. Thus, Paul exclaims, “Beware of religious overconfidence.” His second warning is . . .]

  1. Beware Of Religious Association (2:25-29).

These verses serve as “the great reversal.” Paul levels Jews and puts them on par with Gentiles. He does so by calling out their favorite religious work—circumcision. He indicates that even circumcision will not ensure salvation. Paul puts it like this: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25). Paul is quite clear that circumcision is only valuable “if” (repeated twice) you continually practice the Law. For those Jews who have failed to keep the Law and are relying on their circumcision, it’s “uncircumcision.” Paul is slapping his readers silly with a spiritual 2×4. One of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call another Jew “an uncircumcised one,” and this is exactly what Paul is doing here. He’s showing no mercy on his fellow Jews! He argues that the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law will literally “become a foreskin” (Greek). This means they are no different than a Gentile. What a slam upon these overconfident Jews!

 

Our primary problem in approaching these verses is that circumcision doesn’t mean to us what it meant to the Jews. To us, circumcision is an optional physical act performed on baby boys. Some are circumcised; some aren’t. Outside of the Jewish faith, few people are circumcised for religious reasons. Most undergo the procedure for hygienic reasons. But the act of circumcision was incredibly significant to Jews. God first instituted circumcision as a “sign of the covenant” that God entered into with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10-14). All males descended from Abraham were to be circumcised on the eighth day as a mark of their identity as the people of God. To the Jews circumcision was intended to demonstrate that a man had committed himself to obey the Lord, and it invited God to cut off the man and his heirs if he rebelled against God. Unfortunately, many Jews came to think that the mere rite guaranteed their salvation.

 

One Jewish Rabbi stated that Abraham himself will sit at the entrance of Hell to make sure that no circumcised man was ever cast into Hell. However, circumcision was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism. That’s roughly what happened over the centuries. By the first century many rabbis spoke of circumcision as if it were an automatic ticket to heaven. However, this is like placing a Mercedes Benz hood ornament on a broken down Yugo.

 

Circumcision was a ritual meant to be an outward sign or seal (Rom 4:11) of an inward reality. The outward ritual profits a person only if it is accompanied by the inner reality. The outward rite is worthless (of no benefit or advantage) apart from the inward reality. Apart from this, it is just ritual with no reality, a symbol with no substance. Now, in the place of circumcision, you can put a number of equivalent things: baptism, confirmation, church membership, communion, and other good works. Personally, I’m concerned for many who regard their infant baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision.

 

Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven. To put a sharp point on it, this is one place where the practice of infant baptism may be rightly criticized. Multiplied millions of people today are putting their hope of heaven in the fact that a priest sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few days old. Whatever may be said in favor of infant baptism, this is the most damning indictment against it! It can become a religious ritual that leads many people away from saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hence, when a well-meaning individual acknowledges that he or she is trusting in infant baptism or any other work for salvation, please urge this person to believe in Christ alone. Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

In 2:26-27, Paul expounds on his thought that Jews face God’s judgment because they have sinned just like Gentiles. “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” In these two verses Paul powerfully sets forth the truth that inner change happens without works. If the Gentile has the inward reality, then he has the one thing that really counts. The uncircumcised Gentile who perfectly keeps the Law (or as some argue: the Christian who fulfills the Law through the Spirit) is capable of surpassing the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law. Paul even puts forth the possibility that if the uncircumcised Gentile keeps the Law he or she will judge the circumcised Jew who does not. Ouch! This is a serious slap across the face of the Jew who is reading this letter or listening to Paul’s words being read.

 

(optional) Do you like peaches? If so, I have a can of peaches right here that I’d be willing to give you. But what you don’t know is that this can of peaches is actually a can of peas. I replaced the labels, so that it has the appearance of being peaches, when in reality, it is a can of peas. (UGH! I don’t know about you, but I hate canned peas.) The outside of this can is not consistent with what is inside.

In our day cans and bottles have labels on them to indicate what is inside. Circumcision was a label, and it implied that the Jew was obedient to God. However, if he was not completely obedient the label was not only worthless but misleading. The contents of the can are more important than the label. Similarly, if a Gentile was completely obedient to God, the absence of the label of circumcision was not of major consequence. The Jews had put more emphasis on the presence of the label than on the contents of the can. Paul’s point is that disobedience brings condemnation and perfect obedience, hypothetically, brings salvation, regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Gentile. Circumcision or baptism or any other rite practiced in an attempt to gain salvation is analogous to a label on a can of fruit or vegetables. If the outer label doesn’t match with the inner product, something is rotten! Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

Again, let me be clear on this point. Paul is saying that all religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart! Baptism can’t save you or help you. The Lord’s Supper can’t save you or help you. Church membership can’t save you or help you. Good works can’t save you or help you. These things aren’t bad—they are wonderful. God expects you to obey Him in each of these areas. But to whatever extent you base your hope of eternal life upon any of these things, you’re making the same mistake the Jews made 2000 years ago. Good works are always an expression of gratitude for the gift of salvation. They are never to be equated with salvation or included in the salvation equation.

Paul closes this section by explaining positively what a true Jew is: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28-29). The real message of this passage may be summed up in one simple sentence: Being a Jew is not a matter of racial heritage or religious ritual, but is instead a matter of the heart. No outward circumcision will ultimately earn praise from God. Salvation is by sheer grace, for God will not share His glory with another.

 

The great ignorance of religion is that people don’t realize that God approves matters of the heart. He seeks a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. This is what results in the praise of God. Why? Because what a man is inwardly is the true measure of what he is before God. The word translated “but” (alla) in 2:29 is the strongest contrast in the Greek language. Paul transitions from the exterior to the interior, from the body to the heart. In doing so, he uses a play on words to summarize the point of this section. The word “praise” (epainos) links back to the word “Jew” (Ioudaios) in 2:17, because the word Jew means “praise.” It comes from the Hebrew word judah, which means “praise.” These Jews were praising themselves because they had the rite of circumcision. This was the great mark of the true people of God. Whenever anybody questioned their standing before God, they only had to refer to the fact that they were circumcised. Yet, they failed to appropriate true praise from God.

 

With this we come to the bottom line. As shocking as it may sound, there will be many church members in hell. In fact, hell will be populated with people from every religious persuasion. Why? It is because many people are locked into a false religious confidence. They trusted in religion instead of Christ. In the end, they were too religious for their own good. What are you trusting for your eternal salvation? Or, to put it more accurately: In whom are you trusting to take you to heaven? After all, salvation isn’t a what; it’s a who. The issue on the floor is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me give you five simple words that can take you all the way from earth to heaven. Here they are: Faith alone in Christ alone. Only Jesus can save you, so put your trust in Jesus only.

It was every business person’s nightmare. Arriving at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento, CA were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. “They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending,” says Harv’s owner, Aaron Zeff. The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff’s on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was . . . four cents. Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt—stemming from the 2006 tax year—were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv’s with an obligation of $202.35. Thank God, when it comes to our sin debt, Jesus paid it all; He didn’t leave a balance.

 

Aren’t you glad that the debt you owe has been paid for by the person and work of Jesus Christ? His sinless life and His excruciating death have turned away God’s wrath and satisfied His holy demands. Your sins—past, present, future—have been forgiven, forgotten, forever. All that is necessary for you to have eternal life is to place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone. Today, will you simply acknowledge your sin and turn to the Savior?

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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.

Help wanted – teachers and preachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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