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Weekly Word

Monday
May152017

A Woman Who Follows Jesus

Philippians 2:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Mother’s Day Sunday, 5/14/2017.

There are many voices today that promise women a better life by offering some philosophy or way of approaching life.  However, most of them are various ideas that come from the same source, the spirit of this age.  So women have a choice they can listen to the spirit of this age and go after the things that it promises by the ways it promotes (self fulfillment, self love, self adulation), or they can listen to the Spirit of God calling to them, “Save yourselves from this wicked and perverse generation!”

It is important to recognize that women have had a tough road throughout history.  Too often, men are guilty of not recognizing this and not loving women as we should.  So women need encouragement.  Yet, like any of us, they also need challenged.  Women are not inherently drawn to do things right.  They have the same battles with the sin nature as men do.  I believe our passage today has a good balance of encouragement and yet also challenge for God’s people, including women.  In fact, this is a hallmark of the Bible.  On one hand it recognizes our weakness and does much to give us encouragement and comfort.  Yet, on the other hand, it also recognizes our spiritual lethargy and does much to wake us up and get up headed on the right path.  Let’s look at our passage today.

She has much in Christ

In this passage Paul is trying to encourage Christians to have unity.  But he starts with a series of things that we all have in Jesus.  He uses a grammatical device of a series of conditionals.  These are intended to remind them of the fact that each of these conditionals is understood to be rhetorical.  Of course we who are Christians have all of these things.  There is no “if” about it.  This is going to be critical later.  But just understand that Paul is highlighting our relationship with Jesus.  We have everything that we need in this world without having to clamor and strive against others to get it because of our relationship with Jesus.  Christians are called to quit looking to the world for fulfillment and start receiving from Jesus all he has for us.  So what do we have in him?

The first “if” is consolation in Christ.  This word may give you the idea of a consolation prize.  Who wants that?  The word has the idea of calling someone to your side in order to speak to them.  Thus it is generally connected to some kind of help, encouragement, comfort, or even advice.  In Jesus we have this relationship in which the God of heaven calls us to His side and He speaks into our life those things that we need to hear.  You could say that the “if” statement does more than remind.  It can also be a testing question operating in such a way as to question.  Are you receiving this from Jesus or are you blocking his words into your life?  There is no question that it is available and at work in the life of a Christian, but sometimes we are not so cooperative with the Spirit of God.

The next “if” is comfort of love.  It is still understood to be “in Christ.”  The comfort of God’s love for us, especially through the person and work of Jesus, is immense.  When one thinks about how Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, it leaves one with a powerful sense of God’s love for them.  However, the love of Christ also comes to us through other Christians who are also cooperating with God’s design to love others.  In fact, everything that we see around us becomes a testimony of the love of God intended to help us.  We are swimming in His provision and grace.  What a comfort that gives to our hearts, “if” we are seeing it and resting in it.

Next we are reminded of the fellowship of the Spirit.  “Fellowship” refers to the emotional bond that we have with other Christians by the Holy Spirit.  It starts with an inner relationship with the Holy Spirit.  He speaks to us and teaches us to follow Jesus.  When we connect with other believers who are doing the same thing, we have a powerful, shared experience of listening to the Holy Spirit.  This shared experience of learning to trust the Lord gives us a bond that is more than emotional; it is even spiritual.  When we connect with others of “like Spirit,” we have fellowship with them.  This also refers to the common lot, and common place that we have in this group we call Christians.  We have dropped away from the spirit of this world and taken our place among those who are following Jesus through the Holy Spirit. 

Lastly we are reminded of the affection and mercy of Christ.  Affection is a reference to the knowledge that God deeply cares about us, which leads to his compassionate mercy towards us.  His emotions have and do lead to actions of mercy in our life.

In all of these things there is a direct reception of them from Christ spiritually.  However, there is also an indirect reception of them through those who belong to Christ.  Granted, this is received imperfectly because it is flowing through imperfect people to a person who imperfectly receives.  That is why Paul is writing this letter.   Think about how often we wonder why God is “holding out on us,” (insert thing you want here).  Yet, at the same time He is daily pouring out such wonderful treasures upon us, directly and indirectly.  The real question is this.  Are you taking time to open yourself up to Jesus and when you do are you receiving it or are you pushing it away?  It is when we are filled with what Jesus has for us that we are enabled to get along with others, and this is directly where Paul wants to go with this.

She can have much with others also

If we have all this stuff from Jesus then it should be possible for us to be unified with other believers.  Our relationships become better because we no longer seek to satisfy ourselves by them.  Instead we are fulfilled by the vast and amazing grace that Jesus pours out upon us daily.  Before we talk about our relationship with other believers, it is important to recognize that this applies to our relationship with unbelievers, too.  Instead of needing something from them, we can love them fully and without selfish ambition because we have all that we need from Jesus.  Yet, having all that we need in Christ can never mean that we disconnect from others and become apathetic towards them.  It is Jesus himself who whispers in our ear, “Love them with my love.  Regardless of how difficult it may be, show them who I am.”

In our passage Paul points, in verse 2, to the need for believers to get along and to have a unity of heart, mind and soul.  Think of it.  We can have unity because we are no longer looking at each other as some kind of payday.  Jesus is our source.  Yes, he may use others.  But it is not dependent upon them.  His list in verse 2 goes through three aspects of our inner being that need to be unified with other believers.  He mentions the mind twice.  Love is generally connected to the heart.  And the word translated “one accord” in the NKJV literally means “same-souled (inner life).”  Now, the world recognizes the power of unity.  It has its own attempt at unity which usually employs a kind of dog-eat-dog system in order to see whose mind, heart, and soul gets to dominate the group.  But this is not the way of Christ.  You see, Paul wants us to have unity around the mind, heart, and soul of Jesus Christ.  It is his mind that should instruct us and lead us.  As we each surrender to Jesus, we are enabled to have unity with one another and Christ’s love can flow through us to each other.

So, what are the things that typically get in the way of Christians having unity?  Verse 3 tells us to put away selfish ambition and conceit.  When we adopt such attitudes and vices, they destroy our unity.  The word translated “selfish ambition” is actually one word.  It was used by the Greeks for those whose political electioneering was underhanded and marked by unfair means.  Such a person was willing to do anything in order to get ahead, to get what they wanted.  Now the word for “conceit” is a compound word that has the idea of vain glory, or empty pride.  Such pride is empty because it has nothing to offer others.  It is always selfish and sucks the life out of everyone that it touches.  A good metaphor would be a dark, rain cloud.  A farmer who is longing for rain is excited when they see a rain cloud.  Imagine that the cloud works very hard at looking like a good rain cloud, but in the end it sails on past and only sucks up more moisture.  Such are those who are conceited.  They work hard at looking good, but they are only good for themselves.  In fact, they are not even that.  One day they will approach their death bed and how empty they will be on that day.  They will look back with sorrow on all the relationships that they sucked the life out of, like some kind of vampiric beast.  They will be left empty in the end.  And, standing before God one day, they will be empty of anything to avoid their fate.  If we want true unity of the Holy Spirit, then we have to reject the voices and the spirit of this age, which incessantly stir up angst within us, calling us to selfish ambition and conceit.  So if these should be avoided, then what should we embrace?

The second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 point us to the need for a humble opinion of ourselves and the need to esteem others above ourselves.  When we walk into a room our sinful nature seeks to find those ways in which we are better than others.  We tend towards an inflated view of self that affects our relationships.  So what does it mean to esteem others above self?  I don’t think it means to put yourself down in the sense of hating yourself and thinking that you have nothing to offer.  Rather, it is when we see all the ways that others are better than us.  In the world this is a threat.  But in Christ it is part of His grace to us.  Yes, we want Him to put all wisdom within us.  But in the end He scatters His gifts of wisdom, and yet for each of our benefit.  Even then we need to get to such a lowly place precisely because that is the place we need to get to if we are going to actually help others.  You cannot help others full of yourself.  God will bless you through others.  But that is not to be your focus.  Your focus is to be on Jesus and receiving from Him what you can then turn and give to others.

So ladies, and guys too, who are you following?  The next time you find yourself annoyed with someone and fighting with them over something, take time to stop and think.  What do I think I lack, and why do I think this person can give it to me?  Lord, forgive us for making others our source, for looking to others in the way that we should only look to you.  Lord, help us to walk in unity with other believers so that the world might see and know that you are a glorious savior.

A Woman who follows Jesus audio

Sunday
May072017

Walking Worthy of Our Calling

Ephesians 4:1-6 & Matthew 22:1-14.  This sermon was delivered by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 7, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Over the last two weeks we have been talking about the wisdom of this world versus the wisdom of God.  This ended last week with the Apostle James stating that those who are truly wise should prove it by their good conduct done in meekness.  Today we are going to pick up on this concept that the wisdom of God leads to a life of good conduct done in meekness.  These are not the words that Paul uses in Ephesians 4.  However, it will become obvious that he has the same idea in mind.  What James calls “pure and undefiled” religion (James 1:27), the Apostle Paul calls “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

It is easy to point to religion as the problem.  But the Bible does not just offer religion.  It offers a pure and undefiled religion that is worthy of the calling to which God has called us.  Some make a better distinction by pointing to extremists within religion.  They are the true problem.  Sure, extremists can cause problems.  But it fails to recognize that even a moderate religion that is untrue is harmful to an individual and the world.  The real problem is our refusal to let God cleanse our understandings of the world around us.  In a sense, it is our refusal to be broken out of the virtual reality that the Powers of this Age have immersed us in.  People who follow Jesus are not the problem.  Rather, it is people who pretend that they are following Jesus, or at the least, who follow a pale shadow of the true Jesus and his teachings.  Let’s look at our passage.

The Call of God

Verse 1, of Ephesians 4, begins with Paul calling himself a “prisoner of the Lord.”  The main point for this distinction is to remind the Ephesians and us who is really in charge.  Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and then he had appealed to Caesar.  This led to him being in Rome under house arrest.  It would be easy in such a situation for Paul to be so focused on Rome and its antagonism towards God’s call upon his life that he would lose sight of God’s sovereignty.  Paul wrote at least 4 New Testament letters during this time of arrest and most likely wrote many other letters that we do not have.  He is a prisoner of man, but also a prisoner in the Lord.  God had a plan through this and Paul trusted Him.  So what is this call that Paul is talking about in verse 1?

Ultimately the call is God crying out to mankind, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  The call is the gracious offer of God to save us from the effects of our sin, both corporate and individual.  We are saved by grace because there is no other salvation possible, but by God, and He is not obligated to do so.  Even if we felt God had a moral obligation to try and save mankind, we have taken his grace for granted over and over again, often throwing it back in His face.  Yet, God graciously continues to offer salvation to the world.  We are saved through faith because we must believe in God and follow His directions.  It is called the Gospel of Jesus because He is the one who not only explains the plan of salvation, but also accomplishes the salvation.  The good news is that our savior has come and our salvation has been obtained. 

Paul describes this calling in verses 11-15 of this chapter.   Notice how he points to the purpose behind all that God is doing in the Church, those who have responded to His call.  The whole purpose is to help us become fully like Jesus.  As an individual the arrow of your heart needs to be towards Jesus.  However, this is not done in our own strength.  It is the Spirit of God who supplies people that He has gifted to teach.  It is the Spirit of God who has supplied us with a written account of His words, the Bible.  And, it is the Spirit of God that supplies an inner witness to our hearts of what Jesus desires of us.

This call is to anyone who will listen.  It is not limited by any race, geography, or economic status.  John 3:16 demonstrates that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  The call is to “whoever” would believe it.  Christians are called to take the good news about Jesus and His salvation to the ends of the earth.  2 Peter 3:9 makes the desire of God even clearer.  “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  He does not want anyone to perish and is gives a mission to those who answer His call:  Be my ambassador to extend this call to the ends of the earth.

Walking worthy of our calling

So what exactly is meant by walking worthy of our calling, which is to be made over in the image of Jesus Christ?  Verse 2 lists several character issues, and from other passages we know that this, by no means, is exhaustive.  Basically Paul is telling us that character matters.  He starts with “lowliness.”  It is a reference to our mindset.  It is a person who does not think of themselves as higher than others.  It is interesting to think that Jesus, who is Lord of the heavens and the earth, was lowly of mind.  This is highlighted in Philippians 2:5 and following.  To walk worthy of our calling is to walk with humility before God and others.  The next word is “gentleness.”  This word is sometimes translated meekness and refers to an inner disposition and calmness of spirit.  They are not just gentle on the outside, but on the inside as well.  Next is “longsuffering.”  This term regarding patience is about not quickly losing your temper, which flows into the next phrase, “bearing one another.”  Instead of losing our temper, we have a long fuse, and carry along the heavy things about each other.  It is not just about helping other people, but also putting up with their opinions and actions.  Any group that is going to stay connected has to learn to carry the imperfections of each other.  All of this is to be done “in love.”  Now Paul is not saying that a worthy walk is a perfect walk.  He is not a perfect man telling the Church to be more perfect.  Rather, it is about Christians helping each other to be perfected by the Holy Spirit.  Church is not a place of perfect people, but a place of people being perfected.  In fact, the same could be said about this life.  Quit seeking the perfect life and understand that life itself is perfecting you.  It is easy to be so worried about someone else judging us, that we forget we will be judged by God.  Don’t be deceived, God is saving you so that you can change and become like Jesus in character and action.  If you say you are answering that call then show it by living in a manner that agrees with your words.

Paul also brings up the issue of unity in verse 3.  This has become a buzz word over the course of the 20th century.  Yet, notice that it is a “unity of the Spirit.”  Unity is not something that leaders and Christians can engineer, or make happen.  The world and worldly churches turn to forceful mechanisms in order to “make peace.”  However, this is not a true peace.  To say, “There will be unity when you agree with us,” is not what Paul has in mind.  True, Jesus and His Apostles laid down, once and for all, the Faith that all believers should embrace.  However, the key to unity is when everyone in a church is looking to the Holy Spirit and walking in harmony with Him (i.e. walking worthy of our calling.)  Unity is something with demonstrates the level to which we are all walking in harmony with God’s Spirit.  Any other form is the wisdom of this world and not the wisdom of God.  Paul goes on for the rest of this section to emphasize that there is one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that we have received one baptism, faith, and hope.  When we have a living connection with the Spirit of God, He creates unity, but not uniformity.  God’ signature is diversity within unity.  This is why the world can never have true peace and true unity.  They have embraced the wisdom of the Powers of this Age and not the wisdom of God.  They refuse the wisdom of Jesus and continue to create their own wisdom.  Such wisdom is fractured at its source and doomed to failure by its rejection of the Creator.

Paul does not mention the issue of being chosen by God.  But I believe it is critical to discuss at this juncture.  Throughout the Scripture we see the dual concepts of God’s call and God’s choosing, or election.  So let’s look at a parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 to explore what it means to be “called” versus “chosen.”

In this passage there is a call or invitation that is being sent out and there are also several categories of “unworthy” people.  Let’s first understand that Jesus is describing God’s call (as the King) for people to apart of His Kingdom celebration of the wedding of his Son (i.e. The people of God receiving Christ and coming into relationship with Him).  The servants who bear the message are the prophets of God who have been faithful throughout history to declare God’s call to the world.  The first category of “unworthy” people is those who didn’t think the invitation worth a response.  They simply didn’t respond and are apathetic to the call.  The next group is mixed, but they have one thing in common.  They are all caustic towards the call, to some degree.  If the first group is neutral, this group is negative.  Some merely ridicule the call and make light of it.  Others actively abuse the messengers, and still others actually kill some of the messengers.  Clearly this is a response that is unworthy of benefiting from the call of God.  The last group is pictured by the individual who actually comes to the wedding.  He accepts the invitation, but refuses to comply with the conditions and stipulations of the King.  It was common in those days for a King to supply mandatory garments for state functions like this.  Thus the parable implies that the man came to the event, but refused to put on the wedding garments.  He did not care for the King’s wishes, but rather only cared about what he wanted.  He liked his garments better than those supplied by the King.  This is important because Paul uses this concept of putting off and putting on clothing as a metaphor for righteous works.  Christians are called to put off the dead works of our self-righteousness and put on the living works of the righteousness of Jesus.  The man who is being expelled was called and even responded to the invitation.  But, he did not comply with the conditions and thus is not chosen.  Verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  This is similar to the verse in Matthew 7:22-23.  Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  These had answered the call and even had an outward showing of righteousness.  But putting on the righteousness of Christ begins in the heart.  What makes a work a dead work versus a living work?  Two people can give money to the poor, but for one it is a dead work of self-righteousness, and for the other a living work of true righteousness.  How can that be?  It is so because one has only answered the call, but has not walked worthy of the calling.  In the end they loved their own clothing.  They clung to lawlessness towards God and created a righteousness of their own.  Ultimately, the person who is chosen is the one who responds to the call by following Jesus fully.  They do not look to a man made list of do’s and don’ts.  Rather they are daily listening to the Holy Spirit through the written word, Spirit-filled mentors, and personal prayer.  They are allowing the Spirit to undress them of their own self-righteous sin, and to be dressed in the works that are born of the Spirit of God.  Don’t be deceived.  God is saving us from the lawlessness of self-righteousness.  This world reeks of self-righteousness.  Let us not think that we can remain the same and Jesus will cover everything when we die.  No.  True faith is enabled by the Spirit of God to throw off dead works and put on the living works of the Spirit of God, which is the righteousness of Christ.

Saturday
May062017

Rejecting Worldly Wisdom

1 Corinthians 3:18-23, and James 3:13-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 30, 2017.

Last week we talked about the spiritual powers behind the wisdom of this age and the tactical error they made in crucifying Jesus.  Today we are going to explore further the Holy Spirit’s injunction for believers in Jesus to reject this world’s wisdom and to embrace the wisdom of God.

Truly we live in a wonderful time technologically.  And yet, we also live in a horrible time in respect to the dangers that surround us from that same technology.  It seems apparent that as the good that technology can do for us grows, so the evil that it can do to us grows as well.  This direct proportionality cannot be avoided or sidelined as we broach the subject of wisdom.  Nuclear threats, cultural threats, government encroachment on freedoms, all of these dangers and more come from technology or are exacerbated by the technology at hand.  Thus, we need to understand that these passages, which talk about the wisdom of mankind and of the powers of this age, are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago, even though their technology was quite primitive compared to ours.  As our technology increases, weaknesses within the mind and hearts of mankind will become more dangerous and our lives more fragile.  Thus it is critical for us to heed these warnings against worldly wisdom and the gracious offer of God’s wisdom, which is Jesus the Christ.

Christians can deceive themselves

Paul is writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth.  Just as Adam and Eve were pulled into rebellion against God through deception, so Paul warns believers to beware the deceptions found in the wisdom of this world.  In verse 18 the use of the word “seems” highlights the reality that most of what we call wisdom lies in the arena of what people think.  Many people seem wise and want to appear wise, but the underlying question is whether or not it is truly wisdom.  Thus the desire to be seen as wise is itself a trap that we must beware.  Thus Romans 1:22 says, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”  Now we are not just talking about being knowledgeable, or having great technology.  Wisdom is that aspect of knowing that informs what the next move should be.  Knowing determines how to do something, but wisdom informs whether it should be done or not.  Paul focuses on those who seem to be wise in this age.  They have learned to look wise among a particular people who have a particular world view.  He tells them that when you look wise in this world’s eyes then you are in danger of deceiving yourself.  If this age thinks you are wise then a big red flag should go up in our hearts.  We will talk about this more, but we do much damage to ourselves and others through trying to appear wise.

Paul challenges such desires and such wisdom by stating that we must first become a fool in order to become wise.  It is important to note that this is actually given in a command form.  He is calling for an about face for any Christians who appear to be wise according to the mindset of this world.  He is not encouraging Christians to do foolish things like drink and drive, or jump off tall buildings.  He is challenging believers to fully embrace the mindset and commands of Jesus (his wisdom).  The world will always see this as foolish.  Sure, at different times and in different places it may be in vogue to have a little bit of Jesus adorning our outward appearance.  But at its heart this world rejects the wisdom of Jesus.  Half embraces of Jesus are okay, sometimes.  But the wise of this world always take the idea of Jesus captive to their own reason, instead of becoming captive to the will of Jesus themselves.  To follow Jesus fully will always be thought foolish by this world and by worldly Christians, whether you are in the U.S.A. or in Iran.

In verse 19 the preposition “with” emphasizes being in the presence of God.  This world claims great wisdom, but in God’s eyes they are foolish, and when they stand before Him in eternity they will be made aware of that folly.  How can we claim to be in the presence of God while holding on to worldly wisdom?  Christians must quit trying to look wise to the world and think more about how they appear to our Lord Jesus. 

Now Paul gives two quotes.  The first is from Job 5:13, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.”  The emphasis is on those who abandon the wisdom of God and follow the wisdom of this world.  This false wisdom always leads to some kind of trap in which we are forced to face our folly.  In this trap we are forced to make a decision.  Either we will hold on to the wisdom of this world, or we will repent and be saved.  A great illustration of this in the Bible is Haman in the story of Esther.  He hated Mordecai and the Jews.  Thus he used his great wisdom and skill to try and have him killed along with his people.  Haman had a huge gallows built on which he sought to hang Mordecai.  The story ends with Haman being hung on his own gallows by decree of the King of Persia.  We are not always trapped so drastically in this life.  But no matter what, when we die and stand before God, we will all face such a drastic moment.  Will the King of the heavens and the earth think I have done wisely or will He send me into judgment?

Now the second quote is from Psalm 94:11, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  This psalm is a cry for God’s judgment to take down the wicked (the wise of this world) and to raise up the righteous.  When it says that the thoughts of the wise are “futile,” the word used is the same one used in the famous line from Ecclesiates, “Vanity, Vanity…”  The word has the idea of emptiness, nothingness, meaninglessness.  The thoughts of the wise end up empty, no matter how full they appear for the time.  Solomon,  the wisest man in the world in his day, realized that without God all our wisdom is vanity.

We should not boast in people

Starting in verse 21, Paul brings this to his point in hand.  The Corinthian’s worldly wisdom had led them to boast in certain Christian teachers over the top of the Apostle Paul.  Their desire to seem wise within the Greek world affected their ability to receive the wisdom that Paul was giving them.  They would compare the looks, rhetorical ability, and charisma of these teachers, instead of comparing them to the Scriptures.

Paul approaches this problem by pointing out the foolishness of it.  God is the one who had given the Corinthians all of these teachers: Paul, Peter, Apollos, and others.  God must have had a wise purpose in sending these very different men, who had varying appeal to the wisdom of this world.  When Paul says in verse 21 that “all things are yours,” he means that they were holding on to one person while diminishing and pushing away others.  Yet, God intended for them to have them all.  This is very typical today.  We gravitate towards those teachers who make us feel good and wise and push aside those teachers who don’t.  This is a foolish kind of wisdom that will lead to our own spiritual destruction if we are not careful.  It is bad enough when we boast in one godly teacher over another.  But such a mindset sets us up for being caught up with false teaching.  What if the devil comes along and is the essence of worldly wisdom?  Will we not be easily caught up and trapped in his nets of reason and shackled in his chains of logic?  Thus, they don’t belong to them in the sense that they can do anything they want with them.  He means that they were all given for their benefit.  So their "choosiness" was resisting the wisdom of God.

In verse 23, Paul takes this thought full circle.  God has given the believer everything for their good, but everything (including the believer) belongs to Christ and Christ belongs to God the Father.  Thus everything comes from God and belongs to Him.  This calls for humility under God’s wisdom.  We don’t always know why He has sent certain gifts into our life, yet it is not mine to receive or reject as I wish.  This is because our life belongs to God.  We are to live it for His glory and purposes.  We need to get our eyes off of people, what they think about us and what we think about them.  This is a trap in which we will find ourselves securely fastened.  Only by the grace of God will we be delivered.

We must embrace the true wisdom of God

Now, let’s go to James 3:13-18.  James is dealing with the same tendency of believers to use the wisdom of this world instead of the wisdom of Jesus.  These Christian groups were breaking out into squabbles and fighting amongst themselves.  Thus his letter serves to rebuke and instruct them.

The question in verse 13, “Who is wise and understanding among you,” opens up a world of issues.  Just like Paul using the word “seems,” so James is pointing out this area of our thinking.  The whole problem in the area of wisdom is exactly summed up in who would raise their hand to such a question?  The question itself highlights the problem.  We all think we are wise and tend to use worldly wisdom in who we model ourselves after.  When we operate from a worry of what other think, we are on a sinking ship that is sailing to destruction.  Yet, this question is also a challenge.  If you really want to be wise, then listen to the wisdom that God has given James for you.

If you are really wise then prove it by your good conduct and meekness.  Fighting, slandering, and boasting are not good conduct.  The New Testament is filled with the apostle’s descriptions of what is good conduct versus what is evil conduct.  We cannot be doing bad things to others and claim to be wise.  Such wisdom is worldly and rejected by God.  Not only must we do the wise thing, but it should be done in a wise way, meekly.  Meekness is a gentle spirit and a mild disposition.  This is the opposite of a person who is fighting and squabbling with others.  It is hard to be meek in the best of situations.  But it is even harder when you know you have the wisdom of God and others are rejecting it.  God does not want us to force His ways on others.  He does not want us to toss meekness out the window and focus merely on results.  Instead He wants us to speak the truth in love with a gentle spirit, with the Holy Spirit filling and enabling us.

In verse 14 James points out that if we persist in such self-seeking and envious “wisdom,” then we are lying against the truth.  God says we are not wise to do such things, and yet we keep doing them and calling ourselves wise.  Christians and their lives should agree with God and not lie against Him.  In the end our self wisdom maligns the Truth and the Character of God.  We can become a reason why people reject Him.  They already have worldly wisdom.  Why would they also embrace Jesus?  The truth is that Christians cannot follow the wisdom of Jesus and the wisdom of this world.  To become a Christian is to reject the world’s wisdom, to pick up our cross, and to follow Him.

In verses 15-16, James points out that the wisdom of this age does not come from God.  It has an earthly source; that is it is only focused on matters of the earth.  It also has a sensual source.  The word translated here focuses on those senses of our flesh versus what the Spirit of God desires.  Lastly it has a demonic source.  Instead of wisdom coming down from heaven, it is folly masquerading as wisdom and coming up from the demons of hell.  So James reminds us of our three greatest enemies: the world, our own flesh, and the devil.  Christians must not live by a wisdom that is derived from such sources, and don’t be deceived.  The wisdom of this world is derived by these sources.  I can’t follow Jesus and cling to demonic wisdom.  I will love one and hate the other, no matter how long I try to walk the fence.  The true origin of what masquerades as wisdom in our day and age is found here.

In verse 17 and 18, James turns to God’s wisdom.  God’s wisdom is evident and can be easily judged by us and others.  He says that it is pure.  It is unadulterated in its desires and motives.  It is not mixed with selfish motives, but simply follows the Spirit of God.  It is also peaceable and gentle.  Thus our choice to strive with one another and push our own interests above others is rebuked.  The wisdom of God is willing to yield.  Instead of fighting with another to win the argument, we step back and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.  It is full of mercy as opposed to harsh judgment, and it is full of good fruit.  This is a metaphor for the good conduct mentioned earlier.  Lastly, God’s wisdom is without favoritism and hypocrisy.  It is easy to see that each of these points is obvious, and yet they are easily failed.  Our wisdom pulls us away from what God has made obvious.

James ends with the point that the person, who has the wisdom of God, will sow the truth about Jesus peacefully so as to bring peace to them.  The nature of a seed is that we put it in the soil and then let nature take its course.  Too often we forget this wisdom of God.  May the Lord help us to see the ways in which we have held on to the wisdom of our modern age in resistance to the true wisdom of God.

Rejecting Worldly Wisdom audio

Monday
Apr242017

Checkmate and the Rulers of this Age

1 Corinthians 2:6-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 23, 2017.

In the game of Chess many different strategies can be employed, both defensive and offensive.  Regardless of how sophisticated a strategy may be, the proof of one’s superior ability is to put the other player’s King in a conquered position called checkmate.  They have no moves available to keep the opponent’s next move from taking their King.  Now, in using this illustration, I do not want to give the impression that the Devil is God’s equal in a cosmic game of Chess.  However, we do need to understand that the Devil has made many tactical blunders throughout the course of history, first of which is his choice to rebel against the Creator.

In our passage today we see that the cross may not have been the checkmate per se.  However, it was an irrecoverable error and all moves since are moving towards an inevitable checkmate in which he is out of moves.  Even the moves he employs since the cross are only possible because God is giving time for pawns on the Devil’s side to rebel against the rebel and come back to the Creator.  So the real question today is not so much how many moves or time is left.  Rather, the pertinent question is this, “Which side are you on?”  Are you on the side of the Father and His Son, Jesus?  Or, are you on the side of the Devil and his angels?  Let’s look at our passage today.

Jesus and the Crucifixion are God’s Wisdom

We are going to focus on verses 6-8, but to do that I want to point out verse 2 of this chapter.  Paul told the Corinthians that when he was among them he was “determined not to know anything among you except, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  The distinction is important because Jesus is the wisdom of God both in his being, and in his doing.  He is the wisdom of God before He ever opens His mouth.  When He speaks we are receiving the very wisdom of God.  And, when he acts, the decisions that he makes and the things that he goes through, are all part of demonstrating the wisdom of God.  Now, no matter how Christians want to be perceived by the world, we must hold firmly to this foundational understanding: God’s wisdom is very different from the world’s wisdom.  Not only this, but the world’s wisdom will never accept the wisdom of God in Jesus.  Yes, it may take hold of it and twist it into something and someone different, so as to embrace it. But it will always be an idol of their making and just as vain.

Paul wanted the Corinthians and us to understand that the rulers of this age were ignorant of the amazingly wise thing that God was doing in Jesus.  The Corinthians had embraced Jesus, but held onto wisdom and pathways of thinking that came from the rulers of this age.  You can’t keep the wisdom of this age and really follow Jesus.  The word translated as “ruler” here is used of both earthly and heavenly beings.  Now a human interpretation of this term would most likely be true.  If Caiaphas, Pilate, et al, had known what they were doing they wouldn’t have crucified Jesus.  However, there is very good reason to believe that Paul is also speaking of the Devil and his angels.  They are the true rulers of this age.  What evidence leads me to believe this?  First of all, Jesus often references the spiritual powers that were working.  In the Gospel of John he references the “ruler of this world” that was coming,” and who was about to be “cast out.”  Paul in Ephesians 2:1-2 says, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”  This “ruler” is clearly a spirit being and only ruling in the air as opposed to the heavenlies.  Later in Ephesians 6 Paul speaks further, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Again Paul is clear that these rulers are not flesh and blood, but rather spiritual hosts of wickedness.  There is another reason to recognize the spiritual rulers being referenced in this passage.  The “fallen angels,” as they are often called, operate in rebellion to the God of heaven.  As such, they have historically promoted an alternate wisdom to mankind.  As the serpent twists the truth in order to bring Eve into an alternate understanding, so they have always twisted the truth and used a wisdom that is particular to them in order to manipulate mankind.  The ancient nations even bragged that their wisdom was from the “gods” and their rulers were “demi-gods.”  The Corinthian culture is part and parcel with this Gentile penchant to be enamored with the wisdom and philosophy of the gods they served.  Paul is showing the Corinthians that these great “gods” were ignorant and so were the human rulers who were leaning on their wisdom.  They are not ignorant of everything.  Rather they are ignorant of the wisdom of God found in Jesus.  The spirits at least knew who Jesus was, and they knew that he was there to fight them.  But they did not understand how he was going to bring about the kingdom of God.  This was a mystery.  Yes, the wisdom of this world is vast and immense.  But, in the end, it is at war against the wisdom of the God of heaven.  More than that, it does not lead mankind to utopia or salvation.  It leads us to fight against what will save us, the wisdom of God.  Thus the wisdom of these great spiritual rulers has led them to a tactical blunder that will lead to their eventual checkmate.  The Book of Revelation makes clear that their end is the Lake of Fire, as does Jesus in Matthew 25:41.

Why were these great angels ignorant?  Paul states that it was a hidden mystery that God had kept from the very beginning.  The incarnation of the Son of God and his substitutionary death had been kept secret from the devil.  He had no idea that Jesus wanted to be killed and that it was part of his plan.  By crucifying Jesus, he and his angels commit a capital offense and bring a capital judgment upon themselves and those humans who join them.  From the Garden of Eden on, they have abused the knowledge that God had allowed them to know.  In Job 38 we are told that the Sons of God shouted for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid.  Thus, the “angels” who are called “Sons of God” were created and present for the creation.  The extra-biblical, book called 1 Enoch, which is quoted by Jude and Peter in the Bible, pointed out their involvement in the pre-flood world.  The fallen angels had taught mankind technological arts and used them to pervert mankind away from God.  Thus the weapons of warfare and the arts of seduction (clothing, adornment, and make-up) came from these technologies.  As I said before, the post flood cultures bragged that this information had survived and was the reason for their greatness.  Yet, God had hidden certain things concerning salvation from them.  They don’t know everything.  They are not God.  He most likely hid it because He knew that there would be a rebellion.  So what can we learn from this?  We can learn to be confident in the wisdom of God, and we can remain humble before the world.  Yes, we know the mystery of the incarnation and the cross.  But, what more do we not know?  This is not a time for arrogance, but rather humility.

I would also point out that technology is not itself the problem.  We see this today.  Technology can be used for good or for evil.  However, we need to understand that the drive behind increasing technology comes from a manipulative, spiritual origin.  When man is in rebellion to God, no amount of technology can save him.  In fact, it will only make things worse.

Paul also points out the ancient origins of this mystery.  Although I have already spoken to this fact, I would remind us of a couple of verses in the New Testament.  1 Peter 1:19-20 says, “… the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”  Revelation 13:8 says, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the wild beast], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.”  Notice that the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection were always the plan.  Even before He started Creation, God had already planned to save mankind.  In the unseen councils of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have agreed to the plan of the cross, which condemns all wickedness and redeems all who will humble themselves and put their faith in Jesus.

Verses 9-12, bring this to a point.  Jesus and the Gospel have been revealed to mankind by the Holy Spirit.  The mysteries of God and the wisdom of God that had been made known through the Apostles had its source in the Holy Spirit of God, and not the evil spirits of the Gentile nations.  The Corinthians were trying to follow the man Jesus on the outside all the while listening to the wisdom of evil spirits on the inside.  This will never work.  In fact, all Christians of every generation have had to wrestle with this tendency.  American Christians today wrestle with following Jesus while keeping a cultural wisdom that has its source in evil spirits.  The same is true of any other nation as well.  The wisdom of God has been given to all mankind through the man Jesus and by the Holy Spirit of God.  With it we are able to spoil the greatest beings of the universe outside of God.  We can be saved, seeing through their lies and the destructive tendency of their wisdom.  We can deliver ourselves and rescue others.  We have everything that we need to know for this age.  Sure, God has things prepared for the age to come, after Jesus comes back.  Until then, we can be confident in what God has given us now.  But if we choose the path of arrogance and a particular fascination with demonic wisdom then we will find ourselves in the same plight as the Jewish leaders in the first century.  So we end with the question, “From what spirit are you getting your wisdom?”  The answer to this makes the difference between death and life.

Checkmate audio