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Tuesday
Dec222015

Lessons of Christmas- The Wisdom of It All

1 Corinthians 1:19-31.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 20, 2015.

The sending of a baby to a small country under the domination of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago may not seem to be the wisest plan for saving the world.  Well, it didn’t seem any wiser at the time either.  During the Christmas season we are reminded that the wisest and most powerful people of this world cannot save the world and are absent in God’s plan.  Thus God makes salvation available to the lowest among us and to the highest regardless of these things.  In itself, this can be a problem for those who think they deserve it and others don’t.  The wisdom of Christmas is that God makes salvation available to those who will humble themselves, like he did, and trust His Wisdom and His Power.  Let’s look at this passage.

God Rejects The Wisdom of Mankind

This passage is written to the Christians in Corinth, who grew up in the Greek culture and were influenced by pride in its wisdom.  Thus the fact that God would reject man’s wisdom is at the same time obvious and inconceivable.  It is obvious because it is exactly what we would expect from a Being that can create the universe, or multiverse if you prefer.  However, it runs contrary to our experience and our nature.  We are used to opening doors to opportunity by our knowledge and wisdom.  We are not used to putting our wisdom aside and embracing God’s.

Paul points out that the message of the cross was and is foolishness to those of this world who are perishing.  Of course the message of the cross is God’s plan of salvation, which starts with the incarnation, and the baby Jesus.  This message of how God is saving mankind seems foolish to people of this world.  Thus, even if God were inclined to work in a way that fit in with our wisdom, the fact that we reject His wisdom would disincline Him. 

But more important than that in verse 21 we are told that the wisdom of mankind was not able to help it know God.  No matter how great our telescopes, communications, philosophy, and understanding of the universe, it will not help us know God.  In fact, the only way we have ever known anything about God is because He has revealed it to us, whether you look at the Garden of Eden, the prophets through the ages, or Jesus.  That is why in verses 19-20 God makes it abundantly clear that man’s wisdom will not lead to salvation.  Sin is a problem that cannot be solved with technology or philosophy.  No amount of time will enable social engineers to create a utopia that is truly good. 

At Christmas the message of God’s love comes into the world in a way that seems foolish to the world, but it will be effective against this sin problem.  Man’s wisdom continues to cycle through different wise ideas to help mankind.  But none of them will work.  The founding fathers of the United States of America understood this.  Instead of trying to create a perfect government, they created checks and balances to help keep the sin of men in check.  Over the years we have incrementally weakened and even dissolved many of these checks and balances.  Democracy is not the hope of the world.  At best, it can only restrain evil.  So this story will continue even as mankind doubles down and increases the stakes by calling for Global governance.

In verse 22 Paul points out a particular problem.  The Jews represented the religious wisdom of those who knew God and were supposed to be following Him, whereas the Greeks or Gentiles represented those who did not know God and instead were a more secular wisdom (even though they had religious notions).  The Jews believed in God and so looked for powerful signs of what God was doing.  However, the problem with this is that no matter how many powerful signs God did, their hearts did not want to go where He needed to take them.  Thus, the religious wisdom of those who know God can be driven by human wisdom.  “I will only accept what I determine is God.”  In this model God has to become a kind of court Jester who keeps us constantly entertained in something.  Yet, we don’t want what He is offering.  Thus, such religious wisdom must always come to a point of deciding between God’s way or your way.  On the other hand the secular wisdom of the Greeks and nations of the world believed that salvation could be achieved through the refinement of knowledge and philosophy.  They sought out ideas that “worked.”  God is saying that the solution that will work is one that will not appeal to the religious wisdom or the secular wisdom.  No matter who they are, the wise of mankind will not like the solution God gives.  The wise men of this age or any age to come will never save us, period, whether from religious circles or secular.

God Uses His Own Wisdom

Having established that God will not use man’s wisdom to save us, the obvious is then looked at:  God will use His own wisdom.  Paul points out that God’s wisdom is a stumbling block to the religious.  Yes, they may be looking in the right direction, they may be on the right path, they may even know what they are supposed to be looking for.  However, in the end when God acts to save mankind they trip over it because they didn’t recognize it.  Salvation is offered in a way that is not in harmony with their thoughts.  Yet, God will not let them ignore it.  When they trip over it they will either despise it or they will choose to embrace it.

As for the secular wisdom, the salvation of God is foolishness.  Think of it this way, Jesus coming into first century Israel is a template for the message of Christ going into all the other nations.  You won’t be able to ignore it and a choice must be made.  Yet, our wisdom will always lead us to reject it.  Paul says in verses 24-25 that this “foolishness” is the Power and Wisdom of God.  This “foolishness” is wiser than the greatest wisdom of mankind.  No matter how foolish you think this plan is, it is far wiser than you can imagine.  Only arrogance and pride would cause us to persist in clinging to the ship of this world’s wisdom at the expense of God’s.

God Displays His Wisdom Through Us

Here we are 2 millennia later and countless millions have chosen to believe the message of God in Jesus.  Of course, only God knows how many of them have truly believed, instead of just going along with something in order to fit in.  Yet, in those who believe, the wisdom of God is put on display to a world that cannot see it otherwise.  Paul reminds these Corinthian Christians that most of them were foolish and weak by the world’s standards.  There was a time when we as a nation understood this.  Do you remember the words that are at the statue of liberty?  I won’t quote them all, but the critical part is this.  “'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,' cries she with silent lips!  'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.'”  Today we are more apt to cream the crop of the nations so that our businesses and nation may be the greatest.  But this is not what God does.  He lets the cream rise to the surface and then takes the bottom layer.  Why?  He does so because you can do nothing with those who are so full of their own wisdom they don’t need God.  Whereas the lowly know full well that their only hope is in God.

Paul states emphatically that God will allow no human to glory in front of Him.  The Creator of all things has chosen to save us in a way that glorifies no one, and this grates on the nerves of the mighty to no end.  God loves to choose the weak and foolish, because it highlights the impotence of the strong and wise of this world and forces them to continually hear the truth, “Your wisdom cannot save you!”

Jesus is God’s gift of Wisdom and Glory to us.  At Christmas God gives us the embodiment of His Wisdom and His Glory.  In Jesus, God asks the world to turn from their wisdom and embrace a better wisdom and glory.  He sent Jesus, not because we deserved it, but because He wants to save us.  Thus the Church of Jesus is a reminder to the world of its need to embrace the wisdom of God. 

However, we are not just a reminder to the world.  In Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul points out that God is also teaching the angelic powers through us lowly humans.  Yes, even angels need to learn the same lessons as mankind does.  Their greatest wisdom will only lead to destruction.  But the wisdom of God will lead to life.  There is much interference in the nations of the world today by humans with political ambitions.  However, there is also interference from spiritual beings with an axe to grind.  Thus we are coming to the apex of history.  In this let me ask, what about you?  What do you say?  In Jesus, God has set the fruit of salvation low so that even you can grasp it if you will.  Put your faith in Him today.

 

Lessons-Wisdom audio

Wednesday
May272015

Faith, Duty and Being Offended

May 24, 2015-Luke 17:1-10

Today’s passage follows the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The parable was given to the Pharisees, but at this point Jesus turns back to his disciples to instruct them on obedience in these matters.  It is easy to treat the instructions of Jesus as optional, and only for those who want to move to higher levels of discipleship.  But in this passage Jesus drives home the importance of listening to him.  When people live for themselves and without thought for others, we end up sinning against each other.  Eventually those sins heap up on top of each other and create large separations between us.  In the last chapter Jesus spoke of how wealth could be used to bless people around us in His name.  But in this chapter Jesus deals with the other side of the equation: when you are the one being overlooked or sinned against.

Make Sure You Are Not A Cause Of Stumbling

It is very easy in this area to only focus on the sin of other people.  But Jesus warns against causing each other to stumble.  In 1 John 2:10 it says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  When we truly love one another we will rid ourselves of those things that get in each other’s way.  Yet, when something does happen, we can let it bother us so much that it impacts our ability to trust God and obey Him.  Thus Jesus puts this in very strong terms; as a command and as a warning.

So what is meant by “offense” in this passage?  In verse 4 it is to sin against your brother.  The word that is translated “offense” here is more than just being offended by someone.  It is used to refer to anything that causes a person to be trapped or to fall.  It was used to refer to the stick that triggers a trap.  The Bible also refers to a “stone of offense (or stumbling)” in which the same word is used in regards to causing someone to fall and be injured.  Here it is being used of spiritual matters.  When we sin against each other we are causing a situation where the other person is tempted to fall into a trap of sin with us.  Jesus says that it is impossible for these offenses not to happen.  In fact it is impossible for us to live in this world without being an offense to others.  Some are an offense because they could care less about pleasing God and living for Him.  However, we can be an offense even when we want to please God, simply because we have a heart of flesh.  Christ is calling those who want to follow him to learn to deal with sins that inevitably crop up between them and others.

Jesus then pronounces a woe upon those who offend others.  This is a warning that when we walk this way (offending each other) we are headed for grief.  Like the Rich Man we will wake up one day to find ourselves weeping and crying for mercy.  Jesus gives very stern warning to those who do not take these matters seriously and learn to restrain themselves.  Even though Jesus does not flesh out what the woe would detail, it is clear that it can involve a number of things.  How we treat one another can affect our eternal destinies.  But, it can also affect our lives in the here and now.  It can bring grief to every one of our relationships and spoil the good it is intended for.  In fact, many times people who reject being a part of Christ’s Church do so out of hurt and bitterness.  They see Christians sinning against each other without dealing with it and it causes them to reject Jesus.  What a woeful condition we can find ourselves in when we reject God’s way and follow our own.

Ultimately Jesus is challenging us to pay attention to ourselves.  It is our tendency to be so focused on the sin of others that we pay little attention to our own.  We are told to “pay attention” to ourselves.  Inspect, and analyze how you treat others and how you respond to them.  Make sure there is no cause for stumbling within you.  It would be good to recognize that even if someone sins against us, there is a secondary temptation for us to sin against them.  Thus, especially in this situation we need to watch ourselves carefully.

Now the way Jesus lays this out, it doesn’t seem that there is much mercy.  I believe he puts it so sternly because our pride does not need coddled.  Yet, we know that God does not just warn us of woes, but also calls us to take advantage of the grace He has provided in order for us to deal with our sin correctly.  The heart of this instruction is that we work on not sinning against each other and that we exercise mercy with each other regardless of what side of the problem we find ourselves.  When we think of the rich man and Lazarus we clearly see the warning for the rich man.  But, Lazarus was being tempted to fall and to be trapped in the sin of bitterness and unbelief.  He could have refused to serve a God who would allow such a horrible life to happen to him, and yet, he clearly kept his faith in God.  What a sad turn to this story it would be if Lazarus would have been filled with such bitterness and hatred that he found himself right beside the rich man in the fires of Hell.

Reconcile With Those Who Sin Against You

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word reconcile here, the two instructions he does give to those who are sinned against are what help believers overcome the separating influence of sin and keep themselves tied together in relationship.  Sins separate, but forgiveness overcomes that separation.  Thus God does not give us any excuses to pull away from working things out with each other.

So, verse 3 gives the first instruction to you when someone sins against you.  Rebuke them.  Now that word sounds pretty harsh, but it simply means to correct them.  It is easy when we are hurt to lash out angrily or to retreat silently.  Neither one is a godly response to sin.  The believer is under a command from the Lord to face it when others sin against us and to deal with it.  Yet, correcting someone is a skill that needs to be honed.  Just as you were not born able to walk, so you are not born able to correct.  Sure you can do it, but are you causing more damage than good?  In this case we can be so right, in that we were sinned against, and yet so wrong, in that we rebuke harshly and angrily.

Now let me remind us that not all things are big enough to merit a rebuke.  We cannot expect people to speak and act perfectly all the time.  Little things that are merely aggravations can be and should be overlooked.  1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  Now that doesn’t mean we are covering up sins.  But rather we cover it much like we would cover a bill for which someone else is short the money.  Also in Proverbs 19:11 it is said this way, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Thus discretion is found in thinking about ourselves and how we need to give mercy to others that we expect from them.

So how do we properly correct each other?  Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love with one another.  Love is that guiding principle that should surround our decision to correct someone.  This takes some serious time spent in prayer asking for wisdom as to what to say and for control over our own spirit.  I can sin against my brother in how I rebuke him.

Thus we are to correct and then forgive our brother.  Now forgiveness is a skill that needs to be honed as well.  We all have emotional barriers to overcome in order to truly forgive someone.  When we truly forgive someone we release them from the desire for justice we could hold over them.  When I see them their sin is no longer a part of the picture because I have released them from it.  Now this passage assumes a brother repents.  What do you do if he won’t repent?  You have to go to Matthew 18 for that information.  But let me just say that it follows the same spirit of this passage.  You must reconcile with your brother as far as is possible from your side.  There is no choice, if you are going to follow Jesus, and you are never free to flee from reconciliation.  Thus in Matthew 18 we first correct our brother in private and without telling others what happened.  If the brother rejects us then we widen the circle and bring in one or two others to try and help us reconcile.  If he still refuses to repent then we take it before the Church and its elders.  If a person still refuses to repent even when faced with a whole church that is calling him to repentance he would be treated as if he wasn’t a believer.  Of course at any time he could repent and rejoin the assembly.  But, until then, he would not be received as a brother.  Why?  If he was truly following Jesus he would have no problem repenting.  Today we can get offended and go down the street to another church.  This is a weakness in the church today.  Instead of being reconciled and becoming more like Christ, we are fractured and become more like the spirit of this world.  God forgive us for running from reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

In fact Jesus goes on to instruct us not to limit our forgiveness.  Even if your brother sins 7 times in one day and continues to ask forgiveness, we must forgive him.  There is no wiggle room to deny the repentant forgiveness.  We are under a command.  Now seven times is amazing to us.  We would question such a person’s sincerity.  However, the truth is that our flesh questions their sincerity on time number one.  If he is not sincere then his master (Jesus) will take care of that.  The rich man did all manner of religious things in his life, but eventually his lack of sincerity caught up with him.  Quit worrying about a person’s sincerity and start worrying about your own soul.  Yes, we can even rebuke a person regarding their sincerity or lack thereof.  But we still must do so in order to reconcile and out of love.  Now, seven is not some lucky number that allows us to quit forgiving.  Elsewhere, Jesus gives the number 70X7, i.e. 490.  The numbers are really meant to be so incredulous so as to cure us from counting.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it doesn’t keep count.  Instead it speaks the truth in love and forgives.  If you limit your forgiveness to others, do you not limit it to yourself?  If you are merciless to others are you not asking God to be merciless to you?  Think on this.

We Have A Duty To God

Now Jesus ends on a note of duty.  He does so particularly because his disciples are amazed at what he expects of them.  “Increase our faith.”  Now surely this is a prayer we all should pray.  However, that is not what they are doing.  It is the equivalent of saying, how in the world do you expect us to do that!  Lord, I don’t have enough faith to do that!  Now before we talk about duty let us all understand that God wants us to do the right thing for more than duty.  He would rather we obey Him out of love for Him and also a love for His character, and the way that He does things.  Our obedience is best when it is the cry of faith, “I want to be like you, Lord!”  Yet, underlying this higher motivation must be a foundation understanding that I am also duty bound.  Like a foundation is to a building, so duty is to our desire to be like God.  When a hurricane strikes and wipes out a house, it leaves behind a foundation.  So, there are times when our desire to be like God and our love for him is wiped away in the storm and trial of temptation.  Yet, there must always be a foundational response of duty before God.  If you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, duty-bound to Him.  Duty can save us when our own love fails us.  But, we must never settle for duty as the sole motivation.  We must build upon this foundation a whole structure of love and desire to be like Jesus.

Now the instructions of Jesus make it clear that the disciples do not need their faith increased.  You do not need great faith to follow these commands.  You need only a small amount of faith.  The amount of faith is not the problem.  It is my own stubborn pride.  The problem isn’t that I can’t believe and do it, it is that I don’t want to do it.  It is simple to do and yet hard because my flesh fights it so.

Yet, even our pride and wounds can be overcome.  The mulberry bush in this passage represents the root and bush of the sin of unforgiveness and bitterness that can grow in our hearts.  If we even have a mustard seed of faith in Jesus we can send our own bitterness into the sea of God’s forgiveness.  If we even trust Jesus one speck we could free our brother from his sins against us.  It is only our pride that stands in the way of forgiving another person.  So why am I so prideful?  And, if it causes me to reject the command of Jesus, am I truly trusting and believing upon Him?

Thus, the call to duty is given by Christ.  There is a reward for those who will serve him in this matter.  Yes, a reward in the life to come, for sure.  However, there is a reward in this life.  We will be enabled to become one with a spouse, and to raise a family.  We will be enabled to build a church body that brings honor to God.  We will be able to be a peaceful influence everywhere we go and enjoy the fruits of brotherly love rather than the bitterness of selfish endeavors.  We will be rewarded according to what masters us.  So who is your master, your own fleshly pride or Jesus?

Being Offended mp3