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Weekly Word

Entries in The Word (5)

Wednesday
Jul102019

More Parables I

Mark 4:21-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 07, 2019.

Today we will look at two more parables that follow on the heels of the Parable of the soils.  Both of them continue with metaphors regarding God’s Word in our life and how important it is for us to receive it, believe it, and live it out.

The parable of the Lamp under the Basket

Verses 21-25 change the metaphor from seed planted in soil to a lamp made to shine light.  Although we are not given a detailed explanation of this parable, Jesus makes several comments to enhance what he is saying.  The key is to recognize that, though the metaphor has changed, we are still talking about the purpose for the Word of God in our life.

Let’s look at the elements of this new parable and compare it to the parable of the soils.  If we were to break down the parable of the soils in light of this parable we would note that the seed corresponds to the oil in the lamp.  It is the Word of God coming into our life.  Though the oil is not mentioned, the word for lamp here refers to an oil burning lamp that would have a wick.  The purpose of shining light is mentioned and therefore implies the presence of oil in the lamp.  Sometimes you will hear people say that oil always represents the Holy Spirit.  However, the connection between the Spirit of God and His Word is inseparable, though distinct.

Next, the Lamp as a container corresponds to the soil, and is the individual who hears the Word of God.  We are sent the Word of God in order for it to do something within us and our life.

Lastly, the fruitfulness of the seed corresponds to the unhidden light of the lamp, and is the transformative effect of the Word upon the individual’s life.

The parable of the Lamp under the Basket is all about the purpose of God’s Word.  The only reason to put a lamp under a basket or bed is because you are not using it.  It cannot be lit because it would catch the basket and bed on fire.  Normally people have lamps because they intend to use them.  There would be a particular place, a lamp stand, where you would put the lamp and then light it when you need it to illuminate the room.  The point Jesus is making is this.  God made us to be a lamp through which His Word could bring light to the world that isn’t listening to Him.

Verse 22 gives a principle that is intended to explain, but sometimes misleads people.  “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.”  On its own, this phrase serves as a kind of cautionary proverb that warns us about our private or secret lives.  Be careful how you live in secret because it will eventually become public knowledge.  However, in this context it relates to the Word of God coming into our life so that we can be a light to the world.  Thus, the point is not so much about a hidden life of sin, but about keeping God’s Word hidden and not shining it out to the world.  Up until Jesus, the Gospel regarding the salvation of mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, had been kept hidden.  Yes, God slowly and progressively revealed the Gospel throughout the Old Testament, but it really is in a cryptic and hidden form.  With the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the Church would become the light of God to the world.  It was not time to keep the Gospel hidden.  Our whole purpose is to let God’s Word transform us so that we will illuminate the dark world around us.  Will we cooperate with God in this purpose?

It is not enough for the lamp to be filled with oil.  We can hear the whole Bible seven times and yet it must be ignited.  This represents what we talked about in the parable of the soils.  We must understand the Word, believe that it is true and for our life, we must live it out, and we must hold onto it and the fruit it produces in our life.  Faith in God’s Word is the ignition point that begins to produce light.  This ignition first transforms us internally.  Then it produces an external transformation, which also leads to proclaiming the Gospel.  In fact, in Matthew 5:16 Jesus adds this regarding these lamps.  , “Let  your light so shine before men that they may see  your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Notice that the light is first and foremost our good works.  Remember, good works done by and for our own merit are filthy rags, but good works done by the Holy Spirit and for Jesus are truly a light to this world.  Sharing the Gospel with people is only one good work of many that represents the light.  Let’s first live the Word, so that we have earned the right to share the Gospel.

In verse 24 Jesus remarks that we should take care of the Word of God that we receive.  The emphasis is on hearing because most people were not readers, nor had a copy of the Scriptures.  If they were to receive God’s Word then they would have to go where it was being read, or happen upon someone who knew it and was sharing it.  Literally Jesus tells them to understand or perceive what they hear.  Don’t let it just come in one ear and out the other.   To the degree that you understand God’s Word and shine it out to the world around you, is the degree that God will give you more Word to understand.  In fact, if the lamp refuses to let the oil be ignited then God will quit sending it oil.  In fact, just as the parable of the soils had many obstacles to our faith in God’s Word so, those same obstacles stand in the way of us shining the Light of God’s Word to the world.  Just as the seed that did not grow to fruit was lost to the soil so, the oil that is not used to illuminate will be lost.  Yes, we are dealing with metaphors here and so, we should not become lost in the details of the metaphors, but instead focus on the spiritual truth they reveal.

None of us deserves the Word of God.  It really is His gracious mercy to us.  God is faithful to send His Word to those who do not deserve it.  Yet, this does not diminish the secondary truth that He will hold us accountable for the Word that we have received.  This connection between using and receiving ultimately catches up with us.  Over the long-term, how we appropriate the Word of God will affect how much more we receive.

The parable of the Growing Seed

The next parable is in verses 26-29.  We are back to the first metaphor of the seed being the Word of God.  However, here we are told that the “Kingdom of God” can be understood by this metaphor as well.  The soil can be seen as an individual, but here it is seen as a corporate thing involving all who believe. In the first century, the Kingdom of God was on the move through the new Church that Christ was building.  The people of God would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and increase the Kingdom of God on earth, one person at a time.   Thus, the soil really represents the world as a whole.  Those who responded faithfully to the Gospel are good soil and those who do not are not good ground.

In this parable, Jesus mentions that the sower doesn’t understand how the growth occurs.  He just knows it works to sow the seed.  Similarly, we are God’s messengers through our lives and our speech.  We don’t understand completely how that works, and why one person believes and another doesn’t.  Nor do we know why one waits longer, but finally believes.  However, there are two things involved: the work of the Holy Spirit in their heart, and the response of the heart and mind of the hearer.  Will they let the birds, rocks, and thorns ruin the word in their life?  These mysteries of salvation cannot be solved.  Yet, we know that we are commanded to sow God’s Word and that it will powerfully save those who believe.

The parable ends with the emphasis that the field will be harvested when the grain has ripened.  God will not let it be lost or rot.  Yet, this metaphor is more complicated than it looks when it comes to harvesting.

In some ways, we see the idea of harvesting used to point to the act of bringing a person into the Kingdom of God.  The harvester is that servant of God who helps them to make that last step of stepping into the family of God and connecting to their brothers and sisters in the Lord.  I believe this is what Jesus meant in John 4.  In John 4:35 Jesus told his disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!..”  And then in verse 38 he told them, ““I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”  Jesus is clearly speaking about their work of preaching the Gospel and baptizing those who believe.  They would be harvesting those whose faith was ready to be reaped.

The apostle Paul also picks up this metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3, where he also adds the concept of the one who waters the seed.  A person is brought to salvation by the working together of those who put the word in their heart, those who come along and water that seed by continually reminding them and encouraging them, and then those who harvest them by helping them to step out in faith.  Some may object to this metaphor because cutting down grain sounds bad metaphorically.  However, those who come into the family of Christ are being separated from the world in which they have grown and are connecting to a new spiritual and life-giving source.  So, even though the analogy breaks down in some ways, it is still an apt and valuable picture.

We could also see the harvest individually in regards to the end of our life in this body.  When a believer comes to their death, their whole life has been completely lived.  The seed of God’s Word is as mature as it is going to be and they are taken into God’s barn.  The reaping here is done by God Himself as He brings us to Himself.

Yet, we noticed that the parable emphasizes the Kingdom of God as a whole, and therefore, the harvesting should be seen that way as well.  The Bible speaks of a separation, or harvest, at the end of the age (the age of the Church spreading the Gospel).  In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a similar parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and a harvest at the end of the age.  Matthew 13:39, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”  This harvest has good fruit and bad fruit that must be separated.  God only intends to keep that fruit which comes from the Word He has sown, not that fruit which comes from other “words.” 

Revelation 14 also emphasizes this fact, but describes it in the terms of two different harvests.  The first harvest is described as a grain harvest.  It is the harvesting of the people of God.  The second harvest is described as a grape harvest.  It is the harvesting of the wicked.  They will be gathered together and tossed into the winepress.  This imagery is that of the wrath of God coming upon the whole earth for its rebellion against God.  Ultimately, the book of Revelation reveals that God is bringing us to a new heavens and a new earth in which nothing wicked will be allowed to enter.

May God help us to see the importance of both sides of this.  We must proclaim the Gospel to people and speak it as much as we can.  Whether we are planting seeds, watering them, or harvesting new believers, is not our concern.  Rather, our concern is that we are faithful at doing our part.  However, we must also be a transformed person.  We must believe God’s Word and cooperate with its transforming power, so that the world can see the fruit of God’s Word.  Yes, none of us do this without error.  However, we have an advocate with the Father.  If we will be faithful to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, repent of our falling short, and stir up our faith in God’s Word, then He will shine his light through us into the world!

More Parables I audio

Tuesday
Jul022019

The Parable of the Soils II

Mark 4:13-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, June 30, 2019. 

We now move to the explanation of what the parable of the soils means that is given by Jesus to his close disciples.   This is clearly at a later time when they are alone.

A simple parable about sharing the Word of God

The parables are not hard to understand if you know what is trying to be exampled.  This brings up several things that we should keep in mind when dealing with them.  Think about it for a moment.  The average person could take any short story or imagery and come up with many different things that it could illustrate.  A more ingenious person could come up with innumerable things that the example could illuminate.  Without a frame of reference, it is practically impossible to know for sure what is being taught.  This is important to understand about parables.  We must let the context and clues in the text guide us in our interpretation, being careful to not force the application farther than it is intended.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some parables are told in multiple gospels.  It is important to compare them.  Often they will each contain details and wording that is not found in the other.  This can add to our understanding of the parable, which could be missed if we only looked at one telling of the story.

Lastly, some parables are told more than once, but clearly illustrate different spiritual principles.  Don’t assume because you understand a parable in one gospel that you automatically know what it meant in another.  Take time to check the contextual clues that are given.

Jesus gives his disciples the key to understanding the parable of the soils.  The seed represents the word of God.  When it is spoken to a group of people, it is as if one is spreading seed into their hearts.  Each of these hearts has a different spiritual condition.  Once you understand that we are talking about spreading the Word of God then you can quickly make sense of the rest of the parable.  Nothing grows without a seed.  It is the information on how to create a particular plant and fruit.  Alongside of this, the seed is also the inception point of the growth of anything.  God sends His Word in order to grow certain things in our life.  Without it, that fruit cannot come into existence.

So what is this fruit that God wants to grow in my life?  Sometimes people connect the fruit to the number of people that you bring to salvation in Christ.  However, many godly people through the years did not have a large number of converts (e.g. Noah, Jeremiah, many missionaries who went to warrior-cultures).  However, it would be foolish to say that the Word of God was not fruitful in their lives.  The fruit, or the evidence, of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in our hearts is both internal and external.  In Galatians 5, Paul gives a list of nine virtues that affect how a person lives:  love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  In fact a fruitful tree or plant becomes a source of life for others.

The best picture of this is Jesus himself.  He has the perfect relationship with the Word of God the Father, and is called the Word of God.  His perfect relationship with the Word of God is the source of all that he does and teaches.  So what kind of soil does God’s Word find when it lands in my heart, mind, and life?

The seed by the side of the road

The side of the road is not a good place to grow.  We would call it the shoulder of the road.  We are told that the seed that lands on the side of the road is eaten by the birds of the air.  The Gospel of Luke adds that it will be trampled by men (Luke 8).  Before we deal with the birds, we should recognize that the trampling of people upon the Word of God in my heart would represent the harshness and sins of others upon me.  How can I hear God’s Word and not let others trample it out of my life, keep it from growing?  I must guard my heart and mind, particularly the ability of God’s Word to grow.  I must not let the failures of others to keep me from receiving and growing by God’s Truth.  It is so easy to let the sins of others become the excuse for why I don’t obey God (e.g. his command for us to forgive and love our enemies).

Yet, the main problem in the story is the birds of the air.  Jesus connects them to Satan.  More than likely, Jesus is using what is called synecdoche here.  Satan is the leader of the rebellion within the spirit realm.  He is referenced in the same way that a person may talk of Hitler invading Czechoslovakia.  Clearly, we mean his troops and tanks and not him personally.  Thus, it is not necessarily Satan himself that removes the Word from all such people’s hearts.  Yet, he represents an evil, spiritual force that works to keep humans from believing and trusting the Word of God.  We must not confuse the metaphor with the spiritual truth it portrays.  Birds eat seeds for sustenance and nourishment.  I hardly think it is intended to teach that Satan and his evil cohorts are actually eating and being nourished by God’s Word in such ways.  So, how do evil spirits get the Word of God out of our hearts?

I think that they do so by supplanting God’s Word with their own false truths, even half-truths.  This false information “neutralizes” the teaching of God’s Word, and for all practical purposes, the Word is lost to them.  Our world is full of the half-truths of the devil.  His first half-truth was that God was holding out on Adam and Eve.  They could become like Him by disobeying Him.  All around us is the rationale and the teaching of evil spirits that have been waging a propaganda campaign against the God of Heaven throughout human history.  On the other hand, God’s Word can deconstruct those lies and give us truth so that we can become like Him, like Jesus, rather than like the devil.

The seed on the stony ground

These next three soils all receive the word positively.  However, it is not enough to receive God’s Word in a positive way.  There are other issues to recognize.  Here we are told that the problem with the stony ground is that it has no depth of earth.  The rocks represent hard things that are the opposite of broken soil.  Just as Jeremiah told his people to “break up the unplowed ground and do not sow among the thorns,” (Jeremiah 4:3), we must deal with those hard parts of our lives that keep God’s Word from taking root deeply.  Hard ground can be tilled, but large stones must be removed from the ground and rolled to the edge of the field.  We are not told what the rocks metaphorically reference.  However, it is safe to say that it is any hardness in our heart and mind that gets in the way of God’s Truth.  Only He can help us to rolls such things to the edge of our lives.  He will help us if we ask Him.

Regardless of the stones, the seed immediately shows growth that looks good from the surface.  The problem is that there is not a strong root structure beneath the surface.  Normally the sun is good for a plant.  It is the source of all the energy the plant uses to grow and stores within its cells.  Yet, the lack of a good root structure causes the plant to dry out and die.  Here the sun represents the trials and persecutions that a Christian endures in this life.

This brings up another metaphor that is used about God’s Word.  There is a way in which God’s Word is like a seed and begins the growth of spiritual transformation in our life.  It is information.  However, there is also a way in which the Word of God is like water; it allows a plant to grow and thrive in the presence of harsh trials.  It is not enough to get spiritual life started by the Word of God.  We also need a daily supply of God’s Word into our lives so that we do not spiritually dry up, and our faith withers.  God can help us to do more than survive in the time of trial and testing.  If our roots go deep into Him, we can be made even stronger by those trials and persecutions.

The seed on the thorny ground

The third soil also receives the word and has growth, but there are other things growing in this heart and mind that eventually choke the growth of God’s Word.  The implication is that the word will eventually die off, but this is not actually stated.  Jesus lists three things that the thorns represent: the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.

The cares of this world is not only about being anxious and worrying.  It is about all those concerns and necessities of our life and the culture around us.  There are some things that we should be concerned about and other that we shouldn’t (at least not at the level that we do).  The problem is not so much the cares themselves, as the fact that we allow them to choke out what God’s Word says to us.  This is a kind of pragmatic approach where I am always trying to control what I experience in life.  Sometimes there is no godly way to obtain what I want.  What will I do then?  Such a weed, or thorny plant, can overwhelm what God’s Word is trying to produce in you.

Notice that it is not riches themselves that are the problem in this second phrase.  Rather, it is the fact that we are deceived by riches.  They stir up ideas and thoughts in our heart that promise meaning and purpose, happiness and joy.  They can even be seen as proof of God’s love for me.  It is not the money or riches themselves, but our inordinate love for them that causes all kinds of evil in our life, squelching the things God’s Word is trying to produce.

The desire for other things is similar and could point to the pride of life, experiences we desire, etc.  The Gospel of Luke says “the pleasures of life.”  All of these things are generally mixed together and, like weeds and thorny plants, kill off the fruit that is actually better for us and for others. 

So, what is the solution?  We must rise up and weed the garden of our heart and mind, so that God’s Word can grow in us.  It is easy to blame God for having these things in our heart and expect Him to take them away.  However, we must co-labor with Him.  Yes, He will help us, but we must choose to partner with Him in it.

The seed in the good soil

Mark tells us that the good soil is those who hear the word and “accept it” (literally “receive it for one’s self”).  It is not just about the words coming in one ear and out the other.  We must take it in as God’s Word for us.  Matthew also adds the phrase “understands it.”  This does not mean that we must fully understand everything it means, but that there must be some level of understanding for God’s Word to grow in our life.  The Holy Spirit works at all time to aid us in understanding the Word of God.  Luke also adds the phrase “keep it.”  This word can sometimes be used to mean nurturing, like a shepherd keeps sheep.  However, in this passage it simply means to hold onto it.  Much of the test of life is about whether or not we will hold onto God’s Word or let it go.  Luke also adds the phrase “with patience.”  We can grow weary of waiting on God’s Word even when we are thinking correctly about what it should produce in our lives.

So, if we put all this together, the picture is of a person who is hearing the Word of God, understanding what it says, accepting its teaching for their life, and is continuing to hold on to it and what it is growing in their life.

This good soil may appear to have no problems, like God just happened to make it that way.  This would not be fair.  However, most farmland became that way through the hard work of the owner and past generations.  In our life we must continually weed our heart, mind, and actions, if God’s Word is to be fruitful.  We will run into large boulders of hardness in our heart and mind that will need to be moved aside, if God’s Word is to be fruitful.  The good soil person is not impervious to these things.  However, as we deal with these different issues, we will find fruitfulness in our life both internally and externally.

The parable ends with a statement about particular yields (30X, 60X, and 100X).  Seeds have the amazing power to produce fruit far more than itself.  One apple may represent five or more seeds, but each seed can potentially be a tree that produces countless apples for many years.  How should we view these yields?  It is tough to say because there is no connection made from the illustration to the spiritual message.  No two Christians produce the same “fruit and yield.”  I would, however, urge some cautions in this area.  We are not always the best judges of what is truly fruitful.  We may go too hard on ourselves and others, or we may go too easy.  In fact, we have to have a certain level of maturity in Christ to even understand what it is he is trying to grow.  The prophet Jeremiah struggled with the lack of response to his message, but God’s Word was highly fruitful in his life, and we are able to be encouraged by the Words he was faithful to have written down.

In the end it does not matter who was more fruitful than whom.  What will matter is whether or not we were faithful to the Lord, and to the end.  Moses by faith split the Red Sea (really God did it, but we are focusing on the faith side of the equation).  However, that is what God asked of him.  The real question to always ask is this.  What do you want of me today, Lord?  Help me to be faithful!

Parable of the Soils II audio

Tuesday
Jun252019

The Parable of the Soils I

Mark 4:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, June 23, 2019.

Today we are back in the Gospel according to Mark.  Here we are going to look at one of the parables that Christ told, the Parable of the Soils.  Jesus often used the common experiences of the first century Israelite to Illustrate spiritual truth.

As we approach this passage today, there is something we should all ask ourselves.  Am I responding to the Holy Spirit, who is drawing me to Christ, or am I simply going along with a ritual that I think I am supposed to do?  The condition and purpose of our heart are what is most important in this thing that is called Church, and Christianity.  As David said long ago, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:16,17).  He also said earlier in that same chapter, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, You will make me to know wisdom (vs. 6).

Yes, God is concerned about our outward lives.  However, He will not settle for an outward conforming that lacks inner transformation.  It is not enough to look like Jesus when my heart does not look like his.  So, today, let us hear the Holy Spirit calling us to a deeper growth and a deeper walk with Him.

Jesus teaches the multitude

At the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, he was very popular and multitudes would crowd around to hear him teach.  This was sometimes 1,000’s of people.  Whenever we have a multitude, crowd, or even mob, it is a mixed bag.  So, it was in those days.  They ranged from people who were there seriously seeking truth from Jesus to those who were there looking for a cause to shut him up.

At this point we are told that Jesus is beside the Sea, which is most likely the Sea of Galilee.  The crowds are pressing in so hard that he gets in a boat and puts out from the shore a little bit. This would keep them from pressing in too much on Jesus, and it would allow more people to see and hear him.  The water and the ground rising up away from it would also serve as a natural amphitheater, making it possible for far more to hear his teaching.

We should take time to note that this is in comparison to his times of teaching in the synagogues (or even in people’s homes).  Jesus was not stuck to teaching in special religious places.  The synagogue would be small, restrictive to crowds, and often filled with the notable people of the village.  Jesus preached wherever he knew that people would listen.  It is important for Christians to avoid the trap of only preaching in our Church buildings.  How many people do not hear the Word of God because they would never enter a Church?  Most likely a large number.  We must go out to them.

We are told that Jesus often used parables in his teaching.  The term parable often brings the person of Jesus to mind, even among non-Christians.  IT comes from a word that means to cast or put alongside.  Thus, it came to be used of a comparison of two things.  It could be a simple simile, or a more complex story that still functions as a simile.  The parables of Christ are illustrations of spiritual truths that all believers should want to study and understand.  Many times, the explanation to a parable is given in the Bible, and other times we may receive a string of parables with only one of them explained.  It is understood that the unexplained parables are teaching a similar point and thus can be sleuthed out by those that are explained in the context.  We should also understand that parables were never intended to be allegories where every single detail has a mystical or metaphorical meaning.  There is a long history of people who have taken the parables of Christ and twisted them to mean patently false things.

Jesus did not entitle his parables.  However, believers and teachers often refer to them with titles.  The parable today is sometimes called The Parable of the Sower.  The titles have developed over the years and are not original to the stories.  They only help us to identify which parable a person is referring.

We should also recognize that sometimes a parable can be found in the other Gospels and may have details in the others that are not included in the first.  So, these are some things to keep in mind when reading and trying to understand a parable.

The parable in front of us today involves a person who is sowing seed.  The seed falls upon four different types of ground and thus has four different effects.  We are going to deal with the interpretation more next week.  However, verse 14 tells us that the seed represents the Word.  I think it is obvious Jesus specifically means the Word of God.  The sower would be anyone God sends to proclaim His Word, which in this case would be Jesus.

The main thrust of the parable centers on the different kinds of soil that the Word of God falls upon when it is spoken or broadcast.  The condition of the place it falls explains the different responses that individuals have to it.  The illustration is helping us to see the different spiritual conditions that can exist within a person’s heart.  The first soil corresponds to those who do not respond to the Gospel.  The seed (Word of God) is quickly lost to them.  The second soil corresponds to those who respond positively and quickly, but their quick growth does not last during the heat of trials.  The third soil corresponds again to a person who responds positively and yet the Word is eventually choked out by the desires of their flesh.  The fourth is the soil that responds positively and goes on to bear fruit at varying yields.  The fruit is the effect that the Word of God produces within their souls and within their lives.  The reason that I am not going to spend more time on the interpretation this week is that Jesus himself goes on to talk about the purpose of the parables before he explains its interpretation.  In fact, the explanation is given later to The Twelve when Jesus is alone with them.

The purpose of parables

In verse 9, Jesus ends his parable with a statement, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  This phrase uses an obvious physical necessity to point to an inner necessity.  Of course, everyone there had ears and could most likely hear.  If they had been deaf, Jesus would typically heal them.  Just as we use the word “to listen” or “to hear” to mean more than just the act of hearing itself, so did the Hebrews.  When we say to a child, “Are you listening to me, or Did you hear me,” we clearly mean more than only picking up auditory signals.  We are pointing both to understanding of the words and also obedience or acting upon the words.  Many people hear the Word of God, but not all understand it, and even fewer will actually turn from the self-life and follow the Lord Jesus.  Jesus knew this about the multitudes.  Many of them did not understand what he taught and were not really looking for spiritual teaching.  Rather, they wanted miracles, healings, and free food.  This phrase really expresses a challenge, “Do you really want to know what I am talking about today?”

Ultimately, Jesus states that the parables only explain for those who are inside, but they are intended to cloak the truth for those who are outside.  So, who are these outsiders and insiders that Jesus is talking about?  From our passage, we can tell that at least The Twelve disciples are on the inside because Jesus gives them the explanation later.  We would also suspect that most of the multitude are on the outside.  It is helpful that the Apostle Paul also uses these terms in 1 Corinthians 5:12 and following.  There he defines the insiders as those who are believers in Jesus and therefore, part of the body of Christ.  They are inside the grace of Christ.  The outsiders are those who are not believers in Christ and are not a part of his body.  They are the unbelievers.  Paul’s usage of these words definitely fits our context.  Many people in the crowd were not actually believers in Jesus.  They were there to see a spectacle and others were there as his enemies.  So, why would Jesus teach in a way that would cloak God’s Word to those who don’t believe?

It is instructive that he quotes from Isaiah 6:9. In that passage, Isaiah had spoken the Word of God to people who had received many Words from the Lord over the course of 700 plus years.  When Jesus spoke, it was another 700 plus years on top of that.  Israel had so much Word of God that it was coming out of their noses, to use a manna reference.  Yet, many of them were not really understanding it and much less obeying it.  Those who have no shortage of the Word of God were challenged by this cryptic saying that God gave Isaiah.  Why would God say to us to keep on hearing and not understanding, keep on seeing and not perceiving?  I believe it was a direct challenge from God for them to change their ways and press in to Him further in order to understand.  It is the same reason that Jesus sometimes said things that were very hard to accept and understand.  It is a challenge to see if you will follow the Holy Spirit and truly learn what is being said, or will you shut down and turn away from Jesus? 

When he told the people that if their eye leads them into sin then they should gouge it out, and if their hand leads them into sin then they should cut it off, he is not instructing us to literally do these things.  Yet, we can get offended at the harshness of the teaching and walk away.  Alternatively, we could press in to Him in order to gain better understanding.

Another example is when Jesus told the people that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would have not life in them.  Many were offended at that teaching and walked away.  We are actually told in John 6:66 that “From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”  Then Jesus turned to The Twelve and says, “Will you too go away?”  Peter’s response is priceless.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of Life.”  We can only understand the teaching of Christ if we are willing to first believe in him, and that belief will be challenged along the way.

In some ways Christ was being gracious.  His desire was not to heap more guilt upon them, but rather to prick their conscience.  It was to cut through the thick flesh that encased their hearts and call them back to faith in God, specifically faith in the One whom the Father had sent, Jesus!

I pray that today your heart is trusting Christ.  When you read verses that seem hard to understand or to accept then don’t let the offense of your heart cause you to go away from Christ.  Rather, let Christ know in your prayers that you trust Him even when you don’t understand everything that he taught.  Ask him to help you to understand and follow him in faith.  He is faithful always to help us to grow in understanding what only the Spirit of God can teach us.

Parable of Soils I audio

Tuesday
Jan152019

The Carnal Christian

1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 13, 2019.

Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a carnal Christian.  Suffice it to say that this is not something that the believer should aspire to be.  However, it cannot only be an appearance that we avoid.  Much like “trying to look humble,” trying to look spiritual is itself the fruit of carnality.

The word “carnal” can also be translated as fleshly, and it refers to something that is characterized by the flesh and its desires.  The believer in Jesus who is walking with Him will find that Jesus always leads us away from the desires of our flesh and towards the desires of our Father in heaven.

As we look at our passage today, let’s not drum up images of people that we think this describes, but rather let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and help us to grow in becoming like the Lord Jesus this year.

What is a carnal Christian?

There are some who teach that the phrase “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron, and that such a person is not really saved.  Yet, I do not believe that this idea completely squares with Scripture, especially the passage before us today.  In our passage Paul refers to the Corinthians as carnal and yet back in chapter one he made it clear that he saw them as true Christians.  1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”  So it seems that it is possible to be saved and yet characterized by the desires of one’s flesh.  We will explore more later.

First we should note that in this passage carnality is used in opposition to being spiritual (vs. 1).  Spiritual here does not mean having a spirit, as all humans have one.  Neither does it mean having the Holy Spirit because Paul never denies that these Christians have the Holy Spirit, but rather uses the fact that they do have the Holy Spirit in his arguments throughout the book.  Thus it is a characterization of their predominant life-choices.  They are not listening to the Wisdom of the Spirit of God in some very obvious areas, but rather listening to their flesh.  It might be good to note that it is not enough to be open to spiritual things.  There are many who avoid any sense of religion and pride themselves in being spiritual.  However the Word of God warns us that there are many deceptive spirits in this world.  We should be careful of opening ourselves up to deceiving spirits.  Believers are to be open to the Holy Spirit, but closed off to any other spirits that would work in opposition to the Father.  So we want to be spiritual, but in a biblical way.

Verse 1 also brings up another aspect of carnality.  Paul uses it to refer to those who are babes in Christ, i.e. immaturity.  This is a clear picture of a person who is newly saved.  We are not told how long a person should take to be mature.  However, it is clear from verse 2 that the Word of God is intended to help a person grow.

The milk of the word is that part of Scripture that is more easily digested.  It represents the love of God and his offer of grace towards us.  However, the solid food, or meat of the word, is such things as the call to pick up your cross and follow Jesus; it is the message of becoming like Jesus in holiness; and it is the truth about what is coming upon the world.

Thus a baby in Christ has the Holy Spirit resident in their life.  They have the Lord Jesus Christ, in a sense, sitting on the throne of their heart, yet, their work has just begun.  They have many giants that they must battle, against whom the Lord will systematically lead them and help them.  Immaturity in this sense is normal and expected.  It is not a bad thing when babies are immature.  However, a 24 year old baby, or a 60 year old baby, is a bad thing and is not healthy.  Even the baby Christian, though immature, should not be comfortable with carnality in their life.  However, they should be patient and trust the work and leading of the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then Christ will help you to overcome sin and grow spiritually.

So we end up with 3 proper categories within this designation of a carnal Christian.  A carnal Christian is a believer who has just begun to follow the Spirit of Christ, or who has not developed properly in their ability to fight their fleshly lusts since salvation, or who has had proper development yet has regressed.  The first of these is normal, but the second and third are considered abnormalities in the sense that they are not God’s work.  They are also spiritually dangerous.

We should also note the things that Paul points out as proof of their carnality.  He lists envy, strife, and divisions.  They are anti-virtues, or rather vices, that are the fruit of listening to our flesh and not the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5 gives a good list of the virtues of the Holy Spirit and the vices of the flesh.

Now let’s go to a similar passage in Hebrews 5 starting at verse 12.

What characterizes a carnal Christian?

Though our definition gives the character of carnality, this passage explores it further.  We are told that carnal Christians cannot handle the solid food of God’s Word.  In both cases, the Corinthians and the Hebrews, it is expected that they should be more mature than they are because they have the Word of God and the example of the apostles.  However, they are not.  They are in need of someone to come alongside them and assist them in “digesting” the milk of the word.  If they were properly digesting the milk, they would grow to the point that they could eat the solid food.  So how are they not able to handle the word of God?  First it can mean that they cannot “stomach” the more difficult parts of God’s Word.  They are unable to break it down and draw life from it.  It is too complex for their current level of maturity.  There is a resistance to it in their mind and heart.

However, it can also mean that they do not properly use the Word of God.  They are unskilled in its proper use.  They may have skill with the milk, but they are unskilled in the heavier things.  They may ignore clear meanings of some passages and over emphasize other passages in order to obtain what their flesh wants.  This is understandable in a new Christian.  Thus God puts us in a family of believers where there are those who are more mature and can help us to mature ourselves.

Both of these situations are not good, especially in the life of a person who has been a Christian for years.  So what is the solution, or is there one?  The solution to not being able to stomach the heavier parts of God’s Word is to go back to the milk and learn to properly draw life from it.  Then move on to more solid food.  The solution to the inability to properly use the Word of God in our life is to repent, turn away from our fleshly desires, and obey God’s Word.  We must learn to listen to the experience of those who have gone on before us from each generation.

Another danger in being a carnal Christian is that we are unable to properly discern what is good or bad (Heb. 5:14).  One’s fleshly mind and heart can manipulate reason and emotion in order to declare things of the flesh as good, thus the problem of self-justification.  We can focus on whether or not we are permitted to do something rather than if it is something that is actually good for me spiritually, or bad.  Such a state leaves us in a position to be easily manipulated by the devil.

Final Thoughts

All Christians have parts of their flesh that they must battle.  In other words, to become mature does not mean you no longer have things to fight against and places to grow.  God is always working on all of us.  However, as we mature the battle should become more of an internal battle and less and less of one that is on the outside.  This is not stated as an excuse for sin.  Rather it is recognition that every day all of us need to turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Search me, O God!”  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Let me close by reminding us of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

May God help us to choose spiritual transformation by the Holy Spirit over the top of fleshly conformation to the things of this world that are at odds with the Lord of Heaven.

Carnal Christian audio