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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 3:10-15; The Church’s One Foundation

05/26 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 The Church’s One FoundationAudio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130526_1cor3_10-15.mp3

1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ· 11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός· 12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην, 13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει· ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται, καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ αὐτὸ δοκιμάσει. 14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται· 15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός.

1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul is dealing with the root problem of quarreling and division in the church in Corinth. Much of this seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of the role of Christian ministry. Some had too high a view of Christian ministry, framing their favorite as superstar and pitting one against another. Others wanted to dispense with leaders all together and felt they had attained a spirituality where they had no need for anyone to minister to them.

Christian ministry is neither status nor stardom but service. But that service is not superfluous. It is not just any service, but service to the King of kings and Lord of lords. God alone gives the growth, and he gives it by means of the ministers he has given to his church.

Among ministers there must not be competition but instead cooperation. In his agricultural metaphor of planting and watering, there is interdependence among servants of Christ. None of us can do it singlehandedly, and for maximum fruitfulness, we must work as a team. Reward for Christian ministry is not evaluated by the plants in the field, but by the Master of the field. And he evaluates reward not on fruitfulness, but on faithfulness. Ultimately, all ministry is totally dependent on God who alone is able to give growth. We are nothing; God is everything. It is all about God. In verse 9, he emphasizes the priority of God by starting three phrases with ‘God’. God’s fellow-workers are we; God’s field, God’s building are you. And here he shifts from an agricultural metaphor (a field) to a construction metaphor (a building) because he wants to talk about foundations and quality of workmanship, and rewards or losses for proper or improper construction.

Ministry by the Grace of God

Paul starts this discussion of construction and foundation and workmanship and his own unique role in it all by tying it back to God’s grace. ‘According to the grace of God given to me’. Paul is about to say some things that could be perceived as arrogant and full of himself, but that is the furthest thing from his heart. Paul played a unique and foundational role in the church and in the history of Christianity, but rather than make him proud, it made him profoundly humble. ‘According to the grace of God given to me’. He introduced himself in this letter as ‘Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.’ In 2 Corinthians he will say ‘having this ministry by the mercy of God’. Here in chapter 3 he says that Paul is a servant through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each. Paul knew that there was nothing in himself to be proud of. He says in chapter 15

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

Unworthy. He had done nothing to deserve this role. In fact, he had done everything to disqualify himself from this role. He was a persecutor of God’s church. Acts describes him as ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (9:1). He obtained authorization from the high priest to pursue and arrest any followers of Jesus he could find, men or women. But by God’s grace, when he deserved the opposite, freely as a gift, Jesus met him where he was, brought him to repentance, forgave him everything, and appointed him apostle. ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ Paul said

1 Timothy 1:15 …Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Grace is favor and kindness shown to someone who doesn’t deserve it, doesn’t want it, isn’t asking for it. Paul never forgot, never lost sight of the fact that ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’. All Christian ministry (if it is truly Christian) is by the grace of God. Not one servant of Christ, not one minister has earned the right to be called a minister. If I am anything at all, it is ‘according to the grace of God given to me’. All I have is a gift, not earned, not deserved, but freely given. It is a treasure, and so I must treasure it. We must never cease to be amazed in wonder at the fact that God calls sinners, sinners like me, sinners like you, into the high calling of service to the living God by sheer unmerited grace.

Skilled Master Builder

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation,

Paul compares his apostolic ministry to the role of a skilled master builder, a wise ἀρχιτέκτων. Only this kind of architect is not the one in the tenth floor office behind a drafting table or CAD screen pumping out reams of detailed engineering drawings but never even visiting the job site. He is the chief craftsman on the job, the master builder overseeing that the whole project is carried out with precision and skill according to plan. He personally, hands on, laid the foundation. The foundation is the first and most essential part of the building project. If the foundation is sound and well laid, the building can be strong and stable. If the foundation is faulty, the structure will sink or crack or fall over. The foundation is all-important in constructing a lasting building. The foundation defines the shape of the building. Many ancient cathedrals were built in the shape of a cross. Once that cross-shaped foundation has been laid, the building must take on that cross shape. It cannot be rectangular or square or round. The foundation sets the limit for the size and shape of the structure that will be placed upon it. To change the shape of the building, you must add to or take away from the foundation.

The Church’s One Foundation

Paul, as a skilled, or literally ‘wise’ master builder laid the foundation. That word ‘wise’ connects us back to his discussion on wisdom in chapters 1 and 2. The Corinthians made a big deal about wisdom, and Paul makes it very clear that God’s wisdom is not the same as man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is perceived by unbelieving people as foolishness, and what seems to be wise in human understanding, God will destroy and turn upside down and bring to nothing. Paul pointed to the secret and hidden wisdom that he taught, wisdom taught by the Spirit of God, the same wisdom with which he laid the foundation of the church.

Jesus contrasted a wise man who built his house on the rock and a foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the storm came, the wise man’s house withstood because it had been founded on the rock. The foolish man’s house fell, and great was the fall of it. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Paul claims to be a wise master builder. What is that wisdom? How did he lay the foundation for the church of Corinth as a wise master builder? What is the foundation of every true church? He doesn’t leave us guessing. In verse 11, he says

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the foundation of his church. When Jesus questioned his disciples about his own identity,

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The Holy Spirit revealed wisdom, the rock on which the church is built is Jesus Christ. The identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, according to prophecy both God’s anointed forever King and suffering servant who would substitute himself for his people.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

The person of Christ as the only Son of the living God, and the work of Christ, what he came to do form the solid rock on which his church is built.

How did Paul, the wise master builder, lay this solid foundation in the church at Corinth? He says

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

He preached the gospel, the good news, the cross of Christ, where the wages of our sin met the justice of a holy God in the person of our substitute, Jesus.

Paul pointed the Ephesian church to this same solid rock.

Ephesians 2:19 …you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

With this Peter agrees.

1 Peter 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

Jesus is the foundation and we are built on him. We as members of the household of God, we as living stones being built up as a spiritual house, are joined together on the one foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

There are many churches, even churches that claim to be Christian, those that bear the name of Christ, that are not built on the foundation of Christ. Imagine a foreman coming up to the job site, and he is impressed with how much progress his workers have made while he has been gone. The building is growing tall. But as he enters the site, he is horrified at what he sees. ‘You morons! The foundation is over there!’ They have been stacking up bricks on the sand. The structure looks impressive, but it is not even on the foundation! All the labor is wasted. We cannot abandon the foundation! We are not at liberty to add to it or take away from it! We cannot add a wing over here to suit our fancy. We cannot dig down and rip out part of the foundation that we aren’t particularly fond of. If we deviate from the foundation of the gospel, the cross, the truth about Jesus, the structure we build might be impressive and draw attention, but it is not the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Take Care How You Build

This is not the problem Paul addressed in the church in Corinth. He believes that they are indeed building on the only solid foundation. Otherwise he would not call them ‘saints’ and ‘the church of God’. For them it is not an issue of what they are building on but how they are building on it.

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

This is not a warning not to build. The whole point of a foundation is to be the foundation for the structure. Have you ever seen an abandoned foundation? The work was started, the foundation laid, but nothing was ever built on it? That is not what a foundation is for. Paul as a skilled master builder laid the foundation with the intent that it would be built on. The problem is not that someone else is building on Paul’s foundation. Paul is not telling them to stop all work until he returns. But he is saying to pay careful attention to how you build. There can be a deep strong solid foundation, and a lazy, sloppy, half-hearted work crew that builds second rate work on a good foundation.

An Unseen Foundation

An interesting thing about most buildings is that you often can’t see the foundation. You see the structure built on the foundation, but the foundation is hidden under ground. Our foundation is not buried in the ground, but risen and seated at the right hand of his Father on high, but he remains unseen. But everyone can see the people who claim to be build on him. When you look at a building and see major cracks, stones separating and falling out, you can draw some conclusions about the building. Probably the foundation is bad. But it could be that the foundation is good but the builders failed to build well, and their work is falling apart. When the world looks at those who claim to be followers of Jesus and sees fractures and splits and divisions and separations, the assumption is that the foundation is faulty and flawed. When that happens, we are lying about Jesus! We are dishonoring Jesus!

Paul warns the church in Corinth, ‘let each one take care how he builds upon it’. In chapters 12-14 where he addresses the issue of spiritual gifts, he says

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

And he says that the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church, the body of Christ. Every believer has been gifted by God for the common good, for the building up of the body of Christ (cf. Eph.4:12). Each one is responsible for building up the body of Christ. You are building! Building is not optional for the Christian. Even if you don’t show up, you are building. The question is not if you are building, but how you are building.

1 Corinthians 3:10 …Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

You and I are building. The question is what is the quality of our work, what kind of materials are we using? Remember, you are not building a thatched roof hut for your mother-in-law; wood, hay and stubble might be appropriate for that. We are building a temple for the King of kings, a dwelling place for the most high God. You don’t build a mud hut on a foundation of the most costly stone. Not only the shape of the building but also the quality and value of the building must match the foundation. There are two kinds of materials; combustible and non-combustible, and they will be made known on the day of judgment by fire. We build with gold, silver, and precious stones when our lives and our conversations and our attitudes are shaped by the gospel. We build with wood, hay and straw when our attitudes, actions and interactions are out of sync with the cross. What kind of advice do you give? On what do you base your decisions? Why do you do what you do? What do you do with your money? What kind of character does your interaction with others foster?

In these verses, Paul is not asking the question if you are saved or not. He is assuming that you are being saved because you have a relationship with Jesus. The issue is will you receive rewards or suffer loss. Remember Paul’s confidence in the Corinthians expressed in the opening of the letter.

1 Corinthians 1:7 …as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But there is a real possibility that we who have trusted in Christ, we who have had our sins forgiven at the cross, we who are being sustained guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, that on that day it will be revealed that we have wasted our life. What a tragedy to find that everything we spent our time on and invested our life in does not hold up under the scrutiny of Jesus. We may spend the remainder of our life heaping rubbish on the precious foundation of Jesus Christ, and thankfully all the rubbish will be incinerated, but we will have nothing to show. How shameful to have this ministry given to us by the grace of God, to have gifts and the infinite resources of gospel wisdom and strength supplied to us by the Holy Spirit and to do nothing with them that is of any eternal significance.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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May 26, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 3:5-9; The Nature of Christian Ministry

05/19 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The Nature of Christian Ministry;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130519_1cor3_5-9.mp3

  1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

5 Τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι δι’ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν. 6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν· 7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων, ἀλλ’ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός. 8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον, 9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί· θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε.

 1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is addressing the unhealthy immaturity of the believers in Corinth. They think they are advanced, spiritual, ready for meat doctrines. Paul points to their division, their quarreling, their party spirit, their jealousy and strife, and says that although you have God’s Holy Spirit living inside you, you are acting as if you were merely unregenerate humans, people controlled by fleshly instincts.

In mentioning the party divisions between the followers of Paul and the followers of Apollos, he is coming back to the issue he identified as the root of their problems in 1:12. The intervening chapter and a half laid the groundwork for them to understand what true wisdom is. God’s wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified. To follow a leader who is not popular but instead got himself executed as a common criminal seems foolish. But this message is not only wisdom but power. God in Christ is turning the wisdom of the world on its head and bringing it to nothing. Through this foolish message he is saving people; not the wise and well-to do cultural icons, but the low, the losers, the nothings. The method of the preacher fit the message; not polished oratory, but plain proclamation of the truth, the simple facts of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was crucified in the place of sinners. This message is not able to be understood by those whose minds are twisted and darkened by sin. It is a spiritual message that can only be received by those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit of God. So we who have seen the beauty of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, we who have received the Spirit of God so that we can understand the things freely given us by God have received a great treasure. We have been given the mind of Christ.

But although the Corinthian believers had been given this greatest of all treasures, although they had received the Holy Spirit of God, they refused to grow up. They had not passed out of the self-centered phase of infancy where all they can say is ‘mine’. Although they possessed the mind of Christ, they were not living lives of humility, love, and self-sacrifice, putting the interests of others before their own, which is characteristic of the mind of Christ. Instead they were operating out of divisiveness, jealousy and strife.

The Nature of Spirituality (2:10-16)

First, Paul had to set them straight on the nature of spirituality. A spiritual person is not a person who has achieved a more advanced level of spirituality than another Christian. Instead, a spiritual person is a person who has received the Spirit of God, which is characteristic of all believers in Jesus. The unspiritual person is the person who does not have God’s Spirit, and is perishing. The believers in the church in Corinth were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross. Their competitive division, jealousy and strife were evidence of immaturity.

The Nature of Christian Ministry (3:5)

Now he goes on to clarify for them the nature of Christian ministry. In Corinth, there was a tendency either to overvalue or to undervalue those who had been placed in leadership roles in the church. Some elevated their favorite minister to celebrity status and acted like groupies in their fan club; others, those who considered themselves more spiritual, asserted that they didn’t need any leader. They had a direct connection with Christ and were above the need for any Christian leadership.

Paul asks ‘what is Apollos, what is Paul? Not who but what. Not the dynamic and powerful speaker and teacher, not the plain speaking persecuted apostle and evangelist and church planter. You are rallying behind the names and persona’s of these figureheads, but what are they?

Paul shifts his metaphor from a mother nursing her newborn infant with milk to servants who wait tables to a field with farmhands, to temple construction with hired laborers.

He says that we (Apollos and Paul) are servants. Diakonoi [διάκονοι], where we get our word deacon, meant a lowly household servant. Cook the meal, serve the tables, clean up after the meal, take out the trash, prepare the next meal. You are placing us on pedestals as heroes to be worshiped, but we are servants. Servants through whom you believed, not in whom you believed. Remember, in 1:13 he asked the absurd rhetorical question ‘was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?’ Of course not! Paul did not die for your sins. Jesus did. You believed in Jesus and were baptized into the name of Jesus. You didn’t believe in Paul or Apollos. You believed through, or because of, or on account of. They were the instruments God used to bring you to faith in him. So don’t undervalue them. Thank God for them. Without them you would not have believed, as Romans 10 says:

Romans 10:14 …And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

God used them to bring you to faith in him, so treasure them, honor them, thank God for them, but don’t put your faith in them. Don’t put them on a pedestal as an object of your devotion and allegiance. Paul tells the Galatians (1:8) that if we (the apostles) flake out and start preaching a different gospel then let us be accursed! The central issue is not the messenger but the message. Many Christians talk about their favorite pastor or bible teacher or denomination as if they were almost divine and worthy of worship. Paul asks the question ‘what are we?’ and answers ‘we are servants, a means to an end, and the end is not us!’ The goal is you believing in Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus. We are servants pointing you to him.

This view of ministry as servants comes straight from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were eager to outdo one another. They were continually jockeying for position, and eager to secure the title of ‘great’ for themselves.

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus holds himself up as the ultimate example for greatness in Christian ministry. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So if you want to be great, you must learn to serve others. The one who is truly great is not the one who wins the popularity contest or the one who gains the most followers. True greatness is a life of humble self-sacrificial service born out of love for others.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.

The Lord assigned to each his role. Literally ‘and to each as the Lord gave’. We are given our assignments by the Lord. We don’t even get to pick what we want to do. Paul will say in chapter 12 about spiritual enablements for service that the ‘Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills.’ We are servants following orders. We might look around the church and say ‘I don’t like my role. I’d rather be doing what he or she is doing’, or ‘I think my role is less important or less valuable than their role, so I’m just going to stay home’ or ‘I think it would be much more effective if I did it this way instead.’ That is jealousy and strife, evidence of immaturity. At the bottom, that is rebellion against an all wise King, assuming that we know better and would arrange things better if we were in charge.

Agricultural Illustration

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul uses an agricultural illustration. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. There are a lot of factors that go into good farming, there is technique and skill and good old fashioned know-how that goes into successful farming. But even the best farmers can lose a crop. Unless the weather cooperates, all is lost. Without the proper amount of sunshine and rain, seeds do not germinate. A late frost can destroy; wind or hail can strip a field. Too much sun or too much rain can drown or scorch a crop. Success in farming is dependent ultimately on God who sends the weather.

So it is with Christian ministry. We each fulfill our God-given roles. We work hard. Hopefully we work with ever increasing skill and diligence. But only God can give growth. That is his gift to give.

Interdependence in Christian Ministry (3:6, 8)

Paul’s illustration shows the interdependence of Christian ministry. I planted, Apollos watered. Without the seed sown in the soil, there will be no crop. Apollos could water the barren earth all day every day, and the only thing it would produce is weeds. The seed has to be sown. If Paul planted good seed into dry ground and there was no water, the seed would lay dormant in the soil. There would be no growth. He who plants and he who waters are one. The Corinthians are dividing between following Paul and following Apollos. Paul says we are not in competition with one another. We are on the same team, working toward the same goal. We find out in chapter 16 that Apollos is actually with Paul in Ephesus when he pens this letter. Paul says:

1 Corinthians 16:12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

We are together, we are united, we are on the same team! Imagine Apollos saying ‘I’m so good, I can irrigate twice as fast as you can plant.’ And half the Corinthian church is cheering him on. Stop it! You’re just going to make a muddy mess. No, the field workers work together toward a common goal. The goal is a fruitful harvest for the owner of the field. Get the seed in the ground, give it sufficient water, and trust that God will produce growth.

Reward for Faithful Christian Ministry (3:8)

Paul says that ‘each will receive his wages according to his labor’. Notice that the wages are not according to fruitfulness but according to faithfulness. Because fruitfulness is ultimately up to God. Some in Christian ministry faithfully till the hard soil with little or no results. When God called Jeremiah (7:27), he told him up front that he is to speak, but the people will not listen. What a discouraging mission – knowing up front that there will be no fruit! But wages are not based on fruit but on faithfulness. Others may be sent to a field that is ripe for harvest and put in half-hearted effort and see amazing results, but they too will be rewarded not for their fruitfulness, but for their labor.

And notice who evaluates the labor of Christian ministers. The Corinthians were all about giving their opinions on how Paul and Apollos were doing. They had their critique of what they did well and what they should have done differently. Some liked one minister better than another, issues of style and personality and technique and delivery. It seems that Christians can easily become connoisseurs of teaching. Tasting, sampling, comparing, evaluating, critiquing, criticizing, condemning. We tend to think that the one who is able to evaluate and critique is the expert in the field with advanced knowledge, a sign of maturity. Paul is saying that this is not a sign of maturity but of immaturity. You are missing the main point of the gospel. When you become a critic, you cease to be a disciple.

I am human. I have a desperate desire to be liked. I want to be accepted by you. But there are times when I need to fill the role of nurse who administers medicine under the Doctor’s orders. I have to come into the exam room with a big needle and you’re not going to like me very much at all. You might cry and throw a fit and tell me what a horrible person I am for causing you such pain, but I am under orders. I could try to be your friend and get you to like me and empty the medicine down the sink. You might think I’m great for the moment, until the disease spreads and begins to kill you. In the end, that would be a great disservice to you and gross negligence in my duties. Of course I want to be liked, but it’s more important that I be found faithful, that I follow the good Doctor’s orders.

In Paul’s analogy, the church is the field, God’s field. The ministers, the servants are God’s fellow-workers. The evaluation and the wages will come from the Master of the field. The evaluation of ministry, the only evaluation that really matters, is God’s evaluation. And that evaluation is coming. Paul will speak more to this issue of reward for faithful ministry in the next section.

Absolute Dependence on God in Christian Ministry (3:6-7)

Even when the planter and the waterer are in perfect harmony, even when they labor faithfully, unless God causes the sun to shine, there will be no fruit. In chapter 2, we were told that:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul is sowing good gospel seed among natural people. Apollos is coming behind and watering that seed with the water of sound biblical teaching. They are in full harmony and cooperation. But unless God shines the light of his Holy Spirit into the minds of unbelievers, there will be no germination of the gospel seed, there will be no life, there will be no growth, and there will be no fruit. So ultimately, growth is dependent on God. If I refuse to sow the gospel seed, God can hire someone else. If I refuse to water with biblical truth, God can hire someone else. But unless God’s reveals these things to us by his Spirit, there can be no life. ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ Paul says ‘some of you are putting me and Apollos on rival pedestals. We are nothing. Nothing! God is everything! We are servants, hired field hands. God gives the growth. Keep God at the center of your worship. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John said:

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. … 29…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Am I faithfully serving in the ministry I have been given? Am I humbly serving out of love for others? Am I looking to God alone for his approval? Am I serving in absolute dependence on God to give the growth? Is my joy complete when Jesus gets all the attention and I fade into the background?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 19, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 3:1-4; The Milk and Meat of the Gospel

05/12 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 The Milk and Meat of the Gospel;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130512_1cor3_1-4.mp3

1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ.2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε,3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε;4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

Paul has been holding up God’s wisdom, the gospel, the message of Christ crucified, and contrasting it with so-called human wisdom, that which gains the applause of the world; that which promotes status and respectability, those who are considered wise, powerful, and noble. Paul says that God is making fools of all those who think themselves wise because human wisdom can never discover the one thing that matters; how to know God; how to enter into a right relationship with the God of the universe. This God chose to reveal to us by his Spirit, otherwise it would have remained unknowable. This is the message of the cross.

1 Corinthians 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul has re-defined the categories for his readers. They were in constant competition with one another trying to outdo one another in spirituality, in maturity, in wisdom and godliness. Paul demolishes their categories and their competition. He divides all people into only two categories; those who are perishing and us who are being saved. Those who are spiritual, who have received the gift of the Spirit and those who are natural, who do not have the Spirit and do not accept the things of the Spirit. He says that we, we who are spiritual, we who have received the Spirit of God, we have the mind of Christ.

The Corinthians prided themselves on their wisdom, their spirituality, their strength and maturity in Christ. They desperately wanted to be thought well of, to be thought wise. To think that they were all on the same plane with their fellow church-members, that they had not surpassed those in another group, that they were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross, would have come as a crushing blow to their inflated egos. But what Paul says next must have really knocked the wind out of them.

1 Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

The church in Corinth had become enamored with human wisdom, with popularity and prestige, and they had allowed divisiveness, quarreling, strife, and an undue passion for their favorite teacher to begin to erode their gospel foundation. So Paul says, although there are only two categories of people; those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and those who are not, based on the attitudes and actions of the Corinthians, he is forced to address them as if they did not have God’s Spirit living within them.

True Believers

It is clear from everything Paul has said so far in this letter that he believes that they are genuine believers and do indeed have God’s Spirit dwelling in them. In the beginning of this letter he addressed them as the church of God, called to be saints, recipients of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and he is confident that God will sustain them to the end guiltless. He includes them in the ‘us who are being saved’ and the ‘we’ who have the mind of Christ. Here he calls them ‘brothers’ and refers to them as ‘infants in Christ’, which means that they had been born again. In chapter 6 he reminds those involved in sexual immorality:

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Babes and Milk

So Paul clearly assumes those to whom he is writing are indeed genuine believers, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and therefore spiritual by his definition. But, he says ‘I could not address you as spiritual but as fleshly or carnal’. Because their attitudes and actions did not differ substantially from those who were entirely dominated by the flesh and devoid of the Spirit of God, he was forced to speak to them in baby talk. Because the basic truth of the gospel had not produced fruit in their lives, he had to keep them on the bottle. There is no shame in starting out on milk. That is what we expect of babies. But if someone is still breast fed or bottle fed at five, we may begin to wonder if something is wrong, and we know there are some serious developmental issues if at twelve or at twenty-five they are still carrying around their ba-ba. The problem was not that they were not able to eat solid food as infants. The problem was that some five years after God had birthed the church in Corinth through Paul’s ministry, they are still not able to take solid food.

Milk and Meat

Now we need to think carefully about what Paul is saying. Is he saying that there are milk doctrines and there are meat doctrines? Is he saying that we will graduate from the bottle of the gospel and move on to the deeper things of God? I don’t believe this is what Paul is saying at all.

First, if this is what he is teaching, that there are milk doctrines and meat doctrines, we should be able to go through our New Testaments and figure out which are which. If we were to ask, what are the advanced doctrines, the meat doctrines, the deep things of God that baby Christians might choke on, it would be impossible for us to come to any biblically based agreement on what they are. Paul says here in 1 Corinthians that he cannot address them as spiritual but as babes and that they are still not ready for solid food, so anything we find in 1 Corinthians must be milk and not meat. If we think of the triune nature of God as a meaty doctrine, we see this coming right out in chapters 1 and 2, where he repeatedly refers to God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God as three distinct persons who are each fully God. If we suggest the biblical doctrines of election and predestination as solid food, he refers to that in the second verse of this letter to these immature believers, and again in verse 9, and then goes in to more detail in verses 24-30, and in 2:7. If we think of spiritual gifts, we have his instructions in chapters 12-14. If we suggest the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection, he deals with that at length in chapter 15. There does not seem to be any clear biblical way to differentiate between milk doctrines and meat doctrines.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20

Acts 20:26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

I don’t think that this was unique to Ephesus. I don’t think Paul would have to say to the leaders in Corinth ‘I am guilty of your blood, because I withheld the deep things of God from you’.

Milk and Meat in Hebrews 5

This is not the only place in scripture that this idea of milk and solid food is put forward. The author of Hebrews in chapter 5 says:

Hebrews 5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

The author here is saying something very similar to what we see Paul saying in 1 Corinthians. They ought to have become teachers by now, but instead they need someone to teach them the basic principles. They need milk, not solid food. They are children, not mature.

He contrasts for us what it means to be a child and what it means to be mature. Children are ‘unskilled in the word of righteousness.’ The mature are ‘those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.’ So the issue of maturity seems to be the ability to apply the word of righteousness to specific situations and the discernment to distinguish good from evil. This is something that comes with time, training and constant practice. So the mature are those who can take the basic principles of the oracles of God, the milk, and skillfully use the word of righteousness to distinguish good from evil.

The ‘this’ in 5:11 that he has much to say about, that is hard to explain because of their dullness of hearing and spiritual immaturity, would be the solid food. What does the ‘this’ refer back to? The immediate context in chapter 5 is the teaching that Jesus is our great High Priest, who is ‘the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’ (5:9). If we look back through the first 4 chapters, we see this hard to explain solid food as Jesus who is greater than the prophets, Jesus who is greater than the angels, Jesus who is greater than Moses, Jesus who is the greater Joshua who brings his people into a greater rest. In chapter 5 the author tells us we need to be taught again the basic principles, milk not solid food, but then he says in the very next verses in the beginning of chapter 6:

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

Here he says that he is going to take them on to maturity. The elementary milk doctrine is the doctrine of Christ. Although they do need milk and not solid food, he is not going all the way back to re-lay the Old Testament Jewish foundational truths of turning away from their own works and believing in God, washings and laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgment. That is not the milk of Christ, that is Old Testament foundation that points forward to the milk of Christ. He is now going to move on with them into maturity. So where does he take them? What is going on to maturity? He takes them to Jesus the greater High Priest who administers a greater covenant in a greater temple through a greater sacrifice, his own blood. We receive the gifts that God promised through faith,and he warns us throughout not to turn back to the law but to press in to God’s grace by faith. And he points us to the fruit of this blood-bought relationship, laying aside sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus, loving our brothers, extending hospitality to strangers, standing with prisoners, honoring marriage, being content with our relationship with Jesus, imitating the faith of your leaders, strengthening your hearts by grace, following Jesus wherever he leads, and continually offering up praise to God. This sounds to me like the simple good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified, skillfully applied to our situation. This is the maturity the author of Hebrews points us to.

Pure Milk in 1 Peter

Peter also talks about milk and growth. He says

1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

So Peter is encouraging us that milk is good and to imitate infants and long for milk, but the goal is to grow up into salvation. So what, according to Peter does it look like to grow up into salvation? If we back up in this passage, I think it becomes clear both what the milk is and what maturity looks like. He points us to our having been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, and believing in God and having faith and hope in God.

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

So the pure spiritual milk is the truth, the imperishable living and abiding word of God that gave us new birth, the word of the Lord that remains forever, the good news that was preached to you. The growing up into salvation, he says, is loving one another earnestly from the heart and putting away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. This seems to fit with what Hebrews says that maturity is skillfully applying the gospel to each situation and discerning good from evil.

Jude

Jude writes something similar when he says

Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

This sounds like he too, as in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians was eager to go deeper into the solid food of our common salvation, but found it necessary to go back to the basics of the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. In this short letter he warns against false teachers who are:

Jude 1:16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage… 18 …following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

The fruit of the worldly false teachers who did not have God’s Spirit was boasting, favoritism, divisions. This sounds a lot like what was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to say that he could not speak to them as spiritual but as worldly.

James

James also deals with worldly wisdom in contrast to God’s wisdom. He says:

James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James draws the contrast between worldly wisdom which is characterized by jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, disorder, and results in every vile practice. This again reminds us of Corinth. God’s wisdom, in contrast, is characterized by meekness, and is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, sincere.

Applying the Cross

So putting this all together, I don’t think Paul or Peter or Hebrews or James or Jude is saying that we need to put aside the bottle of the gospel and move on to the deeper things of God. Paul points to their jealousy and strife as evidence that they are failing to skillfully apply the simple truth of the gospel that they already know to their relationships with other believers in the church. Therefore he cannot consider them spiritual or mature, but rather fleshly; although they have the Holy Spirit, they are allowing their flesh to dominate their desires. Throughout this letter, Paul is training them to skillfully apply the good news of the cross to various situations and circumstances.

The Corinthians thought they were spiritual, ready for advanced meat doctrines, the deep things of God. They thought Paul was insulting their intelligence to only sound one note over and over again. He had resolved to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and him crucified. What they failed to realize was that this simple truth, the truth of the cross, is the power and hidden wisdom of God, the deep things of God, strong meat and nourishing milk. The gospel is the full meal deal – everything we need. We will never outgrow or move beyond the message of Christ crucified. The cross is wisdom, God’s wisdom, the pure milk that brings us to salvation, and the cross is power, the solid food that strengthens us to crucify our pride and love one another with self-sacrificial cross shaped love. The gospel, the message of the cross, of Christ crucified for sinners, is both the hidden wisdom of God to pardon sinners, and the power of God to transform sinners into saints.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 12, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Natural Inability and Spirit Transformation

05/05 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 Natural Inability and Spirit Transformation; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130505_1cor2_14-16.mp

1Cor 2 [SBLGNT]

14 Ψυχικὸς δὲ ἄνθρωπος οὐ δέχεται τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ θεοῦ, μωρία γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐστίν, καὶ οὐ δύναται γνῶναι, ὅτι πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται· 15 ὁ δὲ πνευματικὸς ἀνακρίνει τὰ πάντα, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑπ’ οὐδενὸς ἀνακρίνεται. 16 τίς γὰρ ἔγνω νοῦν κυρίου, ὃς συμβιβάσει αὐτόν; ἡμεῖς δὲ νοῦν Χριστοῦ ἔχομεν.

1Cor 2 [ESV2011]

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

We will focus our attention on verses 14-16. An overview of Paul’s flow of logic will help us see where we are in this passage

1:10-13 The Corinthians are dividing and quarreling, boasting in seemingly wise and popular human leaders; this is not in line with the gospel

1:13-17 The gospel is the message of the cross, of Christ crucified

1:18 This message divides all mankind absolutely into only two categories; us who are being saved and those who are perishing.

1:19-25 God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise; The wise, powerful, noble of this age have rejected the gospel as foolishness

1:26-31 God chose to save those who are foolish, weak, low, despised, the nothings so that no one would boast in his presence

2:1-5 The messenger fit the message, coming in weakness, fear, and much trembling with the simple message of Christ crucified to allow for a demonstration of the power of the Spirit

2:6-9 The cross is God’s hidden wisdom, and the rulers of this age didn’t understand it

2:10 God has revealed the hidden wisdom of the cross to us through the Spirit.

2:11-13 Only God’s Spirit can comprehend and communicate God’s hidden thoughts

2:14-16 The person without the Spirit is both unwilling and unable to receive the gospel; the person who has received God’s Spirit is enabled to understand the gospel and be transformed by it.

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Natural / Spiritual

The natural person is here contrasted with the spiritual person. The natural person (literally the soulish person; ψυχικός) is the person without the Spirit of God. The spiritual person is the person who has the Spirit of God. Throughout this passage Paul has dismantled the categories of the Corinthians, who wanted to be exalted, to be thought wise, sophisticated, popular. Paul appealed to them “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… that there be no divisions among you” (1:10). He made it clear that the cross of our Lord Jesus divides all people into two categories; those who are perishing and us who are being saved. On the one side are the wise, the scribe, the debater of this age, the powerful, the noble, the rulers of this age who are being brought to nothing, whom he here categorizes as ‘natural’ or ‘soulish’. On the other side, there are those who believe, those who are called, the foolish, the weak, the low and despised in the world, the nothings, those to whom the message of Christ crucified is God’s power, those who are mature or perfect or complete in Christ, those who love him, those to whom God has revealed the wisdom of the gospel through his Spirit, those who have received the Spirit, whom he categorizes as ‘spiritual’ (πνευματικῶς).

We often use this term spiritual to refer to those who have achieved a higher level of spirituality, or those who are self-righteous and holier-than-thou. This idea of a spiritual elite who have advanced beyond the ordinary Christian flies in the face of everything Paul has said so far. Paul does not use the term this way. There are only two categories, those who have received God’s Spirit, and those who have not. So the ‘spiritual’ in this passage refers to all believers; those who have received God’s Spirit, as opposed to the ‘natural person’ those who do not have God’s Spirit.

The Natural Person Not Willing to Accept (2:14a)

Paul tells us that the natural person, the person without the Spirit of God, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. The things of the Spirit of God, in the context are the things freely given us by God (2:12); the things God has revealed to us through the Spirit (2:10); what God has prepared for those who love him (2:9); the secret and hidden wisdom of God (2:7); the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2). This is the only message Paul preached. Christ crucified was scandalous, offensive and foolish to Jews and Greeks, but to the called, to those who believe, this same message of the cross became the power and wisdom of God. This is the message that the natural person does not accept. They will not accept it. And Paul gives us the reason the natural man does not accept the message of the cross; ‘for’, or because, they are foolishness to him. This is what he has been saying all along. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1:18). To the person without God’s Spirit, the cross makes no sense, and who believes something that makes no sense? Only a fool believes something that is silly or absurd, so the natural person not only refuses to believe, but concludes that those who do believe are fools. Paul will address this conclusion in a moment.

The Natural Person Not Able to Understand (2:14b)

But first he goes on. He adds ‘and he is not able to understand’. The person without the Spirit of God is not able to understand the gospel. This flows logically out of what he said back in verse 12; “We have received …the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God”. Without God’s Spirit we are unable to understand the cross. Many people react against this, because it doesn’t sound fair to us. If a person is not able to believe the gospel and so they are perishing, (which is what this text says) then how can God hold them accountable for something that is outside their ability? That seems unreasonable. It will help if we can see that there are different kinds of inability. There is what we could call neutral inability, and what we could call guilty inability. An illustration might help us understand. I am not able to fly. I cannot fly because I was not designed to be able to fly. I don’t have wings. If God demanded that I fly, which is contrary to the way he designed me, then this would be unreasonable. It is not my fault that I don’t have wings. Now let me describe a different kind of inability, guilty inability. A drunk driver was unable to keep his car under control. He swerved into an oncoming vehicle and killed everyone in that car. He was incapable of keeping his car under control, (that is why he should not have been behind the wheel); his inability was entirely his own fault, and we would all agree that he should be held accountable for his inability. That is guilty inability. This is the kind of inability that the bible declares that all of us have. We ‘by our unrighteousness suppress the truth… we did not honor God as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in our thinking and and our foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, we became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… we exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… we did not see fit to acknowledge God’ (Rom.1:18-28). We, ‘who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds’ (Col.1:21). We ‘were dead (totally incapable of responding to the gospel) in our trespasses and sins, in which we once walked’ (Eph.2:1-2). We, who were created to worship God, became drunk with our own self-centeredness. We were given wings, we were designed to know God and enjoy fellowship with God, but we bent those wings to an evil purpose, and we are guilty for our resulting inability to fly. The natural person is not able to understand the good news, because it is spiritually appraised. Only when we receive the Spirit of God can we perceive the cross as God’s power and God’s wisdom for our salvation.

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

The Spiritual One Judges All (2:15)

The spiritual person, one who has received the Spirit of God, judges all things, but he is himself to be judged by no one. The same word that is translated ‘judge’ twice in verse 15 is translated ‘discern’ at the end of verse 14. This word shows up in Luke and Acts in the context of a trial to examine the evidence. It means to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, to examine with a view to either approve or condemn. The things of the Spirit are spiritually judged; the person with the Spirit judges all, but is himself judged by none. The person without the Spirit is not equipped to rightly evaluate the gospel. The person with the Spirit is able to rightly evaluate all. Paul, someone who has the Spirit, condemns the rulers of this age for their guilty ignorance and unbelief. But when someone who does not have the Spirit concludes that a believer in Jesus is a fool, his evaluation is not valid, because he is not qualified to pass judgment on spiritual issues.

This verse has often been ripped out of context and abused to mean something it was never intended to mean. Spiritually arrogant people who think they have attained to greater spirituality than the rest of us quote this verse to show that the spiritual insight they have attained is revealed to them by the Spirit and we don’t understand it because we are not spiritual enough. If you agree with them, they consider you ‘spiritual’; if you disagree, you are not. If you try to evaluate or critique their insight, they might appeal to verse 15 and claim that they are exempt from being judged by anyone. From what we have seen so far, it is clear that this is a gross distortion of what this passage was intended to mean.

In many places we are encouraged to humble ourselves, to submit to one another, in love to gently rebuke one another and hold one another accountable, to test every truth claim and reject anything that does not align with scripture, to contend earnestly for the gospel, to be teachable, to receive correction and learn from it. Often we will even find ourselves rebuked and challenged and convicted by unbelievers.

Isaiah 40:13 (2:16a)

Paul supports his assertions that the person without the Spirit will not receive and can not understand the gospel with a quotation from Isaiah 40:13.

1 Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

Only the Spirit searches the depths of God; only the Spirit of God comprehends the thoughts of God. Isaiah 40 is a passage that declares the incomparable unfathomable greatness of our God.

Isaiah 40:13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

The assumed answer to all the rhetorical questions in Isaiah 40 is ‘no one’. No one is like God. No one compares to him. His understanding in unsearchable. That makes Paul’s concluding statement in 1 Corinthians all the more shocking. He answers Isaiah’s rhetorical question this way:

1 Corinthians 2:16 Who has understood the mind of the Lord…? …But we have the mind of Christ.

The Mind of Christ (2:16b)

Who has understood the mind of the Lord? The Spirit searches the depths of God. We have received the Spirit that we might understand the things freely given us by God. We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God. We preach Christ crucified. We have the mind of Christ. All believers who are indwelt with the Spirit of God have the mind of Christ. This is not a privilege for the elite few. This is the common possession of all believers. What is the mind of Christ? Philippians 2 spells it out.

Philippians 2:2 …being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We who are indwelt with the Spirit of God have the mind of Christ. What is the mind of Christ? It is not divisive privileged elite secret wisdom. It is not merely an understanding of the cross. It is being shaped by the cross. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. God from all eternity emptied himself, humiliated himself, became man, was executed as a common criminal, putting our interests above his own, demonstrated the epitome of love, totally devoid of selfish ambition or conceit.

If we have the Spirit of God, if we have understood the mind of the Lord, if we have the mind of Christ, then we will be characterized by a deep sense of humility. We will live in humble prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God. Selfish ambition, pride, conceit must die. Self-centeredness must die. We will be others centered, characterized by a humble willingness to lay our own ambitions down for the good of others. We will be characterized by love; a rugged relentless self-sacrificial pursuit of the good of others. We will live for others, and we will lay down our lives for others. Our lives, our hearts, our attitudes, our actions will begin to be shaped by the cross. We have the mind of Christ!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 5, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment