Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Tag
To see how little is left of one of our most important rights, the freedom of association, look no further than to today’s unanimous decision by the Washington State Supreme Court upholding a lower court’s ruling that florist Baronelle Stutzman was guilty of violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) when she declined, on religious grounds, to provide floral arrangements for one of her regular customer’s same-sex wedding. The lower court had found Stutzman personally liable and had awarded the plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief, actual monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
This breathtaking part of the Supreme Court’s conclusion is worth quoting in full:
We also hold that the WLAD may be enforced against Stutzman because it does not infringe any constitutional protection. As applied in this case, the WLAD does not compel speech or association. And assuming that it substantially burdens Stutzman’s religious free exercise, the WLAD does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or article I, section 11 because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.
We have here yet another striking example of how modern state statutory anti-discrimination law has come to trump a host of federal constitutional rights, including speech, association, and religious free exercise. It’s not too much to say that the Constitution’s Faustian accommodation of slavery is today consuming the Constitution itself.
Such is the wrath of the crowd that wants our every act to be circumscribed by law—their law, of course.
Consider simply the freedom of association right. That liberty in a free society ensures the right of private parties to associate, as against third parties, and the right not to associate as well—that is, the right to discriminate for any reason, good or bad, or no reason at all. The exceptions at common law were for monopolies and common carriers. And if you held your business as “open to the public” you generally had to honor that, though you still could negotiate over services.
Slavery, of course, was a flat-out violation of freedom of association—indeed, it was the very essence of forced association. But Jim Crow was little better since it amounted to forced dis-association. It was finally ended, legally, by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But that Act prohibited not simply public but private discrimination as well in a range of contexts and on a range of grounds, both of which have expanded over the years. The prohibition of private discrimination may have been helpful in breaking the back of institutionalized racism in the South, but its legacy has brought us to today’s decision, where florists, bakers, caterers, and even religious organizations can be forced to participate in events that offend their religious beliefs.
Court’s haven’t yet compelled pastors to officiate at ceremonies that are inconsistent with their beliefs, but we have heard calls for eliminating the tax-exempt status of their institutions. Such is the wrath of the crowd that wants our every act to be circumscribed by law—their law, of course. And they’re prepared, as here, to force their association on unwilling parties even when there are plenty of other businesses anxious to serve them. As I concluded a Wall Street Journal piece on this subject a while ago:
No one enjoys the sting of discrimination or rejection. But neither does anyone like to be forced into uncomfortable situations, especially those that offend deeply held religious beliefs. In the end, who here is forcing whom? A society that cannot tolerate differing views—and respect the live-and-let-live principle—will not long be free.
A version of this article was first published by The Cato Institute.
Source: Make the Bouquet… Or Else! | Roger Pilon
There are larger questions here than can be considered in a single blog post, though the author touches on it. How long before pastors are compelled to officiate at same-sex ceremonies in violation of the clear commands of the Bible the pastor claims to believe? Can a doctor be forced to provide an abortion when he is morally opposed to abortion? Must Muslim restaurants sell pork and alcohol … and why would this exemption be any different than baking a wedding cake or making a floral arrangement for a same-sex couple? Lela
The ongoing battle between gay rights and religious liberty escalated Thursday as husband-and-wife bakers in Oregon appealed their case after being ordered to pay $135,000 in damages for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
Every time we tried to make a constitutional argument it was stomped on, because it was administrative law.
“Everything up to this point has been administrative hearings,” Aaron Klein, co-owner with his wife Melissa of the since-closed bakery, told The Daily Signal afterward.
“Every time we tried to make a constitutional argument it was stomped on, because it was administrative law,” he said. “But now we’re finally in a courtroom where the Constitution and due process can be argued on a level we haven’t seen before. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome.”
In court, an attorney for the Kleins again argued that designing and baking a cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage would violate the bakers’ Christian faith.
Both the Kleins and the same-sex couple who filed the original complaint against them were present inside the courtroom.
Afterward, while speaking to reporters, Melissa Klein had an emotional response.
“We lost everything,” she said. “I loved my shop, and losing it has been so hard for me and my family.”
In an exclusive telephone interview with The Daily Signal later, she added:
“That was a part of our life, and it was something that we thought was going to be passed down to our kids. It’s something that I miss every day still. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over it because it was our second home.”
A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from both sides, with questions focused on issues such as:
- Does Oregon have a “compelling reason” to grant the Kleins a religious exemption from the state’s antidiscrimination law?
- Does a cake count as artistic expression protected by the First Amendment, and how do you differentiate between what constitutes art and what doesn’t?
- What was the particular message involved in designing and making a cake for a same-sex wedding, and how is it understood by an observer?
- To what extent may an artist be compelled to do something?
The Kleins used to run Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a family bakery they owned and operated in Gresham, Oregon. But after the Kleins declined in 2013 to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, citing their religious beliefs, they faced protests that eventually led them to shut down their bakery.
In July 2015, an administrative judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the Kleins had discriminated against a lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, on the basis of their sexual orientation. The judge ordered the Kleins to pay the $135,000 for physical, emotional, and mental damages.
Under Oregon law, it is illegal for businesses to refuse service based on a customer’s sexual orientation, as well as race, gender, and other characteristics.
The Kleins maintained that they did not discriminate, but only declined to make the cake because of their religious beliefs about marriage. Designing and baking a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, they said, would violate their Christian faith.
The Kleins appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals on the basis of their constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.
The three appeals judges also pursued these lines of questioning:
- Was the award of damages—the $135,000 the Kleins were ordered to pay—out of line with other cases before the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries?
- Was it reasonable for that state agency to extend the damages through more than two years after the alleged discrimination actually occurred?
- Did Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian prejudge the case and in doing so strip the Kleins of their right to due process?
- How is sexual orientation different from race as a personal characteristic?
Each side had equal time to make their case and the Kleins, as plaintiffs, got an additional five minutes for a rebuttal. The oral arguments were live-streamed, and may be watched in full here.
“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom group that represents the Kleins, said in a press statement, adding:
The administrative judge who issued the final ruling also is employed by the state agency.
“In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”
But Charlie Burr, a spokesman for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, whose lawyers represent the Bowman-Cryers, said:
“The facts of this case clearly demonstrate that the Kleins unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple when they refused service based on sexual orientation.”
Since the case began in 2013, the Kleins have argued the cards were stacked against them.
Lawyers for the Bureau of Labor and Industries pursued the charges against the Kleins on behalf of the lesbian couple, who went on to marry.
Avakian, the agency official, made multiple public comments criticizing them before any rulings, the Kleins said.
The administrative judge who issued the final ruling also is employed by the state agency.
Besides ordering the Kleins to pay $135,000, Avakian ordered the former bakery owners to “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.
Both parties have said the case has taken a heavy toll on their families. Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have five children, say they continue to face hurtful attacks from liberal activists.
According to an article the Bowman-Cryers wrote for The Advocate, a publication focused on LGBT issues, they are foster parents for two “high-needs” girls.
“Part of the reason we decided to get married in the first place was to provide stability for our daughters,” they wrote, adding:
Before we became engaged, we became foster parents for two very high-needs girls after their mother, a close friend of ours, died suddenly. Lizzy, now 9, has cerebral palsy, autism, and a chromosomal disorder that causes developmental delays. Anastasia, now 7, has Asperger’s and stopped speaking when her mother died.
While the case wound its way through the courts, we won full adoptive custody of Lizzy and Anastasia, and they are the light of our lives.
The appeals judges are not expected to rule for several months. If they rule against the Kleins, the couple’s next step would be appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court.
Republished from the Daily Signal.
Source: Bakers Accused of Hate Get Emotional Day in Court | Kelsey Harkness
I would point out that even if the Kleins win their case in court, they have still lost as this has taken their businesses and more of less bankrupted them. I would also point out because the article does — this lesbian couple were repeat customers. Melissa Klein had served them before when the service was not a wedding cake. Lela
Christianity has had its share of “Pied Pipers,” — charismatic individuals who seem to be able to lead a group of followers anywhere they wish. We wince at the thought of Jim Jones or David Koresh and what they did to their followers, not to mention the name of Christ. Then there are some whose sins have devastated others, and at times have wrought financial havoc for Christian ministries.
It is not just the “way out” fringes of Christianity which are plagued with leaders who have nearly total control over the lives of their followers, but whose personal lives are out of control. I’ve seen it happen in respectable churches where people should know better. One common element in these disasters is that these men who fell were so powerful and so in control that they seemed almost “unstoppable.” They had been so elevated and revered in the minds of their followers that they were considered beyond the temptations and sins of ordinary mankind. Their followers refuse to believe the evidences of sin. Even if they are guilty of known sin, no one seems to feel sufficiently qualified to attempt to rebuke or correct them.
This is precisely the problem at Corinth. Those who identified themselves with a certain leader did so in pride, confident that his (or her) message and methods was highly esteemed by the culture of that day. Paul reminded them that this was not the way they began their Christian life. He came to them in weakness, fear, and much trembling. He did not come with a “powerful” message or method of presentation, but with the simple proclamation of Christ crucified. While that message and method may not have won the praise of the lost, it was the means of their salvation (2:1-5).
Now at verse 5, Paul commenced to show the folly of exalting one leader so highly that all others are rejected. He used three analogies to illustrate his point.
First, he compares the church to God’s farm.
What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work. We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:5-9)
Notice that Paul wrote of himself and Apollos alone, omitting Peter for the moment (compare 1:12). Paul was the first to come to Corinth with the gospel, followed later by Apollos. These were the two apostles most intimately associated with this church. I like the NET Bible’s translation here because it puts the emphasis on the position, rather than the personality, of the Corinthian leaders. The King James renders the Greek as “Who?”, but the textual critics and translaters at the NET believe “What?” is the more precise translation that focuses on the place or position to which the Corinthians’ leaders have been elevated, rather than upon the personalities of each. “To what position or place have you assigned your leader?” Paul asked.
They apparently thought their leader was above all others. Paul brought the Corinthians down to earth by basically saying “We are not heroes, to be adored; we are not gods, to be worshipped; we are not masters, to be blindly followed. We are simply servants of God, appointed by Him to speak the gospel in Corinthi.” Whatever was accomplished by their coming, it is God who accomplishes it; it is God who is Master; they are but servants. How then can the Corinthians place them on a pedestal?
God did not choose either Paul or Apollos to be the single instrument to achieve His purposes in Corinth. Each had his own task, his own calling. The ministries of Paul and Apollos were dependent upon the other. They were not competitors or rivals, but teammates, fellow-workers.
Both unity and diversity can be seen in the complementary ministries of Paul and Apollos. Both served the same Master; both were engaged in accomplishing the same task. Both were brothers in Christ, but each had his own unique calling and contribution to make to the overall task.
Verse 9 plays a critical role in this passage by serving as a transition from the analogy of the “farm” to that of “construction.” When Paul wrote “For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building,” he told us two very important things:
- All the saints belong to God, and none of them belongs to any apostle.
- He distinguished himself and Apollos, as apostles, from all the rest of the saints in Corinth. He and Apollos are apostles; the rest are not.
The apostles played a unique role in the founding of the church, a role not to be duplicated by any other. In a unique way, the apostles did “labor together with God” in their intimate contact with Him, and in being witnesses of His resurrection, but especially in the “laying of the foundation of the church” by being the human authors of the New Testament Scriptures. (See Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 for supporting passages).
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
In this passage, the church is likened to a building which is under construction. Paul called himself a “wise master builder,” who had laid the foundation on which others built. When Paul referred to himself as a wise master builder, it was with a very deliberate goal in mind. The Corinthians thought themselves wise, and they considered Paul and the other apostles simple, foolish, and weak. Their thinking was wrong! Paul was wise whether or not the Corinthians (or we in modern times) believed it to be so.
Paul distinguished himself from Apollos in this passage. In the prior paragraph, Paul was the one who planted; Apollos was the one who later watered. Now, Paul alone is the foundation-layer in Corinth, and others like Apollos built upon that foundation. Apollos was a powerful and eloquent speaker, a man mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24), but also a man who built upon the foundation Paul laid in Corinth. Apollos was trained in the gospel by Priscilla and Aquila, who were students of Paul, therefore, Apollos learned the gospel second-hand from Paul. He built on Paul’s foundation. Paul’s work of “foundation laying” is represented as a finished work, as a work which is not to be repeated.
Paul looked upon his mission of laying the foundation for the Corinthian church as complete. What remains was for the saints at Corinth (and elsewhere) to completing the construction. The proper function of each worker is Paul’s primary focus.
Paul was not talking about salvation here. This is not a proof-text for the doctrine of purgatory. Paul was saying that a Christian’s works may be burned up by the fire of divine judgment, but not the believer. The believer will be saved, but only by the “skin of his teeth.”
Some argue that Paul’s words encourage the “carnal Christian” to live a careless, self-indulgent life, knowing he will get to heaven regardless. A very few Christians think that they can get the “best of both worlds”, free to sin and yet be forgiven and saved. How foolish and dangerous! Paul’s next words are aimed right at those who might try to pervert his teaching in practice, so that a life of sinful self-indulgence is based on the “comfort” of his words in verse 15.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are. (1 Corhinthians 3:16-17)
The Corinthians thought they were very smart and yet Paul demanded “Don’t you know …?” The building described by Paul as under construction in verses 10-15 was “God’s building”. Paul now explains that the church is God’s temple, His dwelling place. While elsewhere Paul spoke of each individual believer as God’s dwelling place (1 Corinthians 6:19), here he spoke of the whole church as God’s dwelling. We are not the temple, but we are a temple, a place where God dwells. Because God dwells there, the temple is holy, and it must remain holy.
We should understand the seriousness of defiling God’s temple. When we live godly lives, in obedience to His Word through the power of the Spirit, we display God’s glory (1 Peter 2:9). We are good workers, building up the church in accordance with our calling. But when a Christian fails to fulfill their mission, then they become a detriment to the church. In the symbolic terminology of Paul, we “destroy” (NASB) or “defile” (KJV) the temple of God when we are not building well.
The consequences for such defilement are severe, because we are defaming the reputation of God by defiling His temple. Those who would do damage to God’s dwelling place should expect severe consequences. Paul did not mince words when he warned, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (verse 17).
We know from the preceding verses (especially verses 13-15) that a Christian will not lose his salvation, but that he will lose his reward. Lest one feel too smug and secure in sin, however, let him ponder the meaning of the word “destroy” in verse 17. Paul did not seek to comfort any Christian who sins willfully. This passage cannot be construed to encourage a sinful, carnal, lifestyle, for Paul’s words of warning are clear.
We today live in a consumer age. A lot of the church growth movement caters to members, or seekers, as consumers. It’s like a marketing program that finds out the kind of church people want to attend, and then seeks to provide that kind of church. Consequently, some churches may have many of their pews filled, but with people who expect, even demand, to get what they want from the church in terms of services, at little or no cost to themselves. They want to get much and give little.
Paul knew nothing of this kind of church. Paul knew only of the kind of church where every member is a worker, and where there is no such thing as a shirker. Paul’s words have a very clear inference. He assumed we know that we have an obligation to build the temple, to play an active role in the building up of the church as the body of Christ. Why then in most churches do a few members give much, some members give a little, and many to most members do not give at all? Why does the church have so much trouble getting volunteers to teach in Sunday School, and to help with the many tasks in the church? It is simply because many consider themselves a part of the church (rightly or wrongly), but fail to grasp the fact that God requires every member of it to be a working member, contributing to the growth and ministry of the church.
Not only are we obliged to be an active contributor to the construction of God’s temple, we are to build upon the foundation of the apostles. While in those days, the churches had to remember Paul’s words or perhaps refer to a letter, we have the New Testament. To build well, we must know the foundation well, for all of our building must conform to “the code” the Bible sets down. Some people seem to think that “working hard” in the church is enough. Paul wouldn’t agree. We are to work hard, but only in compliance with, and in submission to, His Word, the Bible. For the builder who would work so as to please God and to obtain His approval and reward, he or she must build in accordance with sound doctrine as taught by the apostles.
Doctrine is therefore important to every Christian, and not just for the theologians, because it is foundational. Sound doctrine is not required just for those who teach; it is required as the basis for each and every ministry which takes place in the church. Those who show mercy should do so in accordance with sound doctrine. Those who give must give in accordance with sound doctrine. For example, they must not give to the support of those who are false teachers (2 John 7-11). Those who serve should serve in accordance with sound doctrine. Those who “love” must love within the confines of sound doctrine (Philippians 1:9-11).
Sound doctrine is the basis for all ministry. We dare not seek to serve God apart from sound doctrine.
Divisions, often the result of following a particular leader and rejecting all others, are a very serious offense. For saints to be divided and opposing one another is a tearing down of the church, not a building up of the temple of God. Let us see the evil of divisions, and also the serious consequences which it brings to us personally.
When my daughter was in Christian school, the high school students complained that the school secretary treated them like small children. While waiting to take my daughter on an appointment one day, I observed the behavior for myself. The high school was located across the parking lot from the main building and so the secretary was used to dealing with small children all day. When she encountered the high schoolers, she tended to treat them just like one of the kids. They objected because they were more mature than this … but some of them actually were pretty immature.
So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? 1 Corhinthians 3:1-4
The Corinthians felt like those high schoolers toward Paul. He was too elementary and simplistic. They were insulted by his message and his methods. In these first four verses of chapter 3, Paul exposed the reason for his content and method of preaching. It wasn’t that Paul was incapable of going deeper or grasping secular wisdom. A student of Gamaliel, Israel’s greatest rabbi of that generation, Paul was quite capable of going deeper. It wasn’t that apostolic preaching had gone as far as it could go. Paul hadn’t get written Romans and the writer of Hebrews hadn’t produced that letter yet. The gospel could and did go a lot deeper in the future. The problem was that Paul’s Corinthian readers were carnal, fleshly, not spiritually minded. Paul dealt with them in an elementary fashion because, figuratively speaking, they were still elementary school students. These “kindergarten Christians” wanted to boast that they are taking graduate level courses.
We’re not horribly different today.
In some sense, any observer could agree the Corinthian Christian fell short of the mark. They were childish and immature, quarreling among themselves, incapable of in-depth teaching. What picture should come to mind when we hear the term “carnal Christian”? The subject passage tells us a great deal about the characteristics of a carnal Christian. The rest of the book (and 2 Corinthians) has much to add to the topic. For now, let us make some initial observations about the carnal Christian.
In general terms, the carnal Christian is the Christian whose thinking and actions are prompted by the flesh. Conversely, the spiritual Christian is the saint whose attitudes, thinking, and actions operate under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual Christian’s life indicates that he or she is walking in the Spirit, in accordance with the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit. The carnal Christian possesses the Spirit, but he or she chooses to follow the impulses of the flesh.
Because the carnal Christian lives in accordance with the flesh, at times it may be hard to distinguish him from the unsaved, “natural,” man, who also thinks and walks according to the flesh. The difference between the carnal Christian and the natural (or unregenerated) person is that the former has the means to live a godly life, while the latter does not. The difference between the carnal man and the natural man is that the former is saved and going to heaven, while the latter is lost and doomed for an eternity apart from God, unless he becomes saved.
Carnal Christians are like babies. When Paul first came to Corinth, he had to speak to these pagans as to “natural men,”unbelievers, who did not possess the Spirit. He thus proclaimed the gospel at an elementary level. Even after they were saved, Paul still had to speak to the Corinthians as brand new believers. Paul would explain the specifics of their immaturity later in the letter, but let us ponder what babies are like, and then compare this to the spiritual realm.
Babies are little and immature and must begin to grow up quickly. The Corinthian newborn saints were immature babies who needed to grow up. Babies are weak and vulnerable, completely dependent upon others for food, cleaning, clothing, and protection. Being weak, vulnerable and dependent, babies take a great deal from others, but they do not give to others. As babies begin to grow up, they become more independent. Every parent knows about the “terrible two’s”! Children have trouble getting along with other children because they are self-centered and selfish, and so they fight and squabble over toys and attention.
Carnal Christians are little babies who stay babies; they never grow up. We must be careful when we think about “carnal Christians” as babies, because newborn saints may have serioius weaknesses, but they also have capabilities. New Christians often put us more mature Christians to shame. They have a zeal for the lost, and they share boldly about their new-found faith. They have a deep sense of what they have been saved from. They have a hunger for the Word, often devouring it as they discover its riches for the first time.
Paul was not critical of the Corinthians for being immature right after their conversion. His criticism stemmed from their having remained children. They had not grown up and matured into adult, serving saints. Growth is normal and natural, and when children do not grow up, it is considered a tragedy. Spiritual growth is expected also, and when it does not happen, it is abnormal:
It was he [God] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.(Ephesians 4:11-16). See also 1Peter 2:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-14.
Paul simply states that the Corinthian believers have never grown up. It is not wrong for them to digest only simple truths as newborn babes, but it is wrong for them to fail to grow up and not to take solid food. To stay immature is sin. The Corinthians are guilty of this malady.
Carnal Christians are “Wimps in the Word.” The Corinthian Christians were only able to handle “milk” when Paul was with them. Their condition had not changed because there was no growth toward maturity, no movement from “milk” to “meat.”
What is “milk,” and what is “meat”? Paul does not spell this out for us in our text, but the writer to the Hebrews does:
For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 5:13–6:2).
According to these words, “milk” is the elementary truths necessary for salvation, and the taking of the first steps in a Christian’s walk in the Spirit. When the Christian moves from “milk” to “meat,” he is not moving from “Christ crucified” to “deeper truths.” He is moving from a basic grasp of the meaning of Christ crucified to a deeper understanding of Christ and the gospel and the implications for godly living.
Both the “milk” and the solid food, the “meat” of the Christian’s diet is the Word of God, centered in Christ crucified. As I understand Paul’s words, it wasn’t that the Corinthian saints were still trying to digest the “milk” of the Word. They had turned up their noses at “milk” and were seeking “wisdom” from those teachers who were offering teachings that appealed to their fleshly natures.
The carnal Christians of Paul’s day disdained doctrine. Since human nature hasn’t changed much, carnal Christians today also disdain doctrine. They do not want any diet which requires study, hard work, and thought.
They are infants still and display their wretched immaturity even in the way that they complain if you give them more than milk. Not for them solid knowledge of Scripture; not for them mature theological reflection; not for them growing and perceptive Christian thought. They want nothing more than another round of choruses and a ‘simple message’—something that won’t challenge them to think, to examine their lives, to make choices, and to grow in their knowledge and adoration of the living God. D.A Carson, The Cross & Christian Ministry, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1993, page 72
A very substantial “market” exists in the Christian community for sermons, tapes, radio and television talk shows, and Christian gurus who pre-digest truth for us and then tell us exactly how to do everything. The books on Christian marriage, child-rearing, facing life’s problems, and handling money are endless. It is not that all of these books are wrong. Some of them are quite informative. The problem is that many of today’s Christians seem incapable of thinking for ourselves.
Our goal shouldn’t be to teach people in a way which causes them to come back again and again with every new question, every new wrinkle to their problems. Education should provide people with the tools, methods, and motivation to learn for themselves. We are never completely independent of others, nor should we be, but as we grow up in the Word, we should become less dependent. We should not have to be told every “answer,” because we should begin to find the answers for ourselves. In this sense, “milk” is the product which has been produced by someone else, the nourishment we get “second hand.” The plethora of books, tapes, and materials can be either a blessing or a curse to us, depending on whether they aid us in finding the truth in the Scriptures, or whether they give us an excuse not to search out the Scriptural truth for ourselves.
Carnal Christians are not those who think of themselves as carnal, but those who think of themselves as spiritual. Paul started his letter by identifying the Corinthian believers as Christians ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, recipients of ‘the grace of God’, enriched by Christ ‘in all utterance, and in all knowledge’ (1:2-5). He rebuked in chapter 3 not for failing to be saved, but for acting with immaturity and like non-believers in one area of their lives.
The Scriptures don’t give comfort or encouragement to professing Christians who manifest no evidence of spiritual life. In my study of the “carnal Christian” in Corinthians, I reached the surprising conclusion that Paul viewed the carnal Christians of Corinth in a completely different way than we do in modern times.The carnal Christian is not the person who once made a profession of faith, who has done nothing since. The carnal Christian is the person we think of as spiritual—the kind of person who thinks of himself (or herself) as spiritual. When Paul used the term “worldly” Christian, he didn’t mean someone who had made a profession of faith, carried on in the Christian way for a short while, and then reverted to a lifestyle indistinguishable in every respect from that of the world. The Corinthian believers were still meeting together for worship (1 Corinthians. 14) and calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:2). They were extraordinarily endowed with spiritual gifts (1:5, 7; 12-14) and wrestling with theological and ethical issues (1 Cor. 8-10), and they were in contact with the apostle whose ministry brought them to the Lord. Far from being sold out to the world of the flesh, they still pursued spiritual experience.
The “carnal Christian” is one who may well be regarded as “spiritual” by others:
This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. (Revelation 3:1).
The carnal Christians at Sardis were not rebuked for having done no works. God indicates that He is aware of their deeds. It seems the saints in Sardis had a reputation for being “alive” (let’s say “spiritual” and not miss the point) on the basis of their works. But in spite of this apparent evidence, God exposed them as being “dead.”
In the same chapter, we see that the saints in Laodicea also thought they were “spiritual,” but God informed them that they were not:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! (Revelation 3:14-19).
How can the ones who consider themselves “spiritual,” who have a “spirtual” reputation with others, be the very ones God designates as “carnal”? We humans have the wrong criteria for judging spirituality. We judge by appearances of spirituality. But Jesus warned about making judgments on the basis of externals: “And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The “false prophets” Jesus warned about are those who perform very impressive works, and Jesus calls them those “who practice lawlessness”:(See Matthw 7:15-23)
Immediately after, Jesus emphasized that those who are “wise” (an interesting word in relationship to the Corinthians) are those who do what He has taught. (See Matthew 7:24-27)
Addressing the “carnal” Hebrew Christians, the writer to the Hebrews indicates that their immaturity is due to their lack of use of the Word, while the mature are those who are wise concerning good and evil because they have put their biblical knowledge to use. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14 emphasis mine).
What is the difference between the “works” of those who are unspiritual (even unsaved), and the “works” of those who are “spiritual”? It’s simpler than you think. The works of those who are “fleshly” or “carnal” are those prompted and empowered by the flesh. The works of those who are spiritual are prompted and empowered by the Spirit. Seemingly spiritual people may hustle and bustle around the church, doing so much they appear to put others to shame, while in reality their works are fleshly. The “fleshly” Christian may even prostitute his or her spiritual gifts, employing them in self-serving and self-promoting ways. The Corinthian church was well-endowed with spiritual gifts, and yet Paul’s description of the church worship services implies that the gifts were being misused. More on that later.
Being carnal is not indicated by the absence of what might be called “good works,” but the absence of the Spirit in these “good works.” I can imagine the shock wave that hit the church at Corinth as the saints read and reflected upon Paul’s letter. Paul not only called many of the Corinthian saints carnal, he was calling those carnal who were most highly regarded as spiritual. One more surprise concerning the carnal Corinthians. The carnal Corinthians were not only those who were regarded as spiritual, they were also those who had the audacity to claim that Paul and his fellow-apostles were “carnal”:
Now I, Paul, appeal to you personally by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (I who am meek when present among you, but am full of courage toward you when away!) – now I ask that when I am present I may not have to be bold with the confidence that (I expect) I will dare to use against some who consider us to be behaving according to human standards. For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards. (2Corthians 10:1-3)
The two Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians deal with the fruits of carnality. Paul sought to point his readers to “true spirituality.” As we continue on in our study, we will gain insight into why “spiritual saints” are often considered “carnal” and why “carnal Christians” are thought to be “spiritual.” We will become increasingly aware that times have changed, but people have not. The pages of Paul’s epistles read like the pages of our daily newspaper.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “carnal Christian”. It comes from this section of 1 Corinthians.
Brad and I began this Bible study because of a Christian friend’s carnality, so when we reached this passage, it seemed we should pay it particular attention.
So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human? (I Corinthians 3:1-4)
The word “carnal” comes from the King James, which was influenced by the Latin Vulgate. It translates the Greek work sarkinos as carnal. Later versions have translated it as “fleshly” and “worldly”. The NET Bible uses “unregenerate”.
We’re only going to focus on these four verses because there’s a lot of debate over what constitutes a “carnal” Christian and because you can’t really understand the church at Corinth unless you understand that Paul applied this term to many of the Corinthian Christians. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are about true spirituality, which he contrasted with the carnality of the Corinthian Christians. That carnality affected their understanding of spirituality. Thus, understanding what Paul meant by “carnal” becomes crucial to understanding his letters to the Corinthians.
Just a quick review of the road so far. Paul laid the foundation for this letter at the outset (1 Corithians 1:1-9). He indicated his letter was written not only to the Christians at Corinth, but to all the saints. He assumed his readers are true Christians and gave thanks to God because he knew God has abundantly provided for their salvation, sanctification and future glorification. Paul’s confidence did not lie with the Corinthians, but in the God Who saved them and Who will perfect them (verses 4-9)
And then he turned his attention to the problem of divisions within the church. He exhorted them to live in unity and then dealt with the known factions, which he strongly rejected as contrary to the gospel. He pointed to how his own ministry focused on preaching rather than secondary matters like baptism (verses 14-17).
He explained that he had not come to them as a great orator, because that would be detrimental to the proclamation of the cross of Christ. God did everything to make salvation possible. Paul rejected preaching that relied on human skill and talent in an effort to stay out of God’s way.
Men and women who boast that they are followers of a certain prominent leader or of Christ Himself, are exhibiting pride. Paul reminded his readers that the preaching of Christ crucified is diametrically opposed to worldly pride. He encouraged his readers to look around the church and remind themselves that the culturally elite (who the world prizes) were mostly absent, because the gospel is an offense to them, appearing to them as foolish and weak. Conversely, they were and are attracted to worldly wisdom and power.
God chooses to save those the world’s elite despise and reject — the weak, the foolish, and the “nobodies.” Through them, He accomplishes His purposes so that God’s power is revealed, and He receives the praise and the glory, rather than men. Paul came relying wholly on God’s strength and gospel, rather than prestige and wisdom.
However, just because the world regards the gospel as foolish didn’t mean Paul and the other apostles had no wisdom to teach. Paul taught wisdom, but only to those who were mature in Christ (2:6). Paul’s kind of wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are “wise” in this present age. Paul reminded us that God’s wisdom has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, Who the rulers of His age crucified (verse 8).
If the culturally elite “wise” of Paul’s age and of ours, don’t recognize the Savior of the World. They crucified Him instead. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking they can be won through worldly wisdom and worldly methods. The natural senses cannot discern the things of God.
If men are not capable of knowing God by their own efforts, how can God ever be known by men? In verses 2:10-16, Paul explained that God chose to reveal Himself to men through His Holy Spirit, who inspired the human authors of the New Testament to write them down. Through the Scriptures, the wisdom of God is revealed and, the Holy Spirit guides believers to understand the wisdom of God. The natural, unconverted man, does not have the Spirit within, and thus he cannot understand the Scriptures. The Spirit indwells the Christian and thus he is able to understand this current age and the mysteries of God revealed in Scripture (verses 14-16).
The Corinthian Christians had begun to look down upon Paul and the other apostles and the gospel message he preached because they found it simplistic (Christ crucified) and proclaimed in a less than entertaining way. The Corinthians had turned from Paul and his kind of preaching to others who the world considered wise and prestigious. Their excuse was that Paul failed to measure up to the new standard set by the cultural elite.
Paul had already hinted at the real problem. In chapter 2, verse 6, Paul wrote that he and the apostles spoke wisdom to those who were mature. The Corinthians were not mature. He couldn’t speak words of wisdom to them because they were carnal, or “fleshly,” or “worldly”. So we have to deal with that term.
C. I. Scofield’s note in the Scofield Bible articulates a definition of the “carnal man,” which some embrace and others eschew:
Paul divides men into three classes: psuchikos, ‘of the senses’ (James 3:15; Jude 19), or ‘natural,’ i.e. the Adamic man, unrenewed through the new birth (John 3:3, 5); pneumatikos, ‘spiritual,’ i.e. the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Ephesians 5:18-20); and sarkikos, ‘carnal,’ ‘fleshly,’ i.e. the renewed man who, walking ‘after the flesh,’ remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent, fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the fleshly, or carnal, Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, ‘milk’ (1 Cor. 3:2).
Not everyone agrees. Ernest C. Reisinger delivers a strong rebuttal to Scofield’s interpretation:
Many who regularly occupy church pews, fill church rolls, and are intellectually acquainted with the facts of the gospel never strike one blow for Christ. They seem to be at peace with his enemies. They have no quarrel with sin and, apart from a few sentimental expressions about Christ, there is no biblical evidence that they have experienced anything of the power of the gospel in their lives. Yet in spite of the evidence against them, they consider themselves to be just what their teachers teach them—that they are ‘carnal Christians’. And as carnal Christians they believe they will go to heaven, though perhaps not first-class, and with few rewards.
Reisinger argues that the category of “carnal Christian” leaves a lot of unregenerate people sitting in the pews, assured they’re going to heaven, so comfortable with their lack of faith.
Reisinger believed that the preponderance of Scripture teaches only two classes or categories of men—regenerate and unregenerate, converted and unconverted, those in Christ and those outside of Christ. He was uncomfortable with the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching, feeling it conflicted with the whole emphasis of Scripture and of the New Testament in particular.
In 1Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul appeared to divide the world into two groups – spiritual (saved, possessed of the Spirit) and natural (unsaved, those who do not have the Spirit). But now, he speaks in three categories. Which is true?
Having both experienced periods of carnal Christianity ourselves, Brad and I believe there is such a thing, but we’ve also seen some people add some truly bizarre twists to it — twists like our friend who we are currently confronting.
It’s an important question that affects every church, so it’s probably important enough to spend some time looking at it. I think there are degrees of carnality. I don’t know any Christians who have never acted in worldly ways. We all struggle with our flesh (Galatians 5:17). And, 1Corinthians 3 is not the only place in the Bible where Christians are referred to as falling sort of the goal of being “spiritual”:
Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. (Galatians 6:1).
Paul instructed “spiritual” Christians that they should aid those caught in a particular sin. This Christian is not spiritual, so there must be some other category for them to be placed in.
By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, [Abraham] received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. So in fact children were fathered by one man – and this one as good as dead – like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore. These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Hebrews was not written by Paul, though his name was attached to it by Bible organizers. Whoever wrote it (possibly Barnabas or Apollos, the two together, or even Priscilla and Aquila) was well-acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures, so was likely a well-educated Jew of the 1st century. This writer used very similar terms to Paul’s of those who are unable to handle the spiritual “meat” of his teaching on Melchizedek. Their immaturity caused them to still be dependent on others and to continue to require “milk.”
There are things in Christianity that are either or, but there are also topics that don’t have such black and white depictions.
Perhaps the best analogy is how Jesus dealt with divorce. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees ask Jesus what grounds for divorce are acceptable to Him. Their question is not sincere, and the Pharisees held a much more liberal view on this issue than God taught. Jesus’s response is very instructive. Paraphrased, Jesus’ answered: “I refuse to talk about exceptions, because for you, divorce has become the rule, and keeping your marriage vows the exception. There are exceptions, but you have so abused these that one can divorce for the most casual and insignificant of reasons. I want to emphasize the rule; I want to speak about the ideal, and the ideal is that one man and one woman remain husband and wife until one of them dies” (see Matthew 19:4-6).
The ideal is that all Christians should be “spiritual”. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and every Christian should walk in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul wrote of two categories of men, those with the Spirit and those without. Now, in chapter 3, Paul introduced a sub-category of those who are saved and indwelt by the Spirit: those who are saved, but who do not live in accordance with who they are and what God has adequately provided for them to be. Whether this category is called “sub-standard Christians,” “carnal” or “fleshly” or “unspiritual” does not matter that much. Paul dealt realistically with unspiritual saints while at the same time, not setting aside the broader division of men into two simple categories.
The “carnal” issue isn’t just an academic topic to be debated by theologians. It effects our everyday lives. The “carnal Christian” is not that far removed from the “spiritual Christian”. Every Christian’s daily life manifests the constant battle we face between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 7:14, 18-19, 24-25; 8:1-4; Galatians 5:13-24). The “spiritual” Christian and the “carnal” Christian both struggle with the pull of the flesh and its opposition to the Spirit. The difference between the “carnal” saint and the “spiritual” saint is that the “carnal Christian” is losing the battle, and the “spiritual Christian” is, by the grace of God, holding his or her ground.
Reisinger spoke for many of a pastor and saint when he objected to the concept of the carnal Christian, believing it justifies or inadvertently encourages professing Christians to live a life of minimal commitment and obedience to Christ, all the while confident that they will get to heaven because they at one time made a profession of faith.
I agree with Reisinger that this abuse of the doctrines of the grace of God is deplorable. Nevertheless, abuse of a doctrine does not prove that doctrine wrong. In Romans 5, Paul concluded by saying that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Some had concluded this meant one could, maybe even should, sin that grace might abound (6:1). Paul was horrified at this thought and strongly rejected it. But the perversion of this doctrine in its application by some doesn’t prove the doctrine itself is wrong. We must beware of rejecting the category of the carnal Christian just because some abuse it.
More in a second post
If you just read the first part of 1Corinthians, you could come away with the impression that Paul said the gospel really is foolish and weak. Not at all! This is only the way the world perceives the gospel. In chapter 2, Paul revealed that weakness and simplicity are not the end of the story but the beginning. It is through the weakness of proclaiming the gospel that the wisdom and power of God are made manifest. The world regards God’s wisdom as foolish because it is incapable of comprehending or accepting its truths. God’s wisdom is a mystery which the unsaved cannot grasp, and no one would have known apart from divine revelation. Through His Spirit, God has revealed Himself to people. The Spirit who searches the depths of God has been given in a special way to the apostles. Through those inspired men, divine thoughts had been translated into divine words. Those who possess the Spirit by faith in Christ can appraise the spiritual truths of Scripture. Those who are unsaved, and thus without the Spirit, cannot. No wonder they think God’s wisdom is foolish. They cannot understand it—or God. But we who have the Scriptures and the Spirit have the mind of Christ.
Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mindimagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:6-9
At verse 6, Paul changed from the first person singular (“I”) to the first person plural (“we”). Verses 1-6 spoke of Paul’s mind set, message, and methods when he first came to Corinth with the gospel. In verse 6, Paul spoke for more than just himself. I understand the “we” to refer principally to the apostles. As further developments in this letter and 2 Corinthians will show, the real struggle was not with Corinthian cliques, each of which had chosen to follow a different apostle, but with those in Corinth who had turned from the apostles to other teachers, of which some will prove to be “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
What was the Corinthians’ beef with Paul that they chose to follow other leadership? It is Paul’s “simplistic” devotion to Christ crucified. Paul has chosen to be a one-note Sally and continue to stress that which was offensive to both Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, for a Corinthian Christian to identify with the apostle Paul was to embrace that which is foolish and weak to the unbelieving mind of his era. To identify with Paul and his preaching was to become a fool in the eyes of the world. Fools were without status. So some were tempted to identify with new leaders whose methods and message were far more acceptable. Associating with them gave one a much higher status.
They weren’t unlike Christians today.
Paul didn’t deny that his message and methods were foolish. In fact, he emphasized that is was. But in moving to the first person plural (“we”), Paul linked himself, his message, and his methods with all of the other apostles. Paul’s message and methods were no different from those of his fellow apostles. He spoke with and for all the apostles as he admonished the Corinthians.
At verse 6, Paul made another shift in his emphasis. Up to this point, Paul had granted the fact that his gospel was foolish and weak. Now he began to clarify and expand his instruction. The apostolic gospel is foolish and weak to unbelievers, but it is neither foolish nor weak in the sight of God. Neither should it be regarded as foolish nor weak in the sight of the saints. In verse 6, Paul insisted that the apostles did speak wisdom. This wisdom is not for all, however. There were two groups from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld. The first group is those who was immature (verse 6). In chapter 3, verse 1, Paul plainly told the Corinthians they were “men of flesh,” “babes in Christ,” and in verse 3, he contended that they still remained in the same condition. Did the Corinthians chafe because Paul’s message was too simple? The problem was not with Paul or his colleagues; the problem was with the Corinthians. They could handle a more indepth gospel.
The second group from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld is unbelievers (2:6). Paul said the wisdom the apostles preach is not of “this age.” Consequently, the rulers of “this age” are not able to grasp it. Even those who are the wisest and most powerful people of this age are unable to grasp it. This is evident at the cross of Calvary. There, at the cross, the rulers of this age rejected Jesus as the Messiah as God’s means of salvation. God’s “wisdom”was never more clearly manifested to men than in the person of Jesus Christ, but the best of this age were not able to see it. It is obvious that they did not receive this “Wisdom” because they crucified Him.
Paul’s words here help us to distinguish between God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom. God’s wisdom was revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at His first coming, but the world rejected Him and the wisdom He manifested. The wisdom of God is “eternal wisdom,” a wisdom established in eternity past yet to be fully implemented when Christ’s kingdom is established on the earth. The wisdom of this world is “empirical wisdom,” based upon that which can be seen and heard and touched. The wisdom of God cannot seen by the naked eye, heard with the ears, fathomed by the natural mind. It surpasses even man’s imagination. It is other worldly. This should not come as a surprise to the Christian. The prophet Isaiah indicated as much in the citation which Paul included in verse 9.
God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 1Corinthians 2:10-13
Paul has just shown us why God’s wisdom, which the apostles proclaimed, is rejected by the great but unbelieving men of this age. Men of this age are limited to temporal, human wisdom. They cannot grasp God’s eternal wisdom. They cannot see, hear, or comprehend the things of God. How then can mere mortals ever know God’s wisdom?
In verses 10-13, Paul expounded the doctrines of inspiration and revelation whereby God has made His wisdom known through the apostles who have inscripturated the “depths of God.”
How can men really know a God Who cannot be seen and whose provisions are beyond human thought? The answer: through the Holy Spirit, who has imparted the knowledge of God to and through the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of God.” Just as man’s human spirit knows the deep thoughts of the man, so the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, knows the intimate things of God. When the Lord Jesus was on Earth, He spoke many things to His disciples which they did not understand or even remember. Jesus told them that after His departure, He would send His Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not only call the things He had spoken to their remembrance, He would also enable them to understand them so that they could record them for others. In addition, the Spirit would reveal things to come, things of the coming age (see John 14:25-26; John 16:12-15)
Paul had already spoken of the wisdom of God as a mystery (1 Corinthians 2:7). A mystery is something God reveals concerning the future, which is not fully grasped before its fulfillment because it is beyond human comprehension. The apostles played a unique role as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). After God has completed a work that was formerly a mystery, He fully disclosed that mystery through one of His apostles. Paul was surely one of the great “mystery apostles” in that it was his privilege to speak of several mysteries. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul spoke of the privilege God had given him as an apostle to reveal some of these mysteries (Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:1-13; 5:32).
In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, Paul described the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His disciples (remember that Paul was divinely added as the twelfth apostle). Man, Paul said, could never know God on his own, but God has chosen to make Himself known through His Word and through His Spirit. His Spirit was given to the apostles in a special way so that the things of God might be inscripturated, divinely inspired and recorded as a part of the Bible. The apostles have been given the Spirit in this unique way so they “might know the things freely given to us by God” and might communicate them to us. The Spirit superintended this process by “combining spiritual thoughts (“the depths of God,” verse 10) with spiritual words” (the words of Holy Scripture).
Here is a very crucial difference between the true apostles and false apostles. The apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did! False apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did not! God can be known intimately because He has chosen to disclose His innermost thoughts and being to men by means of His Spirit working through the apostles, resulting in the New Testament Scriptures. To reject the apostles and their teaching as the “wisdom of God” is to reject God, for they are the only ones through whom God has chosen to disclose Himself. Is the gospel simplistic? It is because God’s way of salvation is simplistic—one way (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6). To reject the apostles’ teaching is to reject the God Who disclosed Himself to men through them.
The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1Corinthians 2:14-16
God has disclosed Himself to men through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knows the intimate things of God and, by inspiring the apostles, has translated spiritual thoughts about God into spiritual words—the New Testament. Yet the unbeliever seems blinded to the truth contained in God’s Word. How can some find a rich source of revelation in the Bible which enables them to know God more intimately, while others find the Scriptures a senseless mixture of writings which cannot even be understood? Why are some drawn to the Scriptures and others repulsed by them?
The difference is the presence or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We see in verses 10-13 that Paul spoke of the Spirit’s work in conveying God’s thoughts to men by inspiring the apostles to convey spiritual thoughts through spiritual words, that which comes down to us as the New Testament. Now, in verses 14-16, Paul wrote of the work of the Spirit, enabling men and women to understand the Scriptures and know the mind of God.
Previously, Paul had divided mankind into two groups:
- those who trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for their eternal salvation, and
- those who do not, who cannot understand the wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
True wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are unsaved, by those who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them illuminating the truth of the Scriptures so they can know the deep things of God. True wisdom speaks of things which pertain to a future age and of things which no man has ever seen, or heard, or is even able to imagine. The only way this kind of wisdom can be known is for men to trust in Jesus Christ so that their spiritual eyes may be opened to see the wonders of the wisdom of God and the world to come.
The Christian is called “spiritual” (verse 15) by Paul. Most often, we understand the term “spiritual” to refer to those who are mature, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Paul seemed to use it to refer to those who possess the Spirit, who live in the realm of the Holy Spirit because they have trusted in Jesus Christ. The one who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to grasp and to appraise both temporal and eternal matters. Paul said the Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to “appraise all things” earthly and eternal, things pertaining to this age and the next.
While the Christian—“he who is spiritual”—is able to appraise all things and thus to understand the beliefs and the behavior of the unsaved, the unsaved (“natural”) man is unable to understand the Christian (“he who is spiritual”). No wonder Christians are misunderstood and even persecuted. No wonder they are considered foolish and weak. This is the best the unaided mind of the natural man can do.
Paul closed this section of the letter with the words of Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). These words sum up the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. God has revealed Himself to all men in the person of Christ and in the Scriptures (verses 10-13). The Scriptures make no sense to the unbeliever. This is because it is impossible for the unbeliever to grasp the things of God apart from the Spirit of God. Who can know the mind of the Lord? No one can, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Word of God through the apostles and in illuminating the Scriptures to the individual believer.
In contrast to the unbeliever, who is oblivious to the mind of God, the Christian can say confidently, “We have the mind of Christ.” The “we” may refer either to the apostles, who alone can speak the “mind of Christ,” or more generally, of all the saints who possess the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the “mind of Christ” is conveyed to the saints. The Christian has both the Word of God and the witness of His Spirit, the Author of that Word. What more can one ask for than this?
This final statement sums up the vast difference of opinion which exists between Christians and unbelievers over “wisdom.” The unbeliever is incapable of understanding God’s wisdom and so is confined to a very limited, distorted temporal wisdom. The Christian has the means for knowing the mind of God and thus has access to the wisdom of God. The Christian should not be surprised by the reaction of the unbeliever to the preaching of the gospel. Christians should not forsake the vast wisdom God has made available to us in order to pursue the wisdom which the world seeks.
Men can come to know God in only one way—through His Word and through His Spirit. There are many different beliefs about God, but there is only one true God. This is the God Who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. All views of God which originate with men, rather than with God, are false. All views of God which come from some other source than the Bible are false. It does not matter how you would like to think of God. Paul’s words inform us that the way we think about God is certain to be wrong, for true wisdom comes from above, not from below. True wisdom flows from God to men, not from men God-ward. The Bible reveals to us a God that we would not have imagined, a God whom we would not have wanted, a God whom we would not have received. Apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God, we could never have come to know God.
A friend of mine tells a story from when he was in high school. He was traveling with his father, a cop, on a commuter airline when a hijacker pulled a gun and demanded to be taken to Cuba (that was a thing in the 1970s.) Mark and his father were considering what they could do about this idiot when the stewardess talked him into allowing her to calm the passengers by plying them with alcohol. The hijacker agreed. Convinced that she was on his side, he turned his back on her and Mark watched as the stewardess turned from pouring wine into a passenger’s glass, kicked her shoes off, stepped up onto the edge of a seat and broke the bottle across the back of the hijacker’s head. Bleeding and dazed, he was pretty compliant as Mark and his dad disarmed and handcuffed him so he couldn’t cause anymore trouble. The news tried to paint them as the heroes, but they were clear that the stewardess who barely came up to Mark’s chin was the real hero.
Sometimes the most unlikely people use the most unusual means to protect and preserve others. I think that’s true of the preaching ministry of the local church. The ministry of preaching is conducted by unlikely people through an unusual means to protect and preserve God’s people.
Preaching Jesus Christ is one of the foundational tasks of the church. Few Christians will disagree that preaching is essential, offering up an internal “Amen,” followed immediately by a yawn will slip out, after which they tune out. Most of us don’t consider ourselves preachers, but the sobering reality is that God calls all of us to be preachers of Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:14).
In the opening chapter of 1Corinthians, Paul demonstrated that God deliberately chooses foolish and weak methods and messengers to shame those who are wise and strong. Then, Paul used himself as a prime example of foolishness and weakness.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God. 1Corinthians 2:1-4
Paul began by reminding the Corinthians how he did NOT preach. Paul had not dazzled his listeners with his rhetorical or philosophical prowess. He had simply proclaimed the truth about God.
This was certainly unusual in 1st-century Corinth. In Paul’s day, Greek orators followed certain well-established conventions when they entered a city. Great crowds flocked to hear them because they spoke in the style of traditional Greek rhetoric—with extensive quotations, literary allusions, and a refined style that made them seem brilliant, witty, charming, and entertaining.
Paul utterly rejected this approach to preaching, although he could have done it himself. As a well-educated rabbi, he knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, he could hold his own in any argument. If Paul wanted to show off his intellect, he certainly knew how to do it. But he rejected that approach, instead proclaiming “the testimony of God.” The word “testimony” is a legal word that refers to something one presents in a court of law. Paul was conscious that God is a Judge. He was speaking in the presence of the Judge, presenting His witness (2 Timothy 4:1). He knew what the truth was and announced it boldly. Paul didn’t preach his testimony about God. Instead, he preached God’s testimony about God (“the testimony”). His message came from God, not himself.
For many today “proclaiming” is a bad word. They say, “Don’t preach to me!” Many preachers, afraid of being thought arrogant, avoid talking about preaching. They prefer to think of what they do as “sharing.” They’re making suggestions, offering their opinion. That’s arrogance. My opinions are no better than yours and, frankly, neither are my pastors or even Paul’s. My pastor is not and Paul wasn’t declaring their opinions.They were declaring God’s very words (see 1 Petet 4:11a).
Preaching isn’t just for pastors. You too can preach with authority to people in your life. I was a Sunday School teacher for about 15 years, leading a weekly Bible study for the church’s teenagers. I simply taught through books of the Bible with the goal of seeing those young people grow in Christ. Here in Fairbanks, there is a women’s Bible study during the lunch hour that people from all over town flock to. Whether we believe it or not, there are people who are looking for a man or woman to preach God’s Word with authority. For a while, Brad used to lead a Bible study in his truck at a construction site. You can preach wherever God has placed you to serve Him, if you’re willing to answer His call and proclaim His testimony.
In 2:2, Paul explained why he preached as he did: “For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The word translated “I decided” means Paul made a conscious choice to do things a certain way. He didn’t fall into it by chance or by force of habit. Paul preached as he did because he chose to do it that way. That same choice confronts every Christian messenger. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by good and worthwhile things. We can preach about social issues, the political debates of our day, the crisis in the Middle East, or the decline of the family. We can tackle Bible prophecy or we can major on predestination or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a place for all those things, but that place is never at the center. For Paul the choice was clear: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He started there and that became the center of his preaching, every other truth could be arranged around it. But Jesus must be in the middle of all things and all other topics must be properly related to Him.
This verse cannot be taken absolutely, as if the only doctrine Paul taught on was the crucifixion, but refers to its centrality in his preaching. It is not enough for us to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was, but the world largely believes that already. And it is not enough to say that He came down from heaven. Many already believe that. It’s not even enough to say that He was born of a virgin. We must go all the way and declare that God Himself came down to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must say that when He died on the cross, He paid the ultimate penalty to deliver us from our sins.
We live in an information saturated age where we can follow thousands of channels for secular information, but if you want to know how to be right with God, how to have your sins forgiven, and how to go to heaven, you need the message Paul preached:
Jesus Christ and Him crucified
Note that Paul used the perfect tense here for “crucified” (also 1Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 3:1), which suggests that his focus was not as much on the historical event of the cross but on its ongoing effect for those who believe in Jesus. This event provided us with personal justification, redemption, and sanctification (1:30). The death of Jesus Christ covers everything. Jesus is the one person that fixes everything!
To give people what they need sometimes means you must not give them what they want. Most parents learn this early on. When your daughter is sick she may want another cookie, but what she needs is the medicine the doctor prescribed. If you love her you’ll give her what she needs, not what she wants. The same is true as we speak to others about Christ. They may want to hear other things, but we must tell them about Jesus, for He alone can save them. We have to stay on topic.
Paul used his own personal example again. “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul did not come to Corinth with any degree of self-confidence, but “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.”
Corinth was a hard city for a minister. Paul’s reception there had discouraged him to the point that preaching was difficult. He responded to the local hostility in a totally human fashion, which I personally find encouraging. Like Paul, we live and serve in a difficult society. We want to serve Christ and speak up for Him but sometimes it can be downright scary. But God doesn’t give us the option to be silent. Even when we find ourselves tongue-tied or just plain forget what we were supposed to say, we must strive to proclaim the gospel.
Paul was all about the power of the Spirit. In 2:5, Paul explained that the power of God is the word of the cross (1:18). What a striking contrast—the wisdom of men versus the power of God! If you build on one, you cannot have the other. Paul’s concern throughout this passage is self-reliance. It’s not that he didn’t want us to preach to the best of our ability. He just didn’t want us to rely on our own gifts and strength.
To be foolish preachers for Christ, we 21st-century Christians need the following:
Pray for a prepared heart. Ask the Lord to supply you with opportunities to proclaim His Word. Pray for boldness to be willing to walk through an open door (Colossians 4:3). Pray that those you speak to will be receptive.
Meditate on Scripture. As you read God’s Word, ask the Lord to speak to you. Pray for insights into the text. Think about this Scripture continually. Let the Word sit, soak, and simmer in you. This will ensure that you are always prepared (1 Pet 3:15).
Listen to people. When we listen to people’s hurts we can learn a lot. Often the felt needs of people will well up sermons within us. God will actually bring a Scripture passage to mind that we can share.
Focus on the essentials. Don’t get lost in the minutia of theological details. Instead, focus on the testimony of God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul says that the power is in the gospel. Make sure that you keep the main thing the main thing.