Archive for the ‘doctrine’ Tag

Let God Judge   Leave a comment

The Corinthian church had a leadership crisis. Small cliques had attached themselves to leaders in whom they took pride. Highly regarded in the secular world, these leaders were chosen because of their message and their methods. Their content was thought to be the essence of wisdom. Their methods were powerful. In the 21st Century we’d be expecting the church at Corinth to be experiencing significant growth.

Although each clique appears to have been a personally following of one of the apostles — of Paul, Apollos, or Peter — it wasn’t the apostles themselves who were the problem. They were not competing with one another for positions of power and prominence. If we think the rivalry at Corinth was between the followers of certain apostles like Paul or Apollos or Peter, Paul has a surprise for us in chapter 4. Here, in verse 6, Paul indicates that the real cliques have been established around personal allegiance to certain unnamed men, who are not apostles. As the two letters to the Corinthians continue to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that some of these leaders were spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37-38), and some were not even believers, but rather “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5

The Corinthians had given themselves to one leader, whom they elevated to the place which rightly belongs only to our Lord. Speaking for himself and for the other true apostles, Paul sought to revise their perception of leaders. Even those whom God had appointed as apostles were to be regarded as servants, not as masters. Paul made this point earlier in chapter 3, verse 5: “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.”

Image result for image of god as judgeIn this verse (3:5), Paul employed the first of three Greek terms for a servant, which he would employ in reference to himself and the other apostles.

Diakonos is a common term for servant, which on a few occasions refers to the office of deacon. The term for servant in 4:1 is hyperetes, which refers to a slave who was seated under the deck of a ship and was one of a number of rowers, by whom the ship was propelled. It was not a position of status, and thus Paul employed this term to emphasize the humble service of the apostles. The third term, oikonomos, is rendered “steward.” The steward was also a slave, but one given a higher authority, under his master. He was the responsible head of the estate, assigning to each slave his duties and entrusted with the administration of the stores. He was a slave in relation to his master, but the epitropos or overseer in relation to the workmen.

Even apostles are mere men, who have been chosen and appointed by God to be His servants, and to whom He has given authority to serve as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Servants do not own things; they are owned by their Master. As servants, the apostles did not own or possess their followers as the false teachers seemed to do, and as their followers even boasted (“We are of …”). As stewards, the apostles had a certain authority to act in behalf of their Master, but they were still servants of Christ. As slaves and stewards, the apostles were not intent on pleasing men (see Galatians 1:10), but on pleasing the Master. The Lord was their Master, and He will be their Judge. They will give account to Him for their stewardship, and the standard for judgment will be their faithfulness in fulfilling their stewardship.

In verses 3 and 4, Paul pursued the matter of the judgment of himself and the other apostles as God’s stewards. He conveyed to the Corinthians the inherent weaknesses in human judgment. Paul informed them that he was not overly influenced by their judgment of his faithfulness to his calling as an apostle. He didn’t directly attack their ability to judge him, but pointed out his own limitations in judging himself. If Paul couldn’t rely completely on his own self-evaluation, then how could he be heavily influenced by the judgment of the Corinthians, whose knowledge of Paul was much more limited? Paul could search his conscience to see if there was something worthy of an indictment, but even if his conscience gave him a clean bill, his conscience might be ill-informed. Consequently, the only One who is completely qualified to judge Paul is his Master. It is the Lord Who examines him.

If human judgment is fallible, then Paul could rightly instruct the Corinthians to refrain from making final judgments, which should be left to God. When he wrote, “do not go on passing judgment,” we know that the Corinthians were passing judgment, and Paul was instructing them to cease doing so.

Let us pause for a moment to consider what the Bible as a whole has to say on the subject of judging. It does NOT say we shouldn’t judge. That’s a manipulation of Scripture. We are required to judge many things. The Book of Proverbs is written to enable us to discern character, and various character types are vividly described: the naive, simple or gullible, the fool, the sluggard, and the scoffer — all contrasted against the wise. We are to deal with a person according to their character, and thus we must judge character, based upon the descriptions given in Scripture. We are to judge sin, which is clearly defined in the Scriptures, and clearly evident in our life (1 Corinthians 11:17-31) and in the life of another (1 Corinthians 5). We are also to make judgments on spiritual matters involving believers (1 Corinthians 6). We are to judge the doctrinal truth of what we are taught (Acts 17:10-11).

There are also things we must not judge. We are not to judge the convictions of a brother in the Lord, since these are not matters of biblically defined sin, but of liberties (Romans 14:4). Neither are we to judge or speak against a brother in any matter which the Scriptures have not defined as sin, and for which we have no biblical support. To do so is to place ourselves above the Word of God and to pass judgment on God’s law and God, the Lawgiver and the Judge (James 4:11-12).

When God calls upon the saints to judge, they do so in God’s behalf (Matthew 18:18-19). When we wrongly judge, we judge in God’s place (James 4:11-12). In our text, Paul is forbidding men to judge in God’s place, passing judgment upon those things which God alone can judge. The judgment which does not belong to men is that which will be done by God in the day of judgment, when He returns to the earth to establish His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We dare not “go on passing judgment” before “the time” (4:5). This judgment is God’s judgment alone, because it is that which only God can perform.

Human judgment is temporal and incomplete; it is not final, nor can it be. Consider this. During the recent elections, television networks continued to give updated results, as the precincts closed and votes were counted and reported. After a while, certain trends became apparent, and winners were “predicted” and announced as such. While such predictions are usually accurate, the final outcome cannot be determined until all the precinct voting places have closed and all the ballots have been counted. Our judgment is not the final verdict. Such pronouncements belong only to God.

Paul instructed the Corinthian saints to cease judging their fellow servants because they did not have sufficient data on which to base a judgment. The arrogant, boastful Corinthians who were judging actually thought they were wise enough to judge in God’s place. They based their judgments on outward appearances, which is a very dangerous thing to do (see Luke 16:15). Later Paul insisted that not all gifts produce visible results (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). The boastful Corinthians preferred the gift that were visible because they felt it put them in higher esteem that their fellow-saints.

One thing remains vague in what Paul says, something we must infer from the context. What judgment is Paul instructing them to cease? It seems evident that it is making a final and decisive judgment on the success and quality of the ministry of an apostle of God. Paul warned these Corinthians, who are also mere servants of Christ, not to continue passing judgment on the service of the apostles, condemning apostolic leadership, while choosing to follow a particular favorite leader.

Self-Deception   Leave a comment

Four key words sum up the problems Paul addressed in the church at Corinth:

Divisions. There were divisions in the church at Corinth. Paul contended that there must be unity, for it was Christ alone Who has saved us. Chrisitans are all one body. Paul reminded his readers (then and now) that while leaders in the church may have different tasks to perform, all are engaged in the same cause.

Image result for image of teaching silos

Leaders. The existing divisions had been made on the basis of personalities. The Corinthians had chosen who to follow as their leader. Paul meant to show that leaders are merely servants. Those who think of themselves as “belonging” to a certain group need to be reminded that all the leaders in the church of Christ belong to them, and not the reverse.

Pride. The Corinthians boasted in their leaders, taking great pride in them. The Corinthians did not take pride in what they themselves were, or in what they were doing, but in the status and success of their leader. Paul undermines and attacks human pride by pointing to the kind of people God generally excludes (the cultural elite), and those whom He includes (the weak, the foolish, the nobodies). The things of God are foolish to the world, and the things of the world are foolish to God. The gospel is not about indulging the flesh, but mortification of the flesh. The gospel spells death to human pride, for all that is worthy of praise is the work of God and not of men.

Wisdom. Status in Corinth seems to be determined more on one’s intellectual standing than on one’s wealth. Those whose teaching was highly regarded by the secular community as being “wise” were most highly esteemed. The one who was highly skilled in speaking and persuasion was even more highly esteemed. Paul reminds his readers (past and present) that divine wisdom is incomprehensible to the natural (lost, unsaved) man. Divine wisdom does not come from the great thinkers of this age. God reveals His wisdom through His Word and through His Spirit.

In chapter 3, Paul comes right to the heart of the matter. The problem in Corinth was not Paul’s fault, but the problem of the Corinthian saints. Paul was unable to speak God’s wisdom to the Corinthians because they were too immature, too unspiritual (“carnal”) to handle it. The Corinthians’ carnality was evident in their inability to handle teaching and doctrine which had not been predigested by someone for them (“milk”). Indeed, even the “milky” truths were looked upon with scorn, because they seemed so elementary and simplistic. Not only was the carnality of the Corinthians evident in their spiritual appetite (and digestion), it was evident in the factions which existed in the church, factions centered upon certain leaders.

Up to 1 Corinthians 3:18, Paul “laid a foundation” for his bottom line, which begins at verse 18. For the first time, Paul calls upon his readers to do something, to change something. The key word is the word “let” (3:18, 21; 4:1). His readers are challenged to stop deceiving themselves and to become fools (3:18). They are to cease boasting in men. They are to look upon Paul and his fellow-apostles in a new way (4:1f.). Our focus in this lesson is the final verses (18-23) of chapter 3.

Guard against self-deception, each of you. If someone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish so that he can become wise. For the wisdom of this age is foolishness with God. As it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20

The Corinthians were an arrogant and conceited bunch, who took great pride in their wisdom, which becomes increasingly clear as this letter continues. Paul’s first words in verse 18 must have stung, for he addressed the Corinthians as self-deceived. To keep on as they were thinking and behaving, the Corinthians proved themselves to be unwise—indeed to be downright foolish—at least in the sight of God.

Paul calls upon Christians of all time to “fess up” to our error, to acknowledge that by thinking ourselves to be wise, we are foolish and self-deceived. He instructs us to forsake wisdom” and to embrace “folly”, which will make us wise. Jesus employed a similar kind of argument in the Gospels (see Matthew 16:24-26)

The Corinthians had been saved by believing the “foolish” message proclaimed by Paul, the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary for our sins, and was buried and then raised from the dead, ascending into heaven and being seated at the right hand of God. They had been saved by the preaching of Christ crucified when Paul came in weakness, fear, and much trembling, proclaiming the simple truths of the gospel in a straightforward fashion. Since Paul’s departure, some saints had begun to look down upon Paul, his message, and his methods. They were being tempted to follow others whose message had a worldly appeal, messengers whose style was eloquent and impressive.

We tend to forget that Paul was a highly trained Jewish rabbi before his conversion to Christianity. He reminds both the Corinthians and us of this fact by employing two Old Testament passages as proof texts to show that worldly wisdom is folly and that God’s “folly” (in the eyes of the world) is true wisdom. “For it is written, ‘He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness’” (verse 19b; see Job 5:3). These are the words of Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends.” Paul quoted a man who is later rebuked by God for being wrong: “And it came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has’” (Job 42:7).

How can Paul cite these words as a proof text? Eliphaz, like his friends, was not wrong in what he said about God; he was wrong in how he applied this truth to Job. Eliphaz was accusing Job of being “crafty,” and thus explained Job’s sufferings as divine judgment for sin. This was not the case (see Job 1:1, 8). God does trip up the wicked by employing their own cunning (wisdom) to be the means of their downfall (see Proverbs 1:16-19, 29-32).

The “wise” of this age are not so smart after all. God allows the wise to carry out their schemes, but He employs their cunning schemes (their wisdom) to bring about their own downfall. The gallows which proud Haman built, on which he planned to hang Mordecai, became the very instrument by which the king ended Haman’s life. In the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees deemed themselves to be “wise” in the interpretation of the Old Testament. In their “wisdom,” the scribes and Pharisees orchestrated the crucifixion of our Lord. This cunning, which resulted in the crucifixion of Christ, also resulted in the guilt and condemnation of those leaders if they did not repent and acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah.

The second quote Paul employed comes from the Psalms: “And again, ‘The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless’” (verse 20; see Psalm 94:11). It is interesting that the Psalm actually reads: “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath.” Paul’s citation varies slightly at two points. First, Paul exchanges the word “wise” for the word “man.” In the context of the Psalm, it becomes clear that the unbelieving man thinks himself wise, when he is really foolish (see verses 2, 4, 8). The reasonings or thoughts of unsaved man are the reasonings of one who thinks himself wise. Second, Paul uses the rendering “useless,” while the translators of the Psalm use the expression “mere breath.” The thoughts of arrogant (wise) men are futile, or useless, because they are temporal rather than eternal. Man’s thoughts are restricted to “this age” and God’s thoughts are eternal. Man’s thoughts, even if true in this age, are not true in the next. They pass away. Merely temporal truths are thus “useless” truths, so far as eternity is concerned.

So then, no more boasting about mere mortals! For everything belongs to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23

Paul instructed us to forsake boasting in men. There is no question but that the Corinthians boasted in their leaders, in the men to whom they belong (see 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:6).

The situation in Corinth was neither new or novel. Throughout history, men have found their “identity” or “significance” in groups. They take pride in belonging to a certain group, a certain leader. We see this in street gangs, the mob, the military and cults. Certain charismatic leaders attract a following of people who need a sense of identity, of belonging. Some of these followers will believe anything they are taught and do anything they are told by their leader. Their pride is not in themselves necessarily, but in the one leader they have chosen to follow above all others. These people become proud and arrogant, and they boast in a mere man as their leader.

Let’s take the Biblical Way-Back Machine to identify some crucial differences between true wisdom, God’s wisdom, and false “wisdom”.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, the “wisdom of God” was simple.The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “hidden wisdom,” that which God indicated men were not to know. Satan virtually called God’s wisdom a lie, succeeding in getting Eve to seek that knowledge which was forbidden. Really, since that time, true wisdom is that which God has revealed in His Word and false wisdom is that which He has concealed (see Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 7:1-15; 8:1-11).

When Jesus presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, He did so by publicly teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount). He did not seek to gain followers on the fringes of Judaism, but He went to Jerusalem and taught in the Temple. He engaged the teachers and leaders of the nation, and showed their teaching to be in error.

Paul and the apostles taught publicly on the teaching of divine wisdom. As he traveled from city to city, the first place Paul went was the synagogue, where he began to proclaim Christ crucified. It is true that unbelievers did not grasp or accept his message, but this was because they were blind, not because Paul was being secretive or vague. While Paul and the other apostles proclaimed the Word of God openly, the false teachers specialized in the unknown or in the obscure. They gained their reputation and following by teaching what was new and novel, and the reason was that it was not true, and it was not wise. But it did appeal to many of the unsaved (See Acts 17:16-21; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-6; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:16)

False teachers, in order to draw a personal following, must teach “truth” unique to them, which is not being taught by others. They must have a distinctive message. This message cannot be the gospel, or the apostles’ doctrine, because every Christian teacher would teach these truths. They must teach a “higher” truth, a truth which results from speculative teaching on obscure issues. These matters appeal to the curiosity of some. In gaining this “inside information,” the followers of such a leader consider their understanding of truth above that of the rest. It allowed men to become proud and to look down on others. Whatever novel truth a given teacher emphasized, he alone would be the source of that truth. No wonder the Corinthians took pride in men. Their spiritual “gurus” were finding all kinds of “truth” which others did not or couldn’t see. The only way to be in this inner circle of “truth,” this gnostic (from the word “to know”) cult, is to “belong” to the group, especially to its leader.

But suppose there is no such thing as the “truth” these false teachers peddle so persuasively?  Suppose, as Paul indicated in verses 18-20, this “worldly wisdom” of the false teachers is really worthless and destructive? What appeal do these leaders have now? None! The church does not have an exclusive “inner circle” of the informed and an “outer circle” of the ignorant. And, yeah, I may be speaking to some churches that exist today.

According to Paul, the truth of God (like wisdom in Proverbs) is proclaimed to all, and all are urged to embrace that truth. The truth belongs to every believer. Teachers of God’s truth wisdom belong to the whole body. Teachers do not own their followers; the saints own their teachers, each and every one of them!

A word of explanation may be helpful at this point. In the text, the different teachers to whom Paul refers in verse 22 were all apostolic leaders. You can’t really say they are false teachers. But in verse 6 of chapter 4, Paul indicated that these well known and highly regarded leaders are being used symbolically to refer to other unnamed leaders. As Paul’s teaching in his Corinthian letters continues, it becomes increasingly clear that a number of these cultic leaders were false apostles, false teachers, who were seeking to lead men astray from the truth (see Acts 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 15:31-38; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 11:12-15). I have gone beyond Paul’s immediate meaning, because it is all too clear where he is going. In these early chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul already sees the divisions in the church as the seed bed of heresy.

D. A. Carson, an excellent scholar, poses this explanation:

The five things that follow “Paul or Apollos or Cephas” represent the fundamental tyrannies of human life, the things that enslave us, the things that hold us in bondage … The world squeezes us into its mold (compare Rom. 12:1-2). It demands so much of our attention and allegiance that we seldom devote thought and passion to the world to come … Similarly, this present life clamors to be treated as if it were worthy of ultimate respect … And at the end of this life there is only … death, which hovers over us, the ultimate specter … Thus the constant urgency of the present and … the vague promises and threats of the future combine to divert our attention away from the God who holds both the present and the future in his hands.

In his excellent book, entitled, God in the Wasteland, David F. Wells makes a strong distinction between these two wisdoms. He sums up this distinction in this paragraph:

There are, then, two opposing ways of thinking about the world that can be found in the West today. The one belongs to those who have narrowed their perception solely to what is natural; the other belongs to those whose understanding of the natural is framed by the supernatural. The one takes in no more than what the senses can glean; the other allows this accumulation of information to be informed by the reality of the transcendent. The one indiscriminately celebrates diversity; the other seeks to understand life’s diversity in the light of its unity. The one can go no further than intuition; the other pierces through to truth. The one presumes that everything changes and that change is the only constant; the other measures the things that change by the standard of things that are changeless. The one looks only to the shifting contents of human consciousness, which differ from one individual to the next; the other holds the individual consciousness up for comparison to the larger realms of meaning in which are rooted those things that are common to all human nature. The one acknowledges no ultimate certainties; the other places the highest value on ultimate certainties. All of these differences arise from the simple fact that the one perspective receives its meaning from God and the other does not.

First, Paul calls on us to renounce the secular wisdom of this age and to view life through the divine wisdom which God provides through His Word and His Spirit.

This doesn’t say that Christians should not be deeply engaged in the search for knowledge and truth. It says that for the Christian, wisdom begins with God and ends with Him. As the writer of the proverb says, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). When we study nuclear physics, astronomy, or computer science, we begin with the foundation which God has laid. We test all claims to truth by the standard of God’s truth, the Word of God. When divine wisdom contradicts human knowledge, we know which to question and which to trust.

Too many Christians are seeking truth in the opposite direction. They begin with human understanding and reasoning, and then look to the Bible for an illustration or a proof text. The wisdom of God is the foundation on which all of our building should take place, and the standard for all that we think and do. Let us carefully consider the vast differences between divine wisdom and the wisdom of this age. Let us beware of placing our trust or our pride in the wisdom of men; let us embrace the wisdom of God, knowing that it alone is true wisdom.

Jesus made it clear that men are not to usurp the position and the prerogatives which are His alone (Matthew 23:1-12). Jesus did not choose one apostle, but twelve. He did not instruct the church to have only one leader, but a plurality of leaders known as elders. The position of “pastor,” as it is practiced today, was unknown to the New Testament writers. We find churches today structured in a way that directly contradicts the teaching of Paul—churches established on the basis of allegiance to one man.

Men are exalted in other ways above and beyond what they should be. Those of us who teach the Scriptures often use Greek, Hebrew, and theological terms in a way which sends an entirely wrong message that no one can study or teach the Scriptures who has not learned Hebrew, Greek, and theology. Thus we have a whole congregation of people who feed on the truth processed and delivered by the preacher, but who cannot chew on any meat of the Word themselves. We often seek to develop leadership in the same ways the world does, and we honor those who gather a personal following. We sanctify this by saying, “A leader is one who has followers.” This is wrong. A Biblical leader is a man or woman who, in obedience to God’s direction and calling, leads. He may or may not have a lot of followers. Jesus did not have many followers in the end, and neither did Paul. We must not judge “leaders” by how many people follow them.

Certain practices and teachings in the church of our time should be carefully thought through in the light of Paul’s teaching in our text. One of the current buzz words in leadership circles is “mentoring.” If that is pointing Christians to God’s truths, great, but we must not to train people to become followers of other people. We are to teach and encourage men and women to be followers of Christ. “Accountability” is another popular concept, which can easily be distorted into an undue attachment and devotion to a mere man. This is how our friend who inspired this series sought to lead other men astray – through “accountability”.

Finally, Paul’s words should cause us to see the folly of following one man to the neglect (and even rejection) of others. How easy it is to find our identity and our status linked with one person. When we do this, divisions arise within the church of God. Although I do not speak in tongues, I think Baptists might learn some things from good, solid charismatic teaching and practice. Likewise, charismatics could gain by learning from us. Pre-tribulational thinkers could learn some things from the “post-tribbers,” and vice-versa. Arminians could learn much from Calvinists as well as the other way around. Isolating ourselves to the point where our identity is summed up by one person, or one perspective, deprives us of the wealth God has for each of us. “All” things are ours. Let us learn from many of those gifted to teach, and not just one or a few. We can learn through radio, tapes, and reading, as well as by a broader contact with believers. Let us make use of the vast wealth God has given to us in Christ.

Don’t Follow Pied Pipers   Leave a comment

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.

Image result for image of church following pied piperIt 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 straweach 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.

Impossible Compromise   2 comments

I recently had a conversation with someone who wanted me to compromise some deeply held beliefs. “Why,” she asked, “can’t you compromise? Just don’t emphasize this or that and you will have peace with those around you. What’s the problem? Surely God values peace and love so much that he would never force  you to hold beliefs that put you at odds with the world.”

Image result for image of christian compromiseSo, here on January 1 seems as good a time as any to explain (not for the first time) why Christians cannot compromise with the world.

Compromise is an amicable agreement between parties in controversy. They agree to settle their differences by mutual concession to something that one or both parties considers harmful or depreciative.

Generally, compromise requires conceding a conviction — a fixed or strong belief — for the purpose of achieving unity – a state of being in harmony so that we can continue forward in singleness of purpose or action..

My friend correctly understands that the United States Constitution is “a bundle of compromises”. On that auspicious foundation, she believes I should compromise my Christian beliefs for the unity of the nation. She holds human society higher than faith and she’s right. Compromise in man’s relationships with each other is a necessary means of living together in an imperfect society. Concessions are made every day by all of us, and we are admonished in the word of God to make them. The Scripture instructs us in Romans 12:18:

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

Image result for image of christian compromiseThat means giving in to get along. So, if we can do that in civil society, why can’t we do that in the churches? While compromise is a necessary evil that we all must live with while we live among people, there is one person in the universe with whom we cannot compromise. God Almighty will not compromise with you or with anyone else. Real compromise is always at the expense of something one desires to do, or what one believes. In the case of Christians, there is the matter of convictions, which are fixed or strong beliefs. We are being asked to give up convictions and to compromise for the sake of unity;

 

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus was not much into compromise. It pays to look at what He actually said and did rather than base what we believe on wishful thinking. Jesus made some very hard and firm statements. Doctrine divides and it should because Jesus said:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34.

This is not an out-of-context comment. Jesus was totally uncompromising with those of His time. It was His way or no way. What a narrow-minded bigot! How could anyone say:

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6.

Jesus is God. His doctrine is divisive. He was uncompromising and the Jews and Romans crucified Him for it. What He taught was unpopular. Doctrine divides! It did in Jesus’ day and it does now. So should doctrine give way to believers all getting together under the banner of “love” or to get alone with the world? Let’s see what the Scripture says:

“And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.” Luke 4:32

Christ’s doctrine astonished those of His day, not only because it was delivered in power, but because it was radically different than the “status quo” of the religious world.

“Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.” John 7:16

Jesus stated flatly that the doctrine he preached was from above, as in heaven or God. There was no room to compromise in what Jesus says. He was not interested in “getting along” with His religious contemporaries. He was interested only in pleasing his Father.

Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:13

Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to give attention to doctrine. Yes, that boring and sometimes divisive item was an absolute essential for Timothy in his ministry.

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.John 7:17

It is clear that in order to do God’s will, it is essential to learn sound doctrine.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1 Timothy 5:17

These elders were honored because they labored in the Word and doctrine. I am sure they would be labeled Bible-believing independent Baptists today. They refused to compromise in this most important arena and Paul praised them for it.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

One of the purposes of God inspiring the Scriptures was to profit us with His doctrine. It is PROFITABLE!

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 2 Timothy 4:2

The word of God is to be preached and doctrine is its cornerstone.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. 2 Timothy 4:3

Does that sound familiar to you? We live in that prophesied time. Men will not endure sound doctrine. They collect instructors … self-help gurus, televangelists, philosophers … Dr. Phil … Oprah Winfrey …Joel Osteen …. These teachers frequently instruct their followers to disregard doctrine. They encourage their followers to emphasize the things they have in common.

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Titus 1:9

Sound doctrine is necessary to exhort or teach.

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine. Titus 2:1

Last, but not least, there should be doctrine, and it should be “sound”. Sound as in: “free from defect, decay or damage; deserving confidence, trustworthy.”

A unity based on compromising strong belief is a shallow, fragile and ungodly unity. Believers (if they are really true believers at all) are selling God out (compromise) for the sake of an unscriptural unity.

Their unscriptural doctrines and false gospel will not bring them safely home to God, but will lead them. Revelation, chapter 17 discloses a city harboring a religious system that deceives the whole world! The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:17,18: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” John the human author of the book of Revelation says in Revelation 18:4,5 “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

John the human author of the book of Revelation says in Revelation 18:4,5 “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”

This present day church is pictured for us in Revelation 3:14:

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

What is he saying? He is standing at the door of His Church that has become apostate (much like so many churches today) and He’s asking if there is anyone there who desires truth, holiness and godliness. If you will open the door He will come and fellowship with you in spite of the wickedness of the remainder of His saints.

Compromise is the great wickedness of the present day church. It’s not that I’m better than anyone else. All Christians are simply sinners saved by the grace of God, with a great desire to lead God’s people out of the apostasy of today’s wicked times into a sweeter fellowship with Christ, based on obedience to the truths revealed in His Holy Word. As a Christian, I am not called to compromise on God’s truth, even when it is inconvenient. There are other Christians who feel the same way I do, though we would rejoice to have others join  us.

Posted January 1, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Christian Hope?   Leave a comment

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that membership in Christian churches is declining. Why?

Well, the answer to that might take a bit more research.

There are those who will say that evangelical Christianity is just too strict. If we’d ease up on certain Biblical teaching, or better yet, convince everybody that those teachings no longer apply, we’d see people coming back to the church. Is that true?

Hmm?

Did you ever read The Damnation of Theron Ware? Published in England under the title of Illumination it was written in 1986 by American author Harold Frederic. Most common readers haven’t heard of it, but it is widely considered an American literary classic by scholars and critics. Thus I was forced to read it in college.

Some classics deserve the title because they were well-written. I found the plot of Damnation to be manipulative and the characters wooden and one dimensional. There was a sense that the book was written to convince people of the author’s POV rather than to write an exceptional novel. It is a “classic” because that POV appeals to academics who agree with the politics that motivated the book in the first place.

The novel centers on the life of a Methodist pastor (Theron Ware, of course) who has recently moved to a fictional small town in upstate New York. Recently married, Ware has had a number of experiences that cause him to question the Methodist religion, his role as a minister and even the existence of God. His “enlightenment” is encouraged through his dealings with Father Forbes (the town’s Catholic priest), Dr. Ledsmar (a local atheist, philosopher and man of science), and Celia Madden (a local Irish Catholic girl with whom he becomes infatuated). By the end, these three intellectually “advanced” characters find Theron a bore and a philanderer and their rejection leads him to go on a binge. He’s rescued by Brother and Sister Soulsby, practical fundraisers for Methodist congregations who pragmatically send Ware and his wife off to far-flung Washington where perhaps he’ll become a politician.

At the start of the book, Ware is already in debt and has a history of financial mismanagement of a prior church. He doesn’t take kindly to the trustees of his new church telling him how to conduct the ministry. He encounters Father Forbes, the local Catholic priest, and sees his first Catholic rite. He’s intrigued. Over time, he becomes quite infatuated with both the Catholic and atheist ways of thinking and with Celia, the organist for the Catholic church. He finds them all more intelligent and more faithful than he or his fellow Methodists. When he attends a Catholic picnic, they are drinking beer. Theron partakes as Father Forbes explains that their religions really aren’t that different, how one day there will be a single “Church of America” and it will look a lot like the Catholic church.   Ware doubts there will be any church at all because mankind is moving toward an age of science, but Forbes insists that religion is needed for culture. Ware counters that if this is so, he doubts the Catholic church will win out because of its incredibly rigid doctrines. He suggests the Universal Unitarians or the Episcopalians are bland enough to appeal to everybody. Forbes asserts that the Catholic church will win because it compromises while practicing the art of not seeming to compromise. When called on its compromise, it refuses to acknowledge that such as occurred. It only takes a generation for people to forget what used to be rock solid doctrine, so the soft compromise works very well for the Catholic church.

So why am I talking about a scene in an obscure 19th century novel nobody has read?

Because many people today are channeling Father Forbes while encouraging evangelical congregations to compromise. If we want to grow instead of shrink we should …. If the church is really a necessity in culture, we must …

COMPROMISE!

Posted September 8, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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The Weeds in the Wheat   1 comment

InMatthew 13:24 – 30 gives the parable of a landowner who has his servant plant a field with wheat. An evil man comes at night and sows tares among the wheat. Tares look like wheat when they are young, but they produce poisonous seed heads. The servant offered to remove them from the field, but the landowner recognized that the crop would be damaged by the weeding effort and told the servant to wait until both were mature and then remove the weeds from the wheat.

I love the parables when rightly interpreted. In this parable, God is the landowner and the field is the church. The wheat represemts true Christians and the tares are hypocrites and apostates within the church. The servant might be church leaders or observers from various denominations who see heresy and apostasy in the pews and feel they must DO something right NOW to purge it from the ranks.

The Southern Baptist Convention tore itself apart for almost 20:years. What were they fighting about? Heck, I’m a Southern Baptist affiliated church member and I’m hard pressed to explain it adequately to any reasonable person. There were some legitimate concerns in the 1980s with moderate theology slipping intointo SBC educational institutes. There were professors, particularly at Southern and Golden Gate semaries who were teaching that the Bible was not trustworthy and others who were passing students who were far-wide of the Bible. Something needed to be done about the false teachers … and it was. And then things went crazy. The problem with dealing with heresy and apostasy in the church is that you can become so focused on side issues that you form a circular firing squad to shoot your allies.

A friend of mine with doctorates in New Testament history and textual criticism was asked in a job interview if he believed the Bible was inerrant. He answered “I believe that the original writers faithfully communicated what God guided them to write and that the large body of New Testament manuscripts show that the modern translations of the Bible are mostly correct. However, there are some questionable sections due to translation drift and some translators, particurly prior to the discovery of eastern manuscripts, translated with a heavy bias toward personal agendas.” That was an honest statement meant to be entirely accurate. He was then asked if he “favored” the King James Version or the New International Version? He answered “neither, because the KJV is a result of a translation by ill trained translators with access to a limited number of manuscripts while the NIV is a product of belief that anything even slightly variant should be removed.” He was not hired by Southwestern SeminarySeminary in the 1990s, the school he graduated from, because of those answers. Ten years later, after working on the New English Translation (NET), he applied again and was hired. Why? Because the hiring committee had come to realize that a translation is a representation of the word of God filtered through handwritten copies and translator’s interpretations. The original manuscript was infallible and inerrant and the better translations today are trustworthy for determining theology and doctrine, but not wholly accurate because of small errors in punctuation and occasional uncertainties about word transmission. What Alan said 20 years ago.

So was that worth nearly 20 years of argument?

The fact is that the Bible is trustworthy and we can know what God has said to us, even if some commas are not in the right place. To argue over that was ridiculous. Now, can we move onto a discussion about something of true theological importance – like how many angels can dance onmthenjead of a pin?

Or how about this ….

Does God exist and can we know Him through the Bible?

Is Jesus Christ God stepped down into human flesh or just themson of God?

Are human beings sinners in need of a savior or are we essentially good people undermined by society?

Is salvation through faith by God’s grace or by our works?

If salvation is by faith, why can’t Christians live as if there is no God?

Now there are some truly me a fun theological questions.

Not to strain the analogy too far, but arguments over the KJV versus the NIV we’re chick-weed while we ignored the tares being down among the wheat. Now we want to dig up the weeds while ignoring that kudzu is overtaking parts of the field. What if we took Jesus’ advice and left the tarès? Stop freaking out over arguments with little bearing on salvation and actually strive to obey God? Stop judging other denominations harshly on side issues and focus on what is truly important – Christ crucified for ourmsins and rsen on the third day for our salvation as amgirft of God, not of ourselves lest we think we’ve earned it by our own efforts.

Discipleship Rewarded   Leave a comment

The requirement of discipleship is so demanding that we really shouldn’t be shocked that so few choose the path of following Christ. I was recently accused of worshipping a very different God from some other Christians. My response was that I wouldn’t soft-soap the truth. Discipleship is the mark of a true Christian and discipleship costs.

That said, the rewards of discipleship make its requirements look easy.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Scriptures state clearly that we are the slaves of whatever controls us (Romans 6:16). Some are slaves to the body and its appetites. Other submit to a religious system, like the Jews of Jesus’ times. Ultimately, if we are not the servants of Christ, we are the slaves of sin and Satan, who is the ultimate cruel taskmaster.

Jesus is gentle and humble. To be His disciple is joy, not a dreary task of drudgery, but a delight. While the Pharisees and scribes ruled in pride and arrogance, Jesus gave His life for His sheep. Though the path to follow Him leads over rough roads, we have a gentle and skillful guide.

Jesus never requires more of us than He has enabled us to do. I’ve had my own doubts going into trials, but looking back, He was always there with me. The works-based crowd sets a lot of standards too, but they frequently aren’t around to help you bear the burden. Jesus is, every moment of every day. This is the crucial difference.

It is only to His disciples that Jesus reveals His innermost thoughts and most intimate secrets. Look at Scripture. While Jesus spoke plainly to His disciples about His purposes, these were carefully couched to the masses. “So with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. He did not speak to them with a parable. But privately he explained everything to His own disciples.” (Mark 4:33-34) His disciples asked why and he explained “The secret of the kindom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables.” (Mark 4:11) Discipleship brings us into a level of intimacy with Jesus that others cannot experience.

Our rewards for discipleship are not based on our actions, but on our motive. God didn’t save us on the basis of our potential contribution to His cause. He chooses the foolish things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), based on His own criteria of worth:

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.” Matthrew 10:40-42

Our rewards are not based on the worldly value of our service, but on the sincerity of our motives – on our reason for service and not the response to our service. If we are obedient to our Lord and live so as to please Him, we shall have a reward.

Jesus is our great reward. If we seek to be followers of Him only for the fringe benefits, we fail to recognize the true benefit of a relationship with Him. He is our reward. The cost of discipleship is nothing compared to the riches of relationship with Him.

There is nothing Jesus denies His followers that is not for our ultimate good. If He takes something away, it is more than compensated by what He replaces it with. Like Eve in the garden, we can come to believe that God is withholding good from us. Eve is a cautionary tale. God always gives us good (Psalms 84:11; 34-10). If we have to give something up to be His follower, we can be assured that He will replace it with something better.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions  – and in the age to come, eternal life.

God spoke here in the flesh, saying that He only withholds from us that which is not for our good. We may never know what pain we missed out on because we followed Him instead of the world’s idea of “good”.

We should never misrepresent the demands of discipleship. Many who discover what is involved in following Jesus decide not to do it. Yet, when we consider the rewards and the alternatives to discipleship, those of us who have done it already know that there is no other, better or easier way than His way.

I know Sunday Christians who walked an aisle and then live as far from Jesus in their daily lives as possible. They hope they can enjoy the blessings of heaven in the future while soaking in the pleasures of sin in the present. They have their “fire insurance”, they suppose. If there’s no evidence for discipleship, there’s no evidence for renewal … which is not to say that Christians don’t stumble on occasion or that they lose their salvation when they do. We didn’t become saved from any effort on our own part. Why would we suppose we could become unsaved through our own behavior? Salvation is a gift from God, not of ourselves so we cannot boast that we earned it.

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