Spiritual Values

I Corinthians 13:13

 By Ron Schwartz

kmsrjs@triton.net

I Corinthians 12:31-13:13 (KJV)

12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing…

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

We learn at the end of I Corinthians 13 that there are three primary spiritual values: faith, hope and charity.  These values are meant to bring balance our spiritual lives.  Verse 2 tells us, “… though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge… and have not charity, I am nothing.”  Here we see the balance.  We admire those who understand prophecies or who can interpret the book of Revelation.  We admire those who have spiritual gifts.  However, prophecy and spiritual gifts are but two of our core spiritual values.  If they are not balanced with charity, you are “nothing (verse 3).”

Can this be?  We listen to great speakers who have very deep understanding of scripture, and we envy their gifting.  We must understand that God is not impressed with outward endowments or talents.  Gods sees men as a whole.

We find in verse 2 that “though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”  We read these words but do we really believe them?  We admire people with such great faith.  We admire and highly esteem those whose faith can change circumstance.  Is there anyone who would not marvel at seeing someone command a mountain to be moved and it obey?  Would we question that person’s relationship with God?

The Word explains here that faith, though a core spiritual value, must be balanced with charity.

We learn in verse 3 that “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”   Generosity and self-sacrifice, though commendable qualities, are not the only spiritual values that are important.

All of us have heard of ministries that feed the poor and homeless, go into the prisons, or minister to the poor and afflicted in other nations.  We admire their dedication, sacrifice, and humanitarianism.  However, once again, we are told that even self-sacrifice must be balanced.

This chapter is not meant to discourage us from pursuing spiritual gifts [“covet earnestly the best gifts (I Corinthians 12:31 KJV)”] or from giving to the poor and needy.  This chapter is meant to demonstrate the importance of all spiritual values, to show us that one without the other makes us incomplete.  This chapter illustrates the fact that we must never place too much emphasis on any one single value.  We must never view the “less tangible” spiritual values as being of lesser value.

A Rainbow

Consider all of the colors you see throughout the course of a day — perhaps thousands.  Every color you see comes from a blend of three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.  All three colors are necessary to produce the beauty we behold in a rainbow.  Missing one color, the rainbow would be incomplete.  God has demonstrated to us in nature how spiritual values are to work together in our lives to govern our spiritual development.  Each value is necessary if we are to develop a balanced spiritual life. Just as colors are blended together to create completely new color, our spiritual values blend together and balance our work in the LORD.

The Military

The military understands this principle.  When a young man or woman enters the military, they are immediately put through basic training.  Basic training is meant for more than just to condition a soldier physically and provide instruction and training.  The first few weeks of basic training are designed to weaken a person’s fortitude and tear down their personal values.  After this, the training begins which builds up a soldier with the values the military wants them to have.  Why is this important?  The military has learned something that Paul was attempting to communicate to the church two thousand years ago: the heart of everything we do is our core values.  They understand that unless each soldier holds the very same values, the way each interprets the orders will be different.  This helps to explain why denominations interpret scripture so differently.  They do not all hold the same values.

We as Christians are intended to follow a similar course in our lives.  When we become part of the body of Christ, we begin a sort of basic training that tears down the values we learned while being a part of this world.  God intends us to be built back up with His values, but churches approach this in many different ways.  Some churches do not “encourage” people to obey the conviction of the Holy Spirit and thus the new convert is left to keep their “worldly values.”  Churches and denominations vary vastly in the values they instill in the new convert, producing animosity and argument between those who are called to follow Jesus Christ.

Corporations

The military is not alone.  Recently, an industrial psychologist explained to the leaders of a corporation how to go about getting “sustainable” results.  Most corporations set aggressive corporate goals and then provide incentive to attain the goals.  However, in most cases, these goals are short-lived.  They are not sustainable because the culture or behavior of people is contrary to the desired results.  Consequently, in order to get the desired results, the corporation must first look to change people’s behavior or the culture.

Okay, if behavior drives results, how do we change people’s behavior?  As it turns out, this industrial psychologist went on to explain that one’s behavior is determined by his/her attitude.  In other words, results are determined by behavior, and behavior is driven by attitude.  Finally, the psychologist explained that at the heart of everything is “core values.”  Core values drive attitude, which in turn drives behavior and determines results.  Everything is determined by values that people hold.

It is no wonder that Paul stressed the need to have a balanced set of values (in I Corinthians 13)?  Because it is our core spiritual values that determine our spiritual development and the result of our lives.  People who have faith as a value will demonstrate faith.  People who value spiritual gifts will demonstrate spiritual gifts. Those who value giving will give.  What are your spiritual values?

Two Churches

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus gives a message to each of seven churches.  These churches differ vastly from each other.  As pointed out earlier, this is exactly what we see today with Christian churches that differ dramatically from one another.

The seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 co-existed in the first century.  They were located geographically near each other, and all seven churches were established under the influence of Jesus’ original apostles.   Why, then, was there such a disparity with these churches?  What made them so different? To answer these questions, you must first understand the spiritual values they cherished, esteemed, or appreciated.  We are going to examine just two of the seven churches, Ephesus and Laodicea.

These two churches, Ephesus and Laodicea, were polar opposites.  One church demonstrated a great variety of spiritual gifts whereas the other was completely lacking in spiritual gifts.  One church had every spiritual value except for love, and the other had only the spiritual value of love.

The Laodicean Church

Revelation 3:14-22

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;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17 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:

18 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.

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 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.

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

The message to each church began the same way: “I know thy works.”  Following this, Jesus tells each church what they were doing right (i.e., thy labour, patience, holdest fast my name, charity, service, faith, etc.), then what they were doing wrong (i.e., hold the doctrine of Balaam or Nicolaitans, called to be living while dead, etc.), and finally, He gives them instructions on what they must do.

As we examine the Laodicean church, it is clear that their values determined their spiritual state.  This is what they were doing wrong:

(1) “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 (verse 15-16).”

Jesus describes this church as being room temperature. Water that is left sitting out will eventually take on the temperature of the environment around it.  Similarly, a church that values love to the exclusion of other spiritual values (i.e., righteousness, holiness, the gifts of the spirit) will produce an atmosphere of tolerance and compromise.  Just like water that reflects the environment around it, the Laodiceans reflected the values and culture of which they were a part.

Because churches misunderstand what love is, or only understand it in a superficial way, they tend to feel that they must be tolerant and become what society needs them to be.  As a result, we find church acceptance of homosexual relationships (even marriage) and homosexual ministers.  We find churches overlooking intimacy out of wedlock.  We find dysfunctional families and marriages in chaos.  Actually ministering the gospel as Jesus and the apostles practiced it is viewed as harsh and unloving (live according to the discipleship teaching of Jesus and as practiced by the apostles is portrayed by Hollywood as a fanatical right-wing extremists).

Where is the balance in this type of culture?  There is none.  With superficial love as their only value, churches are free to toss out any and all scripture that does not pertain to liberal acceptance or that might otherwise cause division.

Let’s be clear about this: there is nothing wrong with a church being attractive to the world as long as it is attractive to God.  The problem is that the values of God and those of this world are in conflict.

(2)  “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: (verse 17)”

Here we find that spiritual standards were cast aside.  Why?  Because these standards seemed contrary to their notion of love.  Then, in the absence of a godly standard, their misconception of love caused them to embrace “non-godly” values that were more conducive to their understanding of superficial love. Consequently, the Laodicean church was left to measure “themselves by themselves,” and to compare “themselves among themselves (“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (II Corinthians 10:12, KJV).”

I Timothy 6:3-6 (KJV)

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,

5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

In an environment lacking in godly standards, it is easy to understand how prosperity, affluence, and success could equate to godliness.  In an environment where God is only perceived as a loving tolerant God, it is easy to understand how Job’s friends came to their conclusions concerning him.  As he sat in the middle of the desolation of his home and family, his friends began to admonish him.  “This kind of thing wouldn’t happen to a godly man.  You must have done something horrible!”  Tell that to the persecuted body of believers in communist China who meet in cellars and woods: these people risk losing everything they own — and perhaps even their lives — if they are found to be Christians.  Where is the loving God they serve?

The danger our American churches faces in this affluent society in which we live — especially when it lacks spiritual values — is that churches measure their spiritual stature by prosperity and numbers.  But tear prosperity and wealth from the church (as it is with the persecuted church), and what is left?  Jesus tells us: “Knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked?”

There is nothing wrong with a church being materially rich as long as it does not cost them the riches that come from the manifestation of spiritual gifts and godly values.

In considering the “poor and naked” condition of the church, another value must be considered.  Superficial love implies superficial unity, does it not?  We see today that many churches have dropped controversial subjects.  Consider how (controversial) spiritual gifts like tongues are held in contempt.  Consider how that with each new translation of the Bible (since the KJV), it has become smaller, with fewer words.  Each time conflict arises with the Word of God, that part is held suspect and eventually dismissed from the scripture.

Finally, Jesus tells this church that they are “blind.”   This isn’t telling us that their “vision” was bad, but that they had no vision.  Not only were they blind to their own spiritual condition and to those around them, but they also had no vision of what to do.

If there is one thing the church is in need of today, it is a vision.  Instead of the financial institution that it has become – an organization that needs people in order to sustain its existence — it must become a “city that is set on an hill [that] cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14 KJV).”  The church must become a life-providing stream of living water.  How is it that things have become so twisted around?  How is it that the church is in need of the world for sustenance (financially), rather than the world needing it?

Finally, Jesus gives the Laodicean church instructions:

“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 (verse 18).”

(1)   His first instruction: “buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich,” is difficult for a prosperous church to understand.  “Tried in the fire” implies trials and tribulations.  The scripture tells us: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12, KJV).” In an affluent society, from where will these tribulations come?

Anyone who wishes to abandon the ways of the secular churches will experience tribulation.  Many of us have experienced — or have friends and family who experienced — the tribulations that come when speaking out against the compromise and hypocrisy within the church. Many of us have friends and family who could not endure the tribulation they experienced (from their friends and family) when they tried to change or leave their church.  They eventually broke under the pressure.  It is a sad state to see Christians who know the truth and ignore the compromise that surrounds them because they cannot endure the pressure of leaving it behind.

Let there be no mistake!  Persecution from friends and family can be the most vicious form of tribulation.   And in a social environment where love is superficial and speaking the truth is viewed as demonic, saying anything about hypocrisy is viewed as “hateful,” “intolerant,” and “judgmental.”

(2)   His second instruction: “and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear,” implies self-righteousness – “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints (Revelation 19:8, KJV).”

A person who is naked and yet believes he is clothed is blind indeed. The paradox you face when talking to a self-righteous person is that you are viewed as self-righteous for talking to them.  Any words spoken contrary to them is viewed as criticism and is spoken out of pride and self-righteousness.

(3)   Jesus’ last instruction: “anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see,” speaks to their need for healing.

There is a vast ocean of people who have been hurt and/or discouraged by churches.  To many, churches are full of hypocrites, and they want no part of it.  Unsaved people are the best judges of hypocrisy.  They see through the religious façade for what it is: a poor attempt to hide sin.  For these people, there is need for them to first experience the healing power of Christ Jesus before they can see.  They need to know that coming into the Kingdom of God is more than just a disguise for sin.

The Ephesian Church

Revelation 2:1-7 (KJV)

1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Jesus first commends them for what they have done right: “…thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (verse 2-3).”  Here we find almost every form of spiritual value.  This is a church that:

  • Understands they are labors sent into the harvest fields and that they are laboring fervently – twice Jesus commends them for laboring (verses 2 and 3).  This church valued the work of the LORD.
  • Through patience has learned how to wait on the LORD [“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4 KJV)].  People who have learned spiritual patience understand the need to wait for God to provide the answer instead of providing one of their own.  This church valued spiritual maturity.
  • Is not compromising. Instead of embracing sin and sinful behavior, this church raised high standards, as set forth in the Word of God.  We find here a church that valued high standards.
  • Has spiritual discernment and knows the voice of God.  The first century church did not have a fully developed New Testament as we have and therefore was dependent on mature spiritual sense (that could hear the voice of God) to spot deception.  To them, hearing from God was not just something good: it was imperative!  Hearing from God represented the difference between life and death.  Consequently, this church valued prayer and seeking God.
  • Did not accept diversity of doctrine.  Apostles set the direction and doctrine for the church.  When this church found someone who was not a true apostle, they called him for what he was: a liar.  In the current religious climate in which we live, it is accepted and encouraged to have diversity of doctrine, even when the doctrines directly contradict one another.  It is called “tolerance.”  As a result, there are few, if any, absolutes: even the divinity of Jesus is questioned.  This church valued absolutes (as opposed to compromise).
  • Would not quit.  Jesus commends it because it “hast not fainted.”  This spiritual value is almost obsolete in a social environment that promotes speed and convenience.  There is a drive-thru for almost anything.  If we can’t get what we want from one place right now, there are countless other places to go.  This church did not change course but persisted toward the goal no matter the time it took or the storms it was called to endure.  The church never lost focus of the goal.  This church valued faithfulness.

Jesus now speaks to what is wrong.  “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love (verse 4).”  Let’s consider the effect that the loss of love (as a core value) has on our spiritual development.  A highly disciplined Christian life absent a relationship of love tends to breed a culture of legalism.  Without an awareness of God’s love, or without being coupled with a close relationship with Him, disciples find themselves in an environment where God cannot be pleased.  This is the opposite extreme of the Laodiceans.

To understand the significance of the “first love,” let’s first consider His instruction.  Jesus said, “Remember…”

“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.”

Remember what it was like when you first gave your life to God – that’s from where you have fallen.  There is a tendency for “mature” Christians to view the zealous behavior of those who have just been saved as “immature,” something beyond which they will eventually grow.  The church of Ephesus did this!  They forgot — they fell from that first love.  Here Jesus tells the church that anything beyond that is going downward, not upward.

Remember the tears of joy you cried?  You cried but it felt good to cry.  Remember the peace you felt, that for the first time in your life you felt that God was happy with you?  Remember how clean you felt?  Remember how that when you lay down to sleep, your mind was, for the first time, free from every care?  Remember the purity you felt, and how there was nothing that you would not and did not give up for Him?  Remember how Jesus was the first thing you thought of when you awoke and the last thing you thought of when you went to sleep?  Remember… Remember… Remember?  What could possibly be better that kind of relationship? How is it that we have come to believe we have grown since then?

In Closing

It is our sincere prayer that as you read the words of this note, you will remember your first love.  We hope that you understand the important part that spiritual values have in our spiritual development (or the lack thereof).  We hope that you take a moment to consider your own state.  Are you a Laodicean or Ephesian church, or are you somewhere in the middle?  We are available talk or to pray with you.  Let us know where we can help!

May the grace of God be with you always.

Amen!

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

by Paul George

The first cause of divisions in the church is the misunderstanding of the gospel message. The second cause of divisions in the church is the misunderstanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

First Corinthians chapter two begins with a reminder to the saints at Corinth, that when Paul came to Corinth he came to tell them about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that their “faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

The real problem in the church was those in Corinth who had turned from the apostles to other teachers, deceitful men who disguised themselves as apostles. They were tickling the ears of the Corinthians just as false teachers; the deceitful workers who disguise themselves as a messenger from the Lord are doing in the twenty-first century church. The preaching and teaching of the true gospel message is offensive and foolishness to those seeking to have their ears tickled. Those who identified themselves with Paul and his preaching the unbelievers in Corinth labeled them fools. Those who accepted the idea the preaching of the true gospel message was foolishness and offensive identified themselves with new leaders whose preaching and messages were far more acceptable. Associating with them gave themselves a much higher status in the eyes of the world.

Paul did not deny that his message and preaching were foolish and offensive to the followers of the ear ticklers; rather, he emphasizes this is so. In verse 6, Paul makes a sharp right turn. Up to this point, he has admitted the fact that his gospel is foolish and weak. Now he begins to clarify and expand his instruction. The true gospel message he preached is foolish and weak to unbelievers, but it is neither foolish nor weak in the sight of God. This is why the believers in the church should not regard the true gospel message as foolish or weak.

The gospel message preached by the apostles is not of “this age.” This is why the rulers of this age are not able to understand the message. Even those who are the wisest and most powerful people of this age are unable to understand the true gospel message. The rulers of this age include both the spiritual rulers and the human rulers. This is evident at the cross of Calvary. The spiritual rulers believed they could destroy the Ruler of all ages through the human rulers of the day. It is obvious the human rulers of the day did not understand the true gospel message preached by the Old Testament prophets. Evidence of this is they turned the Messiah over to the Romans who fulfilled the evil intent of the hearts of the rulers of that day. Today, the deceived and rebellious rulers of both the secular and religious communities and the people cannot see the true gospel message clearly manifested to men in the person of Jesus Christ.

At the cross where they crucified Jesus is where man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom separate. In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ God reveals His wisdom. The rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals the perverted wisdom of man. The true gospel message preached by prophets in Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament reveal the eternal wisdom of God established in eternity past. The wisdom of man is limited, temporal. This is why he cannot understand God’s eternal wisdom. Why he cannot see, hear, or comprehend the things of God. How then can mere mortals ever know God’s wisdom? The answer, verses 10-16. In verses 10-13, Paul writes about the doctrines of inspiration and revelation whereby God has made His wisdom known through the apostles.  In verses 14-16, Paul turns to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, enabling him to comprehend the things of God that He revealed in the Scriptures through the apostles.

How can men know of 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 the spirit of a man 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 the earth, He spoke many things to His disciples that 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.

Jesus told the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25-26). He told the disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you” (John 16:12-15).

In verses 7, Paul told the Corinthians, “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory.” A mystery is something God reveals concerning the future that men do not understood before its fulfillment because it is beyond human comprehension. After God has completed a work that was formerly a mystery, He fully discloses that mystery through one of His apostles. Paul was one of the apostles given the 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 describes the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His disciples, remember that Paul was divinely added as the twelfth apostle. Man, Paul is saying, could never know God on his own. However, God has chosen to make Himself known through His Word and through His Spirit so that the things of God might be recorded as a part of the Bible. Here is a crucial difference between the apostles and the false apostles. The apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did. False apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did not. 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. To reject the apostles’ teaching is thus to reject the God who disclosed Himself to men through them.

The work of God the Spirit in the lives of Christians in general is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 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. In the Old Testament period, God revealed His Word through the prophets. In the New Testament times, this revelation came through the apostles. Yet the unbeliever seems blinded to the truth contained in God’s Word. How can this be? How can some find in the Bible a rich source of revelation that enables them to know God more intimately, while others find the Scriptures a senseless mixture of writings that cannot even be understood, why are some drawn to the Scriptures and others are not? The difference is the presence or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We see in verses 10-13 that Paul speaks of the Spirit’s work in conveying God’s thoughts to men by inspiring the apostles to convey spiritual thoughts through spiritual words, the words of the New Testament. Now, in verses 14-16, Paul writes of the work of the Spirit, enabling men and women to understand the Scriptures and thus to know the mind of God.

Previously, Paul divided humanity into two groups: (1) those that trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for their eternal salvation and (2) those that do not. Another way of viewing these two groups would be: (1) those that do not possess the Holy Spirit, who cannot understand the wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and (2) those that do possess the Holy Spirit, who therefore have the capacity to understand the Scriptures.

The first group Paul refers to as “the natural man” (verse 14). The “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” The natural man, who is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, cannot understand “the things of the Spirit of God,” “These are the ones who cause divisions” (Jude 19).

The second group are 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 seems to use it here 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.

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 “natural man,” the unsaved man is unable to understand the Christian, “He who is spiritual.” No wonder Christians are misunderstood, persecuted, and considered foolish and weak. This is the best the natural man can do.

In verse 16, Paul closes chapter 2 with the words of Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him?” Paul told the Corinthians, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). 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. The Scriptures make no sense to the unbeliever. This is because it is impossible for the unbeliever to understand 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. Note that the words of verse 16 indicate not only the natural man’s ignorance but also his arrogance. Who would think that any man could instruct God? But this is precisely what the unbeliever does think. This is why they think the Christian is foolish and weak.

This final statement sums up the vast difference of opinion that exists between Christians and unbelievers over “wisdom.” The unbeliever is incapable of understanding God’s wisdom because the wisdom of the natural man is a limited, distorted temporal wisdom. The Christian has the means for knowing the mind of God and thus has access to the wisdom of God. This is why the reaction of the unbeliever to the preaching of the gospel surprise Christians. In addition, the Christian should not forsake the vast wisdom God has made available to us in order to pursue the wisdom that the world seeks.

What a blow this chapter strikes at human pride. Paul came to the Corinthians in weakness, fear, and much trembling. He came with a message offensive to both Jews and Greeks. He refused to “know” anything other than the crucified Christ, for he came to bring the message of salvation. His message was not one of superior wisdom, one that would appeal to the intellectual Corinthian. His method of presentation was not one that would naturally draw a crowd or attract a following. From a merely human point of view, Paul did everything wrong when he went to Corinth. But what happened? A number of his readers came to faith in Jesus Christ because of Paul’s mindset, message, and method!

How could Paul do everything wrong, from a worldly point of view and yet sinners be converted and a church born, human weakness transformed into divine power? How can human foolishness become divine wisdom and pagan sinners become saints, the answer, the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The Corinthians had become mesmerized by men and by human wisdom. They were wrong. What had saved them was the Word of God and the Spirit of God, working through humble men who proclaimed a straightforward, simple message of Christ crucified, even though their message and their methods were unappealing to unsaved men.

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. All views of God that come from some other source than the Bible are false.

Paul was a devout Jew, deeply religious, committed, and sincere. But he was dead wrong. When God revealed Himself to Paul, everything suddenly changed. The things he once prized, thinking they won him favor with God; Paul now counted as “dung” (Philippians 3:1-11). Now Paul is a new man in Christ. Now he has come to know God through His Word and through His Spirit. That is what Paul wants for each one of us.

If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, you do not know God. The Bible clearly states, you cannot know God apart from Jesus Christ. You cannot know Jesus Christ apart from His Word and His Spirit. You cannot know God through your own wisdom or insight. We cannot see, hear, or touch Him. But He has revealed Himself through His Word, the Bible. By the ministry of His Spirit, we can come to know God personally as the One who has provided for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life. God has revealed Himself in His Son, who died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the penalty for our sins. He has raised Him from the dead, as proof of His satisfaction with the work of Christ. All we need to do is believe in the One whom God sent to take away the sin of the world.

It is not according to the popular message of the twenty-first century, hell will be populated with countless souls who served a “god” of their own making, and such “gods” are not God at all but only idols of our mind.

Are you serving the God of the Bible or the god of the secular world?

Divisions in the Church

1 Corinthians 1:1-4:21

by Paul George

The Fact of Divisions – 1:10-17

Paul first preached the gospel message in Corinth on his second missionary trip. He preached in the synagogue until opposition forced him to move to the house of Titus Justus. After leaving, Corinth Paul wrote a letter to the church, which has been lost (1 Corinthians 5:9). Disturbing news about the behavior of the members of the church at Corinth and questions they asked Paul in a letter they sent him prompted the writing of the letter before us this morning.

In the salutation of the letter, Paul identifies himself as, “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” He identifies the believers in Corinth as “saints, by calling.” Paul’s calling was by the will of God, the Corinthians calling was by the will of God.

The word “church” generally refers to a local church or the church universal. The local church is the body of believers who gather regularly in one place. The universal church consists of all believers in every place and in the whole course of church history.
The phrases “the church of God” identifies the One who brought the church into existence through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the One who sustains the church, the body of believers, “which is at Corinth” identifies the church as a local church, “saints, by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” identifies the local church as part of the universal church.

In the salutation of the letter, Paul demonstrates his love and concern for the church. Many of the members of the church at Corinth were the fruit of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:1-4).

Considering the situation in the church at Corinth thanks is something most people would not expect from Paul. The Corinthian are listening to false teachers who are challenging Paul’s authority. They are condoning immorality. Personal conflicts are being aired out before unbelieving eyes in secular courts. How can Paul possibly give thanks?

Paul’s expression of thanks is not a condoning of the sins and failures of the members of the church; Paul directs his thanks toward God for what God has done and for what He will ultimately do for the Corinthians. Paul first gives thanks for the grace God has extended to the believers in Corinth. God’s grace to the saints in Corinth was boundless. He enriched them in everything, in all speech and all knowledge. The false teachers who claimed the Corinthians were lacking and that they needed something more were liars. God had provided all that they needed. No gift was lacking in the church. God had provided just the right gifts for the growth and maturity and ministry of the saints in Corinth. If the church at Corinth was failing, it was not due to any failure on God’s part to provide for their needs, but rather a failure on their part to appropriate these means. They had God’s promise that they would be in Christ’s presence when He returns and that they would be blameless, based on the faithfulness of God.

The problems in the church were causing the Corinthians to lose sight of a very important fact, those who God sets apart have an obligation to be devoted to the One who provided their sanctification, our Lord Jesus Christ and not men. Just as the Corinthians, needed to be reminded they were a people set apart for a higher purpose and end and the gifts they have received comes from our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ there are times when we need to be reminded who we are. We are people set apart for a higher purpose and end, the worship of the Lord. The gifts we receive come from our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and we are to use them in the building of His kingdom and not to satisfy egos. The gifts we receive are due to the mending of the broken relationship between God and man.

There are also, times when we need reminding that every good thing in this life comes from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The ungodly and unrighteous of this world do not realize or understand they also benefit from the blessings God pours out on His children. Those who want to rid the world of those troublemaking Christian do not realize or understand if there were no so-called troublemaking, intolerant Christians on this earth this earth would be a wilderness filled with evil and terror. If the anti-Christian movements of this world would face reality, they would see the troublemakers and intolerant are not the Christians they are.

The Corinthian lost sight of the fact that through the grace of God, they have fellowship with Jesus Christ and brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of family. We also know, from experiences, the members of a family have different viewpoints on any given subject and they express their viewpoints. The problem is not the expressing of a viewpoint. In fact, it can be a good. It can build a stronger relationship. They problem arises when a family member’s viewpoint creates division in the family. Division weakens the family structure. Division in the church weakens the structure of the church. It weakens the influence of the church upon society. The true worship of the Lord cannot exist where there is division.

Jesus addressed the problem of division in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:22-24).

Division is one of Satan’s weapons. Confession is the weapon used to overcome Satan’s weapon. You will note Jesus did not say if you have something against your brother, He said if you remember your brother has something against you go and be reconciled to your brother. What would keep a person from doing this? The answer is a one-word answer, “pride” and this was a problem in the church in Corinth and in the twenty-first century church. The Corinthian were letting pride rob them of the gift of peace and the members in the twenty-first church are letting pride rob them of the gift of peace.
Finally, Paul expressed his thanksgiving for the faithfulness of God that He would complete that which He had begun in the Corinthian saints (verses 7-9).

While the Corinthian may not consistently be faithful, God is faithful. It is through His faithfulness that each believer will enter into His kingdom, blameless “in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 8).

No wonder Paul is thankful. In spite of the stumbling and sin in the Corinthian church, God has sufficiently provided for their every spiritual need. He has purposed to present them faultless when He establishes His kingdom. Paul therefore is assured that his ministry is not in vain, because the salvation and sanctification of the saints in Corinth and elsewhere are the work of God. The God who called these saints and destined them for glory is the God who called Paul to be an apostle and to minister to these saints. Paul’s work is not in vain, for his work is ultimately God’s work.

The church at Corinth has come to a point that will determine the future of the church. What they decide will have an impact on their society and their relationship with the Lord. They know where they stand. The Lord is calling them through Paul to repent from their evil ways and return to Him, so that He can return to them.

Paul began his letter expressing his thanksgiving to God for the Corinthian Christians, for the sufficiency of God’s provisions for them, and for the certainty that God will complete what He has begun in them by calling them to faith in Jesus Christ. Based upon this foundation, Paul now moves on to reiterate the call to Christian unity (v 10). He then points out the ways in which this unity has broken down in the Corinthian church (verses 11-12). In the remainder of chapter 1, and in the next three chapters 2-4, Paul shows how disunity is a contradiction of the gospel and how unity is a manifestation of the gospel.

The lessons Paul has for the Christians of his day are applicable to our own lives as well. The conflicts that existed then are still with us today. We have conflict and strife in the church, in the home, and at work. Paul will have us see that not only are such divisions contrary to the gospel, the gospel condemns them. The gospel strikes at the heart of inter-personal conflicts, then and now. Let us learn, for the lessons Paul has for us here are those that we should apply moment by moment.

Paul does not begin with the problem of divisions but with a positive exhortation to maintain Christian unity. His call to unity in verse 10 sets the standard. His exposure of divisions in the church at Corinth in verses 11-12 shows a specific deviation from God’s standard. Paul defines unity as the absence of division. Paul does not refer to formed groups in the church, but to divided opinions over their various leaders, which according to verse 11 and chapter 3:3 have developed into jealousy and quarrels, having the “same mind” refers to the more general disposition or way of thinking. To have the same mind is to have the same outlook or perspective. To have “the same judgment” is to agree as to a particular decision, to agree on a particular issue.

When the apostles and the rest of the 120 saints gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:12-14), they were all like-minded. They were one in spirit and in focus. When they selected Matthias as the replacement for Judas, they came to the same judgment. They reached a particular decision with unity. Unfortunately, the Corinthian saints were not living up to the standard Paul set for them. There were quarrels and divisions in the church, which he had heard about from “Chloe’s people.” This probably does not mean each member, without exception, but those who are not guilty of this evil are the exception and not the rule. The problem is so prevalent that it seems to be well known. Even as far away as Ephesus.

The source of the quarrels and divisions in the church was the focusing on personalities rather than doctrine. Each of the personalities—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ, is viewed as the one leader that the individual member has chosen to follow. None of these leaders was responsible for the problem or encouraged any of the members of the church to follow them. The problem is a follower problem rather than a leader problem. The true problem was not one of loyalties and allegiances to different leaders in the church it was pride. The first three groups take pride in the leader they have chosen to follow. The last takes pride in thinking he or she is following Christ. It is true that we all should be followers of Christ. However, we should not be proud of ourselves for doing so. Those who think of themselves as being “of Christ” also think of the rest as not being “of Christ.” Those who boast of their following Christ are effectively declaring themselves the leader. Those who are “of Christ” do not need Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. They do not need an apostle. They can discern Christ’s mind by themselves without any outside help from others. These are the most frightening group of all, and Paul makes this clear.

In verse 13, Paul asked three questions, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” These are closed end questions and require a single word answer, no.

Paul’s point is, salvation is not about the work of men but about the work of Jesus Christ. All four of the groups mentioned by Paul in verse 12 were man-centered. The fourth group was a little more subtle about it, but all of these individuals took pride in themselves, based upon their perceived allegiance. Paul wants to make the point clear and unmistakable; our salvation is totally about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Just as it was necessary in Paul’s day, it is necessary today, those who are man-centered need reminded salvation is Christ-centered. Since Christ is not divided, how can His body, the church, be divided? It was not Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or any other mere man who died on the cross of Calvary. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shed His blood on the cross to cleanse us from all sin. Baptism testifies to this fact. Baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and not in the name of any man. This is because salvation is through Jesus Christ and not through mere men, regardless of their position in the church.

Baptism is a prominent theme in verses14-17; Paul mentions baptism six times in this passage. Some people in the Corinthian church appeared to take great pride in and looked down on those a celebrity did not baptize. This deadly pride is present in people today. I have heard more than one-person brag about the fact that some prominent religious baptized them some prominent location, such as the ocean, popular lake, or river. Paul lets the air out of the tires of these proud namedroppers by telling them that baptism is not a celebrity affair, and compared to the preaching of the gospel, baptizing is a lower priority to him. Do they take pride in the one who baptizes them? Paul is glad he has not made baptizing a priority, and that he has baptized very few of the Corinthians.

It is thus evident that Paul viewed his preaching of the gospel as having a much higher priority than baptizing new converts. Paul saw salvation as something that occurs independently of baptism. True, baptism is important. It is the believer’s public identification with Jesus Christ. However, baptism is not the means of one’s salvation; rather it is the outward manifestation of salvation. Paul rejects the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. If he thought baptism was the means of salvation, he would have made it a much higher priority. Baptism took second place to preaching in Paul’s life and ministry.

The Causes of Divisions,

The Misunderstanding of the Gospel Message 1:18-31

Paul reminds the church the gospel does not appeal to human pride; it cannot even co-exist with it. The gospel informs us that there is only one thing to do with pride, crucify it. The “word of the cross,” that is the message of the cross, the gospel of the cross to unbelievers is foolishness. For those of us who “are being saved,” the message of the cross, the gospel of the cross is the power of God (see also Romans 1:16). For the unbeliever, the cross is a shame; for the Christian, the cross is glorious.

The conflict between divine wisdom and power and the secular world’s view of these matters should come as no surprise. Throughout history, God has worked in ways that the world would never have imagined or believed. God’s purpose in history is not to glorify man but to glorify Himself by demonstrating the foolishness of man’s wisdom. The text that Paul cites in verse 19 is but one indication of God’s intention of proving man’s wisdom to be folly. He refers to Isaiah 29:14 to show that God has always worked in a way that is contrary to human wisdom. Would human wisdom have chosen an insignificant people like the Jews to be the nation among whom God would dwell? Would human wisdom have chosen the land of Canaan over other places on earth? Would human wisdom have led the Israelites into a trap between the Red Sea and the on-coming Egyptian army? Would human wisdom have instructed the people of God to use their power to help the weak, rather than to use their power to take advantage of the weak? Would human wisdom have purposed to save Gentiles through the rejection and failure of the Jews, rather than through their triumph? Would human wisdom have declared that the coming Messiah was to be born of a virgin?

In verse 20, Paul asks a series of questions. Where is the wise man, the scribe, the debater of this age? Where are they in the church, in the outworking of God’s plans and purposes? Paul would have the Corinthians look around them to see where the intellectual and scholarly giants are. Mostly, those so highly esteemed in the world are absent from the church and absent so far as the outworking of God’s purposes in human history. In addition, even when God may draw one of the “greats,” He first humbles them. Does the world think that God’s wisdom is foolish? God has set about a course that will prove man’s wisdom to be foolish. God will use foolishness to prove the ungodly to be fools. Since the world has not come to know God through its wisdom, God will make Himself known to some through means that the world regards as foolish. God has chosen the cross of Christ as the means to save sinners.

Jews and Gentiles may agree on few things, but they mutually hold that the cross of Christ is foolish. The Jews are into power through signs and wonders. All through our Lord’s life, they wanted to see signs and wonders. They expected their Messiah to be a wonder worker, here to do their bidding. Even the disciples bought into this frame of mind, so that Peter rebuked the Lord for speaking of His cross (Matthew 16). The Gentiles were into a different kind of power, mind power, human wisdom. They took pride in following great intellectual thinkers or powerful orators. The message of a humble carpenter’s son, who died as a common criminal on a Roman cross, was not popular among the Jews and Gentiles. To the saved, the preaching of the cross of Christ is a manifestation of the wisdom and the power of God.

Beginning with verse 26 Paul directs our attention toward the church; Paul wants the Corinthians to give thought to who is present in the church. Granting the possibility of a few exceptions, Paul reminds the Corinthians the church is not composed of the wise, the mighty, or the noble, when judged by fleshly standards. Instead, God has chosen to save the foolish, the weak, and the base and despised, the “nobodies.” The word “chosen” in verse 27 is very significant, because it underscores that God chose those on the lowest rung of the social ladder.

Following the principle set down in verse 19, Paul explains why God selected the undesirables of this world for salvation. God has purposed to nullify the wisdom of the wise and to humble the proud. He has chosen to do so by employing means and people that the world rejects as weak, foolish, and worthless. God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, the weak things of this world to shame the strong, the base and despised things to humble that which is highly esteemed (vv 27-28).

If God were to achieve His purposes through the worldly wise and powerful, we would be inclined to give the praise and glory to the men He has used rather than to God. However, God chooses the opposite, those whom we expect to fail that when His wisdom and power are evident, and there are no wise and powerful men to take their bows before men. Instead, men must bow before God, giving all the glory to Him. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Obviously, there are just as many divisions in the church today as there were in Paul’s day. Some of us might argue that there are more divisions today than in his day. The amazing thing is the difference in the way we deal with those divisions and strife. In the church and in Christendom in general, we deal psychologically with the divisions in the church and in Christendom, turning to God and His Word is the last resort.

Psychologically the root of divisions and evil in the secular world, and in the church and in Christendom is poor self-esteem. It should come as no surprise that Paul identifies pride as the source of divisions and evil in the church and Christendom. It is not that the professing believers in the church think too little of themselves; they think too much of themselves. The root of the problem is not “poor self-esteem” but “inflated self-esteem.”

Why are the church and Christendom embracing secular cures for the sickness in the church and Christendom? Why when we seek to heal conflicts and strife, do we turn to a psychology book rather than to the Word of God? When Paul deals with strife in the church, he begins at the beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ and His sufficient provisions for salvation and godly living.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul sets a standard of Christian unity rejected in the majority of the twenty-first century churches and Christendom. If we are a Christ-centered people and not a man-centered people, why do we let Satan plant the seeds of pride in the church. Paul seeks to correct the ungodly divisions in the church by turning immediately to the gospel. We were saved in the name of Jesus Christ; how is it that we now take pride in the names of the men we follow?

The Bible teaches us many truths, but the one truth that overshadows all truths is the message of the cross. If any other truth begins to overshadow the gospel, something is wrong.

Paul identified pride as the root problem among the Corinthians. He does not advocate months or years of therapy. He does not see the need to know the childhood, the background, or the individual struggles of each Christian. All they need to know is the gospel. It is by means of the gospel that God removed the conflict, the enmity, between sinners and Himself. It is also by means to remove enmity between men because the gospel is incompatible with human pride. When Christians strive with other Christians out of pride, the cure is not to enhance their pride, to improve their “self-esteem”; it is to crucify pride. Do you wonder why our Lord instructed His church to remember His suffering and death by the observance of the Lord’s Table? Communion is the commemoration of the work of Christ, the gospel. Communion is not simply a remembrance of an act that our Lord accomplished in the past; it is a way of life that we are to emulate every day of our lives.

The gospel that saves is the gospel that humbles, and that humbling gospel is the basis for Christian unity and harmony. If you have never accepted the gospel message, and the gift of salvation in Christ of which the gospel speaks, I urge you to do so this very moment.