EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!

 

II TIMOTHY – Background and Survey

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

John Calvin, the great theologian and preacher of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say about I and II Timothy:  he said, “What I owe to these two epistles to TImothy can never be told.”  In other words, he couldn’t say enough about them and their effect on his life.  II Timothy is one of the great heart-warming letters of the Scriptures.  It has been called Paul’s last will and testament to Timothy, and through him to the church.

Try to imagine how Timothy must have felt when he received this letter from his friend and spiritual father who had recently been taken away from him forcibly by Nero’s soldiers.  Timothy probably thought that Paul had already been put to death by the Roman emperor, Nero.  What joy and encouragement must have filled Timothy’s heart as he read about Paul’s affection for him, and about Paul’s appeals to him and promises to Him from the Lord Jesus Christ!  Tears must have filled Timothy’s eyes as he read this letter, realizing the sufferings Paul was experiencing and the death he faced because of his committment to Jesus Christ.

II.  BACKGROUND:

The apostle Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy in 67 or 68 A.D., just five years after his first letter to Timothy.  Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome.  The first was more like a house arrest.  Paul lived in his own rented house and was given a great deal of freedom.  After this first imprisonment at the end of Acts 28, Paul made some more missionary journeys.  Then there developed a dramatic change in attitude toward Christianity on the part of the Roman government.  Just a few years  before the writing of this epistle, in July of 64 A.D., a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome.  There was evidence that the fire had been ordered by Nero himself, and those rumors spread.  In a desperate effort to clear himself and get the focus of attention away from himself, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians.  The result was that many of the enemies of Christianity took sides with Nero and started persecuting and killing Christians.  This perseccution spread to all the Roman provinces.  It was not known for sure where the apostle Paul was when he was again arrested, but it may have been at Troas because Paul’s cloak and his precious books and parchments were left there.

The aged apostle Paul was now in chains in the dungeon of a Roman prison, locked in his cell and chained to a Roman guard day and night.  This epistle to Timothy must have been written only a few months before Paul’s death.  Whether or not Timothy arrived at Paul’s side before his execution is not known.

Timothy had been Paul’s faithful missionary companion for over 15 years.  He had travelled with Paul throughout most of his second and third missionary journeys.  He also went with Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and may have been with him on his voyage to Rome.  Paul mentions Timothy’s name along with his own when he writes to Philemon and to the Philippian and Colossian churches.  In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”  He also calls Timothy his “brother and God’s faithful servant in the gospel of Christ” in I Thessalonians 3:2.  Because of Timothy’s genuine concern for the welfare of the churches, and because of the loyalty with which he served with Paul “as a son with his father”, in Philippians 2:20-22 Paul went so far as to say, “I have no one like him.”  Among all of Paul’s associates, Timothy was unique.

After Paul’s first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesis as the accepted leader of that church.  But though he was in leadership, Timothy still had some things that weren’t in his favor.  Timothy was still young.  He was probably in his mid-thirties, but at that time a person of that age was still considered a youth in the Greek and Roman cultures.  He was also a frail person with several physical ailments, and he was apparently a shy person.

III.  PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER

Imagine for a moment the aged apostle Paul in a dungeon in Rome with no escape but death.  His apostolic work is over.  But now he must make sure that the work of Christ is carried on to future generations.  As Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy, Paul must have been thinking, “Who is going to continue the battle for the truth of the Gospel after I’m dead?”

Paul’ purpose in writing is to remind Timothy again that the precious Gospel is now committed to him, and now it’s his turn to assume responsibility for it, to preach it, to teach it, to defend it, and to preserve it for future generations.  In II Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who may be able to teach others also.”

Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to focus on the character of the Christian, and he gives several images or portraits of the ideal Christian minister.  He is to be like his Master, the “suffering servant” described by the prophet Isaiah:  patient, gentle, hopeful, and praying for his enemies.  He is to be like a soldier who is single-minded and ready to obey his commanding officer.  Thirdly, he is to be like an athlete, running the race according to the rules of the contest, and fourthly, he is to be like a farmer, working hard and earning his reward.  Paul also gives an image or portrait of himself.  In II Timothy 4:7-8, in the face of death, Paul is unafraid, and gives his own eulogy.  He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

It is significant that the last time Timothy’s name is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:23 where it is reported that Timothy was recently released from prison.  He too is keeping the faith in Christ regardless of the consequences to himself.

IV.  AN OUTLINE OF II TIMOTHY:

There are many outlines of the second letter of Paul to TImothy, but my favorite is taken from John Stott’s book entitled, “Guard the Gospel”.  I like this outline because it is simple and easy to remember;  and also because it views Paul’s letter as a series of challenges to Timothy.  Here is his outline:

Chapter 1 – The Charge to Guard the Gospel

Chapter 2 – The Charge to Suffer for the Gospel

Chapter 3   The Charge to Continue in the Gospel

Chapter 4 – The Charge to Proclaim the Gospel

V.  THE SIGNIFICANCE AND APPLICATION TO US:

This church, and every church of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, needs to heed the message in this second letter of Paul to Timothy because many churches and many Christians are relaxing their grip on the Gospel, and in danger of letting it slip from their hands.  They are no longer determined to proclaim it;  they are unprepared to suffer for it;  and they are are unwilling to pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the next generation of Christians who will rise up after them.

In II TImothy we see that even though the aged apostle Paul faces death in prison, his passion for fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples  is as strong as ever.  What does the Lord require of us?  He requires faithfulness to Him and His work, not only on Sundays but throughout every day of every week for the rest of our lives.  God wants us to finish the race He has entered us in, looking forward to the day when we shall see Christ face-to-face in heaven.  Paul’s final charge to Timothy is “Guard what has been entrusted to you”, and his final words are “Grace be with you.”

PAUL’S EXAMPLE IN WITNESSING – I Corinthians 2:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

In verses 18-31 of I Corinthians 1, Paul told us that human wisdom plays no part in man’s salvation.  In verse 31 Paul says that all glory goes to the Lord because salvation is a work of God.  Here, in chapter 2:1-5, Paul uses himself as an example and discusses his message, his method and his motivation for reaching the lost.

I.  HIS MESSAGE (verses 1-2)

In verse l, Paul describes his message as “the testimony of God”.  The Greek word here is “marturion”, the word from which we get our English word “martyr”.  The word was often used in the lawcourts of that day.  A witness in a courtroom could only testify to what he himself had seen or heard or experienced.  He was not to make guesses or give opinions.  When Paul had come to Corinth he shared with them only what God had revealed to him.  If you would like to hold your place in I Corinthians and turn with me to Acts 18:1-11, I’m going to read about Paul’s visit to Corinth and ministry in Corinth.  (READ IT)

Getting back to I Corinthians, chapter 2, we read in verse 1 that Paul did not come to Corinth to glorify himself or to start a “religious club or cult”.  He had come to glorify God.  Paul did not depend on “excellency of speech or of wisdom”, as did the philosophers and teachers in Corinth;  he simply declared God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The focus of Paul’s message is given in verse 2 :  “Christ crucified”.  Paul didn’t’ preach Christ as the teacher, nor Christ as the example, but Christ as crucified.  In the Greek, the word “crucified” is the perfect participle, implying a past action which has continuing results.  The Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross outside Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago, and as a result, God has made it possible for men and women today to have their sins forgiven and have a personal relationship with God through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Paul is not saying that “Christ crucified” was all he talked about, but that it was the central focus of his preaching.  If Paul would have begun to preach about worldly wisdom rather than the cross, his preaching would have lost its power.  He said that in chapter one, verse 17.  Even though the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and considered foolishness to the Gentiles, Paul would not leave it out of his presentation of the Gospel.

How important is the message of Christ crucified?  The Lord Jesus Himself says in John 12:32-33, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself”.  In the next verse it says, “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”  In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, the first time the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was openly preached, 3000 people were saved at one time!

When the Moravian missionaries first came to Greenland, they found the people totally ignorant of the meaning of such words as “sin”, “righteousness”, and “justification”.  So they decided to educate them about various theological terms.  The results were so unproductive that, after a period of time, the missionaries decided that the situation was hopeless and they might just as well leave.  Since no ship was due for some time, one of the missionaries began translating parts of the Bible into the native tongue.  Seeking to test the accuracy of his words, he read a passage to those who had been unresponsive to his ministry.  The portion he chose was Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

After he finished reading, the chief of the tribe asked him to repeat it. The missionary read the passage again.  “Why didn’t you tell us about this in the first place?” asked the chief. “Don’t leave now!  We’d be happy to listen to the words of a Man who suffered that much for us!”  So they remained and saw much fruit from their labors as they proclaimed Christ crucified.  The story of the cross had won the people’s hearts.

We too have the opportunity of telling others of the love that led Christ to die for them.  On my blogsite, biblentsermons.wordpress.com, I received the largest response to the sermon entitled “The Suffering and Death of Christ”.  Let’s make the cross the focus of our witness.

II.  THE METHODOLOGY (verses 3 and 4)

In verse 3, Paul says that his witness is “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”, yet in verse 4 he says that his message and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”  It seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?  How can there be power in weakness?  Yet Paul already said in chapter 1, verse 27, that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong , , , that no one should boast before God”.

In a gun factory, an elongated bar of steel, which weighed 500 pounds, was suspended in the air by a chain.  Beside it, an average-sized cork was hanging by a silk thread.  It was swung gently against the bar which remained motionless.  For 10 minutes the cork, with a regular rhythum, continued to strike.  Then the heavy piece of metal began to move slightly.  At the end of an hour, both objects were swinging together like the pendulum of a clock!

Many of God’s children feel that they are not exerting a feather’s weight of influence upon others or making even a tiny dent upon the strongholds of evil.  This is not so!  As we recognize our fear and inadequacy, and continue to be an influence for good and a witness for Christ, relying upon the power of God’s Word and the Spirit of God, we will find that in God’s hands there is power in weakness.  Therefore courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of fear by relying on the power of God.  The Holy Spirit is the source of the power in the Gospel message.  Paul’s method was to depend on the Spirit of God to convince the person that the message he was sharing was the truth, and to allow the Holy Spirit to use that message to bring the person to saving faith. We allow the Holy Spirit to empower our witness when we stick to the Scripures, which are the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).

III.  HIS MOTIVATION (verse 5)

In verses 4 and 5, Paul said that he didn’t use persuasive words of wisdom.  The reason he gives is so that “your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God”.

It has been said that the great preacher, Jonathan Edwards, read his sermons so that he would not be guilty of using human persuasive techniques to gain a response.  He wanted only the message to bring the results.  It makes you wonder how many there are in the world today who responded to an emotional appeal or to pressure tactics without a true understanding of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ.

About 40 years ago an evangelism program was set in motion by Campus Crusade for Christ.  It was called “Here’s Life America”, and I was personally involved in the program through the church I attended.  Maybe some of you were also involved in that evangelistic program.  Churches across the United States were given a list of phone numbers of the people who lived in their communities.  The purpose was to call each of these phone numbers, share the Gospel message with the people who answered the phone, and ask them to repeat a prepared prayer, asking Christ to come into their lives and give them eternal life.  About ten years later a study was done to determine the success of this evangelistic campaign.  The findings showed that, of the millions of people who prayed that prayer over the phone, the percentage of them who were now attending churches and showing evidence of a changed life and a genuine relationship with Christ was so small that it couldn’t be printed.

A valuable lesson was learned from this.  In spite of good intentions, committment by individuals and churches, and prayer, the United States could not be won for the Lord Jesus Christ through an impersonal and persuasive method such as this.  Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is a miracle performed by the power of God working through His Word.  True saving faith is the work of the Holy Spirit convincing a person of his sin, of the worth of Christ’s death on the cross, and leading that person to genuine repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

CONCLUSION:

To try to summarize this passage and apply it to our lives today, Paul is saying that as we witness for Chtist, our message must be God’s Word, not ours,  Our focus must be the cross of Christ, not our own human wisdom.  Our aim must be God’s glory, not ours.  And our confidence is to be in the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours.  Then, and only then, will we be useful instruments in the Master’s hands.

Are you equipped with an ever-growing knowledge of God’s Word?  Are you ready to focus on the cross of Christ?  Is your reliance on the power of the Spirit of God?  Is your aim to glorify God?  Then be an ambassador for Christ!  Your world is waiting!

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.