TEACHING WITHOUT A DEGREE – John 7:14-16

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you have any “post-nominal letters”?  These aren’t letters that you write to one another or receive from one another in the mail.  The words “post-nominal” mean “after a name”.  The Wikipedia online encyclopedia gives the following definition:  Post-nominal letters are letters placed after a person’s name to indicate that that individual holds a position, academic degree, accreditation, or honor, or is a member of a religious institute or fraternity.  Some examples of post-nominal letters used in the field of education are:  BA [Bachelor of Arts], MS [Master of Science], and PhD [Doctor of Philosophy].  There are also “pre-nominal letters” (“before a name”) which are used mainly for a religious title or military rank.

What does this information have to do with the passage of Scripture we are now studying – John 7:14-16?  There were no scholastic degrees given in New Testament times!  True, but there were requirements to be met, especially for teachers of the Law of Moses in Judaism.  Learning those requirements is important for our understanding of these three verses of Scripture in John, Chapter 7.  Let’s take a good look at this passage of Scripture and you will soon see what I mean.

I.  THE SETTING:

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 7:10-13, we learned that Jesus went to the feast secretly in order to find out what people were saying about Him.  For several days He moved about and overheard many muffled conversations about Him.  Jesus learned what He wanted to learn.  There were many among the crowds of people who thought well of Him.  They were impressed with His character, and attracted by His personality and genuine concern for people.   It was now time for Him to come out of hiding.

II.  JESUS’ APPEARANCE IN THE TEMPLE (John 7:14)

Verse 14 says, “But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach.”  It was the middle of the feast – the fourth day, and many Bible scholars believe that it was also the Sabbath day; so the crowd would be larger than at any other time during the feast.  Many of these worshipers would also be assembled in or near the temple.  Jesus enters the temple unrecognized.  By this time the people were no longer looking for Him and didn’t expect Him to be there.  Then the news starts spreading quickly around the temple area and throughout the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was in the court of the temple and was boldly teaching God’s Word.  People were flocking to the temple to listen to Him.  The words, “began to teach” are in the imperfect tense in the Greek, indicating that Jesus was teaching formally and continuously.  By so doing, He was winning the hearts of the people by His teaching before the Jewish leaders could put a stop to it.  His listeners were awed by His teaching. This may have been the first time that Jesus taught in the temple. but it won’t be the last time He does so.  Before His arrest, Jesus said, in Matthew 26:55, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.”

II.  AMAZEMENT AND CONFUSION (verse 15)

In verse 15, the apostle John focuses our attention upon the Jewish leaders.  They have arrived at the scene and are standing together at a distance, watching and listening.  What they see is a man dressed in a peasant’s robe, a lowly carpenter from Nazareth, of all places.  But they hear Him teaching the Scriptures from memory, with skill, with ease, and with authority.  The Lord Jesus was expounding the Old Testament Scriptures clearly and convincingly.  John tells us the words that are coming out of their mouths in their amazement:  “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” 

This was not the first time the leaders of the Jews stared and listened in wide-eyed amazement.  Twenty years earlier a group of elders in that same temple had similar looks on their faces and responded in the same manner, as a twelve-year-old boy sat in their midst.  Luke 2:46-47 describes that scene:

“And it came about that after three days they found Him [Jesus] in the
temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them,
and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at
His understanding and His answers.”

A few of those teachers may still have been alive and standing among the leaders in John 7:15.  We aren’t given that information.  But if there were any of those teachers in this audience, apparently they didn’t put those two events together and realize that they were looking at the same Person.  In both those instances, they were standing in awe of the One whom they chose to reject as their Messiah.

Without realizing it, they have just paid Jesus a compliment when they said, “How can this man be learned”.  They weren’t saying that Jesus was illiterate, but were wondering about the source of this knowledge and wisdom.  As they listened to Jesus, they had to admit that He was an excellent teacher because His knowledge of the Scriptures, and His ability to interpret the Scriptures, excelled their own!  Jesus had all the qualifications of a rabbi; He just didn’t obtain those credentials in the usual way.  What was the usual way?

At that point in human history the proper way, and the only way to become a teacher of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings was to go to rabbinical school.   At home and in the synagogue, Hebrew children learned the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament Scriptures).  They read it, wrote it, and memorized large portions of it.  By the age of 12 the young men were ready to pursue their careers (usually the family business or trade).  The best students continued their studies in secondary school, called “beth midrash”, which was usually in the synagogue, where they studied the Prophets and the Writings.  They also learned the interpretations of the Law.  The very best of these students could seek to become the disciples of a rabbi so that they might become rabbis themselves after the training.  The goal was to become like their teacher.  These disciples did not teach their own interpretations of Scripture.  They taught their rabbi’s interpretations.  New Testament scholar, William Barclay, described the practice with these words:  “No rabbi ever made a statement on his own authority.  He always began:  ‘There is a teaching that . . . “.  He then went on to cite quotations and authorities for every statement he made.”

That’s the background to their question as they watch and listen to Jesus teach the Scriptures.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus can interpret the Scriptures on His own authority without the benefit of having all their years of study and training.  The perception that their teachings were “secondhand”, and His were “firsthand” must have enraged them.

III.  JESUS’ SOURCE OF AUTHORITY (verse 16)

The Lord Jesus overheard their conversation, or knew what they were saying to one another, because He proceeds to answer their question concerning the source of His authority.  I would have expected Jesus to say something like the following:  “I don’t need any authority other than Myself because I’m God.  I don’t need a teacher because I’m self-taught.”  However, that’s not His reply to them.  Rather than place the focus of attention on Himself, Jesus focuses the attention upon His teachings and His Teacher.  Verse 16 says, “Jesus therefore answered them, and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.’ “  I was taught, “Whenever you see a ‘therefore’, find out what it’s there for”.  The apostle John uses that word to indicate that Jesus is going to be correcting their words and their thinking.  He didn’t want them to come to the conclusion that He came up with those teachings on His own.  Rather, He is telling them that He has a Teacher, and those teachings come from Him.  The One who sent Him, the One He’s been telling them about, is His Teacher.  In a similar manner to their method of teaching, Jesus teaches only what the Father Who sent Him has imparted to Him.  So He’s saying, “My teachings are not original.  God has sent Me, taught Me, and commissioned Me to say what I have been saying.”  You might say that the Father who sent Him is the Author of His words and holds the copyright to them, whereas Jesus is the publisher – the One who proclaims them.

It’s not only His teachings that are under the authority of His Father.  His miracles, His schedule, His whole life is under the authority of His heavenly Father.  This realization has given me a new perspective on the Roman centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:5-9.  Here is that conversation:

And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him
entreating Him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home,
suffering great pain.  And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to
come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say
to this one ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and I say
to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled.

I used to think that the centurion was saying that he was a man “with authority” but that’s not what the Scripture says.  He describes himself as being “under authority”.  He knows that Jesus has described Himself as being under the authority of His heavenly Father, and he’s telling Jesus that he is under authority also.  He was able to give orders and have them obeyed.  His soldiers obeyed his orders because they knew where his authority came from.  It was delegated to him by the tribunes, who received their authority from the two consuls, who were appointed by the emperor himself. Being “under authority” gave him authority (delegated authority).  By disobeying him, they were disobeying the emperor, and there would be serious consequences after it was reported.  Do you see how this applies to Jesus?  He was also under authority, the authority of His heavenly Father, and there is no higher authority!  His training and His teachings were superior to theirs, and they knew it.  Yet Jesus was humble, and this surprised them.  Humility was not a typical characteristic of the rabbis of His day.  Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:6-7:  “They love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.”  The title “Rabbi” comes from a Hebrew word which means “great”, “great one”, “master”.  Jesus allowed people to call Him by that title because He alone fit the description.  He goes on to say to His disciples in verse 8, “But do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Seventeen hundred years later, there is another story about true greatness.  In 1717, King Louis XIV, who preferred to be called Louis the Great, died.  His court was the most magnificent in all of Europe, and his funeral was the most spectacular.  In the church where the ceremony was performed, his body lay in a golden coffin.  To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lit, with only one special candle that was to be set above the coffin.  The thousands of people waited in silence.  Then Bishop Massillon began to speak.  Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”

How true and appropriate were words and actions of Bishop Massillon.  Only God is truly great and worthy of adoration.

CONCLUSION:

The study of these three verses of Scripture, John 7:14-16, has been a lesson in pride and humility.  Have you ever said something, out of jealousy or envy, that you wish you hadn’t said, or done something that you wish you hadn’t done?  Former president Ronald Reagan shared the following experience from his own life:

Ronald Reagan, recalling an occasion when he was governor of California
and made a speech in Mexico City:  “After I had finished speaking, I sat down
to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed.  The speaker
who followed me spoke in Spanish — which I didn’t understand — and he was 
being applauded about every paragraph.  To hide my embarrassment, I started
clapping before everyone else and longer than everyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
He’s interpreting your speech.”
(quoted by Gerald Gardner in “All the Presidents’ Men”)

How embarrassing!  The ambassador saved him from even further embarrassment!  Like that ambassador, Jesus is doing these Jews a favor.  He answered their question before they could say it out loud to the crowd and then wish they had never said it.  He stopped the course of their jealous thinking and mumbling before it got out of hand, thus saving them from embarrassment.

Mr. Reagan would have been quick to admit that his actions were motivated by envy and jealousy, which are both manifestations of pride.  He felt he deserved a better response from the crowd because of the position of authority he held as governor of California, and because of the content of his speech.  How do you and I handle authority?  Some of us may have credentials before our names or after our names.  We’ve worked hard to earn those credentials and they give us a degree of authority.

Are you and I under authority?  Do we live life the way we please or are we subject to authority?  If you were pulled over by a police officer for speeding, and you said, “You can’t do that to me; I’m under my own authority!”  Whose authority is going to prevail in that situation?  That police officer’s authority was delegated by the city, which received that authority from the state.  I’d want to show some respect and obedience to that authority!  Only Monopoly games have get-out-of-jail-free cards!

Our credentials, no matter how many of them we may possess, do not give us the authority to enter the kingdom of heaven.  That’s not something we can merit, nor is it something we have a right to possess.  No human credentials can give us that authority or earn us that right.  It’s God’s heaven and we have to enter it God’s way.  The only acceptable entrance requirements include humbly acknowledging our own sinfulness (Rom. 3:23), repenting of our sins, believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Mk. 1:15) who paid the price that our sins deserved (I Pet. 2:24), and placing ourselves under His authority by following Him and obeying Him (Eph. 2:8-10).  Are you ready and willing to place yourself under His authority?

If you are a Christian, having already made that commitment, can you honestly and humbly say that God’s Word, the Bible, is the final authority in your life?  Do you believe and teach nothing that is contrary to the Word of God?  Is the authority that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses in your life, and the love you have for Him, evidenced by the place that God’s Word holds in your life, and your wholeheartedness in loving and serving Him and others?

May you experience the fullness of following Him as His beloved children.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for visiting and reading this sermon on John 7:14-16.  I hope this passage of Scripture has been an encouragement to you today.

 

 

ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10 (Continued)

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Welcome back to James 4:1-10!  I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section.  We are now studying verses 5-10.  Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret.  No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers.  Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations.  Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?  (KJV)

Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?  (RSV)

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels.  Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.

That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5.  There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter.  There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words.  This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.

So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it?  I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole.  He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture.  Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:

Or do you think that vainly the scripture says:  to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you?  (Greek Interlinear New Testament)

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?

James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds.  That was part of their upbringing.  But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives.  So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel.  Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”?  James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!

A psalm of David comes to mind.  At the end of his song, David says,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers.  They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!

In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement:  “But he gives more grace” (NIV).  The word translated “more”  actually means “greater”.  As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness.  As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,  Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV).  I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half.  But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride?  A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:

“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.”  Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary:  “BEND OR BUMP!”

I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height.  One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door.  I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames.  Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head.  I was tempted to wear a helmet!  Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance.  Then a wonderful thing happened!  I didn’t have to think about it any longer.  Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God!  However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!

We are never humble enough, are we?  Humility is something we are to ask for from God.  But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!

Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test?  Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you?  Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit?  Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?

Second, can you pass the sincerity test?  A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!”  Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be.  You have nothing to be proud of!”  At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t?  Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!”  This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.

Third, how would you score in the criticism test?  Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings?  What if someone rebukes you?  Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself?  Do you retaliate by finding fault with others?  Or do you remain meek and unruffled?

Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they?  And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean.  His standard is perfection, not “above average”.

In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives.  James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children.  James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother.  The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance.  We don’t know.  But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children.  He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.

In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first.  The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term.  It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”.  God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.

Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan.  I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable.  The result was an outburst of anger on my part.  There was no excuse for it.  Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God?  Do you still maintain control over areas of your life?  The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”.  (Luke 22:42)  You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often:  “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”

The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half.  It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Ephesians 4:27 says:  “Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.”  Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world.  The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history.  The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures.  That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.

Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter.  He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8).  The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God.  When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation.  So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again.  Then I went to sleep.  In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.

Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience.  A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”  However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all.  At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him.  For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil.  Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!”  In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.

Has the devil been troubling you?  If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God.  Put on the “full armor of God”.  Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.

Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent.  Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written:  “Draw near to God!”  “And He will draw near to you!”  Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture?  I sure am!

I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result.  I also hope you have someone  with whom you can be brutally honest.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?

The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God.  In Exodus 19:22  Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying:  ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”  God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.

In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse.  James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!”  When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean?  Can you remember being shown how to do it properly?  I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists.  Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel.  The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain.  We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean.  In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.

James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”!  If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”

The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner.  Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers.  No wonder James is so upset!  They profess to be godly but their actions deny it.  He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world.  So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes.  Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.”  King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?  Or who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)

Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you?  You may be familiar with this accrostic:  ACTS.  It stands for:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers.  Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS:  CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication.  You cat-lovers might like that!  And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.

When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39).  God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.

Are you double-minded or single-minded?  An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.  Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God?  Be honest!  God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it?  It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29).  So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.

The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”.  But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel:  “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.  (Joel 2:12).  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is:  “Don’t take sin lightly”.  Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.

James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he?  There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet!  It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him.  But that’s not all he hurled at him!  Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16.  “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!

When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.”  (II Samuel 16:5-14).  David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly.  Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it?  Especially for a king and his army!  But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.

In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses.  He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself?  Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way?  “I can do better than that!”  “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!”  James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life.  We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.

The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  Self is a god, isn’t it?  And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today.  How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud?  Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled?  The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them.  Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses.  Moody said:  “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finallyhe spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He.  Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him.  Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?

We live in an “instant society”.  There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything.  But there’s no such thing as instant humility.  There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie  that can make you humble.  And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness.  As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV)  But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?

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This work-in-progress is progressing.  I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also.  There is much more work to be done!  I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way.  Keep your hard hats on!  If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient.  I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before.   The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress.  He has His blueprints in hand!  Thank you for visiting this construction site.  Please come back soon!

 

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.