THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

Over the past three months we have examined each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom in detail.  I hope that it has been a learning and growing experience for you also.  We have already studied the devastating results that are produced by the exercise of human wisdom.  As verse 16 explains, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)  Here in verse 18, the apostle James now summarizes the results that occur when heavenly wisdom is exercised.  He describes these results in one short, compact sentence:  “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NKJV version).

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

I especially like the NIV translation for this verse of Scripture because it seems to me that it brings out the intent of the writer very clearly.  It reads:  “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  The ones who sow are the peacemakers.  James uses the word “peace” here to refer to the right relationship between man and man, not between man and God.  But how can we have real outward peace with others if we do not have an inward peace with God?

James wants peace in the church and among the believers in it.  He knows that peace is the only environment in which righteousness can flourish.  The wisdom of this world produces trouble, whereas the wisdom from above produces peace among men.

God hates a troublemaker.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says:  “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  God opposes church splits and discord among the brethren.  But God loves a peacemaker.  Matthew 5:9 says:  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

II.  THE PROCESS

But peacemaking is not easy.  The Revised Standard Version translates James 3:18 in this way:  “And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  It is the peacemaker who sows the seeds of peace, and that isn’t an easy job.  You have to work hard to cultivate peace.  Do fruit and grain grow up by themselves and take care of themselves?  Do they produce an abundant harvest all by themselves?  No!  Ask any farmer!  There is a lot of work involved.  There’s the cultivation of the ground, adding fertilizer, sowing the seeds or planting seedlings, watering, weeding or spraying weeds, pruning, waiting, hoping, praying.  Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically get along with others and never have conflicts.  As individuals, and as churches, we need to work hard to cultivate peace with one another, listen to one another, express appreciation for one another, show kindness to one another, and settle arguments peaceably.  The following illustration is just one example of the peacemaking process:

The small town of Umbarger, Texas, was an unlikely place for an international work of art. But toward the end of World War II, seven Italian prisoners of war, who were being held at a large camp nearby, were chosen to decorate the church’s plain brick walls.  The prisoners were reluctant to aid their captors, but they agreed on the condition that their efforts be considered a contribution toward Christian brotherhood and understanding.  But as they worked on their paintings and a woodcarving of the Last Supper, one of the POW’s later recalled, “A spontaneous stream of good feelings began almost at once to flow among us.  No one spoke of the war or the past because ‘we were here for a work of peace and love’.”  (Our Daily Bread, Nov. 8, 2011)

In II Timothy 2:24-25, Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy, encouraging him to be gentle and patient when relating to others.  The following are Paul’s words:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

I’ve taught each of the evidences of wisdom from above one quality at a time. Now let’s put them all together.  James 3:17 says:  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” (NIV)  A person who possesses these qualities will be a peacemaker.  Wouldn’t you agree?  So if you truly want to be the peacemaker that God wants you to be, focus on these qualities and work at developing them in your life, by God’s enabling and for His glory,

III.  THE RESULTS

As a result of our peacemaking efforts done by the grace of God, we will reap a harvest of God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others.  God’s righteousness and justice will also be evident and appeciated.  Let’s ask the Lord to use us as His peacemakers so that He might be glorified, and we might be a source of joy to others.

When I was a child in Catholic school, my whole class memorized  a prayer by Francis of Assisi.  I imagine that many of you have read this prayer before, but this time let’s read it slowly and make up our minds that, by the grace of God, we will put these words into practice in our relationships with others, whether we like those people or not.  If so, we will begin to reverse the divisive and hurtful effects of man’s wisdom in our communities today.  Here is a portion of that prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me show love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;  where there is darkness, light;  where there is sadness, joy;  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  to seek to be understood, as to understand; to seek to be loved, as to love . . . ”

May the Lord bless you, and as a peacemaker, may you be a source of blessing and joy to others!

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT HYPOCRISY – James 3:17 (continued)

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I’ve spent a lot of time studying and pondering this next attribute of heavenly wisdom.  It has been a very eye-opening and convicting study for me.  I hope and pray it will have the same effect on you also as you read and consider it.  The apostle James, here in verse 17, states that wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy”.  In order to understand this description we must first have a clear concept of what a hypocrite is.

“Hypocrite” is a Greek word which literally means “under a mask”.  It was used in the Greek culture to describe an actor on a stage.  In the ancient theaters each actor played several parts.  To change identities he would simply wear a different mask.  This was the word that Jesus used to describe the Jewish leaders.  Over and over again in the Gospels, especially Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called them hypocrites.  No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides”, “white washed tombs”, and “vipers”.  He used the strongest possible language of condemnation.

William Barclay asked the question:  “What were the things which incurred the anger of Jesus?”  The first thing he mentions is:  “Jesus was angry with anyone who was a hypocrite.”  The following are some further exerpts from William Barclay’s comments.  “A hypocrite is a man who says one thing with his lips, and quite another in his heart , , , . The man who is one thing to your face and quite another behind your back, the man who is ostensibly pious on Sunday and completely worldly on Monday, the man who professes a religion of love and of service, and who lives a life of bitterness and selfishness – that is the man who incurred the anger of Jesus (Day by Day with William  Barclay).

Let’s not forget that the first hypocrite described in the Bible was Satan.  He disguised himself as a serpent when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.  When we act like a hypocrite we are acting like him, following his example.  II Corinthians 11:14 says that he “disguishes himself as an angel of light”, when he’s really the prince of darkness.

Do we sometimes put on a performance in order to win the applause or approval of others?  Most of us like to “look good”, don’t we?  We like to look good on the outside, and we like to give the impression that we “look good” on the inside.  A seminary professor once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming!  Look Busy!”  He later warned his students about the dangers of “faking it” – pretending to be something we are not.

One way Christians wear a mask is by not sharing their weaknesses, thereby giving the impression that they don’t have any weaknesses.  A close look at their lives will soon show that to be untrue.  And even if people don’t see it, God sees it.  We can’t fool Him!

We sometimes give in to the temptation that we have it all together, don’t we? But a person with wisdom from above recognizes that he has imperfections, struggles, fears, and temptations, and is honest before God and before others.  Such people are sincere, transparent, authentic, genuine, open, and reliable.  As the saying goes, “What you see is what you get.”  There are no “unpleasant surprises”.  They can be trusted because they are not motivated by pride but by obedience to God and love for others.  They are more concerned about pleasing God than impressing people.

Are you happy with the way you look on the outside?  What about the inside? Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6:16, “Don’t be like the hypocrites”!

Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class Ministries says:  “The biggest hypocrite of all, however, is the man or woman who refuses to come to Christ because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  Such a person is being inconsistent.  Business is full of hypocrites, but that does not stop him from doing business.  Society is full of them, but he does not decide to become a hermit.  Hell is full of hypocrites, so if a person doesn”t like hypocrites he had better make sure he’s not going there.”  There’s no bigger hypocrite than the person who pretends that he doesn’t need Jesus.

Our lives are on display, like the ads in the newspaper.  Who is being advertized in your life?  Is the Lord Jesus Christ being advertized on the front page and on every other page of your life?  Jesus wants “top billing”, not  “honorable mention”.

The Coca-cola company used the following slogan in a song about the quality of their product:  “What the world wants today is the real thing.”  I hope that’s true of our world today – that more and more people are seeking the real thing.  If so, let’s be the “real thing” ourselves, not cheap imitations.  Let’s reflect the character and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to our world today.  That’s what the Spirit of God will do in and through us if we’ll get out of His way and allow Him to take control.  Are you ready and willing?

 

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS GENTLE — James 3:17 (continued)

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Are you a “gentle” person?  In our culture and society, that is not a word that is often used to describe people, is it?  The adjective “gentle” is often used in the following phrases:  a gentle breeze, a gentle rain, a gentle animal, a gentle push, a gentle voice, a gentle massage, a gentle grip, a gentle detergent, a gentle reminder, gentle to the skin.  Most of the time we use the word to refer to things rather than people.

I searched the internet for pictures that described or captured the meaning of the word “gentle” and found some precious pictures.  There was the picture of a newborn baby’s tiny hand grasping the thumb of its mother.  There was the picture of a young child hugging a horse’s face. There were pictures of powerful and ferocious animals playing with their young.

The Greek word translated “gentle” is the word epieikes, and it is a different word from the one translated “gentle” in James 3:13.  The term was often used in the ancient world to describe a fine aged wine.  It was not harsh or bitter, but mellow, fragrant, and very pleasing to the taste buds.  The apostle James uses this word here in verse 17 as part of his description of wisdom from above.  In contrast to the harsh, critical, strict, and self-centered wisdom of the world, this wisdom was kind, willing to yield, thoughtful, considerate and patient with others.  The words “chill out” and “mellow out” are ofen said to people who are easily irritated and often judgmental of others.  You would never have a reason to say these words to a gentle person.

The following definition is so true, and always brings a smile to my face:  “Gentleness is the oil that reduces the friction in life”.  Warren Wiersbe said:  “A gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace.”   Carl Sandburg described Abraham Lincoln as a man of “velvet steel”. That’s a good description of gentleness!  In II Corinthians 10:1 the apostle Paul says, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of gentleness.

In the “One Year Book of Hymns” I found the following story:

The story is told of a little girl named Becca who lived in an institution for troubled children.  She had never spoken, and her behavior was quite violent. She terrorized the other children, hitting them and stomping on their toys.

This was in the 1800’s when treatment for emotional problems was still quite primitive. But there was a nurse who showed love to this little girl.  And slowly Becca calmed down.  She began to show affection for the nurse, and she would even sit quietly with the other children as they learned to sing.  Still, she wouldn’t speak.  One summer evening, the nurse put Becca to bed early.  The sun had just gone down, and some birds were singing outside.  Then the nurse heard another voice along with the birds. It was Becca.  Alone in her room she was singing a song she had heard the other children sing:  “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity; suffer me to come to Thee.”

Let me ask the question again:  Are you a gentle person?

Charles Wesley wrote that hymn, and the last stanza goes like this:

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,

In Thy gracious hands I am;

Make me, Savior what Thou art,

Live Thyself within my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

TRUE WISDOM IS PEACEABLE – James 3:17

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“Peaceable” is not a word that’s used much in our vocabulary.  I don’t use it, other than the phrase, “Let’s get peaceable about it!”  Some other translations use the words “peace-loving”.  The Greek word “eirenike” is only used here and in Hebrews 11:12 in the New Testament.   The word means “composed”, “tranquil”, and speaks of one who is at peace with God and seeks to be at peace with others.  We can’t be at peace with God and at peace with others unless we have a pure heart.  No wonder James says that wisdom is “first pure”.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, on your part, be at peace with all men.”  In Romans 14:19 he says, “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”  When you were growing up, did you ever get into an argument with your siblings, or with other children at church, at school, or in the neighborhood?  Sure you did!  And do you still remember the famous words, “he started it” or “she started it”?  Is your mind a little foggy right now?  Mine is!  It’s interesting to note the things we remember from our childhood and things we forget!

Can you remember your father or mother stopping a quarrel between siblings and saying, “We’re family!”  “That’s your brother, (or sister, or cousin).”  I want you to apologize to one another and say you’re sorry.”  There would be tearful apologies and hugs, and things would be better for a while.   It wouldn’t get so far out of hand again because as you looked at each other, those words would come back to your mind:  “You’re family”.

Fighting is not something we naturally outgrow when we become adults, is it?  As adults and as Christians, we probably don’t punch, kick, shove, bite, or pull hair anymore, but we still have our own arenas and tactics.  Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class ministries wrote a devotional on this subject in Our Daily Bread.  The following is part of what he shared.  “How many times has it happened?  You walk away from an argument on the subject of holiness, realizing that you’ve been sinning like crazy.  As you think back, you wonder what it must have looked like to God. Remember the way it started?  You were sitting around the coffee pot with your Christian friends.  The discussion moved from cars, to churches, to the sovereignty of God.  You love a good lively challenge, so when your doctrinal sparring partner let down his guard, or punched a little too hard, you jumped in for the friendly kill.  For some reason the Scripture you used to support your argument just bounced off his head.  A few more verses were tossed back from his direction.  You claimed they were thrown so badly you didn’t even feel their impact.  Then you began to get a little uneasy.  It soon became apparent that you were no longer testing ideas.  The friendly difference of opinion had turned into a struggle that was now being waged with voice tones, inflections, and gestures.”  He concludes by saying, “When will we learn that knowledge must be accompanied by wisdom?  When will we stop using the doctrines of God as ammunition for our own egos?  When will we allow His Word to make us pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated?”

On a positive note, Proverbs 17:27 says, in the New American Standard Bible, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  I like the word “cool” there.  It brings these words to my mind:  “refreshing”, “soothing”, “pleasant”, “a welcome relief”.  Are there people you like to be around because they make you feel at ease?  They are interested in you and like to listen to you and interact with you.  They accept you the way you are and aren’t trying to impress you?  Do you walk away from the conversation refreshed and renewed?  I hope you have people like that in your life.  I also hope that you are that kind of a person yourself, or you are taking steps to become more of a source of refreshment and encouragement to others.  The Lord Jesus called those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

My next message is about the word “gentle” in verse 17.  “Be cool!”  Please come again soon!

EXERCISE GODLY WISDOM – James 3:13

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you consider yourself to be a wise person?  Do others consider you to be wise?  What is wisdom?  Is there more than one kind of wisdom?  These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture.  Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero.  They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers,  and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment. Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.

According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life. Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!

Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it?  Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God.  The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all.  Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”  The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.

There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom.  This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept.  I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.

I  A Challenge (verse 13)

James begins this verse with a question:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  He is not being sarcastic here.  He is being honest and forthright.  Many of his readers are well-educated people:  teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman.  His question is more than just a question.  It is a challenge.  James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated.  The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”.  It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro.  We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”.  True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”

Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom:  “gentleness”.  Other translations say:  “meekness”, or “humility”.  It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today.  Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself.  He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control.  It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use.  Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.

Greetings!  There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message.   The rest of the outline is given below.

II.  A Warning (verse 14)

III.  A Contrast (verses 15-17)

A.  Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16)

B.  Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)

IV.  A Conclusion (verse 18)

Summary and Application

 

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!

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.