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Archive for March, 2011

The Power and Wisdom of the Cross

March 30th, 2011

…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

 

It is impossible to explain to people who do not believe why the gospel is precious to Christians. To the Jew – the legalist in this setting – with his belief that you get what you work for, that we earn our opportunities, that to expect and hope for grace is illogical nonsense, that the best thing you can do in life is to accept your failures and try to work past them, and with his blindness and pride as to his true standing before Holy God, to the legalist the idea that we might be forgiven and reclaimed despite our failures is a stumbling block. It seems to get in the way of human responsibility and discourage personal achievements.

 

The problem with the legalist’s position is not the emphasis on responsibility but that it ignores how serious our problem with sin is. That I cannot work my way past my failures for despite what else I achieve, the failures remain on the record, and the words of the Scripture are true, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But even the most ardent legalist, the most moral citizen must admit to the darkness that is in his heart, that there is a tendency within each of us to sin. If we took the finest and most moral people of all history and put them into a paradise for eternity because of their morality, eventually they would turn on one another and paradise would become hell.

 

Our only hope is for our hearts to be changed, for our minds to be remade new, for our past to be forgiven, and for the Spirit of God and the spirit of love to change us from the inside out – which is precisely what the gospel of Christ preaches.

 

But to the Greeks – the wise and worldly in this case – the entire story seemed a fable. It made no sense to them that a man of humble birth from Palestine should die for the sins of the world, so they tossed the entire thing out as inane and placed their emphasis on the nobility of humanity and the genius of the human mind and capacity for abstract thought. They saw no beauty in Christ so as to desire Him, but instead they sought the beauty of nature and worshipped the thing that was a witness to the existence of God. They were actually only slightly different from the legalists in that they turned to some more noble thought based on human achievements.

 

But they turned away from the compelling story of Jesus of Nazareth, that His existence pre-dated His birth, that He was the one true and perfect Man, the Son of Man, and also the Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins. The resurrection and the witness of the Spirit gave evidence to the mind and conviction to the heart. The Spirit turned believers from skepticism and pride to repentance, faith, and worship.

 

And the Spirit does the same today. Christ is the power of God – the power to forgive, to regenerate hearts, to cleanse consciences, to heal hurts, to give new hope, to transform our lives from the inside out. Christ is the wisdom of God – that in His death was our sin problem truly dealt with and our lives lifted up from the ash heap of millennia of human failure to being included in the eternal family of God.

 

To the unbelievers the cross does not make sense. To believers, however, it is the most precious doctrine in the world – the Son of God crucified for our sins that we might have His life within us. Faith makes the difference in these two perspectives. We see the crucifixion not only in terms of its effect on the world in general, but it becomes personal, precious, and endears Christ to our hearts. “Jesus died that I might live,” is the precious personal realization of believers.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, thank You for the cross, for the act of sacrifice and for the truth proclaimed to us that we can share with others.  Amen.

 

 

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The Dangers of Divisions

March 30th, 2011

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?

1 Corinthians 1:13

 

The first weakness that Paul addressed to the Corinthian church was the divisions in their body. He had many weaknesses to choose from – neglect of foundational doctrines, moral compromises, irreverence observances of the Lord’s Supper, disorderly worship – but he began here.

 

Christian unity and especially the unity of the church have always been important to God. Christ prayed to the Father for His followers on the night of His arrest:

 

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

 

Christ saw the unity of His followers as flowing from the love of God as it coursed through their thoughts and values and shaped their lives and futures. We are, of course, 2,000 years down this road and now have a worldwide church rife with divisions. We cannot correct everything that has happened in each generation over two millennia, but we can put a proper emphasis on Christian unity in our day.

 

But true Christian unity will only be experienced through the practice of unity among the fellowship of believers in one local church. Our greater problem is not with Christian unity on a theoretical basis but with divisions and differences among our fellow Christians who stand in front of us, whom we see and talk to, or should talk to. It is to this very real matter of the unity or lack of it in a specific local church Paul’s words speak.

 

Why should church unity be so important? Why should divisions be avoided?

 

First, the divisions in the body were detectable. This was a problem in Corinth that could be observed by all, and felt by all. There were at least four divisions in the Corinthian church: followers of Paul, followers of Apollos, followers of Peter, and followers of Christ – the last being perhaps the “super spiritual” or more correctly the “superficially spiritual.” When people in church begin to choose their favorite leaders or teachers, comparing them, exalting one over the other, they will miss the bigger picture – the primacy of Christ overrules every human source of division, whether it is due to personality differences, teaching and leading styles, or program preferences.

 

A few years ago I led a weekend seminar in a church and the weekend began with a “fellowship meal.” Immediately it was clear that half of the church sat on one side of the “fellowship hall” and the other half sat on the opposite side. Throughout the weekend it was clear to see the division in the church and the difficulty they had getting along together. Division is not affection for different people based on what we have in common. Rather it is distrust and dislike of others because of any type of obscure difference or disagreement. Division sinks into every fabric of the church fellowship until it permeates the entire body.

 

We are to put forth the aroma of Christ in our worship and witness. Division instead puts forth the aroma of death and highlights what is wrong, not what is right.

 

Second, they were deceptive. The divisions and arguments over nonessentials drew the attention away from Christ. People became proud, forgetting their humble roots and how they had been exalted sufficiently through the grace that is in Christ. Pride puts one person down and exalts us in our hearts; grace lifts all up to the same level through our acceptance in Christ.

 

Christ died for all but Paul was crucified for no one. Paul was merely part of what God was doing through Christ, to reconcile the world to Himself. They forgot that Paul had planted and that Apollos had watered – that is, that they had complimentary and not conflicting ministries – but that it was really God who brought the increase. Their attitude bordered on the sin of idolatry, and was similar to its nature. Paul wrote in Romans 1:19-23:

 

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse…

 

That is, creation bore a witness to the glory of God, but rather than looking at the creation and worshipping God, they instead turned to the creation itself and worshipped it.

 

…They became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

 

And this is similar to the sin of the Corinthian Christians – they exchanged the glory of the immortal God as proclaimed in the Gospel through the messengers for the messengers themselves. They fell short of worshipping them or letting them replace Christ as their objects of faith, but on a practical and emotional level they gave their teachers a place that only should truly belong to Christ.

 

Third, they were disruptive. The divisiveness along the lines of teachers disrupted the fellowship and witness of the church. The teacher and the group became more important that the message and personal holiness in life. It distracted the church from being able to move toward the deeper truths of the gospel – so much so that Paul did not even teach about the life in the Spirit in this first epistle, because the people were not ready for this truth. To teach it in this environment would have led to the different groups claiming the Holy Spirit for themselves and despising God’s work in others.

 

Four, they were detrimental to the growth of believers. The final trait that this divisiveness had was to do serious harm to the capacity of believers to grow. In this first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul went into more detail on the value of the spiritual gifts of the body than any other place in the Scripture. His point was that we mature not by being under the teaching of just one person, but by being in fellowship with the body of Christ and letting the Spirit touch us through different members. It is not only through teaching that we are built up, but through mercy, encouragement, healings, discernment, helps, etc. The divisiveness in the body prevented people from experiencing some aspect of the goodness and grace of God that God might provide through another believer who just happened to be in another group.

 

Some understandable divisions exist between Christians – distance, language, just the sheer numbers of Christ’s followers, we cannot get to know everyone – but false divisions based on pride and suspicion are not of God. Christ is not divided.

 

How have you allowed your prejudices and preferences to distance you from other believers? Are there people you need to forgive, people you need to listen to, people you need to let God touch you through? Are you too proud to let God minister to you through someone whose personality you may not like? Let God do His perfect work through the gospel, through His Spirit, and through the body of believers.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, forgive us for giving credit to men for what only You can do. Show us the potential in the gospel and in Christ for the regeneration of the human heart, soul, and spirit. Teach us to listen to others, to respect the work You are doing in their lives and through their lives, and to give You the glory. Amen.  

 

 

 

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