Tag Archives: Wisdom

The Foolishness of Christ vs. the Wisdom of the World.

There is a soothing simplicity to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation for all who believe. Eternal life for those who place their faith in Christ. Jesus’ blood washing away the sin of the repentant heart. Hope, joy, and peace flourishing in the mind and soul of those who give their lives to the Lord.

But to the world such simplicity is foolishness. That the sacrificial death of the sinless Christ redeems the same sin-stained humanity who crucified Him is laughable. Why would anyone die to give life to those responsible for his death? The world is confounded by that fact. That someone would selflessly submit to such a severe and senseless sacrifice is insane.

Consequently, the world rejects the gospel. It abhors the risen Christ because His message is utter foolishness, and antagonistic to worldly wisdom. As Scripture says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NKJV).

Despite its downward descent to destruction, the world refuses to consider Christ and His offer of forgiveness. Its proud embrace of academic philosophies, modern enlightenment, and worldly wisdom lead it to choose death over life, damnation over salvation.

As a result, “God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, He has used foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20b-21, NLT). What an incredible truth. God designed the gospel to repel the wise and intelligent in their own eyes, and appeal to the humble of heart and contrite in spirit.

What cause for celebration. Rejoice you rejected, downtrodden, despised, diseased, oppressed, marginalized, hurting, hated, and exploited; you uneducated, voiceless, and powerless persons living beyond the periphery of society. For “God chooses things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chooses things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chooses things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and uses them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

These truths should inform how we share the gospel, especially pastors, preachers, and others in church leadership. The apostle Paul explains that when he “preached the Good News” he did not do so “with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17b, NLT). 

Sadly, too many people in the pulpit disagree with Paul’s perspective. They soften the edges, sanitize the content, eliminate the unpalatable, and ignore the difficult truths of the gospel. They want to avoid offending their congregations, reducing church membership, and jeopardizing the weekly offering. But in doing so they compromise the gospel, stripping it of its power.

Paul adds, “My message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4, NLT). Paul spoke truth clearly and simply, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts and minds. He knew that only the power of the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal the truth of the gospel, and transform people’s lives. And he did not want to distract people with flowery language, funny anecdotes, and a flashy smile. He did not want to sabotage the Spirit with displays of intellect, a dynamic pulpit personality, or the cult of charisma.

In contrast, thousands of preachers across the country, and thousands more across the globe, make the message more about their engaging personalities and charismatic style than about the plain, but powerful, gospel. Sure they sprinkle their sermons with Scripture, but the message is often less memorable than the messenger, which may increase the pastor’s popularity but diminishes the power of the gospel. This emphasis on style, swagger, and seductive speech may fill churches on Sunday, but it will not change hearts, lives, or communities.

Paul’s words illustrate this. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, NKJV).

My friends, rejoice in the simplicity of the gospel. Embrace the foolishness of Christ and reject the wisdom of the world. Share the Good News in simple terms, not drawing attention to yourself. And avoid pastors with magnetic personalities who preach a diluted gospel that tickles your ears but twists the truth.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19a, NKJV).

Six Stages of the Christian Life.

In the first chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul provides his spiritually young audience an overview of the Christian life. Although brief (the chapter is only twenty-three verses), Paul covers considerable ground as he tackles this weighty subject matter. It is an exceptional and encouraging epistle that serves as a theological primer for new and young Christians, both yesteryear and today. For that reason, it is worth exploring each stage briefly.

1) Chosen: Paul wastes no time getting started. In verse four we read, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:4, NLT). Take a moment to meditate on that incredible statement. Before creating the foundations of this world, and long before you were born, God chose you to spend eternity with Him. That profound truth is so important that Paul reiterates it in the next verse: “God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (1:5a).

Now you may wonder why God almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, would choose you to be part of His family? Well, Paul answers that question in the second half of the verse: “This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure” (1:5b). We didn’t merit or earn this honor through our works; it was entirely His choice – a product of His grace.

Perhaps aware that this fundamental truth may be difficult to accept, Paul revisits the point a third time in verse eleven: “God chose us in advance.” At this point, there should be no confusion that our citizenship in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with our own efforts but is entirely a function of God’s choice. Jesus explained it to His disciples in this way: “For no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them to Me” (John 6:44, NLT). Those God chose in the past He draws to Christ in the present so that they spend eternity with Him in the future.

2) Purchased: Having learned of God’s decision to bring us into His family, some may ask, ‘how did He accomplish this?’ Paul addresses that question with this theologically thick statement: “God is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins” (vs. 7). Notice that God is purchasing our freedom – but freedom from what? Sin! Jesus tells us, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34b, NKJV). And since all have sinned (see Romans 3:23), all are slaves to sin, which eventually leads to death (see James 1:15 and Romans 6:16, 8:2).

But God frees us from sin and death through the blood of Jesus, “for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b, NLT). And without forgiveness “each person is destined to die once and after that face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27a, NLT). And that judgment leads to condemnation for those without Christ (see John 3:18, 36). So “Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14b). As a result, Jesus “with His own blood … secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12, NLT).

We who have been purchased by the blood of Christ are now His. Consequently, we can echo Paul’s statement, “I have been crucified with Christ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

3) Sealed: When we commit our lives to Jesus, God places His seal on us, confirming our salvation and our citizenship in His kingdom. That seal is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us, “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (vs. 13). The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by our ongoing sanctification (among other things), assures us we belong to God and are part of His family, The disciple John explains, “God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us.” (1 John 4:13, NLT). Paul reiterates this point when he tells the church at Corinth, God “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” (2 Corinthians 1:22, NKJV). In a similar vein he reminds his audience that by the Holy Spirit of God“ you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30, NKJV). This gives those of us who believe in Christ considerable confidence in our salvation.

4) Re-purposed: Having learned that God manifested His love when He chose us from the beginning, purchased us with Christ’s blood, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit, we now turn to the question of why? Paul offers this clear and compelling response: “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own peopleHe did this so we would praise and glorify Him.” (Ephesians 1:14, NLT). It is important to understand, accept, and apply this critical truth. Too often we focus on the first sentence and ignore the second. We revel in the knowledge that God made us His people and promised us an inheritance, and understandably so. But that cannot come at the expense of knowing why He did that. The two are inexorably linked. God’s people praise and glorify Him because He is worthy and they are grateful. This lifestyle of worship is the product of a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. It no longer seeks to satisfy self but instead pursues the presence of God. In Christ, we have new life and new meaning. We have been re-purposed to exalt Him.

5) Enlightened: Paul tells the Ephesian church he prays that God will “give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17, NLT). This knowledge deepens the believer’s relationship with the Lord, strengthens his faith, and produces spiritual fruit. And it flows generously from God who “has showered (us) … with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8, NLT). This wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit and includes a) knowing what to say when accused and ridiculed for your faith (Luke 12:11-12); b) understanding Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 John 2:27); c) insight into the mind of Christ (John 15:26); and d) guiding us in all truth, including the future (John 16:13).

6) Empowered: Paul prays that his audience “will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19-20a, NLT). There are four aspects of this power we need to understand. First, it is God’s power and therefore infinitely greater than the power of man. Second, God gives this power to all “who believe Him.” Only Christians have access to this power, which accompanies the Holy Spirit when He enters our lives. Third, this power glorifies God, as evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. And finally, this power accomplishes God’s will and furthers His interests. We do not use it to satisfy our selfish ambitions, pursue our dreams, advance our agendas, or acquire worldly treasures, influence, and accolades. Those who do will fail; their greed and self-centeredness revealing their false faith in Christ. (For a more detailed discussion of God’s power in the Christian life, click here).

Of course, this is neither a comprehensive list nor an exhaustive study of the stages in a Christian life. Remember, the Ephesian church was young and untrained in truth. Paul wanted to equip them with some fundamentals of the faith so they would grow as believers and resist the teaching of false prophets, who were proliferating in the area. Hopefully, this brief overview of that message will encourage and equip new believers today to move forward boldly and enthusiastically in their faith.

The Fear of the Lord.

A growing but troubling trend in the church today is the movement away from teaching believers to fear the Lord. I was reminded of this recently when a respected pastor informed his congregation that to properly fulfill God’s purpose in life they needed a perspective adjustment. Specifically, they needed to view God through the lens of love rather than fear. Only then could they enjoy His presence; only then could they fully comprehend and follow Him.

On the one hand, I understand this perspective. Many pastors grew up in churches that emphasized the fear of the Lord to the exclusion of His love. Their ministers taught the wrath of God, the terrible day of the Lord, and pounded on the existence and dangers of hell. Irrespective of the text on any given Sunday, the pulpit would intertwine these themes into the message. Many of the youth in these churches eventually learned the existence of God’s love, mercy and grace elsewhere and it resonated with them.

Fast forward a couple decades and some of these youth have become the pastors, leaders, speakers, and teachers of today’s church. In an effort to avoid falling into the same trap their ministers did, today’s pastors often ignore wrath, hell, and the fear of the Lord altogether. But emphasizing the love of the Lord to the exclusion of His judgment is dangerous. Such a narrow and incomplete view of God produces Christian lifestyles and attitudes that often mirror those exhibited in secular society.

Absent a reason to fear God our motivation to obey Him often diminishes. Moreover, God’s forgiveness, mercy, and compassion are unnecessary if His wrath does not exist. An accurate and healthy understanding of God, then, recognizes that each of these attributes represent His character.

The early church understood this truth. In Acts we learn that “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, NKJV). These churches experienced considerable growth because they walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t stress one characteristic of God over another. Instead, they held a complete view of God, which included both His compassion and His judgment. A healthy view of God always incorporates fear and love.

Some readers may wonder what value exists in teaching the fear of the Lord. Others argue that such instruction turns people away from God. To attract modern society, they argue, we need to abandon any talk of fear, wrath, or judgment. But without an appropriate fear of God and respect for His standard of holiness, people and cultures adopt sinful lifestyles without concern for eternal consequences.

The prophet Malachi tells us that God brings judgment, “Because the people do not fear the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:5). Absent a suitable fear of God, we enter into sin lightly until it becomes an established habit. The writer of Proverbs describes the anecdote for such behavior like this: “By the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6, NKJV).

In Revelation, the apostle John uses the following language to summarize the everlasting gospel, “Fear God, give Him glory … and worship Him,” (Revelation 14:6-7). While mercy and forgiveness represent critical components of the gospel, no need for either exists without judgment and wrath. A vibrant understanding of our need for God’s love and compassion begins with a proper fear of God. They go hand-in-hand.

And recall King Solomon. He invested considerable resources, energy, and time pursuing every action, thought, and philosophy to discover the meaning of life. He distills his findings into the following wisdom: “Here is the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NKJV). The essence of our purpose is to know God, and that includes a healthy fear of Him; doing so reflects reverence and recognition of His greatness.

Solomon spoke from experience. Early in life He possessed a healthy fear of God and conducted His affairs accordingly. But as that fear diminished His obedience waned and He began committing a variety of abominations that led to his downfall.

Other benefits from fearing the Lord include the development of wisdom (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10), God’s blessing (Psalm 112:1; 128:1,4), and an understanding of the mysteries of God (Psalm 25:14). In fact, societies that teach and embrace a healthy fear of God experience renewal and restoration. That is an outcome sorely needed in America today. In closing, I encourage Christian leaders to reinstate a healthy fear of the Lord into their sermons and for churchgoers to embrace that message. It is one that has the power to transform our nation.