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The If / Then Promises of God

The If / Then Promises of God

If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work.  Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens.  One is contingent upon another.  One comes first, and the other follows after.  One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition.  One is your responsibility, and the other is His.

Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:

Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met.  One is contingent upon another.  Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise,  If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise.  It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.

Some promises in Scripture are granted without a condition being met.1  Others, most in fact, have a condition attached to them.  For example, our salvation is based on meeting a condition:

Romans 10:9 – That if (condition) you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and (if you) believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (then – result or promise) you will be saved.

Note that salvation comes after the condition is met.  Repentance and the acknowledgement of Christ as Lord is mandatory, not optional.  You cannot come to faith in Him any other way.  This is an if / then passage about salvation.


If / Then Passages

But there’s so much more.  Take a look at a few of these if / then passages.  See if you can begin to understand how important your part is in receiving the promises of the Father.

Matthew 6:14-15 –  “For if (condition – your action and responsibility) you forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if (condition – your action and responsibility) you do not forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

If we desire forgiveness from God, we must first forgive others.  First the condition, then the promise.  How important is it for me to forgive others who have wronged me?  It’s vital.  For without meeting the horizontal condition of forgiveness between me and another, God is not obligated to fulfill the vertical condition of forgiving me for my sins and transgressions.  This is not something to play around with.  This if / then condition has lasting, eternal consequences.

John 15:10 – “If (condition) you keep My commandments, (then – result) you will abide (rest, dwell, make your home) in My love, (example) just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

How do I rest and abide in the love (agape) of Christ?  And how can I experience the abiding presence of that love like Jesus had with His Father?  By meeting the if condition of the if / then promise.  By keeping His commandments.  By doing what He tells me to do.  By loving Him through my obedience and not living a life of rebellion, apathy or arrogance.  After all, Jesus also said in another if / then passage, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  Which means, if I love Him, then I will show my love for Him by keeping His commandments.  And if I don’t love Him, then I won’t keep His commandments.  Or, more frightening still, if I’m not keeping His commandments, then I must not love Him at all.  Which means our love for Christ can be clearly seen by our obedience to Him.  Not in our words, but in our actions (Luke 6:46).

We’ll close today with just one more.  This if / then promise was spoken to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus right before Jesus raised him from the dead in the sight of all.

John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if (condition) you would believe (then – result) you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus was about to raise a man back to life who had been dead and buried four full days.  It was to be a powerful testimony that Christ is God and can do all things.  For me, it’s one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament.  But Martha would fail to see God in any of this unless she believed.  She was in danger of becoming hard hearted and spiritually blind, much like the Pharisees and others who made up the religious establishment of that day, to what was about to take place.  Instead of experiencing the glory of God, she would go back to her home unchanged, unmoved, and further away from the One who raised her brother from the dead.  Why?  Because of her lack of belief.  Jesus’ words to her were simple, “If you believe (the condition that unlocks the revelation of the glory of God), then (the result of her faith and belief) you will see the glory of God.”  And the opposite is also true.  “If you do not believe (condition), then (result of lack of faith) you will not see the glory of God.”

The spiritual magnitude of this momentous event for Martha was contingent on her belief— on the if part of the if / then promise from Jesus.

Are you beginning to see the importance of these overlooked if / then promises in Scripture?  Good.  Because there are hundreds of them.

For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the if / then passages found in Scripture to discover what part we must play in receiving the promises from God.  Why?  Because fulfilling the if part is something we can do.  It’s something we can get better at.  Something the Lord has left in our hands.  Obedience to His Word is our responsibility.  And the promises for obedience, the results of the if / then promises in Scripture are, honestly, overwhelmingly wonderful.

Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at the if / then promises found in the Proverbs.

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1 – For example, God’s promise to Abraham is not conditional on anything Abraham would, or would not do (Gen.12:7).  See also Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:18-21; 17:6-8; and 35:11-12.

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Our Permission to Dream

Our Permission to Dream

What if God was bigger than the box in which we try to place Him?  Wouldn’t that be incredible?  You and I both know that He is bigger than anything we can imagine.  But nevertheless, we have a tendency to always try to place Him in a box that allows us to understand Him on our terms.

Think of the boxes in which we try to place Him.  We have our experience box that rejects God moving in any way other than what we have experienced in the past.  This box makes our experience with Him as the defining element of His character and the full expression of His will.  God can never be bigger than He has been in our past. He becomes one-dimensional, myopic, and is not allowed to do anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or stretches and expands our faith.

We have our denominational box that limits God to the tenets of our theology, our sacred creeds, or our agreed upon statements of faith.  But this box assumes we know all there is to know about the Unknowable One, the One who defies human description.  This box cannot be true.  For how can the created know all there is to know about the Creator, no matter how infested the created is with pride and arrogance and self-exaltation?

Then we have our spiritual maturity box.  This box states that the way God is dealing with us right now, at this present moment, at our current level of maturity, is how He deals with everyone.  Why?  Because we can’t accept the fact there may be others who are more mature than we are in the things of the Lord.  That would make us feel uncomfortable.  Or, worse yet, convicted.  And there are other boxes we conjure with different labels.  We have our faith box, our feelings box, and the like.  But God cannot be contained by the constraints of our fear or insecurity.

God is beyond all that.  He’s incredible.  He’s beyond comprehension.  He cannot be understood or described by mere human words.  It is foolishness to assume we can know the Almighty and all His ways.  Why?  Because He says about Himself in Isaiah,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Often we find ourselves hamstrung and impotent in our spiritual lives, when compared with Scripture, because of the limitations we place on our God by the box we try to force Him into.


The Early Church

We see God do incredible things in the book of Acts— unparalleled things compared to what we see Him doing in the church today.  Because that fact alone makes us feel so uncomfortable, we go to great lengths to try to convince ourselves that His moving like He did was for them alone, at that time in history, but not for us today.  Why?  Why would we assume that?  Then we go through great theological gymnastics to somehow try to prove that the “abundant ” life Jesus promised (John 10:10), as revealed to us in the book of Acts, was only for them, and not for us.  They got to experience true intimacy with the Lord, and we are left standing alone, jilted at the altar.

But what if all that changed?

What if we got the opportunity to be able to see God for who He really is?  What if we began to understand the Holy Spirit as being more than just an attribute of God, or a characteristic of God, or just some innate power coming from God that we ask for when we need it?  What if our eyes were opened and we began to see and experience the Holy Spirit as Jesus revealed Him?  What if we truly believed, and rested on that belief, that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth that will “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:27)?  What if we took Jesus at His word when we said, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7)?

How would that change your life?  And how would it change your experience with His church?

These are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself of late.  In all my years of ministry, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I’m missing something, that I am somehow coming up short.  I’ve felt there’s more to this life in Christ than what I was taught in Seminary or that I have experienced in all my years in church.

Have you ever felt the same?

Do you see how the church is portrayed in the book of Acts and then wonder what happened between then and now?  I do.  And it drives me to hunger for more of Him.

What if we had the confidence, as the Scripture states, to go “boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16)?  Not just mental assent to the truth of this verse, but to know this truth deep down where our hurts and fears reside.  What if this promise became a living reality in our lives?

What if we really believed that God loves us, no matter what, and listens to our prayers?  Would that change your prayer life?  It would mine.  Would you seek Him first in your frustrations and disappointments, or would you continue to try to manipulate people and circumstances to your own advantage?

What if we truly believed what it says in Romans about each of us?  God tells us “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs— heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17).  Do you feel like a child of God?  Do you think of yourself as a child of God?  And more than that, do you live like an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ?  But that’s who God says we are, no matter how strange and foreign it may seem.


Back to Acts

Together, we’re going to take the book of Acts and try to understand it through new eyes.  Not our 21st century eyes of doubt, cynicism and failure, but through the eyes of the Spirit and in childlike, trusting faith.  We want to see the Lord for what He says, and what He does, and believe His words are true for us today.  We want to understand the book of Acts as not some ancient story about how the church was, and can never be again, but for how things should be. How things could be. And hopefully, how they are.

We want permission to be able to dream again.

So join with me as we strive to uncover the truth about who Christ is and how the Holy Spirit works in our life by looking at an in-depth study of the church in the book of Acts.

It should be quite a ride.  I hope you’ll join with me.

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Just Say No

Just Say No

My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
Proverbs 1:10

The Nike slogan, Just Do It, was reportedly coined in 1988 in an advertising agency meeting and was inspired, according to Dan Wieden, by convicted killer Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison on January 17, 1977. And this classic slogan, Just Do It, has been the most recognized and successful trademarks in the history of athletic footwear.

The loving father in Proverbs 1:10 is also coining a phrase for his naive and inexperienced young son in regards to sin. And just like the Nike slogan, the father’s words are crisp, pointed, and direct. “My son, if sinners entice you, Do Not Consent.” Or, to put it in Nike terminology: Just Don’t Do It.

Don’t Give In. Don’t Give Up. Do Not Consent. Just Say No. Just Don’t Do It.


Do Not Consent

This is one of the classic statements in Scripture regarding man’s free will. For decades, for nearly a century in fact, there has been much debate regarding the Sovereignty of God versus the Free Will of Man. This debate has basically centered on the question of “Where does the Sovereignty of God end and the Free Will of Man begin? Or, “How can God be sovereign in all things yet give free will to men?” For to us, seeing only what fallen men can see, sovereignty and free will appear contradictory. Like polar opposites. Different sides to different coins.

And this is never more true than in trying to understand the doctrine of salvation.

Does God, as the Scriptures teach, “choose us in Him and before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and then give us faith to place in Him based on His choice of us and not our choice in Him? In other words, was Jesus truthful when He said “you did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain”? (John 15:16). Or do we, by carefully examining the claims of Christ, freely choose Him as our Savior and, in doing so, secure our salvation by our own free will? Does the gift of salvation come by our choice in Him or by His choice of us? And if the latter, what is that choice based on? Our merits? Our future potential? Maybe our standing in the community? Or maybe it’s our ability to comprehend and understand all the facets of the atonement and therefore choose, based on our own inherent intellect, to believe His claims about Himself and place our faith in Him?

That all sounds good. But none of it is really true, no matter how true it may seem to us.

The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign in all things (Psalm 115:3), including our salvation. After all, He is God. And as God, He alone is omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (all present) and omnipotent (all powerful) and can do whatever He pleases, without having to give account to anyone, especially you or me. So God can “have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). It’s His choice, His will, and it’s not based on any inherent merit of the ones who are blessed to be the recipients of His gift of grace. Romans 9:16 continues, “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” That’s right. It’s God and God alone who is sovereign in salvation, and not the other way around. No matter how good that might make us feel about ourselves.

But some of us, with a fallen sense of justice and fair-play, will reason and ask, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19). Or, why does God hold us accountable for not believing in Him when He is the one who chooses those who believe in Him in the first place? That doesn’t seem fair.”

And, to be quite honest, it doesn’t.

But God never answers this question in Scripture. Instead, He chastises us for even asking it. Why? Because the very question itself calls into question and impugns the character of the Father who chose us in Him in the first place.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:19-21).

In actuality, the Scriptures teach that God’s choice of us in Him was based on “His good pleasure” (Eph. 1:5, 9) and nothing more. He chose us simply because He wanted to, because He could. He chose us in Him because, for some reason we can’t fully understand, it pleased Him. And that fact alone should be reason enough to surrender our lives to Him in wonder and awe.

But salvation and election are subjects we’ll discuss at another time. For now, let’s look at our “free will” in regards to sanctification. Or, to put it another way, how our “free will” determines what we do with the gift of salvation once we possess it.


Salvation and Sanctification

Seeing there is much debate about God’s sovereignty and our free will in regards to salvation, we’re going to look at the time in our spiritual lives where it’s all free will. Where everything is our choice, and by those choices we either bring honor or disrepute to the name of Christ. And that time is after salvation, after the Holy Spirit has come to reside within us, after we’ve become the “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

And the name of that process is called sanctification, or the process whereby we learn to grow and live holy and perfect, “just as our Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

It is clear that after salvation our free will kicks in to the point that sanctification is almost always according to our choices, our decisions, and our free will. God has saved us and has gifted us with Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us with the ability to walk Godly in Christ and, because of that ability and power, He expects us to live that way. We now bring him Glory by choosing to “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

In fact, we see time and time again in Scripture how our free will is involved with the process of sanctification. For example.

Romans 12:1-2 – I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And (you) do not be conformed to this world, but (you) be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:7 – Therefore (you) submit to God. (you) Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

2 Timothy 2:22 – (You) Flee also youthful lusts; but (you) pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Joshua 24:15 – “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, (you) choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

As you can see in these passages there is an individual, personal, free-will choice each of us must make in order to live according to the Spirit within us and not according to our fallen flesh.

It is never more true than in the verse in Proverbs we are looking at today.


Just Say No

Proverbs 1:10 says, “If sinners entice you” or if sinners try to draw you away and compel you to sin, your immediate, knee-jerk, emphatic response is to stand firm and say, No. You do not consent. You do not give in. You do not go along with them. With steeled determination and resolve you dig in your heels and say, No. You remain steadfast. Solid. Unmovable. You defiantly refuse to yield, no matter what the consequences or costs. You yield not one inch. Not one word. Not for one moment.

Your answer is, No.

Why? Because you walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Gal. 5:16). You’ve decide to follow the Lord in all things, for you do what Christ commands (Luke 6:46).

This is what the Church calls mature salvation or being “sold out” to Jesus. But Biblically, it’s just the normal, everyday life of a Believer. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing noteworthy. The default position for the Believer in Scripture is to not consent to sin. Ever. Under any circumstance. No matter what our friends or family or fellow church members may say otherwise.

The bottom line is that you and I have to be the ones that don’t consent. We have to take responsibility for our spiritual life and actions. We have to take responsibility for the time we spend on the trinkets and toys of this culture versus the time we spend with the Lord. We’ve got to man-up and be the ones who take responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths or the things that we see with our eyes or what we allow our hands to touch. It’s our responsibility to live according to the Christ who gave His life for us.

After all, Jesus said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

So what are we do? When we’re enticed by our flesh, or by the world, our lust, pride, or by everything in us that wants to do evil, how do we respond? Do we look and wait for God to grab us by the arm and forcefully remove us from our temptation while we kick and scream like a spoiled child who can’t get what he wants? Or do we take responsibility for our own actions, and do not consent, do not give in, no matter how painful that may be?

This is what makes a Believer in Christ pleasing unto the Lord. It’s saying “no” to us, and “yes” to Him in all things. It’s dying to self and living to Christ. Remember?

Galatians 2:20 – I have been (what) crucified with Christ; (to what extent) it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live (how) by faith in the Son of God, who (1) loved me and (2) gave Himself for me.

Matthew 16:24-25 – Then said Jesus unto his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him (1) deny himself, and (2) take up his cross, and (3) follow me. (why) For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life (how) for my sake shall find it.”

Remember, “When sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov. 1:10). Do Not Consent like Eve did in the garden and plunged all mankind into sin (Gen. 3:6). Do Not Consent like David did while looking lustfully at a woman who was the wife of a close friend (2 Sam. 11:2-4). And Do Not Consent to pride like Moses did and forfeited his chance of entering the Promised Land (Num. 20:11-12).

Instead, be like Joseph who did not consent to sin, even when enticed by the wife of Potiphar (Gen 39:8-9). Or like Job, who was severely tried and tested, as much as any man, yet did not sin by blaming God for his suffering (Job 1:22, 2:10). Remember, we cannot be forced to sin and then try to blame our sin on God (James 1:14).

It’s our choice. The responsibility is in our hands.

And as Martin Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

I pray this can also be said of you and me and the church today.

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Getting Serious

1.  When was the last time you gave into sin? Did is just come upon you and catch you off guard? Or did you have the opportunity to say, no, but chose to do otherwise?

2.  What prompted your decision? And what was the result? Did the sin satisfy? Was it all worth it in the end? Were there any residual effects to your giving in to temptation? Any blessing you lost?

3.  How long was it before you asked for forgiveness? Did you ask immediately? Did you wait a while? Maybe a day or two? Maybe longer?

4.  And, if you did wait to ask the Lord for forgiveness, why was that? What was your motivation? What were you thinking? What were you trying to gain? Were you, in some way, trying to punish yourself for your sin? Did you think, maybe, the Lord wouldn’t forgive you until some time had passed? Was there another reason for your delay?

5.  On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the examples we talked about in this chapter of those who yielded to sin and those who stayed firm. What can you learn from their stories of success and failure?

Eve – Read Genesis 3:1-19.
Moses – Read Numbers 20:7-13.
David – Read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.
Job – Read Job 1:6-2:11.
Joseph – Read Genesis 39:1-23.

Do you see yourself in any of these accounts? What would you have done differently if you found yourself in the same situation or facing the same temptation?

And what are you doing now when temptation comes your way?

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            podcast-25-25

 

No Equality in Heaven

No Equality in Heaven

For they will be a graceful ornament on your head,
and chains about your neck.
Proverbs 1:9

We live in a time where people fight for equal rights.  The right to vote, the right to work, the right to say what we want, marry who we want, do what we want, the right to live, and the right to die.  It seems like we all want to be equal in our own eyes with everybody else with no one standing out among the crowd and no one having more than another.

This drive for equality has now invaded almost every facet of our lives.  We don’t give trophies to the winners in Little League Baseball anymore.  Why?  Because everyone must be equal, which means no winners and no losers.  So everyone gets a trophy for just participating, for simply showing up, for buying a glove and a pair of cleats.  And by not honoring the winners, the ones who deserve the honor, who earned the recognition, it’s somehow supposed to make us all feel special.

We have to dumb down the tests in school because some students work harder than others and are more concerned about their grades and future.  And others… well, not so much.  So we make the tests easier and more generic for the less motivated students so they won’t feel bad or marginalized when others are rewarded for their diligence and study.  After all, everyone should get an A.  Everyone should feel good about themselves and no one should do any better than anyone else.  Why?  Because we’re all striving for equality.  And equality always tends to settle at the lowest common denominator.

But that’s not how life functions in the real world.  It’s the best and brightest, the ones who work the hardest, the ones who put in the long hours, and the ones who continually strive to learn more who are rewarded with the raise, the promotion, and the corner office.  It’s not the sluggard, the lazy, the half-hearted that’s honored in our society for their accomplishments.  The rewards and accolades go to the few who work diligently for them, and not to the many who don’t.

And as sobering as it may sound, the Kingdom of Heaven functions in much the same way.


The Rewards for Obedience

The father and mother in this Proverb have implored their young son to stay the course and keep focused on the things in life that really matter.  They know that he is about to enter into the fallen world of sin and deceit and deception and they are giving him their final words of affirmation to keep him strong whatever he may face.

The father tells him: “My son, hear (or, listen and obey) the instruction (or, discipline, correction, chastening) of your father, and do not forsake (or, abandon, walk away from, to ignore) the law (or, direction) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8).  In other words, remember how we’ve raised you.  Remember what you’ve been taught.  Remember the truth and do not walk away from it chasing other idols the world will try to tempt you with.

Remember and stay strong.

But why?  Why should the son listen to the “instruction” of his father and follow the “law” of his mother?  What will he gain from placing himself in a position that is sure to bring about ridicule and rejection from his peers?  What’s the pay-off for this young man?  What’s the upside from living a sin-free, committed life in Christ?

Proverbs 1:9 – For they (the “instruction of your father” and the “law of your mother”) will be a graceful ornament (or, a garland, wreath, a decorative headpiece worn as a sign of approval, honor, favor and acceptance) on your head (as a crown), and chains about your neck (or, a necklace of remembrance).

The graceful ornament symbolizes wisdom and prosperity coming from the father to the son and are his for the asking, if he obeys.  It is, in a sense, the son’s reward for listening, heeding and obeying the words of his father.

Which leads us to draw a few conclusions about rewards and also raise a few questions.

But note first, we are not talking about salvation, which is given as a gift, freely, based on faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross as the payment for the penalty of our sins.  No, in that we are all equal.  We are simply one hopeless beggar telling another beggar where we found bread.  What we are talking about are the rewards based on what we have done with the gift given us by Christ.  How faithful have we been in Him while living on this side of eternity?  And in regards to that, we can surmise the following:

One, the reward is conditional.  If the son listens and obeys, the reward is his.  And if he does not, does he still receive the reward?  And if so, on what basis?  Maybe for just participating?  For simply being a member of the family?  For being on the team?  The context would say, no.

Two, the reward is for him alone.  Nowhere is the promise given to the lost or disobedient or to those who are not the father’s sons.  Does that mean that not everyone is entitled to this reward?  Is it exclusive, reserved for some but not all and given only to the ones who meet the requirements of obedience?  The context would say, yes.

Three, equality is not the issue.  The reward makes the son special in the eyes of the father.  It’s a recognition of his grace, favor, love and acceptance of the son based on the son’s faithful adherence to the instructions of the father.  Does this mean not everyone is equal in the eyes of the father?  Does it mean there will be some who receive rewards and some who do not?  And, if that is true, is the granting of rewards primarily based, like in this verse, on obedience to the father?  The context would say, yes.


The Stephanos

In the New Testament we discover there are five crowns that the Believer can receive.  But note, the operative word is can.  These crowns are not guaranteed for just showing up.  In fact, the word used for “crown” is stephanos and doesn’t refer to a Kingly crown as a Monarch would wear, but a “crown or wreath or garland that was given to the victor in the public games.”  This is more of an overcoming crown given to those who have trained, fought well, and won.  In Scripture we find what is called the “imperishable crown” in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.  Next, there is the “crown of rejoicing” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19.  Then the “crown of righteousness” in 2 Timothy 4:8, the “crown of glory” in 1 Peter 5:4 and finally the “crown of life” in James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10.

These crowns are not guaranteed for just participating, they are given to those who have met some sort of requirement.  They are rewarded to those who have distinguished themselves among others.  They are not for everyone, but for the few, those who have earned them.  For example:

1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but (who) one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

This verse implies there are some who will not run the race heartily and will not obtain the prize or crown.  The admonition is for you to be different, to not be like the crowd, to run to win.

2 Timothy 4:8 – Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to (who) all who have loved His appearing.

But what if you don’t love the reality of His appearing?  What if you’re so enamored with this world you are of no good to the Kingdom?  What if you love this world (1 John 2:15) and not the certainty of His appearing?  Do you still qualify for the crown?

James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who (what) endures temptation; for when (what) he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

And what if you do not endure temptation, what happens then?  Are you still given the crown?  Or have you, by your own actions, disqualified yourself for the prize, the promised crown, by not meeting the requirements?  And what are the requirements of being “approved’?  Is it simply our love for Him?  And, if so, how is that manifested daily to make us approved or accepted in Him?


Casting Crowns

Many of us who have been brought up in the “everyone is equal so there’s no need to try too hard” morass of our fallen culture have come to believe that working for crowns or rewards is a futile effort since we don’t get to keep them anyway.  After all, Revelation 4:10-11 shows the twenty-four elders, which represent the church, the redeemed, you and I, actually “casting their crowns before the throne” in a profound act of worship.

We then reason, “So if I’m going to cast my crown, my reward that I worked real hard for at the feet of Jesus, geez, like what’s the point?  Then I’ll be just like everyone else who doesn’t have a crown.  So why try?  Why should I work for something I can’t keep?  Seems like a big waste of time to me.”

But that only shows the depravity of our love and commitment to our Lord.  We give Him the glory with our lips as long as we can keep the rewards to make us feel special and important among our friends.  And how selfish is that?

But don’t be deceived.  Salvation is a gift given freely by grace through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  In this, we are all equal.  But what we do with that gift, how we live our lives in Christ and for His glory, is another matter indeed.  And to this fact, the Scriptures have much to say about how truly unequal we may be in His Kingdom.  Consider these passages:

Matthew 5:12 – “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, (why) for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

But “great” is a relative term.  Great is compared to something less than great.  Those who are persecuted for the name of Christ will have a “great” reward in heaven compared to other rewards or compared to those who receive no rewards.  In other words, their reward will be greater than others.  Otherwise, why the admonition to be “exceedingly glad” in the face of horrific persecution and even death?

1 Corinthians 3:14 – If anyone’s work which he has built on it (what) endures, he will receive a reward.

And if it doesn’t endure?  Exactly.

Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each (how) according to his works.”

And that reward is applied “according to his works” in differing degrees based on differing degrees of works.  Just like it is in the real world.

You also have Jesus rewarding the faithful steward of ten coins with “being over ten cities” and the faithful steward with five coins of “being over five cities” and the unfaithful steward entrusted with one coin with nothing (Luke 19:15-26).  Jesus even went so far as to reward the steward with ten cities even more by giving him the one coin from the unfaithful servant.  Was that unfair?  Was Jesus playing favorites?  What about the faithful steward who was given five coins?  Was there something wrong with him?  Or was Jesus simply rewarding the most faithful with more?

And so it is with you and I in His Kingdom.


Jesus is Coming Soon

Jesus is coming soon and He is bringing His rewards with Him.  He says so in Revelation 22:12: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to (who) every one (how) according to his work.”

That’s “everyone according to his work.”

To those who “hear” and are faithful to listen and obey “the instruction of your father” and not “forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8), the reward for their obedience will be a “graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck” (Prov. 1:9).  Why?  Because our Lord is a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).  He rewards the diligent, the committed, the single-focused, the sold-out, the passionate, the faithful, the devoted, those that seek Him “as the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1).  But He never promises to reward the slack, half-hearted, lazy, slothful, indifferent, or the apathetic.  Never.  And neither would you.

Those that put heaven first and this life last will see great reward.  And those that don’t, will suffer shame.

As C.S Lewis said, “If you read history, you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Let’s strive to be so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good.

Will you join with me?


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Getting Serious

1.  What are you committed to?  What’s the driving passion of your life?  Be honest with yourself.  You don’t have to give the Sunday School answer.  Do you know what you’re committed to?  And, if so, how do you know?

2.  How much time do you spend on what you’re committed to?  How much of your life is tied up in that pursuit?  Can others see your commitment?  And are you known to others by that very commitment?  How has that passion impacted the other areas of your life?

3.  Have you received any rewards for your passions?  Have you received any notoriety or recognition because of what you’re committed to?  How did that make you feel?  Was the feeling lasting?  Was the end result worth the time you spent to get that special recognition?  Was it all worth it?

4.  Have you thought about how temporal and short-lived all the things we’re committed to in this world, either good or bad, truly are?  Our jobs, our degrees, money, fame, a good-looking physique, a new car, stylish clothes, a fat retirement account, a second or third vacation home?  Even if those things are noble causes like ending world hunger or bringing about world peace, it will still all pass away.  Have you considered the only wise thing to commit your life to is the reality of the next world, the eternal world, and your life in Christ?  And, if so, what are you waiting for?

5.  On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God?  And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the five crowns listed in the New Testament and read them in context. You will find them below.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25
1 Thessalonians 2:19
2 Timothy 4:8
1 Peter 5:4
James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10

What are they saying?  Can you obtain these crowns for yourself?  And, if so, how? What would you have to do or not do to meet their requirements?  Are you interested?  Does this seem like something to commit some time and introspecting to?

And, if not, why?  What is more important to you than receiving a reward from the Lord Jesus and joyously, as an act of worship, giving it back to Him?  Won’t you feel embarrassed to have nothing to cast at His feet?

And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?

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The Lost Art of Listening

The Lost Art of Listening

My son, hear the instruction of your father,
and do not forsake the law of your mother.
Proverbs 1:8

We live in a world that was birthed in the bed of rebellion.  From Eve’s rebellion in the Garden to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, we see the sin of rebellion, the open, hostile, rejection of authority, as one of the bedrocks of human existence.

But it’s beginning is far older than the book of Genesis.  For it was rebellion that caused the Lord to banish Satan and his followers from heaven and cast them down to the earth (Isaiah 14:13-15).  That’s why Satan is known as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).  In fact, Satan even boasted of this when he tried to tempt Jesus by offering to give Him “all the kingdoms of the world” if He would just “worship before me” (Luke 4:5-6).

And what is at the root of all rebellion?  Pride.

It was pride that brought low mighty King Nebuchadnezzar and drove him out into the fields, living on all fours and eating grass, humbled like an animal (Dan. 4:33).  It was pride that led Pharaoh to vainly fight against the Lord and not only see the destruction of all Egypt, but of his own house and family as well. It was pride that almost kept Naaman from being healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5;11) and pride that saw Haman hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:10).  And it was the sin of pride that led Peter to foolishly exalt his commitment to Jesus as greater than the other disciples when he said, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29).

But the Lord says He hates “pride and arrogance and the evil way” (Prov. 8:13) and that the prideful are so enamored with themselves they do not “seek God” nor is God “in any of their thoughts” (Psalm 10:4).  They are clueless, self-deceived, and so inward-focused they can see nothing but themselves.  They have themselves become the center of their self-created universe, the most valued and important thing in their lives, and their personal happiness and pleasure is the all-consuming passion of their short, sad lives.  But the Lord promises to humble the man who exalts himself (Matt. 23:12) and to bring to nothing the one who arrogantly smirks at both God and others (Isaiah 2:11).

The future of the proud and rebellious is indeed bleak.


Rebellion and Our DNA

But we are a people that see pride and rebellion as one of the core values of our society.  We spend countless hours watching movies and sitcoms that are saturated with the theme of pride.  Our popular music exalts self to the point that we have elevated self-indulgence and narcissism to an art form.  Even in our churches we find the worship leader, our own version of a personal Christian rock star, gets more face time and notoriety than the Lord Jesus.

But it gets worse.

We, as a people, rebel against anything and everything.  Why?  Because rebellion is cool and popular and pride, the source of our rebellion, is deemed a virtue in our culture.  Just think, we rebel against our government and refuse to be “subject to the governing authorities” as commanded in Scripture (Rom. 13:1-4).  In fact, our nation was founded on rebellion and we wear that rebellion as a badge of honor and celebrate it each July 4th as a national holiday.  We rebel against our employers, miserly giving as little as possible yet demanding they pay us all the more, always grumbling and never content with our wages.  And we do this in direct contradiction to the Word of God (Col. 3:22-25).  We even rebel against the authorities placed over us for our own good: our teachers, law enforcement personnel, older siblings, and even pastors and ministers.

And, most importantly, we rebel against our parents, or any person who loves us yet dares to place upon us expectations or standards we disagree with or that stifles our drive for independence.  And this rebellion begins almost as soon as we learn to walk.

It seems like everywhere in our culture parents are portrayed as “out of touch old fogies” or “old fashioned geezers” or “ignorant killjoys” that won’t let their children do anything they want to do.  And the children are often seen as the ones who have it all together, the ones who alone can think rationally and have their emotions in check, and the ones who can see the big picture and not get sidetracked on issues that don’t really matter— like respect, obedience, diligence, commitment, honesty and hard work.

After all, the last thing our children want to do today is ask their parents for advice or follow their instructions.  But that’s the exact admonition the Lord gives us in the Proverbs.


Learning How to Listen and Obey

Consider the words from a loving father to his naive, impressionable son:

Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.

In this Proverb we find the father, as head of his home and family, imploring his young son to listen and hear the law and wisdom of his parents in order to protect him from the evil and hurts in this world that want to ruin the young man’s life.  And how do we know this? Because all fathers want to keep their children from stepping on the same land mines they did.  All fathers want to protect their children from suffering the same hurts or making the same mistakes they did when they were young and simple-minded and thought they knew everything.  All fathers want their sons to learn from their own mistakes and not have to repeat them over and over again.

Remember?

So here we have the father speaking to his son, to “My son”— and pleading with him to “hear the instruction of your father” and not to “forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8).  This plea is not generic, but a deeply personal and passionate plea coming from the lips of a loving father to his naive, gullible young son.  So much so the phrase “My son” is used almost twenty times in the Proverbs alone. 1

And what’s at the core of the plea?  To “hear” or “listen” to someone wiser than yourself.

The word translated “hear” is shama and means more than just letting sounds bounce off your ear drums to cause a recognizable vibration.  It means to “listen” or “hearken” and to “obey” what has been heard. It’s a two-fold definition.  It means to both listen and obey.  Not one or the other.  But both.

But to “listen and obey” what?  The “instruction (or, discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves) of your father.”  The command is to “listen and obey” what the father has to say.  The word for instruction is the same word we find in Proverbs 1:2, 3, 7.  It’s the same instruction that “fools despise” in Proverbs 1:7.  It’s the same instruction God promised the book of Proverbs to reveal (Prov. 1:2).  And it’s the same instruction given us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But note this, listening without obedience is still disobedience.  For the son to listen to the instruction of the father and not obey that instruction is the same as not listening at all. It’s nothing more than pride and rebellion and a forsaking of the “law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8).


To Forsake is to Abandon

The word “forsake” means to “leave alone, ignore, or abandon.”  And the word for “law” is torah and is a general term for “instruction and direction” either from God or man.  So the command is to listen and obey the instruction and discipline of your father and not to ignore or forsake the directions of your mother.  Both parents are in play here.  Both are important.  Both are involved in shaping the character of the young man.

And the son’s only job in all of this is to not play the fool but “listen and obey” the words of the two people who’ve loved him more than anyone else on the face of the earth.  He’s to embrace and not forsake the directions given him by his parents, the very ones who have sacrificed their lives to give him life and a future.  And part of their instruction is to impart the wisdom they have accumulated over the years making many of the same mistakes they are hoping to keep their son from repeating.

It’s classic Parenting 101.


The Lost Art of Listening

But one of the great tragedies facing the young son is that there is so much noise surrounding him that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to hear the needed words of wisdom.  And it’s the same for us today.  Everywhere we go we’re surrounded by noise.  The radio is constantly playing in the car even when we’re not conscious of it. It’s a natural force of habit when we drive.  We have the sound of the television playing in the background even when we’re not watching it or know what’s on.  It’s just there.  Always.  Just a constant hum of music and dialogue.  And when we walk, run, sit, or wait in line, we instinctively cram in our earbuds to drown out the sounds of reality for the noise of our own choosing— as if the latest song is more important than people and the activities of life all around us.

Listening and hearing is rapidly becoming a lost art and the consequences for the Church and the Believer are horrific.  Consider the importance of being able to hear and listen and ultimately obey the Word of God:

Proverbs 2:1-2, 5 – My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom (to listen and hear), and apply your heart to understanding (to obey)… then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

John 10:27-28 – “My sheep hear My voice (to listen), and I know them, and they follow Me (to obey).  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

What does this say about those who don’t hear His voice?  What about those whose lives are so filled with the noise and chaos of this life the very voice of Jesus is drowned out?  What about them?

And then over and over again we find this admonition from the Lord Jesus, in both the Gospels and the Revelation:

“He who has an ear to hear, let him hear!” 2

Remember finally, the Lord is not One who is loud, brash, boisterous or pushy and demands to be heard.  He’s actually quite the opposite.  After the Mount Carmel experience, He revealed Himself to Elijah at the mouth of cave, not in the “great and strong wind” that “tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces” (1 Kings 19:11).  Nor was He found in the mighty “earthquake” or even in the consuming “fire” that passed in front of Elijah— but in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that refused to compete with any of these things.  A voice so small and so still that you could easily miss it if you weren’t listening closely.  A voice that still speaks today if we would only take the time to shut out the noise of the temporal and listen intently to the voice of the eternal.

And when we hear Him, when we hear Him unmistakably break through the noise and clatter of our lives and speak to us today, our only response is to obey.  To listen and obey.  Just like the wise and loving father implored his young son to do.

Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.

After all, nothing else really matters, does it?

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Getting Serious

1.   Has God ever spoken to you?  And, if so, what was that like?  How did that happen?  What did God tell you when He spoke into your life?  And what have you done in response to that event?

2.   Has God ever convicted you of something in your life that you’ve refused to change or correct or surrender to Him?  If so, what was that?  How did He communicate His will to you and why have you refused to obey Him?

3.   Are there areas in your life that reek of rebellion?  Are there areas that you have defiantly refused to give over to Him?  If so, why?  What are you waiting for?  And if not, is it because you view your disobedience in much softer, generic, PC terms than rebellion?  But does your terminology slight-of-hand make your rebellion less of a sin?

4.   Do you obey your parents in all things?  How about your husband?  Your employer?  The government?  How do you view the authority of the church, your pastor, elders and ministers?  Is the Lord trying to speak to you in any of these areas?

5.   On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God?  And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the following phrase “He who has an ear, let Him hear” in the Gospel accounts.  Read them in context to determine what Jesus was speaking about when He made that all-important, yet somewhat cryptic statement.

What does “He who has an ear, let him hear” really mean?  Was Jesus speaking to everyone?  And, if not, who was He speaking to?  And what was He saying to them?  What was He trying to emphasize?  Can you see a pattern in any of this?  And, if so, what is that pattern?

And what does it mean for you today?  Do you have “ears to hear”?  Are you listening?  And if so, what is He saying and what are you prepared to do about it?

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Notes:

1. Proverbs 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11, 4:10, 20, 5:1, 5:20; 6:1, 9, 20; 7:1; 19:27; 23:15, 19, 26; 24:13, 21; 27:11; 31:2.

2. Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 7:8, 14:35; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.

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The Life of a Fool

The Life of a Fool

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7

In the Proverbs we are presented with the contrast between two types of individuals: the wise man and the fool.  We’ve already seen how the “wise man will hear and increase learning” and how a “man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5).  And now we’re introduced to the man who lives at the other end of the spectrum— the fool.

But what is a fool?  And what is it about a fool that compels him to “despise wisdom and instruction?” (Prov. 1:7).


The Fool Defined

When we use the term fool today we think of someone who acts unwisely or imprudently, maybe a silly person who tries to dupe, trick or prank us.  We often equate the term with being stupid, simple or naive.  But the word, as used in the Proverbs, has a much sinister meaning.

In Proverbs 1:7 the Hebrew word for fool is eviyl and means “foolish in the sense of one who hates wisdom and walks in folly by despising wisdom and morality.”  It describes one who “mocks when found guilty, one who is continually quarrelsome and one who is licentious in his behavior.”

After all, the Proverbs say that “fools hate knowledge” (Prov. 1:22) and “fools die for lack of wisdom” (Prov. 10:21).  The heart of a fool, the very center of their being “proclaims foolishness” (Prov. 12:23) and it’s against their very nature, in fact, “it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil” and do what is right (Prov. 13:19).  Fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9), and their mouth not only “feeds on foolishness” but “pours forth foolishness” like a flood (Prov. 15:2, 14).

Therefore, one who lives and thinks this way would naturally despise any “wisdom and instruction” that points out the errors in their actions or lifestyle.  Why?  Because “the foolishness of a man twists (or, perverts) his way, and his heart frets (or, is enraged) against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3) and the “way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15).  Plus, you can “grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22).  Their foolishness is embedded in their nature, it’s part of their DNA, it’s in the marrow of their bones.

But there’s more to a fool than just a rejection of the truth found in the Scriptures.  The verse also states that fools “despise” both the “wisdom and instruction” of God.  And despise is a strong word.  It means to “hold in contempt, to deem insignificant, to show scorn or disrespect for someone or something.”  So putting this all together, Proverbs 1:7 reads like this:

The fear (or, awe, profound reverence, terror and dread) of the LORD is the beginning (or, starting point, inception, genesis) of knowledge (or, discernment and insight into the things of God), but (the contrast) fools (or, those who mock when they are found guilty in their sin, those who are licentious or who are promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters and live immoral lives) despise (or, scorn, disrespect, ridicule and view as insignificant and worthless) wisdom (or, the ability to discern and judge what is right, true, and lasting) and instruction (or, discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves).

In fact, this truth is so important that Proverbs 23:9 restates it as such: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, (why) for he will despise the wisdom of your words.”


The Fool More Clearly Defined

But the Scriptures, especially the Proverbs, have much more to say about the fool.  In fact, the Lord gives us almost an entire chapter to show us, in graphic detail, the life and future of a fool.  Look what He says in Proverbs 26:1-12 and note the contrast between the wise and the fool:

As snow in summer and rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool’s back.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, (why) lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.

And there’s so much more.


The Fool’s Pay-Off

Which brings us to the pressing question, Why?  Why would anyone willingly choose the life of what the Scripture calls a fool?  Why would anyone foolishly run down the path that leads to only hardship, suffering, and destruction?  What’s the upside, the advantage, the benefit, the payoff for choosing to live and think as a fool?  And since most of our culture has embraced foolishness, what makes the life of a fool so obviously appealing?

And this is where the problem lies.  It’s a problem of perspective and belief.

You see, our culture calls a “self-made man” a hero.  We applaud the antics of someone who calls his own shots, who’s a leader among leaders, who refuses to take “no” as an answer and cannot be deterred in his passionate quest for what he truly wants.  We want to emulate the person who bows down to no one, who can “give better than he gets” and who is committed and single-focused on his own agenda and way of seeing things.

These are the attributes that create the celebrated icons of our society.  These are the character traits that lead to success in this world.  And if you desire to live like your heroes, then these are the types of people you must become.

Yet these are also the traits and convictions that make someone a fool in the eyes of Scripture.  Just think about it.  Our fallen, prideful culture says that the most important thing in this world is “me”.  It’s my wants, my rights, my desires, my opinions, my future, my calling, my future, my happiness, my importance… or simply “me.”  And so the mantra goes: “If I can’t love myself then I can’t love others. I have to love me first.” Or, as Shakespeare put it, “To thine own self be true.”  But to think like that and especially to live like that makes you a fool in the eyes of the Lord.


The Heart of the Cross is Sacrifice

Why?  Because the heart of the Christian life, the essence of the Christian message, is about love displayed in sacrifice and service to others.  After all, didn’t Jesus say “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)?

Then, if all this is true, why is the world almost irresistibly drawn to the lifestyle deemed as foolish by the Lord?  Why can they not see the error of their ways, the inevitable damning consequences of their selfish choices?  Why is the world so blind to the truth and why do they not only reject, but literally detest, the “wisdom and instruction” of the Lord?

The answer is found in the cross of Christ.

The greatest act of self-sacrifice known to humanity was displayed by Christ on the cross where He willingly died for the sins of others.  But this act of sacrifice and love, the agony of the ages, is considered to the lost, the unregenerate, the world, to those the Scripture calls fools, as foolishness to them.  In other words, the world calls the cross of Christ “foolishness” and therefore becomes a “fool” by despising the “instruction and wisdom” of the Lord. This is a tragic case of verbal gymnastics at its very best.

1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message (or, preaching, power, wisdom and instruction) of the cross is foolishness (or, moronic, absurdity, folly) to (who) those who are perishing (the lost, the unredeemed, the world), but to us (the elect, the redeemed, the children of God) who are being saved it is the power of God.

But there’s more. Read on.

1 Corinthians 1:19-31 – For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this age?  Has not God made (what) foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the (what) foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen (His action) the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen (His action) the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen (His action), and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (why) that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are (what) in Christ Jesus, who became for us (1) wisdom from God—and (2) righteousness and (3) sanctification and (4) redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”


It’s More than Mere Semantics

But this is much more than mere semantics.  These words have eternal consequences.  If you live in the world and believe this is your Best Life Now!, you will see the wisdom of God and the sacrifice of Christ as foolish or moronic.  But if you live in the Kingdom of God, you will understand that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but fools”, those who reject the gospel and all it entails, by their very nature, “despise knowledge and instruction” of the Lord (Prov. 1:7)

So which are you?  A fool in the eyes of the world for believing in the cross of Christ or a fool in the eyes of Scripture who rejects the very truths of God?  The choice is yours.  And the consequences of your choice are eternal.

So choose wisely.

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Getting Serious

1. Do you remember the time when you played the fool for the world and all it promised you?  What was that like?  Did the world deliver on its promises?  Or were you left disappointed and empty-handed?

2. What was it like for you when you began to understand the cross of Christ for what it truly is?  How did you pass from viewing it as mere foolishness to understanding and embracing it as the power and wisdom of God? (1 Cor. 1:18).  Can you describe that experience?  Have you had that experience?

3. Can you list a few examples from your own life when you despised the “knowledge and instruction” of the Lord? (Prov. 1:7).  Are their things in His Word that you disagree with or refuse to accept and obey? And, if so, what are they?  Do you see these instances as areas where you are despising God’s knowledge and instruction?  And if so, does that make you a fool?

4. What changes are you committed to make to align your life with the eternal, infallible wisdom of God?  Have you identified areas that need addressing?  And are you fervent enough in your faith to address those areas in your life, no matter the costs?  And if not, does that also make you a fool?

5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the following verses in the Proverbs that deal with the contrast between the wise and the fool.  Do a word study and define some of the terms used to make sure you have a complete understanding of what the Lord is saying in these passages.  Then ask yourself a few questions.

Proverbs 14:33 – Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the heart of fools is made known.

Proverbs 17:16 – Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, since he has no heart for it?

Proverbs 18:2 – A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.

What do these verses mean to you?  Can you see yourself in any of these warnings and contrasts?  And if so, in what way?  What does it mean when it says, “he has no heart for it” (Prov. 17:16).  Do you have a heart for God’s wisdom?

And what does it mean to be a fool today?  Do you know anyone the Scripture would deem a fool?  Do you have any of those traits in your own life?  And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?

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