Ungodliness Among the Godly

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. – Jude 1:14-16 ESV

To strengthen his attack against the false teachers, Jude has utilized imagery from nature and borrowed from Jewish intertestamental texts, specifically the book of 1 Enoch. He has already used this book once when describing a scene in which the angel, Michael, disputed with Satan over the body of Moses. This story is recorded in the book of 1 Enoch, but most likely a part of Jewish oral tradition. The book of 1 Enoch was part of what has come to be known as pseudepigraphal writings, all composed somewhere between 200-300 B.C. Also known as the intertestamental period, this was a time marked by seeming silence from God. He had sent no more prophets to the people of Israel or Judah.

The people of Judah had returned from exile in Babylon and were living in the land of promise once again, but they had no king and were relatively powerless and defenseless. During that time, a number of these writings appeared, bearing the names of Old Testament saints, such as Enoch, Abraham, Ezra, and Solomon. Their designation as pseudepigraphal is based on the fact that they profess to be written by Old Testament characters, but were written centuries after these individuals lived. In Greek, pseudepigraphos means “false inscription.” None of these books were considered legitimate by the early church fathers, and so, they were not included in the canon of Scripture. But they were most popular within the 1st-Century Jewish community. So, Jude’s use of these texts should not be taken as his endorsement of their authenticity. He is simply using contemporary and familiar resources to drive home his point.

In today’s text, Jude seems to quote directly from the book of 1 Enoch.

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. – 1 Enoch 1:9

We know little about Enoch, other than what we are told in the book of Genesis. He appears in the genealogy of Adam, recorded by Moses. And as Jude indicates, Enoch was the seventh name listed in that genealogy.

When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. – Genesis 5:18-24 ESV

Because of this Genesis text,  the Jews in Jude’s audience would have held Enoch in high esteem. Two times in this Genesis account it refers to Enoch as having walked with God. He was a godly man. And the passage in 1 Enoch that from which Jude quotes, portrays Enoch as having been a prophet of God. He spoke on behalf of God. And the whole reason Jude used that quote was because it spoke of God’s coming judgment against the ungodly.

Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way. – Jude 1:14-15 ESV

Notice the three times in which the word “ungodly” is used. That is Jude’s whole point. The false prophets he is warning the believers about are to be seen as what they are: Ungodly individuals who are committing acts of ungodliness. This does not necessarily mean they are unsaved or devoid of a relationship with Christ. Even the godly are capable of acting in ungodly ways. Those who are in Christ can find themselves doing un-Christlike things.

The real issue seems to be how these false teachers were treating God. The 1 Enoch passage refers to “the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” The primary problem with these individuals was their treatment of God Almighty. Jude calls them “grumblers, malcontents,…and loud-mouthed boasters.” They were ungrateful and prone to complain. And, as Jude pointed out earlier, they had a strong dislike of authority. They were driven by their need for control and their desire to meet their own selfish and self-centered agendas. Jude accuses them of “following their own sinful desires,” which simply means they were following the promptings of their own sin natures rather than the Spirit of God.

The apostle Paul warned about the inner conflict that is a very real part of every believer’s life on this earth.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other… – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

These false teachers were evidently losing the battle. And, according to Jude, their lives were giving evidence of the very things Paul said would mark the life of anyone who fails to yield to the Spirit of God.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Living according to our sin nature produces a whole host of unhealthy fruit. And the false teachers who were infecting the congregations to whom Jude was writing. The works of the flesh, as Paul called them, have a way of spreading. They’re infectious. As Paul told the Galatian believers:

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!
 – Galatians 5:9 NLT

It has to be irradicated and removed. It cannot be tolerated or ignored. When these kinds of individuals show up in a local congregation, claiming to be one of the flock and giving evidence of their faith in Christ, it may be difficult to spot them. But in time, the fruit of the lives will become apparent. Their true character will ultimately be revealed, and the condition of their heart will be exposed. When that happens, action must be taken. And, as Jude will reveal, the best defense is a strong offense. He will encourage the believers to rely on prayer and the constant pursuit of spiritual maturity to resist the influence of these grumblers, malcontents, and loud-mouthed boasters.

Spiritual maturity is the best weapon in our war against spiritual apostasy. An ever-increasing faith in Christ is the most effective antidote to godlessness in the camp. In the book of Numbers, we have recorded the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and God. They were unhappy with their lot in life and were grumbling about their lack of food and water. So, as punishment for their ingratitude and lack of reverence, God sent a plague of poisonous snakes among them. When the people saw that God had sent His judgment on them, they confessed their sin to Moses and begged him to intervene on their behalf. So God told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8 ESV). And when anyone who had been bitten looked on the bronze serpent, they received immediate healing. But their gazing at the serpent on the pole took faith. They had no guarantee that anything would happen, except for the word of God.

The best way to deal with sin in the camp is to look at Christ on the cross. We must focus our gaze on the sole solution to all sin, the Savior who was sacrificed on behalf of sinful mankind and offered Himself as the payment for mankind’s sin debt to God. There will always be false teachers among us. But a spiritual strong congregation who has a healthy love for God and a confident dependence upon the saving work of Jesus Christ will prove to be an unwelcome and unfruitful place for falsehood to gain a foothold.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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No Brag. Just Fact.

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV

Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public. 

And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.

Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.

While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus and  offering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.

 

An Audience of One.

But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 ESV

While Paul was willing to become all things to all people in order that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), he was not willing to submit himself to the authority of men or to work for their approval. Fourteen years after his conversion, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the original apostles. He had already been doing ministry among the Gentiles for well over a decade. He had not traveled to Jerusalem to get their approval for his ministry. In fact, Paul quite boldly proclaimed:

…the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.) Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. – Galatians 2:6-7 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). He also told him, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT). For Paul, the approval of God was paramount. He considered himself a servant of God and so his only concern was to do what his Master had commanded him to do. And yet, because he was human, Paul was sensitive to the constant criticism he faced. His ministry was always under siege, and the most vicious attacks seemed to be leveled at him personally.

It seems that, in the case of Corinth, Paul was being accused of having overstepped his bounds. Corinth was a long way from Jerusalem. Paul might argue that he was under the same commission Jesus had given to the original disciples, to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), but his critics were saying he was out of bounds in Corinth. It was their territory. He needed to mind his own business and leave them alone. But Paul considered Corinth well within his God-assigned jurisdiction. He was the one who had brought the gospel there and had helped plant the first church. “For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:14b ESV).

When ministry becomes a competition or a quest for fame and glory, everyone loses. Those who minister in order to gain recognition or the approval of men will always find others who minister as adversaries, not allies. Paul was not out to build his reputation, but to build up the body of Christ. He was not motivated by man’s approval, but by God’s. Paul wanted to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21 ESV). The whole idea of ministerial boundaries and serving God for personal glory or gain, was foreign to Paul. He simply went where God told him to go, and he was able to say, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:19b-20 ESV). Paul’s passion was for evangelism. He longed to take the gospel to those places where the name of Christ was unknown and the message of the good news had not yet been heard. But Paul also had a desire to see those who had come to faith in Christ grow up in their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2). So while he was anxious to continue his missionary efforts and to take the gospel to places such as Rome and Spain (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:28), he was not willing to watch newly converted Christians languish in spiritual infancy or find themselves prey to false teachers. So he continued to reach out to the Corinthians, longing to see them grow. And it was his desire that they would increase in spiritual health and maturity “so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence” (2 Corinthians 10:16 ESV). He wanted to move on, but was not willing to do so if it meant sacrificing the stability of the work in Corinth.

When all was said and done, Paul was only interested in one thing: the approval of God. He truly operated under the idea that he performed his duties before an audience of one: God. Yes, there would always be others watching. There would always be some who complimented his work and others who attacked it. But at the end of the day, he was looking for God’s approval. He wanted to be able to lay his head on the pillow and find rest in the fact that he had done what God had called him to do. Which is what led him to say, “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18 ESV). When we do the will of God, we will find ourselves with admirers and detractors as well. We may receive compliments and equal amounts of criticism. We will have our methods and motives questioned. We will watch others attempt to take credit for what we have done. But as long as we are doing what we do for the Lord, it will not matter. Like Paul, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we perform our duties for an audience of one. All that is truly important is what He thinks. The applause and approval of men carry no weight when compared to the commendation of God. So, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV), and “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT).

Motivated By Grace.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV

It will become increasingly evident from the content of this letter that Paul’s ministry was being maligned or at least, questioned. His motives were also under the microscope, constantly being scrutinized and criticized by those who would choose to reject his authority as an apostle. But Paul responds with confidence, claiming that he and his companions “behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Paul can write what he is about to write with complete confidence, even boasting about it, because his conscience is clear. He knows what he has done and why he has done it. He has no reason to question his motives, because he knows that his actions were the result of God’s grace, not earthly wisdom. Paul had made this claim to the Corinthians in his first letter.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV

It was God’s unmerited favor that had produced the life-change in Paul. His words, actions, and even the content of his letters were the by-product of God’s ongoing grace in his life. God was working in him and through him, and he had no reason to take credit for it or apologize because of it. Paul says that his behavior had been marked by simplicity and godly sincerity. The Greek word for simplicity is haplotēs and it refers to “the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy” (“G572 – haplotēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Sep, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org&gt;). Paul is claiming that his conduct and speech have been free from hypocrisy or any hint of having a hidden agenda. What he has said and done has not been motivated by selfishness or intended for personal gain. After all, as he stated in the opening verses of his letter, his ministry has not made him rich and famous, but has resulted in affliction and even the threat of death.

The Greek word translated, “sincerity” is eilikrineia and it means, “purity” or “cleanness.” Paul uses this same word again in the next chapter.

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV

Paul’s conscience is clear because he knows his motives are pure. What he has done in his life has been the work of the Spirit of God. And that is especially true of his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians. Even now, as he writes the words of this letter, he reminds them that all of his previous letters “have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). It is his sincere desire that they fully comprehend what it is he is trying to say to them and what he is attempting to teach them. They might not get it right now, but he longed for the day when it all made sense to them. He wasn’t in this to win friends, but to make a difference in their faith. He wanted to see them experience all that God had in store for them – the full expression of faith in Christ lived out in everyday life. He longed for them to grow in godliness and to put off their old sin natures. He wanted to see them grow in their knowledge of God and their dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

You can get a sense of Paul’s heart as you read some of the prayers he prayed on behalf of the churches he helped start.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy – Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:16-20 ESV

Paul knew that if they would listen to what he said and apply it to their lives, there would come a day when they would find reason to boast or glory in all that Paul had taught them, because they will see the fruit of it in their lives. The day to which Paul refers is the return of Christ, when he and all the Corinthians will stand before the Lord. It will be on that occasion that they will fully comprehend the simplicity and sincerity of Paul’s methods and message.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV

Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was the same that he had for the believers in Philippi:

…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

Paul wanted to be a success, not so that he could gain recognition or earthly rewards, but so that he could stand before the Lord, seeing the fruit of his labors – the countless believers who had held fast to the word of life and remained faithful to God to the end. Paul’s motives were pure. His heart was sincere. His actions were the result of God’s grace in his own life. He wanted nothing more than to see the Corinthians grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They might not understand it now, but the day was coming when they would.

Foolish, Weak and Despised.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

The division taking place within the church at Corinth was based on pride. They were boastfully claiming, “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). They were each seeing themselves as somehow better or more spiritual because of who they followed. They were even bragging about who had baptized them, claiming to have been baptized in their name. Which had led Paul to say, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:14-15 ESV). Even those who were claiming to follow Christ were emphasizing His teaching more than His role as Messiah. They had become followers of men and adherents of their particular teachings, rather than followers of the very one whose death had made their salvation possible. 

So Paul felt compelled to remind them of pre-conversion state. For the most part, none of them had been wise, wealthy or powerful. They had not been from the upper crust of society. They weren’t known for their intelligence and erudition. Their influence and power had been minimal. In fact, Paul flatly states that they had been foolish, weak and despised. Not exactly a flattering assessment. But Paul’s objective was to get them to see the “foolish” nature of their salvation, not stroke their egos. There had been nothing about them that warranted what God had done for them. Even from an worldly perspective, they had not been deserving of God’s amazing grace and mercy. They had not been the brightest and best, the richest and wisest, the movers and shakers of society. When Jesus ministered on the earth, it was not from among the wealthy, wise and powerful that His disciples had come. They had been lowly fishermen, tax collectors and common men. Those that had followed Him during His three years of earthly ministry had been, for the most part, from the peasant class. And this trend had continued long after Christ’s resurrection. Paul reminded them, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT).

None of them had cause for boasting. They had done nothing to deserve their salvation. And their pride over who it was that they followed was misplaced. Later on in this same letter, Paul will tell them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). It was only as Paul displayed Christ-likeness that they were to emulate his life. It wasn’t supposed to be about Paul, but about the Christ-like character he displayed. Paul wanted them to remember that their status as children of God had been the work of God. It had been God who had called them, which is why Paul tells them, “consider your calling.” The Greek word Paul used was βλέπω (blepō) and it means, “to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine” (“G991 – blepō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul wanted them to take a long, hard look at their calling by God. So he reminds them three times:

God chose what is foolish…

God chose what is weak…

 God chose what is low and despised…

God chose. It was His doing. Not based on any merit or worth on the ones chosen, but solely based on His divine mercy and grace. And Paul reminds them that it was “because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV). Not because of themselves and not because of Paul, Cephas or Apollos. Those men had been nothing more than instruments in the hands of God. It had been God who had made it possible for the believers in Corinth to have a relationship with Jesus. And it had been Jesus who had revealed to them the wisdom of God. By His death on the cross, Jesus had opened up the way for men to enjoy righteousness, sanctification and redemption. With His death on the cross, Jesus had taken on the sins of mankind. Those who place their faith in Christ have had their sins imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to them. They now stand before God as righteous because of Christ. And they are going through the process of sanctification, their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And ultimately, they will enjoy their final redemption or release from the power of sin in their lives, when God glorifies them.

There is no man who can make these things possible. No human teacher can provide us with righteousness before God. No pastor can transform us into the likeness of Christ. No evangelist or theologian can make our glorification possible. These things are all the work of God, just as our salvation was. He called. He chose. He justified. He is sanctifying. And He will redeem. So if we are going to boast, we need to boast in God. We need to brag about all that He has done, is doing and will do in the future. He made our salvation possible. He has made our daily sanctification obtainable. And He will one day accomplish the seemingly impossible: our glorification. We owe it all to Him.

 

Salvation By Grace Alone.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. – Galatians 6:11-18 ESV

The fear of man. It has always been a real-life, everyday problem for believers and non-believers alike. Everyone fears being rejected, disliked, misunderstood or mistreated for their views. Our deep-seated desire for attention and affection sometimes drives us to do and say things that go against what we believe. We don’t want to be the odd man out. Peer pressure is a powerful force in every person’s life, and Paul knew that. He was fully aware that following Christ put a target on the back of every believer. Bearing the cross of Christ was a costly endeavor that often brought His followers rejection and ridicule. Paul had experienced this first-hand. But as he closed out his letter to the Galatian believers, he pointed out that the party of the circumcision, those individuals who were demanding that all Gentile converts undergo the Jewish rite of circumcision in order to validate their salvation, were doing so out of the fear of man. These Judaizers, Jews who confessed to be followers of Christ, were preaching their message out of fear of rejection by their fellow Jews. They also feared being persecuted and ridiculed for putting all their hope and faith in the cross of Christ alone. To do so would require them to reject their dependence upon the law and their reliance upon their own self-effort to justify themselves before God.

But Paul pointed out the absurdity of their logic. “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” (Galatians 6:12-13 NLT). They cared more about what others thought of them than they did what God would think about their actions. This was man-pleasing at its ugliest. Paul knew that their message had a deadly side-effect that would lead people away from the saving knowledge of faith in Christ alone. For Paul, the message of salvation was found in Christ alone by faith alone. It had nothing to do with works or human effort. It could not be earned. It was a grace gift provided by God Almighty Himself. Which is why Paul appended to the end of his letter, in his own weak and scrawling hand, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14 ESV). Paul wasn’t going to boast about his Hebrew heritage; his resumé as a Pharisee; his education under Gamaliel, the great Hebrew rabbi; or even his missionary exploits. At one point he confessed, “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me – and not without results” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NLT).  Paul had been transformed by the saving work of Jesus Christ. His efforts on behalf of the gospel were the result of the Spirit within him, not himself.

The primary issue threatening the Galatians believers was that of circumcision. But Paul said, “It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation by faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:15 NLT). This rule or principle, regarding the efficacy of the gospel, was one that would bring peace and mercy to all who lived by it. Giving in to the false message of the Judaizers would result in guilt, shame, and a never-ending attempt to win favor with God through self-effort. Paul found that choice appalling. He also wanted his readers to know that he was anything but a man-pleaser. He had suffered greatly in his effort to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. He had the physical and emotional scars to prove it. He closed his letter with the words, “I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus” (Galatians 6:17 NLT).

The message of faith in Christ is a difficult one for people to understand and even harder to accept. It sounds absurd. The story of God taking on human flesh, dying on a cross and being raised from the dead sounds crazy to most who hear it. Yet for Paul, it was the truth. He had seen it transform his life and the lives of thousands of others. The gospel was not just a message, but a powerful force for change in the world in which he lived. He believed in it wholeheartedly and preached it unapologetically. As he told the believers in Rome, living under the persecution of the Roman government, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because he believed in the power of the gospel. He was willing to suffer ridicule and rejection at the hands of men because he had placed his hope and trust in the promises of God. And he wanted every believer in Christ to know the joy of living with their faith placed firmly in the saving work of Jesus Christ and the future redemption promised to them by God. Their hope was never to waver from the simple message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Philippians 3:1-11

Knowing Christ.

Philippians 3:1-11

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

What a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of verses these are. In verses 10 and 11, Paul actually stresses three things that he has made it his aim to know. In the Greek, the sentence would literally read, “to know him, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.” So Paul wanted to know all three. The Greek word he uses is not just intellectual or “head” knowledge. It conveys an intimacy and experiential aspect to it. The Jews actually used this same word to refer to sexual intercourse between a woman and a man. There is no question that Paul knew Christ. He had come to know Him years ago on the road to Damascus. But Paul had a desire to grow in his knowledge of God, and he seems to link the three things he mentions in these verses together. Knowing Christ, the power that raised Him from the dead, and sharing in His sufferings. For Paul, they all went together and were essential elements for a vibrant relationship with Christ.

Intimacy with Christ will include a ever-increasing replication of the character and qualities of Christ. Paul wanted it all. He was not content to have a surface-level awareness of Christ. He wanted to truly know Him. He wanted to experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He knew he had that power available within him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). Paul wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on a daily basis. He wanted to know what it was like to be raised from death to life, from not just at the resurrection from the dead, but here and now – in this life. And Paul wanted to know and experience the same kind of suffering Jesus had experienced. He wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ, learning first-hand what it was like to undergo trials and tribulations all for the sake of obedience to the Father.

It’s interesting that Paul makes this statement at the end of a section where he addresses the false hope of human effort. As he has had to do elsewhere in his ministry, Paul was addressing the problem of circumcision. The believers in Philippi were being hounded by converted Jews, known as Judaizers, who were trying to convince them that they had to become “card-carrying” Jews if they wanted to truly be saved. This meant that all males had to be circumcised, and everyone had to keep all the Jewish laws and rituals. Paul stood vehemently against all of this. He would stand for nothing that added to the simplicity of the Gospel message of faith alone in Christ alone. There was absolutely no place for works or human effort. If merit or achievement were the standard, then he had a resume like no other. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, a keeper of the law, and even a persecutor of the church. But as far as Paul was concerned, all of that was literal garbage compared with knowing Christ as His Savior. Paul was no longer a law-keeper, attempting to make himself right with God through self-effort. He was a Christ-follower, relying on the work that Christ completed on the cross for his sake. “For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

So for Paul, human achievement was dead-end street. It achieved nothing and provided a false sense of hope. Knowing Christ was everything. Growing in his awareness and understanding of His Savior was the highest priority for Paul. He wanted to know in his own life the same kind of power that had raised Jesus from death to life. Paul wasn’t interested in some kind of sterile, intellectual knowledge. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life, even if that meant having to suffer. As Paul stated earlier in chapter two, “When he appeared in human form,he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:7-9 NLT). For Jesus, humility, suffering and obedience preceded glorification and honor. The same should be true for us as His followers. Paul wanted to experience what Jesus had experienced. He wanted his life to be marked by the same qualities and attitudes that Jesus had. The power of God showed up in Jesus’ life at the worst possible moment – in His death. Jesus experienced the presence of the Spirit even in His greatest times of suffering. It was how He survived the ordeals surrounding His trials and crucifixion. Paul wanted to know what it meant to experience those same things. So should we. Suffering as a result of our faith lends our walk a sense of legitimacy. It is proof of our fellowship with Christ. It also provides an opportunity for the power of God to show up in our lives. When we are weak, He is strong. God shows up in our darkest moments. His light illuminates our darkest days. Paul wanted to know Christ. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life. And he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ in order to understand and appreciate what Christ had done for him. Every other goal or achievement is worthless in comparison. But how odd these words sound in our happiness-obsessed, comfort-at-all-costs society. What a difference it would make in our lives and in our world if the words of Paul became our daily prayer: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

Father, these are hard words. I want to know Your Son better, but I am not fond of suffering. I want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in my life, but I am not always willing to let go of my own power and rely completely on His. I want all that a relationship with Christ offers, but I still hold on tightly to what I think this world has to offer as well. Continue to work on my life, giving me the capacity to view life the way Paul did. So that one day I might be able to express his words with equal enthusiasm. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Corinthians 12

Power In Weakness.

2 Corinthians 12

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

Paul continued to defend his credibility and the validity of his ministry and message. Yet he did so reluctantly. Bragging and boasting about himself didn’t come easy to Paul. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a lot to brag about. It was just that he knew that his ministry wasn’t about him, and by boasting about his own accomplishments, he was inadvertently taking credit for what God had done through him. So even Paul’s attempt to promote himself ended up focusing on his weaknesses instead of his strengths. Paul had every right to boast about his accomplishments, and everything he said would have been true. But he said, “I won’t do it., because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message” (2 Corinthians 12:6 NLT). In other words, Paul wanted his life to speak for itself. And for Paul, even the trials and tribulations of life were proof of his apostleship and his calling by God. He even viewed his “thorn in the flesh” as evidence of God’s handiwork in his life. We have no idea what this infirmity or affliction was. Paul doesn’t tell us. It could have physical or spiritual in nature. But we know that Paul prayed three different times that God would remove whatever it was from his life. Paul’s perspective on this problem was that, as bad as it was, God was using it to keep him from becoming proud. This thorn in the flesh was actually driving Paul closer and making him more dependent upon God. The loving Father’s response to Paul’s request that He remove this affliction forms the core of Paul’s outlook on life. “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

Paul saw God’s grace even in his weaknesses and the daily struggles of life. Success or an absence of trouble was not how Paul measured the effectiveness of his life. He had come to view weakness as a blessing, not a curse. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). Recognition and acceptance of our weakness allows us to take our expectations off of ourselves and place our hope in God. For Paul, it would have been foolish to brag about himself or boast in his own accomplishments. God was working in him and through him – in spite of him. His weaknesses had become God’s proving ground. Which is why he could say, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). What a radically different perspective that is. Paul saw weakness as an opportunity to see God’s power on display. He was constantly amazed that the God of the universe would use someone as powerless and impotent as him to accomplish His mission on this earth. The very fact that Paul was undergoing persecution, rejection, pain and suffering were ample evidence to him that God was at work in his life. His ministry was growing, even while he was suffering. His influence was increasing, even while his strength was diminishing.

Somehow, we have come to believe that the life of a Christian should be trouble-free and easy-going. We expect our path to be clear and our skies to be sunny. So when a little bit of trouble comes our way, we are shocked and surprised. We become angry and upset. We question God and wonder why He is punishing us in this way. But Paul would encourage us to see our circumstances differently. He would tell us to view our perceived troubles as opportunities to watch God work. He would beg us to embrace our weakness and impotence and turn to God for help. And then we would understand that our weaknesses really do make us strong, because our strength would be coming from the Lord. Paul was proud of his weakness. He was even willing to boast about it. It was at his greatest point of need that Paul was able to witness the great power of God. His insufficiency became the opportunity to witness God’s power and sovereignty in his life.

Father, may I continue to learn to embrace my weakness and Your power. Pride is such a powerful force in my life. I want to be self-sufficient. I want to be strong. I want to be able to handle all the problems and difficulties of life on my own. So You allow trials and troubles to expose my insufficiency and reveal my powerlessness. Then I have to turn to You. And when I do, You always show up. I gain strength as I watch You work in ways that are beyond my own capacities. Thank You for this reminder that Your power works best in my weakness. As long as I think I have what it takes to make it in this world, I will never enjoy the power available to me through You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

No Comparison.

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. – 2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT

Over the last two to three weeks, I have had two of my cars break down and require major, unexpected repairs. My father had to be admitted to the hospital on two separate occasions during that same time period. While he was there, the AC at his house went out requiring the replacement of the outside condenser unit. At the same time, the dishwasher and garbage disposal at my home both decided to call it quits. Then one of the cars I had just gotten out of the shop broke down on me as I was heading from the hospital back up to the church to teach a Bible study. It was the transmission this time. To say the least, it was not a fun few weeks. But as all this was taking place and I was reading through the letters of Paul, the thought dawned on me that I would have a hard time comparing war stories with the apostle Paul. If I tried to compare my difficulties with his, it would be like toddler trying to take on Mike Tyson. Talk about a mismatch.

In reading through 2nd Corinthians, we’ve reached an interesting place in the letter where we find Paul literally bragging about himself. It’s a somewhat awkward read and seems a bit unexpected from someone of Paul’s spiritual caliber. But there’s a method to Paul’s madness. He isn’t really bragging, but simply trying to make a point. There are those in Corinth who have questioned his authority as an apostle and his credibility as a teacher. A group of self-proclaimed apostles have shown up who are trying to discredit Paul, in order to elevate themselves in the minds of the people. As a result, they boast about their human achievements, wearing their curriculum vitae on their chest like a badge of honor. So Paul decides to fight fire with fire. He admits that he feels like a fool doing it, but if these men want to get into a battle based on comparative worth and worth, Paul is more than willing to oblige them. These people were putting high stock in their “Jewishness.” They were Hebrews and wanted everyone to know it. They believed their ethnicity gave them a leg up and made them more “Christian” than the Gentiles. But Paul assures his readers that he too is a Hebrew and an Israelite. He too is a card-carrying member chosen race and a descendant of Abraham. He is also a servant of Christ, just as they claim to be. In fact, he argues that he is a harder working servant of Christ and then he proceeds to give ample proof of his claim. What comes next is Paul’s laundry list of trials, troubles, difficulties and circumstantial setbacks. He had been imprisoned, beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, gone without food and water, and nearly froze to death. On top of all that, Paul had the constant pressing responsibility for the spiritual well-being of all the churches he had helped start.

Paul was not some fly-by-night, headline-grabbing, attention-seeking, self-serving and self-proclaimed spokesman for God. He was the divinely appointed messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. But if they wanted to get into a war of one-up-man-ship, Paul was more than willing to oblige them. He admits that his boasting “is not from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 11:17 NLT), but he is doing it to validate his message and defend his authority as a spokesman for God. But one of the interesting things about Paul’s boasting is that he only boasted about his weaknesses, humiliations and sufferings. He wasn’t bragging about his intellectual prowess or oratorial skills. Paul boasted that he had suffered as a result of his ministry. He was not a success in the eyes of many because his life didn’t seem to have the trappings of success. Paul made it clear that if he was going to boast at all, it would be about all those things that reveal his own weakness and his need for God’s strength. Paul didn’t pat himself on the back for having accomplished great things for God. He simply listed all the things that had happened to him as he faithfully served God. The very fact that Paul was still at it, in spite of all that happened, was more than enough proof of God’s sustaining power and Paul’s divine authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. God was at work in the midst of all the troubles. He was using Paul in spite of his weakness and countless obstacles. That was all the proof Paul needed. And it was all the proof he was going to give. Paul’s life was like that of Christ Himself. He suffered willingly and obediently. He sacrificed his comfort for the cause of the Gospel. He had learned to rely on God’s strength instead of his own. His life was marked by weakness and apparent failure, yet God was at work in him and through him. The Christian life is not a contest or cause for comparison. Our lives should reflect Christ and reveal the power of God at work in and around us. We should be able to boast about what God is doing in our lives. Our greatest testimony is a life of complete reliance on God. Nothing else compares.

Father, I want to continue to learn to boast about those things that reveal my weakness and Your strength. Don’t allow me to become too full of myself and in love with my own accomplishments. I am nothing without You. But I can do all things because of You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org