This sermon is number 9 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 9
"Needed Knowledge For The Church"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 3:16-23
We're turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, and I do hope you bring a pen with you - the study sheet that you have in your hymnbook is not so that you can look at something rather than look at me, it's there for your benefit take notes. You will need to take notes, and this outline that I give you week after week is by no means the whole of my outline, I wouldn't want to give you that - not only because you might want to preach it again, but you mightn't take note of what I'm saying! I hope that you'll take note of some of the things as we go through them. The subject tonight is 'Needed Knowledge for the Church'. We begin our reading at verse 16 - remember we are following on now from the account of what it will be to stand before the judgement, the bema, seat of the Lord Jesus Christ as believers, and face the possibility of having our building, which are the works that we have done, all burnt up as nothing before the Lord. We have been exhorted to build a good building, not of corruptible things, but of incorruptible things such as gold, silver and precious stones.
Now Paul is still in this train of thought, and he says in verse 16: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again", it is also written, "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's".
You maybe have heard the phrase, or the sentence and statement: 'Desperate times require desperate measures' - that's too often true in the days in which we live, that desperate times require and necessitate desperate measures. I would say that the church of Jesus Christ in this day of small things has got too desperate in the measures that they are resorting to, not only to spread the Gospel, but also to teach the truths of God to the church of Jesus Christ in the local assembly. I've had experience of being in a local church capacity, and having it said at diaconate level that we should get questionnaires and go around the doors and ask unbelievers what they think a church really ought to be, and what they think should be in a church for their specific needs. I remember being appalled at such a suggestion, not because we don't want to help the world around us - of course, that's one of the reasons why we're left here, to rescue the perishing and to care for the dying, to meet not just their spiritual needs but on some occasions their physical needs and temporal needs. There's a great danger that in doing this we fall into the trap in this day of small things, of getting desperate and resorting to the wisdom of this world, and human wisdom rather than the wisdom of God that we have been given very clearly within the revelation of God, within the Scriptures.
You, as you have travelled with me through this quite long epistle, and we've been taking it slowly verse by verse and statement by statement, you couldn't have failed to see if you've been here on previous evenings that God, through His Spirit in Paul, categorically tells us that we are always to reject human wisdom, the wisdom of this world, in favour of the wisdom of God that we have revealed to us within the Scriptures. In that light we're going to see this theme again this evening, and we're going to see it in verse 16, where we're told that there is perhaps something - if we're relying on our own human wisdom - that you may not know. Maybe if you're here, and you're long in the tooth, you may know this, but there's a chance that you may not know this or that you've forgotten it. Verse 16: 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?'. Something that you may not know: that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.
Then in verse 17 we want to look at something that you ought to know: 'If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are'. Then in verse 18 we're going to look at something that you thought perhaps you knew, that maybe you are wise and that you have some amount of wisdom, but Paul reminds us: 'Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise'.
So let's study this in more detail, and we'll look first of all at verse 16 - something that you do not know, or certainly something that the Corinthians did not know, and that's why Paul says: 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God'. Now we want to spend some time on this word 'temple' within the New Testament Scriptures. You will know, of course, that the New Testament is written in originally in Greek, and we have only one word in English for 'temple', and that is the word 'temple', but in the original Greek language in the New Testament there are two words that the Holy Spirit uses for this one English word that we have 'temple'. The first Greek word is 'hieron', and that is the word for the literal, material, physical temple that you see in Jerusalem in our history books - the literal bricks and mortar, if you like, Herod's temple and the temple that the Lord Jesus Christ, we know, went through and scourged all the hypocrites and the traders out of - that is 'hieron', that's the Greek word that the Holy Spirit uses. But then there's another word in the Greek which is 'naos', and this is used within the New Testament Scriptures when the Holy Spirit is talking about the temple figuratively or symbolically. When He's not talking about the literal bricks and mortar temple that you can touch, but a temple that is representing the place were God dwells, and it's not always necessarily the place that you can see, which is the Old Testament temple of God.
Now it's important that we understand this, so that we understand what Paul means when he says 'temple' right throughout the book of 1 Corinthians. For us to do this I want us to see where these two words are used in one particular passage, so I want you to turn to John chapter 2 for one moment, John chapter 2 - and do take a note of these things, because they'll help you, I believe, in your understanding of the Scriptures and even as you witness, perhaps, to folk who come at times and knock on your front door.
John chapter 2, and we'll read from verse 13: 'And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple', now that's the literal temple, that's the word 'hieron', the literal physical temple, 'And he found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple', again 'hieron', 'and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple', now there's a change of word here, 'naos', not 'hieron' that the Jews have been using, and that the Jews have been worshipping in, but now 'naos'. That tells us that the Lord is changing the emphasis now, and we know now upon the change of this word that the Lord is now not talking about the literal Herod's temple, but He's now talking about His own body. And if He's not pointing physically with His own hands and fingers to His own body, and I suspect He probably is, He's certainly in His change of word of 'temple' pointing to Himself in linguistics. 'Destroy this naos and in three days I will raise it up'. There you have it categorically, His resurrection He's talking about. 'Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple', naos, 'the temple of his body'.
Now if anybody is in any doubt of the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the grave, you have it very clearly here, that He claimed that He would rise again the third day, and you can see it. He said in verse 19: 'Destroy this physical temple that is representing my body, and I will raise it up'. Of course the cults that peddle their lies and false doctrine around our doorsteps, they don't believe that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Christian Science, they believe that all it was was in the mind of Christ a belief that was yielding to spiritual understanding, as if He had just risen from the dead in the mind of His disciples and in His own mind - because He believed it, it sort of happened in some kind of metaphysical sense. The Jehovah Witnesses, or as it should be called 'Russellism', they believe that no-one really knows what happened to the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, they even gave the suggestion that perhaps His body dissolved into gases and disappeared. Liberal theologians, modern theologians today tell us, and still keep on telling us, that it is no essential part of faith, the faith of Christianity, to believe that Jesus had a bodily physical resurrection - is it not? He said it Himself, and you can defeat them all in a few words, He said: 'I will raise it up'!
Now that's clear enough for me, and then you have John's commentary on it, that He spake of the temple of His body: 'When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said'. But what I want you to see clearly is this, that here is this word 'naos' spoken of figuratively as the temple of the Lord's body, and if we go to chapter 1 of John we see that it says that the 'Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us'. While the Lord Jesus Christ was on the earth, in the Gospels as we read of Him, He was God's temple, He was the temple where God's presence dwelt. I hope you can see that clearly, that this word 'naos' is spoken figuratively of the temple of the Lord's body.
But we move on, and if we read 1 Corinthians 6, just a few chapters on from where we're studying tonight - 1 Corinthians chapter 6, we find this word 'naos', the figurative use of the word 'temple', once more. This time it's referring figuratively to the body of believers, that means your body and my body that we're dwelling in this very evening, chapter 6 verse 19: 'What? Know ye not that your body is the', naos, 'the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?'. So this word is used of the literal physical body of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was on the earth, because God dwelt in the body, God manifest Himself in Christ's flesh. But now as we go into the New Testament dispensation of grace, and we see that the Holy Spirit has come upon the church at Pentecost in a way that He has never done in any other dispensation of time, we see that the individual believer is now called the temple of the Holy Ghost - that means you, where you're sitting now, and me where I'm standing, we are literal temples of the Holy Ghost.
Now we're not going to run ahead of ourselves, in a couple of weeks, God willing, we'll be dealing with this in more detail - but all I want you to see is that this word 'naos' is used figuratively of individual believers. If we go into Ephesians chapter 2 we see that it's not only used individually of believers, but it's used universally of the church of Jesus Christ - now not the local church that we are as we meet here this evening, but the church universal made up of every local church that names the name of Christ. Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 18: 'For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple', that's naos again, a figurative temple, 'in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit'.
The church universal, everyone that names the name of Christ, as they're seen from heaven in the Spirit - whether they're black, white, whatever background they come from, or whatever continent or country they are found in - they are all one temple, figuratively, for the presence of the Holy God of heaven to dwell in. So this word 'naos' is used of the body of Christ, it is used also of your individual body as a believer before God, it's used of the universal church, but in 1 Corinthians 3 that we're looking at tonight it is none of those renderings, but what it means in its context is what we are this evening as a meeting of believers in the local assembly, in the local church of Jesus Christ - that's what Paul is meaning when he says 'naos'. Look at this verse here, verse 16, again: 'Ye are the temple of God'. We know this because of the context that he has been writing about the local church and how they have to guard the truth of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, and how they have to build a good building in the local church - and here the local assembly is called 'the temple of God', or more literally rendered 'God's temple'.
If you don't believe me look at verse 9: 'For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's farmers, God's husbandry, ye are God's building'. I want this to sink in this evening: the local church, as we meet here at this very moment - now grasp this - is God's temple, God's holy temple. That means, at this particular age and dispensation of God, that God dwells within the local church. That means God is here! This is what God has chosen now to build up, this is God's work, this is where God makes us grow, this is where God saves, God glorifies Himself - this is God's building! Now, if we could just get this into our heads tonight that this is the temple of God! Now I'm not talking about the bricks and mortar, or the building that we're meeting in, I'm talking about the people that are met together this very night, and that whenever we meet together in this fashion as the church of Jesus Christ, God is here!
I tell you, if we could really grasp hold of this and let it sink into our minds and into our meetings, I think it would be a very different place. I think there would be a very different atmosphere as we came into this building, not because there's anything special in the building, but because we know as we are met together in this fashion that God is here. Do you not think that we would tiptoe our way in? Do you not think that we would cut out some of the idle chitter-chatter, and we'd start to concentrate our minds and our hearts on the fact that the Lord is here? I'll tell you, as I've been before God today seeking God's face, and dissecting this message, I've been challenged about the way that I prepare my messages before God, about the prayer that I put into my messages, about the way that I dissect the word of God and present the word of God, about the way that I tend the flock of God - because this isn't a job! This isn't a way to put in a spare hour on a Monday night, this is the temple of God and God is here! At least, we're meant to believe that He's here...
Sunday School teacher, would it make a difference in how you prepare your lessons, how you teach the children, to know that you're doing it on behalf of the temple of God? I tell you, would it make a difference in the way that you come clad to the house of God? I'm not one of these people that believes that you have to wear a three-piece suit and a hundred pound hat on your head, that's not found in the word of God. But I'll tell you, in our casual nature that we come into God presence, it can be seen at times in our dress - and I do get distressed at times, when I see people dressed in certain ways coming to worship God, the immodesty at times that there is in some of the sisters, and we have to turn our eyes away because we don't want to look at their legs, we want to look at the Lord!
If we wanted really to believe that God was here, I tell you, it would make a difference...it would make a difference in the things that we say in our speech; it would make a difference in why we're undecided over church membership, it wouldn't be just an option, it would be something that we'd have to do because God's here and this is the temple of God. It would make a difference in obeying the Lord and meeting around His Table, because He is there and He's looking for those who want to be there and remember Him. It would make a difference in whether we obey the scriptural injunction and ordnance to be baptised, because it's a command of the Lord to the Lord's people who are the temple of God! It would make a difference in how deep we dig in our pocket as we give to the Lord, you know it's shameful! Shameful! You know that our Treasurer never divulges who gives what in this church, but I tell you he doesn't need to, because I know that the high percentage of giving is from those who can't afford to give - the elderly of the congregation - because it's always the same no matter where you go.
Oh, would it not affect our giving if we really believed that God was here. Elders, would it not affect the way we make decisions, the way we plan, if we realise that we have been called upon by God to direct the flock of God, which is the temple of God? Deacons, would it affect your service, would it affect the way you put the hymn books out, the way you turn the lights on? I'll tell you, I've been really touched today by this, but what we find in this verse is this: if there's anyone here in this meeting this evening who's a stirrer or who's a troublemaker, it ought to affect the way that you're conducting yourself, because you're now in the temple of God, you're in the temple of God.
This is what Paul is talking about: Christ's body, His holy body that God had prepared for Him, it's called the temple of God, the believer's body is called the temple of the Holy Ghost, the universal church is called the Holy temple in the Lord, and the local church here is called God's temple. I'll tell you, if you go back into the book of Exodus and you see the tabernacle, and you see those pillars being put out, and the oblong building - a bit like the building we're in this evening, a similar shape - and they got these nine foot hangings of twined linen, and they put it over these pillars, and there was only one door to go in, through the Eastern entrance. You had to go past the altar of the burnt offering, and past the laver, and then you go through the door and find yourself in the Holy Place. Then you see that big veil that you find talked about in the New Testament, the veil that was rent from top to bottom when the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross - and if you were to go through that veil you would come into a place called the Holy of Holies. Do you know what it's called in the Greek? 'Naos', the place where God's presence dwells. I'll tell you, if you know your scriptures you will know that there was only one man who was allowed to go into that place once a year, and if anyone else stepped into that place they were put to death - not by Jewish laws or lawyers, but by the Lord God Almighty. Yet that was the place that God wanted to talk with His people, and I'll tell you this - better than all of this Old Testament typology - that Holy of Holies is the place that we are in this very moment, in the New Testament local church. Do you believe that?
Well, I have been brought to believe it today by the forceful evidence of the word of God, that this is the place that God wants to talk to us, this is the place where we stand in the foundation of the blood, this is the place that we have fellowship with God between the cherubim - and I think if it really was, and if we believed it, we'd be careful about what we did in it, and what we said when we're here, and when we come here, and when we go out of here, and what we say about those people in here! What does the book of Hebrews say? 'Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil - that is to say His flesh'. This word 'naos' is used in the book of Revelation, apocalyptically, of the temple that one day will come to pass that you can read about for yourself in Revelation. It's also used of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, which are the temple in the new and heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22. All of this word 'naos', figuratively, as the temple of God, is pointing towards: this is the very presence of the living God, and the place where He has chosen to dwell in this age is the local church, the assembly.
I tell you, this is no social club, this is no political party, this is the temple of the living God. Well, does it make any difference? Will it make any difference? This is something, perhaps, that we don't know, or at least that we've forgotten. The reason why it's so special is, as verse 16 tells us: 'The Spirit of God dwelleth in you', as the temple. You can't be in the local church without having the Holy Spirit in you, you can't be in the church universal without having the Spirit of God dwelling in you - no matter what any church or theologian says. But I tell you, if the Spirit of God is in you, and you come among God's people into the temple of God - does it make any difference in the way that you behave?!
Oh, this is something in this day and age that we need to know, but there's something pressing that Paul wants us to know, that he feels in verse 17 that we ought to know: the seriousness of the responsibility of being in the temple of God. It's this: 'If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy'. Sometimes when I hear people talking after I preach in these Bible readings, you'd think I wrote the Bible, I didn't write the Bible! I just give you what God has said - sometimes I might get it wrong, I'm not infallible - but these are the words of God: 'If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy'. And I'll tell you better than that, the word for 'defile' in verse 17 is the same word as 'destroy', where it says 'him shall God destroy' - so you could read it like this: 'If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy'. 'If any man corrupt', is another translation, 'the temple of God, him shall God destroy'.
You remember I told you that only the high priest, one man, once in the year, on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies - and anybody else who went in and dared to even put a foot in that place would drop dead, because it's holy! I don't think people realise the seriousness of what it is to defile and corrupt the temple of God - now remember what we're talking about here, it's the local assembly, the local church where God dwells. Any attempt to reach out your hand to corrupt that local assembly, or to defile it, or to destroy it by words or by deeds - now listen carefully man: God will destroy!
We tend to dilute God's words, you know, at times - but if you turn to 2 Samuel for a moment, 2 Samuel chapter 6, and I know this is the Old Testament, but I'm just giving you an illustration about how the place where God dwells is so important. Second Samuel chapter 6, and we read about a man called Uzzah, we read from verse 1: 'Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God', now that was just the place where God's presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies, a gold box which was the visible sense of God's presence, '...the ark of God from thence whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims' - there you have it, God presence. 'And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God'.
Now, if you've got a good marginal Bible, you look to the margin for that word 'error', and it says 'rashness'. God struck him down for his rashness, he was too quick with the things of God - if I could say it like this: he was too familiar with the things of God, and his familiarity bred contempt, and he thought that he could just put his hand out because he'd been with the ark of God so long he thought he could just steady it. God struck him down, and it says in verse 9: 'David was afraid of the Lord that day' - I'll tell you, it makes you afraid when you see the fear of the Lord in this way.
We'll go to the New Testament for a moment, to Acts chapter 5, some of you will know where I'm going to - Acts chapter 5, the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Nothing can make us believe other than that they were children of God, disciples. Verse 1: 'A certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it, at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things'...and the exact same thing happened to his wife in verses 10 and following, and the fear came upon the church because these people - now mark this - were playing fast and loose with the temple of God.
I hope the fear of God's coming on you, I can tell you it's coming on me - I can't feel it at this very moment in time. Now don't get me wrong this evening, because I don't believe that Paul is talking here about people who are poor builders that will stand before the judgement seat of Christ, but I believe Paul specifically in verse 16 is talking about people who want to destroy God's building totally. I believe what he's talking about is what we find in Acts chapter 20 and verse 28, where he warned the elders in Ephesus, who he asked to come to him, he told them: 'Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them'.
I believe that what Paul is saying here to the Corinthians is this: the devil has his disciples and his false teachers who want to come in and to destroy and to corrupt the building of God, don't you be found in the devil's work! Don't you be found following the devil's disciples! For perhaps in the fact that you are following them, and their fruit is found in you, for all you know you mightn't be one of the Lord's at all! That's what Paul is warning against. In these days that I hear of splits here, there and everywhere, over the carnality of men - it's never over doctrine, and often doctrine is used - God forgive men for this - doctrine is used as an excuse for separation over carnality. I'll tell you, I wonder, I really wonder is this destroying the building of God?
You can fill in the gaps, but all I know is that in Matthew chapter 18 the Lord Jesus Himself said: 'Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea'! Because if you see the seriousness of what the local assembly is, the temple of God where God dwells, and you realise that - as Paul says in verses 16 and 17 - that it's holy, the place where we worship the Holy One, the place where we lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting, praising and praying to God. We should realise that as we look around the Holy Word of God and preach it, and testify the holy gospel of God, that we are on holy ground - and if you realise you're on holy ground there's a whole lot of things you'll not say, and a whole lot of things you'll not do.
I think we've lost this. Remember Jacob, he had the dream of the ladder going to heaven - do you remember what he said? He was afraid, this is what happens - and it's not a bad thing sometimes to be afraid of God - he was afraid and said: 'How dreadful is this place, this is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven'. God said to Moses out of that burning bush: 'Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground'. The Psalmist said: 'Holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord, for ever', but Isaiah, in chapter 64 of his prophecy, lamented: 'Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste'.
Well, something they didn't know was that they were the temple of God; something they needed to know was that a man or woman that by their hands or by their words seeks to destroy the temple of God betrays their lineage and their parentage as of the devil, or they're following the teachers of the devil even if they are the children of God, and they need to beware because they can be destroyed. Something you thought you knew in verse 18: let no man deceive himself. Now we don't have time to go through all the Scriptures, but Paul in chapter 6 and verse 9 says to let no man deceive you, certain people will not enter into the kingdom of God - and he gives a whole list of immoral types of people that can never get into heaven. I warn you this evening, that if you're living a lifestyle like this, chapter 6 and verse 9, you will never be in heaven - never be in heaven! I don't care how many times you professed Christ, or how many sinners prayers that you have prayed, you will never be in heaven.
Then he says, in chapter 15 I think it is, and verse 33, he talks about how evil communications corrupt good manners: 'Be not deceived'! Most of the main New Testament writers talk about how you can deceive yourself, I hope you remember 1 John chapter 1 verse 8: 'If any man say that he have no sin, he deceives himself'. John's just talking there about the nature of sin in us, if you think that because you're saved that that sinful nature has been eradicated out of your body - and there are some believers that believe this - you're deceiving yourself! The truth of God is not in you! Then he goes on in verse 10 I think it is later on in chapter 1, and he says: 'If you say that you have not sinned', and now he's talking about practical sin, doing wrong things before God - if you say that you've never done things wrong, you deceive yourself and you call God a liar!
You could go on to other apostles like James in chapter 1 and 22, and he talks about pure religion and undefiled, and he talks about how if your tongue's not right, and your deeds aren't right, you're deceiving yourself about your conduct before God. You go into Galatians and it says: 'God is not mocked, be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap'. You see, all this is testifying that believers are often guilty of deceiving themselves about themselves before the Lord - literally 'deceiving yourself' could be translated 'giving a false impression, whether by appearance or by statement or by influence, that you are something that you are not all'. The tragedy is you can even deceive yourself that you are that thing, and as the man has said: 'People might think you're a fool, but you don't need to open your mouth and prove it to all of us' - and that's what people often do. It's because they deceive themselves about the wisdom that they think they have.
The church of Corinth were corrupting the building of God and the temple of God by trying to fuse together the wisdom of men with God's wisdom, they were trying to marry the Greek philosophy of Corinth with the Christianity of Corinth, and it couldn't happen. If you look at verse 18 for a moment, Paul says: 'If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world', the Greek word he uses for 'world' there is the word 'aeon', which literally means 'age'. He's talking about 'age', the wisdom of this present age that the Corinthians were living in. 'If any man seems to be wise in the wisdom of this age, it's foolishness with God'. Then look at verse 19: 'For the wisdom of this world', now he uses a different word for 'world' there, the word 'cosmos' which means the material world. Now why does he use two different words? One 'aeon', meaning this age that we live in; the other 'cosmos', meaning the world around us, the material world, the trees, the fish, the mountains, the sky. Paul is communicating to this church, listen: those who are wise in this age's wisdom need to realise that it's only the material wisdom that you see around you, it never considers the spiritual divine wisdom of God - it's never spiritual!
Let's whittle this down and bring it home to us this evening, what are we talking about? If you're looking around you as a Christian to the material things of this world, the material wisdom and philosophy of this age, you need to realise that you're not spiritual and you can never be spiritual if you dwell only in that realm. That is not the wisdom of God, and there's a warning here to elders and to pastors and to leaders within the church, this is what Paul is saying to us this evening: don't run the church by human wisdom! I'll tell you, it's a revelation to some people to realise that you can't run the church like a business; and when you're appointing leaders and deacons and people to positions, that you don't appoint them concerning the position that they have in society, or how good they are at finances, or how high up the echelons of their own particular professions they have arisen - God says that is foolishness! There's a day coming when we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and we will answer for this: whether we have built the church on human wisdom or divine wisdom!
Don't you ever forget that the world depends on promotion and prestige, and influence and money, but that's not what the church depends on - the church depends on prayer, the Holy Spirit, humility, sacrifice. You go into the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps when the church was in its purest, at the very beginning, and you'll see that the church didn't own any property, they had no influence in politics our government, they had no treasury - Peter said to the man at the temple: 'Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk'. These leaders in the early church were ordinary, uneducated individuals. They weren't worried about money or numbers, they didn't bring celebrities to get a crowd - yet the Acts of the Apostles says they turned the world upside-down.
I'll tell you, this is something that we perhaps thought we knew, how to direct the church, how to build a church - Paul says, don't you run the church with human wisdom. How are we operating? Let's ask the questions - elders, deacons, members - how do we operate as a church? In the material wisdom of this age, which is of the 'cosmos', which is never spiritual, or do we seek God for His wisdom and direction? He's saying something else here, he says: 'Don't judge the Scriptures by the wisdom of this world'. Now I don't watch the television on the Lord's Day, apart from the fact that I don't even have the time to watch it even if I wanted to, but I taped a programme last night that I haven't had a chance yet of watching, about Moses and some of these miracles that took place that we know of in the Old Testament Scriptures. It's done by a man called Jeremy Bowen, but it's on the BBC - and he did a programme recently on the Lord. But I read a little outline about the programme in the Daily Mail on Saturday, and I hope it's factual because this is what the programme is all about: 'The terrible plagues', and I quote, 'of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea are two of the most amazing stories in the Bible. Now new research shows that they could have been real events' - isn't that wonderful! I'm sure you're glad you came here tonight to know that the BBC now testifies that we can believe in the parting of the Red Sea, you can go home and believe it now! Put your head on the pillow, no more doubt about it, the BBC testify to it!
They go on: 'Could Moses have been led to the Promised land by the distant eruption of the San Torini volcano?'. Huh! 'The subsequent incoming wave might have looked like a wall of water'. This is tremendous, I tell you, God is and is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, and believe in Him. I'll tell you, it's harder to believe in all this nonsense than it is to believe in a God who can do miracles! It's remarkable! Then they believe that this natural cataclysmic event, whatever it was, of a volcano and then a tidal wave, that it all seemed to coincide with the children of Israel standing at the edge of the Red Sea wanting out for their lives - isn't that amazing? It all came together for them. Do you know what their problem is? They have found 600 Egyptian chariots under the sea, and they have excavated them, and found the word of God to be true - and they have to explain it away rationally in their own wisdom.
My friends, don't you let the wisdom of this world intimidate you. Young people, whatever you learn at university, at school, I'm not saying that science is incompatible with the Bible - far from it - but I'll tell you this: if you try and change the Bible to be compatible to recent current scientific speculation, or cultural practices, or social values, do you know what you do? You defile, destroy and corrupt the temple of God. There's an NIV Bible that has come out in the United States of America and this does exactly what I'm talking about, it's called the 'All-Inclusive New International Version'. There's an outcry from evangelical conservatism in America, do you know why? Because it changes all the first masculines, 'he', in relation to things like: 'Except a man be born again', it's now 'Except a person be born again' - and even at times when it really matters to have a masculine definition, to perhaps even God, it's changed - why? Because they have taken the wisdom of men over the wisdom of God.
Let that never be levelled at us. I'll tell you, Paul says clearly and categorically that the way to be wise is not to assert your wisdom, but to become a fool and to be willing to learn. I tell you, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and these men - like Haman in the book of Esther - will hang themselves on their own gallows. Don't be deceived into seeking the wisdom of this world over the wisdom of God - I'll tell you why, here's what Paul says: because all things are yours! Some of our young people hanker after the bright lights and the wisdom of this world. Just look, for a moment in our closing minutes of our meeting, to the possessions of the child of God that you'll never find in the world. Verse 21 and 22, God's servants are yours - they were all running after Paul and Cephas and Apollos as if they belonged to these people, Paul says: 'You don't belong to them, they belong to you'. Do you know that I belong to you? You don't belong to me, I belong to you - a gift to the church is preaching and elders and leaders. They are there for the benefit of the church of Jesus Christ, and God's servants are yours. Take it a step further, that means the ministry is yours - it's not for me to take pride in, it's for you to take practice in.
What other possessions? The world is yours, he says in verse 22, the world. This 'cosmos' is the word he uses, the physical world - what do I mean? I mean the birds, I mean the trees, I mean the mountains and the lovely springs. Isn't it wonderful to know that even this 'cosmos', this universe, the material universe around you is not working against you, it's not working to the plan of the Labour government, it's working to the plan of God - and that means it's working for you. Do you know what A.T. Robinson once said? 'The stars in their courses fight for the man who is the partner with God in the world's redemption'.
The world is yours, verse 22 life and death are yours, abundant life. Your life has been given to you to glorify God, and even in the hard times and good times you can glorify Him, because all things work together for your good! Even if death comes, as Paul could say: 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain' - you're not a victim to death, you're a victor through death. You're no slave of death, but death has been made the undertaker of God to bring you into the very presence - presence - of Jesus Christ. If that's not enough, the things present, he says in verse 22, and the things future. I was told by a brother going out the door yesterday morning or evening that in America it's getting to the stage, because of the large Muslim community, that is going to be hard in future days to preach John 14 verse 6: 'Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me'. That frightens me, but I'll tell you this: it's good to know tonight that the things of the present and the things of the future are working for us, they're for us.
If that wasn't enough here you have it, verse 23: 'You are Christ's; and Christ is God's'. Remember the wee group in chapter 1 and verse 12 who said: 'Oh, we are of Christ', do you know what Paul says? We're all of Christ - there's nothing special about you, we're all of Christ, and Christ is God's. We are joint heirs with Christ, and we're going to get everything from Christ. Remember he said at the very beginning: '...unto the church of Corinth, which are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to the saints' - He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world, He saved you in Christ at Calvary, He regenerated you in Christ at the moment of your salvation, He's sanctifying you in Christ now in your pilgrimage down here, He's going to raise you in Christ at the redemption of the body, and He's going to bring you in Christ to glory, perfect and spotless to the glory of Christ - why? Because Christ is in God, hallelujah! Isn't that wonderful?
Is it any wonder he said all things are yours? Can you go away with that in your heart tonight? All things are yours - what will you do about it? I hope you'll be what you should be in the temple of God. A red hot evangelist one day was walking down a main street in the city of London, and he put on tails and striped trousers and a top hat. He wrote on the front of the top hat: 'A Fool for Christ's Sake', and as he walked down the street everybody laughed and tittered and jeered at him and mocked him. As they took a second take at him, when he passed them, they looked at the back of his top hat, and it said: 'Whose Fool Are You?'. Whose fool are you, believer? The wisdom of this world, or the wisdom of God?
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Needed Knowledge For The Church" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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