This sermon is number 45 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 45
"Learn From Your Mistakes"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 16:13-14
First Corinthians 16, and we're only taking two verses tonight - and that's not to drag it out to fit into a calendar, to get up to Easter without having to do anything else - there are so many truths in the two verses that we're going to look at tonight, that it's going to take the whole night really to tease them out if we even can do that in the time that we have. I have put our study in these two verses tonight under the title: 'Learn from Your Mistakes' - learn from your mistakes, and we'll just read these two verses, verses 13 and 14 of chapter 16.
Paul says: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity". Let's read these verses again: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity".
What we come to this evening in these two verses is a positive exhortation from the apostle at the end of this great epistle, with the backdrop of all the negative behaviour that the Corinthians have been engaged in hitherto and up to this point. If you have been following us in these past number of weeks - 44 or so - or if you're familiar with the first epistle to the Corinthians, you will know that there's much negative correction within this epistle. Paul is continually, right from the very beginning in chapter 1, trying to bring them into line with the order of the Spirit of God according to the word of God. So right at the end of the epistle, it's almost as if in these almost last two verses, 13 and 14, he's reviewing everything he's dealt with negatively in a positive light. Do you understand what I'm saying? He's been telling them up to now what not to do, what not to believe, and now he's turning it all on its head - not correction, but exhortation to tell them: 'Now that's what you're not meant to be doing, here's what you ought to be doing'. Watch, stand fast, quit you like men, be strong, and everything that you do, do it in love.
In other words, the apostle is coming and saying: 'Now look, you Corinthians, I want you to learn from your mistakes. There's no point in me going through' - and of course it wasn't divided into chapters, but for the sake of us tonight - '15 or 16 chapters telling you Corinthian people want to do, if you're not going to do it! If you're not going to learn from your mistakes!'. How guilty we are as believers in the 21st century of this, aren't we? We read the word of God, I hope we read it every day. We read books about the word of God, we hear sermons about it perhaps every Sunday, Monday, or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. Maybe we have radio stations on every hour of the day, Christian ones, or maybe we listen to tape recordings of sermons - but the great question is: do we learn from them, and do we learn from the mistakes that are in our past; the things that we know are wrong that need to be put right, do we put them right?
There is a military tone in these two verses which I like. Paul is telling them: 'Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with love' - because there's a war on! There is a war on, Corinthians! This isn't a Sunday School picnic, this is a war. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers; there is a spiritual realm that the people, the natural men of the world, are ignorant to and many carnal believers are ignorant to, but the spiritual man is aware of, that is going on behind the scenes - God and good against Satan and evil. There's a war on, and that's why you need to learn from your mistakes!
But the question I want to ask you tonight, as I ask it of myself and indeed all of so-called Christendom or the Christian church at large today: is there really a war on? I mean, are we really behaving as if we are fighting the world? Or is the majority of Christianity today not fighting the world but flirting with the world? Are we doing what our forefathers did in days gone by, the patriarchs and the prophets, and the priests and the apostles, and the evangelists - are we swimming against the tide, or are we going with the flow of the tide, the way of the world and the fashion thereof? Do we even perceive within our hearts and our minds that there is a threat in the world, that there is a danger in those things that are round about us, that there is a fight to be fought, that there is a battle to be in the winning of?
As I was preparing this this morning, I thought of that occurrence in 1 Samuel chapter 17 and verse 29, where that boy David came down to his brothers facing the Philistines. You remember Goliath, the Philistine, came into the camp and he challenged the children of Israel, he threw down the gauntlet: if anyone was man enough and brave enough, courageous enough to face this great giant. David, of course, came down with a packed lunch for his brothers; and he turned to his brothers who were soldiers in the army, and he said: 'Who is this uncircumcised Philistine to talk this way and to blaspheme the people of the living God, Jehovah?'. Of course his brothers, older, castigated him - more or less saying: 'Who do you think you are? Do you think you're going to take on Goliath?'. Here's the words that David said, listen very carefully, he turned to his brothers - and I can see him looking them eyeball to eyeball, and with the courage of a lion even in the heart of almost a child, he said: 'Is there not a cause?'.
Is there not a cause? Is there not a fight to be fought? You wouldn't think there was a cause if you looked at many Christians in our world today, because a lot of them are courting the world, trying to get the world on the side of Christianity - or maybe they're just cruising along with the world - rather than what the Bible has taught us to do as Christians: conquer the world in our lives, in the church of Jesus Christ, and try through the Gospel and through the power of God to save some from the flames of the world. Fighting continually, inside and outside, externally and internally, against our three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Someone has rightly said in a secular sense that the world can be divided into three categories: the few who make things happen, the many who watch things happen, and the vast majority who have no idea what in the world is happening. The fact of the matter is, many Christians are ignorant to what is going on not in our temporal seen world of the material and the physical, but in the unseen world of the spiritual where there is a great battle occurring at this very moment in time. What Paul is saying in these two verses is: don't be characterised by ignorance, believers - be alert! Realise that you are in a battle. He's asking them by inference: are you alert, are you awake, or are you asleep at your post in this great warfare?
What Paul really wants us to realise is that the enemy is at hand, as he is always at hand. He wants us to know that in this world we are never ever safe, we are always in danger from the forces of evil. As we saw last week, we are especially - and this is where it becomes very ironic to our mentality - we are especially in danger from the old devil when there is an open door of opportunity before us for the Gospel. You remember verse 9 that we looked at in great detail, Paul said that he couldn't go to Corinth just at that moment because he was in Ephesus until Pentecost - why? 'For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries'. We saw that the Authorised Version adds 'there are' there, so you could read it: 'For a great door and effectual is opened unto me and many adversaries' - the adversaries were as real as the opportunities. But wherever there are opportunities, there are adversaries - there is always danger.
The Lord Jesus told us: 'In the world' - in other words, as long as you're in the world - 'ye shall have tribulation', of course He said: 'But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' - but let us not be ignorant. This is what Paul is saying: we have an enemy, and a great enemy at that. The hymnwriter said:
'Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend of grace
To help me unto God?'.
His last verse goes:
'Since I must fight if I would reign
Increase my courage Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pains,
Supported by Thy Word'.
There is a fight, and we're in the fight whether we like it or not! Our reward will be determined according to how we fight. The first principle of any warfare and any soldier is to look out for the enemy. That is exactly what Paul is telling the Corinthians to do: 'Be on sharp lookout and, Corinthian believers, these mistakes that you have made in the past, make sure that you do not give the devil a foothold in your life by making these mistakes again. If you have run into the enemy's trap once, make sure that you don't twice - make sure you learn from your mistakes!'. I wonder do we learn from our mistakes? If we're honest with ourselves and with God, we'd have to say that there's many times that the same sin that we've always fallen into, we continually fall into over and over again, and we seem never to get the victory over certain things in our lives.
Paul is saying, listen: if you are not asleep, you will be alert, but if you are not alert you are asleep - and what you need is to be revived! Revival is what many a Christian needs today in our generation! I wonder do you need it in your heart tonight? Do you have it in your heart? Do you even want it in your heart? Could you handle it in your heart? If God came this very night to cast all the idols down from the throne of your heart, and set His footstool upon your life in control and Lordship and authority, could you deal with it?
Well, let's take these words of exhortation to the Corinthians and see if we can learn from them, and if - please God - our hearts, by His Spirit, would be revived tonight in them. The first thing he says to them is: watch, watch ye. We could spend all night on these two words alone: watch ye. He's telling them: look out, look out! He's now exhorting them to watchfulness. You could translate this statement: 'be on alert', in fact there is only one Greek word that is used here for 'watch ye', or 'be on alert', and it can mean 'to watch', it's sometimes translated 'to be awake, to be vigilant', and figuratively speaking it actually means 'to be alive' - to be revived, if you like! There are some 22 times that the New Testament refers to this statement as 'to be spiritually awake, to be alert', as opposed to the opposite, being asleep. Paul is telling us: be alert, be awake, don't be asleep, don't be apathetic, don't be lethargic. Of course, we know that the Corinthian believers had the characteristic of being spiritually and indeed morally asleep, and at times they were even physically asleep in a stupor.
What am I talking about? Well, we haven't time to go through this in detail, but in chapter 11 you'll remember that there were folk getting drunk at the Lord's Table - just imagine it! That physical state of intoxication around the Table of the Lord was just symptomatic of how, spiritually before God, they were in a stupor. You remember that we dealt with meats offered to idols, and we saw over several weeks that many of the pagan ideas, philosophies and habits that they had enjoyed or endured in their old unconverted lives, they were carrying through into the church after conversion. Paul had to deal with them on that one. We saw also how in chapters 1 and 2 they began to substitute the wisdom of God found in His revealed will with the wisdom of man, those who they looked up to. They were also factious - they split into parties, they had party spirit: one was of Apollos, one was of Cephas, one said 'I am of Christ'. They were also immoral, we saw in chapter 5 that there was fornication among them that is not even named among the Gentile pagans. There was litigation in chapter 6, one brother was taking another brother to court. Then in chapter 7 they had a perverted idea about marriage and divorce, and remarriage, and even celibacy, singlehood. Paul had to set them straight on that one. Then when it came to offending there are other believers who were bought by the same blood of Christ, they were self-indulgent, they were indifferent to the needs and the cares of their brethren and sisters in Christ, the welfare of others didn't matter. We saw in great detail from chapters 12 to 14 that on occasions they misunderstood and certainly they misused spiritual gifts that were given to them by God. In that great chapter, chapter 13, we saw that they were negligent in the greatest thing of all, the real thing that mattered, the issue of love. It didn't matter, Paul was inferring, if you've got everything else right that I've criticised in your Christian church and life, if you don't have love encircling it all as its environment.
That's why he says: 'You need to look out, you Corinthian believers, look: what if I've told you all these things, and you don't learn from your mistakes?'. I can sympathise a wee bit with the apostle Paul in the sense that in the preaching ministry that I'm privileged to enjoy, there are times when you're giving out this teaching truth from God's word time after time after time again, and you feel like Paul, and you wonder: 'Am I labouring in vain? Are you listening? Are you doing what the word of God is saying? Are you learning from your mistakes? Are you putting God's word into effect?'. This statement 'watch ye' is found at least six times within the Scriptures. Let me give the occurrences to you, and I think we can learn a great deal from them tonight - six things that the word of God tells us to watch for.
Here's the first, Hebrews 13 if you want to turn to it, verse 17, Hebrews 13:17 says: 'Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief'. Obey them that have the rule over you, shepherds are to watch for the sheep's safety, shepherds are to watch for the sheep's safety. Now this is not a very popular verse in our day and age, even in the church of Jesus Christ, for many believers think they don't have to obey anybody - they just obey their own lusts, and their own desires, and their own human wisdom like the Corinthians. The fact of the matter is that God has ordained that there should be men in assemblies who are gifted as overseers, elders, 'bishops' it's translated at times in the New Testament, even 'presbyters' - but it all means the one thing, the same word as 'pastor', it's no different - elders within the assembly that God has put there to rule over the saints, and He tells the saints: 'Submit yourselves to them, for they watch for your souls'.
There are some of you here tonight and you've never submitted yourselves to the elders. Some people come to me with the argument: 'I don't find anywhere in scripture where you have to sign a dotted line' - I don't find that anywhere either, and we don't do that here, but what we do is we encourage people to submit themselves under the rule of those whom they ought to obey. You see there is a submission here, and if you have never done this you ought to do it because it's a command of God. But here's the other side of the coin that I really want to concentrate on, overseers, and to those who are overseers tonight, take heed to this: you need to watch the flock! Are you watching the flock? Are you watching for the sheep's safety? The flock on the one hand need to be prepared to be watched, but the shepherds need to be prepared to do the watching! Now what does that mean in a practical sense? Well, it means this: leaders need to be prepared to go to people and say: 'Now, how are you doing spiritually? How are things spiritually?', or 'Why haven't you been out at the meetings lately? Are you OK in your communion with God?'...even to this extent: 'How are your quiet times before God? How's your time alone with God? How's your prayer time with God?'. Now I vouch to say that most people today, if we started doing this regularly and continually, would think we were prying and we ought to mind our own business - that is our business! We have to answer to God one day! Let us not be afraid of doing it, because I have found on the occasions that I have done it, that people have appreciated it - because perhaps no one else asks.
Friends tonight who are not overseers, can I ask you in your heart of hearts: are you prepared to be asked those questions? 'Where were you? How are you? How's your times with God? Are you falling into temptation?'. Those are questions that the men of God who rule assemblies ought to be asking - but you ought to be willing to be asked! Here's a second thing that we ought to watch for, and it's in a general sense too: assemblies ought to watch for subtle sensual heresies. Second Peter - you may not want to turn to all these texts, but just take them down if you're not going to turn to them - in 2 Peter 2 verse 1 we read these words: 'But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction'.
Now the inference there in that passage is that there were believers in the church of Jesus Christ who were actually inviting false teachers into the assembly who were teaching falsehood, heresy. The reason why they were bringing them in was that they were telling the people what they wanted to hear, they were confirming them in their own carnal and sinful lustful desires - and that's why, as believers in Christ and as assemblies of God, we should not go by popular opinion! We go by the word of God, because the fashion of this world passes away, it changes - one week it's this, the next week it's that. But Paul told Timothy: 'For the time will come', and I believe it's here, 'when they shall not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts', their sensual subtle lusts, 'they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou', Timothy, 'watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry'. 'Don't you be deviated, Timothy, no matter what people want, no matter what teachers they want to listen to, in season and out of season, you preach the word!'.
Shepherds need to watch for the sheep's safety. Assemblies need to watch for subtle sensual heresies. Thirdly the saints need to watch for Satan's schemes, the saints need to watch for Satan's schemes. First Peter 5:8 and 9: 'Be sober', Peter says, 'be vigilant' - that word 'vigilant' is the same word 'watch ye' in Corinthians here - 'because your adversary the Devil is a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith'. You need to watch for Satan's schemes - can I ask you: do you even know Satan's schemes? I know that you can go into sin, and delve where you ought not to be delving, and find out things that you would be better never knowing - that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about this: do not be ignorant of his devices! Do you know the three main gates that Satan works through? The word of God tells us it is the lust of the eye, it is the lust of the flesh, and it is the pride of life. That which satisfies the senses of our eyes, that we want to look upon; and then that our fleshly lusts crave after and want to bring to ourselves; and then the pride that is engendered within, when we want to do things our way rather than God's way. This is the fighting battleground of the evil one, are we ignorant of that?
I suppose the question is: do you walk into his traps? He lays traps everywhere, and he's more interested about you as a believer than he's interested about people out there in that world that he's already got hold of. Are you ignorant of his devices? Do you give him a foothold in your life? Many a time, and I've said it before, we get down on our knees and we pray: 'Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil' - and we lead ourselves into temptation by where our feet take us, and what our eyes look at, and what our ears are open to, and what our hearts conceive and what our minds think about! Saints need to watch for Satan's schemes.
Fourthly, saints need to watch for the solicitation to sin - this is quite similar to the one that has just gone before. The solicitation to sin is simply temptation. You remember the Lord Jesus came to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane with Him before He was taken away to be tried, and He spoke to them in their stupor and in their sleep, and He said to them: 'Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is oh so weak!'. Now does it not stand to reason that if you're seeking God, if you are watching, if you're praying, if you are digesting inwardly and assimilating the obedience to God's word, you will know temptation when you see it right away? But if you're sleeping, if your spiritual eyes are shut, if they're stuck together with the glue of the night, you will fall more easily into sin - and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, because you and I have both experienced it.
We need as believers, as the saints of God, to watch for the solicitation to sin. Temptation is not sin, but when we ponder it, when we put it over our tongue like a titbit in our mouth that we enjoy the taste of, and we flirt with it, it so easily becomes sin - and before we know it we have fallen. We're tempted to unfaithfulness towards the Lord Jesus Christ - we should open our mouths and speak for Him, or we should shut our mouths and not say something that would take away a testimony from Him. We're tempted to prayerlessness, tempted to another half-hour, or hour, or two hours in bed rather than getting up out of our stupor, and getting on our knees and crying unto God for our loved ones who are on their way to hell! We're tempted to lukewarmness - not to get fired up about those around us who are on their way to a lost, damned eternity; not to get annoyed about the reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the church of His love being dragged into the sin and mire of the world. You see, it's very easy to choose the easy way out, and the easy way out is the way where we're so asleep and so under a stupor, under an anaesthetic of the evil one, that we can't even see when the devil is dangling his old carrot in front of our noses.
We must move on: fifthly, we need to watch for sleepy sluggishness. This is the same thing really, but in another sense, in that if we are asleep, if we're in a stupor, we will not be alert and we will be overtaken - but one of the ways we can be overtaken, primarily, and one of the ways the Corinthians were overtaken, was in pride! We don't have time to turn to it, but Revelation 3 tells us in verses 1 to 5 of the church at Sardis. The Lord Jesus now, not any old run-of-the-mill preacher, the Lord Jesus said to them: 'Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead'! The Iron Hall could have a name that it lives, it could be living on a reputation of bygone days, it could be going on its own steam of pride, but it could be as dead as someone six-foot under in the grave.
Is that a reality that we are awake to? That is the reality the Corinthians had to waken up to. It doesn't matter what your name is, or what your reputation is, what matters is this: are you awake? Are you watching? Are you ready for temptation, to fight it? Are you looking out for the evil one on every hand?
Sixthly, saints need to watch, and finally, for the second coming of the Saviour. Shepherds need to watch for the sheep's safety, assemblies need to watch for subtle sensual heresies, saints need to watch for Satan's schemes, saints need to watch for the solicitation of sin, saints need to watch for sleepy sluggishness and pride, but saints need to watch for the second coming of our Saviour! Are you watching? The Lord Jesus said: 'Watch therefore, for ye know not in what hour that your Lord doth come'. He said of the Lord Jesus in 2 Peter that the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night, seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God' - looking for! Who is looking for the Saviour?
Well, we must move on - look out, an exhortation to watchfulness. Secondly: stand fast, an exhortation to firmness. 'Watch ye, stand fast in the faith'. Now we don't have time to go down all the pieces of armour that you find in Ephesians chapter 6 verses 11 to 17, but in order from head to toe - because it's easier for me to remember that way - Paul exhorts us to take up the armour of God, that we might stand in the evil day, that we may resist the ways of the devil - and having done all, to stand. In other words, when we're in the battle, and when the smoke and the smell and the stench and the sounds of war are all around us, and perhaps we're terrified, that we don't turn on our heels and retreat, but we stand our ground, our victory ground in Jesus, and we fight!
So he says to take the helmet of salvation, that your thoughts may be directed by the word of God and your salvation blessings. Take the breastplate of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, not of our own good but of His imputed righteousness that He gave to us at Calvary and we have by faith. Take the girdle, the belt of truth around us, that everything in our lives would be held up by the truth of God's word. Have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, standing firm, not moving but standing firm in the gospel that can be offered to men and women, and being ready to take it to those who need it! Taking unto us the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the evil one, the shield of faith that is God Himself. Taking unto us the sword of the Spirit, that two-edged sword animated by the Spirit, not by law which brings death, but by the living Spirit of God, that many will be slain of the Lord. And don't forget this one: all-prayer, all-prayer! How many of us take that one?
The fact of the matter is, you and I both know that the temptation in the battle is to run away, to turn on our heels when things get hot and to forsake the cause of God. Elijah did it when he heard that this woman Jezebel was against him, he took to his heels. John Mark did it when things got too difficult on the mission field, and he left the great apostle Paul. Peter did it from the cross, when he was counted as one of the disciples of the Lord Jesus and he forsook the Lord and he denied Him with oaths and curses. The fact of the matter is, you can go through all of Ephesians 6 and you will not find one piece of armour that covers your back, because God does not intend His servant to run away! He intends him to stand and to fight.
This firmness to stand fast also means mature stability, mature stability - I'm asking you now: are you a stable Christian? Are you a stable Christian? There are many Christians who are like rollercoasters, or the Grand Old Duke of York - one minute they're up, and the next minute they're down, and they're neither up nor down half the time. You're a Christian who is going well for a week or two, and then you find yourself in the valley, and then on the mountaintop again - and over and over again you just go through this vicious circle of experience, but you just can't get on the straight and narrow. Many are like that, because they are imbibing every new thing that comes along their way. In Acts 17 we read of the Athenians, and strangers that were there also, who spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. If you're into Christianity to see new things all around you, it might be new spiritual things going on, or it might be new mediums within the church of Jesus Christ, or new methods, and all that you're interested in is something that is modern rather than something that is true - you're in grave danger of being deceived by the devil!
Turn with me to Ephesians 4 for a moment, Ephesians 4 verses 13 to 15 - in 11 he talks about the gifts that were given to the church: '[The Lord] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive'. We need to stand fast in our doctrine, in our truth, in the apostle's doctrine and tradition handed down from the very early disciples.
Charles Hodge, that great theologian and reformed doctor of theology, who wrote a worthy systematic theology, said these words: 'We as Christians should not consider every point of doctrine an open question' - did you get that? We as Christians should not consider every point of doctrine an open question, anything that is within the word of God is not open for discussion. Now I know there are interpretations and so on, but the fact of the matter is that the Corinthians would not take a firm stand on those things that were perfectly clear, but they were perverted by their own human wisdom which they were now mingling with the revealed truth of God. As far as they were concerned there wasn't that much in the Bible that was certain, there wasn't that much that Paul had passed down in his apostolic teaching that was absolute truth, but they were imbibing a relative spirit that we see in our world today: 'Well, it's whatever you feel happy with, whatever you think is right'. Paul says: 'No, stand fast, firmness is what is required, firmness in the faith, stand fast in the faith' - and that 'in the faith' is not the faith that you exercise in Jesus, or the faith that you live by in your Christian pilgrimage, this is the faith that Jude says was 'once and for all delivered to the saints', the gamut of truth in the gospel of our salvation.
It's what Paul talked about in chapter 15 and verse 1: 'Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand'. It is the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Philippians 1:27 Paul prayed for the saints, this was part of his prayer: 'that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel' - one spirit, one mind, striving for the one thing, the one gospel. He's talking about doctrine, and doctrine is in ill-repute in the day and age in which we live. In fact, we saw in the first couple of chapters of this book, that the Corinthians saw the revealed truth and will of God as foolishness! Paul had to tell them that God's foolishness is wiser than their wisdom, and it was about time that they started to put their old selfish pride and man-made wisdom aside and all their intellectual haughtiness, and accept God's word as what it is and what it says - rather than adding to it, rather than doing what many do today and interpreting it through the filter of their own human wisdom, or the present fashions of our day and age.
What was the result of their human wisdom interpreting the word of God? What was it? We find that when they're exercising their spiritual gifts they are claiming that by the Spirit of the living God that Jesus is anathema, Jesus is accursed! Paul tells them no man can say that of the Spirit, that's where your human wisdom leads you to - and then in chapter 15 that we've just read from, what did their human wisdom lead them to? Not to believe in the resurrection of the body! Paul told the Thessalonians: 'Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or by our epistle'. Who is standing fast today? Who is exhibiting firmness on the word of God? Because that is what is needed in the battle, not men who will run!
Look out, an exhortation to watchfulness; stand fast, an exhortation to firmness; grow up, an exhortation to maturity. 'Quit you like men', he says. That word 'quit' doesn't mean 'quit, stop', the way some of you would like to interpret it - but rather it says 'act', that's what it means 'act like men, not like children'. 'Quit' is used for the short of 'acquit', 'to act, to execute something' - 'act like men', Paul says, 'not like children'! Remember the Ephesians who were going after every wind of doctrine, they were just like little children, whatever was the new fad or the new fashion they were following it. Paul says: 'There is a need for you to grow up, there is a need for maturity, there is a need for courageous manliness, and a mature leadership in the church. Play the man, Corinthians! Be men'. He's telling us that we need to push into spiritual maturity, it doesn't come by the waving of a wand, it has to be worked at, it has to be pushed to - and we need, today more than ever, the courage of our forefathers in the fight and in the battle for God. We need to grow up, we need to cease to be children, we need to be courageous men and women, and the greatest example of all that I can give tonight is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who had the courageous manliness to come from the realms of heaven - leave all the splendours and all the blessings that He knew, and we could never know - and step off the throne and step onto the face of this sinful godforsaken world, and then come and walk among men in obscurity for 30 years - to have courage like that, and not see His godliness as a thing to be grasped after, and His attributes as a thing to be used for His own pride and renown. He came as a servant, and He humbled Himself and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
We saw last night what that meant, not what Gibson shows us in all the blood and gore - yes, that was Calvary, but there was more than all of that - His soul was made an offering for sin, and He endured the wrath of God there on that centre tree - He had the courage to do it! In the Garden, He looked into the cup, and He said: 'Lord, not my will, but Thine be done' - and He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, to the track, He turned not back. What courage! That's what we need today - there was never a man as courageous as our Lord Jesus Christ. But we could give you more examples: the soldiers of God, what about David and Joshua and the exploits of Gideon; what about Old Testament servants of God, like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, or like Daniel in the den of lions who prayed no matter what men did to him; what about the New Testament saints like Paul, Peter, Stephen who was stoned, John the Baptist whose head was cut off, John on the Isle of Patmos there suffering for Christ - all men who were controlled, who were confident, who were courageous, they weren't children!
Paul had to say to these Corinthians: 'I couldn't feed you with meat, like an adult, I had to feed you with milk like a babe - you have never matured, you have never disciplined yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ'. Like a parent, Paul said in chapter 3 and verses 1 and 2: 'Must I come to you with a rod, like a parent reprimanding its child because you're so childish, so immature?'. Can I ask you tonight: are you growing in the Lord Jesus? Growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Saviour? 'How do I grow?', you might say - well, there's only one way. 'As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby' - the holy Scriptures of God, that's the only way. 'All Scripture', Timothy was told, 'is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works'.
Grow up - can I say to some of you men, there was a problem in Corinth, one of which was that the women were doing the speaking, the women were doing the leading, and the men were sitting back and allowing it all to happen - and that is what is happening in the church of Jesus Christ today, and it's about time that some of you men opened your mouths in the prayer meeting and ministered around the table when I know that some of you can do it, but you never do. It's time that you grew up and put away whatever petty differences that you have with others, or whatever problems that you have with this church or that church or the other church, and you start to grow up and become mature in Christ and be a man for God!
Grow up, and then he tells us you need to work out. Be strong, that's all it is, be strong - the Greek term is frequently given in the Bible to denote an inner spiritual growth. The verb is in the passive voice which literally means 'be strengthened, be strengthened'. In other words, you're standing by, coming to God, and He is doing the strengthening - and of course you would have to admit, wouldn't you really, theologically, that we cannot strengthen ourselves. We can do things like praying, and reading God's word, and coming with God's people to strengthen ourselves - but at the end of the day God must do this work in our own hearts. Our part is to come to God, and to submit to Him to be strengthened.
He strengthens us by the grace of God, 2 Timothy 2:1: 'Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus'. Do we come to the Lord for His grace? He says there is grace and mercy there for us to help us in our time of need. He told Paul when he had that thorn in the flesh, thrice he came for its removal to God, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness, Paul, I'll give you the grace'. We get that strength from the grace of God, we get it through the Spirit of God. He prayed in Ephesians for the Ephesian Christians many things, but one was that they would be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. The Holy Ghost of God is needed for this, you need to wait before God for His grace, and I believe you need to wait before God for the infusion and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life. I know that when you're saved, and we dealt with this in previous weeks, you're given the Holy Spirit, you're baptised into the church by the Holy Spirit - but there is the filling of the Spirit, and how many of us have it? How many of us are controlled by the Spirit of the living God that we might work out this strength? The word is literally 'power'! Who knows the power of God upon their lives today? Do you?
You get this strength through the grace of God and the Spirit of God, but also through the word of God - need I repeat it again? That's the way we get strength. Paul had to say to these Corinthians: 'Ye are carnal, you are strong in the flesh, you're fleshly, you're not spiritual, and only the spiritual man can overcome the world and the flesh and the devil!'. You need to discipline yourself, we saw that in 1 Corinthians 9 and 25 - that if you're going to run in a race, you need to practice, you need to discipline yourself, you need to train. We grow in strength when we use the strength that we have, as Philippians says 'it is God that worketh in you to do according to His good purpose, therefore work out your own salvation in fear and trembling' - in other words, what God has worked into you, you need to work out, and that's how you get more strength! Then when we are before God seeking His grace, seeking the fullness of His Spirit, and seeking what He says in His word, we can be brought to the place that Paul was when he says: 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me'.
Work out, an exhortation to strength; and finally, give all, and this is in exhortation to love in verse...I've lost my passage now... in verse 14: 'Let all your things be done with charity'. 'Your things' could be left out, 'Let all be done with love'. You know, if we had all these things, and we were able to look out in watchfulness, and stand fast in firmness, and grow up in maturity, and work out in strength, and didn't have love - do you know what we would be? We would be hard people, and would be extremely hurtful at times. But all of these great characteristics of a man of God that these Corinthians needed to have, learning from their mistakes, had to be tempered at all times by the very love of Christ - and all you have to do is go home and read 1 Corinthians 13, that tells us that if you have everything and have not love, you're nothing.
True manliness needs to be balanced with love, lest a leadership becomes a dictatorship. John MacArthur put it well, and I'll just quote you what he says, I think this is tremendous: 'Love compliments and balances everything else. It is the beautiful softening principle, it keeps our firmness from becoming hardness, our strength from becoming domineering. It keeps our maturity gentle and considerate, it keeps our right doctrine from becoming obstinate and dogmatism, and our right living from becoming smug self-righteousness'. Carl Sandberg was addressing the United States Congress, and he was speaking about the late Abraham Lincoln, and he described him as a man of velvet steel, a man of velvet steel. Isn't that a lovely image? That manliness does not exclude tenderness, and Paul is saying here that it's not 'do everything with the accompaniment of love', but in love, in the very element of love, in the atmosphere and environment of love you should do everything that you do. When you're watching, when you're firm, when you're mature, when you're strong, make sure it's all in the cocoon of love.
Peter told the church: 'And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity shall cover a multitude of sins'. John said: 'Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God', and in verse 19 of that chapter do you know what he says? He says: 'We love him', well that 'him' really doesn't need to be there in a sense in the translation, it literally is saying 'we love!' - not just the Lord, but love everyone, because He first loved us!
Can I finish by telling you a story that I only heard today on this issue of love, and let us take the exhortations that Paul gives us here and learn from our own mistakes. Let us look out, and stand fast, and grow up, and work out, and give all - but it all must be tempered in love.
Her name was Sally, she was a young lady who went to the Bible Seminary, and she went one day to her classroom, the classroom of Dr Smith who all the students loved because many-a-time he would illustrate his truths with great illustrations. This day when they came into the classroom they knew that they were in for another good one because just on the blackboard there was a target. Alongside the target there was a little table with a lot of darts on it, and they thought: 'What are we in for today?'. Dr Smith got them all to sit down, and he said to them: 'Now I want to think of a person in all the world who you've got the greatest grudge with, someone you really detest - I'll not use the word 'hate', for that's too strong and too un-Christian, but some of us think we're allowed to detest some people, so you think of someone you detest, someone you're just annoyed with and angry with. What I'll do is, I'll get you a piece of paper and a pen, and you can draw a picture of them, and I'll let you have your turn to pin them on that target and throw darts, as many darts as you can get on them for the time that is left'. So they all set to work, and Sally began her picture. Sally's friend drew a picture of the girl that had stole her boyfriend off her a couple of weeks ago. Another one of Sally's friends drew a picture of her little brother, and Sally began to draw a picture of someone who used to be her best friend - she did it in great detail and took a lot of time over it, every freckle was detailed, the shape of her nose - maybe it wasn't the true shape, but the ears and eyes and everything were there.
Each person got their turn, and you want to have seen them - the picture went up, and they belted that board with all the might that they could until the paper was shredded, there was hardly any of it left! One by one they went up, until Dr Smith said: 'Sorry, the time is up, I can't let any of you have any more chances now' - and Sally hadn't had her turn. Boy, was she angry! 'I went to all the trouble of this, and I wanted to vent my anger and my revenge', and just as Sally was getting hot under the collar Dr Smith went up to the dartboard, and took off all the pictures that had been pinned by the students - and behind them was a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. His eyes were torn, His nose was broken, His whole face was marred, and the whole class was silent as Dr Smith just said these words: 'As ye have done it unto the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'. That brings it home, doesn't it? Let all things be done with love.
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 forty-fifth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Learn From Your Mistakes" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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