Please open up to 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and let’s read it together:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
The Moral Butterfly Effect
Food is a huge topic today – an obsession even. What to eat, how much, and what it’s made of, are endlessly debated in articles, documentaries, and online. But with the advent of the global economy, the questions go even deeper. Where the seeds came from, how it was planted, cultivated, harvested, distributed and marketed is matter for much contention as well. Consider Bananas. They seems pretty straight forward, right? If I like bananas I should go to the store and buy some and eat them. But it’s not that simple. Bananas are now super-complicated.
For example, we have to consider where they were grown. Banana harvesters from Ecuador are apparently suffering great labour abuses and we don’t want to support that, do we? Then there’s the problem of banana blight. Did you know that every banana consumed in the western world descends from a plant grown by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, in England, 180 years ago? And because of that they are all susceptible to being attacked by a certain kind of fungus. This actually happened in the 1950s when a disease wiped out most of the world’s bananas and we had to change to a different type. Your grandpas bananas are not the same as yours So, when we want one, we have to ask if we want to support this kind of farming? I’m not judging, just asking.
But it goes deeper. Because of low carb and Glycemic diets and whatnot, Bananas are getting a bad rap. One article I read called it “one of the worst breakfast items we can have.” (To which I thought, “Wow, this guy would probably die if he saw of the things that we’ve called ‘breakfast’ at my house! He’d be like, “Yeah, man you should probably have a banana instead of that skittle smoothie.”)
There’s no decision we can make that doesn’t have some sort of moral consequence. Where we go, what we say, what we do, and what we don’t’ do, makes a moral ripple effect that not only hits us but spreads far and wide, affecting people we don’t even realize. Think of it as the moralistic butterfly effect. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Meat and Idols
The Christians in the Corinthian church had come across some choices people were making that were causing some moral tornados in their congregation. There were some Christians who, even after conversion, continued to buy meat from and attend parties and feasts held in the pagan temples. And since this was such a regular part of life, they wanted to know if it was ok.
Here’s a little background: In the same way that we enjoy getting together for barbecues, dinner parties, and church potlucks, it was common practice to for someone to buy or bring their meat to a temple to eat. Except these dinner parties had a very religious overtone. The meat would be divided into 3 portions – one to be burned as an offering, one given to the priest, and one given back to the offeror to eat and serve. If the priest didn’t want their portion then it would be sold in the marketplace – which meant that if you went to someone’s house, the meat they served you had likely been dedicated to one of the gods of the temple.
The teaching against participating in pagan rituals and worshipping other God’s is pretty clear in the Bible. All through the Old Testament (which was the Bible the Corinthians were reading), it repeats the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exo 20:3). God’s people are repeatedly told not to serve or worship any other so-called god. When they entered the Promised Land God’s command was to totally remove any remnant of the pagan worship (Exo 34:11-16). And he’s really serious, using words like tear down and break and destroy. It doesn’t matter how cool looking the altars are, or how much they offer you to be their partner, or how attractive their daughters are… don’t get involved with them, get rid of all of it. And this is continuously repeated, and disobeyed, all through the Old Testament.
And this question came up in the New Testament too when the Jerusalem Council, full of Apostles and headed by Peter and James, decided on whether non-Jewish people needed to follow the Law of Moses and Jewish religious rituals. They concluded,
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20)
But if Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) then why would the Apostles say that the Gentiles were to not eat certain foods? Because there was a split happening in the church between the Jews and Gentiles over this issue and the Apostles decided to tell the Gentiles who were worshipping in the same church with the Jews to be sensitive to their brothers so that they wouldn’t be so shocked, hurt, and offended and therefore stumble into sin and division. Every time a Gentile had a Jewish friend over it could a massive rift in the relationship. The gentile would offer a bloody piece of undercooked meat that had been blessed by a pagan priest and offered in sacrifice to the Goddess Aphrodite, and the Jew would have a full-on conscience meltdown. It went against literally everything that they believed and held dear for their entire lives! And so the Jerusalem counsel basically commanded the Gentiles to give their Jewish neighbours a break for the sake of unity.
But in Corinth, staying clear of any contact with idolatry was nearly impossible. It was literally everywhere, woven into the very fabric of society. The temples, which we’ve talked about before, were the centre of society and also acted kind of like restaurants of our time. Some meals for the trade guilds, clubs, and private dinner parties were held in the temple dining room. But it was bigger than that. Wrapped into this “temple restaurant” were all the community events and various traditional feasts and festivals on the calendar. AND the temple was also a place to do business and get some of your grocery shopping done! So the Corinthians really needed to know what to do. Did the Old Testament and the decision of the Jerusalem Council extend to them as well? Imagine that being a Christian meant you could never eat at a restaurant, have a birthday party, go to a Canada Day party, shop at the mall, visit your non-Christian friends, or conduct most business transactions ever again!
So the questions was, “Are we allowed to go to these events?” Would it be considered participating in the pagan ritual, meaning breaking commandments and offending God, or if it was no big deal because they are Christians and know better?
This may sound like an old problem, but we deal with these kinds of moral dilemmas all the time today. Certainly when we make our food decisions, like our banana illustration, but in lots of other ways also. What if a Christian is invited to participate in a non-Christian wedding? What if a bartender or casino worker gets saved – can they keep their job? Can a Christian go to Las Vegas? If our taxes go to a government that promotes unbiblical practices, should we pay them? Can a Christian go on an offensive attack when at war? How should a Christian deal with panhandlers? Can a Christian be a business partner or employ non-Christians? Or the age old, is it ok for a Christian to lie if it means they are protecting someone’s life?
These are not insignificant questions and do deserve our consideration. We ought not merely roll along in our lives assuming that everything we do, think, and say is ok with God as long as it isn’t a flagrant sin where we break one of the 10 Commandments. We shouldn’t assume that God doesn’t care about the minutia of our lives, or that God hasn’t spoken about the most righteous, wisest way to make these decisions. And, as I’ve already said, we shouldn’t simply assume that our decisions, even the “little ones”, don’t have lasting impacts and far-reaching effects. Immature people coast along assuming everything they think is right, that the most important thing to consider is whether it makes them happy, and assuming that their decisions only affect them or a small circle around them. Mature people spend time considering and studying their decisions and motives, knowing that even their smallest, most private actions can have far-reaching, unforeseen consequences.
Have you ever had that happen? Where you made a seemingly insignificant decision or one that you thought was only significant for you, only to find that when you tugged on that thread it unraveled a lot more than you thought? That happens more than you think it does.
The point is that there is much more going on than merely a singular action or decision. Each has ripple effects that expand into eternity – effects we can’t see, but God can – and so at all times, Christians try to do things God’s way – not only to simply obey him (which is important) but also because we trust that He knows better than do. That’s why it’s so important to prayerfully read the Bible because when we turn our hearts to God and follow Jesus, we can “have the Mind of Christ”.
So, what does God say about these kinds of situations, where we are faced with a moral dilemma that we’re not too sure about, seems to be fine with scripture, but maybe not… seems to be fine with our conscience, or with other people’s consciences, but not with ours… and we’re not sure what to do?
First, I want you to notice that the Corinthians asked. They were a sinful, prideful, messed up group, but there were some in the church that had the humility and wisdom to ask the Apostle what God has to say about the subject.
Most people don’t do this. Many Christians don’t do this. They either lack the humility or the wisdom to simply ask someone else about the situation. They are presented with a question, an option, a decision, or a situation, and instead of pausing for a moment and thinking, “What does God say about this? What would my parents say? What would my spouse think? What would my pastor counsel here?” they just go with their first impulse or whatever their guy says to do. Contrary to every romantic comedy, adventure or fairy-tale movie you’ve ever seen, “Follow your heart” is really terrible advice.
Can I invite you to another level of maturity and ask you to get wise counsel? This is all over the Proverbs.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Prov 12:15),
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Prov 11:14)
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Prov 28:26) or at the very beginning of Proverbs,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)
The most famous of these is in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
How do we avoid the crooked paths? Trust God and distrust ourselves. In which ways are you to acknowledge God? Just the big decisions? No. “All your ways”.
Christians Know the Truth
So let’s look at what God says about this and then draw out some application. Read verses 1-3 again. It says, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
What’s being said here? You’ll notice some quotation marks. Greek didn’t have quotation marks, so these are the scholar’s best guess as to what the Corinthians had asked Paul in the letter they sent him. If we put the quotes from verses 1 and 4 together we get something like, “Hey Paul, all us Christians know that an idol isn’t a real god, right? We all know there’s only one God. And we all know the meat is just meat, right? And since we know all that and going to these things and eating the food should be no big deal. It’s not like we are worshipping. It’s not like we believe all this nonsense. We have knowledge that all these lost people don’t have – so it’s no big deal if we go and participate, right?”
The word “knowledge” there is key. And Paul agrees with them, to a point. Verses 4-6 say as much. The altars, pagan statues, idols, and religious stuff all around town does not actually represent any real “gods” or “lords”. The truth is that there is only one God and one way to Him, and all the other gods and ways are either made up, created by demons to deceiving people, or are man-made inventions designed to manipulate and abuse people in the name of religion. But skip to verses 7, “However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”
That’s a very unpopular truth, isn’t it? Some people know the truth and some people don’t. Some people are right and others are wrong. It sounds arrogant to our tolerant, politically correct, culturally sensitive, ears. Now, I’m not going to get into an epistemological debate on the existence or non-existence of absolute truth or whether anyone can really know anything. Instead, I’m simply going to say that believing in truth and the existence of right and wrong reflects the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ and of the God of the Bible. It’s not our idea, it’s His.
It is Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, the author of scripture, the fulfiller of all its promises, the light of the world, the giver of eternal life, the only one who can forgive sin, the door to salvation, “the way, the truth, and the life”, and that it is only through Him that we can gain access to God (Matthew 26:63, Mk 2:10; John 3:14-16, 4:26, 14:6, 10:28-30). It is we who simply believe Him.
There are no competing gods in heaven, battling one another for dominion over the earth, or splitting the lands among themselves (“You get worshiped by Greece, I’ll take USA, you get Saudi Arabia.”). Nor, as some people believe, does God does not represent Himself in multiple ways – to some He comes as Zeus, others Buddha, others as Shiva, others as Odin, others as Allah, others as YHWH, others as Jesus. That’s what some people believe. They agree that there is only one God, but that there are many paths to Him and that He’s totally fine with whatever path you take, just as long as you are sincere.
Jesus doesn’t leave that option open. Jesus says, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.” (Matthew 24:5) All through the New Testament the apostles warn against false teachers who come and spread false gospels and false teachings in the name of Jesus. But there is only One Jesus, One God, one Creator, one Lord and Saviour and He has been very clear in how He has revealed Himself. The only question is whether we will believe what He has revealed or if we will choose to disbelieve it.
People love visiting holy sites and it’s easy to get swept up in the beauty of the architecture or culture surrounding them. Throw in a couple of really peaceful looking, or extremely dedicated followers and it’s hard to tell them that their entire belief system is based on a lie. We want to say that a really dedicated Buddhist monk, whose life is dedicated to pursuing peace, understanding, good deeds, hard work, and the enjoyment of the world, is almost completely wrong. We want to be nice and tell them that they are like 75% right and that that’s going to count for something when they stand before God. But that’s not what scripture says, not what Jesus teaches, and not what God commands.
But this doesn’t just happen with other world religions, it happens with groups that claim to be Christian like the Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and other people that have “Christian” on the sign and talk about Jesus, but don’t actually teach what Jesus taught — and there are a lot of them. They talk about Jesus, use Bible verses, sing some of the same songs we do, are very passionate in their beliefs, but they are wrong and deceived and their message does not lead to salvation.
When I was growing up we didn’t use maple syrup. We put Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup on our pancakes. Sometimes we put Aunt Jemima on there, which was good because it was like liquid butter mixed with sugar. But when I moved to Ontario I was introduced to real maple syrup and I’ve been hooked ever since. I love it! Maple season is now a magical time for my family, where we run off to the sugar bush, wander through the forest, and see how many maple treats we can eat until we slip into a sugar coma.
But have you ever had the experience of going to a restaurant, ordering breakfast with pancakes, asking for maple syrup, and then have them bring you a wonderful looking warm, brown goo — that TASTES NOTHING LIKE MAPLE SYRUP! But by the time you figure it out, it’s already been spilled all over your food and you have to eat it. It looked like maple syrup, the server implied that it was maple syrup, it poured like maple syrup, and ¾ of the people at your table are slurping it up like it doesn’t even matter, seemingly totally ignorant of the fact that what they are eating is a lie! There’s not even any Maple in it. It’s High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Colour and Artificial Flavours. Why is no one else bothered by this? It’s fake. It’s not real.
In the same way, there are many religions out there that call themselves Christian or holy and claim to be the truth and the way to God – but are wrong. Christians know this.
The Principle of Brotherly Love
But, God says in verse 7, when it comes to the people around you, in your church, “…not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”
For some people, even though they are Christians, the situation is simply too much for them. Just like the Jerusalem Council said about being sensitive to the Jews, there are some in the church who can’t handle it. For them, the eating of that meat really is a stumbling block. They are so used to believing that idols and gods are real that when they eat the food offered to the idols they really do think of it as worship to real gods and their consciences are violated. They feel guilty, they feel shame, they feel separated from God.
And there are some in the church that have a hard time only trusting in Christ for their salvation. For them, there’s a huge temptation to do what the ancient Israelites would do by hedging their bets – praying to Jesus, but also sacrificing to whatever god they thought might help – and it’s a constant temptation to them.
For others, because of their former way of life, being in that place, eating that food, is too much of a temptation because it could suck them right back into it. They need to avoid it because they are not strong enough yet in the Lord not to fall. There’s an inner struggle within them to obey God and trust Christ – and so they don’t touch any of that stuff with a 10-foot pole.
For others, their family was so bound up in it, so deceived, so destroyed by it that they hate it, because it had so much power over them – and they still feel like it has power over them, so they don’t go anywhere near it. They’d rather give up everything – parties, business partners, meat, friends, family – for the sake of their relationship with Jesus, rather than running the risk of falling back into their former lifestyle.
You see, we’re not really talking about choosing bananas or maple syrup, we’re talking about eternity and the corruption of our conscience.
Paul says in verse 8, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Consuming or abstaining from a certain kind of food or drink doesn’t make us any holier. Jesus was very clear in when He said, “And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…. from within, out of the heart of man…” (Mark 7:14-15; 21-23)
It’s not whether or not you know that it’s not about the food. For you, it might be fine, but, what about your brother or sister that can’t handle it, that isn’t as mature as you, that isn’t as strong as you? It is the Principal of Brotherly Love and it overrides all that other stuff.
That’s why we are told in verses 9-11, “…but take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
It’s the principle of brotherly love and it must factor into our thinking when we consider all of these moral quandaries. Sometimes things are cut and dry, right and wrong, biblical or unbiblical, and that makes it easy. We aren’t allowed to do it. But what if scripture doesn’t cover that clearly, or it is absolutely allowed, but it is causing troubles for those around us? Then we abstain out of love for our fellow man.
It’s not about the type food we eat, or whether we drink beer, or what movie rating we allow, or what game we play, or what we buy, or where we go. It is that if the decisions we are making are causing our brothers and sisters in the faith to stumble into sin, then we are being Satan to them! We are their tempters! And in this way we are destroying their conscience, harming their relationship with God, and sinning against Christ. It’s a really, really big deal.
There is much more we can say, because chapter 9 continues the thought, but I want to end there today encouraging you to think about some of the decisions that you’ve been making, some of the lifestyle choices you’ve made, and ask yourself if loving others even factored into your thinking. Is it possible that you are doing something with your freedom in Christ that is hurting someone else? And you who are weak in conscience, do you have friends who are putting you in positions where you are tempted, or where you are weak, and you haven’t said anything? Say something.
Let us live in the knowledge of the freedom Christ brings us, but never get so “puffed up” that we use that knowledge to do harm to someone else.
A lot of people are very concerned about being on “the wrong side of history” these days. They’re terribly worried about being “stuck in the past” and spend a lot of time thinking about how they can be assured that they will be remembered by historians as being on the “right side” when it’s all said and done.
It’s easy to sympathize with this. Historians are fond of quoting the phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, and they’re right. It is wise to learn from the past and do what we can to not replicate our mistakes.
- Boat builders and sailors should look at the Titanic tragedy and try to figure out ways to build better ships and avoid hitting icebergs.
- Architects should look at the Tower of Pisa and learn the importance of building a proper foundation.
- Canada’s Lockheed Martin and US’s NASA should remember the time they built a $125 million dollar Mars Orbiter together but got their inches and centimetres mixed up and losing it in space.
- Engineers should look at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima and learn how to make better Nuclear plants.
- Governments should remember the Exxon-Valdez and Deepwater Horizon and figure out ways to keep oil companies from spilling millions of gallons of oil.
Those are pretty universally accepted errors that we all agree shouldn’t be repeated, but it gets sort of dangerous when people start to do this with more nuanced and complicated things like geopolitics, human relationships, and religion. People look back at evils that have occurred in the past by people like Hitler and Josef Mengele, groups like ISIS or the KKK, or times like the Slave Trade, the Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials, and try to figure out where to draw the lines so that never happens again.
The problem is that it’s one thing to figure out how to build a better cruise-ship or power-plant, but it’s completely another thing to try to figure out how to stop people from committing acts of evil because of their prejudice, fear, hate or pride. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
I went to Google News and typed in the phrase “wrong side of history” and came up with thousands of hits. Commentators, politicians and social justice warriors are particularly fond of telling those they disagree with that they are on “the wrong side of history”. Obama does it all the time, Trudeau uses it, university professors use it, and sports commentators use it. It came up during Brexit and during the discussions of the missing aboriginal women and Black Lives Matter. It was used to push for LGBT rights and to explain the rise of Donald Trump. It’s even seen as a reasonable reason for senate reform in Canada. (This video helped a lot.)
It seems there’s almost no situation in which that argument doesn’t work because it’s an easy way to look at whoever you disagree with and say, “Listen, you’re going to lose eventually, so why don’t you just give up now and agree with me. It’ll save you a lot of time. You don’t want to be remembered as someone who was on the other side of this issue when we finally win, do you?”
It reminded me of all the scenes in Star Wars when one character argues with another and drops a line about “their destiny”.
- Ben tells Luke that even though he doesn’t want to, he has to confront and kill Vader because it’s his destiny.
- Darth Vader uses it when trying to convince Luke to come to the Dark Side. “It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.”
- The Emperor tells Luke that turning to the Dark Side is unavoidable. It’s his “destiny”.
Now, Star Wars is a fictional movie, but saying “You’re on the wrong side of history”, sure sounds to me a lot like “Join me, it’s your destiny.”
But it goes even deeper. When most people use this to defend their favourite cause, they’re not just trying to predict the future, but in fact making a judgement call on the present. Anyone who disagrees with them is not only morally wrong but foolish and anti-intellectual. Most of the time these people will use words like “science” and “logic” and “democracy” and “feelings” and “common sense” to support their side, and anyone who disagrees with them is anti-science, anti-logic, anti-democracy, uncaring and idiotic. And why would anyone want to be on that side? It’s the losing side. As I heard one person say this week, Using the “wrong side of history” argument is a way to “steamroll the future with the wheel of history.”It’s the way to call for the pre-emptive surrender of anyone who disagrees with you – and it is working. A lot of Christians, unfortunately, believe this argument.
- They look at the past and don’t want to be labeled a hater or a bigot, so they don’t challenge anyone on anything.
- They see wrong happening, but don’t want to be labelled a religious zealot or a fundamentalist, so they turn away.
- Some Christians look at parts of scripture that make strong moral claims about family structure, human sexuality, the afterlife, or the exclusivity of Jesus – but have been told about all the times that the church has been wrong throughout history, and decide that this must be one of those times, and therefore decide to go along with whatever popular culture is saying instead, because they don’t want to be on the “wrong side of history”.
Ironically, as much as people like to use not wanting to be on the “wrong side of history” as a way to vindicate their action or inaction towards whatever situation they like, I actually don’t disagree with the whole concept. Yes, I think it’s often misapplied, and that it’s wrong to use science and democracy and feelings to try to decide any number of issues, but the concept of there being different “sides” when all is said and done is actually true. The Bible is quite clear that history does have an inevitable trajectory. We really are going somewhere and there really will be a definitive end in which people will find out if they were on the “right side” and the “wrong side”.
Open to 1 Corinthians 2:6-9 and let’s read it together:
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’…”
If you recall, Paul has just spent a bunch of time explaining why he doesn’t rely on human strength and worldly arguments when he preached the gospel to them, but he wants to make something perfectly clear: it’s not because wisdom is either unimportant or unattainable. In the next verse he says that there are times that he does spend time “imparting a secret and hidden wisdom from God”, but it is only to a certain group of people – the “mature”. The implication is that the Corinthians aren’t.
Remember the context. The Corinthians fancy themselves to be super-spiritual, cosmopolitan, open-minded, modern, wise and knowledgeable people. They loved nothing more than being thought to be intellectual elites and wanted nothing more than the secret knowledge that led to unique spiritual experiences that few people have.
They loved to listen to the “wisdom of this age” and “the rulers of this age” and add it to all the things they’d learned about Jesus. They were treating the gospel as one of many teachings and felt they could improve it by connecting it to other teachings that sounded good. We’ve talked about this before.
- “Salvation through Jesus is great, but what if we add obedience to the Law of Moses, or the teachings of Plato, or a few of the gods of the pantheon.”
- “Christian worship services are nice, but what if we added some of the drunkenness, gluttony and ritual sex from the other temples – then it’d be even better!
- “We don’t understand what it means that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and everyone else believes that flesh is evil and gods can’t die, so let’s just say that Jesus’ physical body and crucifixion was an illusion and then everyone is happy! (Gnosticism/Docetism).”
This way of thinking led them into all kinds of trouble! Instead of growing more mature in their faith, they actually went backwards. They ended up encouraging sin, dividing the church, forgetting the gospel, denying the authority of the apostles, and falling into drunkenness and sexual perversion – among other things.
They went from Christians who loved Jesus and followed His word, to idiotic children who were only living for what they thought and felt was right. Their thoughts and feelings were of paramount importance. Regardless of what Paul had said, Jesus had said, God had said, if it didn’t agree with their thoughts and feelings, they would forget about it or change it. They would assume that their thinking and feelings were a passage to “secret wisdom” that would lead them to a new and better relationship with God, a deeper worship, a stronger salvation, a better experience of grace, a more profound level of love and hope – but it didn’t. It just made them selfish and immature.
Acting Like Children
They weren’t acting like mature adults but like children. They hadn’t grown in the faith but had regressed into infantile, selfish, foolish way of thinking. Consider the contrast between babies and adults.
- Babies live in the moment. Adults learn from history and plan for the future.
- If a baby feels hungry or dirty or uncomfortable, they cry until it’s fixed. An adult, like a parent or soldier for example, has learned to put aside their own desires for the sake of greater good.
- A baby will put everything they can get their hands on in their mouth, even if it will hurt them. An adult has learned to question their environment, that some things are best left alone, and to be careful.
- A baby requires someone to feed them and a toddler would eat treats for every meal because they taste good. An adult has learned that they have to eat more than just the things they like, but seek out the things they need.
- A baby cannot withstand much sickness or danger, and must be protected. An adult will actually seek out places of sickness and danger so they can do some good there.
It’s the same with personal and spiritual maturity, isn’t it?
- An immature person, needs constant attention, and so they post pictures and videos so they can get validation. Women and girls exploit themselves and men and boys do all manner of idiotic things in the name of getting “likes” and “having an experience”.
- An immature person will look at a complex problem – human sexuality, terrorism, religious differences – and come up with a simple answer. “Just get rid of gendered bathrooms – then everyone will be safe and happy.” “Just teach terrorists to be friendlier.” “Just get rid of religion or have everyone agree on one religious belief and then no one will hate each other.” They’ll think it’s terribly wise, but they are actually just fools.
- An immature person will be presented with a problem – poverty, inequality, racism – and instead of being mature enough to start dealing with the problem, will either lash out like a toddler having a tantrum at the grocery store or simply cry until someone fixes it. Sure, they do it through social media or protests, but it’s often merely tantrums that do nothing to address the problem and merely brings attention to the individuals staging the protest.
Paul says, “…among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away”
Calling out the immature and challenge people to maturity is a common theme in Paul’s writing, especially to the Corinthians. Skip forward to chapter 3:1 and we read, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” In 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
In 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
After writing some incredible theology explaining some things about Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says this, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11–14)
These Christian teachers wish they could address the followers of Jesus like mature adults, but they can’t because they won’t understand. They’re not just immature in the faith, but are acting out their immaturity to the point where they aren’t even acting like “spiritual people”. They ought to be mature enough to be teaching others, but instead are acting like unrighteous, non-Christian, immature, children.
Doomed to Pass Away
Paul is careful to remind them that the “wisdom” he wants to teach them, and which he does teach the mature, isn’t the “wisdom of the age” that they are so fond of. He doesn’t get his content from the “rulers” or “authorities” around him because that wisdom is “doomed to pass away”. In other words, it changes. In other, other words – Paul doesn’t want to depend on human wisdom, no matter how good it sounds because then he would be — (wait for it) – on the wrong side of history.
If he was to glean his opinions about morality, salvation, God, worship and eternity from the “rulers of this age”, meaning the teachers and leaders around him, then he would be teaching something that is “doomed”. It’s doomed because human teaching is inconsistent.
Why? Because the “rulers of this age” are spiritually immature people coming up with things for immature reasons. They make policy, write articles, pen books, author blogs, choose leaders, the way a baby would – by how they feel, by what brings them pleasure, by what takes the pain away fastest, by what hurts the bad buy most, by that which seems simplest and easiest.
But their conclusions are based on changeable things like culture and societal norms. They do the science, take the vote, and analyze the past, but end up drawing wrong conclusions, and then project those errors into the future.
I read an article a while back that talked about two fictional men living in two different contexts, both experiencing the same “urges”. One man was from our modern context, while the other was a Scandinavian Viking from 1000 years ago. Both men have deeply violent hearts, love the site of blood, and can’t wait to run someone through with their sword – especially monks. At the same time, they both experienced same-sex attraction.
The Viking society affirms his violent tendencies, allows him to express his feelings, calls him a “berserker”, and sends him off to kill monks, celebrating him as a great man and warrior. But that same society tells him to suppress his homosexual urges and refuse to act on them, ostracising anyone who says otherwise. And the man agrees. “This is who I am, I will do that. This is not who I am. I will suppress that.”
The modern Canadian man has the opposite situation. When he declares himself to be attracted to other men, he is encouraged to explore those feelings and celebrated in his community. However, when it comes to his desire to commit violence, spill blood, and kill monks, his society calls him sick, urges him to suppress those feelings, tells him not to act on them, and to get into counselling to change his feelings. And the man agrees. “This is who I am, I will do that. This is not who I am. I will suppress that.”
Which society is right and why? Are we right because we’re 1000 years in the future? Because we’re not Scandinavian? A while back Justin Trudeau was asked why it was so important for his cabinet to have gender equality. His simple answer was “Because it’s 2015.” So what? There are a thousand better answers than stating the date as though it was conclusive evidence for why men and women are both eligible for positions in government.
But people around the globe ate it up! Stating the year was a perfectly good reason for doing his decision. Why? Because they believe his position is on “the right side of history”, and therefore that’s enough. However, it was also 2015 in Afghanistan, and Iraq and Pakistan and Sudan – and women are treated terribly there. His reasoning, though popular, actually made no sense.
The point is this: trusting our culture, times, democracy, scientific research, public opinion, feelings and opinions are a terrible way to gain maturity and godly wisdom. Times change, culture changes, feelings change.
How Wrong They Got It
The experts, the “rulers of this age”, who all want to be on the “right side of history” get it wrong – a lot. How wrong?
Paul says, they get it so wrong that when the perfect, sinless Son of God came to them, they killed Him.
“None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’…”
It was the politicians and religious and legal experts – those who should have known best by their great worldly wisdom and learning – that rejected and condemned Jesus to the cross. Why? Because they weren’t listening to God’s Spirit or His Word. They were acting like immature children, driven by their feelings of jealousy, pettiness, and fear. They refused to subordinate their own ideas and listen to God’s wisdom, and ended up committing the greatest sin humanity has ever committed. And they did it with huge crowds cheering them on, backed by the most powerful government on earth.
- The Pharisees hated that Jesus was more popular than them and that He had greater power.
- Judas was annoyed that his prize was taking too long.
- Pilate just wanted the annoyance to end and the quickest way was to kill the innocent man. It was all immature “wisdom of this age”.
Sure, they had great reasons in their minds for why they were doing it – but they were on “the wrong side of history” when they killed Jesus.
Conclusion: Pursue Maturity
And so, I conclude this morning with this. Oftentimes, God’s will and wisdom is “secret and hidden” from us. It can only be discerned and heard by people who are mature. In fact, for the immature, the “secret and hidden wisdom of God”, and all the things that “God has prepared”, are impossible to hear. They can’t hear it. They won’t understand.
And so, God tells us that if we want to understand what He is doing, what He’s done, and what He will do, then we need to pursue maturity. This passage marks something of a turn in the letter to the Corinthians where Paul is going to start confronting them with things they need to understand and change in order to become mature people who will embrace wisdom so they can understand what God is doing.
And so, my simple encouragement to you is this: pursue maturity. Put down childish things and grow up. Walk with God, listen to Him, read His word, practice discipline, get on His page. Do the hard things that Christianity asks you to do. Why? So we can have His heart and be in step with Him.
I see it this way. If there is one Being we don’t want to be on the “wrong side” of, it’s God, so I’d better do all I can to find out what He thinks about things. I don’t care what people say about us being on the wrong side of history. I don’t care about how they will think of me in 10, 50, or 1000 years. There is only one Judge that I care about – Jesus Christ, the author of history and the final throne by which we will all stand. And I want to make sure I’m on the “right side” of Him.
The Elephant Man
Have you ever heard of the movie The Elephant Man? It’s a pretty famous movie from 1980 – which I know is a long time ago, but bear with me. It won lots of awards and was quite popular at the time.
It’s based on the true story of man who lived in the 1800’s, named John Merrick, who suffered from a condition or syndrome that caused his body to grow abnormally. His skin was thick and lumpy and his head grew large bones that caused it to be so heavy that he couldn’t even lie down because if he did he couldn’t breathe.
His father and mother rejected him, he left school at age 13, couldn’t find a job, and ended up touring with a circus group as a side-show named “The Elephant Man.” At some point a doctor named Frederick Treves came to The Elephant Man show and invited him to come to the hospital to be examined and photographed.
Soon after that meeting Merrick went back on tour as the Elephant Man, but was robbed and beaten by his manager. He eventually made his way back to London, but since he couldn’t speak well, they didn’t know what to do with him. They searched his pockets and found doctor Treves’ card in his pocket and brought him back to the hospital. Though they couldn’t do anything for him medically, they allowed him to live there for the rest of his life. He and Doctor Treves actually became good friends and he received a lot of visitors from wealthy and famous people.
The movie spends a lot of time exploring John Merrick’s life as The Elephant Man side show, and how abusive his show managers were. Throughout the movie we are shown that despite his physical deformities the Elephant Man isn’t a horrible monster, or an animal, but a human being worthy of dignity, respect and protection. Eventually his fellow side-show friends help him flee his managers and he runs to the train station in London where he is forced to run through the public.
Here’s what happens:
Before he collapses you can hear him yelling to the crowd, “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I… am… a… man!” He had to shout it because people didn’t see a human being when they saw him – they saw an animal, a monster, a freak – but not a human being.
More Than An Animal
Now, why am I telling you this tonight? Because I’m angry on your behalf – for something you’re probably not even angry about. It’s because you, yes you, right now are being treated like The Elephant Man. You are being told over and over, all day long, that you are an animal. You are being treated like an animal, and you hardly even know it.
I wish you were angry about this, but it’s so subtle and so pervasive in the culture around you, so overwhelming from so many of your teachers, books, movies, blogs and friends, that you don’t even notice it anymore. It’s like asking a fish what water is like – it’s all they know so they can’t describe it – you’re immersed in it.
I want to tell you tonight that you are more than an animal. You are a beautiful creation of God, a person with a heart, a soul, a mind and a body. The world tells you over and over that you don’t have a soul. It teaches you that your mind is just a series of electronic and chemical impulses coursing through the grey matter in your brain. They tell you that your choices don’t matter, that your feelings come from only natural means, that you are driven by evolution, instinct and predisposition. Some people equate your worth with that of a housepet, a chicken or a cow. They believe you are an animal.
In school, as you learn the Theory of Evolution – regardless of whether it’s true or not – you are taught alongside that you that you are merely an animal, a descendant of scum, with simple, biological instincts that drive everything you do. And after doing some reading about it, I believe your school treats you like an animal too.
They tell you that your body is coursing with strong, natural drives that you can’t help but follow. Have you ever been told that you have the choice to say NO to the feelings that are happening within you? Most likely not. More than likely you’ve been told that everything you feel and experience is “natural”, right? How many times have you heard that term, “it’s natural”, or “it’s biological”, as an excuse for doing something? What that means is that “I’m an animal and I can’t help it.”
Telling people that they can simply say NO doesn’t occur to them. Why? Because they believe you and I are animals.
The End of Right and Wrong
When was the last time you heard something was right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or evil from one of your non-religious teachers or friends? People without belief in God can’t really talk about right and wrong because they have no baseline for what’s right and what’s wrong. They don’t have an authority or a book that tells them the rules – so they make them up for themselves. If you ask them if stealing, murder, swearing, or war or any number of other things is “wrong”, they don’t say “yes, that is wrong”, do they?
No, instead they talk about “the situation”, “personal choice”, “biological drives”, “what’s right for you or me”, but never “what is right and wrong.” “Well, that might be bad for you, but it’s ok for me. Well, that’s what you believe, but I believe different, and that’s ok too. Well, it’s good for me, but it might not be good for you. It depends on the situation!”
They can’t speak about rock-solid morality because they gave up the whole idea of right and wrong when they decided that human beings are merely animals. We would never say a tiger is wrong for eating a zebra, right? We’d never say that a dog is wrong for barking at a noise, right? We’d never say an elephant is wrong for stampeding, right? They just don’t know any better. That’s what some people think about humans too. We’re just animals, so there is no right and wrong.
The best that they can talk about is: “safety”. They can’t tell you what is “right and wrong”, so the best they can come up is to talk about what is “good for you” and try to convince you to do things “safely”. Even if that thing is wrong, immoral, sinful, unhelpful, dangerous, or harms yourself and others, they can’t use those words – so they use the word “unsafe”. Have you heard this? I’m sure you have!
Let me give you a few examples of how they think:
“People want to do drugs, nothing is going to stop them, but we can’t say ‘doing drugs is wrong‘. We know they are dangerous, so we need to try to let people do drugs as safely as possible. We’ll tell people that cigarettes, alcohol, pot, and hard drugs can destroy your body and mind, that it’s not a “heathy choice”, but because people are just animals, the only way to help is to try to make doing drugs as “safe” as possible. So we’ll get the government to sell the drugs, and pay for places for people to do drugs, and then offer services to help them when they get sick and addicted. Then at least they’ll be “safe” as they do it. After all, people are basically like animals that need owners to take care of them.”
The government is really talking about this right now.
“People want to eat sugar and garbage, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them – kids and teenagers are way too stupid to make healthy choices, they’re just animals after all.”
For a while they though that since kids are just little animals, and garbage is the only thing they’ll eat, we’ll fill the school cafeterias with cheap food, pop and candy machines – at least they’ll be eating. Then they figured out that the kids were all addicted, sick, fat and stupid because of what they were eating. But they couldn’t turn to the food and snack providers and say, “feeding kids garbage is immoral and wrong”…so they tried to force schools to find “healthy alternatives”? It makes me angry because these companies and schools treat you as though you are no smarter than a monkey in a cage, or mice in a laboratory. They’re using you to make money. After all, you’re just animals who can’t make good decisions, right?
“People want to have sex whenever they want with whoever they want, and nothing is going to stop them.”
They know that doing that is actually quite dangerous, but since they’ve thrown out the Bible and any form of morality, they can’t simply say, “this is the good way to have sex, and this is the bad way.” So instead they try to teach kids how to do something dangerous as “safely” as possible. They are working overtime trying to keep people (children, teenagers, and adults) from killing themselves and others with heartbreak, diseases, and all sorts of abuse problems, by inventing something called “Safe Sex”.
They get the government to pay for condoms and pass them out because they don’t think people can say no. And worse, the government pays to kill any of the babies these people make, so they can keep having sex. After all, they think, all these people, even the babies, are just animals, pieces of tissue. And we can’t expect them to follow any rules in regards to sex, right?
The World Needs Animals
A lot of our society actually depends on having you to act like animals. Consider the advertisements you see. Food, toy, and cell phone commercials are no different than shining a laser in front of a cat and watching them chase it! “Look, a shiny thing! It’s so bright! Your little brain likes shiny things, right? You should get a credit card because then you’ll get more stuff! You like stuff don’t you! We know you’re too dumb to read the agreement for the credit card or your cell phone contract… and we count on that.”
Advertisements manipulate your most basic instincts: Look, a shiny… go get the shiny! Look, buying this will give you friends… you want to be part of a pack, don’t you? Look, buying this will make you powerful… you don’t want to be weak, do you? Look, buying this will make you attractive… you don’t want to be ugly and forgotten, do you? It’s all primal – they don’t want to you think, and count on the fact that you won’t think! After all, you’re just an animal, right?
The idea of us saying “NO” doesn’t occur to them – because most of the time we don’t. Why? Because they think you’re an animal, designed to consume whatever they feed you, and then crap out money for them. It’s actually quite insulting, when you think about it – and that’s what makes me angry. I know how awesome you guys are. I know how creative and amazing you guys are and it makes me angry that they treat you like animals and not people.
But here’s the thing that makes me even more mad… most of the time they’re right! We do act like animals! – I’m including myself in this because I get sucked in too. Too often we live up to (or more like live down to) their expectations.
You are a Special Creation
So, I want to yell something at you today. The same thing that the Animal Man shouted: YOU ARE NOT AN ANIMAL! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU ARE A PERSON! You are special. You have been created in the image of God with dignity, worth and purpose. You are a being unlike anything else in the universe, someone that the angels look upon and marvel. You are the perfect unity of body, mind and soul. Though you are part animal, you are so much more. You have the ability to love, create, choose, and rule this world.
Every part of you – from the way you look, to the parents you have, to the skills you possess, to the weaknesses you struggle with – was designed specially by God, each part carefully chosen, “knitted together” in your mother’s womb, to make you unique among everyone else – there is no one like you.
At the very beginning of the world, when there was nothing, God said, “Let there be Light!” and from there created everything with order and beauty – the sun, moon, stars, water, fish, birds, animals, plants, everything. And then He paused.
He paused and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit said to each other, “Let us create man in our image”. That’s a huge statement! We are not animals. We are beings who bear the image of God. That’s why the 2st commandment says we shouldn’t make “graven images” – because we already have an image – us! Looking at other people reminds us of the presence, the person, the image of God.
In Psalm 8 David sings about how we can see how amazing God is by looking at His creation, and how amazing it is to be one of His creations. He says,
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him…. Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet… the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea…. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
David is overwhelmed as he thinks of what it means to be one of God’s creations. How carefully we are made, “crowned with glory and honour”. We are His image, His creation, His choice, His design, His idea, His artwork, His child, His beloved…
Then in Psalm 24 David sings again about how since God is the Creator of all things, everything we see is all His – He owns it – including every single human being – including you and me. He says:
“The earth and everything in it belong to the Lord. The world and all its people belong to him.”
But in the next verses, after looking at God’s power, holiness and perfection, He realizes that He has a problem. That’s probably happened to you too, right? You look at the 10 Commandments, the stories about Jesus, the expectations that God has of you, and even listen to the conscience that God put inside you, and you realize there’s a problem. People don’t live up to who God created us to be. He says, “Who may go up on the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy Temple?” What he means is, “You’re amazing, God and I’m one of your creatures… but I’m so different than you! How can I possibly live with you?” That’s a problem.
But then, in the next sentence he says, “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…”. What David is building to is the realization that the only way we can be who we have been created to be, which includes living in harmony with God, is by an act of God changing our hearts. But how do we become people “with clean hands a pure hearts”?
God has no problem understanding right and wrong. He invented it. Yes, He’s angry and disappointed at how much sin we have in our lives… but He doesn’t want to leave us that way. He knows we are weak, that we’ve killed our souls with sin, that we often live like animals and not His special creations. But that didn’t stop Him from coming to save us.
Let me read to you from Romans 5:6-10 which talks about who we were before Jesus came to earth, what He did, and who we are after. It says:
“Christ died for us while we were still weak. We were living against God, but at the right time, Christ died for us…. In this way God shows his great love for us. We have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death. So through Christ we will surely be saved from God’s anger. I mean that while we were God’s enemies, God made us his friends through the death of his Son.”
That’s how salvation works. That’s what Christians mean when we say that we are “Saved by Jesus Christ.” God treated his Son Jesus like an enemy so we wouldn’t have to be.
He saw that we, through our disobedience and by living like animals, were killing our souls and making ourselves into enemies. That sin required punishment – the punishment of death – and Jesus took that punishment for everyone who would be willing to believe it and accept Him as the one who saved them. Jesus died, so that God could declare us to be people with “clean hands and pure hearts”.
Why would God do that? Because God has a personal interest in making sure that you are as amazing as possible! You bear His image! You are one of His! Therefore He wants to save you, heal you, fix you, restore you to Him, and make you into the best image of Himself as possible. That means He gets more glory, and you get to be the person He created you to be. It’s an incredible arrangement.
“A New Creation”
But it doesn’t end there. God doesn’t leave us in our sin, but pulls us out of the muck, cleans us up, and changes us into different people. This is why Christians talk about being “Born again”. The change is so dramatic that it’s as though they have been reborn into a different person!
Let me read from 1 Corinthians 5:15-19:
“Christ died for all so that those who live would not continue to live for themselves. He died for them and was raised from death so that they would live for him. From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we no longer think of him in that way. If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself. And God gave us the work of bringing everyone into peace with him. I mean that God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace.”
It says “we no longer think of anyone as the world does”? Another translation says, “We regard no one according to the flesh.” In other words, what he means is that Christians don’t see people as animals. We don’t believe that people are stuck in their sin, that they have no choice, that they can’t help it. We believe every person is someone special that God loves, that God can change, and who can make the choice to say “yes” or “no” to what is right and wrong.
That’s the invitation I give to you tonight. I don’t address you as animals without a choice, but as God’s amazing creatures, made in His image, able to choose for yourself. Will you accept what Jesus has done for you? Will you believe that he died on the cross on your behalf? If you haven’t, now is the time.
And if you already have, then let me ask you to believe that you are at peace with God. He’s not punishing you – He already punished Jesus so you wouldn’t have to be. If you believe in Him, then God has made you new. From the moment you put your faith in Him He began the process of destroying the parts of you that were stuck in the muck of sin, fear, anger, addiction, and lies. He gives us all we need to live as Divine Creations and not mere animals.
Every day, as we read His word and talk to Him, hang out with His people and tell others about Him, God continues the process of making us more and more like Him – more and more into who God created us to be.
In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin [that’s Jesus], so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the gift of a relationship with God. Step back into what humans were created to be, not animals who live out their fleshly desires, but special creations of God that live lives of righteousness, beauty, peace, love, hope, courage, joy, freedom, holiness and light.
So I ask you to remember that you are not an animal, and to connect with the one who made you into a creature with a body, mind and soul.
Tonight I want you to spend some time thinking about your life, your actions, decisions and your motivations – if you’ve been living as an animal – from instinct believing you have no choice – or as a person know knows they are much more – someone with a conscience, a heart, who knows right and wrong, and who listens to the creator.
I invite you to consider who you really are, and to talk to God about who you are on the inside. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to change your heart so you can live as a human being as you give your life to Jesus Christ.
Last week we said that there were two main sins that the false teachers were leading the churches that Jude was writing to towards.The first was them teaching wrong things about who Jesus is and what He did. Theologians call this: Christology — the study of Christ. The second problem was that the false teachers were “perverting the grace of God into sensuality.” (vs 4) — in other words, they were teaching that since God forgives sin then Christians can sin without restraint! They could sin — and even should sin more — because it makes God’s forgiving grace look even better.
So the two areas that are being attacked in the church was their theology and their morality. Or — what they believe and how they live. How they think and how they act. I’m not sure there are two more important issues that people, especially Christians, have to get right than their theology and their morality!
There are a lot of important issues that we can talk about in the church — things like worship style, local and global missions, what kind of ministries we have, whether we do small groups or not, what to do during Sunday School, how important membership is, technological advances, how to deal with church discipline, divorce, alcohol, smoking… and, I’m sure, a million others. Churches have split over these issues, so obviously they are important in some regard. But, really, the two most important things we need to get right in our church is to be biblical in our theology and our morality. What we believe about God and the impact those beliefs have on our life.
And Jude (among other places in scripture) have some pretty strong things to say about Christians and churches that don’t their their theology and morality seriously.
The State of Evangelicalism in Canada
This is important to us today since we definitely live in an age where theology and morality have been sidelined — in the general culture, and even in the church. I’ve already given examples of Atheist Pastors and Popular False Teachers, so I’m not going to rehash that, but I did want to give you a quick example of what I mean about people who don’t care about biblical theology or biblical morality.
Just this May, a market research group called the Angus Reid Institute released a study where they looked at the theological and moral beliefs of Canadians who call themselves evangelical Christians. I’m not sure how they defined that, but let’s go with it anyway. Here’s a few stats from their report:
- 46% of Canadian evangelicals “disapprove of and do not accept” same-sex marriage. That leaves 54% that do accept it. (By contrast, 84% of all Canadians approve of same-sex marriage.)
- 54% of Canadian evangelicals “disapprove of and do not accept” a woman being able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason. So that means 46%, almost half, of evangelical Christians think there are good reasons to kill babies. (Compare that with the 81% of all Canadians who support abortion.)
- 38% of Canadian evangelicals believe we need to worry about our own country most and let the rest of the world take care of itself. So almost 2 out of 5 people who call themselves Christians would do away with global missions.
- When it comes to “religious people” — whatever that means:
- 18% of “approve and accept” people under 18 years old having sex.
- 40% of people who embrace religion agree that right and wrong is a matter of personal opinion.
- And 10% of religious people think that the growth of atheism is a good thing.
Theology and Morality is being thrown out the windows of evangelical churches. Instead of standing up for truth (or as Jude says, “contending for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”), or as Jesus said, being “salt” and “light” in this dark world, Christians are becoming more and more like the secular world around us.
I was given a stark reminder of how worldly our churches have become as I read about the Ashley Madison leaks this week. If you haven’t heard about this, there is a site online that’s whole purpose is to connect married people who want to commit adultery. Their slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”
A while back their computers were hacked and just recently the hackers released a huge list of names of the people that were registered. Right now Calgary and Ottawa are fighting for top spot for most people registered in their respective cities. At one point it was reported that 20%, or 1 in 5, people in Ottawa were registered with the adultery site. That’s incredible.
My first reaction to this news was pretty callous. I though, “Good, let the philandering adulterers get publicly shamed.” I confess that wasn’t a very loving attitude. Jesus didn’t look at adulterers with judgement and anger, but with compassion. Compassion because of how many people are hurt when sexual sin is involved.
One result of this website’s user data being released has been that a whole bunch of church leaders, 400 in fact, were outed as people who committed (or wanted to commit) adultery, and will likely be resigning from their positions this week. This is going to have a heartbreaking effect on a lot of people, and ripple out a long ways. Plus, it gives the people who hate Christians yet another reason to call us hypocrites. Worse than that is that I also read that not only are people getting disqualified from ministry and divorced, but some may have even committed suicide.
This is why our view of theology and morality matters so much. Yes, sin will always be with us, and fools and failures will always happen, but you can’t tell me that if these people had a right view of God’s justice and mercy, and were seeking to live by His moral standards, that this would have happened.
We need to get these things right in our personal lives and our church. We need to talk about this all the time. We need to make sure that we study and live out biblical theology and biblical morality. Not only because we don’t want to bring shame to the name of Jesus, but because it protects our souls from harm! It’s a matter of self preservation.
Look again at verse 3. Jude says we need to “contend for the faith”. Other translations say: “defend the faith”, “continue your vigorous defence of the faith”, “compete for the faith”, “fight for the christian faith”, “persevere in the faith”, “agonize for the faith”.
Which faith? He says “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The biblical, ancient, right and true faith that was given to us by the apostles and prophets chosen by God to deliver His message to us.
Men and women of the faith have been fighting this battle for centuries… millennia… and Jude urges us to pick up their sword and mantle and continue the fight. Sadly, most Christians aren’t.
Why Should I?
“Why should I?”, some of us ask. “I’m no theologian, I’m no judge, why should I take up the sword and mantle? It’s not my fight. It’s a battle between egg-heads who like to fight over bible words and crazy people who picket and petition on street corners. I’m not either of those.”
Let’s take a look at a big reason that Jude gives for why we all need to be involved in “contending for the faith”.
God Will Judge People Who Spread Falsehood
Look at verses 5-7 and see the biggest reason why — and it’s not warm and fuzzy: God is going to judge, condemn and punish — quite severely — those who believe, teach and spread falsehood about Him. If we really love people, then we need to warn them about the coming wrath against people who get theology and morality wrong.
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
Jude reminds his readers that Jesus isn’t just a great teacher that we can listen to some things and forget others, but is in fact, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, eternal in His divine nature, and active in the world since the very beginning. Jude reminds them that what we believe about Jesus and God — our Christology and Theology — isn’t something that we come up with, but has been given to us in scripture. We don’t get to come up with our own ideas about God and Jesus, but must study what God has revealed about Himself.
I know this annoys people today, but it’s the truth. Making up a god of your own creation does you no benefit in this life or the next. It is for us to discover our Creator, not for us to invent one.
Jude’s warning gets more serious when reminds them that the same people Jesus saved out of Egypt were destroyed before they ever got to the Promised Land. Why? Because they failed to trust God, take Him at His word, they lost their faith, they forgot their theology, they forgot their morality — Jude says they “did not believe”. Just because they were out of Egypt gave them no right to stop obeying and trusting God. Just as believing in Jesus and going to church doesn’t mean we don’t have keep contending for our faith.
Jude’s next reminder is about “the angels”. Jude reminds them that even though angels were a special creation of God, they too lost their faith and rebelled against God’s authority. They were sent out of His presence and condemned to hell.
Next Jude lays down an example of the kind of power God wields against people who refuse to listen to Him. Sodom and Gomorrah were great cities with huge morality problems — especially condoning sexual sin. Jude reminds the readers that God wiped these people off the map — leaving only a smoking crater where these cities once stood. I read this week that during the first century a person could still see smoke rising from the site of where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.
So Jude’s question is simple: Do you really want to spread lies, misinformation, and falsehood about this God? He destroyed the same Israelites He saved from Egypt because of their unbelief. He cursed the angels because of their unbelief. He utterly destroyed whole cities because they refused to welcome Him or live by His word. Jude says these stories of destruction “serve as an example” to us. Do you really want to be on the wrong side of this God? Better to get our theology and our morality right than mess with Him.
The examples continue throughout. In verse 11 we read, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
People who teach and believe false theology and morality are walking the same way as Cain, who wanted to worship God on his own grounds, not by God’s command, and when his offering was rejected, he turned to murdering his faithful brother.
They rush into “Balaam’s error”. Balaam was a prophet who was willing to say whatever the enemy King Balak wanted him to, so he could get paid. Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel, and it didn’t matter to Balaam what he said, because he was all about the money. He tried over and over to try to curse Israel, but God kept preventing him. Yet he stubbornly kept moving forward against God’s will. In the same way, people who don’t care about good theology and morality are usually more concerned with their money and comfort than God, others, or their own soul. They just stubbornly keep moving closer to judgement.
“Korrah’s rebellion” was against Moses. Korrah gathered 250 popular leaders to try to overthrow Moses and Aaron and change Israel’s worship practices. They didn’t care what God had said. They didn’t care that Moses was God’s man, that Aaron was His chosen priest. They wanted to do things their way, believe what they wanted to believe, come to God on their own terms. God’s response was to open up the earth and swallow up the men, their households and all their goods. And then, for good measure, God sent fire from the sky to consume them. (Num 16)
No Big Deal
Has Jude made the point clear about how serious God is about our theology and morality? So I ask you, do you take what you believe seriously enough?
Sometimes we think that the God of the Old Testament was mean and spiteful, but the God of the New Testament is friendly and loving. They are the same God. Jesus is the one who delivered the Israelites from slavery to Egypt, Jesus is the one who died on the cross to save us from slavery to sin and Satan. The God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is the same One who inspired David to write Psalm 23 and Paul to write 1 Corinthians 13.
God is very patient, and willing to let a lot go, but not forever. Judgement will come upon all, and I want to make sure I’m on the right side of Him when He comes. Therefore I study, pray and seek to live a moral life under Him. Could I do better? Certainly, but that’s the point — I want to do better and know more about Him. What about you? How seriously do you take your theology and morality?
This is no joke. God’s wrath is no joke.
Messed Up Numbers
In verse 17 we read Jude’s plea to the churches, and I want to read it in the International Children’s Bible so we all understand. It says:
“Dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said before. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be people who laugh about God. They will do only what they want to do—things that are against God.’ These are the people who divide you. They do only what their sinful selves want. They do not have the Spirit. But dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up strong. Pray with the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love. Wait for the Lord Jesus Christ with his mercy to give you life forever. Show mercy to people who have doubts. Save them. Take them out of the fire. Show mercy mixed with fear to others. Hate even their clothes which are dirty from sin.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? I said at the beginning that there are a lot of things we can talk about at church, but there are two things that we have to get right: our theology and morality. That’s what he’s saying here too.
We shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who spread falsehood about God and Jesus and the Bible. Jesus warns us about that, as do the prophets and apostles. We shouldn’t be divided by them because we should be prepared enough to see them coming.
I’m passionate about this because of the reports I keep reading about how biblically illiterate North America is — and that’s incredibly dangerous. The Bible is how we learn about theology and morality — who God is, how we are saved by Jesus, and how we are to please Him. The Bible isn’t just God’s love-letter to us, it’s the message that tells us how we can avoid being judged as sinners and destroyed by fire. It’s the how-to so we can avoid Hell, so we better get it right! .
Just last year in the US people were asked how much they knew about the Bible. 81% said they felt pretty knowledgeable about the Bible — but:
- less than half could name the first 5 books
- half of them thought that John the Baptist was one of the twelve apostles.
- 22% said that Noah was married to Joan of Arc.
- 36% thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.
In 2013 a Canadian study found that only 14% of Canadians read the bible at least once a month. The number was at 28% in 1998. Here’s the kicker: 67% of Canadians identify as Christians according to Stats Canada.
Those are some messed up numbers. How do you even know what a Christian is if you don’t read the Bible?
So Jude leaves us with some pretty clear things to do in order to combat false teaching and take our faith seriously. He says in verse 20 that [and I’m switching back to the ESV now]:
First: we need to “build ourselves up in our most holy faith”. The imagery of God building us up, and us building each other up, is all over scripture. We are seen as God’s temple, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and His apostles, and are commanded to hold fast to the truth so that we are a good, strong place for God to reside. We need to stick to the strong foundation. This means we engage in personal bible study, corporate teaching, small groups, and exploration of what scripture says. Not just on Sundays, but everyday throughout the week.
Second: We need to “pray in the Holy Spirit”. I’m reading about prayer right now and know that I need to work on this too. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we speak in tongues or have some kind of charismatic prayer experience. What this means is that we are praying in harmony with what God the Holy Spirit wants us to pray about, rather than merely our own agenda. To get beyond the grocery list of topics on our mind, and discover what is on the mind of God. That’s where our faith will really grow.
Third: we need to “keep ourselves in God’s love”. In other words, this isn’t just about wanting to “flee the coming wrath” (Matt 3:7), but falling in love with the One who loves us. Romans 8:15, “…you received the Spirit of Sonship and by Him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’’. Beyond salvation is the knowledge of our adoption as the sons and daughters of God, and the love we have for our Father.
Jesus said in John 14, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Keeping God’s word is “keeping ourselves in God’s love”. And we must know God’s word to keep it! If we don’t know God’s word, then how can we be living in it and loving Him as He has asked to be loved? To not be in God’s word is sin.
Fourth: we need to “save others by snatching them out of the fire”. When we come across a doubter who has been messed up by false teaching, let’s have mercy on them by telling them the truth and realizing we all believed lies at one point. When we see someone doomed to hellfire, we should have mercy on them by sharing the gospel.
And when we meet the false teacher, we should have mercy on them too, but also remember to fear God and give appropriate attention to the danger of speaking to that person. The word picture Jude uses of “hating even the garment stained by flesh” describes — and I’m not kidding here — soiled, poopy, underwear. His message is that we should show love because they are a human being made in the image of God, but treat everything around them the way we would treat a dirty diaper — hold our breath, keep it at arms length and toss it out.
Notice the action words in verses 20-23. “Building”, “praying”, “keeping”, “waiting”, “saving”. We are meant to be people of action, contending, fighting, for good, biblical theology and morality. Jesus is the only way, the truth the life. It is only by His name that we are saved. He has the words of eternal life. Let us not grow weary of doing the hard work of building, praying, keeping, waiting, saving and contending for our faith in Jesus Christ.
What can you do today, and this week, to build your faith and contend for the faith?
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)