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The Danger of Seeking the Crown without the Cross (1 Corinthians Sermon 15)

The Danger of Seeking the Crown without the Cross (1 Corinthians Sermon 15)

January 20, 2019 | Andy Davis
1 Corinthians 4:6-14
Suffering, Persecution

Sermon Transcript

I. A Challenging Passage

Well, one of the great privileges of my life is to stand before you week after week and unfold the Word of God, the perfect Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed," is breathed out by God, it's spoken by the Spirit. And it is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." And so I ask week after week, "what do you want to say to us by this text?" And there are times that the Word of God must speak a word of rebuke or correction or warning, and this is one of those times. The Word of God, we are told in Hebrews Chapter 4, is "living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight, everything's uncovered and laid there before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account."  Hebrews 4:12-13.

And as I look at that, I think about Jesus and the vision that the Apostle John had on the Island of Patmos, of the resurrected glorified Christ moving through the seven golden lampstands representing local churches, and as He moves through the seven golden lampstands He is described in many ways, but one of the things said of Him is that he has eyes like blazing fire. Holy eyes to see us straight through. And we see evidence of that in Jesus's life when He would just look at a man sitting under a tree and say, "Now, here is a true Israelite, [Nathaniel] in whom there is nothing false." "How do you know me?" Jesus said, "I saw you while you were under the fig tree." Or the rich young ruler would come and they had that conversation, all these things I have capped, I've done all this. He looked at him and said, "One thing you lack…" that's Jesus.

And so for me, I just want to lay this morning under His holy gaze. I want Him to look at me, I want Him to know me, and all of you, I want you to do the same. I want you, like Psalm 139 where it says, "Search me O God and know my heart, test me and show me if there's any anxious way in me. Show me if there's anything offensive in me and lead me in the way everlasting." This text that we're coming to this morning has been on my mind and pressing on my soul for probably, I would say 10 years. As I was going through, doing a study, the words that Topher just read, arrested me and pressed on me. And I think it should be anyway, one of the most challenging passages for thoughtful American Evangelical Christians to lay under and allow it to search us.

If you know what to look for. I want the Lord through His Spirit to just hover over us and show us, and rebuke us, correct us, train us in righteousness so that we can do His will. As I wrote this sermon, I was sitting in comfort in a heated room with books open on a nice desk, and I wore a nice comfortable clothes and there was no threat to me of being arrested or dragged away. All of us for the most part, I think just passed a very pleasant Christmas season, holiday season in which we enjoyed some of the best things of our American life. We enjoyed gifts and friendships and comfortable houses and lavish meals and wonderful aromas and flavors and all kinds of lavish gifts. And so I think about our context, the context we live in, what we experience week by week, and then I think about the text and through that a portal into my understanding of church history, and I think about our brothers and sisters, and the glorious trail of blood there's been from the upper room in Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth, the spread of the Gospel, I'm aware of our greatest brothers and sisters that stood firm during the days of the Roman persecution, whose blood wet the sands of the Colosseum because they would not yield to Caesar and continue to declare that Jesus is Lord.

I’m mindful of the 6th century monks trained by Columba, the Irish missionary, who these monks were filled with fiery zeal and they spread the Gospel throughout Europe often at risk of their lives among fierce barbarian tribes in Germania and other places. I'm aware of humble brothers and sisters slaughtered by conquerors like the Vikings and the Huns and the Mongols, as those bloodthirsty warriors built pagan empires and ripped apart the bodies of humble Christians to do it, and they testified to their faith in Christ and in the end, won many of those savages to Christ but at great cost. I'm aware of the deprivations of missionaries that moved to inland regions in China and Africa and paid a great price to do it, who were hardly ever welcomed by the communities they settled in, they lived in very difficult settings to share the Gospel, sometimes starving in order to be able to preach to people who'd never heard the name of Christ. I'm aware that these kinds of sufferings are going on in certain countries all over the world as I mentioned quite recently. For example, in North Korea, the worst place on earth to be a Christian. And then I read the warning that Paul is giving to the Corinthian Christians, which I could summarize in a lot of ways, went like this; the danger of seeking the crown without the cross.

A warning specifically to the Corinthians to not misunderstand their setting in that pagan city, and to not dream of being showered by their pagan neighbors with accolades, and rewards, and money and all kinds of comfortable living gifts from their pagan neighbors, to not yield to that but instead to imitate Paul and the apostles in a life of suffering for the cause of Christ, a life in which Paul was hated and rejected and beaten and imprisoned. And then I look at how I live, how comfortably we pass our days, how we have the best of everything here, the best technology, the best clothing, the best food, the best medical care, the best jobs, the best comforts that human ingenuity can devise. And I ask God, "How can I read these words and not feel ashamed?" But Paul said he did not write it to shame me but to warn me. So I'm not supposed to feel ashamed, I'm not supposed to make you feel ashamed, but if I do the task of this text, I am supposed to warn you, and I have to figure out what that warning is here. What is the warning that the Holy Spirit would speak to us through the words of the Apostle Paul? And that's what my task is this morning, and I would ask just that the Holy Spirit would just work in our midst and that you would all just willingly lay under the text and let it do its work. I don't know what the applications are going to be for all of you, but I just want to drink in the warning because that's what the text is, it's a warning to us.

II. Following Christ to Die “Outside the Gates”

Now, Jesus calls on us to follow Him as disciples. To follow Him, to die outside the gates. He said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself daily and take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life in this world will lose it, but whoever loses his life in this world for me and for the Gospel, find it for eternity." The author to Hebrew says in Hebrews 13:12-13, "Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make His people holy through His own blood, let us then go to Him outside the camp bearing the disgrace he bore." So the image there that the author to Hebrews is giving us outside the gates, outside the camp is a place of societal rejection, to be rejected by the society, to be kicked out. Let's go to Him out there, that's where He is, and let's stand under the cross and bear the reproach He bore, for here we do not have an enduring city. So this is the time let's call over all Christians to not seek to be welcomed and celebrated, and applauded and rewarded in our present age. And this is for us, our hardest trial. So Paul here warns his dear children of their danger and ours. One of the basic convictions I have about the Scripture, there's two basic convictions, one is the immutability of God, the immutability of the God of the Bible, He never changes.

He's the same yesterday, and today and forever, so the God the Bible teaches is the same God we deal with.

Secondly, we sinners, we descendants of Adam don't essentially change either. We're dealing with the same things they dealt with, our technologies are more advanced, it's true but that doesn't change our core nature. And so the sins that the Corinthians were dealing with, we have to deal with too, that's what makes the Bible permanently relevant. And so I feel the best thing for me to do as a 21st century Christian is to say, "How am I like the Corinthians? How are we as a church like the Corinthians that the best way that the text can serve me and us?" And as we read this we see the techniques that Paul is using here. There is overpowering rhetorical power here, he's wheeling out heavy weaponry verbally. He uses overwhelming irony and sarcasm here, and he uses compare and contrast here. When I was an engineer, we had to prepare certain metals for certain processes in semiconductor manufacture, and so we had to get them cleaned up, and we put these pieces of metal in something called an acid bath, and it would vigorously clean the metal. So this text I think is like that, it's an acid bath. And he just dips the Corinthians down and they're to be in it for a while until all of the spiritual filth that's come on their souls and their misunderstanding of their life in this world gets cleaned up.

Paul Desires to Warn, not Shame

He uses strong techniques, his words, his powerful words display, it seems a great danger he sees for them, a great danger for them and I think for us. So it would be easy for us American Christians with a sensitive heart to feel ashamed given our context, but if you look again in verse 14, look what he says in Verse 14, He says, "I'm not writing this to shame you but to warn you as my dear children." So what that means is if you do a good job reading the text, you will be tempted to feel ashamed, but that's not where he wants you to be, he wants you to instead to be warned about a spiritual danger, that's the best way we can deal with the text. So what's he dealing with here? Well, the danger of boasting pridefully in God's gifts, the Corinthians were terrible boasters, they were very arrogant. They were incredibly gifted, they had lots of spiritual gifts at work and because of that they thought they were better than other people, they were very arrogant. In the very next chapter in Chapter 5, he deals with a church discipline issue, and he says, "You should have dealt with the sin instead you are proud."

III. The Danger of Boasting Pridefully in God’s Gifts

So they were very proud people, they're very puffed up. The text here in Verse 6 implies that there's a kind of being puffed up in them, they're arrogant, they're prideful. And so he takes this teaching and he applies this to himself and to Apollos for their benefit. So for their benefit, so that the Corinthians may learn from them the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written, then you will not take pride in one man against another," verse 6, so he's trying to humble them. That's the lesson, that's what he's getting at here.

You remember the issue in the first three chapters, where there are factions and divisions. "I follow Paul… I follow Apollos… I follow Cephas…" etcetera. They're very arrogant, and so they go from celebrating and delighting in a good teacher, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etcetera, to an arrogant factionalism in which they are boasting about their guy and putting everyone else down, and they think that they're superior. So they're very arrogant in this. And he says, "Look, I have tried to level us," Paul and Apollos and Cephas, "We're just servants, we're serving God, we're trying to minister. God's the only one that can give the growth. We've applied all of this to ourselves." So then he says, "So that you may know the meaning of the saying, 'Do not go beyond what is written.'" Topher and I were talking about this and he said, "Pastor, what do you think that means?" I said, "I don't know." And that's a studied I don't know.

I've worked hard for that I don't know. Do not go beyond what is written. When I read a bunch of commentaries, when I meditate, when I pray and I still say effectively, my best answer is, "I don't know what that means." I think simply the written must be Scripture in some sense. So don't go beyond Scripture about yourself, don't go too far. Maybe that's the idea, is don't think too highly of yourself, don't go beyond what Scripture says about yourself. Don't have grandiose opinions about yourself, that could be what he's saying. But he lands in this, "Don't have an arrogant attitude or take pride one man against another." So in order to humble them, in order to slay their pride. And by the way, I was talking to Daphne as we walked in, I said, "What's the difference between being humble and being humbled?"  To be humble is a good thing, to be humbled as a process. And so Paul is seeking to humble them here, and he works it with three searching questions, he presses three questions to the end that they would be humbled.

Question #1: Who Makes You Different than Anyone Else?

Question number one, in Verse 7, "who makes you different than anyone else?" That's the first question, Verse 7. "Who makes you different than anyone else?" Now, one way to look at that is to say... In a way, you're saying you're not any different than anyone else, what makes you different? That's why we say... We all put our pants on one leg at a time. We're all humans. And so I think that's a valid way to understand it to some degree, I don't think that's what he's saying, but I think it is valid to say, "Look, I'm no different than you, we're all the same. We are created in the image of God, we have fallen into sin, we violated God's laws, we are sinners and if we have been by faith in Christ saved, we are sinners saved by grace." That's what we are, we're not any different than anybody else. Someday we're going to die, someday we're going to give an account to God for our lives, that's just like everybody, we're just like everybody else. But I don't actually think that's what Paul's saying here, there're actually are differences, we're not identical. We have different roles to play in the body of Christ. Later, he will say, "There's one body with many members, and the members don't all have the same function." There's a hand, there's a foot, there's an eye, etcetera, there're different spiritual gifts and not only that, some people have spiritual gifts in exceeding measure beyond others.

There are some teachers of the Word that are exquisitely skillful, and then there are others that have a normal measure of that gift, and both of them are useful but they have it in different measure. So it is with all the spiritual gifts, there are differences. But what is Paul asking? Look carefully what he asked, "Who makes you different than anyone else?" You are different, but who made you that way? And when we get to heaven and we see the differences, because star will differ from star and glory, and there will be some radiantly, massively bright and others not as bright but still bright, we'll ask the same question, who made them different? God did. It's essentially God that makes us different from each other.

That's the difference. But that should humble you. If I'm different than you, if I'm better or worse or whatever in terms of the level of spiritual gifting or whatever, it's God that's humbling. Who makes you different?

Question #2: what do you have that you did not receive?

Question number two; "what do you have that you did not receive?" Very humbling question. Look at all of your gifts, "Every good and perfect gift that you have ever received comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights who doesn't change like shifting shadows." James 1. Everything you have you received. Where you were born, when you were born, who your parents were, what your intellectual gifts are, what your physical gifts are, what your spiritual gifts are, how you were converted, all of these things, you received, you received, you receive, you receive, they were gifts to you.

What do you have that's yours that you did not receive? Very humbling. We should be far more thankful than we are, don't you think? Praise the Lord O my soul, O my innermost being praise His holy name. Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits. We forget many of His benefits. Everything we have is a gift from God, everything, all of our possessions, our clothing, our houses, our cars, our money, all of it, we received.

Question #3: And if you did receive it, then why do you boast as though you did not?

Third question, "And if you did receive it, then why do you boast as though you did not?" The gift glorifies the giver, not the receiver. The glory goes to the giver and so all of these gifts, will redound in Heaven to the glory of God. We're going to find out how they were given, how they were dispensed and what God... And all of it will go up, we'll all be casting crowns and giving God the glory. I think we ought to just lay under those three questions, continually. They are very humbling. They scour pride off of us and so that's what Paul is doing to them. They should not be arrogant, they should be humble. Then he turns to the danger as I've said, of seeking a crown without a cross. He rolls up his sleeves and now he pours on his strongest acid bath on them.

IV. The Danger of Seeking a Crown Without a Cross

The fundamental problem I think is that they are seeking the comforts and the eternal glories of Christianity without the process of suffering, that must lead to it. They wanted the Glory of Heaven without the suffering. Our flesh seeks a life of comfort and praise, and success and pleasure. No one naturally wants to be hated or be assaulted or be imprisoned or be impoverished or be slaughtered. Nobody wants that. It's not normal to want those things. And so we would all seek to avoid them. The Corinthians, are no different than us. And the danger is the same for us as it was for them. However, the more we avoid the cross, the more we are going to build with wood, hay and stubble, day after day. And the more we avoid the cross, the more alluring the world will be to us, and the more enticed we'll be after worldly things. So Paul seeks to some degree to shock us out of our complacency, into a lifestyle, more aligned with him as he follows Christ.

The Already – Not Yet

Now, here we get to a problem of what theologians called eschatology or realized eschatology. Eschatology is end time things. But there is in Christianity, what we call an already and not yet aspect. There are some things we already have and some things we do not yet have. Christ has already come. He has already lived, He has already died on the cross for sinners like you and me and He has already been raised from the dead, and He has already ascended to the right hand of God, that is our gospel. And Christians, people on Earth are have and are already hearing that message and are receiving full forgiveness of their sins through faith in Christ. And let me just stop and say, if that's not happened to you I thank God that you're here. I'm glad that you're here to see, the baptism of those two sisters, I'm glad that you're able to hear the Gospel from me now, all that you need to do to have full forgiveness of sins is you don't have to move from your pew, you just have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died on the cross for you, and that you needed that done or else you would go to hell, that you need a Savior and that Jesus is your savior and call on Him in your heart. Say, "Save me," and you'll be saved. That's the Gospel. That's already... That's here. And if that happens, and it's just instantaneously you have received forgiveness and then already adopted as sons and daughters of the living God, already already, already, already, but there are some not yet things.

Christ's kingdom is not yet fully come, so we pray in the Lord's prayer, "May your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That's not yet. Many of the elect have not yet been converted. They live in other countries, they've not yet heard of Jesus, and the great work of salvation has not yet happened, in their lives. Satan, and his evil forces are not yet evicted from their thrones of power. They still hold sway here on planet Earth. We here on earth are not yet free of indwelling sin. We're still in danger here from our sins. We are not yet in glory. I don't mean to surprise you, but you have not yet received your resurrection body. Some of you know that very well, others of you, maybe you didn't know that, but I'm saying, you have not yet received your resurrection body you're not shining like the sun in the kingdom of your Father, and you're not there yet, either. You're not in the new Jerusalem, it's not descended from Heaven, like a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. These things have not yet happened.

V. The Apostles’ Lifestyle a Shocking Contrast

But the Corinthians were acting like the work is done, they're already there. And they weren't. They wanted a separate peace with the pagan world that surrounded them. They wanted the Christ's enemies in Corinth to love them and praise them, and shower benefits on them. They wanted to be esteemed and honored and welcomed and celebrated and given the pleasure of a comfortable easy successful life. And my image is that they were sleep walking toward a cliff. And Paul has to stab them broad awake with these words. And so he uses sarcasm and irony here. Look at Verse 8, "Already you have all you want. Already, you have become rich." So he starts with their feelings of complacency about their earthly prosperity. Their wealth, material wealth, they look like they're satisfied, like somebody who has gorged himself in some feast and is laying down sleeping on a couch. Totally satisfied. You have everything you want now.

But like the Laodiceans who said, "I'm rich, I have acquired wealth and I don't need a thing." And they don't realize that they're wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, and they need to be woken up. It's similar here. Not exactly the same, but similar with the Corinthians. They need to be woken up to the facts. And he says, "Already, you have become kings." Someday we will reign with Christ, in His eternal kingdom. We're going to reign, just not yet. But they're acting like they're already there, they've already had their coronation. And then Paul and this is the key, this is the interpretive key to the whole thing that I know he's using irony, "How I wish you really were kings. So we could be kings with you." So that's the key to the whole thing. He doesn't think they're rich, he doesn't think that they have become kings, he doesn't as he's going to say, in a minute think that they're wise and that they're strong and all that. He doesn't think any of those things about them. But they think them about themselves, he doesn't think them about them.

The Condition of the Apostles

And so he says, "I wish you had been kings because then we would be kings with you." We apostles seem to have been left behind from your party, left behind, we're not included. I wish you were true, but look at our lives, Verse 9, "It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe to angels, as well as to men." Powerful image, a horrifying spectacle. Paul uses the Greek word from which we get our word theater. We are a theater of horror actually. We're on a stage and people are watching us. We've been put on display. And actually we're on display before the whole universe. Angels as well as men are watching us, everyone's watching us. The image, perhaps is the arena where the gladiators would fight as you know the story, and they would stand before Caesar and they would say, "We who are about to die, salute you." And then they would fight to the death and the Roman citizens would watch the horrifying spectacle of blood and guts and cheer like crazy, like wicked pagans."

Maybe that's the image here of the arena but other commentators prefer the idea of a Roman procession, a triumphal procession after a battle and the Romans would do this after a big battle in some distant Pagan land. The conquering General would come back and have a procession down the street of Rome, and he would be honored, up in front and his conquering soldiers would be honored and it'd be all that. But Paul is not saying that's us. He's saying, "No we're at the end of the procession." Well, who is at the end? Those were the prisoners of war who had been captured and were trudging in chains behind the triumphal procession. Trudging in chains with the commander if he still lived, there hated by the populist, hated by them. "They're showering them with insults and pelting them with mud and filth, and garbage and rocks and we are at the end, condemned to die in the arena. That's my life," Paul is saying. "That's what I'm living, Oh Corinthians."

"And the angels are watching too," he says, "We have been made a spectacle… to angels, as well as to men." So the angels are up in heaven watching this. Oh, they could do something about it. Oh yes, they could, they could step in at any moment and rescue a martyr as he was being stoned to death, they could have rescued Stephen, no doubt about it. It's like angels, you could see them leaning forward, "Just give me the chance, I’ll take care of it." But then they would have killed Saul of Tarsus, so they hold back. But if you read in the Book of Revelation, and they are at some points, unleashed to pour judgment on the Earth, they don't hesitate at all and they say God is righteous to turn the water into blood because they shed the blood of your people, and now you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. So the angels are watching this whole thing. We've been made a spectacle to them.

Paul Continues the Contrast

And then he goes on to continue the contrast. Look at Verses 10-13, "We are fools for Christ. But you? You're so wise in Christ. We are weak, but you? You are strong, you are honored. We are dishonored, to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we're in rags, we're brutally treated, we are homeless, we work hard with our own hands when we're cursed, we bless, when we are persecuted, we endure it, when we are slandered, we answer kindly, up to this moment, we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." That's who we are, Corinthians." So this is what English professors call a compare and contrast. Compare your life to ours. Let's put them side by side. The Corinthians, by in their hearts in some way making peace with Christ's enemies, the pagans there in Corn, by making peace with anti-Christian society, they were lining themselves up with the God-hating world. And if you look at it, the image here is the Corinthians want to go up up up. And that they would like to become more comfortable, more powerful, wealthier. They'll like to go up. Up, up, up, always be seen as wise, and prosperous and powerful and honored by them up and up and up.

But Paul and the Apostles, as they spread this hated gospel and more and more places were experiencing more and more rejection, more and more hostility, more and more hatred, opposition, attacks, they're going down, down, down, down. So I picture a massive multi-level department store in a major city like a Macy's or something like that, and you got the escalators. You ever been on that? And you're going and you can pass them by, you can shake hands, not advised, but you're going right by and Paul says, "You folks are on the up escalator. We apostles we're on the down escalator. And as I perceive we're going down probably to execution. The Holy Spirit warns me, that in every city prison and hardships are awaiting me. So we're on the down." Now what is he saying to them? Get off the up escalator, on the next floor, cross-around to the down and start going down, become a fool for Christ's sake.

Start being hated by the pagans, start being offensive to them in a godly way by preaching the Gospel. That's what he's telling them. Get off the up escalator. Look at the details, he said, "We are fools for Christ. You are so wise in Christ." Really? The Gospel is seemed to be foolish. We've been dealing with that from Chapter 1. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. There is no way to make the gospel of a bloody, dead Jewish man dead on a Roman cross, there's no way to make it appear as anything but foolish and offensive to the unconverted mind. There's no way we can pretty it up, nor should we try. The apostles had lost everything for this message. Why were the Corinthians seeking to be wise? Then he says, "We are weak, but you? You are strong." The weakness was seen in the apostles when they would preach a message that was almost universally mocked in both the Jewish synagogue and the Greek market place.

The weakness was seen even more when they were subsequently arrested by the authorities and dragged places they did not want to go. They looked very weak then. The weakness was on full display, when they are on trial and they were condemned. But the Corinthians wanted to be strong in this world, counted among the powerful, and the influential. Then he says, "You are honored, we are dishonored." In the same way the Corinthians wanted to be held in honor by the world. They wanted to be celebrated and loved and esteemed by the pagan world. How could they be? Jesus said this in John 15:19, "If you belong to the world, the world would love you as its own as it is I have saved you out of the world. That's why the world hates you." John 15:19.

So how could they be honored while Paul is disordered? And He says to this very hour this is not a distant memory but a present reality. And look at the physical trials, to this very hour, this is what we're living right now. We go hungry and thirsty, we're in rags, we're brutally treated, we're homeless, we work hard with our own hands, when we are cursed, we bless when we're persecuted, we endure it, when we are slandered" we answer kindly, we are living out Christianity in the midst of people who hate us. And we're winning a very small number of them to faith in Christ. Most of them not. That's our life.

And then the final indignity Verse 13, this is about a strong language as you can ever find, "Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." Lot of different translations of that, but that's a good translation, I think. We're like what's at the bottom of the dumpster on a hot August day, to the world. We stink, we're disgusting to them, they hate us, because we testify about them that their sins are evil and that they need to repent and believe in Jesus in order to be saved, they hate that. And so we are disgusting to them, the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. Now, what about you, Corinthians? Now, I could have ended the text, the section I was preaching on verse 13, but I just couldn't do it. I had to go over to verse 14 and say, "You know," Paul is saying, "You know, I'm not writing this to shame you but to warn you." It's almost like as you read it, it's like you feel like he could say this, "You ought to be ashamed for how you're living your life in this world, Oh Corinthians. But that's not what I want you to feel. I just want to warn you about what the future looks like, if you don't change."

Now, next week, we're going to talk about Paul as a spiritual father. He says, "You're like my children, you have lots of counselors, lots of friends, but I became your father through the gospel," Paul said. And so he say, "I'm giving you a fatherly loving warning."

VI. Applying This to Ourselves: Not Shame, But Warning

Now it's easy for us in our American setting to feel ashamed, deeply guilty, for our love of pleasure and ease for the fact that every facet of our lives is in some way climate-controlled, everything is geared for our comfort and convenience, our national government was set up with Freedom for Religion, expressly in reaction to the persecution that Christians had experienced in Continental Europe, and in England for centuries. So our government guarantees Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Speech, so I can say these things to you. I can preach the gospel without any fear of governmental intervention. Also in America, you're not going to get beaten for your faith in the name of the society, in the name of the government, in the name of the laws of that state. That will not happen if you are beaten for your faith, it will be by criminals who then probably be arrested and persecuted or prosecuted for assault and battery. So you're not going to get beaten here, you're not going to get incarcerated for believing in Jesus here.

Furthermore, you're not going to have family members here, who will hunt you down because you betrayed the idolatrous wicked religion of your ancestors by turning to Christ, genuine faith in Christ and then your brothers or your father will hunt you down and kill you. That's not going to happen here in America. That would be illegal, it would be criminal. Furthermore, we live in a land of lavish economic opportunities. This is a good land that God has given us. And it's been that way for centuries and so people can come and prosper here and because of our freedoms, our government, because of our economic opportunities and natural resources, the best and the brightest, the most gifted from nations all over the world have chosen to come and live here and give us the benefits of their insights and their genius. So we have technologies that have come because people have come and been really smart here and we can work for their companies that they started. And we can make a good living. Now none of these things should make us feel ashamed. But what do we have that we didn't receive?

Some of our brothers and sisters around the world live in constant fear of arrest, seizure of property, incarceration, in some places, death is threatened, that's what they're going through. Most of us will never know these kinds of sufferings and we shouldn't feel ashamed of that, but I think this text says, "Not ashamed, but warned." What are the dangers for us here? And so, I'm going to finish the sermon, by talking about that. The danger is that we would misunderstand our lives in this world and that we will forget that this world is no friend to our faith. The danger is that we will seek in very inappropriate ways to be honored and celebrated by unbelievers in America and do whatever is necessary. The danger is that we will forsake the two journeys, that will forsake the internal journey of holiness, because it will make us more and more unpopular with non-Christian co-workers and relatives and neighbors. The danger even more pronounced perhaps, is that we'll forsake the external journey of evangelism and missions because that will definitely make us unpopular and unloved by our surrounding neighbors here in the Raleigh-Durham area.

The danger is that we will not realize how much danger flows through digital media into our souls, corrupting us, by worldliness, by the lust of the eyes or the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. We need to be warned that biblical Christianity is going to become more and more unpopular in America. Our stands on sexuality and gender and marriage, and abortion, and the exclusivity of Christ and other key doctrines will make us more and more unpopular in America. We need to be warned about that. We need to be warned that Christ and Him crucified, will never be acceptable to an unconverted mind. That person will either fight against Chris and Him crucified or believe and become a Christian. We need to be warned that the overwhelming push toward prosperity and health, which is part of the American dream is the opposite of the lifestyle that Paul and the apostles were following. Therefore we need to be warned against the prosperity gospel.

I think this passage should destroy it, blow it up, that what Jesus wants for your life is health and wealth. That is so clearly not true from this passage. We need to be warned of the effects of the world on your spiritual disciplines, the effects of the world on your prayer life and your Bible intake, the effects of the world on your assembling together with Christians and your Christian service. The world will tell you that all of these things are a complete waste of time. Judgment Day will reveal the opposite. We need to be warned against thinking, now hear me on this, that we American Christians because of our prosperity, and our education are essentially intrinsically better than our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Judgment day will show that the opposite is the truth.

It might be hard for us to take, but we have effectively been chosen by God for a lower position on Judgment Day, than them. Now, some of us can choose to forsake certain aspects of these comforts and go and suffer in other places, but I'm just saying this is the greater the suffering and the greater their courage, the greater their valor, the greater the reward. We need to be warned against living in ignorance and I'm concerned about the persecuted church around the world and not care what they're going through, and show it by not praying for them at all. Now, a final word, we are not saved from our sins by our suffering. We are saved from our sins by Christ's suffering once for all for us on the cross. As it says in 1 Peter 2:24, "He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, by His wounds, we have been healed." Now, any other application of this sermon? I just leave to you in the Holy Spirit. Just lay under the text and say, "Search me, Oh God, and know my heart and show me what you want me to do with my lifestyle, with my money with my time. Show me how to serve you well from now until the day I die."

Close with me in prayer. Father, thank You for the truth of the Bible, thank You for how it speaks to us, thank You for how it rebukes us and correct us where we need to be, thank You, that Paul did not want to shame us here, but to warn us. Help us to heed these warnings and not seek a comfortable, easy life in this world that is very pleasing to non-Christian Americans. Please help us instead to be salt and light and shine with the Gospel truth. We pray in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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