I’m preaching this at the North County Christian School chapel tomorrow, from 1 Corinthians 1:18. Pray that God will cause the students to see that commitment to Christ cannot be halfhearted, and that the cost of following Christ is high but entirely worth it.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. What’s the word of the cross? The gospel. Who are the perishing? Those who are unbelievers. What do they think of the gospel? They think it’s foolishness.
Nobody respects what they think is foolish. There is no honor or reputation in identifying yourself with something that others think is foolish. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone get all fired up about unicorns?
If I were to come up to you, look you straight in the eye, and then with absolute sincerity, all honesty, and a forthright passion say, “Let me tell you about something. And this is really exciting. This is what my life is all about. There are two different types of unicorns. There are red unicorns and blue unicorns. And we can tell a lot about these different types of unicorns by their color. You see, we know that the blue unicorns live in cool climates because a certain plant that only grows in cold climates turns their skin blue. And the red ones, we know they live in the tropics because their red skin tone protects them from constant exposure to the sun’s rays.”
I mean, what would you think? I don’t care how many times you’ve seen the Charlie the Unicorn Trilogy. You’d think I was nuts.
And according to Paul who says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” the gospel doesn’t sound any different to those who have not repented of their sins and come to saving faith in Christ. The gospel–the fact that human beings are sinful by nature, that God Himself was crucified on a cross, that our sins were transferred onto Him and His righteousness was transferred to us by that death, that He conquered death through His resurrection–is unicorn talk to those who don’t believe.
If you’re looking for respect, if you’re looking to be cool, if you’re looking to be considered intelligent by men, then the gospel isn’t for you. Because the truth of the gospel is completely foolish to those who are perishing. And they’re going to think you’re nuts for believing it.
God will share:
His love with me (John 3:16)
His family with me (Romans 8:16)
His inheritance with me (Romans 8:17)
His sustaining grace with me (2 Corinthians 12:9)
His reproving grace with me (Hebrews 12:6)
His joy with me (Psalm 16:11)
His presence with me (Revelation 21:3)
His mercy with me (Ephesians 2:4)
His riches with me (Matthew 6:20)
His patience with me (Romans 2:4)
His eternal life with me (Matthew 19:29)
His sufferings with me (Philippians 1:29)
His favor with me (1 Peter 2:20)
His righteousness with me (Romans 4:6)
His truth with me (John 20:31)
His compassion with me (Exodus 34:6)
His inter-trinitarian love with me (John 17:23)
His protection (John 17:11)
But two things He will not share:
His wrath with me (John 18:11)
His glory with me (Isaiah 42:8)
And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. (Acts 19:19-20)
One troubling thing I see in my heart is that I love conviction and hate change. It’s not to hard to find a convicting sermon to listen to. But when all the words have flowed past me and it’s time to walk out the doors of the church, it’s tantalizingly easy to believe the lie that my feeling of conviction is true holiness and unqualifyingly pleasing to the Lord.
We’ve been moving through Acts at Cornerstone, and travelled through chapter 19 a couple of weeks ago. It’s most famous for a bunch of cocky itinerant Jewish exorcists getting the smack-down put on them by a demon and a mindless riot in which people wind up chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two solid hours without knowing why. But the centerpoint of this passage is the dramatic conversion of many of Ephesus’ practitioners of black magic. They burned the bridges to their former life by destroying everything they owned that was associated with the occult. From this, my pastor asked a question of our congregation: “What bridges do you need to burn in your own life?”
Now, there isn’t a direct connection between what the new Ephesian believers did and what most of us in the congregation needed to do. The Ephesians were involved in a profession that was completely incompatible with their newfound love for the Lord. You cannot practice Satanic arts and love God.
Some bridges need to be burnt. There can be no going back now that the new nature has taken hold of my heart. Other pathways only need to be forsaken every once in a while, so as to prevent them from becoming too important. If our happiness or our growth in the Lord has become dependent upon those things, their path has become overgrown and needs a good slash-burning to clear away the deadwood.
Immediately “espn.com” flashed into my mind. I didn’t try to think of anything. The knowledge that it had become a hinderance was just there. I love sports, and the NFL playoffs are an provide an endless smorgasbord of opinion articles to read and videos to watch. The next thought after the minute answer of espn.com was a quick denial of “That’s not true, Nate. It’s not an idol and it’s not something you need to get rid of.” The first thought is divinely-sent Spirit-produced conviction. Before I could think, before I could try to hide behind my invented complex reasonings to justify how much of my time away from work was spent reading transitory, fleeting opinions about things that don’t even really matter, the Spirit struck. And that was immediately followed by a self-protecting reflex that would try to justify whatever pattern I was living.
But understanding the problem isn’t enough. And imagined change isn’t holiness. That’s like joining the “1,000,000 strong against abortion” Facebook group and calling yourself a pro-life activist. As we talked about the sermon and “burning bridges” at my Community Group that night, we discovered that everyone’s overgrown pathway was media-related. And then we resurrected an assignment I had at TMC–a total fast from media for a week. No television, no movies, no internet apart from work-related emailing/research, no music, no recorded sermons.
It’s so ingrained in me by habit to wake up, turn on my computer, and check Gmail and Google Reader that I had to stick a note on top of my computer to remind myself of the fast. Instead I’d pick up my Bible and read or just sit and think. And that’s the purpose of doing a media fast. Silence and stillness were the rule of life for the first 6,000 years of human existence. Laborers in the fields worked without iPods, with only their own thoughts and the sounds of nature to keep them company. Pastors studied in absolute quiet as they wrote out their sermons without the aid of a movie score in the background. The Lord works in stillness. He brings clarity through quiet. And in the constant business and noise of media-driven life, it’s hard to hear what He’s saying.
All of us were surprised by what we learned by media fasting. I was surprised to discover how much more I can actually do that I thought I could. It is amazing what the mind can still absorb, even when it’s tired. Redeeming the time means redeeming all the time, even that tired hour before bed. And the funny thing is, I was a lot happier working harder longer than when I formerly grasped the easy entertainment offered to me.
It’s one thing to fast from media for a week, it’s another to work to keep the path clear of debris that naturally wants to build up. Media isn’t a bridge to be burned, it’s an enjoyable footpath that needs tending. Just like stopping at conviction instead of following through to change, it’s easy to modify my behavior without ever touching the heart. I feel like I should make some insightful point here about what rules and limits I’ve put on myself to make sure I don’t slide back again. I don’t have one, because I don’t have any rules and limits. Instead, I’m going to assume that the Holy Spirit and my love for the Lord is enough to keep things in balance. Some bridges need to be burned permanently. But others, others just need a little watchful tending.
Genuine love will always compel action. There is no such thing as stagnant, vibrant love. For love to remain kindled hot and strong, it must actively honor its object. I cannot love Christ and live in contradiction to His commands. I cannot love other people and be indifferent towards them. The test of authenticity for love is to look at the sacrifices it compels.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensone.
This passage is the answer to all the pleas in the Psalms for rescue from the hands of evil men. There is a fervent purpose in all of the sufferings of the people of God. The suffering faced by the Thessalonian believers drew them closer to one another as they were able to witness and participate in the grace of God as it shone forth in the midst of their afflictions. Their faith was enlarged because of their trials. And how else can faith be enlarged other than for it to be taken beyond its previously supposed limits and proven to be made of much more steel than thought? Trials prove that the limits of faith are not limits bounded by the person of God, but rather bounded by the smallness of my picture of God.
The champions of the faith are men who suffered much. Christian history does not celebrate those who lived in comfort and ease. Spurgeon and the Down-Grace controversy, Athanasius and Arianism, Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, Eliot and the Aucas. Edwards and the communion compromises. No, the men to whom Christians look for encouragement and wisdom are men who suffered much. Suffering proves that everything other than God is a poor choice of foothold. When the cost overwhelms the comfort, when there’s no reason to fight against discouragement and pain apart from the all-pervading, all-persuasive biblical confidence that God is on the throne and will be glorified, that is when God is displayed to be stunningly above what I thought Him to be. And the Bible is so clear to teach that every thorn in life is intentional, storing up for me the greatest amount of eternal joy possible. God is not only working everything for His glory, but also that I might have the greatest joy. These two are never in conflict.
Release from affliction only comes once the end arrives, no sooner. David Crowder’s Church Music has been in my CD player for the last couple of weeks. The last song on the disc announces: “To the end there is hurting/To the end there is yearning/To the end there is suffering.” Paul doesn’t comfort the Thessalonians–who understood cost far better than I do–with promises that their sufferings would soon be over. Rather he reminds them of their hope in the second coming of Christ. There will be suffering until the end. Indeed, the greatest suffering that will befall believers is still yet to come. Paul didn’t see it. The Thessalonians didn’t see it. The tribulation still awaits. But after suffering comes a joy and a justice so great that it makes all the suffering of no consequence. Paul took no prisoners in his quest to crucify the world to himself because the great weight of eternal joy demanded it.
Eternal quality and quantity of joy is not the only comfort Paul gives the Thessalonians. He also reminds them of the eternal punishment of their oppressors. God says that vengeance is His. The Lord is in the business of revenge. God is angry over the way wicked men have treated His children. His wrath burns against those who persecute the righteous because they are righteous. The time is coming when mercy will be over and wrath and sinners will collide.
In the meantime, we pray and hope and take refuge in the knowledge that God is all about our glory and our joy. Bunyan wrote well when he said,
[B]e not offended at God or man: not at God for thou art his servant, thy life and thy all are his; not at man, for he is but God’s rod, and is ordained in this to do thee good. Hast thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which way soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hand.
I don’t know much about suffering. I don’t know much about tribulation or pain or grief. But I do know that suffering in the Bible is not seen as possible, but probable. If so, then it is my aim to prepare myself by seeking to learn much of who God is, for that is how the firm steel of sustaining faith is enlarged.
…Your lovingkindness is better than life…
“No Fear” was as cool as it got for much of my early teenage years. No Fear decals and bumper stickers emblazoned the rear windows of large, manly trucks. Scores of people would wear “No Fear” t-shirts. I thought cool people wore No Fear gear. In retrospect, “No Fear” has got to be one of the dumbest pop slogans in recent memory. People without fear get eaten by tigers after hopping over fences in zoos.
Fear is something that can be good or bad. It is good to fear things that can harm you. There is something wrong with a pedestrian who does not have the healthy fear of getting run over that motivates him to look both ways before crossing the street. It is bad to fear things that we ought not fear–things like the dark, small insects that cannot harm you, or mayonnaise. (I asked the youth group what are bad things to fear and that was their first response: mayonnaise. I’m tempted to say it is something that should be feared, but that’s another topic.)
Because fear can be either good or bad, it’s really important to define what we mean by “The fear of the Lord.” The Fear of the Lord is reverence and awe of God fueled by the reality that God is both a righteously angry judge and a tenderly loving Savior. The fear of the Lord is not only negative (fear of wrath), but also wonder at His incredible mercy and grace.
Proverbs is a book based around cause and effect. “If you do (x), you will get (y). Consequently, we need to look elsewhere in Scripture in order to see our motivations for fearing the Lord. First, we’ll look at 3 motivations to fear God, and then we’ll look at 5 results of fearing God.
3 Motivations for Fearing God
1. Fear God because He can destroy both body and soul in Hell (Matt 10:28)
Have you ever wondered why God tells us about heaven and hell? There are many reasons, but a large one is so that we can live with the judgment seat in mind. There exists, right now as you read this, a king on a throne. And every second people like you and me die and appear before Him. And he’s exceedingly angry at most of them. We cannot see this scene, so it’s very easy to forget. But it is absolutely real, and soon it will be you and me before that throne. In Matthew 10:28 God says, ‘Man can do you a lot of harm. They can hurt you and kill you in very painful ways. But I can do worse than that. So fear me.’
2. Fear God Because He is an All-Seeing Judge. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Every once in a while, a story will flash across CNN about another convicted murderer being proved innocent by new evidence. Why do juries sentence innocent men to death? They do so because they lack perfect information. God is a judge and jury that infallibly remembers every single thing you have ever done. He can recite for you every word you have spoken, every thought you have conceived, every action you have ever done. He can tell you what you had for breakfast on January 19,2002, which grocery store you purchased it from, who the truck driver was that delivered it to the store, the name of the farmer who raised the crops to receive the money to buy his breakfast the same morning. And God can tell you where that farmer bought His breakfast, and which truck driver delivered that food…
God’s omniscience should be a cause of great fear and great hope. God certainly remembers the evil that you do. But He also remembers the good you do in His name. And that comes attached with a promised reward. So fear God that you might not sin, but fear God that you might also be rewarded.
3. Fear God because Christ shed His blood for you.(1 Peter 1:7-19)
The Cross is personal. The blood of Christ is not a mist which sprinkles all of humanity, but rather a fountain directed specifically by the Father to drench only those whom He has specifically called into a relationship with Him. Be amazed that God Himself died for you. And that kind of love and dive to save you should make you a little bit nervous about the Lord. That kind of love is crazy; it’s not something you can control or manipulate. Rather that kind of love is to be obeyed in fear and trembling.
5 Results of Fearing God
1. Fearing God makes you happy! (Proverbs 28:14)
“Blessed” and “happy” are synonyms in Hebrew. To be blessed means to be happy, and to be happy means to be blessed. Now go back and read that sentence and think about Stephen who was stoned to death by a zealous mob of Pharisees. Or maybe the believers in Hebrews 11 who were torn apart by wild beasts.
Happiness and circumstances are not connected in the Scriptures. Paul learned to be content in all circumstances–which means that the circumstances were immaterial to his happiness and contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs wrote in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,
A gracious heart…is contented not by having his on desires satisfied, but by melting his will and desires into God’s will. So that, in one sense, he cones to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he cones to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will.
2. Fearing God means you’ll understand. (Proverbs 9:10)
This is a repeat from last week. The Bible simply is not generous in its estimation of your ability to figure life out. Since you a broken blend of righteousness and sinfulness, you need something else to measure everything else by. Without the ear f the Lord, you can never be truly wise or understanding because you’ve missed the point of your existence: glorifying God. Wisdom ultimately is a relationship not facts to memorize off a page.
3. Fearing God means you’ll live righteously. (Proverbs 8:13, 14:2)
If you are a Christian, you will turn away from evil. A Christian who lives in an unrepentant pattern of sin is not a Christian. Your hands prove what occupies your heart and mind.
4. Fearing God gives you a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)
Fearing God and trusting God are inseparable. We do not fear and trust a vengeful God, but rather a God who loves His people. He is a trustworthy God, for He loves us as a father loves his children. Romans 8:28 has sadly been hijacked into becoming some kind of cliche. But this verse isn’t meant to be paired with a low-budget picture of a field of tulips on the front of some greeting card. It’s a tough-as-nails verse to hang onto when nothing else is going to cut it. At the end of the day when nothing else makes sense, we must trust and rest in God’s promises of His sovereignty and His goodness.
5. Fearing God means you won’t fear anything else. (Psalm 56:11, 118:6)
With a sovereign God who has promised that everything is in His control and for your good, what is there to fear? John Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides. The first two missionaries to land on this island chain were clubbed to death and eaten on the beach within 15 minutes of landing. Paton sailed about twenty years after these two men to evangelize a still-unreached cannibalistic tribe in the chain. He was threatened with death almost every day, spent a night in the top of a tree while every islander combed the earth for him with their machetes, and had dozens of partners killed while he survived. Paton lived his motto: “I am invincible until Christ calls me home.”
If you fear God, not even death can touch you without His permission. And then it is not a messenger of darkness but rather a call from a Father to come home. It’s hard to be afraid when the worst man can do turns out to be the best possible thing for you.
This is the second post in a series on the book of Proverbs based on a message series entitled “Gracious Wreaths of Godly Wisdom.” Here are the links to previous posts:
How to Be a Fool (Part 1) – Proverbs 2:3-19
How to Be a Fool (Part 2) – Proverbs 2:3-19 (cont.)