Death is man's most fundamental problem, his inescapable destiny, the haunting end that follows him like a hungry shadow waiting to pounce. The consequence of this bleak destiny is sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). Spiritually, death is the separation that occurs due to man's rebellion against his Creator and God's inability to participate in wickedness (Isa. 59:1-2). Physically, death is the separation between the body of man and his soul (Jas. 2:26). Eternally, death is the final and ultimate separation of man and his Creator, "the second death" (Rev. 20:6), wherein the spiritually dead die physically only to be consigned to eternal hell.
Sin, the very cause of death, is what makes the prospect of dying so unsettling. Sin is death's sting (1 Cor. 15:55-56). It's what makes death so terrifying to wrestle with and internalize. If there were no such thing as sin then there would be no fear of death, for the prospect of death would be stripped of its power. With no sting, there would be no hurt associated with it. But that is not the case, is it? Sin exists. It is yours. It is mine. We have owned it by getting into bed with it and death is its subsequent and consequential reality. You've seen life stolen away from others? There will come a day when your life will be stolen from you to vanish like a mist (Jas. 4:14). Death isn't "threatening so long as we view it as the death of the other, from a third-person standpoint... [but] when we internalize it and look at it from the first person perspective--'my death: I am going to die,'" it can truly become our worst nightmare (Jean-Paul Sartre, qtd. Apologetics, an Introduction Craig 40).
Euripedes wrote, "Death is the debt we all must pay." Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Concerning death, the Scriptures agree. God says we are but dust "And to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:17) and "it is appointed for men to die once" (Heb. 9:27). Despite the inevitability and universality of death, some people still find it difficult to accept their mortality. To cope with the reaper's shadowy presence men have, over the centuries, devised and adopted all sorts of philosophies on life and death.
Some men have taken to an attitude of "fatalism", that gloomiest belief that all time and events of life are fixed to the cruel grip of fate. Nothing can be done to avoid one’s unyielding destiny just as one cannot dodge a bullet with their name on it. Others have taken to the view of "skepticism". Life, death, heaven, hell, morality, God, Satan--all these ideas are suspect. Doubt is a way of life until even the reality of mortality is questioned and thrown out. "Hedonism" teaches that there is no life after death and no punishment for sin so the greatest good can be found in whatever brings the greatest pleasure. Men should, according to this view, live for the present guided by this principle, "let us eat drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:32). Many ascribe to "evolution" to quell their conscience on the issue of mortality. If all life evolved from brute material force by random chance then we need to make the best of now because existence is limited to this life. And then, of course, "universalism" seeks to 'solve' the death/sin problem by affirming that all of mankind will be raised unto life to live happily ever after in eternity. There's no need to believe in hell because hell doesn't exist and because God is loving, He will save everyone in heaven.
These are not answers but placebos. These useless philosophies are examples of wisdom from below (Jas. 3:15) issuing from men whose minds are already made up with their brand of reality.
One says, "Science! Science holds the answer!" Tsk, tsk. Despite great leaps in medical technology doctors are only able to prolong the inevitable. Scientists can keep bacteria alive in a petri dish in their lab for as long as they like but a man is not so hearty. The days of our lives are still "seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years" (Psa. 90:10). Left to himself, man is inescapably, hauntingly, frighteningly dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1).
"Against the backdrop of these futile, humanistic solutions, imagine the excitement that would be stirred by the announcement that a cure for death had been discovered. Imagine the joy that would greet the news that the Grim Reaper had been slain. And imagine the devotion that would be heaped on him who made the breakthrough. Of all the good news ever told, the "goodest" news imaginable would be the proclamation that death had died and that life and immortality was open to all." (The Suffering and Glory of Love" Chumbley)
Jesus is the man. The gospel is the message. If you believe in the man Jesus you will never die (Jn. 11:26). If you keep His word you will never die (Jn. 8:51). Jesus brought the real, the only solution to the sin/death problem. Because of what He did, "Death is swallowed up in victory!" (1 Cor. 15:54). He removed death's sting, He declawed it, He shattered its teeth. He broke the electric chair we were all doomed to fry in. The gospel tells me the story that the God I though rebelled against doesn't want me to die and suffer in hell (Jn. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:9). Even though that's exactly what I deserve, God wants me to live. God desires that I spend an eternity enjoying His presence in a kingdom which He has given to me and all those who have faith in Him to inherit (Mt. 25:34).
This life is made possible because of His great love by which He loves sinners like you and me. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." The glorious end of God's love is to take a people destined to perish and grant them life. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, was once asked by a student what the most profound thought that had ever occurred to him was. In response, Barth said, "Jesus loves me, this I know." This is true.
In the midst of a sea of vain humanistic solutions to mortality comes the true antidote to man's biggest problem: the blood of God's Son. If you are not living a life connected with the death of Jesus you are making the biggest error you will ever make.
Imagine that you’re not feeling well. You’ve wondered for some time if something might be wrong with you. You’ve lost sleep, your face is pale and you’re even starting to notice visible signs of weight loss. After several weeks you know for a fact your health is declining. You don’t have the answer to make you well, the only thing you know is that you need help. Now imagine you do the sensible thing and go to the doctor’s office. “He can help me,” you think.
He walks in with his white coat, clipboard and stethoscope and you’re already feeling relieved. But he takes one look at you and makes a disgusted face saying, “I don’t see sick people.” He turns around and walks out the way he came in. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? That would be about as ridiculous as thinking that you have to get your life in order before really committing yourself to serving Jesus. Jesus came to call sinners not the righteous. He came to see the sick people not the healthy.
If you know you are spiritually sick, don’t wait until you convince yourself that you’re righteous enough before committing yourself to Jesus. That makes no sense. Righteousness comes after seeing the great Physician, just like healing comes after seeing the doctor. If your heart is broken, why aren’t you going to the only One fit to mend it? If you can’t find rest, why do you continue day after day to carry your burden? Jesus has never turned a sick patient away. After all, that’s why He came to this earth!
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…
…I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
"…It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” (Mk. 2:17)
After God spared Isaac, Abraham's unique son, "...Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son" (Gen. 22:13). It was at this point of climax, immediately after Abraham's knife was stayed from slitting the throat of Isaac, the LORD did what He always does. He provided what was needed, in this case a sacrifice in the form of a ram. That is why "Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide..." or YHWH-jireh (Gen. 22:14).
There is a deep spiritual truth here in this name of God. The act of providing is one way God has revealed and defined Himself to man. His providential care falls on all men, the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45). In reference to physical provision there was never a soul who did not owe all to God, "for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Acts 17:28). But our God who wears this name "YHWH-jireh" has provided much more than food, clothing and shelter to His creation. He brought salvation to all men by His grace (Titus 2:11).
This is hope of eternal life may not be accepted by all men but it is surely offered to all men as Paul says in Romans 10:13, "whoever calls on Him will not be put to shame." All men are given the power (authority) to become "sons of God" (Jn. 1:12). God, the great Provider, has "granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). Let us meditate on God's spiritual provisions.
First of all, God has provided the PRICE of our salvation: His own Son, Jesus Christ the righteous. In Romans 8:31-32, Paul says, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Our salvation was purchased with the most valuable substance of all, the very blood of God in human form (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The vast weight of sin that had accumulated for all of human history and even now continues was taken by Jesus to the cross in the body of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:24). In return there is nothing man can offer but a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psa. 51:17).
Secondly, God has provided the PROMISE of our salvation: His reward for obedient faith. In His great commission to His apostles, Jesus used plain language in explaining how salvation would come; "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned" ( Mk. 16:15-16). Christ summed up this faith as He concluded His sermon on the mount by saying that everyone who hears and obeys His words would endure the judgment. Thankfully, our salvation does not necessitate our perfection. God knows our weaknesses and the struggles in this body. That is why He appointed a priest who could sympathize with our plight (Heb. 4:15). Having an Advocate with the Father we are now able to be granted forgiveness of sins (1 Jn. 1:9; 2:1). The Hebrew writer says that in His perfection, Jesus, our High Priest, became "to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9).
Finally, God has provided the PLAN of our salvation: His eternal word to guide our way. James tells us that God's word is "able to save [our] souls" (Jas. 1:21). In His word we have all that we need to be pleasing to Him (2 Pet. 1:3). God used to speak to mankind through direct revelation and through prophets but now He speaks to us "in His Son" (Heb. 1:2). By studying the life of Jesus and seeing how He lived by faith we have our pattern of conduct. It is no wonder Jesus told Thomas that He is "the way" to the Father (Jn. 14:6). He doesn't point us to the way. He doesn't give us a list of directions that lead us to the way. Instead He says, "I am the way." We are on the right (righteous) track when we deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (Lk. 9:23).
God, fulfilling the name ascribed to Him by Abraham, has abundantly provided us with everything we need to be with Him forever in heaven. He paid the price, He gave the promise, and He provided the plan for our salvation. And, by working providentially through circumstances mysterious to us and through His word, He is saving mankind.
Reading through 1 Corinthians, the reader may feel Paul's finger jabbing at his chest from time to time. In the first section of the letter Paul condemned the spirit of division that was tearing "God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9), the Corinthian church, to shreds. This division was caused by the church adopting a system popular in the wisdom schools of Achaia. These schools were happily divided by teachers, groups of students following their favorite teacher. In chapters 1-4, Paul set out to explain how inappropriate this secularized attitude of division was in God's household.
Paul had spent a great deal of time teaching the Corinthians, a year and six months to be exact (Acts 18:11), in a city that was corrupt, idolatrous, and immoral. Think of Corinth like a modern day Las Vegas. "What goes on in Corinth stays in Corinth," might have been an appropriate expression. There the apostle endured stiff-necked and blaspheming Jews. He later admitted that during his ministry there he was "...in weakness and in fear and in much trembling" (1 Cor. 2:3). Feeling frightened and alone in a city of darkness Christ came to Paul "...in the night by a vision" giving him some much needed consolation: "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10).
Strengthened by the words of Jesus glorified, Paul did not neglect His command. He preached his heart out with simplicity, "determined to know nothing among [the Corinthians] except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Knowing the carnal mindset of Corinth, Paul, the one man who could orate circles around the most prodigious Athenian scholars, chose to preach not with "persuasive words of wisdom" but instead the simple message of the cross, a wisdom "not of this age" but from God revealed by His Spirit with power. This message would trip up both the blinded Jew and the arrogant Greek.
But there were some in that dark city who heard, believed and obeyed the message in all its beauty and simplicity despite the cultural bombardment of intellectuals with their vain philosophies (Acts 18:8). But Paul's investment of labor was eroding away. His beloved children, as he thought of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:15), were destroying the very building whose foundation he labored to establish. So when Paul got wind of the disgusting state of the Lord's church at Corinth from Chloe's people (1 Cor. 1:11) his pen flowed with loving rebuke.
Even though they were like infants during Paul's first 18 month stint at Corinth, the Christians there had not grown out of their infancy (1 Cor. 3:2). It was to be expected that the Corinthians would not be mature enough to stand the more substantial meat of the gospel when Paul met them the first time. Paul knew that and approached them accordingly with milk instead of meat. But over time they should have grown out of the fleshiness to maturity in Jesus but they failed to assimilate the message of the gospel. Division ensued followed by all manner of immorality and abuse of worship. At the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians he accused them of being not "fleshy" like the immature babies they were in Acts 18, but "fleshly," a different Greek word that denotes being given over to the flesh or being directed by the flesh, the opposite of being Spirit-led (Rom. 8). It's no wonder their fruits were the very deeds of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21.
So when these carnal-minded Christians said things like "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos" (1 Cor. 1:12) their warped and sinful hearts were exposed. They weren't acting like regenerated disciples of Jesus but like "mere men" (1 Cor. 3:4), just your average Corinthian. By attaching themselves to certain teachers and dividing into little groups they were treating the message of the cross like any other popular philosophical drivel that came out of Athens. By attaching themselves to preachers of the Way they were treating them like every other self-inflated rhetorician or philosopher from Mars Hill. They were following a system of human wisdom rather than wisdom from above. While they were busy exalting man Chloe's people brought the report of a fragmented and poisoned church to Paul.
That is why, starting at 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul enters into a full blown discussion on God's wisdom, God's revelation, God's Son, and God's servants (emphasis on God) to stop the Corinthians from exalting men at the expense of His church.
Today, we are saturated with Bible studies and sermons about division from this text so no one would dare be so bold as to say, "I am of ___________" would they? I wonder...
I fear the health of the Lord's holy body is swallowing a different flavor of the same bitter pill of division the Corinthians were choking down. Let's call it 'preacheritis.' Whole congregations can be poisoned with this mentality of division when members align themselves with "mere men." In so doing they themselves walk and think as "mere men." Brethren, to avoid the same pitfalls as the Corinthians we must painfully apply this text to ourselves.
We like or dislike certain preachers according to our taste so that the preacher becomes an extension of oneself, a reflection of oneself. Why is this characteristic of "mere men"? Because in our insecurity we gather around ourselves men who think and act just like we do all in an effort to make certain in our minds we are on the right track. Sure, we can all agree on the fundamentals (Eph. 4:4-6) but when it comes to the things not so clearly defined in the word of God, too often, we follow the example of the Corinthians in building up not each other but barriers of division, creating cliques based on matters either not clear in Scripture or not essential to our salvation. To that end, partyism/segregation in the church is really just self-exaltation. Our opinions mean more to us than the unity that Jesus died to create.
We bolster our point of view by quoting this preacher or that elder or this well-thought-of brother. We validate doctrines based on a trusted conservative congregation instead of book-chapter-verse. We draw hard lines of fellowship with no basis of authority from God but on the stance of a well respected eldership. We name-drop theologians from the pulpit to validate our perspective. What are we doing but walking as "mere men?" This cancerous mentality tears down "God's building," sprays deadly chemicals on "God's field," and keeps us from bearing fruit to God's glory. It promotes suspicion, whispering, and bitterness but worst of all it blinds the world to the saving message of the gospel when they view a group of people who act like a dysfunctional family. Whole congregations can be split down the middle when this "I am of ________" attitude prevails.
We can even be guilty of this when we hold firmly (and unnecessarily) to longstanding manmade traditions within the church. It may even be unspoken but the waves of veiled resentment of those who don't hold to these traditions are keenly felt. Somewhere along the line we got the idea in our heads that everyone has to be 'just like me.' So, like the Corinthians, we surround ourselves with people in the church who act and think 'just like me' neglecting to our own hurt the treasure of unity in diversity. Yes, you read that word right: diversity. God's wants His church to be both unified AND diverse. The real blessing of diversity is explained in chapter 12 in Paul's illustration of the church being a "body with many members" each member having a unique and distinctive function. That's called diversity.
Paul explains to us in the book of Ephesians the only way to achieve unity in a diverse atmosphere is to rally around what has clearly been revealed (4:4-6). These seven truths are the essentials of faith and salvation defined by God not by man (Mt. 15:7-9). Truth is what unites Christians (Eph. 4:1-6) and sanctifies them in the world (Jn. 17:17). The truths found throughout the gospel are sufficient to bring Jew, Greek, man, woman, slave and free together to the glory of God according to His eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 2:13-22). There should never be this Corinthian "us" and "them" mentality in the Lord's church. When we ascribe to this partyism we are not only exalting man but exalting ourselves and our opinions over our Creator.
So Paul goes on to say, "What then is Apollos?" (1 Cor. 3:5). Notice he does not say, "Who then is Apollos?" The neuter is emphatic. Paul is downplaying the personality of the preacher and playing up his instrumentality. Preachers should be regarded as diakonos, servants of God, "instruments of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13), tools in the hand of God and nothing more. They should not be exalted and put on pedestals. One instrument (Paul) planted in God's field and another instrument came along later (Apollos) to water God's field but it was God Himself who caused the increase. Therefore, we are to ascribe honor and glory to God, follow Christ as our example, and regard those who bring the message of Christ as servants. The only time we can safely follow a man is when that man himself is following Christ (Phil. 3:17).
The amount of space alone allotted by Paul (1 Cor. 1-4) for this discussion ought to convince us to think seriously about these problems of division. Let us focus on the message not the messenger, glorify God and not man, teach and have the same mind regarding revealed truth (Phil. 2:2; 1 Cor. 1:10) and allow for diversity in non-salvific matters and issues of opinion. Brethren, let us run from preacheritis like the plague for the good of the body of Christ!
Widows are consistently given an exalted position throughout both the Old and New Covenants. Reading through the Law reveals the compassion of the Lord on those who have lost loved ones. Generally speaking the Law groups widows and orphans together because their circumstances are similar. Likewise the treatment of orphans and widows is similar. “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” (Ex. 22:22-24).
The Law taught God’s people how to treat widows by turning their attention to the compassion of God Himself. “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:16-19) Even today, the law of liberty in Christ is careful to instruct us in the honorable treatment of widows (1 Tim. 5:3-16).
There are many stories of widows who God blessed throughout the Scriptures. God turned the bitter heart of Naomi into joy at the birth of her grandchild to Ruth, another victorious widow. In the midst of a terrible drought an unnamed widow and her son on the verge of starvation were blessed with a continuous supply of flour and oil by the power of God through Elijah the prophet. Later on in 1 Kings 17 her son fell ill and died but through the fervent prayer of Elijah he was brought back to life. After witnessing the power and goodness of God the widow said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:24). Another widow grieving her mate’s death was blessed by God through a miracle performed by Elisha. She was able sell the oil provided by God to buy back her sons from slavery (2 Kings 4:1-7). Abigail, the righteous and wise widow of Nabal, was blessed by God in 1 Samuel 25 by being given in marriage to David.
In Acts 9, at the passing of the disciple named Tabitha (or Dorcas in the Greek) it is said that when Peter finally arrived in Joppa, the disciples“…brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.” (Acts 9:39) In passing I notice what I think to be an important and revealing point from this passage. Why were all the widows together? Because that’s what Christian women who have lost their husbands do. They gather together. They have the same scar on their hearts, share the same pain of loss so they gather together to lean on each other.
At Hallsville, we have many widows: Mary Alexander, Dee Dee Ford, Fran Hutchinson, Patt Stewart, Eva Hochman, Vera Doutthit, and most recently, Martha Shern. It is no accident that these women are some of the best examples of faith and service at our congregation. It’s also no accident to see them together going out to eat, meeting up to paint, or just visiting privately at the building. Widows gravitate to one another for mutual up building. There is something special, some kind of unique comfort that other members can’t offer widows, that can bind up fresh wounds, soothe older ones, or just help to get through the day. Praise the Lord who brings victory to the widow in manifold ways.
In the midst of a dark prophecy of the destruction of Edom comes this beautiful promise from God, “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.” (Jer. 49:11) Proverbs 15:25 states, “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, But He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:5, “Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day.” May we all understand God’s compassion on the brokenhearted and learn to trust Him more each day because there will come a time when we will, if we haven’t already, experience loss like the widow. To God be the glory who gives us all victory in Jesus.