The Only Thing Worth Knowing

Text: I Corinthians 2:1-5

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (3) And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (4) And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: (5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Religious Tradition vs. Pagan Philosophy
Paul told the church at Corinth that he “determined”—which means to me that he decided after deep reflection—to “know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” It is quite likely that Paul wrestled with the question of how to best reach the pagans with the gospel, of whether to approach them with religious tradition (the Jewish approach) or with pagan philosophy (the Greek approach). Some wonder if Paul may have worked through this on Mars Hill in Athens when he utilized a philosophical approach to reach the pagans. There is no certainty on this point.

Regardless of the Athens angle, Paul had “determined” that he could not win the Gentile world by using the wisdom of man. He could not win the world by presenting the gospel in a way that removed the offense and folly of the Cross. The answer for the world is not religious tradition or secular philosophy. The answer is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Paul, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” presupposes the resurrection. As Paul argues elsewhere, there is no reason to preach Christ crucified if Christ is not raised from the dead (I Corinthians 15).

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. If this story is true, then God has intervened in history to make all things new. Thus, all religion must be reinterpreted in light of the resurrection. Any religion that does not confirm to this reality is false worship, and thus, idolatry. All philosophy must be reinterpreted in light of the resurrection. Every philosophy that does not account for the meaning of life with the resurrection as its fundamental explanation is a deeply flawed, indeed, false, philosophy of life. All religion and philosophy must be reoriented toward—in and through—the Cross.

All Knowledge Must Conform to Christ
In fact, all knowledge must be conformed to the truth of the gospel to be true knowledge. All knowledge must die and be resurrected with Christ in order to live as true knowledge. This means that every realm of life, all knowledge—reality as we know it in everything—must be conformed to the reality of the new creation that arose with Christ in His resurrection. Science must conform to the reality of the resurrection. Politics must conform to the reality of the resurrection. Education must conform. Entertainment must conform. Medicine must conform. Environmentalism must conform. Social services must conform. Social justice must conform. Technology must conform. Sports and recreation must conform. The family must conform. And, believe it or not, theology must conform!

The church—and this is the most crucial, for on this all other conformance depends—must conform. The church is the means by which the kingdom of God breaks into the world. Nothing on earth can experience resurrection apart from baptism into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The only way all of the areas of life and culture can conform is to be transformed through the lives of individuals within each area that bring the power of the resurrection to bear upon it. Science cannot be saved unless scientists are saved! Politics cannot be saved unless politicians are saved! And so on.

Of course, we affirm that the fullness of the new creation awaits the resurrection at the end of history when the Lord Jesus returns victorious over all nations, but we also affirm, and we boldly affirm it, that the resurrection of Christ in the middle of history has brought the end of history to us in advance. Christ brought the future into the present. We already know the outcome of history, and it is Christ, the only thing worth knowing!

The Resurrection as a Present Reality
The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. The new creation had already broken in upon the world, and the future is now. The first century world of Jewish believers expected Messiah to come and make all things new all at once. But Jesus, the true Messiah, revealed that God’s kingdom rule over creation would come gradually like leaven in the meal. And this gradual coming of the kingdom would begin in the personal resurrection of Jesus as the embodiment of both Yahweh and humankind as the federal head of the new creation. The resurrection, then, would be the “seed planting” of the KOG. This “seed planting” would spread throughout the field of the world by being planted in the lives of individual believers, who would then extend the vine of the kingdom into every field of personal endeavor. Through the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection breaks forth in the earth through the individual lives of believers, and through the lives of believers, the resurrection breaks forth into all creation, subduing the enemies of Christ as He rules from heaven through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in believers.

Paul declares that, in the resurrection, Christ Jesus has become a new kind of human, a glorified human, and now, a “life-giving spirit” (I Corinthians 15:45). The man, Christ Jesus, has now been “omnipresenced” in the universe, and because we have been baptized into Him, we share in His life-giving Spirit, which flows into all of us as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit mediates Christ to us, and we mediate the presence of Christ to the world. Thus, His resurrection is flowing through us into all creation as the catalyst of the coming universal resurrection and the new creation.

So often on Easter the focus is primarily on Good Friday, when Jesus died, and Resurrection Sunday, when Jesus rose again. In other words, we usually see Easter as a time to reflect on the past, on what God did in Christ back then, way back on Calvary. And this is good, as far as it goes. But Easter must be more than a memorial service. Easter must be a continuing celebration, which, in fact, we celebrate every Lord’s Day, of the ongoing work of Christ’s resurrection now in us! We must see more today than just what Jesus did; we must see what Jesus is doing!

To only preach about yesterday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, without preaching about today, good Monday and ordinary Tuesday, is to drastically reduce the gospel down to mere memory. But the resurrection of Jesus is much more—so much more—than mere memory. It is the living witness of the daily presence and power of Christ to make all things new! We are living between the push of Easter Sunday and the pull of the Second Coming, both moments pulsing with the power of Christ’s resurrection in the world.

When we preach about Easter we are preaching about Jesus, about His present work at the right hand of the Father, about His ever-living intercession as priest for us and His ever-subduing reign as king for us. And through our baptism into Christ, we share in His resurrection and stand to minister daily, both in the weekly corporate worship and in our daily work as agents of Christ’s dominion in the world. The resurrection of Jesus continues daily in the resurrection that works in us and flows out of us into a world dead in sins and trespasses. We are Christ’s life for the world, and we are hastening the coming of Christ and the resurrection of all things.

Conclusion: Celebrating Easter
Do you want to celebrate Easter? Then, do more than attend an annual service to honor a parent or please a spouse. Do more than paint eggs and chase bunny rabbits around the lawn. Do more, do much more! Celebrate Easter by hearing the gospel, the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection; by believing that story, for it is true; by participating in that story through repentance and baptism confessing Jesus as Lord and being filled with the Spirit; and by living out the ongoing story of the resurrection in your world until the story of Christ’s victory is complete in the last resurrecion. Celebrate Easter so that the world may know “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” which is the only thing worth knowing!

Suffering Fools Gladly

While reading through II Corinthians today I was struck with great force by this passage, Paul speaking: 

II Co. 11:19 “For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!”

Notice verse 19: “You gladly bear with fools.” Or, as the KJV puts it, “Ye suffer fools gladly.” The fools in this text are preachers that claim to be “strong” in apostolic authority but make slaves of Christians, devour them, take advantage of them, put on airs and strike them in the face. What a crew! Yet, the amazing thing, Paul says, is that you silly people put up with it. You actually suffer these fools gladly because they seem to operate with greater power than us, Paul says. No, we were too “weak” to abuse you, he sarcastically retorts. Too weak! 

This is is exactly like an abused woman who careens from one abusive relationship to another because she was reared to think that true love and manly authority is characterized by harshness and anger. Too many Christians do exactly this. They gravitate to abusive preachers because their craven bullying is postured as contending for the faith. May God help us discern that true apostolic authority operates out of a deep, self-sacrificing love that is manifest in gentleness and kindness. Certainly the man of God must thunder against sin, but he must do so with a tender love toward the people of God. And may God raise up stalwart, spiritually mature believers that refuse to suffer these fools gladly.

Defeating Sin Through Suffering

Defeating Sin Through Suffering
1 Peter 4:1-5
 
There is way too much in this passage to grasp it all in one reading. But here is what we shall consider so far. Peter tells us that those who suffer in the flesh have ceased from sin. Now, it is obvious by considering the previous context (1 Peter 3:13-22) that Peter means that those who suffer in the flesh are those who have been baptized into the sufferings of Christ. He is not saying that asceticism, self-imposed suffering, makes us holy. Paul also makes this clear in Colossians 2. No, Peter is saying that when we suffer with Christ in the way that Christ suffered, the power of sin is broken. Or, as one commentary put it, the “nerve center of sin is cut.” Jesus defeated sin by suffering, and we share in His victory when we suffer with Him as we suffer like Him.
 
How does this work? I think it works like this. When Adam sinned, he twisted the human psyche in upon itself. Man became terminally self-centered. When Jesus suffered for sins, and these were sins that He did not commit, He pulled the human psyche back out of itself and re-oriented properly the human soul in love toward God and others. This is why suffering in solidarity with Christ is so important. Our suffering apart from Christ has no redemptive power. But when suffer with Christ, we share in His new humanity born into the world in the incarnation and poured out into the world through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 
 
When we suffer, we suffer in solidarity with Christ, the church and all creation. When we suffer injustice righteously, we break the power of injustice by breaking the power of sin that creates injustice, first in ourselves, and then, in others. We suffer in solidarity with Christ when we are baptized into His death. We suffer with the church when share in the universal sufferings of the “brotherhood.” We suffer with creation when we intercede for the world and bear the sufferings of the world mediatorially. We must suffer in solidarity.
 
Defeating sin through suffering with Christ happens on two levels, the objective and the subjective. We suffer with Christ and cease from sin in the objective sense through baptism. In baptism, we die, we are buried, and we rise to walk in the newness of life. This is an objective, legal, forensic defeat of sin that occurs by faith. We must simply trust in God that this is done in Christ. But then we must live out the victory that is won in Christ and defeat sin subjectively through suffering wrong right. This means that we must look at how Christ suffered and imitate Him.
 
Peter describes the sufferings of Christ in great detail and shows how He turned the human soul back out toward God and others like a dislocated shoulder is put back in place with much pain, but to much subsequent satisfaction. 
 
How did Jesus suffer? Look at 1 Peter 2:19-25.
 
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 
 
First of all, suffering righteously is “a gracious thing.” Righteous suffering communicates grace. Not because God is sadistic, or even masochistic, but rather because the human heart is turned in upon itself and cannot be healed until it is willing to love God and others more than it loves self. And the purest test of real love is a willingness to be falsely accused in order to serve others, to lay down your life and share in the painful love of God that is willing to surrender self to a higher good. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Do we love that way? 
 
20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 
 
Suffering brings “credit” to us. But what credit do we receive when we are punished for our sins? None. But when we suffer for doing good, then the grace that defeats sin kicks in. This means that our “credit” is not human merit but grace that flows out of our faithful solidarity with Christ. Our only credit is His grace. And yet, why is sin defeated when we suffer? How does gracious suffering defeat sin? Because sin flows out of an inverted heart that is turned in upon itself in radical selfishness. When we suffer for a cause greater than ourselves, then our inverted soul is turned back out in righteousness and the power of sin is broken. Then, we not only partake of His grace, but we become mediators of His grace.
 
21 For to this you have been called,  because Christ also suffered for you,  leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
 
We have been called to suffer. This is probably surprising to most Christians, who think they have been called to prosper. And they have, no doubt, but only after they have suffered a while, as Peter says in chapter 5. Christ suffered for us, which makes our suffering effectual. To suffer apart from faith in the sufferings of Christ is to suffer without meaning. But to suffer for wrong right in Christ is to suffer redemptively. When we suffer in solidarity with Christ, we embody His sufferings in the world and mediate His mercy to all. We multiply Christ to the world. 
 
Christ left us an example of how we should suffer. We should look at the steps that He took in suffering and trace those steps together. 
 
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 
 
First of all, Jesus did not sin. It is impossible to break the power of sin by suffering for sin. The only way to break the power of sin is to suffer without sin for the sins of others. This means that we must suffer unfairly in order to suffer redemptively. Moreover, Jesus’ suffering was not self-inflicted. We cannot crucify ourselves, and neither can we decide what our suffering will be. Neither mere punishment nor religious asceticism will bring victory over sin. It is only when we suffer unjustly that the power of sin is broken in our life, for then, and only then, are we forced to submit to injustice in such a way that our righteous response breaks the power of injustice. Injustice can only triumph over us when we respond to it with violence. “They that live by the sword shall die by the sword.” But when we respond with love, then the power of injustice is broken. This is the meaning and method of the Cross. 
 
Jesus did not sin, but neither was there any deceit found in His mouth. There is something about keeping our tongue right that breaks the power of sin. More on that below.
 
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten,  but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
 
When Jesus was reviled, He did not return the cursing. When He suffered, He did not respond with threats. This is how sin was defeated. Jesus kept control of His tongue. It is amazing to me that merely by cursing with His tongue, Jesus would have lost His power over the enemy. Sin would have never been defeated if Jesus simply would have given vent to His anger through speech. This is a powerful lesson for all of us. We lose the battle with sin in our speech. We cannot cease from sin until we cease from speaking. Suffering not only requires solidarity, but it requires silence. 
 
The key to suffering righteously is to be silent when suffering and refuse to speak out against our enemies. (Again, I do not mean to limit the power of responsible, official justice. But the reason that civil authorities can judge righteously and punish wrongdoers is because they are not acting out a personal vendetta.) Our silence breaks the power of the enemy when we refuse to utter threats and hurl insults. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and a man that can bridle his tongue can bridle his whole body. The power of sin is broken with the mouth. What we say and what we do not say determines our victory. It is all about blessing and cursing. 
 
There is something about offering prayers of mercy for our tormentors that creates a wall of protection against them and keeps them from controlling our spirit. If they can make us speak, then they can make us sin. If they can make us strike back with words, then they have control over our spirit. When they provoke us to angry speech, they pull us into their mud pit verbal tug-of-war. But if we refuse to speak, then we refuse to give them control over our mind and spirit. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” When we speak, we engage the heart. The heart comes gushing out of the mouth. When we refuse to answer again when we are accused, then we refuse to surrender control of our heart to our enemies, and our spirit remains in the control of God. Our appeal can be only to God. Prayer is the only resort of those who suffer unjustly. 
 
Conversation is communication. When we speak, we commune. When we engage our enemies in a verbal war, we enter into a spiritual duel with them that intertwines our spirit with theirs. Hug a pig, and you get muddy. Their bitter spirit is communicated into ours, and we become like them because we joined with them in dialogue. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” When we refuse to answer again when we are falsely accused, we refuse to give our enemies the upper hand. And this is not a sullen pouting that seeks to hurt a loved one by giving them the silent treatment. No, this is silence in the face of false accusation. When we refuse to speak, we suffer the pain that restores the dislocated soul. 
 
Moreover, Jesus maintained His self-control and self-denial by a determination to “entrust Himself to Him who judges justly.” This is the root of the problem. Adam and Eve took judgment out of God’s hands and sought to create their own reality by making their own judgment call. However, because they were created in the image of God, when they perverted judgment by creating their own unlawful reality, they created injustice in the world. Injustice is judgment that defies the law of God and defaces the image of God in human existence. This injustice came out of an autonomous human will. This autonomy is sin. Sin is the attempt of man to make his own rules and be his own god. Thus, the only way that we can be restored and break the power of sin and injustice is to surrender ourselves back to God. And the only way to restore our position of submission to God and reorient the soul back toward God and allow His holiness to flow through us and fulfill our true humanity in the image of God is to suffer unjustly in a loving way, and thus, allow love to break the power of sin and death that reigns in the inverted human soul. 
 
Sin is a trust issue. Satan convinced Adam and Eve to distrust God and trust the lies of the adversary. Thus, suffering with Christ restores proper trust in God. Jesus was able to endure the Cross because He trusted Himself to God who judges justly. In other words, we will never restore justice to the world until we put judgment back in the hands of God and allow God to settle the injustice in the world through His righteous law. We must refuse to take matters into our own hands and settle private vengeance upon our enemies. Of course, again, we are not speaking of institutional judgment, for then we could not govern our family, civil and social affairs. No, we speak of private vengeance. 
 
So, Jesus remained silent because he trusted in God who judges justly.  
 
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we  might die to sin and  live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed. 
 
Jesus was able to suffer righteously because He knew that His suffering was for us. And this gets to the heart of the matter of how suffering breaks the power of sin: suffering reorients us away from self to God and others. We trust in God that He judges justly, and we see our suffering as substitutional, intercessional and mediatorial. We should understand that when we suffer unjustly, we are suffering to save others. Our suffering becomes the gateway of redemption and healing into the lives of others. Just as Jesus died that others might live, so we suffer that others might be saved. Jesus suffered that “we might die to sin and live to righteousness,” and when we suffer with Him, we do so that others “might die to sin and live to righteousness.” 
 
We are healed by the wounds of Jesus, and others are healed by our wounds. First, others are healed by the fact that we are able to minister to them because we have experienced what they experience. We can be “touched by the feelings of their infirmities.” But there is more to it than that. Second, we also bring healing to the world because we defeat the power of injustice by putting judgment back in the the hands of God. When the Civil Rights marchers of the 1960’s marched in non-violent resistance to the Powers, God intervened. When they left justice in the hands of God, God took it in His hands and broke the Powers of oppression. We do the same when we suffer righteously. Our suffering calls God to intervene on our behalf, for He will always respond to those who trust in Him. If we take matters into our own hands, then God’s justice is frustrated and hindered. When we take matters into our own hands, we repeat the sin of Adam. Moreover, when we take justice into our hands, our justice is always skewed by our ignorance and self-interest. But God knows all things, including human hearts, and thus, when He judges, the Judge of the earth gets it right. And, again: I am not talking about official, civil justice. God has given power to the Powers (Romans 13). 
 
So, we heal the wounds of the world by suffering in solidarity with Christ and the world. When we suffer righteously, we break the power of sin. When we suffer righteously, we cease from sin.
 
25 For  you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to  the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
 
Are you struggling with sin? Have you strayed away from God again and again? Then, you must submit yourself to suffer with Christ. There are countless ways that God brings suffering into our lives ranging from minor inconveniences to major tragedies. How we respond to the problems of life determines how we overcome in all of life. When we respond with angry words and bitter speech, then we perpetuate the power of sin in our life. When we respond with prayer and praise, thanksgiving and testimony, then we begin the process of releasing the power of Christ’s suffering into our life. Stop complaining! Stop murmuring! Stop whining! Stop cursing! Start giving thanks, and when God has trained you to speak righteously in the little things, then He will be able to take you through times of unjust suffering that will break forever the power of sin in your life. If you want God to give you victory, then you must start practicing the imitation of Christ in the small, daily injustices. Like being cut off in traffic, or passed over for a promotion at work. The little injustices are trial runs for the big stuff when God shall count you worthy to suffer for His name, and you shall truly defeat the power of sin as you live out Christ’s sufferings on the cross of your own self-denial. 
 
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