Proverbs 11:1 says “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is a delight.” Cheating is not a new concept. People in antiquity could rig their scales so that they were unbalanced. It was a way of skimming. Weighing metals or food where it works to your favor will add up significantly over the course of many transactions. There’s a simple term for this–scam.
But Proverbs 11:1 isn’t just talking about physical scales. It’s talking about the concept of cheating, whether in business or in dishing out justices. The word “just” means balanced. It means to do what is morally right or fair. If we tip the scales of justice, we are creating injustices.
Many people tip the scales in the church. “So and so is my best friend, so she would never do such a thing.” That’s a tipping-the-scale-statement. When we cover for people because they are friends or family, we are tipping the scales. Wisdom requires us to use balanced scales. We show no favoritism and don’t turn a blind eye to sin based on who we know. If we all worked with balanced scales, it would be much easier to hold people accountable.
Paul told the Corinthians that, when he came to them, it was not with lofty speech or wisdom. But this doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t tap into wisdom when he was there. We know this because Paul continued, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away” (1 Cor. 2:6 ESV).
The wisdom was a “secret and hidden wisdom of God” and it was ancient. For Paul, it was important to impart this wisdom to the mature. Had he attempted to impart this wisdom to everyone, it would have fallen on deaf ears. The most effective way, then, to proclaim Christ to the masses in Corinth was in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
While he used a demonstration of the Spirit and of power to the larger population of Corinth, Paul also imparted wisdom to the mature. Why was this important? Because “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, Paul says that “we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13). Those who are spiritual will understand the wisdom of the Spirit.
For this reason, we need to teach Christians the importance of being spiritual. Being spiritual leads to being Spirit-led. And for the mature, wisdom is imparted.
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When Paul first came into Corinth, he was alone for the first time since he began his missionary journeys. He had been chased out of Macedonia and had to separate from the rest of his companions. He boarded a ship and sailed down to Athens, preached there, then moved into Corinth. For whatever reason, Paul was fearful and felt very alone.
When Timothy and Silas finally joined Paul in Corinth, Luke says that “Paul was occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). This is interesting because Paul told the Corinthians that, when he first came, he “decided to known nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was very, very focused on Jesus and the cross. In fact this was his sole focus.
Paul makes it clear that Paul came to Corinth in weakness and in fear and much trembling. Though he later says that he imparted wisdom to the mature, at first his message was not shrouded in lofty speech and wisdom. Rather, it was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
Sometimes we get so troubled with getting our message right that we lose focus on Jesus and the cross. The irony is that the message ends up getting diluted. Paul was more interested in remaining focused on Christ and him crucified than he was getting his speeches right. Because Paul maintained this focus, he was able to witness by way of demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is what transformed people in Corinth. Where the Spirit of God is at work, there is life!
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Wisdom comes from God. If it didn’t our wisdom would come from what we believe to be right in our own eyes. But wisdom from above produces good works, is gentle, patient, and honest. James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in meekness of wisdom.”
The opposite of this is jealousy, selfishness, and dishonesty. James continues, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14, 15). James says that these earthly passions lead to disorder and every vile practice.
Instead, James calls his listeners to seek Godly wisdom. James tells them that a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. This is the kind of wisdom that we all need to seek.
There is so much discord in churches all over the world because of jealousy, selfishness, and dishonesty. If there is ongoing inner turmoil, rest assured that decisions are not being guided by Godly wisdom. Peace and righteousness are true markers of wisdom from above.
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As we focus on the theme of wisdom this year, it’s appropriate to talk about struggles in the context of wisdom. Oftentimes, in the middle of our deepest struggles, wisdom is what carries us through. Wisdom allows us to see beyond the tragedy so that hope can emerge and come into deeper focus. Wisdom helps us make guided decisions so that we don’t remain in a permanent rut.
Without wisdom, we would never understand that trials can actually deepen our faith. They have the ability to refine us and make us stronger. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:2-4).
Most of us don’t have the first instinct to be joyful when trials hit. It is not our fist response. Our sight gets clouded by the agony of the pain. We often are dazed, shocked, and have to focus on just breathing. But it’s wisdom that helps us see the big picture. Wisdom tells us that there is a loving God who validates our suffering. Wisdom tells us that we can put one foot in front of the other and that each step is another movement forward.
But we also need to ask in faith. James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In all of our trials, we need to ask for more wisdom. Our faith will be tested. Our faith is tested. Let’s ask for wisdom as it is tested.
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To be honest, I feared death as a kid. I remember, at a young age, having my imagination go wild. What if I died? What if a parent or sibling died? What happens to them? Are they gone forever? Will we ever see them again? It’s natural for us to think of these kinds of questions. I no longer have a fear of death. Death is something that brings life. It’s spring right now. The grass is gorgeous! Flowers are blooming. Trees are in blossom. Life is emerging from death.
Paul says, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). He was talking about Christ’s resurrection. There were people who denied the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Paul is clear, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14). Earlier Paul told the Corinthians that he decided to know nothing while he was with them except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Without death there cannot be life. The seeds that are sown are dead and, when they take root, are raised up with life. Paul rightly says that we are resurrected with Christ. At our baptism there is a death to our old self. We crucify our old selves with Christ and are raised up a new person. We share in his resurrection! The good news didn’t stop with Christ being raised from the dead. That was just the beginning! The good news is that we are raised with Christ-that he is our salvation and we will live for eternity. Christ is our hope. The empty tomb is the heart of the gospel. There is so much to celebrate as we remember the empty tomb!
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Themes are a great way to walk through the Bible with a different lens and they help us focus in on something that’s really important. I like annual themes because it makes sermon writing have purpose and direction. As I thought about where we are as a congregation and where our culture has shifted over the last few years, it became abundantly clear that God was whispering that people need to be loved so they can see Jesus!
With so many stories about abuse, sexual exploitation, and the dramatic rise in drug overdoses and sex scandals, the church is in the absolute best position to reach out to their neighbors. While some are bent on preaching about the woes of the world, Jesus took a different approach. He lived out the greatest commandments–loving God and loving your neighbor. The command to love is as old as time. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets are hinged on these two commandments. I’d say that makes them pretty important. . . the most important!
I love how blunt John was when he makes the distinction between children of God and children of the devil: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
In 2018 we will commit to practicing righteousness and loving our brothers and sisters. There will be no excuse for not doing so. We will share testimonies of lives that are transformed, and we will let God do his miraculous wonders!