Dec 29, 2010

Weak Brethren III

In the first chapter of I Corinthians Paul begins to address the dichotomy of weak versus strong. In it Paul is correcting the Corinthians regarding their concepts concerning power, wisdom, and noble birth, concepts that had their roots in Greek and Roman philosophy. The Greeks judged one as a member of the ruling, elite, or power class, based upon these standards. Paul opposes these standards and establishes better ones. According to Paul it was a man's relationship to Christ, his knowledge and faith, that revealed whether he was weak or strong, wise or foolish, noble or ignoble. It was therefore the Christian who was the truly wise and strong, the one of high birth.

Christians are The Wise

There are lots of contrasts in Paul's Corinthian epistles, such as weak versus strong, wise versus fool, high birth versus low birth, free man versus slave, worldly versus heavenly, carnal versus spiritual, eternal versus temporal, visible versus invisible, etc. One contrast that is most frequent in all the epistles of the apostles is between those who are heavenly wise versus those who are carnally wise, the apostles affirming that Christians are the wise and non-Christians are the unwise. Wisdom came with salvation. A saved man was a wise or enlightened man. He received and understood knowledge that saved him.

The Greeks placed a high value on wisdom. They prided themselves on their intellectual acumen. But, Paul shows that the wisdom of the Greeks, the wisdom of the "world," is not the same as the wisdom of God. The worldly wise man is judged by God as being foolish and, conversely, the truly wise man, the one in Christ, is judged by the world as being foolish. Paul speaks of those who are "wise after the flesh" (1: 26), of "the wisdom of the world" (1: 20 21), over against those who are wise through the Spirit (2: 10-14).

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (I Cor. 4: 10)

Paul here uses sarcasm, of common usage among the Greek elite, as a way for Paul to "feed them out of their own spoons." Sarcasm involves irony and Paul found it ironic that some of these Corinthian believers, in applying Greek and worldly standards, would judge Paul to be weak and foolish, and themselves strong and wise. But it was Paul who was the truly wise and strong and the worldlings, or non-Christians, who were the weak, the base, the foolish, the despised, and the dishonorable. How God sees and judges things quite differently from the world, however.

"For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (II Cor. 10: 12)

Paul, in these words from his second epistle to the Corinthians, continues his attack upon the worldly criteria in use among the pagan, non-Christian world, in distinguishing between wise and foolish, between strong and weak. The Greeks, like the world in general, used a human standard in judging character and status. It is a false standard, however, and contrary to the divine standard. Jesus himself had warned of this worldly standard, saying -

"And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16: 15)

The standard that the world of depraved men use to distinguish between themselves is like a false weight and measure. What the world highly esteems, God despises. What God despises the world honors. The one whom the world calls wise, strong, and noble, is the one who is foolish, weak, and ignoble in the eyes of God. Jesus and his apostles directed men to a better standard for measuring and marking good character, and for revealing a man's standing with God. Notice these words of James.

"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3: 13-17)

Will the real wise man please stand up? God and the world point to different kinds of people in designating who is "wise" and "endued with knowledge." The Greeks, like the Romans and the world in general, point to those who are rich, to those of noble birth, to the well educated, to those with power and influence, when giving an example of the "wise." This kind of worldly wisdom, according to the apostle James, is connected with pride, while true heavenly wisdom is connected with "meekness" and humility. Worldly wisdom begets jealousy and envy too, which then produces strife and division among men. Worldly wise men boast of their abilities and achievements. Heavenly wise men, however, follow Paul's dictum, as given to the Romans.

"Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (Romans 12: 16)

The worldly wise man exercises his thoughts in "high things," believing that he is superior to most other men, that he is a man of high estate and elite status. But, he is deceived. It is the Christian, however, the one who has been taught by God and his grace, who practices condescension of mind, who sees himself as he really is, and who is not pretentious.

Worldly wisdom is "earthly, sensual, and devilish." It originates in Hell, not in Heaven. Worldly wisdom is corrupt, but heavenly wisdom is "pure." Worldly wisdom is hard and arrogant, but heavenly wisdom is "easy" and "gentle." Worldly wisdom is implacable, but heavenly wisdom placates. Worldly wisdom is merciless, but heavenly wisdom is "full of mercy." The effects of worldly wisdom are: destructive competitiveness, selfishness, uncooperativeness, uncharitableness, partiality and prejudice, and hypocrisy and conceit.

Christians and The Strong

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God...But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (I Cor. 1: 18, 24)

Those who are "saved" and "called" own Christ and his gospel as the power and wisdom of God. Those who believe the good news about the person and work of Christ are they who are now strong in Christ, and are no longer weak. On the other hand, the person who does not believe in Christ and the gospel are they who are weak, without strength.

As was noted in chapter one, the Greek word translated "weak" in the Corinthian epistles denotes what is sick, unhealthy, impotent, or "without strength." In Romans 5: 6 Paul wrote: "For when we were yet without strength (weak - asthenes), in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Clearly the apostle connects the lost, unsaved, or "ungodly" man, with the one who is "weak," or "without strength." This is further evidence that the class of people designated by the apostles as "weak" are those who are unbelievers, or unsaved.

In chapter two Paul wrote:

"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (I Cor. 2: 4, 5)

Here Paul attacks the Sophist ideas about power and wisdom. The Sophists taught men how to succeed in the world, affirming that worldly success ought to be the chief aim of every man. The Sophists emphasized rhetoric and oratory as a means for achieving success. Truth was not a paramount concern to the Sophists. Debating skills were not for the purpose of arriving at truth but for success in acquiring power. According to Greek Sophistic thinking a man was judged as weak or strong depending upon his communication skills.

In these words of Paul there is again a discussion of "power." The "power of God" is contrasted with the power of men. Whatever power the non-Christian may possess is not real power, not divine power.

"But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." (I Cor. 4: 19, 20)

In these words of Paul there is further evidence of how Paul viewed "power," and how he identified those who are the real strong ones. Those in the kingdom of God are they who are the powerful, the strong. They have abilities and authority with God that those powerful in the world do not have. When the Lord first appeared to Paul and commissioned him to preach his gospel, he told Paul that it was in order that he might "open the eyes" of those who were lost in their sins, and "to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God..." (Acts 26: 18) The unenlightened non-Christian is one who is under and controlled by the power of Satan, and of the world, but the Christian is who has been "turned" away from such power to the "power of God" and the power of his word and kingdom.

In the above words the apostle continues his attack upon that criterion that judges men as weak or strong based upon their "speech." Paul sees human rhetoric as a false criteria. They who are strong in the eyes of God are not they who talk well, but those who change lives by the preaching of the gospel.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (II Cor. 4: 7)

Again, Paul continues to talk about "power" and the "powerful." Those who are strong are not strong because of physical ability but because they possess a "treasure," which is Christ and his gospel through the Holy Spirit. He also contrasts divine and human power by saying that divine power is "of God" while human power is "of us."

"For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." (II Cor. 10: 10)

Again, the debate between Paul and the Greek mind about "power" is alluded to in these words. Paul was "weak" in body, and to the Greeks this was another standard for judging between the weak and the strong, in addition to rhetorical skills.

"Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you." (II Cor. 13: 3)

Paul, in these words, continues his contrast between the weak and the strong. He also continues to use a different standard for judging strength.

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (II Cor. 12: 9)

Paul, in these words, continues discussing the concept of weak versus strong, and the criteria for judging it. The Greeks saw no good in weakness, but Paul saw good in it. The Greeks would never "glory" or boast in their infirmities, but the Christian boasts in them because they give opportunity for the "power of Christ" to be manifested.

"For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you." (II Cor. 13: 4)

The weakness of Christ lay in his humanity. Christ was subject to various human weaknesses though he was the very power of God. Not only are Christians "weak in him," but are also strong in Christ.

"I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." (I John 2: 14)

These are the words of the apostle John and he calls those who have the word of God abiding in them, or Christians, "strong." He further identifies those who are "strong" with those who "overcome."

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (II Tim. 1: 7)

These words of Paul to Timothy further demonstrate how the apostles viewed the Christian as being the strong one, the one who has a strong spirit.

"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." (Eph. 3: 16)

"Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." (Col. 1: 11)

These words of Paul further identify the Christian as the "strong." He is the one "strengthen with might" and this not in the outer man, but "in the inner man." The Christian is not weak, but "strengthened with all might."

The Strength of the Christian

A Christian is one who has been both enlightened and empowered. The power of Christians is in the person of Jesus Christ, who is "the power of God." (I Cor. 1: 24) Before Christ enters a person, he is impotent, sick, and foolish, but when Christ enters, that person is made wise, or enlightened. He receives knowledge about God and divine things. He is also empowered in being given various powers and graces, and multiple abilities and gifts. The seed of all future fruit is sown in the heart and soul of that person. The areas of the Christian's strength lies in the following areas.

First, the Christian is strong in nature, for he has become a "partaker of the divine nature." (II Peter 1: 4) He is not strong in his human nature, or in body, but in his divine nature, or in his spirit and mind. He is spiritually healthy, having innate ability.

Second, he is strong in wisdom and knowledge, because he has been taught the secrets of wisdom, the revelation of the gospel.

Third, he is strong in conscience, as he shows in I Corinthians chapter 8, having a conscience that has been purged of pride and guilt.

Fourth, he is strong in spirit/mind. He has a mind and purpose that is destined to overcome and endure. He is resolute and is given courage.

Fifth, he is strong in inheritance, in riches and titles.

Christians and The High Born

Christians are the real nobles, the truly "high born." They are begotten of God, members of the family of God. The world may see the Christian as persons of "low estate," but God sees them as persons of high estate.

"Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity." (Psa. 62: 9)

The "men of high degree" in the world are "a lie," a falsehood, for they are not, in the eyes of God, what they claim to be. It is Christians who God judges as noble men, men of high birth.

"Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever." (Psa. 106: 33)

Lost men are in a "low estate," though they may possess much of earthly wisdom, power, and wealth. Saved men, on the other hand, are men of high estate, even though their worldly status may be low.

"Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off." (Psa. 138: 6)

These words of David are similar to those of Paul in chapter one. God has chosen the weak things of the world, not the strong of the world.

"Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." (James 1: 9, 10)

The Christian, though by worldly standards is a man of "low degree," is really a man of high degree. God has exalted him to high status. Mary confessed the same, saying - "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." (Luke 1: 52) Mary recognized that she was, by worldly standards, of the lower class, saying - "For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." (Luke 1: 48)

Christians and The Rich

"Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." (I Cor. 4: 8)

This is probably a further use of sarcasm and irony by the apostle. Paul, like Jesus and the other apostles, often contrasted between the riches of the world and the riches of God and heaven. Christians are rich, although not by worldly standards.

"As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." (II Cor. 6: 10)

How did Paul make people "rich"? Clearly it was not in worldly riches, but in heavenly riches, being rich in faith and good works, and rich in inheritance.

"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (II Cor. 8: 9)

Christians are the truly wealthy. They have a glorious inheritance. They are enriched in the quality of their lives, though they be poor in this world.

"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." (I Tim. 6: 17, 18)

Here Paul contrasts the riches of God with the riches of the world. The riches of the world are "uncertain" and produce highmindedness in those who possess them.

"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?" (James 2: 5, 6)

The poor of this world would never be viewed as "elect" or "elite" by the Greeks or world in general. It was contrary to their standard.

"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." (Rev. 3: 17, 18)

If one desires to be rich towards God, then he is shown the way. Christians are rich though they be poor in this world for the present.

In conclusion it is the Christian who is the truly wise, strong, rich, and noble person. These terms are used to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian and not to distinguish between two different types of Christians.

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