Archive for the ‘1 Corinthians’ Category

Methodology for Ministry from Jeremiah – Part 2

According to Paul, God is on a mission to “destroy the wisdom of the wise” (v. 19). The means by which He wages this war is the simplicity of the message of the cross. In contrast to those who seek miracles that point to the authenticity of the message and those who continue to search for human wisdom, Paul simply preached “Christ crucified” (v. 23).

Moreover, Paul gives us the reason that God is on this mission, and he bases this reason upon the message developed by Jeremiah. It is as if Paul is expositing for us the passage we have considered in part 1. His conclusions are the same as Jeremiah:

First, God destroys boasting in man because God Himself and His message about Christ will only be understood by those who have true wisdom.

Consider the following verses from 1 Corinthians 1 (with Jeremiah 9:23–24 in mind):

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Jeremiah had rebuked the entire nation for their faulty, human wisdom, for their presumption upon the strength they believed they had in the covenant, and for their worldly pursuits. Yet, he also encouraged them to pursue the things that honor God—loyalty, justice, and righteousness—things that their spiritual condition would not allow them to accomplish without His intervention to provide them with true wisdom.

Similarly, according to Paul, the calling of God is not found in human wisdom, might, or wealth but only “in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (v. 30). It is only through Christ that faithfulness, justice, and righteousness can be found.

As a result God accomplishes His purpose, namely, that “no man may boast before God” (v. 29) and “so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (v. 31). The reason, then, that a lost world refuses to embrace the message of the cross is the same reason that Jeremiah’s message was ignored—they have confidence both in themselves and in deceptive, comforting words of man-made religion.

Furthermore, as pastors and teachers and Bible students, we must be careful not to place our glory (the basis for our ministry) in our knowledge rather than our Lord. Knowledge puffs up…builds an ego. Be careful that you consistently pursue knowledge of God that begins with “the fear of the Lord,” a knowledge that recognizes His authority and that responds with proper worship.

Second, God destroys boasting in man because the message of the cross will only be embraced through the work of the Spirit of God.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 2, but not leaving the same idea, Paul now applies his thinking to his own preaching ministry.

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Paul’s point, then, is that his methodology of preaching the Gospel reflected his dependence upon the Spirit to bring these things to bear upon the mind of his listeners.

In Jeremiah’s day, the Lord gave him a message to speak that the people would not listen to. In fact, the Lord told him that would be the case: “You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (7:27). In fact, the Lord told Jeremiah not to pray for this people, because He would not hear him (7:15).

This is a theme that runs through the prophets, beginning even with Deuteronomy. God was so fed up with their rebellion, apostasy, and refusal to listen to His prophets, that His determination to judge them was certain. He would not relent. Therefore, no matter what the prophet said, the message fell upon infertile ears and hearts. Without the breaking through of God’s power, there would be no acceptance. The reason there would be no acceptance is because their hearts were calloused, unable to hear and receive this message.

As a result, the Lord promised later in Jeremiah that He would take things into His own hands (see Jer 31).

He would provide them with a new heart.
He would make a new covenant with them.
He would give them the ability to know Him and to be His people.

Paul picks up on this truth in the verses before us.

Similarly, we who are given the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel should pay careful heed to this warning. Not only was our own calling dependent upon the Spirit who gave us the wisdom to know the things of God, but also our message must rely upon God to intervene in the hearts and minds of those who hear us. In other words, we must be careful that our words and/or our presentation be clearly dependent upon God’s intercession.

False words will be readily received if presented in an appealing way. Moreover, an appealing presentation might very well breed false conversions. Even more, if you are relying upon your own abilities and talents to build the ministry in which you are involved, then you are really fighting against Christ in the building up of His church.

Paul seems to be saying in this passage that true boasting in God comes by mean of the demonstration of the Spirit of God, not through human argumentation or novelty or ingenuity. It is only when the message is received clearly through the demonstration of the Spirit of God that true boasting can take place.

To be honest, it is no surprise that the people consistently rejected the message of Jeremiah. After all, he was speaking the truth, no holds barred, right? Why would they believe him when they were hearing a more palatable message from the other prophets? The point of Jeremiah, then, is consistent with Paul’s point here—without a breaking through by the Spirit of God, the message will not be received, because “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (v. 14).

Methodology for Ministry from Jeremiah?

In the next two posts, I want to raise and answer the following questions: How should your knowledge of who God is and the way that He works reflect itself in the way you preach and minister the Gospel? [In addition, I’m hoping my comments will contribute to the ongoing discussion here and elsewhere about the use of the OT in the New, especially in part 2.]

Before answering that explicitly, I want to show you a negative example in the leadership of Jeremiah’s day. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, a picture is painted of a stubborn and rebellious nation made up of unfaithful and deceitful individuals. This poor spiritual condition extended from the least of them to the greatest. However, from the text we find that Jeremiah’s primary message was against those who were supposed to lead the people. From prophet to priest to king, the nation was corrupted:

“For both prophet and priest are polluted;
Even in My house I have found their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.
(Jer 23:11)

Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.”
(Jer 23:16)

But your [i.e., the king’s] eyes and your heart
Are intent only upon your own dishonest gain,
And on shedding innocent blood
And on practicing oppression and extortion.
(Jer 22:17)

These types of quotes could continue, but suffice it to say, as a result of sorry leadership, the people continued in their sinful practices. Unfaithful leadership led to unfaithful people. This is particularly evident in chapters 7–9. There is something here for each one among the nation. Jeremiah paints a picture of the people of the nation as ignorant, presumptuous, and greedy … faithful to what they had been taught. These chapters lead up to these well-known verses in chapter 9:

23 Thus says, the Lord,
“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and
let not the mighty man boast of his might,
let not a rich man boast of his riches;
24 but let him who boasts boast of this,
that he understands and knows Me,
that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth;
for I delight in these things,”
declares the Lord.

First, according to v. 23, the Lord warns the people that they have no reason for boasting in themselves.

Each of the warnings here parallel a significant problem within the nation, be it a problem with knowledge, presumed strength, or pursuit of riches.

1. They were ignorant of their God.

They failed to listen to true prophets (7:25–26) and therefore provoked the Lord with their idolatry (7:30–31; 8:19). They refused to know the Lord (8:7–9; 9:3, 6) and therefore forsook His instruction (9:12–14).

The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed they were wise, i.e. that they had and understood the truth. Yet, those among them who were supposed to be keepers and purveyors of the truth of God had distorted it, making it into a lie.

At the root of their problem lay this issue of wisdom. They had distorted the words of the Lord to such an extent that they had become wise in their own eyes and were relying upon the wisdom of a leadership that was not teaching the Lord’s Torah, His instruction, correctly. The issue in Jeremiah’s day was an issue with the spiritual leadership of the people. Thus, those who were to be shepherds of the people came under judgment from the Lord. Consider these words in Jer 23:1–2:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord.

It comes as no surprise that a majority of the people gladly listened to the dainty words of the false prophets. After all, with those words came a sense of security and blessing and rest. Those were the things that the entire nation desired…rest and blessing in the land. And these were the very things that the false teachers promised.

Naturally, then, the people and the nation began to trust in their knowledge and power and wealth, things that they believed would bring them protection and security. Yet, the message of the false prophets was merely superficial.

2. They presumed upon the covenant.

The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed they were able in and of themselves to rule selfishly over others. Moreover, they wrongfully assumed that the temple automatically brought strength against their enemies.

They willingly trusted in the deceptive words of the false prophets (7:4, 8; 8:8–11) and therefore presumed upon the covenant (7:4, 8).

Moreover, the people of the nation had the audacity to assume that God would protect them no matter what they did. Since they were part of the covenant and since they were in the temple, they presumed upon that fact and lived their life inconsistently with Torah. That is, they oppressed others; they shed innocent blood; they went after other gods. And all of this occurred before the eyes of those who were supposed to know better. Even the priests and the prophets practiced deceit.

Ultimately, then, Jeremiah’s words to the “strong” were an open rebuke of their pseudo-strength and the pseudo-confidence it bred in the leadership and the people.

3. They greedily sought after dishonest gain.

Several verses in Jer 7–9 refer to the rich man (cf. 7:6, 11; 8:10). The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed that their riches would sustain them and that the acquisition of wealth could be done by any means. They wrongfully assumed that even in the temple they could seek wealth without consequence. As a result, they were consumed with worldly pursuits.

As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.

(Jer 17:11)

These three pictures of the people are the complete antithesis of those who truly know their God. As it was, Jeremiah never convinced them. Why? Because those who are wise in their own eyes, confident in their own strength (or in a false strength, an illusion of security), and consumed with worldly pursuits will never understand and know their God. For this reason, then, Jeremiah spoke the words of v. 24.

Lest they think that their status as the nation called by God would bring protection and security, Jeremiah warns them that there was no reason for them to find peace in their wisdom, might, or wealth. What is more, this principle applies on both a personal and national level.

Second, according to v. 24, the Lord instructs the people that the only basis for their boasting is in a proper understanding of their God.

Rather than finding glory in a presumptuous view of their own wisdom, strength, and wealth, the people were to find glory in one place—Yahweh. True boasting, the Lord says through Jeremiah, should only be found in one’s true knowledge of Him, for He is the one who acts with loyal love, who acts as a just judge, and who provides the standard of righteousness.

Moreover, true wisdom on the people’s part would demonstrate itself through the exercising of these things. But here’s the problem…

Mankind, left to his own devices, will never be able to face his Judge faithfully because mankind is not righteous. Mankind will never meet that standard. So what is man to do? Well, Jeremiah had the answer in Jeremiah 31. If man is to exercise lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, he will need a new heart and a new mind.

Each of the three things in v. 23 is a barrier to true faith. Those who are wise according to the standards of the world refuse to hear the simplicity of God’s Word, for their wisdom has blinded them to the things of God. Those who presume to be wise based upon the teaching of liars also refuse to hear the truth of God, for their minds have been deceived. Those who are confident in their own strength refuse to abandon their own efforts to save themselves, for their earthly strength has made them calloused to the things of God. Those who are rich and consumed with worldly pursuits refuse to leave the security of this world, for their acquisition of wealth has consumed their life.

Each of the three things in v. 24 is a characteristic of God that men should pursue. Yet, each of these is only obtainable through the work of God on man’s behalf. This is one of the overarching messages of the prophets: Man needs God to intervene and provide him with a new heart.

It is no surprise, then, that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1–2 turns to this passage in Jeremiah when comparing the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of the Gospel preached. This connection and the implications that Paul makes from it for the ministry are important, but they are also for tomorrow…

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