Christian You Are Richer Than You Think
“CHRISTIAN, YOU ARE RICHER THAN YOU THINK!”
(I Corinthians 3:21-23)
“Therefore, let no man glory in men: for all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, of death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
Every Christian will, consciously or unconsciously, face several crises in being a Christian. He will face an identity crisis. Because he has logged so much time as Satan’s child and in Satan’s service (living selfishly), he will have a difficult time understanding and adjusting to his new identity, what it means to be “in Christ.” Then he will face an inventory crisis. He will have a difficult time acknowledging and appropriating his new “bank account.” The Bible speaks of his riches, but he finds it difficult to realize that anything has changed. Then he experiences an interpersonal crises. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Say what? Even the effort to love one another seems impossible, but to love one another as Jesus has loved us? He must be kidding! He must not understand me, and He surely doesn’t understand the people I have to live with! So we experience one interpersonal crisis after another. Then he faces an involvement crisis. Just exactly what does Jesus expect of me? He wants me involved with Him --but how? And in what? And where? Then he will face an implementation crisis. How am I to do what is expected of me? I want to truly serve God and man, but by what power am I to do it? What resource or resources do I have that will enable me to do what is to be done?
In this study, I want to address the inventory crisis. Positively, I want to explore just one statement of Scripture that itemizes a few things in the Christian’s inventory. Hidden in the Gospel is an often overlooked truth, and that is that being faithful, having friends, making disciples, being a Christian — the total Christian package, is so costly that only rich people can afford it. There was an incredible cost factor on God’s side in making that package available to us, and there is an incredible cost factor on our side. The cost of entrance was high, and the cost of maintenance is high — and so daily! The cost of being a Christian is very high, and the demand never lessens. Only rich people can afford to be Christians! Now the good news, the flip side of that disarming truth: the Christian is underwritten, endowed from Heaven’s treasury with an incredible inventory of riches. Any Christian who looks at his “bank book” must do a double-take, thinking there must be a misprint or a mistake in recording.
A teacher asked a boy in her class, “Jimmy, if you reached in your pocket, and you found a dollar, a half dollar, a quarter, a dime, a nickel and a penny, what would you have?” The boy quickly answered, “I’d have on somebody else’s pants!” It is even more difficult for a Christian to apprehend, appreciate and appropriate the vast riches he has in Christ. We are like the proverbial person who dies in penury and poverty and starvation while surrounded by an abundance of wealth. In order to appreciate our riches, we must take seriously what Scripture, Heaven’s Bank Book, says about them. Our text is a good place to begin.
I. A BACKGROUND PROBLEM
There was a massive problem in the church at Corinth that formed the background of this text. The church at Corinth had an overload of carnal church members, and one of the most devastating symptoms of their carnality was that they had divided the church. The Body of Christ was divided and fragmented over their selection of their “favorite preachers.” The church at Corinth had been blessed with a lineup of great pastors, such men as Paul and Apollos and Peter. The baby Christians who filled the church had responded by choosing favorites. Thus, they had turned Christianity into a personality cult, parading the names of their favorite leaders instead of profiling Jesus. This is an ever recurring danger in the Body of Christ. One of the greatest errors of this practice is that it turns Christianity into a preachers’s movement instead of a people’s movement.
To see the problem in sharp focus, turn back to I Corinthians 1:10-13. Satan’s master strategy for the Body of Christ is to “divide and conquer,” thus neutralizing the Body by curling its attention back on itself and its leaders. Let me exegete the text in order for us to see the problem. Verse 10 opens the discussion of the problem by saying, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Note the word “beseech,” and the word “brethren.” The word “beseech” literally means to “call alongside.” So Paul uses a term of deep affection, the word “brethren,” and he invites them to assume a position very close to him while he deals with a serious problem among them. It is almost as if he cushions the reprimand by special affection. Then he uses an expression which assumes great authority: “By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So he blends great affection and great authority as he appeals to them. Thus, we may begin to see how serious the problem of divisions in the church really is. He then appeals to them: “That there be no divisions among you.” The word “divisions” literally means “schisms” or “splits.” It is the same Greek word that described the rending of the veil of the Temple when Jesus died on the cross. So there was a deep and tragic rift among members in the church at Corinth. Paul appeals to them that they “all speak the same thing,” and that they be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The word translated “joined together” is a strong word that means “adjusted,” or “restored,” or “mended.” It suggests that much damage had already been done by this divisiveness, and that the divisions must cease and the damage be repaired as much as possible.
Then Paul divulges to the Corinthian church members the source of his information. Verse 11 says, “ For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” The word translated “contentions” is another very strong word which literally means “quarrels” or “bickerings.” Then, in verse 12, Paul describes the problem: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” Dr. H. E. Dana picturesquely said, “The church in Corinth was divided like any good pie should be divided — four parts!” Notice that the trouble was spread throughout the entire church: “Every one of you saith.”
The words must be examined carefully before we can begin to appreciate the sinful and deadly nature of the problem of divisions in the church. The four divisions were polarized around four great names. It must be noted that there is no acknowledgment anywhere that any of the four leaders had given his consent or his initiation to the creation of this problem. Paul shows this vividly by highlighting (verse 13) only the segment that used his name as their rallying point. Thus, he dissociated himself from the sin and error of the very group that used his name to further divide the church.
One group rallied around Paul, a second group around Apollos, a third group around Peter, and the last group around Christ. Surely there were much deeper reasons for this action than mere preference. It is very probable that the group centered in Paul were Gentiles, for Paul was the assigned Apostle to the Gentiles. The group following Apollos was probably made of Greeks, because he was an eloquent Greek. And the group following Christ was apparently as exclusive as the rest, and probably thought of themselves as the most pious of them all. It is natural to flesh to choose self-pleasing favorites. Paul was the smart preacher; Apollos was the slick preacher; and Peter was the strong preacher. Or you might say that Paul was the mystical preacher, Apollos was the mental preacher, and Peter was the methodical preacher. Naturally, my favorite preacher would be the one who ministered most to me.
Here is the bottom line. The word translated, “I am” (of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), is the Greek word, ego, which transliterates into English by the same word. The problem was that each Christian was making an ego-centered choice of his favorite preacher instead of a Christ-centered choice that denied self and favored the Body. The “I” had become emphatic, selfish, and demanding, thus producing carnal believers.
But the deadliness of the problem has not yet been examined. Study verse 13 carefully. “Is Christ divided?” So what happens when a church is carnally divided? A division in a church, the Body of Christ, means a dividing of the Person of Christ Himself! “Was Paul crucified for you?” A division in a church, the Body of Christ, means a degrading of the Passion of Christ Himself. “Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” A division in a church, the Body of Christ, means a deterioration of our position and our participation in Christ Himself. Think carefully and prayerfully of the devastating nature of the sin of divisions in the church. Anybody who fosters such a division sins against the very Person of Jesus in the three ways mentioned in this paragraph.
In case you are not sufficiently aware of the damning nature of this sin, let me momentarily examine with you the structure and content of the I Corinthian letter of Paul. Every chapter in First Corinthians was written to deal with a problem! This is what carnality does in a church; it reduces the church’s agenda to one of problem -solving instead of one of Christ-serving and people-building. Look at the outline of the book in order to see this. In I Corinthians 1:10-4:21, the problem dealt with is that of Partiality and Disunity. In I Corinthian 5:1-13, the problem is that of Immorality. In chapter 6:1-11, the problem is that of Legality. In 6:12-20, the problem is that of Impurity. In 7:1-40, the problem is that of Matrimony. In 8:1-11:1, the problem is that of Morality, or Christian Liberty. In 11:2-34, the problem is that of Liturgy. In 12:1-14:40, the problem is that of Spirituality. In 15:1-58, the problem is that of Immortality. And in 16:1-4, the problem is that of Liberality. Let me strongly encourage you to read the entire book of I Corinthians, noting these problems and the Holy Spirit’s answers to them.
Now, look carefully back over the outline and divisions in the previous paragraph, and note two very decisive facts: l. The very first problem that is dealt with in a book of problem-solving that covers sixteen chapters is the problem of divisions in the Body of Christ. This problem takes precedence over such major problems as immorality, lawsuits among Christians, adjustments in the married and the single life, how to decide about questionable practices, understanding the place and practice of spiritual gifts, questions about the resurrection and the afterlife, and the matter of giving of money. 2. The single problem that receives the lengthiest treatment of all the big problems in the church of Corinth is the problem of divisions in the church. Only one chapter is devoted to such major problems as immorality in the church, lawsuits among Christians, adjustments in the married and single life, abuses in public worship, questions about the resurrection from the dead, and failures in the practice of faithful stewardship of money and resources. Three chapters each are devoted to the problems of how to decide about questionable practices and understanding the place and practice of spiritual gifts in the church. However, four chapters are devoted to resolving the problem of divisions in the Body of Christ! The reason for this is simple: Jesus receives His representation in the world through His Body, the Church. If it is divided, it is falsely representing Him. You see, Jesus is as dependent upon His Church, His Body, as you are upon your body. You simply cannot express yourself without the use of your body — nor can He express Himself without the use of His Body. And you are confined for your self-expression upon the kind of body you have, and on its performance. And so is Jesus! So there is a serious background problem behind this text. And this raises an intriguing question: Who but the Holy Spirit would ever have dreamed of answering this problem with the solution given in I Corinthians 3:21-23? How does a reminder of my personal riches in Christ solve the problem of divisions in the church? The Christian Gospel presents a message that is so big and so powerful that it simply absorbs and drowns most problems — if it is properly understood and fully appreciated.
II. A BASIC PROPOSITION
In answer to the problem of divisions in the church at Corinth, Paul presents a basic proposition, and that proposition brings us to consider our inventory as Christians. Paul says, “Let no man glory in men, for all things are yours.” The negative admonition precludes the possibility of elevating men. This takes the personality parade out of Christianity. There is an old saying, “The person who is a Peacock today may be a feather-duster tomorrow.” Christian leaders must reveal their vulnerability, their frailty, and their depravity so that people cannot honestly elevate them into undue positions, prestige, and pressures. The positive declaration, “All things are yours,” makes church divisions look petty and contradictory.
Ask God to illumine your mind and heart as you meditate on the sentence, “All things are yours.” To impress us with its massive truth, the Holy Spirit repeats it in the next verse, “All are yours” (verses 21, 22). Either this is absolute truth or the whole Bible is a lie. But since this is absolute truth, the lives of most Christians are a lie, because they live as if it were anything but true. An elderly lady went into the office of a Minneapolis insurance company one day and sadly announced that she was canceling her husband’s insurance policy because she couldn’t “keep up the payments on it.” When the secretary investigated, she discovered that the woman’s husband had died some months before — and she was going to have to cancel the policy because she couldn’t keep up the premium payments! The woman was made wealthy by the terms of the policy, but she didn’t understand those terms, and thought she still had to pay premiums! What a parable of many Christians today! The Premiums are Paid In Full on our Eternal Life Assurance Policy, the terms of the policy reveal that we can draw incredible regular resources since our Benefactor has died — and yet we live like spiritual paupers. Jesus has made us the beneficiaries of both His Death Benefits and His Life Benefits! Christian, dare to believe it, and start drawing on the account. “All things are yours.”
“Here is the ocean of God’s resources; Christian, push out from shore.
Have you found much? Give thanks, and be assured there is plenty more.
Do you fear the Generous Giver to offend? Then know that His store of bounty has no end.
He does not need to be begged or teased; The more we take, the better He is pleased.”
Some years ago, a fine Christian author named Irwin Lutzer wrote a book entitled, You Are Richer Than You Think. A Christian pastor named Perry Webb preached an old sermon on our text entitled, “I Am a Millionaire!” In today’s inflationary terms, this title would need to be greatly enlarged lest we lower the amount in our checkbook. Sam Jones, the colorful old Methodist preacher, gave his personal testimony for Christ in this quaint statement: “I was going along through life with my pockets full of dirt, when one day the Lord said to me, ‘Sam, empty that dirt out of your pockets — all of it — and I will fill your pockets instead with diamonds. Who wouldn’t give up dirt for diamonds?” We have an incredible inventory as Christians. But the enemy of our souls continually tries to trick us into shrinking our inventory into something merely man-sized! So we must constantly read and reread our “Spiritual Bank Statement.” Let’s review some of our resources.
In verse 22, the Apostle Paul gives an itemized inventory of some of our resources in Christ. He lists eight items, but a cursory look at these items will reveal that they obviously fall into four categories. And we must be reminded that the value of these items is measured from God’s point of view, not man’s. Even the wisest Christian might not see the real value of these items at first examination. Again, we see why we must always have a miracle of illumination to appreciate Divine truth, because God’s “value system” may be quite different from ours. God said, “My ways are not as your ways, and my thoughts are not as your thoughts. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55). Also, we see the arrogant impudence of humanistic man; he is just absolutely certain that he knows what is best for himself. Sure! He is so much smarter than God! That would be raucous comedy if it were not so very tragic. But let me step down off of my soap box and join the Holy Spirit in examining some of our resources in Christ. Look at the four categories of our wealth and the items in them.
First, the Holy Spirit tells us that all true communicators of the Gospel belong to us. “Paul, and Apollos, and Cephas” are yours (verse 22). Excuse me! That seems like an insignificant item when I measure my “real needs.” How in the world does that make me rich? But remember, dear friend, we are now being introduced to God’s value system, the one that will evaluate us at the judgment seat of Christ. Here we find out what is the most important thing in the life of any human being at any time. Is that important?
Paul, Apollos, and Peter were pastors and preachers who had served, preached and taught the Christians in Corinth. Why were these men whom society would tend to disregard and depreciate so very important in the eternal scale of things? Here is the reason: the most important things that ever happens in your life or in the life of any responsible human being occurs when God speaks to you!
You must understand that, until God speaks to you, you have absolutely no spiritual options. You are like a blind man stumbling around in the dark looking for a light switch. Everything you do is determined by your personal guesswork. There are no absolutes, and “your guess is as good as mine” — that’s right, both are worthless! In that framework, you can’t even make it an absolute rule that there are no absolutes! Everything is at the mercy of the next man’s whim and fancy. So you really should not object if he violates you and your freedom; after all, he was just doing what he thought was right or permissible. Instead of that tedious position over the moral abyss, the Bible says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word (rhema, the living word of God addressed to the individual soul) of God.”
Furthermore, God calls and places appointed messengers to deliver His Word consistently to the people. I do not flatter myself or boast when I say that, by the grace of God, I am one of those called messengers. That is a confession of great responsibility, not a boast! The fact that God places those messengers makes the hearing of their message a matter of great stewardship and responsibility for the people of a community. If God calls His man to preach in your neighborhood, then He also calls you to go and hear the message he brings. You will be judged for what you hear. Oh, but you will also be judged if you are absent for what you would have heard if you had been present! So there is a great deal more judgment occurring in our communities at all times than we can possibly conceive. Then we blame God when that judgment strikes! We should have listened to His Word! You see, Adam was lost by listening to the word of Satan, and man is saved by listening to the Word of God.
So the Christians in Corinth should have realized that each of the three men they were “choosing up sides” over were equally important to each of them. “But I like Paul,” one might say, “I just don’t like that slick-tongued eloquence of Apollos, or the straightforwardness of Peter.” Let me give you the other side of those preferences: The preacher you like the least is probably the one you need the most! Why? Because when you only listen to the preacher you like, you are only bolstering your strengths, which were already there. But when you faithfully listen to the preacher you don’t like, God is using your dislike to expose some of your character flaws. Your reactions reveal as much, or more, about your character than your actions do. So Paul says, “Stop taking your pick among the preachers, and take them all!”
A very unfortunate condition had developed in the “First Baptist Church” of Corinth. The people were in disagreement over the preachers and pastors who had ministered there. They had a church fuss, and then a church division, over these preachers. There may be occasions when preachers are fussed at, but here was a case where the preachers were being fussed over. Each preacher’s name mentioned here stands for a distinct kind of preaching. Paul, the founder of the church at Corinth and its missionary-pastor, stands for the preacher with brilliant insight, logical arguments and compassionate heart. Apollos, the Alexandrian-educated Greek with a great understanding of the Old Testament coupled with a golden tongue, stands for the eloquent orator. And Cephas, or Simon Peter, stands for the preacher of straight-forward proclamation coupled with heart-moving emotion and exhortation.
Some people in Corinth were saying, “I like the strong doctrinal preaching of Paul.” Others said, “We like the oratory of Apollos. He lifts us up into the heavenlies by his preaching.” And others said, “We like Simon Peter. He tells it like it is, but he also has the poignancy of deep humanity in what he says; he warms our hearts and brings tears to our eyes.” Each of these pastoral names stands for a distinct species of preaching and teaching. Paul represents the argumentative, Apollos stands for the eloquent, and Peter probably stands for the hortative (exhortational). So there may be an understandable extenuation among men for the choices the Corinthians had made of their “favorite preacher.” They had divided themselves by an apparently innocent, informal preacher-popularity contest. But their apparently “innocent” choices had an actually deadly result in the Body of Christ and thus in Christ’s ministry in the world.
Paul here commands the Corinthians to take inventory. Do you realize how petty you are by indulging is such actions, he asks. You are acting like babies! Each one of these preachers belongs to all of you, he says. God gave each of them to all of the church according to its needs. Don’t limit yourself to any one of them, for if you do, you will rob yourself of the blessings God wants to give through them.
The same is still true today. The God-called Christian ministry belongs to every Christian. Admittedly, there are many people who apparently don’t regard the Christian ministry in their community as being very valuable — so much the worse for them! They are rejecting infinite riches which are on deposit for them! Many people — and many professing Christians — regularly miss countless opportunities to be blessed through the God-called Christian ministry in their community. This very week, I have been in a meeting in a town in central Georgia. Late in the week, a man approached me after an evening service, and said to me, “Man, man! I have let other schedule keep me from these services all week long, but if I had known what was happening here, I would have canceled all other activities to be here!” Read that sentence closely, because you might hear similar sighs and groans at the Judgment Seat of Christ! “If I had only known how important it was to regularly hear the truth of God, and build up a reservoir of that truth for life and godliness!” Friend, why don’t you do yourself a favor by believing God today? Go at your very next available opportunity to a church where the Word of God is faithfully, accurately, richly, and powerfully preached and taught. Maximize the ministry! Every exposure to it will make you rich!
But we must also urgently warn you about the “flip side” of that blessing. Every Christian inventory with a blessing on its surface has a curse on its backside! In the closing verses of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, there is a series of short, sharp, meaningful exhortations (I Thessalonians 5:16-22). Every one of them, when followed, brings immeasurable benefit to the Christian and the Church. Among them are these: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. Prove all things. Hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” But right in the middle of those short, sharp commands, these two are found back-to-back: “Quench not the Spirit. Despising not prophesyings.” The word translated “prophesyings” is the Greek word for preaching, and it is plural, referring to each individual act of preaching. You see, God expects you, dear Christian, to be present in your local assembly of believers every time the Word of God is preached and taught — as much as is humanly possible!! He knows what it means to have Heaven’s Certified Public Accountant, the God-called preacher, stand with Heaven’s Manual in his hand and shift great deposits of it from the page of the Manual into your personal Spiritual Bank Account! But notice the proximity of these two commands in I Thessalonians 5:19-20: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not preachings.” The most terrible and deadly sin mentioned in the Bible, the one which brings the most terrible punishment, has to do with abusing the Holy Spirit of God. Indeed, there are four devastating sins against the Holy Spirit referred to in Scripture:
“Resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51), a sin against salvation.
“Blaspheming the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31-32), a sin against spiritual sensitivity.
“Grieving the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30), a sin against sanctification.
“Quenching the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19), a sin against service.
The first two of the above-mentioned sins are committed by unconverted people. The other two are committed by saved people. And the apparent meaning of the adjacent sentences, “Quench not the Spirit; despise not preachings,” is that one way (perhaps the most common and deadly way) to quench the Spirit of God (to negate Christian service) is by despising the preaching of the Word of God. But we must be very careful to understand what this “despising” is. It is not necessarily a conscious depreciating of that preaching. A Christian despises preaching by wilful or casual absence from the assembly where the Word of God is preached. Tell me, do you honestly believe that there is no difference in the sight of God between the person who exposes himself to the Word of God in church, and the person who doesn’t?? Be very real and very honest at this point.
Then, a person despises preaching when he comes to church unprepared and indifferent spiritually. This person neutralizes the work of the Spirit of God and, in effect, tells the Holy Spirit of God He is not welcome in His own Temple! You see, your body is the personal Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20), and you should live daily in full conscious and worshipful accommodation of such an honored heavenly guest in you. Daily private worship should keep you prepared for powerful public worship. Daily study of the Word of God should create conditioning and momentum for you to hear powerfully from God when the Word of God is taught publicly. Your heart should be spread like a giant Welcome Mat facing God where you sit in church!
Then, a person despises preaching when he makes little or no practical, active, obedient response to the commands or exhortations of the Word of God which are delivered in preaching. “Be ye doers of the Word of God, and not hearers only,” the Bible says (James 1:22). Most despising of the preached Word probably began and continues at this point. But we have no idea how deadly, how depriving, how devastating, such auditing of the Word of God is.
Let me give you an idea of the seriousness of your response to the communicated Word of God.. The strange little word, “bate,” means “to suspend.” The Word of God is “bated” in every church service. It is suspended. The little word, “pro” means “in front of.” To “probate” means to “suspend in front of.” A Probate Court is a court before which special cases are heard. They are “suspended in front of” the court for suitable treatment. The prefix “re” means to “do it again,” or repeat it. In a public church service, the Word of God is suspended (!) for public consideration by the listeners. It is “probated,” or suspended in front of each listener. Thus, that listener becomes a responsible auditor of Heaven’s Truth. When this is repeated in another service, the Word of God is “re-pro-bated” before the same listener. And this goes on — and on — in one service after another. The typical church-goer audits the truth of God, but does not adequately act upon it! Thus, his inventory is merely a reservoir of academic truth, not a living and quickening dialogue with heaven. So he is a mere pocket of sterility, barrenness and powerlessness in church instead of a power center for God. This is an incalculable and unspeakable tragedy! And our churches are absolutely filled with such sterile pew potatoes. But “this is the condemnation” — when God sees this pattern developing without break in a believer’s life, He acts judicially upon our church-attending disobedience to the Word of God and pronounces us “reprobate” (!!!) — even though we are saved people — and in church — and while listening to the Word of God!!! Remember, the most important thing that ever happens in your life occurs when you hear from God. And the service is not over when the “Amen” is said; indeed, it is then that the real service begins! What happens when the “Amen” is spoken will determine your future stewardship of the Word of God.
I would say to myself and to you what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians nineteen centuries ago: Do not close your Bank Account without realizing how much is credited there — and then, do not fail to cash in on the account. Do not cut yourself off from the treasure that is really yours! The ministry is yours, and it is an inestimable treasure. Claim from it every possible benefit there is in it for you. Because you must have truth for spiritual survival and well-being, and because God has made wonderful provision for this need, all true communicators of the Gospel belong to you.
You see, the Corinthians had it backwards! They were saying, “I belong to Paul.” But Paul answers, “No, no. Paul belongs to you, and so do Apollos and Cephas. You do not belong to us; we belong to you. We are not heads of parties, chosen by our ability or popularity; we are only ministering servants, sent by God for the benefit of all of you.
When Princess Wilhelmina came to the throne as a young girl, one day she was with her mother on a balcony, and below them were the cheering thousands. She turned to her mother and said: “Do all these people belong to me?” Her mother answered, “No, dear, you belong to all these people!” Pastor, your people do not belong to you; you belong to them! Every minister of God is to see his ministry as an opportunity to be a servant to the people of God. Often preachers speak of “my deacons,” or “my people,” or “my church.” But the saints do not belong to the minister; instead, the minister belongs to the saints.
Second, the Holy Spirit tells us that the created world belongs to us. “The world is yours,” verse 22 says. The word translated “world” is the Greek word “cosmos,” from which we get our word, “cosmetic.” The word “world” refers here to the existing order of material things. The created world is God’s “make-up,” or God’s cosmetic. The world is God’s wardrobe, the clothes God has dressed Himself in. Any person who examines creation with insight would have to admit that God is very well-dressed! We often say that “the clothes reveal the man.” What, then, shall we think about the nature and character of God when we examine the universe He has dressed Himself in! In Romans 1:20, there is a beautiful phrase hidden in the framework of the verse. The created world is referred to there as a “work of art,” or a “masterpiece.” The Greek word translated “the things that are made” in Romans 1:20 is the word, poiema, the word from which we get our English word “poem.” The universe is full of rhythm, rhyme and reason — it is a Divine work of art. It is a masterpiece of God! And God has bequeathed this universe to His child!
The Christian is supposed to live independently of the spiritual and moral atmosphere of this age. He is to be “in the world, but not of it” (John 17:11, 16). But the created world is his home and his servant. He is supposed to “use this world, but not abuse it” (I Corinthians 7:31). He is to accept its facilities and accommodations as God’s gifts to him. But he is always to practice a monitored stewardship of these gifts, remembering that he is a pilgrim here. While he travels through this world and this life, he is to deliberately keep his eyes fixed on that “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The Christian, then, is never warranted to despise the created world in which he lives.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
“Earth is crammed with heaven, And every common bush is aglow with God;
But only those who see take off their shoes; The rest just pick blackberries.”
If Mrs. Browning is right, then there is a great difference between the person who truly appreciates the universe from a spiritual perspective and the person who merely uses the produce of it. A Christian also “picks blackberries,” but he doesn’t stop with that if he realizes and utilizes his inventory as a Christian. The created world is God’s revealer, the Holy Spirit’s workshop, and the Christian’s minister and classroom. The created world has incredible lessons to teach a Christian, and the Christian should be consciously “enrolled” in nature’s classroom to the point that he accepts regular assignments and does regular homework to master the lessons. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory (the manifest character) of God, and the earth shows His handiwork.” The ingenuity of God’s engineering is on clear display in the created universe. A wise Christian wrote, “In this world, for those who know Christ, the light is God’s smile; the rain is God’s tears; what is the sea but God’s fountain? What is the night but God’s tender kiss? What is the morning but God’s trumpet?” Poetess Nellie Goode wrote:
“If I fail to catch the music in the gently falling rain,
If the splendors of the sunset spread their hues for me in vain,
If my heart send me back no echo to the bird in yonder tree,
Though my purse should hold a million, I would still a pauper be.”
A good example of a learning, studious disciple in God’s “nature school” is a writer named Annie Dillard. Of her books, the two best examples of the disciple who is learning of Jesus (Matthew 11:29) in the classroom of the natural world are books entitled Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Holy the Firm. These books are loaded with great spiritual insights and illustrations because nature itself is loaded with such insights and illustrations, and Annie Dillard is a quiet, reverent, astute observer and listener when she sits down on a seat in God’s amphitheater. Listen to just one tiny representative example:
“I see a hundred insects moving across the air, rising and falling. Chipped notes of birdsong descend from the trees, tuneful and broken; the notes pile about me like leaves. Why do these molded clouds make themselves overhead innocently changing, trailing their flat blue shadows up and down everything, and passing, and gone? Ladies and gentlemen! You are given insects, and birdsong, and a replenishing series of clouds. The air is buoyant and wholly transparent, scoured by grasses. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? A hundred times through the fields and along the deep roads I have cried Holy.” Lord, please accept me in your school and let me sit beside such prize pupils until I, too, can see what your handiwork “shows,” and hear what the “heavens declare” (Psalm 19:1)! Christian, don’t miss this dimension of your discipleship. If you do, you will close your Spiritual Bankbook before you draw on your full account.
We have an adage which says, “Take time to stop and smell the flowers.” This is wise advice! Some people live such self-preoccupied and inward lives that they never really see much of their inventory. A Christian should make regular “journeys outward” into his world to see and appreciate God’s handiwork in his surroundings, as well as regular “journeys inward” into His treasury of spiritual resources. Those regular journeys outward will help to diffuse the “flesh frets” that become so common in the over-serious Christian. You see, God constructed us with a need that is matched by a proper appreciation of the created world around us.
The chapter that contains our text provides a good example of the proper use of the created world and our place in it. Paul uses illustrations in this chapter from the domestic world, the world of agriculture, and the world of architecture. Paul, like Jesus, read his world with the eyes of God. “This is my Father’s world,” a great Christian hymn says. And because I am God’s heir and Christ’s co-heir, and thus the Father’s entire estate belongs also to me, this is also my world! Christian, are you writing checks on this incredible account that is credited to you? The entire created world belongs to you.
Then the Holy Spirit tells us that all the varying conditions of existence belong to us. “Life and death belong to you,” the verse says. Here, the Apostle Paul takes a daring, but glorious, step. He makes the Christian empire extend over all conditions of being.
Life belongs to the Christian. Life with all of its opportunities, its friendships, its tragedies and triumphs, its gladness and sadness — all of it belongs to the Christian. For the true believer in Christ, every event and circumstance in life becomes an angel, loaded with blessed benefits, bringing to us the gifts of our beloved Master. But, Paul, we all know that life on this earth will not last. What will we do then? Paul’s answer is as bold as faith. He says, When life runs out, death is yours! If the Christian is alive, life belongs to him. If he dies, death belongs to him. Whether he lives or dies, the Christian is an eternal winner! He simply cannot lose!
Now, at this point, we tend to make a mixed response. We love to agree when the Holy Spirit tells us that life belongs to us, and we try to maximize its benefits. But we have great difficulties of adjustment when we read in the same line a truth that apparently has equal force and authority. “Death belongs to you,” the verse says. Our reactions to these two phrases stand in contrast. When we are told that life belongs to us, we reach out to take it like we would receive an orange — intent on squeezing all the juices out of it and enjoying it. But when the same Person tells us in the same phrase and with equal force and authority that death belongs to us, we shrink away as if death can do no service for us and render us no favors whatsoever.
In the fascinating book, Children’s Letters to God, there is a letter written by a young boy to God. “Dear God: Will you please tell me what it is like to die. I can’t get anybody else to tell me. Your friend, Michael. P. S. I just want to know; I don’t want to do it.” Most of us are like that. We would love to resolve the mystery of death and remove all fear out of it. But we just want to know; we don’t want to do it! We need to be reminded that death brings the near spiritual Presence of Jesus to a Christian (Psalm 23:4)! We need to be reminded that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8)! We need to be reminded that death moves us out of a temporary “tent” into a permanent “house” (II Corinthians 5:1)! We need to be reminded that death is really gain for a Christian (Philippians 1:21)! Death is not the master of the house; death is only the porter at the gate. Christian, death is not going to master you; you are going to master it. Death is not a dead-end street, or a box canyon; death is a door into the King’s Presence where our eternal living quarters await us. Death is the limousine that will transport us out of this life and into the next, and though the last ride may be a bumpy one, we will soon forget the discomfort in our absorption with our new accommodations. As usual, God turns “the last enemy” (I Corinthians 15:26), one of our greatest foes, into a real but disguised friend. When we get home, we will discover what a treasure was ours when we were told, “Death is yours.” All the varying conditions of existence, “life and death,” belong to you.
Our inventory list (verse 22) indicates that we will never belong to death; death will belong to us. Your possession of this item to your full advantage will be according to your faith. In John Bunyan’s great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful finally near the end of their pilgrimage to heaven. They are now in sight of the Golden City. Their pace quickens, but to their dismay, they discover that there is a broad and threatening river between them and the city. They are bewildered and frightened. They approach an attendant near the river and ask, “How deep is the river?” The answer is a great lesson about death. “The river will be deeper or shallower, depending on your faith in the King of yonder Palace.” Christian, death belongs to you, and it is probably fair to say that your appropriation of all the items in the inventory may be measured by your response to this statement, “Death is yours.” Though we likely will never be able to balance our appreciation of life and death, we should meditate on the phase, “life and death are yours,” until we can at least mentally see how true this is.
We have already noted that there is always a great difference in our response to the two sentences, “Life is yours,” and “death is yours.” But we need also to note that there is a great difference between Christians and non-Christians in what death will mean to them. Even the unbeliever could get a measure of benefit out of the Christian inventory up to this point by exploring and exploiting its items, but there is a sharp division between believers and unbelievers at the point of death. The unbeliever might get some small benefit out of the Christian ministry, and more out of the created world, and even more out of life. But what is death to him? Job best described death for the unbeliever when he called it “the King of Terrors” (Job 18:14). This is death to the unbeliever — the King of Terrors. And that king will reign forever in an endless “second death.” However, two thousand years ago, the King of Terrors was challenged in the Arena of history by a Champion from Heaven, the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the action had ceased and the dust had cleared from the gladiatorial combat, death lay dead with the central shaft of a Cross driven through his heart. He “ain’t a’gonna reign no more!” The erstwhile King of Terrors has become the very servant of the saints! Now, dear saints of God, “if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord; whether therefore we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). What an inventory we have in Christ!
Then the Holy Spirit tells us that all the circumstances of time belong to us. “Things present and things to come ... are yours.” As we enter this bank vault, we must at the very outset make note of the fact that one dimension of the time sequence is conspicuously missing. Our inventory does not mention “things past.” Certainly the past is ours — we are to retain all lessons the past has presented to us. But the problem is that most people are bound by their remembrances of the past rather than blessed by them. Our sinful and fleshly constitutions intimidate us with bad memories of sin, guilt, and condemnation, rather than intriguing us with good memories of Providence. The very best favor that some disciples could do for themselves today would be to squarely face the super-abounding grace of God (see Romans 5:20) and say firmly, “Praise be to the Lord, the past is past, at last!” The text ignores the past altogether and says, “things present and things to come are yours.” Nothing can happen to you in the present time or in any future time, that does not belong to God and to you. No circumstance can occur today or in any tomorrow, that will not finally be viewed as the best of all possible occurrences for accomplishing God’s great ultimate purpose for your life. The Christian inventory again stretches “off the map,” right out of time and history. Here, it covers all the periods and possibilities of time and eternity. The phrase, “things present and things to come,” add up to an impressive total. The man in Christ is rich beyond thought.
But remember, these evaluations are not made from your viewpoint, but from God’s. Your viewpoint is like that of a fly crawling on the surface of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” The fly can, at best, see only an isolated brush stroke of paint; it knows nothing of either the full painting, the meaning of it, or the glory of it. But God’s viewpoint is the over-arching, infinite, eternal viewpoint of the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the One “by whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15). Or we are like a kid looking at a baseball game through a knothole in the fence outside the third base line. He sees only a narrow strip of the game’s activity. He may see many runners round third base, but he doesn’t know whether they scored or not! He may see the pitcher deliver the ball toward the plate, but he doesn’t know whether he was warming up or pitching to a batter. When he hears the sound of a bat hitting a ball, or the sound of fans cheering in the stands, he is forced to guess what is happening, because his limited perspective will not permit an accurate interpretation of what he sees. God says that you are incredibly rich as His child, and you are rich in the treasures which you most need as His child and His servant.
Every long-time reader of the newspaper comic strips will remember the old Donald Duck comics. One of the main characters in the strip was a very, very rich Uncle whom Huie, Dewie, and Louie called “Unca Scrooge.” Uncle Scrooge was a miser who hoarded his riches and celebrated them religiously. He kept his riches stored in a giant round room in the very center of his palatial home. He entered the treasury through a door high on the wall of the room. Inside the door of entrance, there was a diving board. When he emerged through the door, he would dive into his riches, as if into water, and go swimming with powerful strokes in the great pile of riches! Well, a Christian should live like this every day. He should learn his inventory, and luxuriate in his riches!
A father said to his son at the time of the son’s college graduation, “Son, when you were born, I put aside a large sum to set you up in business. Take it; it’s yours.” God might well say to each of his children, “My son, my daughter, when you were born, I put aside an inheritance, an estate, a large inventory, to ‘set you up in business.’ Take it; it’s yours!” All is given — but how much is being taken?
David Howard, in his book, Declare His Glory, relates this story. “A close friend of mine had just returned to the United States on furlough from missions service in Latin America. He had earned two undergraduate degrees, a master’s degree, and a doctorate from the same California university. He had taken his family to Colombia to live in a jungle for ten years among a forgotten, isolated group of people.
“My friend told a group of businessmen that his alma mater was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary and wanted to publish a book to share the work of its outstanding graduates. One day an airplane circled his little jungle clearing and delivered his ‘air mail’ by throwing out a packet attached to a small parachute that floated down into the jungle. He found in the packet a letter from the University of California at Berkeley, from which he had earned a Ph.D. degree. The letter contained a series of questions which he was asked to answer.
“The first question was, ‘Do you own your own home?’ He thought back to the days when he and his friends had built this two-room house out of the jungle for $100. So he checked ‘yes.’ Question two: ‘Do you own two homes?’ ‘No’ was his first reaction, but then he recalled that Jesus said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.’ So he checked ‘yes.’ Question three was, ‘Do you own a boat?’ He looked out to the river below his house and saw the rugged forty-foot canoe he and his friends had hollowed out of a log with the little outboard motor on it and answered ‘yes.’ Question four asked, ‘Do you plan to travel abroad this year?’ He remembered that he and his family would return to the United States on furlough that year, so he answered, ‘Yes.’ The final question was, ‘What is your annual salary?’ He searched down the list of suggested salary figures which began at $250,000 and could not find a figure to match his tiny missionary quota. So he drew a line across the bottom of the list and wrote the very small amount of salary he was receiving.
“After telling his story, my friend leaned over, and with a sparkle in his eye said, ‘When I leave you, I am heading out to the West Coast and will visit my alma mater. I just can’t wait to get out there and see what I did to their computer!’” Friends, you just read the testimony of a man who is “rich toward God”! He knows his inventory, writes spiritual checks on his account here, and simultaneously, lays up treasures in heaven. Christian, you are far richer than you think!
III. A BALANCING PREMISE
Finally, this inventory of the Christian contains a premise that gives balance to the entire bank account. “All things are yours,” Paul says, “and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Here is an absolutely dogmatic truth. All things are yours only if you belong to Christ. Look carefully at verse 23 in your Bible and note that the conjunction at the beginning of the verse is “but,” not “and.” This is crucial in understanding the accessibility of this inventory. Paul has exalted his readers to the height of possession, but in a moment he lays them low at the feet of Christ. As a Christian, you are infinitely rich, but your wealth is that of a steward. In fact, these things belong to you only as you belong to Christ, and they will be exploited by you only in the degree in which you practice Christ’s ownership and control of your life.
If you are a Christian, you ideally and actually belong to Christ. He made you; He bought you; He saved you; He sustains you — and He claims you. But how many of us resemble Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon! Onesimus probably bore the brand of his master, and had been bought by his master’s gold. But he withheld from him his service, following instead his own wayward will. We, too, have been bought by the Lord, at infinite cost, and bear the birth-mark and the brand-marks of Christian salvation. But we are often far from serving Jesus as He serves God. And the treasures in this Christian inventory only belong to the man who belongs to Christ. All things serve the man who serves Christ — but nothing will finally serve the man who does not serve Christ. So the greatest asset of all to a Christian is to be the servant of Christ. It is this association that gives us our fullest and most rewarding identity and our fullest and richest inventory.
One of the greatest names in British naval history was that of Lord Horatio Nelson. It is Nelson’s statue that stands high above the well-known Trafalgar Square in London. After one voyage and military conquest at sea, Nelson’s ships returned home. His sailors had suffered great privations at sea and at war. Some had been severely wounded; others were decimated by diseases such as rickets, a common disease among sailors in those days. When these deprivations and diseases were recited at home and coupled with the low monetary remuneration of the sailors, they were asked, “Then why did you do it? What made it worthwhile to go to sea and to war with those odds against you?” The sailors chorused in answer, “Our reward was that we got to be with Nelson!”
Friends, the biggest item in our inventory as Christians is that we get to be with Jesus, and our greatest reward will be the awareness that we have served Him well. In I Corinthians 9:18, the Apostle Paul asked this question, “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel of Christ without charge.” My reward is that I enhance the reputation of Christ among men, where his real value is hardly known, and I help my fellow-men on earth realize how truly good the “Good News,” the “Gospel,” really is. I, at least, as a called minister of the Gospel, must sadly admit that I have sometimes presented the message as if it were bad news instead of Good News. May God show mercy and favor to us as His children by equipping us and building us that we may fairly publicize Jesus, and not be guilty of false representation. May we have grace to show what a “good Master” He is, and to demonstrate what “Good News” His Gospel really is!
I have in my file of materials a little Gospel tract entitled, “Missing Heirs.” It is an acknowledgment that, whereas “all things” rightfully belong to every believer because he is a co-heir of Christ as the heir of God, most believers are “missing heirs” in that they have never properly applied to receive the vast benefits of their inheritance. I have a second splendid little Gospel tract entitled, “Christian, have you received your inheritance?” Well, child of God, have you? Are you maximizing your inventory as a Christian? Would you like to fully “come into your own” as a Christian? Give yourself fully and practically to Christ’s ownership and use of your life, and “all things are yours.”
SPIRITUAL LIFE MINISTRIES
Herb Hodges - Preacher/Teacher
3562 Marconi Cove - Memphis, TN 38118
901-362-1622 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org