Tag Archives: the gospel of Jesus Christ

True Wisdom

While I was a trades teacher in a shop, the opportunity arose to very naturally explain the essence of the gospel. Never before have I received the reaction I did that day from two men in particular. They found what I was saying incredibly stupid as, in a very distinct “New Joisey” twang, one carpenter exclaimed to the other, “Ain’t that somethin’ man? Ain’t that somethin’?” This man’s reaction to the gospel was far more honest than most, for a great many non-Christians feel exactly the same way about the gospel but are simply too polite, or too afraid, to say so. In the confines on that job, those two men could have cared less about what I thought of them, and so they very plainly expressed exactly what they thought of my religious beliefs.

In the first chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul exposes and then confronts the problem of divisions within in the church at Corinth. He renounces divisions as contrary to the gospel. Further, Paul implies that the underlying problem is pride. Individuals took pride in the one whom they chose to follow. As Paul later says, they have “become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (4:6). In verses 18-31 of the first chapter, Paul argued that pride and the gospel are incompatible. The world will never esteem the gospel or those who embrace it because it is contradictory to all they highly esteem. The Jews, who are impressed by power, wanted signs (of power). A crucified Christ was certainly not a demonstration of power but of weakness. The Greeks were impressed by intellectualism, by wisdom. To them, there was nothing wise about the gospel. It was foolishness to believe that faith in a crucified criminal could save anyone from their sins.

Paul has challenged the Corinthian saints to look around the church and observe that those most esteemed by the world are strangely absent in the church. By and large, the church is not composed of wise men, scholars, and debaters of the day. The church is not made up of the cultural elite. In verses 26-31, Paul urges the saints to look around them in the church to see who is present. The church is not made up of the upper crust of society but rather the rejected and despised of society. Of course there are exceptions, but the rule is clear: “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, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are” (verses 27-28). This is so that no man may boast, but God may receive the glory for what He accomplishes through those most unlikely to succeed in this world.

One might conclude from what Paul has said that the gospel really is foolish and weak. Not at all! This is only the way the world perceives the gospel. In chapter 2, Paul reveals that weakness and simplicity are not the end of the story but the beginning. It is through the weakness of proclaiming the gospel that the wisdom and power of God are made manifest. The world regards God’s wisdom as foolish because it is incapable of comprehending or accepting its truths. God’s wisdom is a mystery which the unsaved cannot grasp, and no one would have known apart from divine revelation. Through His Spirit, God has revealed Himself to men. The Spirit who searches the depths of God has been given in a special way to the apostles. Through these inspired men, divine thoughts have been translated into divine words. Those who possess the Spirit by faith in Christ can appraise the spiritual truths of Scripture; those who are unsaved, and thus without the Spirit, cannot. No wonder they think God’s wisdom is foolish. They cannot understand it—or God. But we who have the Scriptures and the Spirit have the mind of Christ.

Paul’s Conduct at His First Coming

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 And 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 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

The Corinthians now look upon Paul somewhat like a teenager views his or her parents. Paul is not wise but simplistic. He lacks the charm and charisma which makes his spiritual children proud of him, and thus they have begun to listen to others who have a higher level of esteem, especially by their peers. Paul seeks to correct their wayward thinking by reminding them that he is the same Paul who came to them at the beginning, preaching to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was through his simplistic message and methods that the Corinthians, once pagans, became saints. Paul now reminds them of his message and manner when he first came to them which resulted in their salvation.

When he came, Paul did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom. He did not come with “high fullutin” words or thoughts, nor did he employ oratorical embellishments which would draw attention to himself and to his methods. Paul came with a simple, straightforward approach which sought to make the message, not the messenger, primary. He came to them “proclaiming the testimony of God” (verse 1). That is, he came to them preaching the gospel in simple terms, without sensationalizing it.

In verse 3, Paul turns his attention from his message and method to his mind set. He describes the attitude with which he came to the Corinthians with the gospel. If the charlatans of that day had lived in our own time, they would have worn expensive clothing, had a recent face-lift, a self-assured manner, and an omnipresent smile. They would have exuded confidence and composure. But this would not be so with Paul. When Paul first came to Corinth, he worked as a blue collar laborer making tents with Aquila. His mind set was characterized by his threefold description: weakness, fear, and much trembling. He may have come with a physical weakness, for it does seem as though Paul suffered from some physical affliction (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In addition, I believe Paul came to Corinth with a clear sense of his own limitations, knowing that the salvation and sanctification of men could only be accomplished by the miraculous intervention of God.

Paul also characterized his coming as “in fear and much trembling.” We know there were fears, as Luke indicates to us. After previous persecution in other cities, Paul came to Corinth where he again faced opposition. But the Lord appeared to Paul with these words of assurance: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9b-10).

I have always thought of Paul as a kind of “pit bull” evangelist. Some dogs have no courage at all, while others may sound awesome but when threatened or harmed they protect themselves by backing off. Still other dogs—like the pit bull—will continue to fight until they are dead. How easy it is to think of Paul in this way, as invincible and undaunting. But Luke’s words indicate otherwise. Paul was a man of like passions with our own. He too had fears. But our Lord’s words of assurance enabled him to press on in spite of his fears.

The expression, “fear and trembling,” seems to mean more than just “fear” and “trembling” combined.

33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth (Mark 5:33).

15 And his affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling (2 Corinthians 7:15).

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ (Ephesians 6:5).

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling” (Hebrews 12:21).

The expression seems to convey the realization on the part of the person fearing and trembling that he or she is of a lower rank, a lower position than the one who is feared. The woman who had been healed by touching Jesus (Mark 5:33) seems to have realized not only that she had been healed, but in being thus healed, she came to recognize the greatness of the One who produced the healing. Slaves should submit to their masters with fear and trembling, recognizing that God has put them under the authority of their masters. We are told by Paul to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” knowing that it is ultimately not our working or even our willing, but God’s sovereign work in us which causes us to will and to work His good pleasure.

Pride was the underlying reason for the divisions in Corinth. People took pride in following the right leader, the leader who spoke words of wisdom with oratorical skill who also had status and esteem among the unbelievers. Paul speaks of himself as a humble man, a man with no confidence in his own abilities, in his own message or methods, but whose trust is in God alone. Paul proclaims Christ, knowing that apart from the working of God in the hearts of men, nothing eternal will happen.

Paul’s actions in Corinth were purposeful, not accidental or haphazard. It was not that Paul was ignorant or uneducated, nor was it that Paul only knew about Christ and Christ crucified (verse 2). Paul determined that this was all he would know while ministering in Corinth (or anywhere else). He chose to limit his knowledge to those truths which would save men from their sins and transfer them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Even though many would be impressed by his knowledge in areas which the unbelievers believed to be wisdom, Paul determined not to know such things and thus not to preach them.

Paradoxically, Paul came to the Corinthians in weakness, fear, and much trembling so that the power of God might be demonstrated (verse 4). If Paul’s human skills were dominant in his preaching, Paul’s power would be displayed. But when Paul came in weakness proclaiming a message men deemed foolish and men were converted, it was evident it was the result of the supernatural power of God and not the merely human power of Paul. Paul has much more to say on this subject later, especially in 2 Corinthians 12, but for now we should note that Paul’s weakness was not a hindrance to the demonstration of God’s power but the means through which God’s power was displayed. God’s power is manifested through human weakness.

Paul did not want to make disciples; that is, Paul did not want people to be his followers. His goal was for men and women to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and to become His followers, His disciples. If men were converted because of Paul’s wisdom and because of his persuasive skills, they could then be led astray by anyone who was wiser and more persuasive. Paul’s desire was that men would place their faith in God and in His power (verse 5).

God's WisdomGod’s Wisdom and the Wisdom of This Age

6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

At verse 6, Paul changes from the first person singular (“I”) to the first person plural (“we”). Verses 1-6 spoke of Paul’s mind set, message, and methods when he first came to Corinth with the gospel. Now in verse 6, Paul speaks for more than just himself. I understand the “we” to refer principally to the apostles.30 As further developments in this epistle and 2 Corinthians will show, the real struggle was not with Corinthian cliques, each of which had chosen to follow a different apostle, but with those in Corinth who had turned from the apostles to other teachers, of which some will prove to be “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

What characterizes Paul that is so offensive to some of the Corinthians, causing them to follow other leadership? It is Paul’s “simplistic” devotion to Christ crucified. Paul has chosen to be a kind of “Johnny-one-note,” and the note he continues to play is offensive to both Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, for a Corinthian Christian to identify with the apostle Paul is to embrace that which is foolish and weak to the unbelieving mind, whether Jew or Gentile. To identify with Paul and his preaching is to become a fool in the eyes of the world, which has no status. And so some are tempted to identify with new leaders whose methods and message are far more acceptable. Associating with them gives one a much higher status.

Paul does not deny that his message and methods are foolish; rather, he emphasizes this is so. But in moving to the first person plural (“we”), Paul links himself, his message, and his methods with all of the other apostles. Paul’s message and methods are no different from those of his fellow apostles. He speaks with and for all the apostles as he admonishes the Corinthians.

At verse 6, Paul makes another shift in his emphasis. Up to this point, Paul has granted the fact that his gospel is foolish and weak. Now he begins to clarify and expand his instruction. The apostolic gospel is foolish and weak to unbelievers, but it is neither foolish nor weak in the sight of God. Neither should it be regarded as foolish nor weak in the sight of the saints. In verse 6, Paul insists that the apostles do speak wisdom. This wisdom is not for all, however. There are two groups from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld. The first group is those who are immature (verse 6). In chapter 3, verse 1, Paul plainly tells the Corinthians they are “men of flesh,” “babes in Christ,” and in verse 3, he contends that they still remain in the same condition. Did the Corinthians chafe because Paul’s message was too simple? It was because the simple things were all they were able to grasp. The problem was not with Paul or his colleagues; the problem was with the Corinthians.

The second group from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld is those who are unbelievers (2:6). Paul says the wisdom the apostles preach is not of “this age.” Consequently, the rulers of “this age” are not able to grasp it. Even those who are the wisest and most powerful people of this age are unable to grasp it. This is evident at the cross of Calvary. There, at the cross, the rulers of this age rejected Jesus as the Messiah as God’s means of salvation. God’s “wisdom” was never more clearly manifested to men than in the person of Jesus Christ, but the best of this age were not able to see it. It is obvious that they did not receive this “Wisdom” because they crucified Him.

Paul’s words here help us to distinguish between God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom. God’s wisdom was revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at His first coming, but the world rejected Him and the wisdom He manifested. The wisdom of God is “eternal wisdom,” a wisdom established in eternity past yet to be fully implemented when Christ’s kingdom is established on the earth. The wisdom of this world is “empirical wisdom,” based upon that which can be seen and heard and touched. The wisdom of God is otherwise. It is not seen by the naked eye, it cannot be heard with the ears, it cannot be fathomed by the natural mind. It surpasses even man’s imagination. It is other worldly. This should not come as a surprise to the Christian, for the prophet Isaiah indicated as much in the citation which Paul includes in verse 9.

Let me pause to reflect further on this concept of the “other worldliness” of God’s wisdom. Do we not tend to think of heaven as an extension of earth’s joys? Most people who believe in heaven think of it as the place where they will be reunited with their family and friends. And yet, when Jesus spoke to the Sadducees, he chided them for their ignorance because they supposed marriage would continue on into eternity (Matthew 22:23-33; see also 1 Corinthians 7:25-35). Are we perplexed when we find prophecies which describe things of which we have never seen nor heard? For example, there are Ezekiel’s wheels (see 1:16, 19-21; 3:13; 10:2-19; 11:22), and there are the “living creatures” of the Book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6-9; 5:6-14; 6:6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). Nothing in this life can be compared with such things. Heaven is not just an improved earth; it will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) where there will be no sea (21:1), no temple (21:22), no need for sun or moon (21:23-25; 22:5). The streets, we are told, will be paved with gold. This may be a way of telling us that what we value most highly on earth will have little or no value in heaven. Heaven, that biblical “new age,” is nothing like the present age, and thus no mortal can conceive of what it will be like. The things of God are other worldly, and thus we cannot even guess as to what they will be like.

How God’s Wisdom is Revealed

10 For [But]31 to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

Paul has just shown us why God’s wisdom, the wisdom which the apostles proclaimed, is rejected by the great but unbelieving men of this age. Men of this age are limited to temporal, human wisdom. They cannot grasp God’s eternal wisdom. They cannot see, hear, or comprehend the things of God. How then can mere mortals ever know God’s wisdom? The answer is found in verses 10-16. In verses 10-13, Paul expounds the doctrines of inspiration and revelation whereby God has made his wisdom known through the apostles who have inscripturated the “depths of God.” In verses 14-16, Paul turns to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, enabling him to comprehend the things of God which He revealed in the Scriptures through the apostles.

How can men know of a God who cannot be seen and whose provisions are beyond human thought? The answer: through the Holy Spirit, who has imparted the knowledge of God to and through the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is theSpirit of God.” Just as man’s human spirit knows the deep thoughts of the man, so the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, knows the intimate things of God. When the Lord Jesus was on the earth, He spoke many things to His disciples which they did not understand or even remember. Jesus told them that after His departure, He would send His Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not only call the things He had spoken to their remembrance, He would also enable them to understand them so that they could record them for others. In addition, the Spirit would reveal things to come, things of the coming age:

25 “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25-26).

12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you” (John 16:12-15).

Paul has already spoken of the wisdom of God as a mystery (1 Corinthians 2:7). A mystery is something God reveals concerning the future, which is not fully grasped before its fulfillment because it is beyond human comprehension. The apostles played a unique role as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). After God has completed a work that was formerly a mystery, He fully discloses that mystery through one of His apostles. Paul was surely one of the great “mystery apostles” in that it was his privilege to speak of several mysteries. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul spoke of the privilege God had given him as an apostle to reveal some of these mysteries (Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:1-13; 5:32).

In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, Paul describes the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His disciples (remember that Paul was divinely added as the twelfth apostle). Man, Paul is saying, could never know God on his own. But God has chosen to make Himself known through His Word and through His Spirit. His Spirit was given to the apostles in a special way so that the things of God might be inscripturated, divinely inspired and recorded as a part of the Bible. The apostles have been given the Spirit in this unique way so they “might know the things freely given to us by God” and might communicate them to us. The Spirit superintended this process by “combining spiritual thoughts (“the depths of God,” verse 10) with spiritual words” (the words of Holy Scripture).

Here is a very crucial difference between the apostles and the false apostles. The apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did! False apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did not! God can be known intimately because He has chosen to disclose His innermost thoughts and being to men by means of His Spirit working through the apostles, resulting in the New Testament Scriptures. To reject the apostles and their teaching as the “wisdom of God” is to reject God, for they are the only ones through whom God has chosen to disclose Himself. Is the gospel simplistic? It is because God’s way of salvation is simplistic—one way (see Matthew 7:13-14ff.; John 14:6). To reject the apostles’ teaching is thus to reject the God who disclosed Himself to men through them.

There may be a secondary interpretation of Paul’s words in verses 10-13, but, if so, it is surely secondary. Many interpret these verses as speaking of God’s direct disclosure of Himself to men, through His Spirit. I do not think so. I believe these words make sense only as interpreted above. This same thought is taught by Peter as well in 2 Peter 1:16-21. The work of God the Spirit in the lives of Christians in general is spoken of in the closing verses (14-16) of 1 Corinthians 2.

Spiritual Insight: The Haves and the Have-Nots

14 But 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. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).

God has disclosed Himself to men through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knows the intimate things of God and, by inspiring the apostles, has translated spiritual thoughts about God into spiritual words—the New Testament. In the Old Testament period, God revealed His Word through the prophets. In the New Testament times, this revelation came through the apostles. Yet the unbeliever seems blinded to the truth contained in God’s Word. How can this be? How can some find in the Bible a rich source of revelation which enables them to know God more intimately, while others find the Scriptures a senseless mixture of writings which cannot even be understood? Why are some drawn to the Scriptures and others repulsed by them?

The difference may be summed up in terms of the presence or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We see in verses 10-13 that Paul speaks of the Spirit’s work in conveying God’s thoughts to men by inspiring the apostles to convey spiritual thoughts through spiritual words, the words of the New Testament. Now, in verses 14-16, Paul writes of the work of the Spirit, enabling men and women to understand the Scriptures and thus to know the mind of God.

Previously, Paul has divided mankind into two groups: (1) those who trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for their eternal salvation and (2) those who do not. Another way of viewing these two groups would be: (1) those (unbelievers) who do not possess the Holy Spirit, who cannot understand the wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and (2) those who do possess the Holy Spirit, who therefore have the capacity to understand the Scriptures.

The first group Paul refers to as “the natural man” (verse 14). The “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” The natural man, who is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, cannot understand the Scriptures (“the things of the Spirit of God”). God the Holy Spirit conveyed the “deep things of God” to the apostles, who by the Spirit’s inspiration, recorded them as Scripture. The Scriptures are thus “the things of the Spirit of God,” the things which the Spirit of God has originated and communicated. How can one “devoid of the Spirit” (see Jude 19) grasp the things of the Spirit? No wonder the wisdom of God seems foolish to the unbeliever. They cannot fathom anything which falls within the realm of the Spirit.

More than a year ago, Dr. Jim Lopez visited while interviewing for a position at the University of Texas Medical School in Dallas. A part of his interview process involved making a presentation of his research. After Sunday dinner, he wanted to “run through” his presentation one last time, and so we set up the slide projector in the living room. I must confess I did not understand a word Jim said. It was completely over my head; it was a different world. Both of our cats perched on the coffee table beside the slide projector and were fascinated with the slides. Jim’s research was done with rats, and the cats found the slides of great interest.

True wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are unsaved, by those who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them illuminating the truth of the Scriptures so they can know the deep things of God. True wisdom speaks of things which pertain to a future age and of things which no man has ever seen, or heard, or is even able to imagine. The only way this kind of wisdom can be known is for men to trust in Jesus Christ so that their spiritual eyes may be opened to see the wonders of the wisdom of God and the world to come.

The Christian is the one who is called “spiritual” (verse 15) here by Paul. Most often, we understand the term “spiritual” to refer to those who are mature, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Paul seems to use it here to refer to those who possess the Spirit, who live in the realm of the Holy Spirit because they have trusted in Jesus Christ. The one who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to grasp and to appraise both temporal and eternal matters. The Book of Proverbs, for example, is divinely inspired and provided so that we may see life clearly from God’s point of view. The prophetic books have been given to us so that we may look at the eternal dimension of God’s plan. Thus, Paul can say that the Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to “appraise all things,” things earthly and things eternal, things pertaining to this age, and things pertaining to the next.

While the Christian—“he who is spiritual”is able to appraise all things and thus to understand the beliefs and the behavior of the unsaved, the unsaved (“natural”) man is unable to understand the Christian (“he who is spiritual”). No wonder Christians are misunderstood and even persecuted. No wonder they are considered foolish and weak. This is the best the unaided mind of the natural man can do.

In verse 16, Paul closes our chapter with the words of Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). These words sum up the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. God has revealed Himself to all men in the person of Christ and in the Scriptures (see verses 10-13 above). The Scriptures make no sense to the unbeliever. This is because it is impossible for the unbeliever to grasp the things of God apart from the Spirit of God. Who can know the mind of the Lord? No one can, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Word of God through the apostles and in illuminating the Scriptures to the individual believer. Note that the words of verse 16 indicate not only the natural man’s ignorance but also his arrogance. Who would think that any man could instruct God? But this is precisely what the unbeliever does think. This is why they think the Christian is foolish and weak.

In contrast to the unbeliever, who is oblivious to the mind of God, the Christian can say confidently, “We have the mind of Christ.” The “we” may refer either to the apostles, who alone can speak the “mind of Christ,” or more generally, of all the saints who possess the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the “mind of Christ” is conveyed to the saints. The Christian has both the Word of God and the witness of His Spirit, the Author of that Word. What more can one ask for than this?

This final statement sums up the vast difference of opinion which exists between Christians and unbelievers over “wisdom.” The unbeliever is incapable of understanding God’s wisdom and so is confined to a very limited, distorted temporal wisdom. The Christian has the means for knowing the mind of God and thus has access to the wisdom of God. The Christian should not be surprised by the reaction of the unbeliever to the preaching of the gospel. And the Christian should not forsake the vast wisdom God has made available to us in order to pursue the wisdom which the world seeks.


What a blow this chapter strikes at human pride. Paul’s coming to the Corinthians was far from prestigious. He came in weakness, fear, and much trembling. He came with a message offensive to both Jews and Greeks. He refused to “know” anything other than the crucified Christ, for he came to bring the Message of Salvation. His message was not one of superior wisdom, one that would appeal to the intellectual curiosity or headiness of the Corinthians. His method of presentation was not one that would naturally draw a crowd or attract a following. From a merely human point of view, Paul did everything wrong when he went to Corinth. But what happened? A number of his readers came to faith in Jesus Christ because of Paul’s mind set, message, and method!

How could Paul do everything wrong (from a worldly point of view) and yet sinners be converted and a church born? In verses 1-5, Paul indicates that he purposed to come to the Corinthians as he did so that the Corinthians’ faith would “not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (2:5). How does this happen? How is the faith of men and women turned God-ward by a mind set of weakness and humility and by a message and method which runs contrary to human wisdom? The answer is implied here and clearly stated later by Paul:

9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

In God’s economy, divine wisdom is foolishness to the secular mind; divine power is weakness to the unbeliever. Paul’s weakness and simplicity were not obstacles to divine wisdom and power; they were the means through which God’s wisdom and power were demonstrated. Had Paul come with self-assurance and confidence preaching a “wisdom” applauded by the world, through a method which ranked with the best secular communicators, the best that could have happened was that men would place their confidence and trust in Paul. But when Paul came as he did, only God could convince and convert the Corinthians, and their faith must therefore be in God, not in Paul.

How does this happen? How can human weakness be transformed into divine power? How can human foolishness become divine wisdom and pagan sinners become saints? The answer: The Word of God and the Spirit of God. The gospel is the means by which men are saved: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). And how can the gospel become the “power of God for salvation?” Again, the Spirit of God:

7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:7-11).

The Corinthians had become mesmerized by men and by human wisdom. They were wrong. What had saved them was the Word of God and the Spirit of God, working through humble men who proclaimed a straightforward, simple message of Christ crucified, even though their message and their methods were unappealing to unsaved men.

If the Word of God and the Spirit of God were sufficient to save the Corinthians, Paul makes it clear to them that the teaching of the apostles does convey wisdom, but a wisdom of a different order (verses 6-9). It is a wisdom which even the cultural elite (“the rulers of this age,” verses 6, 8) could not comprehend. Indeed, when wisdom was personified in the person of Jesus Christ, they crucified Him. Why would the Corinthians be so enamored with secular, human wisdom? It cannot lead us to God; indeed, it will turn us from God. Human wisdom cannot comprehend God or the things which He has for men. Human wisdom is of no eternal value, and its temporal value is limited.

At verse 10, Paul turns us once again to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. What men could never have known about God (see verse 9), God has chosen to reveal to men. This He has done through His Spirit. His Spirit knows what no man can know about God. His Spirit took these spiritual thoughts, spiritual realities, and translated them into spiritual words, the words of Scripture. This He did by His Spirit, who inspired the apostles who were the human authors of the New Testament.

Men can come to know God in only one way—through His Word and through His Spirit. There are many different beliefs about God, but there is only one true God. This is the God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. All views of God which originate with men, rather than with God, are false. All views of God which come from some other source than the Bible are false. How often I hear people say something like, “Well, I like to think of God as… .” It does not matter how you would like to think of God. Paul’s words inform us that the way we think about God is certain to be wrong, for true wisdom comes from above, not from below. True wisdom flows from God to men, not from men God-ward. The Bible reveals to us a God that we would not have imagined, a God whom we would not have wanted, a God whom we would not have received. Apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God, we could never have come to know God.

If anyone can appreciate this truth Paul is teaching, it is the teacher. Think about Paul. He was a devout Jew, deeply religious, committed, and sincere. But he was dead wrong. When God revealed Himself to Paul (it is always God who initiates a relationship with man and who initiates the revelation of Himself to man), everything suddenly changed. Indeed, all was reversed. The things he once prized, thinking they won him favor with God, Paul now counted as “dung” (Philippians 3:1-11). Now Paul is a new man in Christ. Now he has come to know God through His Word and through His Spirit. That is what Paul wants for each one of us.

If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, you do not know God. You cannot know God apart from Christ, and you cannot know Christ apart from His Word and His Spirit. Hell will be populated with countless souls who served a “god” of their own making, and such “gods” are not God at all but only idols of our mind. We cannot know God through our own wisdom or insight. We cannot see, hear, or touch Him. But He has revealed Himself through His Word, the Bible. By the ministry of His Spirit, we can come to know God personally as the One who has provided for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life. God has revealed Himself in His Son, who died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the penalty for our sins. He has raised Him from the dead, as proof of His satisfaction with the work of Christ. All we need do is to believe the One whom God sent, that we are sinners, deserving eternal punishment, and that through the death of Christ, we have been punished and raised to newness of life. I urge you to view God through the pages of Holy Scripture and to trust in His provision for salvation in Jesus Christ.

My Christian friend, do you believe wisdom comes only from God, through the Scriptures, by means of the Spirit? If so, where are you seeking daily wisdom, the wisdom to understand the events and crises of daily living? Where are you seeking a knowledge of God and of His “mind”? Where do you go to learn of the glories of the coming age and of His promised kingdom? Do you read the Bible, or books about the Bible, or do you read “Christian books,” sparse with references to the Word of God or the Spirit of God? God has revealed Himself through His Word and through His Spirit, and we do well to take heed:

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:1-3).

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:16-21).

Thank you!

30 Would the Corinthians segment themselves into factions; would they distinguish their groups by individual leaders? Paul speaks of and for the apostles as a group, with no distinction. There may be divisions in the church concerning apostles, but there is no dissention among the apostles.

31 It is baffling to see the translation “for,” chosen as the reading of preference by the translators of the NASB. The KJV, NKJV, NIV, and Berkeley versions, and even J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase all begin verse 10 with “But.” The editors of the NASB do indicate in a marginal note that some Greek manuscripts read “but.” The fact is that most all of them do so with very sparse support for the reading they have selected. In addition, the context calls for a more decisive break here, indicating the beginning of a new paragraph.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in The Book of 1 Corinthians

Blessed Are Those who Mourn Matthew 5:4


I must confess that I had boyhood fears about death as an unbeliever. My grandparents lived right past a huge cemetery, and I found it possible not to see that cemetery every time we went to visit them. I was fascinated by what was on the other side of the road, but the reality is that I, like most of us, do not really like mourning. When I was in junior high school, a Christian schoolteacher died suddenly, and I was elected as a representative of our class to go to his funeral. I still recall attempting to introduce levity into that event because I couldn’t handle the grief. It was another way of avoiding something the Bible tells us we ought to deal with and, in fact, we ought to practice.

Our text is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” How is it possible for mourners to be blessed and comforted? That is the Good News that only the gospel brings. It is one of the reasons why over the years I have said repeatedly I would far rather do a funeral than a wedding because the reality is, apart from the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no comfort. So we come to this text assured that there is comfort, and that comfort has to be related to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be good for us to begin by asking the question, “What does the Bible mean by mourning?” Let’s look at some examples of mourning given us in the Bible.

In Genesis, you find a lot of mourning always over death, and that shouldn’t be a surprise because when God told Adam and Eve that they should not partake of the fruit of that forbidden tree (I should say Adam and, then through him, Eve), He said that in the day you partake of it, you will surely die. The Book of Genesis is filled with death; we would not then be surprised that it is filled with mourning because of that death. In Genesis 23, we see Abraham mourns for Sarah. Jacob, in a sense, erroneously mourns on account of the death of his son Joseph—he is not dead, but he rightly mourns at least his loss. The Egyptians mourned for Jacob at the time of his death, and David in 2 Samuel 1 mourned greatly over the death of Saul and his beloved friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan. We see mourning throughout the Bible on the occasion of death, but not only death. For example, when Absalom is responsible for murder and flees from Israel to escape any possible consequences, David mourns his absence.

In Numbers 14:39, when the Israelites come to Kadesh-Barnea and fail to go in and possess the land, they are told that that generation will die and will not enter into the land, and the people mourned; they mourned the loss of the benefits of the blessings that were literally within their grasp and were lost. They mourned deeply. You remember the outcome of that mourning was not good because they then tried to go into the land and were defeated.

In Psalm 119:136, you find the psalmist mourning over the sins of God’s people. He says, “Tears stream down from my eyes, because they do not keep Your law.” Hosea 4:3 tells us that the land mourns because of Israel’s sin and because of the consequences that have come upon the land as a result of that. There are countless examples, and there is a transition in the Scriptures from the beginning in Genesis, where the mourning is focused on the loss of one who is loved (mourning that comes as a result of death), to mourning that has a more direct relationship to sin and its consequences. Let’s make an effort to come to some kind of definition by looking at some of the essential elements of mourning.

1) Mourning is an emotional response. All you have to do is to read the Scriptures to see this. For us, in our rather subdued culture and society, that is not quite as self-evident as it may be in some other cultures. In the Eastern culture of Bible times, mourning was done very dramatically, maybe sometimes too dramatically, where mourners were hired literally to weep and carry on. There are other parts of the world that do the same thing today. When we look, for example, at the news pictures in the Middle East and see people mourning the death of their families in a bombing or tragedy, we see a very external, emotional expression of grief in their mourning. I say this because some of us tend to be rather cerebral in what we do. I would say that within my family, nobody really said, “Big boys don’t cry.”

Blessed Are Those who Mourn

Blessed Are Those who Mourn

I remember when our friend’s son died his dad going outside and starting the rototiller. He just rototilled the whole back garden because he needed some way to let it out. But it wasn’t the kind of emotional mourning we often see in Scripture. It involves our emotions, not just our intellect, and I would say it involves intense emotion. This is not some modest effort we go through; it is not something we try to work up. Mourning is, in reality, intense grief, and you feel that when you are there. It is an emotional response to loss. Someone may prove me wrong on this, but as I understand it, every time I see mourning in the Scriptures, I see a deep sense of loss of something. It isn’t always the loss of someone’s life or fellowship, although it may well be; that is the most obvious mourning. It may be loss of benefits, for example, as Israel mourns at Kadesh-Barnea the fact that they will not enter into the land. There is a loss that is experienced and felt deeply. David has the loss of Absalom when he flees the country and goes to stay with relatives. David feels that loss deeply.

2) We should also say that mourning is not always good; that is, every expression of mourning is not necessarily proper. When David mourned over Absalom’s death, that was a very negative thing. Remember, Joab has to literally come along and slap, if you would, his king on the side of the head. You don’t really do that with kings, but as gently and graciously as he can, Joab essentially says, “David, get your head on straight. What you are doing is wrong; people here sense you are mourning. They feel it would have been better for you had all of them died and Absalom lived. Your sense of loss is wrong. Absalom’s death was the salvation of the kingdom, so get it together, David. Your mourning is improper.”

Amnon wrongfully mourned because he could not have Tamar, his sister. Ahab mourned because he could not have Naboth’s vineyard. Samuel mourned because of Saul’s loss of the kingdom. Those expressions of mourning were inappropriate, and so not all mourning is good. I think we therefore must say, “Not all mourners will be comforted.” Is that not valid? When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), He is talking about certain people and certain kinds of mourning.

3) There is not universal comfort for all mourners. I’ve been at many funerals, as you probably have, where countless unbelievers are present; they mourn, but there is no comfort for them apart from Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. When we look at this section of the Beatitudes, we are talking about those who mourn, and we are also talking about those who are poor in spirit, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. I don’t think that you can withdraw one segment of the Beatitudes and say that all mourners are comforted. Rather, you have to say, “All mourners who are poor in spirit and hunger and thirst for righteousness will find comfort.” So there is comfort for some but not for all.

4) We need to understand what it is to mourn properly. This is what I would call the core of my message, and it seems to me as I’ve agonized about this (and I must confess to you I have agonized a lot), I got into “Blessed are the meek,” not because there is any affinity in my spirit necessarily to that, but it was more comforting to me than mourning. I have agonized a lot about this mourning and how we come to terms with it, and it seems to me that if we’re going to understand and apply this passage correctly, we have to understand what it is to mourn properly. I’ve tried to isolate several elements that distinguish biblical mourning—the kind of mourning that results in godly comfort.

Let me ask a few questions that are tests for pious mourning.

A. Is this something for which the righteous mourn? Is our mourning something for which we find the righteous in the Bible mourning? Surely that must start with our Lord Jesus. As I understand the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the things that God calls blessed are those things that characterize God and that ought to be evident in the lives of those who are His saints. You know, WWJD ( WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” which has become a popular phrase and motif for jewelry worn by many young people.) applies to mourning. Would Jesus mourn for this? There is a lot of mourning today with which Jesus probably would not concur. But there are two major instances of our Lord’s mourning—the one found in John 11:35-36 at the grave of Lazarus, and the world’s most famous Bible memory verse, John 11:35—“Jesus wept.” The people responded and essentially said, “See how Jesus loved him.”

I am not sure I have the answer to this question, but I am going to raise it anyway. Were they right? Not about Jesus loving Lazarus—of course, Jesus loved him. Were they right in reaching the conclusion that Jesus’ mourning was really tied to and a direct result of His love for Lazarus? It is a little hard when we know the whole story that literally within seconds, Lazarus is going to come out of that tomb in his grave clothes. It is a little difficult to see Jesus totally overwhelmed in sorrow; it may almost be better to say, “See how Jesus loves Mary and Martha,” sisters of Lazarus. At least, we have a biblical text for “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Jesus identifies with those who are mourning the loss of Lazarus. It seems to me that there must be the element of sin and its consequences. When one looks in the face of death, should he not see the connection between that death and sin that produced it in the ultimate sense?

I was talking with someone the other day about cremation and whether or not it is a legitimate form of dealing with the bodies of people who died. There are various opinions. I will tell you that I have been involved in funerals where there was cremation, and I did not have any deep agony of soul about that. But I would say this: one thing is important at a funeral where a body is present—when that casket is right there, and families come by, and fathers lift up their children to look at the body—there is something visually communicated by death. Without a body, the full message of death somehow does not really come home.

I am inclined to say that Jesus wept, at least in part, because of the sin and the devastating consequences of sin involved. In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem and weeps over it. He weeps over it because He has presented Himself to Israel as the Messiah, and they have rejected Him, and that city and those people are going to be destroyed and devastated. Again, Jesus’ mourning is over the effects of sin, or I should say more accurately, His mourning is over sin and its effects in the lives of people, and even as it relates to Him.

Two critical texts are key to understanding Matthew 5:4. I put these under a broad category when I say, “Do the righteous mourn for this?” and, “Do the prophets mourn for the things that we are mourning for?” There are a lot of instances of that. The two key texts are Isaiah 61and Isaiah 40. I cannot read Matthew 5:4 without saying to myself, “He is pointing to Isaiah 61.” I can’t get away from that. Now, if you think I’m fishing a little bit, remember in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus comes to Nazareth and presents Himself there in the synagogue, He takes the scroll, and He reads these verses (Luke 4:18,19). I’ll grant you, He stops because it talks about the Day of Judgment, and He doesn’t go all the way down and emphasize the mourning element, but the reality is that this is a part of the text Jesus chose as a pointer to Himself. So, surely when Jesus is talking here, we can safely say it is a part of what He is about and what He says. Let’s look at it:

61:1 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,

because the Lord has chosen me.

He has commissioned me to encourage the poor,

to help the brokenhearted,

to decree the release of captives,

and the freeing of prisoners,

61:2 to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor (Isaiah 61:1-2a).

There’s an imaginary line because that’s where in Luke 4:19 Jesus stops, but let’s read on.

the day when our God will seek vengeance,

to console all who mourn,

61:3 to strengthen those who mourn in Zion,

by giving them a turban, instead of ashes,

oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning,

a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement.

They will be called godly oaks,

trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor (Isaiah 61:2b-3).

As I read Matthew 5:4, I say to myself, “Those who mourn must surely be defined by this text.” Remember that in the context of Isaiah 61, we have been told about Israel’s sin. We have been told about the judgment that is going to come upon the nation Israel, and now we are being told about the deliverance that will come. The comfort we find is comfort that comes for those who acknowledge their sin, who acknowledge that God’s judgment has been exercised. We would say in the fullest sense of that, while Isaiah is looking immediately at Israel’s sin and their captivity and their restoration, ultimately He is looking at man’s sin, Christ’s punishment on the cross of Calvary, and the redemption that comes for all of us. That’s a sermon in and of itself, so let us move to Isaiah 40:1.

“Comfort my people,” says your God.

“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;

And tell her that her time of warfare is over, that her punishment is completed,

For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

The context is Israel’s chastening for sin in the captivity, but looking beyond that, again, is the chastening that falls upon our Lord (Isaiah 53), so that our sins may be forgiven and that He may restore and bless us. Isaiah 40:3 and following (again, a text which should be familiar to the readers of Matthew) says, “A voice cries out, ‘In the desert clear a way for the Lord; construct in the wilderness a road for our God.’” What is that? John the Baptist is speaking about the announcement that Messiah has come. So it seems that the center of the bulls-eye of what mourning is about is sin. It is about God’s judgment. The comfort, therefore, must be the comfort that comes in Messiah, where He bears man’s punishment and where He provides the deliverance and the rescue so that our comfort is in Jesus ultimately, and in His sacrifice for us. The first test for godly mourning then is “What do the prophets and, more importantly, what does Jesus mourn about?” They mourn about sin, and the comfort is the gospel and salvation.

Wow. Jesus cares about our pain

Wow. Jesus cares about our pain

B. The relationship between mourning and laughter. What is the opposite of mourning? The opposite of mourning is rejoicing; is it not? But Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will rejoice.” Matthew doesn’t say that. Jesus says they will be comforted. That means He’s not promising that all of the pain will go away. He’s saying that in this circumstance of mourning, comfort will be brought to bear—not necessarily that you will escape the things for which you mourn, but rather that you will find God’s comfort.

Somebody is going to say, “What about Luke?” That is why I mentioned laughter.

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).


Now verse 25 of Luke 6:

“Woe to you who are well satisfied with food now, for you will be hungry;

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).


I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who made a heavy point of saying (and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say), “Jesus had a great sense of humor.” I think I’ve said it, and it may well be true, but Martyn Lloyd-Jones says we have a lot of instances where Jesus wept. We have no recorded instances where Jesus laughed. We ought to at least take note of that, and we ought to be careful that we don’t somehow minimize this element in Jesus’ life of sobriety. By that I mean especially soberness in response to sin. I would suggest to you that Satan has a fantastic sense of humor. I love humor, but I’m saying Satan loves to turn things inside out, and he wants us to laugh when we should be mourning.

I told you the story about my friends response to  death and his funeral. I was trying to laugh because I didn’t really want to mourn, especially with my peers there. How would it look to shed tears and to show grief over the loss of this one? So I found my consolation in humor, which was inappropriate. Satan wants us to do that. Proverbs 14:9: “Fools mock at sin.” Now mockery may include more than that, but it seems to me it’s often there. I was thinking of Ham in Genesis 9. It is a little difficult to figure out all of the elements of that story, but the story in general is that Noah plants a vineyard, the grapes grow, the grapes turn into wine, Noah had too much, and he is now lying naked in his tent. Somehow Ham shows up, and it seems as though Canaan may be involved in that (because the curse falls upon him). One thing that ought to be very apparent is that somehow Ham does not have the appropriate sense of sobriety and sense of grief at that occasion. I get the impression he is looking straight on, pointing, and saying to his brothers, “What do you think of this?” And his brothers come in backwards, carrying the garment, covering their father’s nakedness so that they don’t even look upon it.

I would say to you there is today a great deal of laughter at sin, and Satan loves it. We are to mourn at the presence and the consequences of sin, but we laugh at it. Let me give you some examples. I normally don’t watch the late night talk shows, but I’ve got to tell you, from what little I’ve seen passing by, there’s a whole lot of laughing going on about things that we shouldn’t be laughing about. Let me give you another example: Mrs. Doubtfire. As parents, we look at that movie, and we say, “Oh, my goodness, this is Robin Williams. He’s a funny guy, and you know, it’s kind of a kid’s/family program.” But do you notice how they carefully orchestrate the movie so that we laugh at perversion? I can’t remember those two guys’ names, but you know Aunt One and Uncle Two, and we laugh at that, and we come away feeling pretty good because we didn’t see any nasty scenes.

The reality is Satan has won a victory because we have laughed at sin where we should have mourned at it. That happens over and over again in dirty jokes and other ways. If Satan can get us to laugh about sin first, we’re one step down that path—one long step down that path toward the acceptance of sin. So I say to you that we ought to be very, very careful. I’m going down this path because Luke opens the door and says we have to beware of levity when it comes in relationship to mourning. Sometimes laughter unloads an issue that we shouldn’t feel better about; we should be mourning about.

C. Is there a sense of loss or gain? I mentioned in my definition of mourning that mourning has a deep sense of loss. A number of texts point us in this direction. For example, I mentioned David wrongly mourning the loss of his son, Absalom, when he died. What Joab was trying to say to him was, “You have lost your perspective. This day is not a day of mourning; it is a day of rejoicing. You are going to lose your kingdom if you don’t get your mind straightened out. You have gained your kingdom; yes, you have lost some. You have GAINED your kingdom. Get a perspective on whether you are losing or whether you are gaining.” Samuel mourns the loss of Saul. In 1 Samuel 15:35: “. . .Samuel did, however, mourn for Saul.” God is basically saying to Samuel, “You need to really get this figured out.” Was it a loss for Israel to lose Saul and to gain David? Was that loss? Samuel was the prophet who anointed David. Is that not gain rather than loss?

Inappropriate mourning is sensing a loss where we should feel a gain. The interesting thing about 1 Samuel 16, when God tells him to go and anoint David, is that Samuel’s first response is, “He’ll kill me. Not David—Saul. If Saul finds out I’m going there, he’ll kill me.” And you want to say, “So what was it, Samuel, you felt such a loss about? This man over whom you are grieving is the man who will kill you if you go to anoint another king?” I think there is a loss of focus here.

Think of Philippians 3 where Paul says, “Those things that I considered gain, I now view as loss.” The things he once looked at—all of the Pharisaism, all of his position, all of that stuff—he now understands was really his Achilles’ heel. It was that which he had to forsake. Satan has a way of trying to reverse things. Look at the temptations. When Satan tempts, he tells you that you’re going to gain; you’re going to be like God, knowing good and evil; you’re going to save your life; you’re going to have this ministry for God. He always presents loss as gain, and the reality is, every time men succumb to Satan’s temptations, they lose.

Another thing to notice is the turning around of loss and gain. Youth today feel that virginity is a scourge. It is something they need to set aside. It is not a beautiful, wonderful thing that they present not only to God but also to their mates when they marry. It is a scourge to be shaken off as quickly as possible. Satan turns loss and gain around—modesty, being unique, and many other things. What do we find in the youth culture? Conformity. We shake off uniqueness like the plague. When God calls us to uniqueness, to be distinct, to be salt and light as believers, we shed it because we want to fit into the culture in which we find ourselves.

D. Humility or Humiliation vs. Arrogance and Pride. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, Paul says:

It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead . . . ? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2a)

“Shouldn’t you have mourned?” And the church is sitting there smugly proud. Is our mourning that of humility and humiliation? Regarding humiliation, what do mourners look like? They look terrible; they tear their clothes; they put dust ashes on their heads; they’re a mess. You don’t make the fashion section of the paper when you are mourning because when you are mourning, you are not trying to look good; you are humbling yourself in your grief. Yet Satan would rather have us exchange that. When you look at the mourning that’s going to come in the Sermon on the Mount, what do the Scribes and the Pharisees do with mourning? They don’t go around with ragged clothes and filthy dust all over them. They probably have some dust, but that’s a symbol, and they proudly wear it as a badge. Thus, in our mourning, is it characterized by humility and humiliation over sin?

In Romans 1:32, the irony is when you get to the bottom rung of the ladder, so to speak, Paul says, “And they not only practice these things, but they actually encourage others to do it.” Look at Hollywood, folks—and not just Hollywood. They wear their sin with pride; they don’t just practice sin in some dark, murky closet. They practice it in public, and they’re proud of it. People sometimes buy their work because of it.

E. Last, does mourning produce repentance? If it is genuine mourning, then, in my estimation, it is the prerequisite to, and the motivation for, repentance. It is what precedes repentance. If repent means to turn around, then it seems to me that we have to acknowledge that the first thing we must see is not only that the direction we are going is wrong, but that it is ugly, and it is something we loathe. It is like we think we are on the road to the beach, and we realize as we approach it that we are on the way to the city sewage processing plant, and you say to yourself, “Yuk, I do not want to be going in this direction; I must turn around.” If you like what’s down at the end of that path, you’re going to keep going. Mourning is that prerequisite where you recognize, and not only intellectually, cognitively say, “God calls it sin,” but you, in your emotions, loathe it so that you turn from it. In 2 Corinthians 7:5-10, we read:

For even when we came to Macedonia, our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way – struggles from the outside, fears from within. But God, who encourages [the word comforted is the wordencourages] the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced even more than ever. For even if I had made you sad by my letter, I do not regret having written it (even though I did regret it, for I see that my letter made you sad, though only for a short time). Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because you were made sad to the point of repentance. For you were made sad as God intended, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death (2 Corinthians 7:5-10).

There is a kind of worldly mourning that does not result in righteousness. I don’t mean that our mourning produces it. In fact, ungodly mourning is actually selfish. You will find that some people who mourn become very introverted, and they look only within and think about themselves and their loss. The more they mourn, the more self-centered they become. The mourning we are talking about is the mourning when you come to an emotional realization, as well as an intellectual one, of the ugliness and the filthiness of sin, and you turn from it. You turn to Christ for the comfort that He alone can give.

Oh I know many people think it's just a cliche

Oh I know many people think it’s just a cliche

In conclusion, mourning is a part of life. If you notice, this verse “Blessed are those who mourn,” is very emphatically present tense and ongoing. It is not just those who, from time to time, have an experience of mourning; there is an ongoing sense. This is consistent with Romans 8:18 and following, where Paul talks about the sufferings and the groanings of life exist because we are a part of a fallen world. My friend, we ought never to get over our warning, and I fear for others and myself as we become accustomed to the sin. We become accustomed. Take abortion, for instance. Here we are at war over in Iraq because “x” number of people have been killed by Sadam Hussein. Somehow we have gotten used to the fact that this goes on, and we’re not mourning it as we first were. Something’s wrong with that; mourning ought to be an ongoing part of life, as Paul says in Roman 8.

Consider one last thing. Mourning is the appropriate response to sin, and the appropriate manifestation of mourning is repentance. But there is the other side of the coin. Just as mourning is the appropriate response to sin, so worship is the appropriate response to the perfections of God. It would be wrong to experience and confront sin and not mourn, but it is just as wrong to come face to face with the perfections of God and not worship. I think it is interesting because we are considering mourning in our text but yet there is a very prominent theme today about joy and rejoicing, and you say, “Well, isn’t that sort of schizophrenic?” You know the answer? It probably is. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”. Those both go on at the same time, and the reality is, as I understand it, we would not rejoice and praise God as we ought apart from the mourning that comes in response to sin. As I understand it, our mourning because of the occasion of sin is what makes our joy and our rejoicing greater because our salvation takes us from its consequences. We are coming to the time this morning for our worship service when we are to worship our Lord, and I say to you, “Don’t lose the mourning dimension, but as we think about our Lord, it is only appropriate that we praise and rejoice in Him.”


Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew