Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Are You Spiritually Self-Deceived?

1 Corinthians 4:7-21

Teaching t05399


CARBON MONOXIDE POSIONING: What's so dangerous about this posioning is that even though people are seriously ill, they don't realize it--they think they're OK.

What sometimes happens in the physical realm can also happen spiritually. Read Rev. 3:17-19. Here's a group of people who are being poisoned by spiritual carbon monoxide! It's one thing to be in trouble spiritually and know it. It's another to be in trouble spiritually and think you're doing well! The Laodecian Christians were spiritually self-deceived, and Jesus loved them enough to tell them so and call on them to "open the windows."

All of us are vulnerable to spiritual self-deception. Whole churches, like this one, can become spiritually self-deceived. But so can individuals. I have spent varying periods of time in varying degrees of spiritual self-deception. It has made me long to detect and correct this state.

The Corinthian Christians had also become spiritually self-deceived. So Paul, because he loves them (vs 14), smacks them awake, using blunt questions and scathing sarcasm to wake them up. From this passage, we can distill three key questions which help us to detect spiritual self-deception and correct it.

How do you view your resources? (vs 7)

Read vs 7. The Corinthian Christians had a lot of spiritual resources. Paul is probably referring primarily to the fact that they had every spiritual gift (1:7). They had prophets, teachers, tongues, leaders, etc.--but Paul knew they were spiritually self-deceived because of the way they viewed their resources.

As reason for boasting--or for humbling thanking God for his grace?

The Corinthians foolishly attributed these gifts to themselves rather than to God. The proof they did this is that they "boasted." They were bragging to themselves or to each other about how gifted they were. This kind of boasting is a sure sign of self-deception. And boasting about some things demonstrates lethal self-deception.

For example, most Americans believe that God will accept them when they die because they are "good." But the Bible says if we boast about our good works to God, this is proof that we don't really have his acceptance (Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 3:27,28). In Lk. 18, the Pharisee who boasted in his works went home unaccepted by God; but the man who recognized he was undeserving and threw himself on God's mercy went home "justified."

If we are seeing clearly, we realize that all of our resources--not just God's acceptance and spiritual gifts--but everything we have (NATURAL TALENTS; INTELLIGENCE; PHYSICAL ASSETS; PERSONALITY; EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY; FINANCIAL MEANS; SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE) has been given to us by God. The proper response which shows we're seeing clearly is to humbly thank God—and then to do something else . . .

As your own property to be used for yourself—or as a trust from God to be used for his purposes?

Not only did the Corinthians boast about their spiritual gifts; they also used them for their own selfish enjoyment. When we get into chapters 12-14, we'll see Paul rebuking them for this. He has to remind them that God entrusted them with these gifts for a purpose—so that they could have the privilege to build up his church (12:7; 14:26). That's the way Paul viewed his tremendous resources (see 1 Cor. 4:1; 9:16,17).

America, including most American Christians, has almost totally lost sight of this viewpoint. Material resources, natural talents, etc. are all viewed as mine exclusively, and to be used the way I see fit to advance my own personal agenda for my happiness. This demonstrates serious spiritual self-deception.

Our focus should not be "How much more do I have than others?" but rather "How faithful am I in using God's resources for his purposes?" Commit yourself to use them as STEWARDS in the cause of Christ.

What is your assessment of your spiritual progress? (vs 8,16,17)

Are you a "know-it-all" who has arrived—or a "life-long learner?"

Read vs 8a. Even though they had only been Christians for 2,3 years, they projected the attitude that they needed nothing more in their spiritual lives—they had arrived. They didn't need anything Paul had to say. They were looking down at him from their thrones, asking him when he was going to attain to their level!

But to be a disciple of Christ by definition means to be a "learner." We have received the truth from Jesus, and we may have understood some key portions of it, but we should be life-long learners from him.

We should never confuse our spiritual position with our spiritual progress. The Bible says that we receive every spiritual blessing the moment we receive Christ. But we'll spend a lifetime learning about those blessings and how to appropriate them in our lives.

The Bible says we become perfectly and permanently acceptable to God the moment we receive Christ, but we never reach complete conformity to Christ in this life (Phil. 3:12-14). This is why the one who is making progress spiritually is also the one who keeps seeing ever more clearly how far he/she has to go.

Do you get offended by and reject spiritual direction—or do you seek it out and receive it?

Very few Christians would actually say "I have arrived." But one way we can tell if this is actually our attitude is how we respond to sound spiritual direction from others. Paul knew they had this attitude because of their response to his input.

QUALIFY: We shouldn't be spiritually gullible—that's a good way to get deceived. We must evaluate all spiritual input in light of the Bible.

Many Christians are this way. They are offended at such input ("How dare you tell me how to live my life!") instead of prayerfully considering it in light of scripture.

But when was the last time you got an important spiritual course correction from another Christian? If you have trouble remembering, what does this mean? This is why part of Paul's remedy for them is to send Timothy to learn from (vs 16,17). This is something we should not only respond to when it comes our way; we should also seek it out.

What do you expect in this life for following Christ? (vs 8b-13)

Do you expect social esteem and prestige—or are you willing to endure social scorn and rejection?

Do you expect material and physical ease—or are you willing to endure suffering and hardship?

Paul uses an image that must have really brought the Corinthians up short. Read vs 9. When a Roman general won a battle, he was permitted to lead his army through the streets and be honored by the people and the emperor as victor. This parade was called a Triumph. But at the end of the parade were the captives who were on their way to the arena, condemned to die there by being thrown to the wild beasts as they provided entertainment for the Romans.

The Corinthians expected to be like the Roman general now. They wanted the perks of victory; they wanted the prestige and honor from their society. This is something Christians will experience in the next life, when Jesus returns as the reigning King. But Paul says in this life, our proper role is that of the gladiators! He details their differing roles in vs 10-13 (read). He didn't usually get rave reviews; he got scorn (vs 10,13b). He didn't usually have a soft life; he had hardships attendant with the ministry (vs 11-12a). He didn't reserve the right to repay his enemies in kind; he made room for God's future judgment and tried to respond redemptively (vs 12b-13a). By insisting on playing the role of the general, they were betraying Christ!

Many Christians today have bought into the lie that we should expect the blessing of the next life in this life, that the Christian life should be all gain and no pain; all victories and no losses; all joy and no sorrow.

In part, this is because our culture tells us that life should be this way, and Christians have been conformed to this. In our culture, there is no greater value than comfort and pleasure. There is no cause worth suffering for. If you can't get what you want when you want it, it must be somebody else's fault that we can sue for damages.

Christians have also created theologies to justify this "triumphalism." The result is a soft, self-indulgent and self-centered Christianity which boasts great numbers but has very little impact on society.

HEALTH & WEALTH: As "children of the King," we should enjoy physical health and material prosperity.

POLITICAL TRIUMPHALISM: We should be advancing God's rule by taking over politically and routing God's enemies. We need to get the respect of the "movers and shakers" to do this.

SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE TRIUMPHALISM: We should expect dramatic spiritual experiences as normative in the Christian life.

But this isn't what God has called us to do in this life. The disciples wanted to follow Jesus into Jerusalem to be crowned as king, but he said "Take up your cross and follow me." He didn't come the first time to conquer and rule the world; he came to suffer and die for it so lost people could be saved. And the church is supposed to follow in his footsteps.

It isn't just that we shouldn't expect to be spared the difficulties of living in a fallen world. It is that we should be willing to take up additional sufferings which we could avoid, so that the life of Christ can get out there to other people (2 Cor. 4:8-12).