There are school children who are about to enjoy a four day weekend, and many of them have no idea why. A student once asked me, “What does Easter celebrate? Bunnies?” There was no knowledge of this country’s Christian heritage or traditions. And if someone asks you a similar question, and you try to explain Easter to them, what do you expect them to think? Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth, lived for 33 years, and then was crucified. But He rose again. Why? So that we could live forever and never die. Really? Do you believe in little green men too?
In I Corinthians 1:18, the Apostle Paul reassures us that we are not crazy. He tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the power of God—life and hope—to those of us who believe and are being saved. In I Corinthians 1:19, Paul refers back to Isaiah 29:14, a passage that his wise listeners would be familiar with. Paul’s assertion that God’s wisdom went far beyond human wisdom and understanding was not new. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Paul referred to the scribes, the Jews who were experts in Mosaic law, and the debaters or philosophers, the Greeks who were—and still are—regarded for their wisdom. These were the people who were considered the wisest by human standards, but they did not understand the ways of God. The Jews expected their long-awaited Messiah to be strong and heroic, not a small-town carpenter who would be executed in one of the most horrific ways possible. They wanted a sign to prove that Christ was indeed the one they were expecting, and crucifixion just didn’t seem to meet their preconceptions. The Gentiles, the Greeks, couldn’t get their minds around a god who would interact with humans and then allow himself to be crucified. That wasn’t the kind of god they were used to. (I Corinthians 1:20-25)
God requires us to have some faith. (Hebrews 11:6) We will probably never completely understand God or His ways, but the more we search for truth, the more we seek to understand Him, the more He will reveal to us through His Holy Spirit. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:12-13) Salvation—eternal life with God starting now—is not something that we can achieve through our own efforts. (Ephesians 2:9) Our wisdom, understanding and good works will all fall short, but the work of Christ—His sacrifice on the cross—is sufficient. It is a gift to us, and all we have to do is accept. God does not want any of us to perish. (John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, Matthew 18:14, John 10:28) Difficult to understand? In our own wisdom yes, but it is the perfect plan of God.
I’m a planner, and I’m not very good at being spontaneous. It’s not that there isn’t room in my life for spontaneity because I’m too busy. That’s not the case. I have learned (actually the lesson was kind of forced upon me) to leave some margin in my life. I don’t schedule something for every minute. So why then can I not do something on the spur of the moment? It is just not in my nature. I like to have advance notice of things. I like to process them in my mind. I like to have a good idea of what is going to happen before it does.
I have learned over the years that I can plan too much, and my husband, I suspect, has made it his mission in life to make me be more spontaneous. We do not know what the future will bring. Anything could happen at any moment to change not only our plans, but our lives. Bible passages tell us not to worry about tomorrow, (Matthew 6:34) that we should not store up goods for our future to the neglect of God’s kingdom, (Luke 12:20:21) and that we do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. (Matthew 24:42) I don’t think that means that we should not do any planning though, and just let life happen as it wishes. There needs to be a balance.
In Ephesians 5:15, Paul is telling us to consider how we live and to choose the path that is wise. That takes some planning. A sailor does not decide to sail somewhere, and then get in his boat and let it drift. He could be lost at sea forever. He must decide on his course, set his sails and guide his boat to its destination. A builder must consider how he will complete the whole building before he begins the foundation. (Luke 14:28-30) As Laurence J. Peter has said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
Paul’s reason for his exhortation is that we are surrounded by evil, and we must do what we can, whenever we can, for God’s kingdom. (Ephesians 5:16). Yes, circumstances may alter our plans, or cause us a short detour, but if we have a plan, we can get back on track. This is why we must not be foolish, not just follow our feelings or our whims, but use our minds to understand God’s will. (Ephesians 5:17) If we are to use our time on this earth for God’s glory, we must make the most of our opportunities. We must choose wisely and then work to reach the goal.
Years ago, my husband moved to a new town to start a new job. Because I was in the middle of a Master of Education program at home, I didn’t move with him. One or the other of us would travel back and forth to see each other on weekends, but his colleagues questioned whether I truly existed or not. They didn’t know me. They had never met me. Some people are in the same position with God. I often have people tell me that God doesn’t exist, that He is just a crutch for people that can’t deal with life on their own. I, however, know that He exists, because I know Him. I will never be able to convince someone who doesn’t know Him though; that is something that only the Holy Spirit can do.
The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1:18-31, gives the Corinthian believers a similar message. The people of that time also thought that the idea of God, and especially of Christ, the Messiah, hanging on the cross, was foolishness. The Jews expected, and demanded, miraculous signs, demonstrations of great power from their awaited Messiah, but they still would not believe. (Luke 16:31, John 12:37) Where was the power in Jesus hanging on the cross? It didn’t make any sense to them. The Greeks, were, and still are, known for their great intelligence and wisdom, but their human wisdom was not enough to understand the value of Christ’s crucifixion.
Paul’s audience, the Corinthians, were not noble, powerful, or privileged, and yet they had become believers because they had accepted the call of God. They knew God, because they chose to believe in Him by faith. God calls all of us, but there is absolutely nothing we can do through our own power or wisdom to earn salvation. All we can do is accept His gift. We may not completely understand God’s ways of doing things, but that doesn’t mean that our ways are better or that we are smarter. We can’t even begin to fathom the wisdom of God because it is so far above our own. Christ’s willingness to sacrifice Himself in such a humiliating way, for us, is all that we should boast about.
I belong to a book club/Bible study group made up of a dozen or so ladies ranging in age from about 35 to 75. We encourage each other, and help each other out by sharing from our wide base of experiences, as well as with practical things like painting and kitchen duties. And we laugh. A lot. These ladies have become very dear friends to me, and I look forward to and treasure our times together. It has never mattered what book we chose to read; I attend because I value their friendship.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a king known for his wisdom, laments the meaninglessness of almost everything, but in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, he promotes the benefits of companionship. Life is better with a friend or two. Labour is easier. Some tasks are just too difficult, even for a strong, independent person to do alone. If one gets hurt or into a bad situation, another is there to call for help. If they are travelling through the wilderness, as many would have in Solomon’s day, they can huddle together to stay warm. Today think of being in a stranded vehicle on an isolated highway in the winter. And, perhaps, most important of all, they can protect each other from their adversary. We do that in our group. We help each other to see how the enemy, Satan, is attacking our souls, and we stand together on God’s word, and through prayer, to fight back. Like a three-stranded cord, we are stronger together.
In the beginning, when God created each aspect of the universe, He declared it good. The first thing that He declared not good was that man was alone. (Genesis 2:18) So He created a helper suitable for him. Galatians 6:2 instructs us to bear one another’s burdens, and Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to not give up meeting together. We were made for community. George Eliot described a best friend as a “well-spring in the wilderness”, an oasis. Take time to cultivate your friendships. All other striving is meaningless without them.
It is a hot, hazy, humid day in Ontario, one that would make you think that it is the middle of July. In fact, it is the last week of summer. I know that summer officially ends on September 23, but we are just beginning the last holiday weekend of the summer before school starts on Tuesday. Some people, both parents and kids, are happy about that and looking forward to getting back into routine or seeing all their friends again. Other people are not so happy; they don’t want summer to end just yet.
Nonetheless, in honour of school starting up again next week, I thought I would devote today’s blog post to learning, understanding and wisdom. Proverbs 16:16 tells us that wisdom is better than gold; understanding is better than silver. In Solomon’s case, by seeking wisdom, he achieved the silver and gold as well. Let’s look at the story in I Kings 3:5-14. God appeared to Solomon in a dream (which was a common way for God to speak to people before we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit through Christ). In that dream, God asked Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon recognized the extent of God’s power as he had seen it displayed in his own and in his father’s life. Solomon also recognized that he was in a position--to rule the people of Israel--that he did not feel prepared for. He was young and inexperienced. Israel had a reputation for being stubborn and rebellious. It was customary for the ruler of Israel to also be the judge of disputes. Solomon may have been inexperienced, but he was wise enough to know that he needed wisdom, so that is what he asked for. God was pleased with Solomon’s request, and so He gave him so much more than he asked for. (I Kings 3:10-13) This is a promise that He gives to us as well. If we seek the ways of the Lord first, if that is the most important thing to us, then God will provide everything else that we need. (Matthew 6:33)
It is important to distinguish, however, that being wise and knowing the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, does not mean that we will make the appropriate choice between right and wrong. In I Kings 3:14, God says, “If you follow my instructions by obeying my rules and regulations, just as your father David did, then I will grant you long life.” Solomon made a lot of wise decisions and his wisdom in many subject areas—plants, animals, birds, insects and fish (I Kings 4:33); judicial decisions (I Kings 3:16-28), the writing of proverbs and songs (I Kings 4:32, Proverbs 1:1)—was world renowned, but he also made bad choices which led to idolatry and the eventual division of the kingdom. (I Kings 11:9-13) Solomon had gained wisdom, but he lacked the willingness to be obedient.
If God asked you the question that he asked Solomon, what would your answer be? If He granted your request, what would you do with the gift? What kind of person do you think that you would become?