The Problem of Looking at Outward Appearance
Tim Temple


I was visiting in a friend's home recently and I noticed mounted on the wall a model of an old railroad engine and coal car. It is a real work of art. It is perfectly proportioned and seems to be authentic down to the last detail, but when you go over to that wall and look at that train closely, you find that it is made entirely of discarded materials: old watch faces, bent paper clips, bits of string, small gears, cabinet knobs–all kinds of just junk put together into a beautiful piece of art. The train itself is not junk, but it is made of things that, taken by themselves, are really virtually worthless; but carefully combined in the hands of a skilled craftsman, they make a beautiful piece of artwork. In that piece of artwork, there is a tremendous lesson, I think, for Christians because apart from Jesus Christ and what He does in our lives, Christians are just spiritual junk really, just worthless. They are practically good for nothing, but God delights in taking these pieces of junk, this worthless material that you and I are, and putting them together to make something useful and beautiful for His purposes.

He takes those rough places in us and pounds the dents out and sands it smooth and puts it together with other pieces of junk and in the proper place and in the proper proportion makes something that can be admired. That makeover is usually a slow process, but in time His handiwork begins to take shape even in the eyes of those around us. Now, it is right at that point that we need to be very careful, right at that point that a potential problem arises; and it is that we can very easily begin to take credit or very easily begin to give credit to others for what God is doing in our lives or in their lives. We need to remember always that it is God Who is the craftsman. It is God Who is the artist. What we ought to do, as we see His handiwork in our own lives or in the lives of others around us, is to praise Him for the great artist that He is, the great craftsman that He is. When we don't do that, when we begin to admire the artwork instead of the artist, we become just like the Corinthians. That was really one of the basic problems in the city of Corinth, in the church at Corinth. They were making a mistake that is very easy to make of exalting the artwork rather than the artist. The basic, underlying problem in the church at Corinth, and I believe the same problem that continues down to this day among Christians, is this problem of exalting the artwork rather than the artist.

In the first part of the chapter we talked about how they had gathered around various men. Some were saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Cephus,” and “I am of Apollos.” Each group was implying that they were better than the other, that there was something special about themselves or something special about their leader; and so the very first problem that the Apostle Paul deals with as he talks about problems that can come up in the local church is this matter of exalting men and the wisdom of men and acting as if they in themselves were responsible for what they are, keeping their eyes on the artwork rather than on the artist.

The Focus of Godly Wisdom

This last section of the chapter, at which we look today, deals with the clarification for the Corinthians about the dangers of exalting human wisdom as they were doing. We have actually already begun looking at this third part of the chapter last week. In verses 17 and 18, he had reminded them of the fallacies of human wisdom and in verses 19-22, the failures of human wisdom in the past. We are not going to take the time to go back over those details today, but that brings us now to verse 23; so in verses 23-31, he is going to turn our attention to the true focus of godly wisdom. In these verses we find some of the most well-known verses of Scripture and also some of the most comforting verses of Scripture in all of the Word of God.

The message of this section is twofold. First of all, God's message is very simple. It is not the very complicated, philosophical thing that sometimes we try to make it or that inherence of other religions try to make their thoughts and their processes. The message of God is very simple. That is the first thing. Secondly, God chooses very simple people and very simple methods to get His message across. Those two things we want to see.

Basis of Worldly Wisdom

The first thing that he establishes in that regard is the basis for godly wisdom in verses 23 and 24. To get those verses in their context, I am also going to read verse 22:

I Corinthians 1

22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

The philosophy of the unsaved is expressed in verse 22. Let me back up here just a minute and point out that when Paul talks about the Jews and the Greeks, he is talking about Jewish people and Greek people; but in a broader sense, he is talking about the unsaved in general. He had already taught that for those who have accepted Christ as Savior, there is no difference; we are all one in Jesus Christ. It is true in this passage, and it is true throughout the New Testament, that when he talks about the Gentiles or when he talks about the Greeks or Jews–almost always in the New Testament when you find a reference to some nationality like that–it is, in the context of the chapter where it is mentioned, a reference to the unsaved. It may also refer to that particular group of people, but actually it is a broad reference to the unsaved. So what he is saying is that whether they are Jews or Greeks or not, the philosophy of the unsaved is wisdom and signs to prove their various theories about life and living. We see that even in our day, don't we? We have also kinds of philosophies of life, all kinds of “wisdom” about life, all kinds of theories. In almost every case, when someone expounds their theory, they give some proof of it; they give some explanation of it. That is the philosophy of the unsaved.

Basis of Godly Wisdom–the Crucifixion

The whole basis of God's wisdom is the crucifixion of Christ. Look at verse 23:

I Corinthians 1

23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

The focus of godly wisdom is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That seems like foolishness to those who seek a sign and to those who demand proof and to those who want to hear philosophy. It seems foolish to just say that the basis of relationship between God and man is to believe that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for our sins. That is just too simple. It throws a monkey wrench into the machinery for those who want proof because you can't prove the resurrection; you can't prove the crucifixion. So the basis of godly wisdom is very different from the wisdom of the world, the various kinds of philosophies of the world.

Before we move on, let me digress here. I want to elaborate on Paul's statement in verse 23: “…we preach Christ crucified…” There are preachers and there are Christians who take this verse to mean that we should never preach anything but the Gospel; and because of that, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, they give an evangelistic message, and the bulk of their preaching is built around the preaching of the Gospel. Christians who follow this line of reasoning say, “It really doesn't matter too much how I live or what I do as long as I keep telling people about Jesus Christ.” They come back to this verse, and they say, “We preach Christ crucified.” In another place, Paul wrote, “I determine not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I know of preachers who make a practice of every time they go to a new church of making that the theme message, the first message in that new church. Then they proceed for the next x number of years that they are in that church to preach the Gospel over and over and over every Sunday. By that I mean just a Gospel, evangelistic message.

To try to take issue with that sounds like heresy, and I want to be very careful that I do not come across to you as criticizing those who preach the Gospel. I trust that we preach the Gospel in this church every Sunday. If nothing else, we do that at the Lord's table. Another of the reasons for having the Lord's Supper every Sunday is that we have an opportunity to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The death and burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is of eminent importance in this church. It is something that we seek every opportunity to present, but that is not all there is to the Word of God. Think about it this way: What did Paul preach to the Corinthians? He says, “We preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Think over what you know of the writings of Paul. Think over what you know of the record of Paul's preaching. What did Paul preach? He talked about spiritual gifts; he talked about husband/wife relationships; he talked about parent/child relationships; he talked about church discipline; he talked about prophecy; he talked about financial principles. The Apostle Paul wrote about all kinds of things, and God included them in the Scriptures. In fact, God gave him the message to write. You see, if you read all of those things in their context, you will see that all of those various aspects of the Christian life and all of those various things that the Scriptures deal with and that we ought to be faithful to teach as we teach the Word of God form the setting for the Gospel.

Centrality of the Gospel

I like to think about it in this way: The fact that Jesus Christ died in your place is the Gospel. Jesus Christ took your sins and faced God with the judgment and took the judgment that God poured out for my sins and your sins. I like to think of that as a beautiful diamond or some other valuable gem which needs to be held up for everyone to see. God did that by building a beautiful ring or beautiful pendant out of all these other things that are in the Word of God. All of these other things that Paul preached about and that the other writers of Scripture preached about form the beautiful setting. If you want to think of it in terms of a ring or a necklace or bracelet or a piece of jewelry, what is it that is the focal point? It is the jewel, isn't it? We may admire the artwork in the setting of that jewel, but the thing that really catches our attention is the gem, the stone. If the craftsman has done it right, no matter how beautiful that artwork is, the purpose of the artwork is really to focus our attention on the stone. You see, that is the way the Word of God is. The Gospel is the gem; the Gospel is the diamond, if you will, and all of these other things come together to form the ring that holds that diamond up for its particular point of view.

How does that apply to you and me? Why is it important for me to bring that out? It is that everything that we live out in obedience to the Word of God and everything that we preach ought to be put in the context of that beautiful stone. You see, if we as a church, or you individually, do nothing but preach the Gospel, that is like having a beautiful diamond but just carrying it around in your hand and every once in a while saying, “Come over here; let me show you my diamond.”, and hold the diamond out in your hand. That is all right, but isn't it much more attractive and much more beautiful to have that diamond in a beautiful ring, displayed for people to see maybe just at a glance. Maybe they see it when you are not even trying to show it. That is because you have it in a beautiful setting that holds it up in the proper place and that focuses attention to it in the proper way.

If our lives are built upon obedience to the whole Scripture, if our relationship with our wives or our husband is what the Scripture says it ought to be, then the Gospel is going to be displayed magnificently. If our relationship with our children is what it ought to be, if our care and concern for the poor is what it ought to be, if our anxiousness to treat our employee is what the Scripture says it ought to be, then it exalts Jesus Christ. It sets Him up as the beautiful diamond. Therefore we don't have to call someone over and say, “Let me show you my diamond,” and uncup it in our hands and they don't see it again until we open our hand again. Our whole life becomes a setting for Jesus Christ. That is what Paul means when he says, “We preach Christ crucified.” That is not all that we preach; that is not the only thing that we preach. We preach these things, and we obey these things so that Jesus Christ can be lifted up in His place.

Accumulation of Knowledge

There is another application of that. There are churches who do nothing but teach the Bible every Sunday and have kind of an academic setting. The focus of those churches is just the accumulation of technical knowledge. You go to those churches, and you feel like you have been in a classroom. This passage tells us that all of our study ought to have as its purpose the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you something: In your personal Bible study, the focus of that Bible study should not just be the accumulation of more knowledge; the focus should come back to the Lord Jesus Christ and His death in our behalf. If you are doing it for some other purpose, you are missing the whole point.

There are Christians who could name every one of the pre-exilic prophets and the post-exilic prophets and tell you which ones were during the exile, probably name all the kings of Judah and the kings of Israel and maybe even tell you who the Antichrist's grandmother would be, but they don't know the first thing about treating their wives like they ought to. They don't know the first thing about relating to their neighbors the way they ought to or meeting the needs of the poor. You see, it is so easy for us to get these things out of focus. There are churches who major in that kind of teaching and preaching; but those believers are missing the whole point of Bible study. The whole basis of godly wisdom is the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that accomplished and what that makes possible for our lives to be–beautiful pieces of artwork that God, the Master Craftsman, puts together.

Foolishness From the World's View

So to preach that kind of thing creates real problems, coming back to the text. To the Jews, and to everyone who demands some kind of proof about the Gospel, it is a stumblingblock, Paul says in verse 23. To those who think in terms of philosophy, it is foolishness. It is just not what the unsaved expect and demand about religious-type things. There are those who judge the value of a sermon by how hard it is to understand. If it is a real complicated message, then it must be important. “It must have been good; I couldn't really understand it.” A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet the man who at that time was the president of the World Council of Churches. He is dead now, and I hope he is in the Lord's presence. I got to hear a really complicated lecture. It must have been good, because it was really hard to understand; it was very philosophical. Afterwards I had the opportunity to visit with him. The man I was with actually did most of the talking. My friend said to Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, “Dr. Blake, do you think that Christ is literally going to come and sit on a throne of David?” This very liberal preacher looked at my friend like he was on a pass from the state hospital and he said, “Young man, we must take the Bible seriously, but we must not take it literally.” You see, to believe that Jesus Christ actually died to pay for our sins and that that debt satisfied God is foolishness to the philosophers. To talk about the fact that He is going to come back to rule over His people is foolishness. They say that we can't take that literally.

Paul's point for the Corinthians and for us is that to gather around human wisdom and to base our thinking and our actions on human wisdom is to miss the whole point of spiritual things, because there are things in God's wisdom that don't really add up to our human minds. There are things that if we filter them through our human understanding, they really do seem foolish. Things that God has told us, and things that He has told us that He is going to do in the future–many examples I could give with which you are familiar–seem to be foolish to those who insist on looking at things from the world's viewpoint.

No matter how eloquent or intellectual they may be, preachers are–at least they should be–just God's delivery boys. They are just God's messengers. We messengers have an obligation to be the best that we can be, to deliver the message as clearly as we can. At the same time, we all need to remember that that is all that the preacher is. He is just God's messenger. We don't do it any more, but back in the days of Western Union telegrams, we had messenger boys, telegram deliverers. You might give the messenger a tip, but I never heard of anyone being famous because he was a good messenger boy. You know, we just realize what his proper function is. We criticize him if he doesn't do his job well, but we don't build a whole group around him just because he does do his job well. You see, that is the point. We don't build our relationship to God or our thoughts about God around men. We ought not exalt men.

Simplicity of God's Message

In verse 24, in summary, he says:

I Corinthians 1

24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

So the first part of this last section of the chapter shows that God's wisdom is very simple. It is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and everything else that God has revealed to us fits into that, to lift up Jesus Christ. It is a very simple message; it doesn't have to be complicated at all. We need to be very careful that we don't get sidetracked into a lot of ramifications about the revelation that God has given to us.

Remember we are thinking about the focus of godly wisdom. The first aspect of that focus is the basis of godly wisdom. The basis of God's wisdom is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and everything else fits into that pattern.

Blessings of Godly Wisdom

As we come to verses 23 and 24, we see the blessings of godly wisdom. There are two blessings that he mentions here. One of the places where the difference between God and man shows up the most is in his priorities in the exercise of his wisdom. Verse 25 touches on that. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. How many times have you said or have you heard someone else say about someone, “So-and-so has forgotten more about this or that subject than I will ever learn.”? That is a kind of common terminology, and we mean to indicate how much more educated that person is or how much more he knows about a particular thing. Really, that is what Paul is saying about God. God's wisdom is so far greater than ours that it really can't even compare. That which seems to be God's foolishness–the Gospel–is actually a statement of His wisdom. That which would appear to be His weakness, the fact that His Son died, the fact that His Son spent thirty-three years on earth and was rejected by people and crucified, would appear to be the weakness of God; but Paul said, “Listen, that is His strength.” The death of God's Son has accomplished more than all the preaching of all the ages could have ever accomplished, more than all the strengths of men could every accomplish. God is in a completely different category than we are in terms of His wisdom and His accomplishment.

Priorities and Preferences

Having established how God's priorities are so much higher than ours, he goes on in verses 26-29 to show how His preferences are different from ours. Notice in verse 26:

I Corinthians 1

26For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29That no flesh should glory in his presence.

In God's wisdom, most of His accomplishments are done through ordinary, everyday people, even through people whom the world would think of as nothing. Of course, obviously there are those who are wise. It has been my experience that those few who are wise and noble–by that I think he would mean highly intelligent or famous or deeply gifted–really feel that they are nothing in God's sight. They realize that God is the artist and they are the artwork. They know that in themselves they are nothing, that God has given them those brains or that education or those talents. Yet, our focus is usually just the opposite, isn't it? We have such a tendency to rejoice when some famous person gets saved or some wealthy person gets saved. We think, “Boy, God can really use them. How fortunate God is to have that person accept Christ.” You see, Gods priorities are just the opposite of that. Paul says that He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.

God Uses Ordinary Men

I think that one of the greatest blessings of God's wisdom is the way He sets His priorities. Because of that, another of the blessings of His wisdom is the fact that every one of us has something for which to praise Him. Notice in verse 30:

I Corinthians 1

30But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

I am sure that we all admire and appreciate men whose names we all recognize like Billy Graham and James Dobson and Chuck Swindoll. There are others besides those I have named whom we think of as great men of God, and they are. They have been greatly used of God, but stop and think for a minute. Why are those men used of God? Why are they what they are? It is because of what Paul says in verse 30: “…Christ Jesus…is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Those men have had their sins forgiven; those men have been given the Holy Spirit; those men have the Word of God through whom the Holy Spirit can teach them; they are faithful to tell others about that. Now notice carefully what he says in verse 30. He doesn't say, “But of them are they in Christ Jesus made unto wisdom, etc.” He says “we”. Jesus Christ is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Do you see what I am talking about? Here is the most amazing thing about God's priorities, and that is that you and I are in the very same category in God's plan with those who are the most famous among Christians. What a wonderful thing! What a wonderful blessing of the wisdom of God that God is just as anxious to use you and me as He is any of those well-known people who no doubt have accomplished great things for God.

You might say, “Oh, I could never do anything for God like those men do.” I think sometimes there is a lot of false humility when those kinds of things are said, and sometimes people say those kinds of things and they are hoping that we will come back and say, “Oh, yes you could; you've got a lot of ability.” If you are sincere in saying that you could never serve the Lord like a Billy Graham or a Church Swindoll or a James Dobson, then you are exactly where God wants you to be, because God delights in taking old thimbles and gears and bent paper clips and string and putting them together to make something that glorifies Him. If you think you are some kind of a piece of artwork already, then God is not going to put you in that piece of artwork because He loves to take the things that look foolish to men, the things that are nothing. How many times have you heard someone say, “I am just a nothing; I am just a zero.”? Again, if you are sincere in saying that, if you sincerely feel that way, it is really not true. You are something. That something is what God will make you and what God can do through you. God can take that nothingness and put it together for his honor and glory.

I really believe that when we come to the Judgment Seat of Christ, the judgment where believers will see what God has done through us, we are going to discover the major accomplishments of God's work will have been done not by those famous men, as much as we appreciate them. Please understand that I am not putting those men down; thank God for those men. But I believe when it is all said and done we are going to discover that a far greater portion of God's work was done by people we have never heard of, people whose names you would not recognize if they were mentioned, people like you and me, just ordinary, everyday people. That is what God has chosen to use for his purposes. He has done that so that He can take the credit, so that He can have the glory.

Let me just try to mention some very general things in the time we have left. You may not ever wind up going to the mission field. You may not ever wind up going to seminary, being a pastor, doing those things that we tend to think of as “the Lord's work”. You know, there are people in this church who need your prayers. You may not ever be a Sunday School teacher or a song leader or a soloist or a preacher or a missionary or any of those other kinds of things, but you can pray for those people. There are people who have financial needs which we are made aware of from time to time that people in our church and in other ministries have or that this ministry has. You can ask God to give you the ability to give money to those ministries. There are people in your office or on your campus or in your neighborhood, wherever it is that you spend the bulk of your time, who do not know Jesus Christ. You may not ever have the opportunity to exactly, specifically tell them about Jesus Christ, but you can live in such a way that that diamond of Jesus Christ is set before them that they can see just at a glance, just as you move around, the beautiful diamond of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Personal Illustration

This past week I was in Wichita Falls to attend the funeral of a girl who had grown up in the church that I pastored there. While I was at that funeral, a young business man came up to me and he said, “You know, about twelve years ago my sister committed suicide. She had been caught up in drugs and had died a very tragic death and her life appeared to have been wasted. We were not sure whether she was a Christian or not, but our family was told that perhaps you would conduct her funeral. We called you and you did come and conduct her funeral. It was just a graveside service on a cold, rainy February afternoon. It was a very sad, poignant little funeral, but because of that, I decided to visit your church.” I really didn't even know this family; I was recommended to them by some other family. “I came a Sunday or two and I would miss many more Sundays than I came, but I kept coming back even after you moved away, and several months after you moved, the Gospel finally dawned on me. I accepted Christ as my Savior. Later I married, and now I have three children, and they have all accepted Christ in this church. I am just thrilled with what God has done in my life, and it all goes back to the fact that you were willing to conduct that funeral that day. That was where I first began to get a glimpse of Jesus Christ and who He is.”

It would violate everything that I have been talking about today if you get the impression that I am telling that story to exalt myself. I am not. I am just saying who would have thought that by agreeing to go out to the cemetery and spend thirty minutes on a cold, rainy afternoon eventually a whole family would know Jesus Christ. I would never have guessed that. Who would think that just by being an honest employee, that just by loving your wife as Christ loved the Church, or just by submitting to your husband, or by treating your children right someone would get a glimpse of Jesus Christ that would infect them to seek more and that little by little by little other useless human beings like you and me would have an impact on that person and that person would come to know Jesus Christ? I think only eternity will reveal how much has been accomplished by just us nobodies being faithful to whatever little God gives us to do. That is what we praise God about. That is the wisdom of God.

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