A Motivation for Ministry
Tim Temple


In the musical that was so popular a few years ago, “The Sound of Music”, one of the most beautiful songs, in my opinion, is the one that is called “Climb Every Mountain”. If you are familiar with that story, you will remember that the Mother Superior of the convent sang this beautiful song to the young Maria who was trying to decide what to do with her life, whether to continue as a nun, etc. The song is all about motivation. The message of the song is that nothing should ever stand in the way of accomplishing one's dream.

The Word of God speaks about motivation from a much higher standpoint, not just the accomplishment of a dream, but the exaltation of a Savior, not climbing every mountain and fording every stream, but walking with the Lord in a personal relationship on a daily basis. Let me ask you today: What is your motivation in life? What is it that keeps you going? What are you trying to accomplish? Where do you hope to go from here?

As we come to the end of I Corinthians, we want to think about the motivation for ministry in verses 18-23. Let me remind you that the Apostle Paul has told us in chapters 2 and 3 that all of us are in the ministry. Whether we are pastors or not, every one of us is in the ministry, and we should be spending all of our time looking for ways in which to serve the Lord. In our last study, we talked about the Judgment Seat of Christ, the sobering fact that everything that we have done since the day of our salvation will be judged as to its motive. It is not an examination of our sins, but an examination of our works, not an examination of the brilliance of our works, but an examination of the motives of the things that we have done. We saw how those things that have been done with the motive of pleasing Jesus Christ will receive a reward. Those things that have been done with a motive of pleasing ourselves or of just getting by with the least trouble we can or any other motive other than pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ will not be rewarded.

That doctrine is very important in that it includes the fact that those rewards will be used in a tangible way honoring Jesus Christ in Heaven, that we will cast those crowns before the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and be able to tangibly express to Him our love and our honor of Him. Certainly that is a motivation for the ministry.

Principles Related to Motivation

We talked about the Judgment Seat of Christ from the standpoint of motivation for the ministry, but in these verses which we want to look at today, Paul will focus on some principles that will stand us in good stead as we go through the day by day experiences until we do get to the Judgment Seat of Christ, some things that will perhaps help us in the ministry as we serve the Lord in what Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. used to call the “nasty now and now”. “We talk a lot about the sweet by and by, but before we get to the sweet by and by, we have got to go through the nasty now and now,” Dr. Bob used to say. That is what these verses are about–how we get through the days and the weeks and the months before we stand in the Lord's presence, recognizing of course that the Lord could come back today, but also realizing that He may not come back for many more years. That is the kind of thing that we find in these concluding verses of chapter 3.

As we look at these verses, there are three basic principles to keep in mind. First we have the pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18-19. Then there are the possessions of common Christians–that is, possessions that every Christian has–in verses 21 through the first part of verse 23. Then in the second part of verse 23 we have the position of Jesus Christ.

Pointlessness of Creating Celebrities

Let's begin looking at these things by looking at the pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18-21. As we look at this paragraph, we need to remember again that the basic theme of the whole first section of the book is the danger of exalting men. There were many problems at the church in Corinth; but apparently the biggest one, because it is the one that he starts with, was the problem of exalting men, of gathering around men and making divisions within the group based on who liked this man and who liked that man. Paul has already pointed out several aspects of that danger, and now he comes to another one. Another danger of exalting men is that many times that exaltation of men is for the wrong reason. As we have seen before, the Corinthians were not exalting these men because some of them were more knowledgeable than others or because some of them were teaching more correctly than others. In fact, we have seen that they were all teaching the same things. They were all true in their doctrine. Paul and Apollos and Peter were teaching the Word of God, but the Corinthians were exalting them and dividing up among themselves over these men because of things like personality and background and education and those kinds of things, so in these verses Paul is going to warn about what can happen when we elevate men for the wrong reasons–the pointlessness of creating celebrities.

Confusion In Human Wisdom

The first reason that it is pointless to do that is that there is confusion in human wisdom. Notice, please, verse 18:

I Corinthians 3

18Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

The first phrase that I want to point out to you is the phrase, “in this age”. Paul is not saying something like “in these days”, but he is talking about the world's wisdom, the way the unsaved think, the way our society operates. He says that the world, the unsaved, our society in general looks at the standards of God's Word, and they seem very foolish. Yet, God's wisdom is found in His Word, so he is saying there is a great deal of confusion in the world's wisdom. Our society is dominated by those who are unsaved; our society is dominated by those who do not look at things with God's wisdom. Society looks at things very differently than God looks at things.

Notice another phrase in verse 18, and I really want to zero in on this phrase in more detail: “Let no man deceive himself.” The word “deceive” is a translation of a Greek word which means “that which gives a false impression”. W.E. Vine, in his lexicon, says, “that which gives a false impression whether by appearance or statement or influence.” No matter how the false impression is given, a false impression is given. It may be something that is said; it may be just the way things look; it may be just something that is implied to give a false impression. Then notice also the phrase is, “let no man deceive himself.” If we were to trace this word through the New Testament, we would find that it occurs about 27 times, and it occurs most frequently in regard to two things. Almost invariably the word “deceive” in the New Testament is used with one of these two things–either money or lust. That is a good example of the meaning of the word. It certainly fits the description, doesn't it? Nothing is as deceitful as money or lust. Both of them lead to a false basis for life. It is very easy to get the impression that if you have money, you are automatically important.

Think carefully about what I am saying here. A person may have money, and he may or he may not be important, but he is not important just because of the money. Particularly is that true in God's sight. It may be true to some extent in the eyes of the world, but in God's sight, money is totally irrelevant. God has given some believers great amounts of money. God has allowed and enabled some believers to make great amounts of money. There is nothing sinful about money in and of itself, but money can be very deceitful because we can give ourselves to the accumulation of money and get far from God's principles in that overwhelming desire to accumulate money; or we can be deceived into thinking that if we do have some money, we are important or because someone else has some money, they are important. God's standards are that money is totally irrelevant. It is a very important thing if it is used for God's principles according to God's standards, but money in and of itself does not make a person important or wise. Money is a very deceitful thing.

By the same token, lust is a very deceitful thing. If you give yourself to sexual desire, it leaves you with the impression that you are going to find excitement and stimulation and one thrill after another, and that is a lie. That is a deceitful thing because the law of diminishing returns soon makes a person a slave to lust, and it is not more and more fulfilling; in fact, it is just the opposite. So, money and lust are very deceitful things. They are not the only deceitful things, but they are the things the Scripture mentions most often. So Paul says, “Do not allow yourself to be deceived. If you make human wisdom and the personalities of mere men your standard, then you are going to be deceived about God's principles, about God's standards.” So, according to verse 18, there is confusion in human wisdom.

Contrast to Human Wisdom

In verses 19 and 20, he gives the contrast to human wisdom. Notice in verse 19:

I Corinthians 3

19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

These two verses are quotations of Old Testament verses. It is interesting to notice how often the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament. You could reconstruct almost all of the Old Testament just by going through the New Testament and picking out the Old Testament verses. The last part of verse 19 is a quotation of Job, chapter 5, verse 13; and verse 20 is a quotation from Psalm 94, verse 11. Both of those are Old Testament statements about God's view of human wisdom. If nothing else, it verifies that the Bible is consistent about this point. In the Old Testament, in David's day, even in Job's day–Job may be the earliest believer in God that is recorded, time-wise–it was true that God's standards of wisdom are far different from the standards of the world. These verses speak clearly for themselves, I think.

There is a passage in the New Testament that articulates this perhaps more clearly than these verses here in I Corinthians. Turn, please, to James, chapter 3, verse 13. These verses draw this contrast between worldly wisdom and godly wisdom:

James 3

13Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

These verses makes very clear that there are two kinds of wisdom at work in the world today. First, in verses 13-16, there is the wrong kind of wisdom. There is the wisdom that we have been calling the wisdom of the world. Notice its description there in verse 15:

James 3

15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

That is a description of the world's wisdom. It sounds just like the Corinthian church, doesn't it? There was confusion and all kinds of evil works. People were at each other's throats. Even though they were Christians, they were suing each other in court, and there were sexual sins in the church. All kinds of things were going on. Notice that James says this kind of wisdom is selfish; it is sensual; in fact, he says it is demonic. This kind of thinking is dominated by Satan. That does not mean that everyone who does not look at things from God's standpoint is a Satan worshipper, although there is more Satan worship going on even in our city than most of us would care to admit. It does say that there is a difference in God's wisdom and human wisdom, and one of the factors in human wisdom is that it is influenced by Satan, and Satan is very subtle and very clever.

A great deal of what he accomplishes is far away from the Satan worship that goes on. Satan is interested in anything that will keep us from accepting God's standards. If he can get us a little bit away from God's standards, then that is enough for him, just so we don't live by God's standards. It doesn't matter to him how far off God's standards we are. James says very clearly that this kind of wisdom is demonic. It is influenced by Satan; it is used by Satan.

As we look at the Corinthian church, and as we look at Abilene Bible Church, that shouldn't surprise us because in the Corinthian church, they were depending upon the wrong kind of wisdom. They were depending on human wisdom; they were basing the acceptance of their leaders on totally human standards–who was the most eloquent, who was the best educated, who had been around the most, who had the most influence among the Christians in general. Those were the standards by which the Corinthians were deciding that “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” or “I am of Peter”. They were looking at those kind of standards.

Description of God's Wisdom

Put all that together and you will realize that wisdom that does not come from God is based purely on intellect or education or culture or family background or those kinds of things. Coming back to the text, in verse 17, there is the description of God's wisdom. Look at verse 17 again:

James 3

17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

Let me ask you. Think very, very carefully for just a moment about your life. We are talking in general about the lordship of Christ in the local church, but as we have repeated over and over again in our study, the local church is made up of individuals; and we are finding that the lordship of Christ in the local church is based on the lordship of Christ in your life and in mine. If this church is going to be a church that exalts Jesus Christ, it is going to be because you exalt Jesus Christ in your life and because I exalt Him in mine and because together we exalt Jesus Christ in our own individual lives.

Let me ask you to think back over your activities of the past week. If God's wisdom is characterized by gentleness and peaceableness and willingness to yield and mercifulness and good fruits and a lack of hypocrisy, the decisions that you made last week, the actions that you have pursued, the way you have treated your family, does the wisdom which you have been following come from God? Is it characterized by these things in verse 17, or is it more like what we saw in the verses just above this? Is the wisdom upon which you base your life godly wisdom or it is worldly wisdom? You be the judge. If the decisions that you make and lifestyle that you follow is a life of purity and peaceableness and being willing to yield and without hypocrisy, then you can be assured that your wisdom is coming from God. If it is not, then you need to re-evaluate the standards by which you are living your life.

Both James and I Corinthians are addressed to Christians, people who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. These are not the plan of salvation. You do not become a Christian by becoming peaceable and pure and willing to yield. There are some who would tell you that, but we know that the Scripture says that is not how you become a Christian. This is the plan after salvation. It is possible for you and for me as believers in Jesus Christ to live by the world's standards of wisdom. Where is your wisdom coming from? How are your standards established? It is spelled out very clearly right here in the Scripture the description of those two kinds of wisdom; and the two kinds of wisdom, as you can plainly see, are extremely different from each other. There is a tremendous contrast between them.

Conclusion About Human Wisdom

Turn back, please, to I Corinthians, for the third thing that we want to think about as we are thinking about the pointlessness of creating celebrities. We have seen that there is confusion in human wisdom and that human wisdom is contrary to God's wisdom, so in verse 21, Paul draws a conclusion about human wisdom. Notice in verse 21:

I Corinthians 3

21Therefore [”therefore” is always a word of conclusion, based on what we have said before this] let no man glory in men…

What he is saying is: “Since there is confusion in human wisdom, and since there is such a contrast between God's wisdom and human wisdom, here is the conclusion that we should draw: Don't boast in men.” Recognize that Paul is using their boasting in men and their divisions and dividing up around this man and that man as a principle of the Christian life. We could apply this not only to exalting men, but to many other things in the Christian life. Basically what he is saying is, “Since these things are true, don't base your life on human wisdom.” One example of human wisdom is boasting in men; but the principle is, do not exalt human wisdom.

Possessions of Christians

The last part of the verse tells why:

I Corinthians 3

21Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;

That leads to the next point. We don't have to boast in men because of the possessions of common Christians listed in the last part of verse 21 and going on through verse 23. We don't have to boast in men, we don't have to exalt men because God has provided us not only with prominent Christian teachers to help us in our Christian life, but notice again in verse 21, “…all things are yours.” Paul would be saying to the Corinthians, “God has given you not only Paul and Apollos and Cephas, but He has given you all things.” He would say to those who are exalting Paul, “Look, God has given you Paul, and you should be thankful that you have the Apostle Paul to guide you; but God has also given you Apollos. Why limit yourself to one teacher? God has also given you Peter and Apollos–in fact, all things are yours,” he says.

These verses are addressed to all of us, not just to spiritual giants, not just to those who have made it spiritually, those who have arrived; but these are addressed to every Christian. This is something that every Christian needs to know. Look at the example of possessions in verse 22:

I Corinthians 3

22Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;

There is tremendous food for thought in that verse. Notice that he begins the list of possessions with the very men that they were exalting–Paul, Apollos, and Peter. As I said a moment ago, you don't have to limit yourself to one of those men. They are all for you. God has given you all of those men. Why limit yourself to one? It goes much beyond that. He has given you the whole world, the verse says.

I Timothy, chapter 4, verse 4, says that every creature of God is good and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. I Timothy, chapter 6, verse 17, says that God gives us all things richly to enjoy. I Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 15, says all things are for your sakes. Come back to verse 22 of I Corinthians, chapter 3, and he gives us some examples of those things. First of all, he says that the ministry and ministers are God's provision for believers–Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Joe Temple, Tim Temple, and on and on. Ministers are God's provision for Christians. God has given us many ministers, many Bible teachers, many expositors. To gather around one of those men, to gather around the graduates of one particular seminary or one particular Bible college, to use those kinds of things as our standard is to limit what God has provided for us. The Scripture also tells us, of course, that we need to search the Scriptures and see if what any teacher is telling us is so. Even at that, God has provided the ministry and ministers for Christians.

But, he goes on to say, the world, the orderly system of the universe, belongs to believers. This is something you may not have thought of before. The beautiful scenery at the beach, the beautiful mountains, the national parks, anything you can think of as the good and pleasant things of the world are for believers. Unbelievers are just getting in on what God has provided for us as believers. We ought to be able to get first place in line when we go to some of these places because God created those for us. If you can convince the gatekeeper of that, then that's okay. I doubt if you can convince very many guys at the ticket booth that you should go first, but God says those are for you. God has created all of these things for believers to enjoy.

Gifts of Life and Death

Then he says “or life”. Life certainly belongs to believers. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” God has given us life, and He has provided that we can have the most abundant kind of life.

Then notice “or death”. How can death be a provision from God? Death is for believers because the Scripture says “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Think about what Hebrews, chapter 2, says. Verses 14 and 15 say that when Christ died on the Cross, He destroyed him who had the power of death, that is the Devil, and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Do you know that there are people who live their whole life in fear of death? That is why a gun is such an effective deterrent, because people are afraid to die. That doesn't mean that Christians shouldn't be afraid of guns, but there is a sense in which God, when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, removed the fear of death from us. We have nothing to worry about with death–“absent from the body, present with the Lord”. God has even given us death; He has delivered that to us. It is not something we need to be afraid of any more. It is His gift to us. It is among the things that He has given us.

Our Possessions Through Christ

These are samples of the possessions of common Christians. Every Christian can have these things that are listed in verse 22 and in these other verses that we have referred to. But in verse 23, we should notice the source of these possessions. Notice:

I Corinthians 3

23And ye are Christ's;…

How is it that every Christian can have victory over life and over death and over the pressures and problems of the world? Why is that? Make no mistake about it. It is because we belong to Christ, and therefore these things belong to us. There is no other reason. It is not because we have meditated long enough and been able to get our mind all put together. It is not because we have found the right kind of analyst who can help us understand what our grandmother did to us that has made us the kind of terrible person we are. That is the world's wisdom. It is because we know Jesus Christ and because Jesus Christ has made us accepted in God's sight. God looks at you and me, having accepted Jesus Christ, and He sees a perfectly righteous person, and because of all that, all these things are ours. That is why we have all these things. That is why they are the possessions of common Christians, of all of us as Christians.

Doesn't that set things in perspective? Why exalt a man? Why exalt a movement? Why exalt a seminary? All things are ours. We don't have to be limited to these human distinctions. It is human wisdom. Why exalt a human creed? Why exalt a particular era of Christian history? Why have our motivation based upon what we can attain and acquire? All those things are already ours.

The Position of Jesus Christ

That brings us to the final statement of verse 23, the position of Jesus Christ:

I Corinthians 3

23…and Christ is God's.

Don't glory in men. There is no man great enough to glory in. There is no human being that deserves your glory and your attention. There is no human being who deserves to be the focal point of your life around which you base your understanding of Scripture, your standards of life. I used to know a man who is in Heaven now, who used to say, “Men and machinery will fail you.” That's a pretty good rule of life, you know. Men and machinery will fail you sooner or later. That includes those leaders that we exalt. Sooner or later you will be disappointed if you exalt men. Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of glorying in, and He is worthy of all glory. Why? Because Christ is God's. That is the motivation of the ministry. That is the basis for how we face each day and the tests of each day and the decisions of each day. We belong to Christ, and Christ is God's. Because of that, God looks at us as perfectly righteous. He has forgotten about our sin. He forgives any new sin that we commit. He has given us all things richly to enjoy. We don't even have to worry about death because of Jesus Christ. That is the motivation for the ministry, the fact that we are personally related to Jesus Christ and through Him, to God. That is what keeps us going.

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