11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul has just said, when completeness comes, what is in part disappears (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.
The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.
However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:
1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christs death and ending with the return of Christ in power.
2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view based partly on Gordon Fees refutation: It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider mature our rather totally cerebral and domesticated but bland brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts!
3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the rights of the individual believer to express their particular spiritual gift. To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Pauls purpose.
In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge. Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, we shall see fact to face (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.
Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Pauls letters (Rom. 5:1-5;Gal. 5:5-6). Garland explains: Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.
Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 623.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 645, footnote 23.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.
Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.
If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?
(ESV) Romans 3:13-19
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13–14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15–17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”
C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is “striking.” Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someone’s death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a drug cartel!
For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people they need something which they do not need. Consider what children tell parents and what single adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!
While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.” That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.
NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?
Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16–17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7–8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15–17 falls right into place.
Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:
The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13–17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.
Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word “law” (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of law probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase “under the law.”
When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. ‘Shutting the mouth’ connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”
The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.” Oh my!
So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!
The longest day
How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!
1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?
2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.
“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)
In this chapter I’m will try to help you to feel less spiritually knowledgeable so that you can learn something. In fact, if I can help you feel as spiritually informed as a seven-year-old child, then I will have succeeded beyond my highest expectation. That probably sounds like complete nonsense, but I’m convinced that it’s wise nonsense.
You see, there’s more than one way to teach and to learn. Jesus once told his disciples, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Jesus knew that what his disciples considered completely settled about God and about themselves was blocking them from further spiritual growth. He challenged them to become more childlike so that they might grow up in the things of God.
Like Jesus’ first disciples, we have each absorbed certain erroneous ideas and habits that we have cast in personal concrete. Such barriers of the mind must be broken down for us to make spiritual progress.
Jesus often used paradoxes to shatter personal complacency. One expert in biblical literature defines a paradox as “an apparent contradiction which, upon reflection, is seen to express a genuine truth.”
Paradoxes help us learn, because they sneak up on us from a totally fresh perspective. They force us to stop and think like few other techniques can. The title of this chapter, “Wise Nonsense,” expresses a paradox. It seems contradictory because wisdom and nonsense describe opposite ideas. On reflection, we realize that some truths sound like nonsense but actually express the very wisdom of God.
Jesus expressed such a truth when he said, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Seeming contradictions abound in his teaching. Such paradoxes give us an opportunity to go back and become a little more childlike so that we can see God’s truth like spiritual adults.
The Rich Man’s Poverty
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
With a love for vivid action, Mark’s Gospel describes a young man dashing up to Jesus, falling on his knees, and repeatedly asking him what personal deeds would lead to eternal life. The young man’s question unveiled the very heart and soul of common ideas about salvation in his time. First-century Judaism taught salvation through certain merit-producing works. We might call it salvation by the “merit system.” This rich man wanted to add eternal life to the bulging portfolio of his wealth.
The Jews considered the Mosaic Law a way of earning merit with God. The Pharisees had listed over six hundred commandments from the law and then had elaborated those even further to provide additional ways of making points. The Jews imagined a steadily accumulating account of merits that God would weigh in his balances at the end of a person’s life. In the time of Jesus, the law-abiding Jew fully expected the balance to tip in his favor.
On the other hand, they regarded Gentiles as totally without any prospect of salvation because they lacked knowledge of God’s merit system. That whole concept guided the wording of the rich man’s question: “Good teacher . . . what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
Jesus responded to the question in strong terms; he attacked being addressed as “good teacher” (Mark 10:17). Jesus threw the whole idea of human merit into the trash by saying, “No one is good — except God alone” (Mark 10:18). In criticizing the man’s question, Jesus began to cut away at the cultural, foundational ideas that undergirded it.
As long as men think they can attain goodness through human works, they are not ready to attain the only goodness that will ever bring eternal life. Only by renouncing their own goodness can a person obtain the gift of Christ’s goodness through faith. Jesus bluntly shot the man’s question down because it was hindering his approach to God. In effect, Jesus expressed a paradox: only by denying any merit do we gain merit.
Jesus next focused the man’s attention on the commandments of the Law. Here the man revealed the depth of his blindness. By claiming that he had kept all of the Law since he was a boy, he had missed the whole point of the Law!
A sincere Israelite who tried to keep the Law would soon realize that he could not possibly do it. His failure should lead him to throw himself upon the mercy of God. But the insidiousness of Pharisaism lay in the fact that it had diluted God’s law and made it humanly attainable. Such a heinous deception had captured this man’s mind.
In trying to reach this rich man, Jesus moved him from something hard to something even harder for him. After challenging him with the Law, Jesus then confronted him with the need to give away his wealth. Paradoxically, Jesus told the man that he had to give up all of his treasure if he wished to have treasure.
That idea also struck at the foundations of Jewish piety, which taught that charitable gifts, fasting, and prayer were the three best ways of pleasing God. The rich were thought to have heaven “in the bag” because throughout a lifetime they could dole out little token gifts from their great wealth. The Pharisees forbade anyone from giving away all of their wealth at one time because that would be throwing away salvation — or so they taught.
By asking the man to give away his wealth, Jesus was taking away the best hope for salvation that the man had, according to the thinking of his day. In essence, Jesus told the man that the only way he could get to heaven was to give away the exact thing that he thought would get him there. Give away all to gain all. What wise nonsense!
Many commentators have likely misunderstood Mark 10:21a, which says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” It is often said that Jesus felt some special regard for this man. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Mark was simply telling us that Jesus looked at the man and then loved him in the full, biblical sense of the word.
Biblical love does not consist of some warm and fuzzy feeling toward someone else, but rather it is an act of self-giving for the benefit of another person. Jesus loved this man by revealing to him what was blocking his way to heaven. Paradoxically, Jesus’ love brought this man shock and sorrow. In Mark 10:22 we are told that “the man’s face fell,” which means that he was both shocked and appalled by what Jesus had said.
While Jesus was trying to reach through mental barriers to save this rich man, the disciples were standing beside him, taking it all in. Their heads were swimming with confusion and their hearts were filling with despair.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Jesus’ first statement hit the disciples like a ton of bricks: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). In telling us that “the disciples were amazed,” Mark used a Greek verb that indicates they didn’t get over their astounded state quickly. Something shattering happened right in front of their eyes and yet defied belief. Jesus knew that his own disciples held the same erroneous beliefs about wealth that the rich man did!
Jesus then treated the disciples much as he did the rich man, by moving from something hard for them to accept to something even harder. Jesus had them off balance and then knocked them further off balance so that they might learn. The approach is counter-intuitive but very effective.
With a piece of exaggerated humor, Jesus took the biggest animal in Israel, the camel, and imagined it passing through the smallest opening, the eye of a needle. By implication, Jesus was saying that it is impossible for someone who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom of God.
The effect of Christ’s words was to bring his disciples to the point of despair. Mark wrote that the disciples were “even more amazed”; the Greek verb means “to be overwhelmed.” Jesus had knocked flat all their ideas about wealth. In despair, the dumbfounded disciples turned to one another and wondered how anyone could possibly be saved.
That exchange led to two more paradoxes. The first is that men must reach despair in order to find hope. The disciples had to abandon all hope in the methods of this world so that they might gain the only true hope. Jesus extended that hope to them with another paradox: with God the impossible becomes possible. Their hope did not lie in themselves but in him.
The entire sequence, including both the rich man and the disciples, expresses a profound paradox about wealth. Wealth seems to men of all ages to bring the greatest security, but that security is deceptive. By relying on wealth, they fail to seek the only security that really does exist, security in God. So, paradoxically, the greatest security brings the greatest peril.
Those who have everything stand in the greatest danger of ending life with nothing. Being overwhelmed by Christ’s words, the disciples reacted like the rich man. Yet, unlike him, they did not leave Jesus. That illustrates the vast gulf that lay between those who responded to Jesus and those who walked away from him.
After wiping away the thoughts that his disciples cherished so deeply, Jesus then began to build new ways of thinking. They must leave behind cultural patterns and ways of thought, which lead to dead ends of impossibility. They must instead trust in the Lord, with whom all things become possible.
The Last First
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Quite understandably, Peter sought reassurance from Jesus. In reply, Jesus acknowledged that his disciples had given up both families and inheritances for his sake. As a result, they would win the grand prize. Paradoxically, they forsook all to receive even more in its place. Those who seem according to the standards of the world to have it made, those using the world’s patterns, will in fact be last in the age to come. By contrast, the disciples of Jesus, whom the religious establishment considered to be the last, will prove in the age to come to be the children of the Father, and therefore the first of all.
Paul puts it in another way in 1 Corinthians chapter 1. The world considers the cross foolishness, but the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The very thing the world considers laughable is the thing that God will use to save those who will put their faith in his Son. Paradoxically, through death (at the cross) comes life (for all who believe).
I hope that you can see how Jesus used paradoxes to get his disciples to think new thoughts about God. He knocked them off balance and brought them to the point of despair so that they might find the only true hope.
Becoming Childlike Adults in Christ
I want to apply this passage by asking you to rethink some things in a manner similar to the way Jesus taught his first disciples. In setting aside long-established ideas, we can become more like children for a little while, and more pliable in Christ’s hands. Use the following ideas to guide you:
1. One of our greatest needs is to develop Christ’s viewpoint on life’s complex issues. As you study the Scriptures, here are two suggestions:
Meditate the most on the verses you like the least.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? Such behavior would be paradoxical, and it would have a significant purpose. When God says something that you find most uncomfortable, that is probably the very time when the theological system in your head needs to be changed!
Look for situations in which Jesus behaves in a way that would feel embarrassing or very unnatural for you.
Remember how Jesus treated the unsaved rich man. He didn’t deal with him the way any contemporary Christian would. What can we learn from that? In teaching his disciples, Jesus first knocked them off balance and then knocked them totally down! How can we take advantage of this novel method in terms of teaching and learning in our own lives?
By carefully evaluating such unusual approaches, we can pick up profound insights about our own ways of doing things. Such situations certainly should lead us to wonder whether we derive our own patterns of behavior from our surrounding culture or from Jesus.
2. Things are not always what they seem to be. Wealth and accomplishment can deceive us by promising something they can’t deliver. Wealth promises security, but there is no lasting security except in the Lord.
Great or numerous accomplishments can deceive us into thinking that we are doing something of lasting value. But only those actions that serve Christ, his people, and his kingdom will truly endure and be rewarded.
Thousands of years ago, three pharaohs each erected a great pyramid outside of Cairo; each pyramid took over twenty years to build. Can you personally name a single one of these men? Can you imagine putting out such vast effort without even accomplishing lasting fame?
Where is your security based? Is it based in your bank account? Or in your good acts?
Will your busy actions stand the test of time?
3. Some of the things that the Lord calls on us to do bring us struggle, because our life experiences cry out, “That won’t work!” But the very essence of living by faith is doing things his way even when we can’t see what the consequences will be. The rich man considered Christ’s ideas nonsense. By contrast, the disciples were willing to follow him even when the road led them to despair.
4. What are your two greatest strengths, personally or spiritually? I want you to think of something concrete about yourself and even to write it down.
Are you reliable, loving, or intelligent? What do people value about you? Are you giving, articulate, honest or kind?
When I filled in those blanks, I put down knowledge first. A great deal of my life has focused on accumulating and teaching knowledge. But, you know there is something paradoxical about knowledge, because Jesus couldn’t teach some of the scribes anything. They already considered themselves so smart that they didn’t think there was anything that an untutored teacher from Galilee could tell them.
Here is the point: have you considered the seemingly absurd possibility that your greatest strengths may be your areas of greatest weakness in your walk with Christ?
What you do best may need some rethinking and readjustment. The purpose of that is not to do away with your strengths, but to keep them from becoming weaknesses.
As believers we need to be willing to open every door of our lives, including those areas that we consider totally settled. We need to re-evaluate even our greatest strengths so that Jesus can make us ever more effective for him.
A Final Word
As strange as it may sound, I hope I have helped you feel less certain about your beliefs, about yourself, and about how to live for Christ. If you feel a little more like a child, a little off balance, then this chapter has met its goal.
I always loved downhill skiing. I found it exhilarating to ski up to a steep place and look down. The thing that’s tough about it is that the way to ski a steep run is to lean downhill and begin to pick up speed. That doesn’t sound right, does it!
To go that fast is scary and seems like the last thing you would want to do. But — paradoxically — up to a certain point, the faster your skis go, the more control they can give you. And so, what feels like the worst thing you can do is actually the thing that can bring you the most stability and control.
So, if you feel a little off balance by what has been said, don’t fight it. Take your uncertainty and your new concerns right where a child should go — to the Father. Study his Word. Pray for renewed wisdom. What you will find is that Jesus will take your weakened convictions and rebuild them, just as he did for his first disciples.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 10, Jesus must pause in his daunting journey to Jerusalem and correct disciples who are scrambling for personal power in a manner more suited to Herod’s palace than to their Lord’s trek to the cross.
Cancer is a word that ignites ugly fears. No disease has captured the attention of Americans the way cancer has. That is strange, because health statistics prove that heart disease kills far more Americans than cancer does. Yet when opinion surveys are taken in America, most people will predictably rank cancer as a greater killer than heart disease.
From these facts, it appears that we are easily distracted by things that have a strong emotional component. Cancer seizes our attention and summons strong feelings. Other things that are dull and simple, even though vitally important, may easily be forced from our conscious minds.
In this media-driven age, we watch television programs with multi-million dollar budgets on our HD-TVs and become increasingly attuned to flash. One communications expert has said that our society has become so used to over-stimulated communication that it takes sensory overkill to get people’s attention.
The Leading Spiritual Killer
Happily, only a fraction of us will ever have to face cancer or heart disease. But I invite your attention to an insidious killer that threatens every one of us to one extent or another. First, be warned that this killer comes disguised in dullness and simplicity, so you are already conditioned to ignore it. Some of you will feel little urgency when I tell you what it is, and that’s too bad.
This silent assassin is spiritual heart disease, a problem Jesus treated with utmost seriousness. In fact, he spoke about it in his very first parable. Jesus warned people from the outset that, if they wanted to understand anything else that he was going to say, then they had to deal with this problem.
In the early part of his ministry Christ had gained wide acceptance and popularity. Because of his great miracles, people thronged from the entire region to see him. Once again the spectacular had captured men’s minds.
But Jesus had drawn some unfavorable attention as well, and agents from Jerusalem began to track him around. Pharisees and Sadducees could always be found near him, opposing what he said. They couldn’t deny that Jesus had great power to work miracles, so they had come up with an explanation.
They acknowledged Jesus’ miraculous powers, but said that he drew them from Satan rather than from God. In response, Jesus rightly accused them of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. As such opposition hardened against him, Jesus spoke increasingly in parables. One such parable focused on spiritual heart disease.
The Field and the Farmer
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Jesus had been traveling from town to town in Galilee in the manner of an itinerant rabbi. He was spreading the word about the kingdom of God and how men might enter it. Some who heard trusted in Christ; others flatly rejected him; and still others had every response in between. The parable speaks of various ways that people respond to the Word of God.
Jesus said that some of the seed fell along the path (Luke 8:5), which seems like a strange place to be sowing seeds. But the farmers of Israel had clever ways of reducing the labor involved in planting a crop. They would take the family donkey and strap a sack of seed on his back. After cutting a small hole in the sack, the donkey would be released to wander at will around the property dropping seed. Some seed dribbled out onto the path. After the donkey had done his work, the farmer would simply go out and sow seed in the spots that the animal had missed.
The seed that fell on the path suffered a predictable fate — “it was trampled on” (Luke 8:5). The Greek verb can mean that something is physically stepped on, but it also has the figurative meaning of treating something with disdain. We have the same idiom in English. Most of us have seen pictures of foreign nationals trampling on an American flag to show their contempt. Trampling on God’s Word is worse!
The seed on the path didn’t stay for long; it had only a brief opportunity to take root. Soon it was taken away altogether.
The next portion of seed fell on rock (Luke 8:6). Many parts of Israel have thin layers of soil on top of rock shelves. You can’t tell the rock layer is there by looking at the soil, or even by looking at the plants. But as the plants grow larger it soon becomes evident that their root systems have no access to moisture. After a promising start, such plants soon wither under the burning sun.
The seed that falls among the thorn bushes (Luke 8:7) also struggles to live. The thorn bushes compete with the new plants for both moisture and sunlight, making survival difficult.
Only the fourth type of soil, the “good soil” (Luke 8:8), had any production, but what amazing production! As we will see, this yield was God-given.
After telling this simple parable, Jesus did something quite extraordinary: he shouted in a loud voice to the crowd, saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Luke 8:8). Jesus gave his words terrific emphasis in two ways: first, by the intensity of his shout, and second, by a grammatical construction that communicated an added impact to his listeners. The NET Bible says, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” That is outstanding translation!
In the discussion above, I have introduced a small amount of interpretive material, but for a moment put yourself in the place of the original listeners. What would you have known, based upon the simple facts of the parable?
Without interpretation being provided, I doubt if anyone would have known very much. In fact, some who came out to hear the great teacher and miracle worker probably turned to one another and said, “Is that all there is? Is that all he’s going to say? I didn’t need to come out here to hear that!” Some of Christ’s listeners likely turned away and went home in disappointment. Was he testing them?
A Desire to Hear
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’”
The Greek grammar of Luke 8:9 makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples asked him repeatedly what the parable meant. That should lead us to question why they had to demonstrate such persistence.
The simplest answer is that Jesus did not reply to them the first time they asked. He didn’t divulge the meaning of the parable to them immediately. He designed his response to act as a filter, screening out those who were resisting the teachings of the Word of God.
But that approach also met the needs of those who had spiritual hunger, the receptivity of the human heart to spiritual things. So, the ones who didn’t want to know gave up and went away, while those heeding his command to “hear indeed” were granted deep understanding.
The Lord’s method reminds me of what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, when he instructed the disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking so that the door might be opened to them (Matt. 7:7–8). Jesus acknowledged his method by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who described a people who would see, and yet not see, who would hear and yet not hear.
The Parable Interpreted
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:11–15)
In interpreting the parable, Jesus never revealed the identity of the farmer, but it seems obvious that he is the farmer. Most commentators agree on this.
Jesus interpreted the soils by describing four kinds of responses by the human heart to the Word of God.
Resistant (Luke 8:12), on the path;
Opportunistic (Luke 8:13), on rocky ground;
Distracted (Luke 8:14), among thorns;
Receptive (Luke 8:15), on good soil.
Let’s study each type of heart in detail.
The Resistant Heart
The first soil, the soil on the path, represents the resistant heart. I find that Christians who study Luke 8:12 often miss part of the meaning by jumping to the concluding part of the verse. Notice first that these people do hear. Even so, the things Jesus said do not find a reception in their hearts. Like the hard-packed ground of the path, the soil of their hearts doesn’t take in the seed.
As a result, the seed has no opportunity to penetrate. After a brief period, the devil removes any further opportunity “from their hearts.” Here Jesus plainly identified the soil with the condition of the heart. He was talking about spiritual heart trouble and making a diagnosis. Such people have had ample opportunity, but, by hardening their hearts, they have failed to make any use of their moment.
The Opportunistic Heart
The second soil represents the opportunistic heart. By “opportunistic” I mean someone who has — as Charles Dickens said of one of his characters — “a keen eye for the main chance.” The opportunist asks, “What’s in it for me right now?”
Jesus intentionally used the Greek middle voice for the words translated “receive” and “fall away.” The middle voice frequently implies self-benefit. Such people either embrace the Word or reject it, depending upon whether it seems to benefit their purpose at the moment.
Christ made it quite clear that the beginning of hardship leads such a person to see no further benefit in hearing the Word. That’s when they fall away. It may be that some of the people Jesus was speaking about had been influenced by the Pharisees’ charges that he worked his miracles through the power of Satan. Such criticism could have easily deflected the opportunistic heart from the Word of God.
After all, such a person could expect expulsion from their synagogue for following Jesus. What immediate benefit would that bring?
The Distracted Heart
The seed that fell among the thorns represents the distracted heart. In my own spiritual heart, this danger threatens most. At times I allow the worries and concerns of this world to crowd out concern for what God is doing. Riding in the car listening to an all-news radio station constantly injects worries about economic troubles, terrorism, pandemics, street crime, and many other things.
I’m not suggesting total isolation from those things, but I find that my heart is too often distracted by them. In most cases I can do absolutely nothing about the problem, and yet it occupies my conscious attention. The common availability of a 24/7 news cycle means that lots of people are getting paid to ask questions and raise fears.
Jesus warned that distraction comes not only in a negative form, but in a positive one, too. The riches and pleasures of this world can also occupy the central focus of our lives.
In many parts of the Western world we have an unprecedented chance to enjoy the pleasures and challenges of life. We need not regard such opportunities as inherently wrong, because they aren’t. But the pursuit of pleasures can achieve such dominance in our lives that it crowds out more important things, such as drawing closer to God.
The dull and simple challenge of nurturing our own spiritual lives pales by comparison to the flash and glitter of our iPad or Internet feed. How tragic it is if we can only be reached by the sensory overkill of our culture and not by the spiritual challenge of life with Christ! At this writing, Facebook absorbs enormous amounts of time from Christians who ought to know better.
I’m not alone in this problem, because we are a distracted culture. It concerns me that so many people in church hear God’s Word, walk out the door and soon sit down to watch two back-to-back professional football games. (I often watch, too.) No one will keep this balance for us. Our spiritual heart condition is our personal responsibility.
Jesus says that the distracted person never matures. The stunted plant cannot produce mature fruit. Failure to mature always has a high price.
The Receptive Heart
The good soil represents the receptive heart that eventually produces tremendous, God-given bounty. Just as in the case of the other three kinds of people, the receptive person hears the Word of God. The difference is that they cling to it. Actually, the Greek word gives the idea of holding onto something for all you’re worth!
Once I was standing on the deck of a Navy submarine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A helicopter was hovering over me with a long cable and sling hanging down beneath it. They were going to use this rig to lift me from the submarine into the helicopter. Almost the instant I sat down in the sling, the young sailor told me, “Hold onto the cable.” And up I went!
You better believe I held onto that cable! There wasn’t another thing on my mind! That’s the kind of grip that a person with a good and noble heart gives to the truth of God.
But notice that Jesus said that retaining the Word is not enough; the fruitful person must also persevere before producing a crop (Luke 8:15). At this point some of us encounter another cultural stumbling block. Americans don’t persevere very often. Yet a person can’t plant the seeds and reap the crop the next day; nor the next week; nor the next month. It requires persevering care over an extended period of time before the harvest comes. Our cultural emphasis on the instant and the immediate undermines the concept of perseverance.
Many people find it difficult to make commitments and then stick to them. It’s not simply because of difficulties that come along. Distraction often rears its ugly head and draws a person off toward some better offer. That concerns me, because the body of Christ requires commitment at every level. That’s what it’s all about — commitment to Christ and to one another.
16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (Luke 8:16–18)
It’s obvious that most of the parable deals with the issue of salvation rather than Christian living. Jesus began by talking to an audience largely composed of unbelievers (Luke 8:1, 4). Their hope lay in allowing the Word of God to find a place in their own hearts so that they might trust in Jesus and have eternal life.
Yet pertinent principles for Christian living can be drawn from each of the soils, or heart types. Certainly by the time Jesus spoke about persevering to produce a crop, he had gone beyond salvation.
The sober warning that begins in verse 16 was addressed to Jesus’ disciples, who pressed him earnestly so that they might “hear indeed.” They had to take these matters seriously, because God always gives his blessings for a purpose. He has given the Word of God to instruct us, the Spirit of God to dwell within us, and the body of Christ to encourage us so that we can yield an abundant harvest. That’s the meaning of Luke 8:16.
God has lighted the lamp so that it will cast light and accomplish his purpose (Luke 8:16–18). In this indirect way, Jesus challenged his disciples not to waste what God had implanted in their hearts.
Jesus also told them that in the course of time their response would become known. Because there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed in time. By application to us, that means that what we do with the Word of God will ultimately show up in our lives.
In his final challenge to his disciples to hear carefully Jesus said, “Whoever has will be given more” (Luke 8:18). That’s the outcome I want in my life and in the lives of other believers.
Testing and Healing Our Hearts
Use the following concepts to evaluate your own heart condition and your behavior.
1. In light of our Lord’s parable, how would you evaluate your general heart condition — your response to Christ and his Word?
The American mindset in the 1970s became so self-interested that it was labeled the “me generation.” Self-interest can eat up everything else! Unfortunately, in 2011 things are not much different.
Or perhaps you are distracted. Facebook, sports on cable television, ferrying children to activities and other things already make that possible.
2. One way to determine whether we are receptive to God’s Word is to evaluate our behavior.
Do you think that God’s principles are increasingly being integrated into your behavior as time goes on?
What kind of feedback do you get from others about your commitment to Christ and growth in him?
I hope that they tell you that you are becoming more mature in Christ and that they see growth in your life. You probably won’t get any feedback unless you overtly ask for it. Certainly I see value in each of us monitoring their own spiritual condition, but we tend to believe what we want to believe. Others may give a more realistic evaluation.
A Final Word
In every phase of life we must pay attention to priorities. I don’t think I was ever struck so much by that fact as when I went to my first Dallas Cowboys football game. My father had bought end zone seats, and we were watching the game through binoculars.
Pittsburgh had the ball, and their linemen came up to take position at the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh’s quarterback was looking hard at the Dallas defense as he walked slowly toward the line to take the snap. The Dallas defense was jumping all around trying to confuse him.
Distracted by the movements of the defense, the quarterback put his hand under the right guard to take the snap. Then he called the snap signal and the center — one person to his left — snapped the football straight up into the air. There was a wild struggle to catch the loose football when it came down.
The quarterback may grasp the defense perfectly, but if he doesn’t get the snap from center, he’s in big trouble! The distracted quarterback had forgotten about priorities.
Our top priority is to deal with our own spiritual heart condition. Only in that way can we yield a crop “a hundred times more than was sown.”
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 7, we see Jesus in the midst of his ministry. The challenge was that everyone had an agenda for Jesus to follow. How did he manage those pressures?
Revelation 21:22–27 Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God– the All-Powerful– and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there). 26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (NET Bible)
Keep your eye on the ball!
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). We have often understood this statement to refer to the gospel by having it mean light of salvation. But could Jesus have been telling us about the life we will live with him in eternity?
Grant Osborne notes that most Jewish literature on the New Jerusalem puts the temple at its center, as in Ezekiel 40–48. But the flaw in that thinking is that the rationale for the temple was as a place for the people to encounter God. But in Revelation 21 we find that God “physically resides among his people (Rev. 21:3), and the entire city has been made into a Holy of Holies (21:6).”
As John continues to contrast the holy city with the present age, he says the city needs no sun and moon due to the illumination provided by the radiance of God in Jesus, the Lamb (21:23).
Rev. 21:24–26 is very challenging for all commentators. Craig Keener explains: “The image of the conversion of the nations (21:24) is a problematic one if pressed on a literal level against other images in Revelation. One possibility is that God creates new peoples for his saints to rule, but because this is not stated, commentators have rarely proposed it.” This rarely proposed idea is exactly the solution that I advocate to resolve this mystery.
The key problem is that the phrase “kings of the earth” (21:24) has uniformly served as a reference to those who will persecute the saints, gather with the beast, oppose the second coming of Christ, and then probably rise in rebellion when Satan leads the nations against the camp of the saints at the end of Christ’s earthly rule (see 16:14; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3; 18:9; 19:19; 20:8). So, it is sufficiently difficult to see these wicked kings coming to the New Jerusalem to worship — in the new heaven and new earth — that a few interpreters have said they were brought back from the lake of fire and converted! That idea is so contrary to the theology of both Revelation and the entire New Testament that it has gained no support.
The alternative is to take God more seriously: “For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore” (Isa. 65:17 ). I suggest that in this new creation there is no fall into sin and the result is the worship of God in Jerusalem by the leaders from nations around the newly created world.
This potential solution is far more complex than the usual fuzzy view of eternal life that most Christians hold. It may not express the actual course of events, but no viable alternative to the mystery of the “kings of the earth” in 21:24–26 has been proposed.
No matter what God will show to be the solution to these questions, the nations will flock to the light of the Lamb, and those whose names are in the book of life (21:17) will see it all!
Jesus Christ is the focal point of the new world!
It is so difficult for us to imagine the new heaven and earth. As I write, the sun is shining and an electric light illumines my work area, but in the New Jerusalem the light from the Lamb’s presence will bathe every activity. Perhaps the biggest difference in the world-to-come is that it will focus far more attention and activity on Jesus than our fallen world does.
Jesus said to his enemies: “I am going away, and you will look for me but will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 8:21). Rejoice that every Christian can come where Jesus is going!
 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 505.
 John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966) 327, and Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 397, adopt certain parts of the literal view I have expressed, but they back away in different ways. G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1098, retreats into symbolism, as usual. Osborne, Revelation, 762-763, discusses the issue but presents no credible resolution.
Revelation 21:15–19a The angel who spoke to me had a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city and its foundation stones and wall. 16 Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal). 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits according to human measurement, which is also the angel’s. 18 The city’s wall is made of jasper and the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. 19 The foundations of the city’s wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone. (NET Bible)
A city like no other
Suppose I told you that you could have anything you want. What would you put on the list? Now — would you trade those things for the things God is going to provide you freely in his eternal city?
The information given about the New Jerusalem is not comprehensive, but it suffices to demonstrate that the city of God is a real place that we will call home. No clouds, no harps, no fuzzy, out-of-focus scenes to make it seem like a storage bin for cotton balls.
The first thing John emphasizes about the specifics is the cubic shape of the city (21:16). Grant Osborne explains the significance when he says, “The cube shape matches the shape of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits each direction, 1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8–9).” No barrier exists between sacred and secular. NT scholar Ben Witherington says, “The whole city is a holy temple, for God is with his people throughout the city and they are his temple.”
The city is immense by any current measure, but our calculation of its size depends on the measure assumed for the Greek word stadion, which the standard lexicon defines as: “a measure of distance of about 192 meters.” Using that value, I calculate a cube with dimensions of 1432 miles. The use of different values for this measure — the ancient world was not big on universal standardization — explains how NET says “fourteen hundred miles” (21:16) while the New American Standard Bible says “fifteen hundred miles.” Your mileage may vary. :)
As you can imagine, a city whose dimensions are approximately the distance from Dallas to San Francisco can hold a vast number of redeemed people in an environment that defies description. But commentators are not comfortable with such a size, and most suggest the numbers are symbolic. Perhaps they are, but no one seems to think the number of gates or foundations is symbolic, so there has to be some subjectivity involved in these pronouncements of what is symbolic. I see no reason to discount the vast size of the holy city.
That the wall is so tiny compared to the city (21:17) demonstrates that it is merely decorative, not functional. The city in which the All-Powerful dwells does not even bother to shut its gates (21:25).
Who needs Camelot?
God’s promises are never empty! Abraham received promises from God and yet he remained a wandering sojourner, living in a tent all his life. The author of Hebrews says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Since Abraham will also live in the New Jerusalem, will not his expectation be more than satisfied?
We find it so easy to have cynical, earth-bound thoughts. But Jesus said, “This is impossible for mere humans, but not for God; all things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27). When God is creating our reward, there is no limit to what it may be!
Revelation 21:9–14 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” 10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates. 13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side. 14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (NET Bible)
New Jerusalem as the Holy of Holies: Introduction
I challenge you to examine what the world considers glorious. Just walk through a large bookstore and glance at the covers of a hundred magazines. If that is the pinnacle of human achievement, then I say we must search for true glory somewhere else. What do you think?
Grant Osborne points out the significant fact that Revelation 21:9–22:5 can be divided into three sections: the first describes the prostitute of Babylon (17:1–19:5); the second describes the end of history and final judgment (19:6–21:8); the third describes the wife of the Lamb (21:9–22:5).
Verses 17:1-3 strongly contrast with 21:9–10. The personal choice between the prostitute of Babylon and the wife of the Lamb is a real-time conflict of allegiance for the seven churches in John’s day and it extends to us today.
To continue the comparison, John describes the adornment of the prostitute (17:4; 18:16–17a) and contrasts it with the beauty of the bride (21:11). The adornment of the prostitute was stripped away in a single hour but the beauty of the bride will endure for eternity. The beauty of the New Jerusalem flows from the “glory of God” (21:11), where glory should probably be translated as radiance or splendor. The beauty of the holy city is the beauty of God, and that has no limit!
The presence of a massive city wall is slightly surprising since all enemies have been vanquished. But if the wall does not represent safety, it does again delineate the basic difference between outside and inside. Consider that 22:15 says, “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!” Angels stand at each gate (21:12) — reminding us of the angels who guarded the way into Eden (Gen. 3:24) — and the gates and foundation bear the names of the twelve tribes and twelve apostles to remind us that both believing Israel and the church belong within.
I expect that this more nuanced view of the new heaven and new earth will sound odd to you. Craig Keener explains that “Western Christendom has inherited an allegorical view of heaven” [think of clouds with winged angels playing harps] from the philosophical views of some early interpreters. Instead, we should consider what the Bible says the scene will actually be, both inside and outside:
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain. From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me,” says the Lord. “They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.”
Live inside the New Jerusalem!
As you can tell, living inside the New Jerusalem is our aspiration. The one who makes it possible is the Lamb, a name for Jesus that occurs seven times from 21:9–22:3. It is the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf that makes our life in New Jerusalem possible. There is no other way!
The author of the book of Hebrews encourages us to think like the heroes of faith who lived before us: “They aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). You have a treat in store — true glory!