Don’t get disqualified from service; stay humble and dependent on the grace of Jesus!

The Dangers of Disqualification

Posted: January 17, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 10:1-13, “The Dangers of Disqualification”

No one wants to be disqualified. Whether speaking of athletic competition, political aspirations, or business prospects, if you have your mind set on a particular goal the very last thing you want is for some act in your life to come back and bite you in the form of disqualification. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was famously disqualified from all his titles and future competition when he finally admitted his cheating through the use of doping. Although he remains physically active and fit, he is forever banned from formal cycling competition (and most other endurance sports) due to his deceitful practices.

Sadly, what is perhaps more common than examples of disqualification from sports are examples of disqualification from ministry. How many men once served as pastors or Christian leaders of prominence, who found their reputations ruined due to sin? Moreover, how many men and women have you known who once seemed to have a strong faith, whose faith now seems nonexistent? The rolls are far too long. Sin disqualifies people from service and it is a terrifying danger.

Paul recognized this same danger for himself and the Corinthian Christians to whom he was writing. Contextually, the apostle had been answering the Corinthians’ question on dealing with things that had been offered to idols. As prevalent as idolatry was in the overall culture of Corinth, it could be difficult to even purchase meat that had not been touched in some way by the local pagan temples. Did the Christians have freedom to eat of these things? Paul answered with a qualified yes. Yes…but we need to consider our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to beware the danger of potentially stumbling them in their own walks. Sometimes that means we might deny ourselves certain freedoms for the benefit of others.

Paul went on to give a personal example from his own life, regarding his own financial support. He was willing to forego his rightful and Biblical salary if it meant he remained free to preach the gospel. And preach, he did! To Jews, Gentiles, and even to weak Christians in their discipleship, Paul was willing to set aside any one of his personal preferences when it meant that people might be won to Christ. Jesus was worth any sacrifice and any effort.

In fact, one of the potential dangers Paul saw in his exercise of spiritual liberty was the possibility of disqualification from ministry. Even for the mighty apostle, it was possible for him to get so much in the way of the gospel that he even tripped up himself. Should he sin in this way, he would fail in his apostolic commission, becoming a stumbling block to the gospel message.

It was with this danger of disqualification in mind that Paul picks up in Chapter 10. If it could happen with the apostle Paul, it would happen to any number of us. We need to take heed to the danger!

This time, he shows the danger not from the analogy of sports but the analogy of Israel. What happened in the past with God’s people? They were largely disqualified. The same thing might happen today with the people of God. What do we most need in the face of this danger? The faithfulness and grace of God! Without His grace, any one of us might fall to disqualifying temptation. We need His help, His faithfulness, and His way of escape.

1 Corinthians 10:1–13

  • Examples of disqualification (1-11). What happened in the past.

1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

  1. Don’t miss the “moreover” or “for” at the beginning of verse 1. Although it would be easy to think that Paul launches into a new topic considering his new focus on historical Israel during the exodus and wilderness wandering, the “moreover” ties what he writes here with what he wrote at the end of Chapter 9. (Which is a good reminder to us that the chapter breaks in the Bible are not part of the inspired text. Paul did not write with chapter breaks in mind; he wrote from topic to topic as he was led by God the Holy Spirit to write. It was later scholars who inserted the chapter and verse numbers to assist us in locating specific texts.) Contextually, Paul wrote how he disciplined his body like that of an elite athlete because of his self-awareness that his own actions might disqualify him from ministry. That is the purpose of the “” He is saying that if it could happen to him, it could happen to the Corinthians as well. It could happen to us. We too, might be disqualified. So, we should not be unaware or unknowing of this danger.
  2. What is one drastic example of the danger? Just look to ancient Israel. They had one specific generation that was famously disqualified. But before Paul could write of their disqualification, he first writes of their blessing. They all started from the same place. They all had the same ‘conversion’ experience during their miraculous freedom from Egyptian slavery. Although Paul only provides a few examples, we see this throughout the first several chapters of the book of Exodus. The Passover and Red Sea were ‘types’ (keep that word in mind for later) relating to the conversion experience of believers. Just as lambs were killed as sacrifices and their blood smeared on the doorposts, so was Jesus slain for us and covers us with His blood. Just as the Hebrews passed through the Red Sea to freedom from slavery, so do believers pass through the waters of baptism to show our emancipation from sin and our new life in Christ. And those things were only a few of the blessings experienced by ancient Israel.
  3. Paul specifically lists four: (1) the cloud, (2) the sea, (3) the food, (4) the drink, which came from the Rock. All of these blessings point in some fashion to Christ Jesus.
    1. The cloud: This is something the Exodus narrative ties specifically with the Angel of God, which (although not explicitly) is often a reference to the pre-incarnate Son of God. When the pillar of cloud led Israel, it was as if Jesus led Israel. And He did! He led them to the brink of the Red Sea and away from slavery.
    2. The sea: Obviously a reference to the Red Sea, Paul writes that it was through this act (and that of the cloud) that the nation of Israel was “baptized into Moses.” To be baptized into Moses is not to imply that any Hebrew was saved by keeping the law of Moses. Rather, it shows how the Hebrews were included in the covenant mediated by Moses. This was the introduction of their relationship with God. If they had not gone through the Red Sea, they would have remained in slavery even after the Passover lamb was slain. They had to go through the Red Sea to experience their new life with God. Likewise, we are baptized into Christ Jesus when we put our faith and trust in Him. Jesus, as the true Passover Lamb of God, has already been slain for all the world but not everyone in the world is saved. Not everyone has experienced the benefits of His saving work. What do we need? Intentional faith. We need to “walk through the sea,” as it were, putting our faith in Jesus alone that we might experience His blessings and new life.
    3. The food: No doubt a reference to the miraculous manna that appeared on the ground with the dew every single morning (excepting the Sabbath) for 40 years. That Paul describes it as “spiritual food” does not mean that it was imaginary. It was real, physical food that came via spiritual means. It was sustenance given by God, and (per Jesus) it was a type that pointed to His own identity as the Bread of Life (Jn 6:51).
    4. The drink: Again, this is described as “spiritual drink,” thought it is a reference to physical water that was brought forth through spiritual, miraculous means. This is the water that came from the rocks at different points of Israel’s wilderness journey (Exo 17, Num 20). When Israel twice found itself in a place without water, God gave them water. First, God instructed Moses to strike a particular rock, out of which enough water rushed to satisfy the thirst of the entire nation. Decades later, towards the end of Israel’s journey, the same problem arose although Moses’ patience with Israel was short. God told Moses to speak to the rock yet Moses struck it (not once, but twice), for which Moses was punished for misrepresenting God. In any case, water again rushed forth to quench the thirst of the nation. And again, this symbolized the living water of Christ Jesus.
      1. Although we are right to be careful of overly spiritualized interpretations and allegories, we can speak confidently of them when the Scripture points them out specifically. What did the rocks in the wilderness represent? What/Who did they typify? Christ Jesus. On this, there ought to be no debate for Paul writes, “that Rock was Christ.” Let Scripture interpret Scripture! When the Bible says that Jesus was represented by the Rock, the Bible means it.
      2. This tells us why it was such a terrible thing for Moses to misrepresent God’s command the way he did. Not only did he blatantly disobey God’s command and misrepresent God’s attitude toward the people, but Moses disrupted the symbolic picture of how the rock spoke of the Messiah. Jesus, as the Rock, was struck once at the cross and that once was sufficient for all time. He never need be struck with death again! Yet Moses struck the second rock twice. Moses didn’t just disobey God, he misrepresented the gospel.
  • If there is anything we do not want to do, it is to misrepresent the good news of Jesus! That itself is the danger of which Paul writes regarding disqualification. How terrible it would be for us to hinder someone else from putting his/her faith in Jesus. We want other to see Jesus through us and we want them to see Jesus rightly.
  1. Before we move on, please notice this: all Israel partook of these blessings. They were under the cloud, they passed through the sea, they ate of the food, and drank of the water. Each one in the nation individually received what God made available. Have you? It isn’t enough to simply show up in church or tune-in online. It isn’t even enough to participate in communion or get wet in a baptism ceremony. Have you personally and individually received of Jesus and His work? If you haven’t, it does not matter how many Christian things you know; you do not yet know Christ. You need to partake of Him.

5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

  1. Despite all the blessing given to Israel, “God was not well pleased” with them. With how many? “Most of them.” There’s an understatement! Considering that only Joshua and Caleb survived the rebellion of the adult generation of Israelites at Kadesh Barnea while over 603,000 fell, God was not well pleased with approximately 99.99999% of them. The bodies of the Israelites were literally “scattered” through the wilderness during their 40 years of wandering. Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands were doomed to death. Not a day would have gone by without at least someone dying among Israel. They had a constant reminder of the wages of their sin. (And the wages of sin is always death! Rom 6:23.) This generation was disqualified from entering the blessing of the Promised Land. And it is this disqualification of which the Corinthians (and us) needed to remember.

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.

  1. Israel served as examples of what not to do. The word “examples” is tupos (τύπος), where we get our word “type.” It refers to a mark, copy, image, form, pattern, or archetype. It is something that points to something else. We see spiritual types throughout the Old Testament, some more clearly than others. For instance, there are many parallels between the lives of Joseph and Jesus in their rejection, humiliation, and exaltation. We might say that Jesus is the Greater-than-Joseph, or the Greater-than-Moses (or of David, Solomon, or many others). These other historical men (though very real) had things in their lives that painted a greater picture, leading up to the expectation of Messiah.
  2. As for the current context, there were certain ‘types’ presented in the Old Testament that showed not only the blessings of God (vss. 1-4) but also the failures of Israel (vss. 5-10). These things are given as lessons to us (as Paul will specify in vs. 11) that “we should not lust after evil things.” We should not follow in the example of those in Israel who disqualified themselves. Sometimes we have good examples of what to do; other times we have bad examples of what not to do. Paul is about to list off the latter.

What were the examples in ancient Israel? In what ways did they displease God and become disqualified? Paul gives four…

7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

  1. Example #1: Idolatry. The incident in mind is the golden calf and Paul gives a specific quotation from Exodus 32:6, which is the description of what the people of Israel did when they saw the presentation of the idol. Exodus 32:5–6, “(5) So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” (6) Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” They had a regular party bringing offerings to the altar set in front of this golden statue, of which they proclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt,” (Exo 32:4). The thing to remember is that all of this took place at the base of Mt. Sinai at the same time that Moses was on top of the mountain currently meeting with God receiving all of the plans for the tabernacle, which was God’s chosen means of worship. Not 40 days earlier had Israel been overwhelmed and terrified at the visible glory and audible voice of God as He gave the 10 Commandments (one of which was, “You shall not make any graven image,”). Even after all of that, Israel still gave into the temptation of idolatry and committed gross sin in the presence of God.
  2. One of the problems (among many!) in the golden calf incident was that the Hebrews attempted to mix Biblical faith with the pagan Egyptian religion. The statue made by Aaron was meant to represent the God that freed them from Egypt. And yes, the living God had freed Israel. However, the living God is not represented by a golden statue of anything. Likewise, God was worthy of their worship even as they waited for Moses as he lingered on the mountain. But God is not to be worshipped through drunken pagan rituals. That was how the Egyptians worshipped their pagan idols; not the true God. The Biblical faith is not something that we can mix/match with the world. It isn’t like a giant buffet table from which we can pick a little bit of everything we like. It is only by the grace of God that He invites us to worship Him, and we can only worship Him in the means that He gives us.
    1. What is our means and invitation? The Lord Jesus Christ! He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) – He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6). We dare not become idolaters attempting to replace Jesus with anything or anyone.
    2. Contextually, idolatry was Paul’s primary subject in Chapters 8-10, because it was so prevalent in the city of Corinth. But as we’ve mentioned before, it is just as prevalent among us today. And not just among unbelievers – remember that Paul is writing to the church, so this is a danger for us. Even American Evangelicals can fall to the dangers of idolatry when we put our kids above the place of God, or we substitute faith in politics for faith in Christ’s sovereignty, or when we prize our hobbies more than the Holy Lord. Beware the dangers of idolatry! It can easily invade our lives.

8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;

  1. Example #2: Sexual immorality. Here, Paul refers to the sin at Peor in Numbers 25 when Balak king of Moab followed the advice of Balaam to send Midianite women into the camp of Israel, tempting the men to sexual temptation and pagan ritual. Balak originally hired Balaam to prophetically curse the nation of Israel, but Balaam was unable to prophetically utter anything that God had not given him to say (much to his dismay!). That was when Balaam came up with ‘Plan B’: send in a bunch of women as sexual temptresses and get Israel to bring God’s judgment upon themselves. It worked and thousands died in their sin, disqualified from receiving the blessings of God.
    1. It ought to go without saying that the temptation of sexual immorality is a real danger. It was for ancient Corinth (so much so that to be called a “Corinthian” was akin to being called a prostitute) and it is for us, today. Our culture is saturated with sexual immorality to the point that it is even celebrated. Christians are called to be different. We are to glorify the Lord with our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. Beware that sexual temptation does not grab hold of you and ruin your witness.
  2. BTW: Some have raised an objection with Paul’s counting. The record at Numbers 25:9 states that 24,000 fell; Paul says 23,000. Was Paul mistaken or wrong? Although it is often claimed to be a contradiction, it is not. If 24,000 died, then at least 23,000 certainly did. If Paul had gone over the count listed in Numbers 25, it would perhaps be possible to accuse him of a mistake or contradiction, but he did not. Some have suggested that Paul counted only the laypeople and not the leadership, or perhaps Paul listed only those that fell in one day rather than the total number who died. Of course, it could simply be that Paul was not aiming for precision. Rather, the main point was massive immediate judgment upon those who disqualified themselves.

9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;

  1. Example #3: Tempting Christ. Although some manuscripts differ, it is interesting how Paul writes that ancient Israel would “tempt Christ,” even though Jesus was not yet incarnate. It is a statement of Jesus’ deity. To tempt Christ is to tempt God, for Jesus is 
  2. That said, what does it mean to “tempt Christ”? Does Paul equate ancient Israel to Satan, as when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Contextually for Israel, their temptation of God was not tempting God to sin, but tempting and testing His patience. The Israelites tempted God many times. There were the bitter waters at Marah (Exo 15) and the lack of later at Rephidim and Meribah (Exo 17, Num 20). There was also the grumbling against God at Hormah where they accused God of bringing them to that place specifically to kill them (Num 21). In response, God sent fiery serpents among them, to which the only solution was to look in faith at a bronze serpent that Moses lifted on a staff. (Which Jesus referenced as being typical/symbolic of how He as the Son of Man would be lifted on the cross. Jn 3).
    1. How might we tempt Christ? When we likewise tempt His patience, discipline, and judgment. When we play around with sin, we tempt/test the patience of God. When we fall back into the habits of our flesh, we tempt His discipline. Especially if we were to use the excuse of grace to sin that grace may abound (Rom 6:1), we would test the judgment of God. Beware! Be careful that you don’t play with sin but rather treat it as the evil for that it is, being ever-dependent on God’s mercies and grace.
    2. Question: Is there a point that we might tempt God too far – that we might go all the way to our own destruction, as Israel did with the serpents? Regarding the promises God has given us for our salvation in Jesus Christ, no. As we abide in Jesus, we are saved by Jesus. But it is possible that we sin to a point of physical judgment. Consider Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:4) or the warning of John that there is a sin that leads to death (1 Jn 5:16). Where the boundary of this kind of judgment lies, we do not know…but neither do we want to find out!

10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

  1. Example #4: Complaining. The word is interesting in that it is onomatopoeic, meaning that it sounds like its definition. “To complain” is gogguzo (γογγύζω), meaning to grumble or murmur or mutter. Israel routinely complained and grumbled against the Lord. At the shore of the Red Sea, prior to its parting, they complained that God took them there to die. In the wilderness, they complained that they had no water, or had no food, or had too much manna and no meat, or suffered the consequences of their own choices, or any number of things. For all that we remember how Moses misrepresented God and the gospel late in his life, it is easy to understand how Moses got to that point. He was tired of listening to 40 years of complaints!
  2. How might we grumble against God? Simple: we do it every time we disagree with God’s sovereignty. When we do not trust God as God, we complain against Him. When we doubt His goodness and provision, we grumble against God. When we assert that our plans are better than His, we find ourselves murmuring against the Almighty God of the universe. That being the case, some of us likely spend more time in prayer complaining against God than praising Him!
    1. Does this mean we cannot be honest in our prayers? As if, when we have troubles and concerns, we should not voice these things to God in fear of expressing a lack of faith? We should be honest in our prayers. God already knows our hearts and He sees right through our attempts at false piety. Even so, if all we bring to God are murmurings and complaints, we ought to search our hearts to determine why those things are there. Perhaps we spend too much time in the news and not enough in our Bibles. Perhaps we spend too much time sitting rather than serving. Perhaps we have lost sight of God’s utter sovereignty over every aspect of the universe. Do we really believe that God holds our lives in His hand? Do we really believe that God is supreme over every government in the world, orchestrating even world leaders to work according to His perfect will? (As seen even in the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.) If so, we need to trust Him! And where we lack faith to do so, ask Him for it.

11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

  1. All their failures serve a purpose: to be admonitions and examples to us today. What does it mean to “admonish”? Simply to teach or instruct. These things were given to teach us as the church. We look at the mistakes of Israel and learn from them. Instead of making the same mistakes, we learn the lesson and do differently. Or, we should. It has been often said that we can either learn something the easy way or the hard way. The easy way would be for us to learn from Israel’s mistakes and failings. The hard way is for us to follow in their footsteps and do the same thing. (We might find ourselves going the hard way far too often!)
  2. Question: Considering that these things Paul mentions are examples/types for our teaching, does this take away from the plain meaning of the Old Testament? Does this mean that all the events of the Old Testament are merely spiritual lessons with spiritual meanings always deeper than the surface-level text? Should every Scripture be dismantled into allegory as might be reflected in ancient rabbinical teaching and some teachers among the early church (i.e. Origen)? The Old Testament accounts are real accounts, to be understood as whatever their literary genre determines them to be. The history in Genesis is history, the poetry of the Psalms is poetry, etc. They ought to be read and interpreted first and foremost as they are. We do not have the authority to reinterpret Scripture according to our own preferences and imaginations. That said, all Scripture does have application that reaches beyond its original audience to us today. Our application must be drawn out of the original application, but even the most ancient of Scriptures is still relevant today. Paul points this out to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:16–17, “(16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These things are in the Bible (and for Paul as he wrote to Timothy, the Bible was the Old Testament) to build us into the men and women that God desires us to be. IOW, these things are useful – these things are needed.
    1. Let me challenge you today: Are you getting what is needed? Are you reading the Bible on a regular, systematic basis that you might be complete and thoroughly equipped? Too many Christians (particularly American Christians) are not. They get a snippet of a verse here & there a few times a week, expecting to get all they need on the days they go to church. Even if you went to church twice a week every single week (which few Christians do…many go twice per month), that would not be enough. It would not be close to enough. Consider how many times you eat per day. Most of us would feel woefully ill-equipped to face our day if all we ate was one meal each day (much less one meal per week!). How much more do we need the word of God as our daily bread? And we need it all. Not just the familiar sweet parts like the gospel and psalms, but the less familiar and tougher parts such as the rebuke on Israel from the prophets. We need all the Bible if we are to grow into all the Christians that God desires us to be.

Paul called the Corinthian Christians to look backward. Be mindful of what has happened in the past! Although ancient Israel was the nation chosen by God, God’s people still were in danger of falling to temptation. They still had the danger of disqualification, to which many of them fell.

  • Warning against disqualification (12-13). What happens in the present.

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

  1. When Paul writes “take heed,” he basically writes “watch out!” Open your eyes and be mindful of yourself and your situation. When running on trails, I can almost pinpoint every single fall to a moment that I stopped paying close attention. The moment I ‘zone out’ is the moment I find a root or a rock or anything else that sends me tumbling to the ground. It isn’t any different in our walks with Jesus. We are blessed to have all kinds of confidence in our Lord and in His grace…but the moment we put our confidence in ourselves and our abilities, we’re going down.
  2. This itself is a temptation when we look back at people of the past. We have a tendency to look at Israel and think, “That’s them; not me. I would never make the same mistake.” Oh yes we would, and yes we do! We would make the exact same choice as Adam and Eve in the garden – we would make the same mistakes as the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai – we would make the same mistakes as the churches Jesus wrote to in the book of Revelation. How can we know? Because we already have! Just a casual look back at any one of our lives reveals the many ways we’ve failed Christ. Our sins against God did not stop the moment we put our faith in Jesus. They sadly continue until this very day, as they will tomorrow and the next day and the next.
  3. This is why humility is so important! “Take heed lest he fall” is an exhortation to all of us every day. Take heed today – be humble today – cast yourself upon the grace and mercy of Jesus today because we need Him today. We need Him and His grace every single day and we are unable to live a single day to His glory without Him. If He does not forgive us and sustain us, we have no hope.
    1. But He does! Praise God, He does! Beloved, this is part of the good news of the gospel, that Jesus loves us even in all our terrible weakness today. We dare not take Him for granted nor think too much of ourselves and our strength, but it is also impossible to overestimate the love of God that He has for us as His children. His grace is truly greater than all our sins!
    2. Some of you still need to experience that grace for the first time. You haven’t experienced the love and forgiveness of God because you’ve never cast yourself in humility and faith upon Jesus. You think you stand in your own strength, but you don’t. You think you have done enough good to overcome your bad, that God might let you into heaven, but you haven’t. The only good that can possibly overwhelm and erase the evil and sin you’ve committed is the good that comes from Jesus – but you will never experience it if you don’t ask for it.

13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

  1. Interestingly, the phrase “common to man” is one single word in Greek, which means (as it says) that something pertains to being human. This, according to Paul, is the problem of temptation. The temptations we face are not unusual; they ought to be expected of us just as they are expected for everyone in the human race. We as Christians do not face anything out of the ordinary.
    1. This is news to a lot of people! Born-again Christians are not automatically exempted from temptation the moment we put our faith in Christ. Temptations/trials come to each of us, whether we like it or not. We had trials as non-believers; we still have trials as Anyone who prayed a sinner’s prayer trying to find an easy life free from trials is going to be sorely disappointed! We still face the same trials and temptations we did as when we were unsaved. The difference now? Now we know Jesus! Now we have access to the Spirit for God’s power to deal with these trials.
  2. Thankfully, Paul has more to say than just an assumption of trials for every person. He also says, “But God is faithful.” Amen! God is In fact, He is far more faithful than we are! What we lack, He abounds – where we are weak, He is strong. — This is key when it comes to dealing with temptations and trials. Again, the moment we think ourselves strong enough to handle the temptations that come our way is the moment we will succumb to them. We need to first admit our powerlessness and second, turn to the God who has all power. He has the strength we need. He has the faith we lack. Thus, we rely on Him and Him alone.
  3. What is God faithful to provide? “The way of escape.” He gives us a way out. When we face trials and temptations, God gives us a way to endure and bear up under the pressure. Sometimes this is a literal “way of escape,” as when Joseph ran out of the house after his master’s wife accosted him and tried to get him to sleep with her. Other times, it is the spiritual strength to endure a terrible trial, as in Paul’s own life when he prayed three times for some unspecified thorn in his flesh to be removed from him, only to have God tell him that Jesus’ own grace was sufficient. Either way, it is a way of escape. Though we might find ourselves in the midst of the trial, we will have peace in the trial. Just like Jesus could sleep in the bottom of a tiny fishing boat during a torrential storm on the Sea of Galilee, so will we be able to bear any trial when we walk in the power and equipping of God. God gives us that way and He is faithful to do it consistently. 
  4. Notice what Paul does and does not say regarding the things of temptation, the ability to bear, and a way of escape. He does not say that we will not be tempted. Nor does he say that any temptation we face will be light and easy. He does say that whatever temptation/trial we face will not be more than we are able to bear. That is, as long as we bear it with the Lord our God. And that is important! This verse is often ripped from its context and made to say something it does not. How many times have you heard, “God will not give you more than what you can handle”? Do not be mistaken nor deceived: that is not the text of the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible promise that we (in ourselves) can handle anything and everything life throws at us. Try telling the surviving parent of a child lost to suicide that God won’t allow anything more in their life than what they can handle. Try telling victims of persecution and physical torture that they can surely handle their trials, for it is not too much for them. That is not the testimony of Scripture (and we should stop pretending as if it is!). What the Bible does say is that God is sufficient for our every need. It tells us that God gives us power when we have none. It tells us that God provides a way of escape out of every temptation. We might miss it when we are not looking for it, but it is there, according to God’s word.
    1. This is better news than the false promise of “God won’t give me more than I can handle.” How so? Because even though I can’t handle it, God can. And God is always with me. He never leaves us nor does He forsake us. Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age. I do not need to be able to handle every trial in my strength. I simply need to be a child of the faithful and all-powerful God, relying on Him to handle every trial.


Don’t get disqualified! Beware of the danger. Look to the Biblical account in Israel. Although Israel was immensely blessed by God in their emancipation from Egyptian slavery, they were still disqualified through their sin. And their testimony of disqualification was sobering: their bodies slain and scattered in the wilderness. The danger has not lessened for us today! Wake up, take heed, and watch out. Beware of disqualifying sin, never thinking yourself too strong to succumb to the most basic dangers. Anyone of us might fall. It is only by the strength and grace of God that we do not.

After all these examples of disqualifying sin, the question that might be weighing heavily on some of us is this: “What if I have already committed it? What if I have already disqualified myself?” I truly hope that is not the case and sincerely doubt it is 100% the case with anyone here. After all, unlike Ananias and Sapphira of old, if you’re listening to this, you’re still alive. You have not sinned the sin that leads to death. You might experience terrible consequences for your actions, some of which might last the rest of your life. And yes, there may be some people in your past for whom they will never be able to see beyond your failures.

But God isn’t like people. The promises that we have in Christ affirm that His mercies are new every morning. They affirm that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. They affirm that the good work that God has begun in us, He will see to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. As long as you still draw breath, God is not done with you. You can still glorify Him in whatever season of life you find yourself. It may be true that a door is closed with certain people, but it is not closed with all people, and God can use you to reach some of those people for Christ.

But it will never happen in your pride. As long as you puff up yourself trying to carry yourself in your own strength, you are bound for failure. Just like me! I know how weak I am in my own strength – how inherently rotten and sinful my flesh is. I know I need Jesus every minute of every day…and He is available to me, just like He is available to you. Humble yourself and throw yourself on His grand mercies today.

As seen in the life of Jephthah, pride is dangerous. Kill pride before it kills you! Submit yourself to Jesus Christ in humility, letting Him help you through your pride.

The Foolishness of Pride

Posted: January 14, 2021 in Judges

Judges 11:12-12:15, “The Foolishness of Pride”

Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” Wise words from the pen of Solomon! It is too bad that Solomon himself did not pay attention. Although he began his life seeking the wisdom of God, he went awry getting caught up in the trappings of riches and women, with his rule and legacy ultimately suffering because of his pride.

How often we fight the same battle! It ranges from things as minor as boasting in our physical abilities, only to trip and fall on our faces in embarrassment, to far more important matters when we refuse to back down in an argument and things blow up with our family members. A refusal to humble ourselves when we are wrong can lead to dire consequences – not only in our relationship with each other, but also in our relationship with God. For those of us who know Jesus as Lord, it hinders our walks with Him as we kick against the proverbial “goads” and experience His discipline. For those who have not yet trusted Jesus, pride keeps them from surrendering to Him in faith which leads to judgment and eternal death. Pride is downright dangerous.

Pride was a problem for Israel, too. Israel was in a sad state of affairs and getting worse. Through their repeated cycles of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and deliverance, the nation kept degrading. Although they would enjoy their God-given deliverance for a time, they never would get back to the level of spiritual maturity from which they fell. Like a paper that has been copied too many times, each repetition was a little worse than the one before it.

This was seen in the failures of Gideon’s judgeship. Despite his initial exploits of faith, he enriched himself as a king would do, with his own riches and prizes becoming idolatrous traps for the people. Moreover, his illegitimate son Abimelech brutally murdered his 70 half-brothers, claiming for himself the royal title of “king,” (usurping what belonged solely to God). Abimelech oppressed his own people of Israel until he was killed by a woman in an act of divine retribution.

That left Israel without a ruler and again subject to foreign oppression, which came in the forms of Ammon on the east and the Philistines on the west. The eastern enemies are addressed first in the narrative, through the people of Gilead in Transjordan Manasseh as they called Jephthah to be their leader. Jephthah had previously been rejected by his brothers and countrymen (himself being an illegitimate son) and found his home among violent Gentiles where he became an accomplished warrior. Now that the Gileadites required a man of war, they tracked him down and made amends. Jephthah ensured that their commitment was witnessed by the Lord God Himself and he became the newest judge.

What he did with that role is seen in the remainder of Judges 11-12. Jephthah was a man of faith but also a man of pride, surrounded by people of pride. And pride is dangerous! Pride (as will be seen) leads to death, be it figuratively in our relationships, or literally (as with Jephthah) with true physical harm. When left unchecked, pride is one of the most dangerous things we deal with every day. What to do? We need to kill pride before it kills us! We need to humbly submit ourselves to Jesus and let Him deal with the pride in our lives.

This is illustrated in three different scenarios in Jephthah’s life, which can all be described as various wars. (1) The war against Ammon, where God delivered against the pride of an enemy, (2) Jephthah’s war against himself, where his own pride brought destruction in his family, and (3) the war against Ephraim, where unfounded envy and pride led to a civil war among God’s own people.

Beware pride! It always goes before a fall.

Judges 11:12–12:15

  • War with Ammon (11:12-33). False claims.

12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?” 13 And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”

  1. Remember that Jephthah had been chosen by the elders of Gilead specifically because of their problem with the Ammonites. Yet before Jephthah rushes off to war, he wisely engages in diplomacy. If the problem could be solved through words, it was far better than using weapons. Thus, Jephthah sent his first message to the king of Ammon. Notice the clear claim by Jephthah to the land that was in question. Although it is not mentioned until verse 13, it is evident that one of Ammon’s purported reasons for their oppression was that they believed that the land of Gilead was rightfully theirs. Jephthah’s message was likely very intentional in its wording, as he asks why they had “come to fight against me in my” From the beginning, Jephthah is unwilling to cede even the possibility that Ammon might have a claim to the land. This is not pride on Jephthah’s part; this is faith. God had given the land to Israel and it was not even Israel’s to give away. 
  2. That said, the claim was immediately contested by Ammon, saying, “Israel took away my” They said all the lands from the Arnon river (on the south) to the Jabbok river (on the north), all the way west to the Jordan river belonged to them. Basically, they claimed everything north of Moab as their own. At the time, they exercised control over Moab at this time, so they saw these lands as their right, taking on Moab’s own purported historical claims for their own. Of course, the problem was that Moab had no historical claim to these lands, nor had Israel ever taken anything that had rightly belonged to Ammon. Jephthah was about to give the king of Ammon a bit of history lesson along these lines.
    1. As an aside, this is still a summary of the conflict between the Palestinians and the modern Israeli government. The Palestinians claim a historical right to the land which they never had. Historically speaking, there are no Palestinian people. The term “Palestine” is a corruption of the word “Philistine,” which was the term the Roman empire imposed on the land of Judea to punish it for its repeated rebellion against the empire (naming them after their historical enemies). The Palestinians, as they are known today, are actually Jordanians, who only claimed the land of Israel after it was recognized by the United Nations as belonging to the Jews. Ultimately, the land was not given to the Jews by the United Nations; it was given them by God – just as He had given it to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joshua in centuries past.

14 So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;

  1. This was Jephthah’s 2nd attempt at diplomacy. The first had failed to impress the king of Ammon, so Jephthah gave a history lesson refuting Ammon’s claim, showing that Israel was innocent of the charge against them. They hadn’t taken away anything from Ammon and the record was clear on this point.

16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. 18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.

  1. Reminder of the exodus journey. After spending a year at Mt. Sinai when leaving Egypt, Israel came to Kadesh Barnea where they rebelled against the Lord and refused to enter the Promised Land. That set them on a 40 year death march in the desert as God punished the rebellious generation and allowed their children to take their place. Once the time was fulfilled, God moved the people away from the previous entry point of Kadesh Barnea, moving them to the north.
  2. Although it would have been far quicker for Israel to travel through Edom and Moab, each nation refused entry to Israel and the Hebrews had to go the long way around. They skirted Edom and Moab both, eventually camping in the plains north of Moab.
  3. Why didn’t Israel fight Edom and Moab? They were family. They each shared common ancestry through the patriarchs. Edom was descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. Moab (as well as Ammon) had a line even further back, being descended through Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Because of their family ties, God did not permit Israel to fight against them during the Exodus. It was one thing for them to defend themselves if attacked; it was another for Israel to provoke war between them. (The implication being, if Israel hadn’t done it with one son of Lot, Moab, then they wouldn’t have done it with the other son of Lot, Ammon, either.)

19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.

  1. Israel was allowed to fight the Amorites. Only Sihon king of Heshbon is mentioned here (probably due to his specific claim over the disputed lands) but Israel also fought Og of Bashan further north. These were nations under the ban of God and God used Moses and Israel to bring judgment upon them. Thus He did, and thus Israel inherited the lands now belonging to Gad and Reuben.
  2. What was the point of reviewing all of this? Jephthah is demonstrating that Sihon of the Amorites was the previous king of the disputed lands; not the king of Ammon. Because Israel fought Sihon and won (by the miraculous work of YHWH God), the land became Israel’s through the right of conquest. This was the global standard of the day. This was just as certain a claim to land rights as was a deed of purchase. Ammon grew its own kingdom through conquest, so it ought to have been expected for Israel to do the same.
    1. The same logic ought to be applied to the disputed land of the Golan Heights and West Bank today. Israel won these lands in warfare (defensive warfare, at that) and they have the legal right to them.

23 ‘And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? 24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.

  1. The gods were often thought of as dwelling in the lands they were worshipped. When nations fought, it was believed that the gods fought. In this case, the living God of Israel was victorious. This emphasizes two points. (1) The land was God’s gift to Israel. It was His alone and He distributes it as He sees fit with no earthly power having any say on the matter. (2) If the Ammonites’ god had any power at all, they ought to ask him for help. Historically, the Ammonites worshiped the false god of Milcom while the Moabites worshiped Chemosh, but considering Ammon’s appropriation of Moab it makes sense that they appropriated its god, too. In any case, if Chemosh really held any power over the land, why wouldn’t Ammon ask Chemosh to give it to them. Was he really that impotent? (Yes!)
  2. This shows the futility of idolatry and false worship. If you’re going to worship a god, why worship a god who can’t do anything? Why worship a god who fits in your back pocket as an idol but nothing more? Whether it looks like the ancient idol Chemosh or the modern US dollar, an idol that is made out of “stuff” is powerless in the things that really matter. A god who is made cannot give life. A god who is imagined has imaginary powers. Only the God who is real can really offer life. Beloved, our God is real. He testifies of Himself in creation and declares His revealed identity in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have proof that we worship the Living God…who is the only God worthy of worship!

25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?

  1. Interesting argument considering that Balak did strive against Israel, although he was unsuccessful. Granted, when Balak of Moab opposed Israel, he did not do so through outright war. First, he attempted theological sabotage; second, he attempted (and succeeded) with sexual sabotage.
  2. Jephthah’s point to the king of Ammon perhaps hearkens back to their ancestral family ties. If the old king of Moab did not raise arms against Israel in battle, why would Ammon do so? This was foolishness on their part, and it was something from which they could still back down if they were willing to admit their own wrong. (This was a warning that would go unheeded.)

26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’ ” 28 However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.

  1. Jephthah’s final argument: too much time had elapsed. We might think of this today as a kind of statute of limitations. 300 years (roughly) had passed since Israel assumed the lands of Sihon of the Amorites. Why hadn’t Ammon said anything before? Why wait till now? The obvious answer: they didn’t have any historical claim; they were lying through their teeth, proudly boasting against Israel.
  2. To whom did Jephthah appeal? “The LORD, the Judge.” YHWH is the Judge, the righteous judge who will adjudicate rightly. He is the Judge of judges. He is the Supreme Judge shown in the entirety of the book, even over all the various human judges of Israel.
    1. Our God will always judge what is right. We might not see justice in this world but we can be assured that we will see justice in the next. In fact, we will see God’s righteous judgment in the next phase of human existence, after the coming Great Tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ millennial kingdom on earth. At that time, the Son of God will rule the nations and all those who attempt injustice will answer directly to Him!
    2. As an aside, this should be our focus during these turbulent times in our nation. Political debates and battles will come and go as leaders rise and fall. Whatever happens with our country, we need to remember that our primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom. We need to point people to Him, that they might see Him as their King, too.
  3. Sadly (but not unexpectedly), Ammon did not listen to diplomacy. At this point, the gears of war were set in motion and people would die. Keep in mind, this is all due to pride. The king of Ammon made a false claim to land, and when confronted with his falsity, refused to back down. He would rather go to war than to be proven wrong.

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.

  1. When the Bible says that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah,” we need to be careful to understand this from the context of the Old Testament, rather than the New. This not the same as New Testament believers being indwelt by God the Spirit and empowered for ministry and evangelism. For Jephthah, this was a temporary empowerment, given for a specific purpose of military leadership. As will become clear, Jephthah’s life is wildly inconsistent. On one hand, he walks by faith while on the other, he is clearly in his flesh. As for us, although we still experience inconsistencies ourselves, we have the assurance that the indwelling and seal of the Spirit never leaves us. Although we do not always walk according to filling and empowerment of the Spirit, we do always walk as those sealed by the Spirit as belonging to God.
  2. Here, the overall point is that Jephthah was now divinely empowered to serve in his capacity as Israel’s military judge and leader. With God’s help, he engaged on his march to war, gathering the army of Gilead and Manasseh for battle.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

  1. Vows were not uncommon but neither were they necessary. A Hebrew might make a vow to serve the Lord in a certain way, or to dedicate a particular few weeks to prayer and service. The apostle Paul even took a vow in Cenchrea, temporarily serving the Lord as a Nazirite (Acts 18:18). It was supposed be an act of devotion and worship. Not this time. In this case, Jephthah’s “vow” was more of an attempted bribe. Notice the conditional clause: “If You will indeed deliver…then it will be…” This is Jephthah saying, “If You scratch my back, I’ll scratch Yours. I’ll give you something extra special if You give me victory.” That isn’t worship; that’s bribery and it ought not to be done among believers. True worship is given in sincerity, as is true fasting and prayer. It isn’t performed as a way of getting your will done; it is performed that we might better know God’s (Be careful that your worship does not become all about you, when it needs to be all about God.)
  2. Question: This is often labeled as Jephthah’s “foolish” vow. Was it really foolish? Was there anything about his words that inherently invited trouble? (1) If Jephthah wanted only to offer a traditional animal sacrifice, he could have either done so without the vow or specified the kind of sacrifice he would give. I.e., he could have said, “I will give you the best of all my livestock.” (2) It was needless negotiation at best and attempted bribery at worst. If battle was what God had called Jephthah to do, Jephthah could be assured that God would give the victory without any “special” enticements. (3) To leave his vow open-ended truly invited trouble. Who/what else would come to “meet” him upon his return, other than a loved one? Families commonly scanned the horizon when they expected someone to return, especially from battle. Surely Jephthah could have put 2+2 together and realized that a person would likely meet him long before any animal would.

32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

  1. God gave a massive victory. If there was any question about which God controlled which land, all those questions were silenced. The God of Israel had all the land and all the power…period.
  2. Notice the result of the foolish pride of Ammon: they lost cities and land instead of gaining them. The king of Ammon insisted that Israel had “stolen” land from them that had (in truth) been won in conquest. Now the Ammonites fell victim to the same conquest. 20 cities were lost and countless lives.

Ammon made a false claim and pridefully refused to back down. As a result, they suffered tremendous defeat (which was Israel’s gain). What do we lose when we do likewise? When we buck up, puffing out our chest for a fight – do we honestly expect the other to back away, or are we prepared to suffer the consequences?

Obviously, Ammon was the enemy of Israel, which is why we can cheer Jephthah’s victory. This ultimately led to Israel’s deliverance from their enemy to the east, which was good for the nation. Even so, we can see the danger of pride. Jephthah gave Ammon a way to back down safely; the king didn’t take it. When God gives us a chance to back off the edge of a cliff, we need to take it! Why go over the edge simply because we’re too proud to admit our fault?

This is exactly the reason so many people will face eternal destruction in hell. They were too proud to admit their faults and sin. They were too proud to admit that they had wronged God (the righteous Judge) and could not bear to humble themselves before Him. God graciously gave them the opportunity to be saved but they refused to take it. They could have humbly surrendered themselves to Jesus; instead, they chose to ‘go down with the ship.’

  • War with self (11:34-40). Foolish vow.

34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”

  1. For all of Jephthah’s surprise at his daughter’s greeting, this was the most natural outcome. She gave her father returning from battle a victory greeting. Why wouldn’t she? She was overjoyed to see her father and praised God for a glorious victory. She rushed out to meet him with song and dance…only to find her father’s face fallen and grieving. His foolish rash vow had come back on his own head.
  2. Amazingly, Jephthah blamed her. Instead of taking any personal responsibility for making promises he couldn’t keep, he said it was all her fault. If only she hadn’t rejoiced to see her father, then all would be well. How ridiculous! How utterly cruel and unloving. This was insult on top of injury. Keep in mind that this whole event was unnecessary. God should have been worshipped because He is God and because God gave victory. Jephthah should have given sacrifices to God for all kinds of reasons. No extra vows were required. This was Jephthah’s own foolish pride and he should have been man enough to take the blame and correct what he did wrong.
  3. Question: Was Jephthah trapped by his own words? Was he correct in saying, “I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it”? Although it is true that any vows made unto the Lord are to be honored, there was a bigger problem here than a broken promise: a grossly illegal and perverse human sacrifice. Would God be honored through Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter? Certainly not! If a Hebrew could rescue his livestock on the Sabbath day without breaking the law, certainly a father could recant a rash vow to save the life of his God-given daughter. Once more, we see the problem is Jephthah’s pride; not his devotion.
    1. Also, if Jephthah had bothered to look, the Scripture provided relief for his problem. Leviticus 5:4-6 specifically deals with a guilt offering to be brought when a person swore something thoughtlessly, and Leviticus 27:1-8 provides a way to redeem people who had been dedicated to the Lord. Jephthah could neither blame his daughter nor the Lord for this problem; the blame rested solely upon himself. He was just too stubborn to admit it.
  4. For all the responsibilities that Jephthah believed he had from the Lord, one of the most basic was being a father. As a father, he was supposed to protect his daughter from foolish, rash vows (Num 30:3-5). Yet here was Jephthah, allowing a foolish vow to bring literal death to his only child.

36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”

  1. She had more faith than her father! She was willing to submit herself to God, no matter what decision her father made. If only Jephthah had been as willing to submit himself to God’s righteous discipline for his sin!

37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” 38 So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. …

  1. After mourning for two months (and likely waiting in futility for her father to come to his senses!), she faithfully returned to the needless tragedy that awaited her.
  2. Scholars debate the outcome, whether Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a human sacrifice, or if she was sworn to perpetual virginity. With respect to those who disagree, the most natural reading of the text is a real sacrifice. Yes, human sacrifices were illegal; yes, Jephthah would have known their illegality. But Jephthah was also bound up in his pride and surrounded by cultures that did practice human sacrifice. It seems far more likely (and tragic) that Jephthah proceeded with the deed exactly as the text says he did.

… And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

  1. A sad conclusion to a sad event. So well known was this tragedy that all young women in Israel commemorated the girl’s death with four days of annual mourning. (Can you imagine the terror that accompanied this, knowing that any one of them might fall to a similar fate if their own father was just as proud and foolish as Jephthah?)

What happened to Jephthah? On one day, he goes to battle empowered by the Holy Spirit and experiences divine blessing and supernatural military victory. God’s hand was plainly upon him as he walked by faith. On the other hand, he returns home from that very same battle to engage in terrible sin, all in the name of “worship.” All of it due to nothing but foolish, false pride!

The only good side to all of this is how the New Testament remembers Jephthah: not for his foolishness, but for his faith. Hebrews 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:” How could this man be included in the hall of faith? In a word: grace. God gave Jephthah grace he did not deserve (which is what grace is, by definition: undeserved). This man who acted so foolishly was seen not in his foolishness, but as a child of God by the grace of God through the Messiah in which Jephthah surely believed would come in the future.

Who is it that redeems our foolish hearts? Christ! What hope do we have for rescue from ourselves? Jesus! He alone is able to transform us from what we were to men and women who can be used for His glory.

  • War with Ephraim (12:1-7). Foolish anger.

12:1 Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!”

  1. What is this? From across the Jordan river, the Ephraimites threw an absolute fit over Jephthah’s victory with the men of Gilead. They threatened to treat him as a violent rebel and criminal. Not only did they desire his punishment, but they wanted him and his whole family dead. What was his supposed crime? He allegedly didn’t call Ephraim to help him in battle. This is something Jephthah disputes…

2 And Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. 3 So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”

  1. Jephthah’s defense against Ephraim was much like his defense against the king of Ammon. When accused of lies, he responded with the truth. Or at least he responded with part of the truth. The phrase “my people and I” included a lot more than Gilead and Manasseh. The Ammonites oppressed people on the western side of the Jordan river too, including the people of Ephraim. Ephraim had a claim to help fight for their freedom but they were not included in the battle.
  2. Although there is no mention of Jephthah sending a request for help from Ephraim, apparently one had been sent and Ephraim had not come. The problem for Ephraim was not that they had not been invited to the battle, it was that they refused to come but still wanted the glory of victory.
  3. Ultimately, it was not Jephthah’s victory anyway; it was the Lord’s. This was the work of God and all the glory belonged to Him. This was forgotten by Ephraim in their jealous rage and desire for revenge (for such a foolish reason, at that!).

4 Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.”

  1. This was a civil war saturated with excesses of pride. Ephraim raised accusations against Jephthah because they got jealous of his battle victory. Jephthah & Gilead went to battle primarily because they had been mocked by the Ephraimites. If this had taken place on a schoolyard, everyone would have gotten sent to the principal’s office for foolish fighting. Sadly, when it took place between tribes, civil war was the result and people died.

5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

  1. Not only did Gilead win the war but they also guarded against the escape of their Ephraimite enemies. They even had a test to determine who was/was not from Ephraim: their accent. When given a certain word, Ephraim could not pronounce it correctly. And it meant a death sentence. Sadly, not a small death sentence either. 42,000 Ephraimites died. Every bit of this was needless. This was a war begun in pride, executed in pride, and punished in pride. Instead of extending grace to their fellow Israelites, everyone bucked up and everyone suffered.

7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead.

  1. Jephthah did much good for Israel but the question needs to be asked if he did more harm than good over his brief six years of judgeship. Yes, God used him to defeat the Ammonites. But how many Israelites died under the Ammonite oppression versus the civil war between Gilead and Ephraim? Jephthah was responsible for 42,000 deaths of his own countrymen. This does not speak well of his legacy.
    1. Which again, makes us grateful for the grace of God through Jesus Christ! If it were not for Jesus, none of us would be remembered well!

Again, we see a problem with pride in the foolish anger of Ephraim. Because they got “less” glory than their brothers, their jealousy caused them to go to war. Beware pride and envy! Jealousy will lead you down dangerous roads. 

  • Appendix: minor judges (12:8-15)

8 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.

  1. This was another judge who lived as a king, amassing a large harem who gave him at least 60 children. He lived in opulence, attempting to expand his influence by giving his children in politically beneficial marriages. He did much for himself; it makes us wonder if he did anything for Israel at all.

11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

  1. Other than his name and tribe, nothing is known of him. This isn’t necessarily bad; he is just unknown.

13 After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites.

  1. Like Gideon and Ibzan before him, Abdon was yet another judge who lived as if he was a king. His harem and family was not quite as large, but his royal trappings were. That all his sons and grandsons rode about the country on donkeys was to show them all in positions of leadership. (I.e. Jesus’ triumphal entry on a young donkey.) Did this man have any accomplishments? Scripture is silent, so we cannot know. Sadly, all we know of him is what he accomplished for himself. 


Pride is a dangerous thing! Ammon’s pride led it to a war with Gilead and Jephthah. If they had backed off their false claims to Israel’s land, they would have maintained their own land and they would have lived in relative peace.

Jephthah’s pride led not only to the horrible death of his daughter but also to the destruction of his family line (being that she was his only child and she had no children of her own). If he had only admitted his mistake and redeemed a foolish vow, her life and his lineage would have been saved.

Ephraim’s pride led to their humiliation as well as the death of 42,000 of their countrymen. If they had calmed themselves, civil war/insurrection could have been avoided.

How much do we lose due to foolish pride? What dies needlessly in our lives due to a refusal to submit ourselves in humility, or to admit our fault? Pride costs people jobs, relationships, opportunities, and ministry. Pride can mean the death of much that we hold dear. Moreover, pride can obstruct our relationship with God! Considering that the Scripture declares that God resists the proud, then we can be certain that when we buck up in our pride, God resists us. He does not work with proud people; He works with the humble, giving us grace and helping us in our utter dependence upon Jesus.

Beware of pride! Humble yourself before it is too late. When it comes to human relationships, a simple sincere apology can work wonders. It shows not only wisdom in choosing what is most valuable (love vs. self) but it is also a testimony to our submission to our Lord Jesus, whom we follow as our righteous Judge and King.

What did Paul mean by writing that he became all things to all men that he might save some? He meant that he did what it took to get himself out of the way so that others could see Jesus.

Do What It Takes

Posted: January 11, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:19-27, “Do What It Takes”

When watching TV as a family, many of us have heard the phrase (or perhaps have uttered it), “You make a better door than a window.” When I was a child, my family did not have a remote control for the television and it was not uncommon for my brother or me to be asked to change the channel. It was one thing to change the channel; it was another to sit right in front of the screen blocking it for everyone else.

As Christians, we might make better doors than windows. Although we certainly want people to see Jesus in us, many times we end up blocking the way. People see far too much of “Tim” and far too little of Christ. We need to find some way to get out of the way, for people to see Jesus instead of us. We need to be as transparent as possible, that the main thing remains the main thing (and the main thing is Jesus).

Paul understood this well in his missionary ministry. This was a man who travelled all over the Roman Empire speaking to everyone from Hebrew-culture Jews, to Greek-culture Jews, to Gentile philosophers, to agnostics, to pagans, to outright deceivers, and more. How could he talk to so many people about Christ? Simple: he was flexible, never allowing himself to get in the way. He could relate to Jews as a Jew and to Greeks as one who was raised among Greeks. He was always willing to do what was necessary for others to see Jesus, even if it meant changing the way he did things for a time.

This becomes evident in the latter half of 1 Corinthians 9. In their back and forth communication, the Christians at Corinth had some questions for the apostle Paul. He already dealt with one, and now moved on to the other which dealt with the issue of idolatry, or what to do with things that had been offered to idols in pagan sacrifices. While, at first glance, it may seem foreign to us (although the typical American Evangelical deals far more frequently with idolatry than we might imagine!), this was a common issue for the Corinthians. Temples dedicated to the Greek/Roman pantheon of gods dotted the city and was a major part of their culture. It could be tricky even to eat a meal that was not (in part) tainted by idolatry. What were Christians supposed to do? (Especially those who had come out of idolatrous backgrounds!)

Paul began his answer by helping the Christians shift their focus. Instead of asking, “what is good for me?” The real question was, “What is good for my Christian brother/sister?” Although there are many practices that might be legal/permissible for us, it does not mean those things are helpful. In fact, they might even cause our fellow Christians to stumble in their discipleship with Jesus, being that they are weaker or more sensitive in these areas. Better for us to forego those liberties than to exercise them to someone’s harm.

Paul went on to provide a personal example. He did not command anything of the church which he was not willing to do. He too, had denied himself something to which he had an absolute right: financial support as a minister of the gospel. That Paul had a God-given right to it was clear from both societal norm and Scriptural practice. But Paul purposefully did not avail himself of that right, preferring his financial independence from the Corinthians which gave him the freedom to preach Jesus without distraction.

With his personal example given, Paul gets back to the overall principle, showing that individual sacrifice is worth it when it comes to the eternal salvation of souls. The commission we have received from Jesus is too important to let anything get in the way. The last thing any of us would want would be for us to block someone from seeing Jesus. We need to be willing to change whatever needs to be changed (within reason, among that which can be changed) if it helps someone know Christ.

We see it in two basic parts of our text: the method and the goal. Although the message of the gospel never changes, the methods we use to preach the gospel do. The goal of that preaching, however, does not. We want people to see Jesus. Do what it takes for Jesus to be known and for people to be saved!

1 Corinthians 9:19–27

  • The method (19-23).

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;

  1. Paul begins by laying out the basic principle: he was free but he made himself a slave. He was truly “free,” just as he mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 9, asserting not only his Christian freedom but also his apostolic authority. Paul was free in the same way that emancipated Roman slaves were free (same word in 7:21-22), without any man holding a claim over him. Although other hired teachers would be considered servants of those who hired them, Paul remained free of those financial ties because he was not reliant on the support of anyone in Corinth. Of course, his simple identity in Christ ensured his spiritual freedom, with also his apostolic calling ensuring his freedom to act and teach what God alone desired of him. Paul, like all born-again believers but especially such as a designated emissary of the Lord Jesus, was free.
  2. That freedom, however, was something Paul was willing to set aside in order to to make himself, “a servant to all,” literally speaking of enslaving himself to all. Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone go from freedom to slavery, and willingly at that? He gives us the reason: “that I might win the more.” The word Paul used for “win” is used five times between 9:19-22, and refers to acquiring, gaining. In other contexts, it might even mean “to make a profit.” Paul was not a businessman but he was in the business of acquiring people for Christ. Just as Peter left the role of a fisherman to become a fisher of men, so did Paul labor for Jesus to win people to the gospel message.
  3. With that in mind, it is important not to misunderstand this. For Paul to write that he would “win” people to Christ does not mean that he was taking credit for their salvation. Rather, it was only an expression to denote the role God used Paul to play. God alone saves men & women, but many times God uses people as His instruments to save those same men & women. The biggest problem with “soul winning” is not the terminology but the lack of participation and availability.
  4. That said, we do need to be careful to give all credit and glory to God. Those who take pride in their soul-winning do not understand what it is about. To win/gain souls for Jesus is not to pitch a sale – it is not to get people to merely repeat a prayer – it is not to argue someone into submission. Those things are human endeavors and techniques, and not a single person is born-again through human means. There are religions that require human intervention as priests for people to assure themselves of eternity, but it is not Biblical Christianity. The Bible tells us that we have but one great High Priest, Jesus, and that His work on the cross is fully sufficient for our salvation. Thus, He cried out, “It is finished!” He did not mean, “It is finished with the exception of the pastor or evangelist or the soul-winner who needs to do more work for someone to be saved.” He said only “It is finished.” Jesus did 100% of the work. All we do in evangelism (or soul-winning, or however you describe sharing your faith) is simply tell people what Jesus has done. We do not add to Jesus; we show people Jesus and get out of the way.

20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;

  1. Example 1: the Jews. It ought to be expected that Paul begins here, as this is who he was. He was born of the tribe of Benjamin, was trained as a rabbi and Hebrew scholar under the famed rabbi Gamaliel, and was a Pharisee among Pharisees. Paul knew the Jewish religion backwards and forwards for he lived it exclusively during his youth and early adulthood. And just as young Saul of Tarsus had a zeal to persecute Christians unto death, the converted apostle Paul had a zeal for his Jewish countrymen to be saved unto life. Thus, he “became as a Jew,” routinely during his missionary ministry. It was not that Paul ever stopped being a Jew (as a born-again Christian, we might say that he was a “fulfilled” Jew), but Paul intentionally put his Jewishness out front and acted as a faithful Jew every time he entered a new city. He would go to the local synagogue attending Saturday meetings and Torah readings, always finding ways to point people to Jesus as the Messiah, showing them the truth through the Scripture. Paul did not hesitate to “use” his Jewishness to draw and “win Jews” to Jesus.
  2. Question: What is the difference between Jews and “those who are under the law”? Likely nothing. There are some who suggest that this might refer to God-fearing Gentiles, or those Gentiles who were not fully converted to Judaism yet still worshipped according to the Jewish traditions and Scriptures. Yet that is not the most natural reading of the term. “Those who are under the law” are almost always those who are under the law of Moses, meaning Jews. If there is any distinction, it might refer to the Jewish customs that were often added on top of the Biblical law, with those customs themselves being treated as law. If Paul was around the Pharisees of his past, he certainly would have washed his hands in the ceremonially appropriate manner, wore his clothing in the culturally appropriate way, etc. We get a glimpse of this in the book of Acts when Paul arrived in Jerusalem to deliver a financial gift from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem Christians. He met with James and the other church leaders who counseled him to go with other Jewish Christians to the temple and pay the expenses for their vow, that Paul might be seen observing Jewish custom (Acts 21). Paul was not under compulsion to do it, but he did so. Why? Because he was willing to do what it took to “win those who are under the law.
  3. FYI: Depending on your Bible translation, you may also see a personal comment from Paul saying that he was not himself “under the law.” This is a phrase included in some of the oldest manuscripts (in some of the most wide-spread geographic traditions) but did not make it into the vast majority of manuscripts that came through the church. Regardless of your position of textual criticism, the idea is clear enough. Although Paul was a solid, law-abiding Jewish Christian, his Christianity freed him from any obligation to the Jewish law/customs. This is the work of Christ. Jesus completes the law for Jew and Gentile alike.

21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;

  1. Example 2: the Gentiles. As the apostle to the Gentiles, of course Paul would be willing to put aside Jewish customs to speak to the Gentiles and to win “those who are without law.” Remember that Paul was raised in the Roman city of Tarsus, outside of Judea. Although he had a Jewish upbringing, he was raised in a culture of Hellenistic (or Greek-custom) Jews and around many Gentiles overall. Paul knew how to relate to the Gentiles and he used it for the sake of the gospel.
  2. Theologically, this might bring up the question: How might someone be without the law? Doesn’t God’s law apply to everyone, regardless of our recognition of it? We see this in our own civic law, as ignorance of it is no excuse in violating it. Should you come into a great amount of money, you would be responsible for paying the appropriate taxes, even if you had zero idea as to what those taxes were. The IRS does not care about your ignorance; only your compliance. Likewise with the DPS officer who pulls you over on the highway for speeding, even when you didn’t know what the speed limit was at the time. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Thankfully our God has far more compassion than either the IRS or the police department, but He also has far more righteousness. Simply because a person does not know the details of God’s moral law does not excuse that person’s disobedience of it. You need not own a Bible that declares, “Thou shalt not kill,” for you to know inherently that murder is wrong. Whether we know God’s law or not, it must be obeyed.
  3. That said, there is a covenant law of God and a civil code of society that belongs to God’s nation of Israel; not to the rest of the world. The Gentiles were not commanded to keep the Year of Jubilee – they were not expected to wear only like-fibers in their clothing – they were not commanded to abstain from any number of things that were prohibited in the nation of Israel. In fact, not even the Gentile Christians were commanded to keep these laws and statutes. When Paul and the early church was presented with the Judaizing controversy, the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem determined that the Gentile Christians did not need to convert to Judaism to be saved. They were not to discount God’s holiness and righteous moral standard but neither were they bound to the Hebrew ceremonial and civil law/custom.
  4. Paul acknowledges this when he notes that these Gentiles were “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ.” It was not that God left anyone without a witness to His holiness (even the Gentiles show the law of God written on our hearts ~ Rom 2:15); we can and do see the righteousness of God in creation around us and what we inherently know to be universal rights and wrongs. More than that, our faith in Christ does not promote what theologians call “anti-nomianism,” or the idea that the moral law of God does not matter. No Christian (Gentile or Jew) is free to sin with abandon, using the grace of Jesus as an excuse. Paul dealt with this in detail in Romans 6-7. We cannot sin that grace would abound, nor sin because we are not under law but under grace. Those ideas are antithetical to the good work that Jesus has done in us through our redemption and justification. Jesus did not save us so that we could be more sinful. He saved us from sin, that we might glorify God. This is why Paul writes that we are “under law toward Christ.” Gentiles might not be under the civil and ceremonial law of Moses, but we are under the law of Christ. Jesus is our Lord and Sovereign King. We owe Him our allegiance and our obedience.

22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. …

  1. Example 3: the “” Who are the weak? These are the same people Paul has had in mind since Chapter 8. These are those who are spiritually immature or sensitive in certain areas. Keep in mind that the whole context of the “weak” in Chapters 8-9 has been Christians. This shows a slight change from vss. 20-21 with the Jews and Gentiles. In those examples, Paul writes how he changed his methods to win each group to Christ. Here, the weak are already Christian. When Paul writes that he “might win the weak,” he isn’t writing of their salvation because they are already saved. Again this is clear from the context. In Chapter 8, the weak were those Christians who had come out of pagan idolatry and had consciences weak/sensitive to those things. So how would Paul win those who were already won?
  2. Answer: Paul was winning them to a slightly different purpose. Here, it wasn’t winning someone to faith in Christ; it was winning someone as a disciple of Christ. IOW, it wasn’t justification but sanctification. The weak Christian was already justified in the sight of God (had their sins dealt with and made righteous in His sight through faith in Jesus). Yet the weak Christian still needed to grow in his/her faith, continually being conformed into Jesus’ image. This was where Paul accommodated them. Instead of putting a stumbling block in the way of these new Christian believers, Paul set his liberties aside that the weak Christians who were won might not be lost (so to speak). He didn’t want them left along the roadside to fall to trials and temptations – he didn’t want their faith to wither on the vine.
  3. Keep in mind that this does not mean that the weak Christians should always remain weak. The very reason discipleship exists is to strengthen Christians in our faith, helping us grow, to be edifies, to be made strong in Christ. But no weak person becomes strong overnight. Professional bodybuilders develop their physiques over literal years of training; no one steps from a skinny 9th grader to Mr. Universe without a lot of work. Paul was willing to accommodate weaker Christians that they might grow in strength. (We would be wise to do the same!)

… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

  1. This is the principle restated. Paul, though free, made himself a servant/slave to all that people might be won to Christ. Here, Paul writes that he did whatever it took. Be careful not to take this the wrong way. He did not mean that he was willing to do anything and everything, even abandon the teachings of the Bible, so that he could add numbers to a church congregation. Paul was not willing to jettison proper doctrine just to make sinners feel more comfortable and to get them to mentally agree to a milquetoast message. Some have tried this. They say, “Paul became all things to all men, so I’m going to do the same. I’m going to become a drunk for drunkards or a salesman for salespeople. I’m going to make people feel good about themselves just as they are, and get them to pray a prayer for Jesus.” Or they go to the opposite extreme and become legalists to reach other legalists, or religionists to reach religionists. That is not at all what Paul did. Whatever Paul did in practice, he never changed his teaching. Never once did Paul water down the message of the gospel. Any time that he went into the Jewish synagogues as a Jew, he still preached Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (which often caused him to get ejected from the synagogue). When Paul went to the Gentiles, although he may not have paid any attention to how he washed his hands or keeping a kosher diet, he still preached the Holy God who judges sin in righteousness, for which we need a Savior in Jesus. And as with the Jews, many times Paul was ejected and persecuted for his message. The basic message never changed; only the methods were flexible. To “become all things to all men” is not carte-blanche to abandon the Bible; it is only a recognition that we major on the majors and minor on the minors. Biblical doctrine is major; cultural preference is not.
  2. Why would he do it? To use “all means” (i.e. all Biblical means) to “save some.” The “some” is important. Why? Because it is a realistic recognition that not everyone will respond. To accommodate people just for the sake of accommodation is meaningless. The goal in showing people Jesus is not to make everyone feel good about themselves. It isn’t so that people will become more comfortable in their sin, satisfied in their condition as they comfortably head to hell. Rather, it is that “some” would be wakened from their slumber, see their need for Jesus and be saved! And yes, for that, we change our methods when needed – we accommodate different cultural practices. We even temporarily set aside certain liberties. Why? Because the salvation of souls is worth the sacrifice!

23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

  1. Why did Paul do what he did? For the gospel. When Paul changed his methods, it was never to shine a light on himself. Rather, it was always done to get him out of the way and for people to see Jesus. Think of it: if, in front of a Gentile audience, Paul insisted on acting as a Jewish rabbi and Pharisee, he would never even have willingly spoken with them. And if he did, yet maintained all of the customs and traditions, that would have been all the people saw. How could Gentiles hear the good news of Jesus who died for them, when all they could see was a seemingly high-and-mighty Jewish rabbi talk down to them? No wonder Paul became as a Gentile to the Gentiles! His whole goal was to get them to see Jesus, and that meant he needed to get himself out of the way. That was the only way he would be a “partaker” of these things with them. Paul was already in Christ through the message of the gospel, and he wanted all these other people to be in Christ through the message of the gospel. If they were going to partake in these things together – if they were to be joined as one body in Christ – it meant that these people needed to put their faith in That meant they needed to see and hear Jesus.

I cringe thinking about the number of times I might have gotten in the way of the gospel. It pains me to consider how I might have let my preferences get in the way of someone else who needs to see Jesus. Paul was willing to change his methods for the sake of the gospel message. Are we?

I remember one particular friend from college who came from a truly pagan background. At one point he professed to have put his faith in Christ and started coming to church. The only problem? Few people believed him. They kept expecting him to look just as “Christian” as they did. He didn’t dress like they did – he didn’t listen to the same music they did – he didn’t talk like they did. He was just a new Christian, a weak one, but he had a hunger for Christ. He did…until he got fed up of dealing with the people around him. Eventually, his faith withered like the seed in Jesus’ parable that rose up out of stony ground that was scorched by the sun. Whatever happened to him, I don’t know (or can’t remember), but it grieves me as a situation where too much focus was put on the method rather than the message.

May God guard us from such callousness! Where might you have allowed your preferences to be a stumbling block for someone else? Maybe it is a liberty you want to exercise – maybe it is the opposite, a custom or practice you want enforced. Know this: if it gets in the way of Jesus, it isn’t worth it. We want to see people saved; not stumbled.

  • The goal (24-27).

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

  1. As a runner, this is where the illustrations get fun for me. J From the examples here in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is evident that he was a sports fan. He was familiar with the various athletic games, one of which was famously tied to Corinth: the Isthmian games, named after the Isthmus of Corinth, where it was held every other year surrounding the famed ancient Olympian games. Both Paul and the Corinthians could relate to the idea of sports and the analogy ties well into the Christian life.
  2. Here, the idea is simple: run to win! People today run for all kinds of reasons (health, enjoyment, relaxation…maybe just to get their doctor off their back!). Paul wasn’t writing of casual jogging; he was running a race. At the very least, he referred to competition. The word used for “race” might literally be translated “stadium” (stadion ~ στάδιον) – it could refer either to a specific distance (just under 607 feet) or the arena where a race might take place. This wasn’t a casual jog around the block; this was a track meet, specifically for head-to-head competition. A prize was reserved for the winner and the goal was to win it. Even today, this is still the case. Although there is often a finisher’s medal for anyone who competes in a marathon, there is only one first place overall finish and one specific award that goes to the winner. In our race, we want to run to win.
  3. Question: How exactly does that relate to everything Paul has been writing? How does this fit into the context? Simple: the things Paul did, Paul did with a purpose. The reason he changed his methodology or temporarily set aside certain liberties was not because he was bored and had nothing better to do. He did these things for the prize of the high calling of Christ. He did those things because that was what was necessary to win the race. He did those things because that was what it would take for people to see Jesus and be saved. Some people like change for its own sake. That wasn’t Paul. He changed various preferences and practices for the specific goal of running the race Jesus set before him. Just like a runner goes into a race with different strategies based off the distance and his/her competitors, so was Paul aware of the different situations he faced with different people. He wanted to run to “obtain” that prize.

25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

  1. The wording is interesting here. We could potentially translate it, “And everyone who agonizes for the prize is self-controlled in all things.” The word used for “compete” comes from the same word we get “agony,” and although it can refer to engaging in a contest, it can also refer to a fight or struggle. Olympic athletes do not get to that level without blood, sweat, and tears. It takes agony to get to top of athletic achievement. And for that, it takes temperance/self-control. They have to eat a certain way, follow certain training schedules, stretch, strengthen, and do whatever it takes to hone their skills. More than that, it can all be for naught if they don’t peak at just the right time. It doesn’t matter who the fastest person might be on paper, in theory; it only matters who wins the race that particular day. And for what? Temporary, “perishable” glory. Today, Olympic athletes (and other international competitions) give medals of gold, silver, and bronze, cherished possessions that can get passed down from generation to generation. In the ancient Isthmian and Olympian games, the winners received crowns made out of twigs. For the Olympics, the crowns were made of olive vines; for the Isthmian games, it was of pine trees. Either way, these things would dry out and decay in a matter of weeks or months. It was fine for a moment but it would surely perish.
  2. The contrast with Christian service is immense! We also run and compete in our race, but we do it for “an imperishable crown.” Scripture lists several crowns that await believers in heaven: the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8), the crown of life (Jas 1:12, Rev 2:10), and the crown of glory (1 Pet 5:4). Are they literal crowns? Are they different names for one crown? Scholars debate the question. The main idea is clear enough: we have an award that awaits us in heaven, one that will not fade away. The reward that Jesus gives us at His Bema Seat (Judgment Seat) will last for all eternity!
  3. As for the context, Paul is saying that Christians are self-controlled for a purpose and a goal. Again, we don’t change methods out of boredom or just to rock the boat. Whatever we do, we do keeping our eye on Jesus and the high calling He has given us. We do these things with purpose, as Paul writes in verse 26…

26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

  1. There is intention in athletic performance. Runners that reach the peak of their potential don’t head out the door without at least some plan in mind for their workout. It might change from day to day (sometimes intervals at the track, other days as easy recovery runs), but these athletes understand that every workout ought to have a purpose. There is no benefit from “junk” miles. Likewise with boxing. There is a time and place for shadow boxing in training, but if an athlete wants to win a fight, at some point he/she has to actually get into a ring and spar with someone. There is intention as the person pushes forward to the goal.
    1. I wonder how much intention there is in the average Christian believer? How much is there in me? It is so easy to put ourselves on “autopilot” and just cruise through existence. But has Jesus called us to cruise? That wasn’t what He told His disciples when He ascended to heaven. He sent them out as His witnesses, to make disciples of all the nations. Their calling is our calling. Their commission is our commission. Yes, we do it it in different ways and in different settings. One person is called to be a missionary overseas – one person is trained to be an engineer in a technology firm. Both can be believers and both can be intentional with the time and opportunity that God gives them. 

27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

  1. The primary definition for the word translated “discipline,” is “to blacken an eye.” It literally speaks of physical violence, although it has other definitions depending on the context, such as bringing someone into submission, or putting someone under strict discipline (even punishment or torment). The idea is that Paul didn’t make it easy on himself. To use the illustration of a boxer, Paul didn’t beat up anyone else in a ring; he beat up himself. He was willing to discipline his own body in such a fashion if it meant achieving the desired goal. Like a boxer willing to train to the point of “no pain, no gain,” so was Paul willing to do in his evangelistic ministry.
  2. Why? Because Paul wanted to persevere. He wanted to go all 10 rounds – he wanted to complete the whole race distance, not being “disqualified” – not being found “unworthy” in the end. Again, the terminology is interesting. When Paul writes that he wanted to bring his body “into subjection,” the word comes from the same root as that of “slave.” We might say that Paul disciplined/punished his body to “enslave” it, which brings his argument full circle to verse 19. He was free from all men but made himself a salve to all in the gospel. How did he do it? By beating himself into submission, when necessary. He submitted himself so much so to Jesus as a slave in the gospel that it ensured that Paul never got in the way. He pushed himself down that Jesus would be lifted up.
    1. If we’re honest, this happens rarely for us. It does not come easy. When our preferences come in conflict with someone else, we rarely beat ourselves down; we puff ourselves up. We want to push our way, rather than see someone else’s. But that’s the problem. We want our way, when as Jesus’ servants, we ought to want His And what was Jesus’ own example for us? Talk about subjection! Jesus humbled himself to an amazing degree. Paul (attempted) to describe it to the Philippians: Philippians 2:5–7, “(5) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Jesus could not have set aside more than what He did when He came for us! If He was willing to do that for our salvation, how can we withhold the same for others?
  3. BTW: How might Paul find himself disqualified? Is Paul wondering about his own salvation? He is not worried about being disqualified from heaven. There is, however, a concern from him about being potentially disqualified from ministry. Remember the context at this point is Christian service, the things that Paul was desiring to do to win people to Christ and see them saved. His sincere hope is that this was something he would be able to continue. As great a man that Paul was, he was not perfect – he was not infallible. There has been only one infallible Man in history: the Lord Jesus Christ. As for Paul, he was just like the rest of us. He was fully capable of sin. What if he sinned horribly? What if he damaged his ministry in such a way that he himself became a hindrance to the gospel message? Thankfully, it never happened with Paul…but it could have. It has happened to countless other ministers in the history of the church. It has happened to countless other Christians in the history of the church, who so damaged their own testimonies that no one gave them any credibility in terms of the gospel.
    1. This is not said in condemnation; it is said in trepidation. No one is except from the possibility of disqualifying sin. Not me, not anyone. Thankfully, the blood of Jesus covers all our sins – even those that irreparably damage our credibility with others.
    2. Take sober heed to the warning. Don’t be disqualified!

Paul wrote a lot about sports in the latter few verses but we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Whether the picture was running or boxing, the idea is the same: Christians are in a grand struggle and the prize (the goal) is nothing less than the salvation of men and women to the glory of God. That end was worth the struggle and sacrifice – it is worth the training – it is worth putting forth time and intention.

But there was more. Paul’s goal was not only the salvation of others; it was also his own walk with the Lord Jesus. The better trained he was, the better equipped he was to be used by God in the gospel mission. If we are to be instruments or tools in the hands of the Lord, then we want to be effective, efficient tools. One of the most frustrating thing in DIY home projects is to get into the nitty-gritty, reach for a tool, only to find it busted or too dirty or drained of charge, etc. When you reach for a tool, you want to use it; not repair it. Thankfully, God is better than any homeowner (and can fix any way we have allowed ourselves to be broken!). But we want to be effective, efficient tools for His use. It means we need to be always ready, ever available, and totally flexible to His desires for us.


It isn’t easy to lay aside certain privileges and rights. But it becomes a lot easier when it is done for the right reasons. Paul taught the Corinthians the need to be flexible. When it came to the things that had been offered to idols, some of their rights could be set aside for the greater good of the gospel. Paul did it in his own life. Be it his personal finances or his personal preferences in ministry, he was willing to do whatever it took for Jesus to be made known.

Our context is different but the principle is not. The method of sharing the gospel might change from time to time; the goal of our preaching does not. Do what it takes for Jesus to be preached and for people to be saved!

For some, you might need to examine what needs to be temporarily set aside for the greater good of Jesus’ gospel. The last thing any of us wants is to get in the way of the gospel for someone else. If our demands keeps someone from seeing Jesus, then that’s something that needs to go. Again, we never surrender what is essential, but we do need to distinguish between preference and absolutes. (And if you’re not willing to back down, you need to ask yourself the hard question of why that is.)

Ancient Israel started up her cycle of apostasy again and the only way she would experience God’s mercy was through real repentance.  What they experienced spiritually with God, they would need to experience personally with Jephthah.

Real Repentance

Posted: January 7, 2021 in Judges

Judges 10:1-11:11, “Real Repentance”

You know a person is serious when you see action taking place. We hear the phrases, “Put up or shut up,” or “Put your money where your mouth is,” and understand the meaning. It is one thing to say something; it is quite another to our it into practice. A person might make a new year’s resolution to eat better and exercise, but it doesn’t mean much till he/she puts down the pizza and laces up some running shoes.

We might say something similar about repentance. It is one thing to say that we’re sorry; it is another to humble ourselves and take definite action. It is the difference between worldly sorrow (which does nothing) and godly sorrow (which produces true repentance). It is the difference between merely uttering words and (in the words of John the Baptist) bearing fruits worthy of repentance (Lk 3:8), in which our repentance can be both heard and seen.

This was what God desired for Israel in their ongoing saga with Him. They (like us) had the tendency to quickly speak of repentance while being slow to show it. And it needed to change.

Remember that Israel was in the period of the judges. These were deliverers raised up by God, not only to lead the nation but to deliver them from foreign oppressors. In God’s original intent for the Hebrews, they were not supposed to have to deal with oppression in the land, but that was dependent on the Hebrews actually being obedient to their covenant with the Lord. As it was, this was the consequence for their sin. Their repeated idolatry brought repeated turmoil and unless Israel repented, they would not know deliverance.

The most recent in this series of judges was Gideon. He delivered the nation from the Midianites through the evident and obvious power of God. Although he started out with much hesitancy, Gideon walked in abundant faith when he first started out with God. Sadly, it didn’t last. He did not continue to set a good example for Israel and set the nation on a path to trouble.

That trouble came with one of his sons, Abimelech. This man was not a judge raised up by God; he was a usurper…a self-appointed king. Abimelech took for himself what rightly belonged to God and eventually God brought down his evil upon his own head. (Literally! Abimelech’s skull was crushed when a woman dropped a millstone on it.)

This left Israel in an uncommon situation. Technically, they had been delivered from an oppressor, but not a foreign one. Usually, God raised up a deliverer to save Israel from foreigners, but this time there was neither any foreigner (as Abimelech was a Hebrew), nor a judge (Abimelech died in battle). This left the nation without any unifying leader.

What was the nation to do? Start over. They now needed a judge to lead them and God graciously gave them even as the people continued in their rebellion. Through it all, God showed immeasurable patience. But even the patience of God has its limit! Israel would find this limit and learn an important lesson on confession and repentance.

What was that lesson? To do it! Don’t just speak words about repentance; do it. Put it into practice…put up or shut up. Of course, that applies not only to Old Testament Israel but also the New Testament Church. Praise God that He has so much compassion upon His repentant people, but may we truly be repentant!

We’ll see it in three sections of our text:

1. The quiet years with the minor judges (10:1-5).

2. The sinful years of idolatry (10:6-16).

3. The new opportunity with a new leader (10:17-11:11).

Sadly, God’s people sin and sin often. Even with our gracious forgiving God, may we never take His grace for granted, but may we confess and repent in fruitful sincerity!

Judges 10

– The quiet years (10:1-5).

1 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir.

A. “Tola” = either “worm” or “scarlet.” Common name in the tribe of Issachar.

B. Interesting that Tola was of Issachar but lived in Ephraim. We do not have enough information to draw any conclusions about it but it is notable that he lived outside of what should have been his normal tribal area.

C. What did he do? We don’t know. We do know that he “arose to save Israel.” But that begs the question: save Israel from what / from whom? God gave this man as a deliverer but we do not read in Chapter 10 of any foreign enemy from whom Israel required deliverance. This seems to point us back to Chapter 9. Remember, Israel’s last oppressor was not foreign but domestic. Tola was raised for Israel as a deliverer from Israel…or more precisely, from the usurper of Israel. Abimelech was a violent man, a murderer willing to burn women and children to the death. He was as evil as any foreign oppressor who came against Israel.

a. Sometimes we need salvation from ourselves! We can be our own worst enemies.

D. Overall, the years seem to have been relatively quiet. For 23 years Tola judged Israel and virtually nothing is recorded. Nothing good…but certainly nothing bad. Again we need to be careful jumping to conclusions. Just because the Bible records little of Tola does not mean that he was unimportant or insignificant. It just means that the Bible is silent.

a. The Bible is silent on a great number of saints. Our names may not be recorded in any book of history but they are recorded in the Book of Life!

3 After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 Now he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; they also had thirty towns, which are called “Havoth Jair” to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Camon.

A. This man also had a common name among Israel, though it seems to have been one he personally promoted. (“Havoth Jair” = “tent villages of Jair.”) His tribe is not identified, with the text only saying he was “a Gileadite,” which is to say that he dwelled on the Transjordan side of the Promised Land. Quite often this was a reference to East Manasseh, though the text at this point does not specify.

B. What we do know is that Jair set up his sons as a kind of ruling class or family. Nothing is written of him that he saved or delivered Israel from anyone; rather that he only “judged” Israel implying a position of civic leadership rather than a military one. He and his sons led the countryside across the Transjordan for 22 years. What was their relationship with God? Did they even have a relationship with God? Nothing is said or known. Again, it is impossible to conclude one way or the other and we need to be careful of our assumptions.

Put these two judges together, and Israel had some good decades. Some scholars believe that the two judgeships of these men overlapped, although it is just as possible that they were consecutive reigns (implied by the “after him” in verse 3). Either way, these were good years, quiet years in the life of Israel. No enemy is mentioned and no battle is fought. Yet the quiet seemed to be itself a stumbling block for Israel as they didn’t use their time wisely (as will be seen in the next section).

Maybe you’re going through a quiet time right now. What are you doing with it? We can (and should!) praise God for the peaceful seasons of our lives. After all, spiritual battle is stressful and we need the occasional breather! But even those quiet seasons can be productive seasons. In athletics, the off-season isn’t a time to get fat and lazy; it is time to recover, work on fundamentals, and plan for what lies ahead. When we have spiritual “down” time, we need to use it for the same! Yes, recover…but work on those fundamentals of prayer, worship, and study – think ahead to plans that God might have for your future. We can recover yet still stay engaged. When we don’t, that is when we get into danger.

– The sinful years (10:6-18)

6 Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. 7 So the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon. 8 From that year they harassed and oppressed the children of Israel for eighteen years—all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, in Gilead. 9 Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.

A. Before we look at the details, take a step back and look at the context. If Tola and Jair did have consecutive terms as judges, it adds to 45 years of relative peace and quiet. The question needs to be asked: How far into those 45 years did the people of Israel wait before they began their descent into idolatry? How much time of their quiet did they actually spend in the quiet (but sincere) worship of God? Did they have any time of true worship?

a. The human heart is a depraved thing! We can be given the world on a platter and still want what we don’t have. In fact, that was precisely the situation with Adam and Eve. They had everything anyone could possibly ask for. Yet the one thing God forbade them to eat, that was what they desired and that was what they ate. And the consequences that came from it came as a flood! We are little different today. Our hearts are deceitful and wicked (Jer 17:9), never satisfied with what is good, always seeking out what is sinful. Who can save us from ourselves? None but Jesus! Praise God that He transforms our hearts! Though we still struggle with our sinful flesh, we have been given new lives and new hope in Christ. But it underscores how utterly dependent on Him. Should we but relax and let down our guard, we would (just like Israel) go straight back to the sins of our past.

B. And sin, they did. It was as if Israel surveyed all the various gods of the land and decided to serve every god except the true God. All of the peoples who they were supposed to conquer (specifically to bring God’s judgment upon them and to eliminate the potential temptation of their idolatrous ways) were the peoples they emulated. They took on the worship practices of all the local pagans. These were gods worshipped through sexual fornication, through child sacrifice, and through multiple kinds of evil. And who worshipped them? The Israelites! They engaged in exactly the same behaviors for which God had judged the original inhabitants of the land. The people of God (supposedly) acted as pagans against God.

C. It is no wonder that “the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.” How could it be otherwise? God had hotly judged other nations for less than what Israel had done. The Gentiles may have done it longer, but Israel seemed to compress it altogether. It was as if they looked for as ways to practice as much idolatry as possible and do it all at once. Thus, because Israel “forsook” God, God did the same with them. He gave them (or, per the text “sold them” as if they were slaves) into the hands of their enemies to the east and to the west (the Ammonites and the Philistines, respectively). Normally, God raised up judges to redeem/deliver His people out of slavery. This time, He specifically gave/sold them into slavery. And why not? They already prostituted themselves out as slaves to the gods of the pagans. Why not give them over to the hands of the pagans themselves?

D. For 18 long years this oppression took place, all the while the people of Ammon pressing farther and farther into the land of Israel. Ammon was an eastern kingdom, a people on the Transjordan side. It makes sense that Ammon would first oppress those in Gilead, but it didn’t stop there. They “crossed over the Jordan” to go against Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim as well. The picture is that of the entire nation being oppressed for long years on end. Why? In a word: sin. Sin that is unchecked by God’s people will be checked by God Himself. (With Israel and with us!)

10 And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!”

A. Finally, confession! It took 18 years but eventually the Israelites had their moment of clarity when they realized their position as the prodigal son in the pigpen. They looked around and realized that the suffering they experienced was needless, brought about by their own sinful stupidity. That was when they turned to the Lord, called their sin what it was and confessed their two evils.

B. Evil #1: they forsook God. They had a golden opportunity to serve YHWH God of their covenant and they despised it. Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil chili, so did Israel despise their relationship with God and turn away. They denied the God who loved them and redeemed them. They abandoned the God who had adopted them as His own.

C. Evil #2: they served false gods, the Baals. Bad enough that they turned away from YHWH God, yet far worse to serve the imaginary false gods of their pagan enemies. Israel turned away from the truth to purposefully serve the lie. It would be like leaving a real, regular paycheck to choose to get paid in Monopoly money: utterly ridiculous. To know the truth, yet abandon it to intentionally choose a lie? This is an insult to the nth degree!

a. Be careful not to point the finger too quick at Israel. If it is bad for ancient Israel to abandon God for lies, how much worse it is when born-again believing Christians turn aside from Christ to serve the false things of this world? We do know the truth – so much so that we have real relationship with the God who IS the truth. To shut our eyes to Him that we can run to the world is insanity. Yet it is sadly common insanity.

b. This is exactly our need for confession! Israel finally woke up to their sin and confessed it to God; so can we. When we get to the end of ourselves and see our surrounding pigsty, as terrible as it is, it is the perfect opportunity for us to confess our despair and sin to God and ask for His forgiveness in Jesus!

11 So the LORD said to the children of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines? 12 Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

A. How exactly this response came from the Lord to Israel is uncertain. There is no prophet of God mentioned at the time. Perhaps this was a word of God that came through the priest serving at the tabernacle. However it was given, it was certain that the Lord God gave it.

B. It was also certainly disappointing and shocking in the ears of the people when it came. They cried out in confession, yet God seemingly responds in coldness. It shouldn’t have been surprising. For decades, God had consistently delivered the people while the people consistently sinned against Him. No matter how many times God delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, Israel always went back to their sins and their false gods. There was perfect symmetry between the two: seven nations from which Israel was delivered and seven false gods that Israel served. It was a one-for-one failure rate for Israel. No wonder God gave them over to their sins. If they wanted to serve those false gods so badly, then Israel should cry out to those same gods for help. Why should YHWH God continually deliver a people who consistently rejects Him?

a. Why should He, indeed? There comes a point when God gives people over to the consequences of their own sinful choices. Paul describes a cycle of such tragedy in Romans 1, where mankind continually sins and God gives them over to the next level of sin. The same thing happens with individual people. The more someone chooses to reject God, the more the person’s heart is hardened against God, and the more likely it is that God hardens that person’s heart (just like what happened with Pharaoh). If someone chooses to reject Jesus, Jesus will respect that choice and allow that person to live with the eternal consequences of that rejection.

b. The key is not to reject Jesus! Don’t harden your heart to His voice. When you know God calls you to repent, do it and do it immediately!

15 And the children of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. …

A. Israel repeated their confession, showing true sorrow and contrition. They did not shy away from the description of “sin.” They didn’t downplay it (as we so often do), saying that “We messed up… We made a mistake… We got distracted… We stumbled a bit…” What did Israel say? “We have sinned!” Sin is sin, and we need to be willing to call it what it is. We need to understand the true sinfulness of our sin (along with the true righteousness of God) if we are to turn away from it.

B. And that was what Israel did. More than acknowledging their sin, they acknowledged God’s right to act however He wished. Whatever judgment God determined, that judgment was right. Granted, they cried out and begged for His deliverance. But in the end, only God can determine what is right and wrong. God knows what is just. Whatever it is man might do, far better to be in the hands of God, appealing to His mercy.

a. Are we willing to place ourselves fully in the hands of God? Sometimes the hands of a doctor might initially cause great damage but bring great healing. It is undoubtedly a traumatic thing for a man to have his chest split open…but if it leads to a successful artery bypass and healing, then it is a good thing. Sometimes, placing ourselves in the hands of God for discipline is harsh and hard, but there is no doubt that for those who are His children, His healing comes on the heels of His discipline. Our God is a good God, even as He is a just God.

C. Finally, the reality of Israel’s repentance was seen in their actions. They demonstrated fruits of repentance. They spoke words of sorrow, but did more than speak; they “put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD.” They turned away from their sin and turned back to God. Earlier, they forsook God. Now, they forsook their forsaking, falling upon the mercies and compassion of God.

… And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

A. The wording here is so interesting in that it uses the language of impatience. Although we might easily say that God earlier lost His patience with Israel’s continued sin, now things have changed. This time, God became impatient/short with their “misery.” He loved His people so much that He could not stand to see them in distress. Though they deserved destruction, God would not give it out of His love for His people. (Praise God for His abounding mercies and everlasting love in Christ Jesus!)

The nation had wandered into terrible sin! And not just “wandered,” but ran, played, and rolled around in repeated unrepentant sin for decades. They abandoned God and it was not until they began to experience the full consequences of their actions did they see their need to repent. Thankfully, God received their repentance, demonstrating His wonderful mercy.

How have you wandered from (or more precisely, sinned against) God? From what do you need to repent? We have a tendency of repeating this same cycle with similar consequences. You don’t need to experience them! The sooner we repent, the better! The more we sincerely throw ourselves on the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, the sooner we too will experience His mercies.

Thankfully, the people had begun finding their way back from their wandering as they turned to God in true repentance. What they had done spiritually with Him, they would illustrate practically with someone else: the new leader raised up by God for the nation for that moment.

17 Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah. 18 And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

A. Remember it was the 18 years of oppression by the Ammonites that caused Israel to finally confess and truly repent toward God. With God’s renewed compassion for His people, He needed to set the stage for their deliverance and (for the time) that meant a coming battle. The various armies begin to gather together, preparing to fight. But there was a problem: Israel had no commander. At this point, they had no judge – no military leader in Israel. God would have to provide them one…and He would do so from a most unexpected source.

Judges 11

– The new opportunity (11:1-11).

1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.

A. Jephthah was a warrior but one with a poor pedigree. He was known as a “mighty man of valor,” but he was also known as an illegitimate child, the “son of a harlot.” If he had been born of an unloved wife of his father, he would have had rights. If he had been born of a concubine of his father, he would have had at least some respectability. As it was, he was openly despised by his brothers and the rest of his countrymen. It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t unusual for the culture either. Ultimately, he was rejected by his brothers and forced to live in exile.

a. It is not too unlike how Jesus was rejected by His own nation of Israel. People dogged Him with rumors surrounding His birth and although He came into His own, His own did not receive Him.

B. In Jephthah’s exile from Gilead, he dwelt in (what most scholars believe) was Syria “in the land of Tob.” Ironically, the Hebrew word tob/tov means “good.” Why was it ironic? Notice who was with him: “Worthless men.” Those were the only ones willing to be in the presence of a harlot’s son and true to their character, they did bad things. Although the text is not explicit (notice the italics), the inference is that the group went out raiding together. It makes sense…if you’re a warrior, you’re going to find some way to use your skills of war. There will be battles and raids, whether done for good reasons or evil ones.

The whole picture is of a rather unsavory character. This isn’t the kind of guy one would normally seek out as a national leader. Desperate times, however, call out for desperate measures…

4 It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 Then they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.”

A. The “war” described is likely the battlefield division seen at the end of Chapter 10. At this point, Israel understood that they had no qualified man among them to lead them (which itself was a poor indictment of the nation), so they put their heads together to try to imagine who might have the skills to lead them to battle. Their conclusion? The rejected bastard Gileadite son Jephthah who lived as a raider and outlaw. Scripture never specifies whom Jephthah conducted raids against (unlikely it was Israel), but this was a man always on the run from someone. This was a man who lived by the sword.

B. He was a man of war; was he a man of faith? At this point in his life, we don’t know. At this point in the story we are not even given any assurance that Jephthah was raised up by God. For all we know, this guy was simply chosen by a committee who was trying to brainstorm names of men who might not get them all killed. Yet what do we know about God’s sovereignty? God always reigns – He is always in control. Nothing we do surprises Him, nor is anything we do unable to be used by God in His plans. And God had a plan for Jephthah…perhaps in a way that Jephthah himself did not even know. Soon, this man would be a man of faith, even to be included in the famed “hall of faith” in the book of Hebrews (Hb 11:32).

a. What we don’t know, God does. The people we might not ever imagined can be used for God’s glory are sometimes the very people that God chooses. That is very good news for some of us: it means that God can even use people like us! For as surprised as we might be by some of the people God chooses, we can be sure they are just as surprised at God’s choice of us!

7 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”

A. If this sounds familiar, it should. After all, this was exactly what Israel did with God. Just like Jephthah was rejected by his brothers, so was God rejected by His people. Just like his brothers (or countrymen) eventually turned back to Jephthah for help, so did the Israelites turn back to God in confession. And just like Jephthah was less-than inclined to help them, so it seemed that God was ready to turn His people over to their sin. Israel was getting a very practical lesson in true repentance. What they expressed to God on a spiritual level, they now needed to practice person-to-person. It was one thing for them to humble themselves in prayer; it was quite another thing for them to humble themselves to fellow Israelite whom they had to look in the eye.

a. If we think about it, it ought to be the reverse. It ought to be a weightier thing for us to humble ourselves before God than before one another. But it often isn’t. We might expect to assume some posture of humility before God…even while we keep some inner part of our heart in rebellion. But when we have to look at someone in the eye or talk to them directly, it is a hard thing to be humble and truly repentant. That kind of humility is what we need with our heavenly Father! We need to feel it in our gut and do more than mouth some words; we need to be sincere. Sometimes it takes hard, practical lessons with one another for us to learn it.

8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

A. If the first part of the outreach of the elders of Gilead to Jephthah showed their humility, the second part showed their true repentance. In fact, the Hebrew word for “turned again” is sometimes translated “repentance” in the Bible, indicating a true change of mind as well as a change of direction. Additionally, the elders of Gilead had fruit/action to back up their words. They offered Jephthah not only military command but national (or at least, tribal) leadership. This is seen in the two different words of “commander” (vs. 6) and “head” (vs. 8). The elders of Gilead upped the ante and offer. They were looking for more than a temporary general that they could hire/fire; they were truly submitting themselves into the hand of Jephthah as their judge.

9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.” 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

A. The confirmation from Jephthah ought to be expected. Israel was a fickle people, after all! They ended up swearing a divine oath, the agreement was struck, and Jephthah confirmed it all in the name of YHWH God, even repeating the commitment before the Lord in a solemn ceremony, showing God as a personal witness.

B. The point? This was a big deal! Gilead submitting itself under the leadership of Jephthah was not something to be taken lightly – it wasn’t a ho-hum “pie crust” promise. Rather, it was true commitment, something done in the presence of, and according to the righteous character of God Himself.

a. This is what real repentance is. It isn’t a ho-hum, off-the-cuff “I’m sorry” with no real thought given to it. If we are not truly surrendering ourselves anew to the Holy God then we have not truly repented. Again, repentance involves not only contrition in our hearts, but a change of mind in the way we think about things and a change of action/direction in the way we do things. It is giving ourselves into the hands of Jesus, knowing that He is God and that He is worthy of our full obedience.

Jephthah put the people to the test. Had they really repented? How far were they willing to go to show it?

Have we? At some point, we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to act according to the sorrow we claim to have, recommitting ourselves to Christ giving Him whatever it is we need to give Him in the moment. Maybe it is following His command to seek reconciliation with our brother or sister. Maybe it is restoring something that we’ve taken. Maybe it is public repentance for public sin. Whatever it is the word of God says about our situation, that we need to do.


Israel’s story is our story. As New Testament Christians, we go along our way doing what we do. Things seem quiet for a while…until we wander. And when we wander, we wander bad. Soon, we find ourselves doing the things we swore we’d never do, falling right back into the same sins from which we were saved. Is God patient with us? Yes, incredibly so. But even God’s patience has a limit. If we continue in that unwavering sin, at some point God acts, turning us over to our consequences. He loves us too much to see us continue in destructive paths and He will not hesitate to bring hard, but loving discipline into our lives.

At that point, we have a choice: we can either block out the leading of God and conviction of the Holy Spirit, or we can humbly submit ourselves to His hand and bring forth true fruits of repentance. Need it be said? Repent! Do not wait – do not hesitate. That which God brings to your mind – the actions of which God reveals to your heart – confess those things to Him in truth and surrender yourself anew to our Lord Jesus.

And the promise we have as the Church is so much clearer than what was had by ancient Israel. We have the written guarantee of God’s forgiveness: 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Never forget to whom that promise was written: born-again believing Christians. That promise is to you. Avail yourself of it! Confess your sins to God in Christ, turning away from them, and turning back to Christ in humility and worship.

The promise was written to Christians but the invitation is open to all. Anyone can become a Christian…and it takes exactly the same steps. Confess your sins to God, agreeing with Him that you have rebelled against Him. Humble yourself before Jesus in faith, believing Him to be God in the flesh who died for you at the cross and risen from the grave. Surrender yourself to Him, asking Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

On the question of self-denial of one’s own Christian rights and liberties, the apostle Paul set a great example for the rest of us. Do what is best for the gospel! Trust Jesus with everything else.

Paul Went First

Posted: January 3, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:1-18, “Paul Went First”

“You go first.” When uttered among young men (particularly the pre-teen versions of me and my friends), these were famous last words. Someone had come up with a dare or challenge of some kind and someone needed to take the first step. It did not always end poorly, but it sure did not always end well, either!

Some challenges need a person to take the first step and set the example if anyone else is to follow in kind. When it came to taking those steps of faith with the church, Paul was eager to lead the way. He never exhorted the church to action he was not willing to personally take. That included the issue of self-denial, even when it came to something as personal and important as his financial support.

“Oh great: a sermon about a preacher saying how he has the right to be paid. Just what we need. More guilt about money.” Not so fast…be careful not to let the example of 1 Corinthians 9 throw you. As it becomes clear, the main point of Chapter 9 is not about ministerial salary but about submission to the gospel and doing whatever it takes to avoid stumbling someone from receiving Christ as Lord.

As should be obvious, Chapter 9 comes on the heels of Chapter 8, and this is simply a continuation of the subject. Paul had begun answering questions in a new Q&A section of his letter. The first dealt with issues of sex, singleness, and marriage, which he answered thoroughly. This new issue dealt with idolatry, or more precisely, “things offered to idols,” (8:1). The city of Corinth, like most cities in the ancient Roman empire, had its share of pagan temples in which sacrifices were made to false gods on a regular basis. In fact, many of the Christians to whom Paul wrote had previously offered these sacrifices when they were still pagan Gentiles. Now that they were Christian Gentiles, what would they (along with their fellow Christian Jews) do with these former offerings? Could they eat the meat? With their newfound faith, they were no longer offering animals to false imaginary gods, but was it legal for them to eat meat that had been sacrificed? Meat was only meat, after all. Why waste a good steak?

The first part of Paul’s answer dealt less with the effect on the individual than the effect on his/her neighbor. If a Jewish Christian ate sacrificed meat in front of a Gentile Christian who previously brought that sacrifice, how might that impact or even stumble that person? How might it hurt those who were weak or immature in the faith? It was something that the Christians had the right to do, but it did not mean that it was wise or lawful to do it. As for Paul, he thought it better to sacrifice one’s own right if it meant helping his brother or sister walk with Jesus.

This was not academic theory with Paul. This was not a double-standard instruction that was “good for thee, but not for me.” Paul could point to a very practical example in his own life where he denied himself a certain right, that someone else might not stumble in their reception of the gospel of Christ.

What was it? His own pocketbook. Paul was willing to endure hardship and deny himself his right to financial support if that was what it took to bring people to Christ. When it came to the gospel, Paul demonstrated in his own personal life that Jesus was worth any sacrifice.

Do what is best for the gospel! Trust Jesus with everything else.

Verses 1-18 break into three major sections: (1) Paul’s authority, (2) Paul’s answer, and (3) Paul’s aim.

1 Corinthians 9:1–18

  • Paul’s authority as an apostle (1-2).

1 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

  1. If you follow along in a different translation, you may have noticed that the two questions in verse 1 are reversed. It does not affect the meaning but the reversal does make far more sense in the preceding context from Chapter 8. Paul just got done writing how he’d be willing to forego eating meat altogether if it meant that his brother in Christ would not be stumbled by his actions. If the other brother was weaker in his Christian maturity – if this was a sensitive spot for him, then Paul was willing to make the sacrifice on his account. It did not mean he was in bondage to the brother. It did not mean that the weaker brother had veto-power over every decision Paul might make. It did mean that Paul was willing to sacrifice the minor things if it meant the best for his brother (or sister).
  2. Paul was “” One dictionary notes about this particular word, “[this] is the full citizen who belongs to the polis, the city state, in contrast to the slave who did not enjoy full rights as a citizen,” (NIDNTT). Paul had this same kind of freedom – not only as a natural born citizen of a Roman colony (which he was), but most of all as a true citizen of the kingdom of God. What does that freedom matter when it comes to self-sacrifice? (Which is the context out of Chapter 8.) Everything! What Paul gave for his fellow Christians, he gave willingly, not under compulsion. He was not bound by the law to make these sacrifices nor was he guilted into it through the nagging complaints of others. What he gave, he gave in love. What he gave, he gave freely as a free man in Christ Jesus. He gave it freely for Christ Jesus – not in bondage to any man or woman, but as one who was bound to Christ.
  3. Not only did Paul give it freely, but he gave it having every right to make a different decision. He was an “” Apart from Jesus Himself, who has more authority in the church than an apostle? If Paul wanted to eat meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols (or engage in any other liberty), how many people had the authority to tell him otherwise? When Paul confronted Peter to his face (Gal 2:11), he confronted Peter as a fellow apostle in the Lord. They were on equal footing. If they weren’t, then Paul would have likely followed the instruction he gave to Timothy about addressing the sins of pastors and elders (1 Tim 5:19-20), being more orderly and with witnesses. Because they were equal in authority (both being apostles), Paul did what he did. But the broader point is that Paul had the right to act in any situation because he was a true apostle of the Lord Jesus.
  4. This was not him talking up his own ego. He had the credentials to back it up. First of all, Paul had “seen Jesus.” Paul had his own personal eyewitness account of the Risen Lord. When Peter and the other original 11 surviving apostles met in Jerusalem prior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they saw the need to fill the apostolic gap left by Judas Iscariot, and one of the qualifications for the men was that the person needed to be present for Jesus’ ministry, from His baptism to His resurrection (Acts 1:22), Jesus’ resurrection being most important. If someone was to serve Jesus as someone sent out by Jesus, then that person needed to have seen Jesus in order for Jesus to send him. Although Paul was not present for Jesus’ earthly ministry (though as a younger member of the Sanhedrin, he surely would have been aware of it), he was a certain eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus made a personal appearance to Paul on the day of Paul’s conversion. So yes, he had seen the Lord. That said, it is important to note that this experience was not all that qualified Paul as an apostle. Otherwise, any one of the over 500 people to whom Jesus appeared at once (15:6) would have been able to claim legitimate apostolic authority. What was required along with an eyewitness experience was the commission and calling of Christ. Technically, an apostle is simply a “sent one” – it is the emissary of someone else. If a VIP did not show up in person, he might send a delegate to speak and act on his behalf. That delegate was the person’s “apostle.” As for Paul (and others) he had been sent out by the Lord Jesus. He was personally commissioned for his ministry by Christ. Again, this hearkens back to Paul’s initial conversion the day he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus and Jesus told him he was to be “a minister and a witness,” and was sending him to the Gentiles to preach the gospel (Acts 26:16-18).
  5. That was one apostolic credential of Paul’s (arguably, the most important!). The second was the church of Corinth itself. They were his “work” and his “seal,” or his certification of apostleship. If anyone was able to testify to Paul’s role as an apostle it should have been the people of the churches that Paul planted. Not a single Christian in Corinth was able to honestly question Paul’s authority and calling. They themselves were the proof. How could they know Jesus sent Paul? Because Paul preached Jesus to them – because now they knew Jesus in faith and truth – because now they were saved, in a real relationship with the living God. All of this came through the work and testimony of Paul. If the Corinthians could not attest to Paul’s apostleship, who could?

Paul had legitimate authority as an apostle. He sets this up from the beginning because of its importance. If anyone had the right to do things that might perhaps cause stumbling offense to weaker, more sensitive Christians, it was an apostle of the Lord. Arguably, all Christians are less mature in the faith than Jesus’ chosen apostles. Yet as one of those chosen apostles, Paul was willing to set his position and liberties aside for the sake of others. This set the stage for the example that he was setting for everyone else in the church.

Although we cannot claim apostolic office, we can thank God for the freedoms we have in Jesus. We have the right to do all kinds of things (as becomes plain in the next part of our text). That someone might make a different choice than us in a certain situation does not necessarily mean that either party is in sin. After all, we have freedom in non-essential areas. But wisdom dictates that we look to the example set by others who have come before us, particularly those whom God used in marvelous visible ways, such as the apostles. If Paul did not think of himself as too “big” to set aside certain freedoms and liberties, then neither should we.

  • Paul’s answer to his questioners (3-14).

3 My defense to those who examine me is this:

  1. FYI: The Greek for “defense” is apologia (ἀπολογία) from which we get our word “apology” and “apologetics.” To say that Paul offered an “apology” is not to say he was sorry or regretted anything; it was to for Paul to provide his answer, his defense for his actions. The branch of theology called “apologetics” deals with (1) defending the Biblical faith against outside attacks, and (2) providing reasons to believe Biblical truth, in light of and in contrast with, the surrounding culture. In a culture that is filled with as much false teaching as our culture is, the idea of apologetics becomes extremely important. How do we respond to certain pastors and church congregations that drops gold dust from the ceiling, or visits the graves of certain saints of the past, hoping to “suck” the anointing from them? Or, in external matters, how do we respond to political theories that infiltrate churches and seminaries that teach certain races are inherently good or evil? This is the need for solid, Biblical apologetics today.
  2. BTW: This is needed not only on an academic level but also on a practical day-to-day level. You have friends, neighbors, and co-workers that have questions about basic Christianity. They don’t know what makes Christianity different than any other religion. If all religions basically teach that people should be nice to one another, what makes Jesus and the Bible any different? It’s important for people like you to know answers. Your neighbors won’t usually call up a local pastor to ask; they’ll ask you. And what will you say? As Peter writes, “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Pt 3:15).

As to our actual context, Paul’s apologetic wasn’t dealing with fundamental issues of the faith; the focus of his answer/defense was specific to this particular issue of liberty.

4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?

  1. Out of all the freedoms that Paul had, one of the most obvious was the most personal. Paul had the authority/right to take a salary and support a family. That may not have been the first freedom on the minds of the Corinthians. After all, Paul recently finished a section in the letter extolling the benefits of being single in ministry, writing that he wished that more people made the same decision he had made regarding marriage. Even so, Paul had the right to marry if he wanted. In fact, he had the right to financial support in general. He, just like anyone else, had the normal needs for food, drink, and shelter. He had the right to support a family if he so desired. Other apostles did, without any complaint of the church. In fact, Peter/Cephas was already married at the time that Jesus initially called him to follow as a disciple (Mk 1:30). If Peter had this right even when being financially supported by the church (no longer being a fisherman), then why would Paul be any different?
  2. Notice this word “” This is the same word translated “liberty” in Chapter 8:9, as well as translated “authority” in 9:18. It normally is translated “authority” in the New Testament, but it does also pertain to rights, power, and (in certain contexts) liberty and freedom. The idea is that Paul was empowered with the freedom to do all the things he mentioned. He did not disparage the other apostles regarding their lifestyle choices. Although he had a personal desire for more Christians to remain unmarried for the purpose of freedom in ministry, he did not begrudge anyone the right to marry. These were legitimate choices that any Christian (apostle or otherwise) might make. In fact, Paul affirmed the right to choose them. He states that he had those same rights, even though he chose not to use them.
    1. FYI: “a believing wife” might literally be translated “a sister-wife,” with the context being that of a sister-in-Christ. Just like born-again men are brothers in the Lord, so are born-again women sisters in the Lord. That kind of believing faith is essential when it comes to Christian marriage. Paul had the right to marry; he did not have the right to marry an unbeliever. As Scripture repeatedly emphasizes, Christians need to seek to be equally yoked in marriage. It is one thing if you come to faith once you are already married; it is something else to be single and date someone of a different faith. You set yourself up for sin and sadness if you proceed.
  3. The mention of Barnabas is interesting, considering that Barnabas was not with Paul at Corinth. At the time of Paul’s arrival, his primary travelling partner was Silas, but he was also accompanied by Timothy and sometimes Luke and others. As for Barnabas, the last time he was seen in Scripture prior to Paul’s arrival in Corinth was at the time of their vehement argument and split (Acts 15:36-40). What makes the mention of Barnabas so wonderful is that it is evidence that there were no ill feelings between the two men. Paul may have sharply disagreed with Barnabas regarding John Mark, but Paul never saw Barnabas as anything less than a full-fledged beloved brother in the Lord – and, Paul still saw Barnabas as a worthy example for other younger believers to follow, even believers who may not have yet met him.
    1. As an aside: note that Paul includes Barnabas among the other apostles. Considering that we saw Paul’s own apostolic credentials, can it be said that Barnabas also had his own qualifications? Some of the details, we do not know. Although Scripture is clear that God the Holy Spirit specifically spoke and called Barnabas and Paul to the missionary ministry (Acts 13:2), we do not know when Barnabas became an eyewitness of the Risen Jesus. We know that it must have happened at some point, since he is included among the apostles (both here and Acts 14:14); we just do not have Biblical documentation as to when it happened.
  4. When Paul writes of refraining from working, he is not accusing the other apostles of laziness, nor does he imply that gospel ministry is not true work. On the contrary, he soon uses farming terminology to refer to ministry labor. Rather, Paul refers to bi-vocational ministry. Quite often (though not always), Paul financially supported himself through finding work as a maker of tents as he went from town to town. In fact, that was how he was introduced to Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, as Aquila was a worker in the same trade. Although other apostles seem to have left their respective careers (such as Peter and John who were formerly fishermen), Paul maintained his secular employment for quite some time, for reasons he explains later in the passage.

7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?

  1. These were common examples from secular culture. Soldiers do not pay their own way; they get paid or they don’t go. (Why would they?!) Farmers partake of the fruit of their crops and herds. In fact, they are the first to do so, before a single bit of it is sold to someone else. This is simply a common truth in the culture. And it wasn’t only seen in secular society. Sacred Scripture taught the same thing…

8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about?

  1. The Scripture quoted by Paul is Deuteronomy 25:4, which states exactly what Paul wrote. Interestingly, the context of the original verse seems to be somewhat random at first glance, being sandwiched between one teaching that governs and limits corporal punishment in legal convictions, and another law governing levirate marriage (the duty of a surviving brother to marry and provide for the childless widow of his deceased brother). There is little to no context regarding issues of farming but much to do with justice and mercy. Perhaps this was why Paul wrote that God was not concerned with oxen. It wasn’t that the plain meaning and original interpretation of the verse was irrelevant; it was that the overall context demonstrated a deeper fundamental issue. God was teaching His people to do what was right. They were to take personal responsibility for themselves and to act as responsible citizens as the people of God. Yes, part of that included treating one’s livestock animals humanely, allowing them to freely eat and maintain their strength. But there was more. The Israelites were to treat one another with the same basic respect. If they were to allow oxen who tread grain the ability to eat, how much more should they allow those who labor over the daily bread of the word of God to eat?
  2. That this was Paul’s intent is plain, given that he uses the same verse in exactly the same context with Timothy, there combining it with Jesus’ specific instruction regarding ministry compensation. 1 Timothy 5:17–18, “(17) Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (18) For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”” Please note that neither Paul nor Jesus (whom Paul quotes at the end of 1 Tim 5:18) say that anyone who has a title of “pastor” automatically deserves a paycheck from the church. Paul writes of the “elders who rule well,” and “labor,” and Jesus also refers to the “laborer.” Pastors who are unwilling to labor in the Scriptures they claim to teach are not deserving of a dime. Those who look at the ministry as a way to fleece the flock of God rather than feed it are those who ought to be marked and cast out.

10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.

  1. Those who labor partake of the labor. Just like the farmer and the shepherd – just like the oxen and the soldier – those who labor in the ministry should partake of what comes from that ministry. A farmer plows in hope of seeing a harvest. The person who threshes wheat hopes to get the grain, mill it to flour, and make a loaf of bread. They don’t do these things because they are bored; they do it with the hope of seeing a result.

11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.

  1. Paul gets personal and pointed! He specifically wrote of his right/authority to partake of the Corinthians’ “material things.” He gave these Corinthians the gospel of Jesus. He did not charge them to listen. Nor should he! Freely Paul had received, so freely he was to give. But his work among the Corinthian church did not stop there. It continued into spiritual maturity. Paul labored over this congregation, planting it, teaching it, raising up elders and leaders. He remained in this city for a year and a half, helping it get going (Acts 18:11). Recall that Paul worked as a tentmaker when he first arrived. Had he remained a tentmaker the entire time? Apparently so (evidenced here and in vss. 15 and following). Should Paul have remained bi-vocational? That was a personal choice. At some point, however, Paul had the right to receive some kind of financial support. He had “sown spiritual things” into the congregation for a great amount of time. Surely, it was a small matter for Paul to reap some material compensation in return.
  2. Apparently, some had. Some partook of what Paul had not. Who were they? At this point, we cannot say. Paul’s 2nd letter to Corinth shows great contrast between him and other pseudo-apostles who set themselves up as super-apostles promoting themselves rather than the gospel (2 Cor 11). At this point, Paul could have referred to any number of things. Teachers of philosophy charged their students to listen to their teachings. Doctors and physicians charged their patients to receive of their services. There were any number of professions that claimed a right of compensation from the people of Corinth (or any city). Surely Paul and the apostles had even more of a claim as they provided even more of a service, giving them the greatest of all things: the word of God.
  3. Yet Paul did not use this right. Why? “Lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” More will be said on this in the verses ahead but it is clear that Paul was rightly hesitant to do anything that might become a hindrance to the gospel. It calls back to the ending of Chapter 8, when he worried about causing another brother to stumble. Paul did not want to trip up anyone in his/her walk with Jesus. Yes, he had the right to financial compensation, but he had a greater concern for the unfettered proclamation of the gospel.

13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

  1. He reiterates the Old Testament (which was the only Biblical testament available at the time!) principle using the example of the priests. Throughout the book of Leviticus, the priests are seen routinely eating a portion of what was brought to God in sacrificial worship. Even the bread of presence that sat on a table in the tabernacle/temple was required to be consumed by the priests, never to be casually or callously thrown into the garbage. For priests to eat the things brought to the Lord in worship was not unusual or selfish; it was expected – it was commanded – it was itself an act of worship and obedience to the Lord.
  2. From this, we get the New Testament application. Gospel preachers have a right to get their livelihood from their gospel work. Not to take advantage of anyone under their care – not to lazily sit back and live off the labors of others; but to live from the labors of their own hands, just like any other profession.

This was Paul’s answer/defense to his objectors. He was about to write (and indeed, already mentioned) how he denied himself certain rights for the sake of the gospel and out of love for others. But before his self-denial could be appreciated, it needed to be first understood that Paul truly had a right that he was denying. This was no straw-man argument where he pulled something out of thin air and argued against it. He had a true claim to financial compensation as a minister of the gospel and it was that claim that he temporarily set aside in Corinth.

This was Paul’s example. What is yours? It might be difficult to relate to a gospel preacher saying that he had a true right to financial compensation. After all, it takes all of 5 seconds searching the internet to find dozens of preachers claiming the same right in abundance. For as much as some preachers talk about money, you’d think they never had time to actually talk about the Bible. (And many don’t!) Put all that aside for a moment. Paul wasn’t like the TV preachers today. His method and work ethic regarding the gospel was pure. If anyone should have been compensated for it, it was the apostle Paul. Yet he put it aside for Jesus.

What might you put aside for the sake of Jesus? What is there for which you have an undeniable right, yet you might deny for yourself if it becomes a hindrance? For some, it might be a casual glass of wine with dinner. Yes, you have a right and no legalist ought to guilt you otherwise. But if you happen to be dining with a former alcoholic, or someone whose family was destroyed by a drunk driver, why not deny yourself that right out of concern for that person? Or, maybe your freedom is to listen to whatever music you desire, enjoying all things to the glory of God. Yet if you’re sharing a ride with someone who holds a different conviction, why would you throw your liberty in their face by listening to secular radio? That is a right that can be easily denied for the sake of love and for the sake of Christ. Just because we can do something, or just because we have the right to do something, does not mean that we always should do it.

  • Paul’s aim in ministry (15-18).

15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.

  1. The people of Corinth might have breathed a sigh of relief with verse 15. If the idea was that they should have been giving Paul some kind of financial compensation this whole time, they had built up a pretty big bill! But that wasn’t Paul’s point at all. He wasn’t guilting anyone or pushing his own agenda or comforts. When writing about his rights as a minister of the gospel, he simply established the principle; he wasn’t pushing for a payout. Paul did not want these things for himself and he wasn’t asking for them. He did, of course, want the Biblical principle set forth so that Corinth would understand how to proceed in the future with other pastors and elders; he just wasn’t asking anything for himself.
  2. Why? Because he didn’t want anything to possibly undercut the effectiveness of his ministry. He did not want his “boasting” made “” Question: What was his boast? His independence. He didn’t have anyone in Corinth that could claim, “I bought Paul’s dinner for him and gave him his apartment.” He didn’t have anyone in the city who could make any claim on him or think they had any special influence upon his message. And that was important in a town like Corinth! Remember that this was a local church congregation that already struggled with pride and sectarianism. They had some who were of the party of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Peter/Cephas, and others who claimed only Christ (1:12). This was a church that set themselves against one another, trying to promote themselves and their own wisdom (1:20, 4:8). If they had financially supported Paul then that was just one more thing in which they could vainly boast, rather than humbly submitting themselves to Christ. Paul would rather have perished than to have given the Corinthians another outlet of pride. Thus, he boasted in his independence.
  3. It is important to note the difference between Paul’s independence from Corinth and a general state of financial independence. Paul was not He was not so rich that he never required anything from anyone. We’ve already seen how he labored with his own hands as a tentmaker when he first arrived in Corinth. But neither was Paul always bi-vocational. There were other times that Paul received financial support from other churches that allowed him to continue on his missionary journeys. In fact, there was at least some time that Paul spent in Corinth that he received financial support from other churches, just so he could remain in Corinth (2 Cor 11:7-8). But while he was in Corinth, he remained free from them, that he could preach freely among them.
    1. That begs the question for churches today. Is it wrong for pastors to receive financial compensation from the congregations they serve? Or should they raise support from other churches or through other employment, that they might serve their congregations free of any financial tie to them? With due humility, speaking as a pastor lovingly compensated by this congregation, the principle for ministerial compensation was laid out by Paul earlier in the text (vss. 3-14). So no, it is not wrong for pastors to be compensated by their churches; it is right and Biblical. That said, it is not always possible. When this church was first planted, I was bi-vocational for the first 5 years of ministry. Men who are truly called by God to pastor do so, not for a paycheck, but out of God-given compulsion, obedience, and love for those to whom they minister. 

16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

  1. Paul’s boast was not in his skills, his finances, or even his calling. He was surely glad to be an apostle and minister of the gospel, but his position was not worthy of his boasting. Paul had no choice other than to preach the gospel. This was his assigned and solemn duty. Sure, there might be a reward in heaven when he did it willingly and gladly, but at the end of the day, Paul did it because he was a steward of what God entrusted to him. This was his duty and he had no other choice. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had a similar point of view on ministry. There was a time that he did not want to proclaim God’s word. It was personally difficult on him and Jeremiah suffered greatly. He was routinely mocked and made a reproach. Jeremiah 20:9, “Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.” When Jeremiah tried to stop preaching, he simply couldn’t. God’s word was like a fire within him, burning to be released. This was his duty and calling, and he simply could not stop from doing it. Likewise, with Paul. Such was his call as a gospel minister and church planter that he could not stop. This was what God had given him to do, and he would do it – whether he wanted to, or not.
  2. Would this be our same urgency! That we would have such a vision of the Lord Jesus that we could not help but speak of Him with others. That we would have such a love for our Lord that our hearts would burn with the desire to pray and to worship. That we would understand our solemn duty and stewardship before the Lord God, knowing that we have been entrusted with the most valuable news on the face of the earth. For us not to share it is shameful. Regardless what you think about vaccines, there are news stories about coronavirus vaccines sitting on the shelf, not being administered – there was a nurse who intentionally allowed 500 doses to be spoiled. For all the ink that will be spilled in the papers because of how a vaccine is treated, how much will be said about Christians who never share their faith? Not everyone has the gift of evangelism – few Christians have anything close to the ministry of the apostle Paul – but we are all stewards of the good news of Jesus. All of us can share with someone. May God give us hearts that yearn to do so!

18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.

  1. Did Paul have a reward? Certainly one awaited him in heaven, but even on earth, there was a reward for Paul even in the times he had no financial compensation. What was it? Paul’s reward was to be able to preach free from accusation. He was above reproach as he shared Jesus. There was no thought of him “abusing his authority,” or pushing around his weight as an apostle. Paul wasn’t driving around town in the 1st century equivalent of a Jaguar or Bentley. He wasn’t wearing $1000 suits, obviously purchased through the giving of the saints. No one could look at Paul and accuse him of enriching himself off the men and women in the church. Thus, when people listened to him preach, they listened without distraction – they listened without hesitation – they listened without obstruction. They could see Jesus through the message of Paul because Paul did not allow himself to get in the way.
    1. You don’t have to be a prosperity gospel TV preacher to get in the way of someone seeing Jesus. The average Christian can easily find himself/herself becoming an obstruction to the gospel. We put in too much of ourselves into our testimonies – or we add too many additions on top of the simple gospel message – or we put too much focus on the benefits of Christianity rather than on Christ Himself. All those things are distractions to what is most important. All those things are abuses of our opportunity. What people need to see is Jesus; not us. So let us show them Jesus.

Paul had an aim to preach the gospel without strings attached, to be completely above reproach. He had an aim to preach Christ, nothing less; nothing more. He didn’t want anything getting in the way of the main message…including himself. That was why he gave up his right to compensation. A paycheck for the gospel without the ability to present the gospel wasn’t worthwhile. If it helped someone else see Jesus, Paul was willing to put even his basic life necessities aside.


In the end, what Paul wrote is not about pastoral salaries or guilting people into giving more money to churches; it was about Paul setting an example for the rest of us. How might we live our own lives in such a way that people don’t get tripped up on distractions – how might we put certain things aside to help others see Jesus?

As an apostle of the Lord Jesus, Paul answered his critics saying that he had a true right to receive financial support, yet it was a right he willingly refused in his aim to preach Christ. He was willing to put anything aside, if it meant that he had the opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus.

Are we? Truth be told, this is a tough example to follow. It is particularly difficult for Americans. After all, we live in a land of “rights.” We have so many rights as citizens of the United States that we have ten of them enumerated right into our national constitution. We like our rights and we will not give them up easily. That is just how we think.

The gospel calls us to think differently. Yes, we have rights as born-again believers – we have certain authority granted to us by virtue of the fact that we have been freed from the slavery of sin by Jesus. They may not be laid out in a constitutional “Bill of Rights,” but we can certainly see them in our Bibles. Yet some of those things might, from time to time, need to be willingly set aside in love. Some of those things, as right as they are, might still be a distraction to someone else from seeing Jesus. At that point, does it matter how much right we have to it? Surely, the need for someone else to see Jesus is worth laying that thing aside.

When the ill-fated Titanic sank, one of the many tragedies included the lifeboats. Infamously, there were several lifeboats set in the water that were only half-full. Reasons vary as to why. Some boats were filled only with women and children; others were not filled to capacity due to the crewmembers being uncertain of the weight-bearing load as the ropes let it down to the water. The worst part of the lifeboats was that there simply were not enough. Although the Titanic had a capacity of 3,500 people, the lifeboats could only take 1,178. Why? Because those were the regulations at the time. When the designers provided only 20 lifeboats to the Titanic, they were following what was their right. They followed the letter of the law, even as it automatically consigned over half the passengers and crew to death in the case of tragedy (which, sadly happened).

Sometimes we lay aside our rights that lives might be saved. Some things which are personal to us are not to be so cherished that they keep other people from seeing Jesus. It does not mean that we forego those things forever; it does mean we do what is necessary in the moment for the sake of the gospel.

Beloved, rejoice in your freedoms! But be mindful of the weaknesses and potential stumbling blocks that remain for others. May God open our eyes to the areas we might temporarily set aside for the sake of Christ.

Maybe you have certain freedoms that have caused stumbling. Maybe you’re one who has been stumbled in your weakness. May we all love one another with the love of Christ. God help us not cause harm in a desire to guard from harm.