From Shallow Teaching to Doctrinal Purity
From Shallow Teaching to Doctrinal Purity
The Journey to Deep – Part 8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Those of you who fly frequently are all too familiar with the standard preflight routine. Before the flight takes off, the flight attendant grabs the cabin microphone and goes over all the important in-flight safety information with the passengers. Of course, you’ve heard the information many times before and you know nothing is going to happen. At least, that’s what I’m usually thinking in my mind. One of the last times I flew there must have been other people thinking the same thing because several times throughout her presentation the flight attendant had to say things like, “I need your attention, please. I need you to look up here at me.” I was sitting in a row of seats next to an emergency exit and when it was over, she asked for a verbal commitment that we had understood and that we would do what we need to do in case of an emergency. So I said “yes” and other people on my row said “yes.”
Well, let me tell you, I feel a little bit like that flight attendant with the message this morning. We’re going to go through a lot of information. Some of it may seem familiar to you; some of it may not seem necessary now. There is going to be some times where I feel like saying, “I need you to look up here. I need you to pay attention.” Then when it is over, there is part of me that is going to want a verbal commitment that you understand this, because it is essential to what we do here as a church. We’re talking about doctrinal purity, and while that may not sound that exciting, it is at the core of who we are at First Church. So we’re going to go through a lot, and I need you to fill in the blanks and take your notes. If you didn’t get notes when you came in, then maybe write some stuff down on a piece of paper. I think these might be the type of notes you would want to keep in your Bible and just kind of evaluate the messages and the sermons that you hear—whether at this church or another church—based on what we’re going to talk about today.
A few years ago in Kansas City, there was a pharmacist by the name of Robert Courtney who was convicted of diluting cancer medications in order to make a profit. Over a period of about nine years, he diluted some 98,000 prescriptions that affected around 4200 patients. Seventeen of these cancer patients died because they received this diluted formulation of their chemotherapy. In that time period, he made $19 million on this fraud, and he was sent to prison for thirty years for diluting this medication. So here is a man who was entrusted with the responsibility of handing out this life-saving medication, but he diluted it to the point where it couldn’t save.
As sad and tragic as that story is, there is part of me that wonders if some of that same thing is happening in churches across our country this morning. Where churches that have been trusted with the good news of the gospel that brings salvation have diluted it to the point where it doesn’t really save. They’ve watered down the Bible and they’ve kind of softened Scripture. The Bible talks to us again and again, as a church, about the importance of watching out for false teachers.
In the city of Corinth, there were these teachers that were saying that the spiritual body and the physical body were separate entities. For them the application looked like this: You could be a Christian and follow Jesus, and you could still do whatever you wanted to sexually; that those two parts of you…those things could be separate…your spiritual self and your sexual self. And we still have that type of false teaching today—that you can be a Christian and still do whatever you want to with your body. Or maybe it looks like this: You can follow Jesus but that doesn’t need to impact your financial decisions. And you can be a Christian, but you need to keep that separate from your political views. All of these things are false teaching. They were struggling with it then; we have it in our churches today.
Jesus warned us that there would be false teachers who would be pretty convincing. He even said they would do the miraculous. But you need to watch out for them, Jesus said, because they are really wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Now before we get into 1 Corinthians 15, I want to expose some of the false teachers, some of the wolves that make their way into our flocks today.
First is the person that I’ll call “the legislator.”
The legislator is always coming up with new rules and new laws that aren’t found in the Bible and saying they’re mandatory if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus. It’s being legalistic, but it’s more than that. It’s saying that Jesus is necessary for salvation but so is keeping all these other rules. In the 1st Century these false teachers were called Judaizers, and they were very convincing because they would say things like, “You need to follow Jesus. You need to love Jesus,” but they wouldn’t stop there. They would say, “You also need to be circumcised to be a Christian. You need to honor this day of the week. You can’t eat certain foods.” So for them it was always Jesus + something else = salvation.
Be careful whenever you are listening to a preacher or a teacher who says, “It’s Jesus + some other rule”…especially some rule that is not even found in Scripture. Because here is what happens with lots of preachers and teachers. They have these personal convictions—there is nothing wrong with that—but they start preaching those personal convictions from the pulpit, and they make them necessary for followers of Christ. When that happens, a red flag should go up.
Here is another false teacher—“the motivational speaker.”
This preacher is kind of a Dr. Phil meets Tony Robbins type of a person. When you listen to their preaching you are inspired, you are entertained, you feel empowered. But if you step back and look at the message that they delivered, it is really more of a self-help message. You feel like they may have taken an article out of The Reader’s Digest and just presented it. This message, instead of being a legalistic doctrine, is a humanistic doctrine. It puts the emphasis on us and what we’re able to accomplish.
So when you listen to these messages they tend to be full of application—lots and lots of application—and the Scriptures seem to have been sprinkled in as an afterthought. When you are done listening to these sermons, you oftentimes feel very self-empowered. You walk out with your list, your four points of simple things that you need to do in order to have, you know, some type of freedom in Christ.
So there is this type of false teacher.
Here is another false teacher—what I’ll call “the superstar.”
This is the preacher that seems to be constantly upstaging Jesus. That’s not good. When you’re done listening to their sermon you feel like you know more about them than you know about the Bible. And they seem to always be the hero of their own illustrations. They are the ones who are always sharing their faith or serving the homeless or, you know, saving orphans from a burning building. They are always the hero. You watch out for that. And they tend to be over-the-top self-promotional. Their name is on everything. Their picture is everywhere. They’re always pushing some kind of a product.
On TV there was a preacher who finished reading the Bible in front of the camera. When he was finished, he put the Bible down and said, “That is the Word of the Lord.” Well, that’s good. But then here is what he said next. He said, “Now I will give you the word of the Lord,” and he begins to preach. That’s not good. He is equating his words with the Word of God.
Another false teacher we have today is what I’ll call “the salesman.”
I think many preachers and teachers who fit into this description are well-intentioned. They want people to come to Jesus. They want people to be a part of the church, and in an effort to get people they say things that people want to hear. The Bible says that there will be teachers who say “what itching ears want to hear.” That’s what these preachers do. They present the parts of the gospel and the Bible that are the most appealing. And they will sometimes slip into the “health and wealth” false teaching. It says, “Hey, if you just follow God, all your problems will be solved. Your bills will get paid. You’ll be healthy. You’ll be wealthy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out that the cross pretty much put an end to the equation that Christianity equals comfort and security. You’ve got to be careful with preachers who, instead of promising you a cross to carry, promise you a new car to drive, or a bigger house to live in, or in-laws to get along with. This is false teaching.
So, there are these salesmen-type preachers, and oftentimes they mean well enough. But they get into a church; they feel this pressure to grow, and they start to gauge success not by their faithfulness to preach and teach God’s Word but by the growth of the church. So sermons get sanitized and Scripture gets edited, and they speak the truth but they only say about 90% of the truth, which can in essence be a lie.
I want to give you an example of how this works. I found this actual ad for a car that is for sale. I am going to read this ad to you just as it appeared. Then I’m going to rework this ad and try and put a little positive spin on it. Here is how the ad appeared originally:
This car runs okay and the tires are pretty new, but that’s about it. It has no radio, the acceleration is sluggish, the clutch is sticky, the back-hood door latch doesn’t work (you must prop it up with a stick), and its gas mileage is probably no better than about 10-15 miles per gallon. In general, it is an American car, made during the time when American cars were built VERY poorly. The $500 price quoted above is just because all my friends tell me that a running car MUST be worth at least $500. I suppose I’ll bargain with you to lower the price.
That is an actual ad, believe it or not. Now I decided to rework this ad to tell the truth, to not lie at all but just be more positive with the facts. Here is what I came up with:
With nearly new tires this car can really hold the road. An empty space is available, allowing you to put in the stereo system of your choice. With acceleration like this, you won’t have to worry about getting a ticket. A special stick is included at no additional cost that conveniently props up the back hood. When you buy this American made car, you’re supporting our country and the freedom we enjoy. Will sacrifice for $499.99.
Now unfortunately, this is what sometimes happens with the Bible. It’s the truth but it’s presented in such a way that it’s not the truth. Some people teach in a way that Jesus offers everything and requires nothing. Be wary of preachers who don’t use words like sinner and repent, surrender and holiness, commitment and hell.
So I hope that these principles we’ve talked about from 1 Corinthians 15 will help you identify doctrinal purity.
I have displayed here two watches. Both of these watches claim to be a Rolex. That’s what it says on the face—“Rolex.” One of these watches is a real Rolex, and one of them is a Folex. It’s a fake Rolex. So one of these watches costs about $5,000; the other watch costs about $20. But how do you know which one is the real one? If you were to take these two watches around and show them to different people and ask, “Can you identify the real Rolex,” nine out of ten people would not be able to do so without just making a lucky guess. So how do you know which Rolex is the real Rolex?
Well let me show you some close-up pictures of real and fake Rolex watches side by side and point out to you a few of the subtle differences. I came across a website this week that gave “The ten ways you can identify a genuine Rolex.” There were things on there like, “The secondhand movement tends to be very smooth and continuous” on a genuine Rolex. There is also a marking underneath the six on a genuine Rolex that is very hard to replicate. The magnification over the date on a real Rolex is about 2.5, which is difficult to do. Even the most impressive knockoffs only get up to about 1.5, so there is greater magnification. And the website listed seven other indicators to look for. But the bottom line is, it’s hard to tell sometimes. These days similarities between the “Rolex” and the “Folex” can be extremely close. There are so many things that they have in common.
But what about the gospel? What are the ten things about the gospel that really makes it doctrinally pure? So we’re going to go through 1 Corinthians 15 and we’re going to move quickly through this. We’re going to stop, look at some different words and ask ten questions to identify a doctrinally pure message.
Verse 1 starts off this way. It says, “Now brothers,” and the word I want you to underline there is the word brothers. It is used throughout the book of 1 Corinthians. Sometimes, if you grew up in the church, you’ve heard members of the church refer to one another as brothers and sisters. If you didn’t grow up in the church, it probably seems a little bit creepy to you. But all that term means is that there is a relationship within the church that is especially close because it’s based on a common commitment to Jesus Christ. That is a question that needs to be asked of every church: Is fellowship based on a common commitment to Jesus Christ and to His Word?
You see, there are some churches that pride themselves on allowing anyone to become a member of their fellowship. It doesn’t really matter what you believe. It doesn’t really matter what your lifestyle. But a doctrinally pure church says, “No, there are certain essentials that you must ascribe to, and there is a lifestyle that you must agree to as the Bible teaches.”
In 1 Corinthians 5 there was a man within this church in Corinth that Paul says, “Hey, you need to kick this guy out of your fellowship because he’s living this sexually impure life. He’s not even trying to align his life with the Word of God.”
So there needs to be fellowship based upon a common commitment to Christ. When you become a member of this church, it is required that you agree to some of the essentials of Scripture and to living your life accordingly.
Paul continues in verse 1. He says, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you….” The word I want you to catch here is the word remind. The question that needs to be asked is, “Is there a continued emphasis on the essentials?”
Paul does this throughout his letters. He is constantly reminding the people of the essentials. It’s not an accident that when you come to church here sometimes you feel like we’re always talking about some of the same things. That’s because we are. Paul talks in chapter 2, verse 2 and he says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (NLT). Now obviously Paul talked to the church about other things, but everything was based upon that foundation of Jesus Christ. So there should be this continual emphasis on the essentials.
A good example of why this is important is if you look at the influence that television has. The latest statistics say that the average American family has the household TV on for 9 hours and 14 minutes a day. Researchers for the American Academy of Pediatrics studied 1,017 adolescents, ages 12 to 14, over a period of two years. They found that the teens exposed to high amounts of sexual media were 220% more likely to have intercourse between the ages of 14 to 16 than those who had only limited exposure. There are some more statistics when it comes to things like violence. The point is that what we’re commonly exposed to ends up becoming our doctrine, ends up becoming our worldview.
There is a law in cognitive psychology called “the Law of Exposure.” The Law of Exposure states that your mind absorbs and then reflects whatever it is exposed to the most. Norman Vincent Peale defined preaching this way. He said, “It’s reminding people over and over, and then reminding them again, what is most important in life.” Is there a continual emphasis on the essentials?
Paul says next, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” The phrase here? “Taken your stand.” It reveals that doctrinal purity is not just about information being taught. It doesn’t just engage the mind, but it engages the heart, and it engages the will and it calls you to take a stand.
A third question that needs to be asked, then, is, “Does the message challenge me personally?” Does the message challenge me personally? The Bible says of itself that it is sharper than any double-edged sword. It is able to penetrate between soul and spirit, and it should impact us in a personal way. There is something wrong with the preaching and teaching if you are continually walking away unchallenged with your life.
If you are struggling with pride, this should be a place where you come in and you’re confronted with the need to live a life of humility. And if you struggle with lust, then this should be a place where you are confronted with the need to take a stand for purity. What we struggle with should be met here with a challenge to take a stand. The goal of a doctrinally pure preacher is not to transfer information but to bring about transformation. Doctrinal purity does more than call us to learn; it calls us to change.
Paul says in verse 2, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you….” The word here that I want you to pay attention to is gospel. It simply means “good news.” A question that should be asked… “Is the message presented as good news?”
Church should be a place where we can celebrate God’s grace in our lives. We could do nothing to save ourselves, but through the sacrifice of Jesus we have been saved. There is something wrong if the preacher is constantly pounding the pulpit, yelling at you and pointing a finger. It’s the gospel! It’s good news, and it should be presented that way.
Verse 2, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The phrase? Hold firmly. Question #5: Is the call of the message to not just believe but to follow?
Doctrinal purity does more than just call someone to listen and believe; it calls them to respond and to follow. That is one of the reasons why almost every time we have a service we offer an invitation. It’s not just about believing; it’s about doing.
Imagine that you go to the doctor because you’ve been having some chest pains, and the blood work comes back, and your cholesterol level is really high. You find out that you have some clogged arteries and you’re in danger of having a heart attack. So the doctor sits you down and he just kind of explains to you how this whole thing works. And he says, “Well, you know, your arteries are really just blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen throughout your body. But you have this arterial plaque that’s built up. As a result, that blood is restricted, and it increases the likelihood of you having a stroke or a heart attack.” And you learn a lot. I mean, as you’re sitting there listening to this information and taking notes, maybe even filling in blanks, you’re learning a lot. And that’s great. But the test comes a month later or a year later. Are you eating a diet lower in saturated fats? Are you exercising regularly? Have you quit smoking? In other words, has anything changed? It’s not just about delivering information. It’s not just about everyone believing something. It’s about following. And what we hear and talk about on the weekend should impact what’s happening to us throughout the rest of the week.
Paul says in verse 3, “For what I received I passed on to you…” The phrase here I want you to catch is “what I received.” The question that needs to be asked: Is the message delivered by a genuine and authentic messenger?
Paul says this about himself, “I received it. The message I received.” And it’s important for the preacher and teacher to always receive it first, to always be the one who is first convicted, to always be the one who first repents.
Listen to what The Message paraphrase says in Matthew 7. It says:
“Be [very] wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say” (vv. 15-16).
That “practiced sincerity” is what you have to watch out for. It’s who preachers are that really matters, not what they say. That’s why Paul continually, as he preaches and teaches and as he writes the Word of God, gives us windows into how his personal life has been impacted and how the gospel has changed him.
See, otherwise it’s like going to a car lot to buy a car, and the salesman goes on and on about all the reasons why you should buy an American-made car and why it is so superior. You are finally convinced, and as you’re signing your name on the dotted line, out of the corner of your eye you see the salesman drive off the lot in his Toyota.
Or you go to a restaurant and the server talks to you about the day’s special. He goes on and on about how great this special of the day is, and when he’s done you say, “Well, is it very filling?” and the server says, “Well, I haven’t actually had it personally.”
Be careful of preachers like this: who talk about patience and then yell at their wife and kids, who talk about serving but you never see them volunteer for anything, who talk about generosity, but they don’t give, who talk about forgiveness, but they hold grudges. And so, Paul says it needs to come from a genuine and authentic messenger.
And one of my prayers and one of my commitments to you is that I will never get up here and deliver a message that I haven’t confronted myself with first. So oftentimes before preaching I have to spend some time in repentance and seeking to conform my life to God’s Word in a certain area.
Paul says in verse 3, “For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance….” The phrase here is “first importance.” And if we were putting these questions in order of priority this would actually be at the top of the list. Here is the question that must be asked: Is the primary focus consistently Jesus?
Now if you’ve been coming to church here for a while this may seem unnecessary. I mean, isn’t it obvious? Of course the focus is Jesus! But I’m telling you, in many churches there is a growing trend that God is talked about a lot, but Jesus is rarely mentioned. And Paul says, “This has got to be of first importance,” and then he gives them the message again starting in verse 3. It says, “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living (You can still ask them about it.) though some have fallen asleep” (vv. 3-6). Verse 7, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (vv. 7-8). By that Paul means he didn’t follow Jesus around during His earthly ministry, but Jesus kind of made this “special guest appearance” on the road to Damascus so that Paul could be a capital “A” Apostle. And Paul says, “It’s all about Jesus. This is of first importance.” Charles Spurgeon said that whenever he preached, he took his texts and he made a beeline for the cross. This is what it is about.
A few years ago, I was visiting with a friend of mine who is also in ministry (a Presbyterian pastor) and during the course of the conversation I said, “Hey, can you think of some things maybe we could do as a church to reach more people?” And he said, “Well, you know, the way you guys do the invitation, asking people to walk forward in front of all those other people…I mean, that’s asking a lot of people.” And he says, “And Communion…I know it’s important, but doing it every week? There are just a lot of people that don’t understand what it means and when those trays pass them by it confuses them.” And he said, “And that cross you have hanging up front in the sanctuary… I mean, I know there is not much you can probably do about it. It’s up there. But that’s a big cross. And for people who are kind of skittish about church that cross might make them uncomfortable.” So I thought about it. I mean, is an invitation to walk forward really too much to ask as a response to someone who died in your place? I mean if we don’t take Communion…? There is no reason to be here if you take out the death of Jesus Christ. And the cross? If there is no cross on the building or in the building, there is no reason for a building. That’s why we’re here. It is all about Jesus.
The next phrase appears in verse 3 and in verse 4. The phrase that I want you to catch is “according to the Scriptures.” The question that must always be asked is: Is the message based on the Bible?
Is the message based on the Bible? There should not ever be an exception to this. Every sermon that is ever delivered should have at its foundation the Word of God. Without the Word of God as our foundation, we have nothing worthwhile to say and you’re wasting your time.
There is a pillar of the Reformation we looked at a few weeks ago, Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be the glory.” Another pillar…there are five. Another pillar of the Reformation is Solo Scriptura, which simply means that Scripture is our ultimate authority. It doesn’t mean it’s our only authority. There are other sources of truth. But it is our ultimate authority. It is the Supreme Court of truth. It is the truth by which all other truths are gauged. And it is what we stand on as a church.
When I was ordained into the ministry on July 25, 1982, this passage of Scripture was read at my ordination. It comes from 2 Timothy chapter 4, and here is what was read:
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (vv. 2-3).
Paul says to Timothy, “You preach the Word,” and that is my commitment. And it may be uncomfortable, but I’m going to preach the Word. And it may not be popular—I understand that—but I’m going to preach the Word. It may not be politically correct, but I’m going to preach the Word. The day is coming, would be my guess, that free speech will be redefined, and it is going to be illegal to preach certain passages of the word of God, but I’m still going to preach the Word. Without this book (hold up Bible), we have nothing to say. It is the inspired Word of God. It can supernaturally speak into our lives like nothing else can. So the question that you must always ask… Is the message based on the Bible?
And here is what Paul says next. I’m running out of time, but my Rolex says I’m okay, so we’ll keep going here! It says, “For I am the least of the apostles…” (v. 9). The phrase I want you to catch is “least of the apostles.” Here is the question you need to ask: Is the message taught with a spirit of humility and brokenness?
Beware of preachers who don’t realize how sinful they are. Paul calls himself the worst of all sinners. Be careful of a preacher who thinks they’re doing God a favor by preaching and teaching. It’s all about God’s grace.
Verse 10 says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (vv. 10-11). This is the pure doctrine. The phrase I want you to catch is “the grace of God.” And here is the question: Does it all come down to grace?
It’s all about God’s grace. It’s all about God’s grace.
C.S. Lewis talks about going to a British conference on comparative religions, and there was a breakout session that he wasn’t a part of when it started where they were talking about whether or not Christianity had any uniqueness to it at all. And someone said, “Well, what about the incarnation of God coming to earth as man?” And, well, there are other religions that claim an incarnation. And someone said, “Well, what about the resurrection? Is that unique to Christianity?” No, there are other religions that claim a resurrection. So they were just debating, “Is there really anything unique about the Christian faith?” And C.S. Lewis walked in the room, and he said, “What’s all the ruckus about?” And someone explained, “Hey, we’re trying to find out if there is anything unique about the Christian faith.” And C.S. Lewis laughed, and he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” No other religion teaches the God of grace—where His love is unconditional, and His gift of salvation is free through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So the question, as we finish up here, is, “Have you responded to the true doctrine?” I looked at that list of “Ten ways to identify a genuine Rolex.” There was one question that wasn’t on there. To me, it seems to be the most telling. And that is, “How much did it cost?” Right? Because if you got it off the streets of New York for twenty bucks, then it’s not a real Rolex. If it is, you’ve got other problems. But it’s not real. How much did it cost? Doesn’t that say a lot about its authenticity?
And that’s an important question as we talk about the gospel. When you responded, did it cost you anything? If all you did was raise a hand, sign a card, or walk an aisle, but you never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, then maybe it is time you respond to the true gospel, a gospel that calls you to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
First Church of Christ
November 7, 2021