[1 Corinthians 1: 18-31]
Our text continues to expose the dark side of human nature as the reasoning for God’s settled wrath against fallen man continues to build. Mankind’s suppression of the truth is seen in their rejecting the clear imprint of God within their being (v. 19). Their suppression of truth continues in their rejecting the clear evidence of God which is explicit His creation (v. 20).
Refusing to act on the clear knowledge of God leads man away from the truth. Man was designed and created to worship God. Once God is belittled, man then perverts the worship of God into idolatry. The willful rejection of God from His due place in life leads persons who were created to worship their Creator into worshiping the creation.
I. MAN’S REJECTION, 21.
II. MAN’S RATIONALIZATION, 22.
III. MAN’S RELIGION, 23.
The answer as to why mankind is without excuse for rejecting God (v.20) continues to be answered in verse 21. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish (undiscerning) heart was darkened.”
Man knows of God through God’s general revelation (1:19-20) of Himself. Each and every person born possesses some knowledge of God but they rebel against this knowledge. God therefore is justified in His wrath and judgment because of man’s willful rejection of Him. Although man is innately or inherently conscious of God’s existence and power, he willfully chooses to reject that knowledge. Man has knowledge of God but does not act in accordance with that knowledge. Had men acknowledged God they would glorify Him as the only true God and become thankful for all the blessings they daily received from His provision.
Paul mentions four ways, in verse 21, in which men exhibit their rejection of God and suppression of the truth. First, man fails to honor God “as God.” This refusal is at the core of man’s pride and fallenness. It has been stated that the worst sin in the universe is failure to give God “honor” or glory (doxaz ). Above all else God is to be glorified. To glorify or honor God is to exalt Him, to recognize Him as supremely worthy of honor, and to acknowledge His character and attributes. The Westminister shorter catechism declares “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Man was created to glorify God (Lev. 10:3; 1 Chron. 16: 24-29; Ps. 148; Rom.15: 5-6) and to fail to do so is the ultimate affront to his Creator.
The normal recognizing and honoring God for His character and deeds is what fallen man refuses to do. Millions upon millions of people have lived in the midst of God’s wonderful world and yet proudly refused to recognize Him as its creator and praise His majesty and glory.
The second way man rejects God is that they refuse to “give” Him “thanks” for His gracious provision. Although God is the source of every good thing men possesses, life, air, rain, sun, water, and other natural blessings fall on the just and unjust alike but natural man fails to thank Him.
A small boy visited his friend’s home for DINNER. When the youngster sat down at the table, he bowed his head and waited for someone to give thanks for the meal. The others at the table, however, began passing the food. The boy looked up and said, “You guys are just like my dog. You just dig right in!”
The apostle Paul told Timothy that all food is to be received with appreciation to God (1 Tim. 4: 4-5). Food has been given to us for our nourishment and enjoyment. Our expression of thanks sanctifies our food by acknowledging that what we eat is a gift from God. For what does it say about our society when people sit down to a full table, while pictures of starving masses flicker on their TV screens, and never bow their heads to express appreciation for their food?
A word of thanks is always appropriate for those of us who know that our daily bread comes not only from the grocery store but ultimately from God. Gratitude is a mark of godliness.
The third consequence of failing to honor God and give Him thanks is men have become “futile in their speculations.” The word “futile” indicates a loss of touch with reality. They disconnected with God and as a result disconnected with the greatest reality in the universe and thus with the meaning and purpose of life. Only the reality of “God” gives true meaning, purpose, and understanding to everything else. By refusing to honor God and let His truth guide their life, men are dooming themselves to a futile quest for wisdom through human speculations which can only end in false conclusions.
When truth is rejected in time the ability to recognize and to receive truth is impaired (Jn. 3:19f). The fourth result thus is a “foolish heart” that becomes “darkened” or further enslaved to sin. [Foolish – – a verbal adjective from µ “to put together” – thus not willing to understand, undiscerning.] In their unwillingness to pull together, or understand, the clear evidence about God they possess, darkness settles in their hearts.
II. MAN’S RATIONALIZATION, (22).
Rather than treat God like He was God, rather than glorifying God as the great God He is, people have elevated everything but God to His place. This demotion of God and the exaltation of man and man’s speculations or reasoning give birth to the tragic irony revealed in verse 22. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, ”
What a contrast between the claim and the reality. When they said I know, I figured it out, they became fools because they turned away from the true knowledge of God. When the true source of wisdom is rejected (Ps. 111:10) people’s claim to be wise is an idle boast. Professing to be wise about God, about the universe, and about themselves, they became progressively greater “fools” [µ from µ , where our word moron is derived].
David declared that a fool has said in his heart that there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). This very foolishness deludes them into thinking they are wise. “The natural man cannot think perfectly about anything. But his thinking is perverted most severely in the spiritual and divine realm, because that is where his sinful rebellion is centered. These things are also beyond his human perception and since he rejects revelation [the Bible], he has no hope of coming to truth in himself. [His foolish speculations therefore go the furthest astray when he philosophizes about his origin, purpose, and destiny and about the origin and meaning of the universe in which he lives.]
The mind devoid of God’s truth has no way to discriminate between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, between the significant and the trivial, between the truly beautiful and the monstrous, or between the ephemeral (short-lived) and the eternal.” (MacArthur, NT Com. Moody. 88). The mind and heart are now wide open to deception.
In 1636, a group of Puritans founded HARVARD UNIVERSITY. Its motto was Christo et Ecclesiae, which means “For Christ and the Church.” One of the school’s guiding principles was this: “Everyone shall consider the main end of his life and studies, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life. John 17:3.”
That prestigious center of learning and culture has long since abandoned its original spiritual intent. Even many Harvard Divinity School faculty members now regard its Christ-centered goal as narrow-minded and outdated. In fact, a group of Harvard students staged a mock funeral procession through the Divinity School. They carried a coffin and proclaimed, “Our God, the Father, is dead.”
Those students were as far from the truth as east is from west. The everlasting Father, who has created all life (including those who mock Him), is as immune to death as He is to sin.
Three hundred seventy-five years after the establishment of Harvard, the chief purpose of life is still and always will be, in the words of those colonial Puritans, “to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life.” Let us make that the main goal of our lives. Proverbs 3: 5-7.
III. MAN’S RELIGION (23).
Despite the knowledge of God created in man and communicated to man, they refused to act on it. Man’s refusal to let God have His rightful place in their lives caused man to search out substitutes for the worship God as verse 23 states. “And exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
God created man as a worshiping being. Having held down God’s truth and refusing to acknowledge God’s glory, man was left without a god, and man is so constituted that he must worship something. If he will not worship the true God, he will worship a false god, even if he has to manufacture it himself! This fact about man accounts for his propensity to idolatry. Man “exchanged the glory” of the true God for substitute gods that he himself made. He exchanged glory for shame, incorruption for corruption, truth for lies.
Note that the first creature man substitutes for God is himself, “an image in the form of corruptible man.” Instead of glorifying and worshiping God, he attempts to deify himself. Every false god appeals to man’s fallen nature and entices him to glorify and indulge himself. A.W. Tozer wisely observed that idolatry begins in the mind when we pervert or exchange the idea of God for something other than what He really is. People opt for shadow over substance, likeness over reality.
Instead of man accepting God’s image imprinted upon himself, man made gods in his own image – and then descended so low as to worship birds, beasts, and bugs. When we worship the creation instead of the Creator, we lose sight of our own identity as those who are higher than the animals, so that we may behave worse than the animals we worship.
Lest we think that contemporary, sophisticated man has risen above such crude foolishness, we have only to consider the monumental increase in astrology and other occult practices during the last few decades in the United States and western Europe. Many leading world figures, including noted scientists, are said to consult their horoscopes or occult advisers for information from star movement or tea leaves before making major decisions or taking extended trips.
There have always been people who worship the idols of wealth, health, pleasure, prestige, sex, sports, education, entertainment, celebrities, success, and power. And at no time in history have those forms of idolatry been more pervasive and corrupting than in our own day.
A wine company advertisement in Newsweek magazine read, “The earth gives us wonderful grapes. The grapes give us wonderful wine. The wine wins us lots of new friends. Thank you, earth.”
How easy it is to give credit and thanks to everything or everyone but the real source of all our blessings.
The illusion of self-determination exhilarates man. But man’s refusal to acknowledge and glorify God leads to a downward path. When man refuses to have God as God he dooms himself to have less than God as his god. Man himself is the number one candidate as he prefers to be his own god. Just as Satan first told Eve “Ye shall be as God!” in Gen. 3 :5, so still today Satan continues to council rebellion.
God has made Himself known to every person, but man has willfully closed his heart, mind, will, and feeling off to God. When one closes off the light of God by determining to set his own path, he loses the way and falls deeper into sin. Man is determined to put himself in God’s place which is the essence of sin.
The first commandment is “Thou shall have no other God’s before me.” Most people place themselves before god and become their own God. Do your priorities demonstrate that God is first in your life? Is the purpose of your life to glorify God? Do you truly worship Him? Do you abound in thanksgiving to Him? Is what you accept about God that which comes directly from His Word? Where do you find spiritual truth?
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