The Nature of Christian Freedom — Part One
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The Nature of Christian Freedom — Part One

1 Corinthians 8:1–3  (ID: 1659)

As Christians, what are we free to do? Every generation deals with cultural issues that confront and divide the church—nonessential matters that are not expressly addressed by Scripture. We must be cautious to not let arrogance or anxiety interfere with our application of biblical principles of Christian liberty. Alistair Begg teaches that Christians will focus on what is important when we couple our knowledge with love.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 4

Christian Freedom 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 Series ID: 14604

Sermon Transcript: Print

First Corinthians 8:1 reminds us of the fact that Paul has been answering some specific questions that have come to him from these Corinthian believers. If you flip back one page in your Bible, he begins chapter 7 by saying, “Now for the matters you wrote about…”[1] They had written to him about some specific practical issues of Christian living, and he had begun to address them, and all of chapter 7 had to do with marriage and sexuality and all of that, which we went through some weeks ago now.

In coming to 8:1, he now begins to address with them another question that was obviously a matter of great concern, and to it we are introduced in the phrase which leads up to this first colon: “Now about food sacrificed to idols…”

I called our study this evening “The Nature of Christian Freedom.” I thought it would look better on the tape and in the tape catalog than “Food Sacrificed to Idols.” Because after all, I don’t think any of us probably have given any attention whatsoever to the whole concept of food sacrificed to idols, certainly not in the last week, and maybe not even in the last lifetime. And so when we open here, and we turn to chapter 8, and we read the first phrase, our immediate reaction is “Well, let’s skip that part, because we’re not into food that has been sacrificed to idols.” And we’re made very aware of the fact that Paul is addressing a context in first-century Corinth, and we know ourselves to be living in twentieth-century Cleveland.

However, I hope we will discover as we go through the chapter that the wider issue to which we are introduced by means of this phrase is vitally relevant, confronting us as it does with the whole issue of freedom. What am I, as a Christian, free to do? How does my freedom affect other people? How is my freedom to be limited by other people? It’s a concern in many of our lives, and it is a subject of great confusion.

So let me go through this with you as best I can, staying within the orb of the first three verses by noticing, first of all, the cultural issue to which we’re introduced, then the biblical instruction which we receive, and then, finally, one or two practical implications which emerge from it.

The Cultural Issue

First of all, then, the cultural issue.

Sacrificing to the gods, with a small g, was at the very heart of both private and public life at the time that Paul was writing. If any one of us had been living in first-century Corinth as believers seeking to follow after Christ, we would have inevitably had non-Christian friends, and being invited to the homes of non-Christian friends for an evening meal or perhaps to share with them in the joy of the wedding of one of their children, we would expect to be confronted by this whole issue.

Part of the meal that we were about to eat would have been burned. Now, that may not strike some of us as very surprising, but it is the way in which it was burned. This has nothing to do with the gentleman who said that the way that his wife calls him for his evening meal is that she sets off the smoke alarm. But the burning here was a token sacrificial burning—so, whenever the family took the food that was to be eaten, some of it would be offered up as a token sacrificial offering. Then a portion of it—namely, the left side of the face, the rib cage, and some other bits and pieces—were given to the priests. And once the priests had had their part out of this—which gave the opportunity for priests to eat a great deal and to stash away all kinds of produce—once the priests had been taken care of, then it would have been the residue of that beast or whatever it was that we would be sharing together at the banquet, the feast, or the wedding reception. The question, then, obviously was, in the minds of the believers, “If there has been this sacrificial offering up of this food, should we, as Christians, eat food that has been so sacrificed?” And that was so endemic in the culture that it was virtually impossible to avoid it.

On the public level, the state was going about it in much the same way. They offered up sacrifices, and after the priests and then, in the state’s case, the magistrates had received their share of the produce, all of the rest was sold in the marketplaces and into the shops and supermarkets and stores of the day, so much so that when we went along to the kind of local Stop & Shop in Corinth, we would inevitably look at the produce there and say to ourselves, “I wonder if this stuff has been sacrificed to idols?” And in the large majority of situations the answer would be “Yes, it certainly has.” And so the question would again confront the individual, “Should we buy this stuff? Should we participate in this way?”

Now, that wasn’t all. Added to this was the notion that demons were everywhere, and the demons were able to inhabit the lives of men and women. And one of the favorite ways for the demons, so they taught, to inhabit a life was to jump on the food. So not only did you have the problem as to whether the food had been sacrificed to idols, but you had the further question “I wonder if any demons are on it?” So you have this picture of little demons jumping on the chickens and everything all around the thing and then the people coming along eating chicken and eating little demons. It’s a kind of stupid idea, but that was the notion, and the Christians were confronted by this.

So consequently, the people who were offering up the sacrifices to the gods had two important objectives in view: number one, in offering up the sacrifice, they sought to gain favor with the gods (with a small g); and number two, they were attempting decontamination. In other words, recognizing that these demons had jumped all over the food, they figured that if they sacrificed them to the gods and put them up on the altar, then that would make the demons buzz off, and therefore, they could go forward on that basis. It therefore followed that it was virtually impossible to eat meat that was not in some way connected with a heathen god. And that really troubled these people, and understandably so. What were they going to do? Should they take part in the feasts? Should they eat the meat bought in the shops?

That was the specific cultural issue—which, if we’re able to think around it and beyond it for just a moment, we will begin to discern that that cultural issue reappears with a different face in every generation. And there are issues that confront us as believers this evening that relate to Christian freedom which we ourselves are saying, “Can we engage in this?” And hopefully, from the specific cultural issue of first-century Corinth, we will be able to discover principles which are still applicable in twentieth-century Cleveland.

So, that’s the cultural issue.

The Biblical Instruction

Second, then, let’s consider the biblical instruction.

I still haven’t fully made up my mind whether verses 1b, 2, and 3 are actually a digression or part of the heart of it all. It’s very interesting, isn’t it? He says, “Now about food sacrificed to idols,” colon, then he starts to talk about knowledge and about love, and then in verse 4 he goes, “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols…” Is this a classic Pauline digression? Well, even if it is, Paul seldom digressed the way most of us who are inferior mortals digress, and that is that it is totally unrelated to anything at all that is in his mind or on his heart. So I’m unwilling to suggest that this little section that we’re now about to consider, which is really the heart of the matter for us tonight, is somehow distanced from this surrounding issue of food being sacrificed to idols.

Certainly, he’s returning to a subject that we’ve dealt with before in the earlier chapters. The Corinthians, we know, were consumed with, impressed by, and committed to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. And he’s had to tell them earlier on that the wisdom of the world is inferior to the wisdom of God, that he didn’t come to speak in the powerful wisdom and knowledge, gnosis, of man, but rather, he came to declare the news of Jesus Christ, which in the minds of men and women was absolute foolishness.[2]

Knowledge which lacks love easily and quickly degenerates into a kind of pharisaical arrogance.

Paul of all people is certainly not about to denigrate the place of knowledge. We could take time and go through his Pauline Epistles and notice how many times and in how many places he talks about how important it is for these people to come to a knowledge of the truth and to grow in their knowledge. You find that in Romans 15, Colossians 1:9, 2 Corinthians 6, Romans 1, Romans 11, and all over the place. Because Paul knew that love which was devoid of knowledge so quickly becomes a kind of mushy sentimentality, becomes a gooey thing, becomes like a body that doesn’t have a skeletal structure; it just eventually is a pile of flesh and blubber and just a kind of ugly thing. And Paul of all people understood that. If you have just love that is not framed by biblical knowledge, you probably end up with sentimentality.

But he was also aware—and indeed, this is his point at this section—that a knowledge which lacks love so easily and quickly degenerates into a kind of pharisaical arrogance. And it would appear from the context that what had immediately happened here was that both views had polarized, and both claimed to be the bright group. The group that said, “Of course, you can eat!” said, “After all, don’t you know? I mean, we know.” The group that said you can’t eat said, “You can’t eat, and you should know why you can’t eat.” And so, on the basis of their various gnosis or segments of knowledge, they had got into this difficult diatribe with one another. And Paul, in seeking to correct that, points out a vital principle which is timeless.

Now, whether he is quoting what they’ve said or merely stating the obvious—namely, in the second half of verse 1, “We know that we all possess knowledge”—he’s making a clear distinction here between what knowledge achieves and what love is capable of. That’s the distinction that is before us in these verses. That’s the antithesis that he sets up. That’s the contrast. He says, “We know that we all possess knowledge.” He may be feeding back to them their own line, because although Gnosticism didn’t really get its full embellishment until the second century, there was a kind of pre-Gnostic notion which pervaded the church of the day, and all this idea of secret knowledge and being initiated into knowledge and having knowledge that others didn’t have was very, very important to these people. And so they probably had this kind of little phraseology which said, “We know that we all possess knowledge. I mean, we don’t want to leave anybody out.” So Paul may well be saying, “Well, we know that you know that we all possess knowledge. Let me tell you,” he says, “about knowledge.”

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Now, this is actually a tremendous generic statement. It is as true tonight as it was then. These individuals were mature in their knowledge, and they were infantile in their love. J. B. Phillips, as so often, helpfully paraphrases the statement and captures the essence of it by saying, “We should remember that while knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature”—that while knowledge can make you look like a big guy, it is only love which enables us to grow to our full stature of maturity in Christ. And indeed, I believe that Paul is here offering a kind of gentle rebuke to those who prize knowledge too highly. So, knowledge can give you a fat head, but love can build your spiritual muscle.

Then, into the second verse, he points out the limits of knowledge—points out that our knowledge here on earth is at best limited: “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” Does that make you think of the verse in 1 Corinthians 13? “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” it says in the King James Version, I think. In the NIV—it’s 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” And Paul is sensitive enough to his own spiritual pilgrimage and aware of the context to which he addresses himself to point out that even the people who think they know the most need to realize that even at the apex of their knowledge, they’re not really that smart. And the contrast that he sets up is not a contrast, as we’ve said, between knowledge and ignorance—because ignorance is a big handicap—but the contrast is between knowledge and love.

It is love which has permanent effect. It’s hard for us to realize, isn’t it? And yet when we think about our schoolteachers—maybe this helps—think about any of our teachers… And it’s a great challenge to those of us who teach and an illustration of why James says, “I don’t think many of you ought to become teachers, because if you teach, you’ll be judged with greater strictness.”[3] But if you think about the teachers that most impacted your life, they probably weren’t necessarily the ones who were the most erudite in their knowledge—or if they were, their knowledge was tempered by love. I mean, if you didn’t know the periodic table of the elements, they didn’t make you feel like an idiot. They helped you to understand why it was important and how you could benefit from it. Or if you didn’t like Shakespeare’s sonnets, they sat down beside you at the desk, and they said, “You know, there’s got to be some line in here that you like.” But those who simply stood before us to, as it were, get the knowledge from their bobbin off their bobbin got it largely onto the floor. They certainly never seemed to engage ours. And the engaging factor, when we think it through, is often not the communication of the knowledge itself but the love which pervades the communication. So no matter what a man thinks he knows, he does not yet know as he ought to know.

Someone has put it this way: “Ignorance does not know that it does not know. True knowledge does not know and knows [that] it [does not know].”[4] Would you like that again, or just let it go? I’ll say it again. “Ignorance does not know that it does not know.” And the guy who’s always sounding off (“Well, I can explain that. Oh yeah, I’ll give you…”), half the time he’s so ignorant, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, and it’s just because people are gracious enough not to keep telling him that he keeps doing the same thing. I speak from personal experience. “True knowledge does not…” (I’ll let it go.) “True knowledge does not know and knows … it.” The guys that are really bright know that they don’t know everything. It’s dumb guys that think they know everything. Smart guys are smart enough to know they don’t know. Dumb guys are so dumb, they don’t know that they don’t know. Knowledge is “the process of passing from the unconscious state of ignorance to the conscious state of ignorance.”[5] I’ll just keep throwing these out. Eventually, it’ll hit somebody.

Now, you’ve got to understand that we mustn’t divorce this here. Remember what he’s talking about: he’s talking about the nature of Christian freedom, things that were a deep concern to these people. This is not some little superficial discussion about knowledge. This was threatening to have a radical effect in people’s hearts, lives, homes, and church family. And the whole issue of Christian freedom was then a great divisive force. And loved ones, the issue of Christian freedom is in many churches still tonight an incredibly divisive issue. And it is often those who believe they’ve got it down, they know it all, that are the most divisive in their influence upon people.

And so Paul says, verse 3, “The man who loves God…” Now, if somebody covered that up for us and read to us verses 1 and 2 and said, “Now, finish the phrase ‘But the man who loves God,’” we would probably, I think, say, “He’s the one who really knows.” You know, “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, but the man who loves God, he’s the one who really knows.” That’s not what he says: “But the man who loves God, he’s the one that God knows.” So that the knowledge that is the real knowledge that produces love in life is the knowledge which is interrelated with the fact that God knows me.

And what he’s doing is he’s underlining a truth which pervades all of Scripture—namely, this: that the really important thing is not that we know all the right stuff but that God knows us. Because even when we know all that we could possibly know for all of our lives, that still is no great mystery. The great mystery is that God knows us, that he would pick us out in a crowd, that he could meet us at the Super Bowl and call us by name, that he could identify us. And so, he says, the person who is understanding this kind of knowledge knows that this knowledge which produces itself in love is founded in the fact that the Lord knows them that are his. That’s 2 Timothy 2:19. The knowledge that really counts is not mere knowledge, however extensive and correct, but the kind of knowledge that is united with and permeated by love to God.

That’s why I think in Deuteronomy 6—and we quote it so many times in our baby dedications in the morning—God was careful to say to his people, “These things,” Deuteronomy 6, “are to be upon your hearts, and you are to teach them to your children.”[6] Now, I’ve said this to you many times, but I find it a great challenge; the issue is not that these things are to be in your heads and you teach them to your children. Because we may be able to rattle knowledge into our children. We may be able to stamp them out to some degree in terms of our limited ability to constrain their tiny lives as they grow. We may be able to give them all the right knowledge. But that’s not ultimately the issue. Because the kind of knowledge that God looks for, the kind of knowledge that a church requires, the kind of knowledge that will allow us to deal with difficult, divisive issues is a knowledge—I say it again—that is united to and permeated by our love to, for God.

The knowledge that really counts is not mere knowledge, however extensive and correct, but the kind of knowledge that is united with and permeated by love to God.

Now, again I say to you, remember that the wider context, digression or not, is that of making important decisions that will have an amazing impact upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. So our conduct in relation to Christian freedom, specifically, must not then be guided by the thought of our own superior knowledge but by the kind of sympathetic considerate love for our fellow man, which is directly related to being known of God.

That’s tough, isn’t it? Especially for those of us who think we know. Especially for those of us who think we know more than what other people know. Because knowledge is power, after all. Knowledge is influence. Knowledge provides the basis of intimidation. Knowledge can coerce people into a lifestyle they don’t even believe in. But love won’t do that. And that’s why the antithesis, again, is not between knowledge and ignorance but between knowledge and love. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Only somebody led by the Spirit of God and as smart as the apostle Paul would have been able to come up with this kind of thing and state it so succinctly.

Turn with me into 1 John just for a moment, because I think this seals it in our minds—this intermingling of our love for God and what it means in terms of knowledge and love and decision-making for our fellow man. First John 4:19:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

And so the argument continues.

It is love, says Paul, which is the key to our behavior, not knowledge. And it is love which sets the limits of our liberty, not knowledge. Because, he says, “knowledge puffs up,” blows you up; it is love that “builds up.” And since the responsibility of the Christian is to be built up in their faith,[7] then we want that which builds us up.

Now, again, don’t let’s create this as a false antithesis whereby we set the two things in juxtaposition to one another as if they do not intermingle; clearly, they do. Knowledge devoid of love is pharisaical arrogance, ultimately, and love devoid of knowledge is mushy sentimentality. The only way that knowledge, both received and used, will be to the benefit of our own lives and to those who are around us is when we understand that it is love that sets the limits of our freedom.

The Practical Implications

Now, if you’re still with that at all, let me come, finally, to the practical implications.

I found these verses extremely challenging, very unsettling, because as we know our own hearts and we recognize our own propensities, the Word of God cuts like a knife. The practical implications, it seems to me, are these. At least they are among these.

It’s only when we are not merely looking out for our own interests but also for the interests of others that we can genuinely claim to be on the road to the kind of maturity that Paul mentions here. And we need that kind of maturity if we’re going to wrestle with what Christian freedom is really all about—the nature of Christian freedom. Because not everything in the Bible is written down in a list, unfortunately. The Bible is very, very clear about certain things that are to be inculcated in our lives. It’s also exceptionally clear about things that are to be removed from our lives or not to be tolerated. But there is a ton of stuff that it does not say anything about. And interestingly enough, those are the areas that most Christian fellowships get themselves most embroiled in discussions about, in my experience. It’s not the main things which are plain that they discuss. It’s not the central issues. It’s the peripheral issues. And the peripheral issues become central, and consequently, the central issues become peripheral.

And what Paul is addressing here in relationship to this whole notion of food sacrificed to idols is really simply a key into a much wider question—namely, how far does my freedom extend in regard to behavior that is not specifically forbidden in the Bible? How much Christian freedom do I have in relationship to things that the Bible does not expressly forbid nor expressly call for?

Now it’s very, very clear that our freedom is a real freedom. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[8] Paul says in Galatians 5 that we have been set free, and therefore, nobody should tie us up again in a yoke of bondage.[9] So we are really free.

However, our freedom is constrained. And part of the constraint—and this we’ll come to next time, but I want you just to notice it—is found in our relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. First Corinthians 8:9: “Be careful,” he says, “that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” So the freedom is a real freedom, but there is a real problem attaching to this freedom, because our knowledge is at best limited, and if we go on the basis of knowledge and not on the basis of love, we may get puffed up, but we won’t grow up.

Now, there have been largely two responses or two common extremes, both of which are dead-end streets, in relationship to the question of human freedom in Christian terms, and with this I want to conclude this evening. You know what they are. I’ll just reiterate them for some; it will be news to others.

On the one hand, if you like—and if you want to picture it in terms of a context in the Lake District of England—in the Lake District of England, there is a point along the mountain ridge which is called Striding Edge. It’s a very narrow point of the journey. It’s a very dangerous point of the journey, because it slopes away steeply into two deep corries on either side, or two deep gullies, if you like. Therefore, when climbers walk on that Striding Edge, it is imperative that they look where they’re going, they keep their eyes ahead, they don’t deviate, because in one moment they may bring themselves or their traveling companions down into one of these deep gullies.

Now, with that picture in mind, I want to suggest to you that gully number one into which Christian people have fallen most frequently in relationship to this kind of question, gully number one is marked legalism. It’s stamped right across it. You can fall into it real easily as an individual and as a church. Let me tell you what it is. Legalism is an approach to Christian living which turns absolutely everything into rules. It knows nothing of principles. It knows nothing of trying to apply the Scriptures in a way that isn’t wooden and constricted to the realistic issues of life. It develops elaborate lists of dos and don’ts. It varies from place to place and from culture to culture and shares the one fact that it produces these lists—so that, for example, if you roam Great Britain alone and go from congregation to congregation, from legalistic congregation to legalistic congregation, you will have to be a pretty fast dancer, because their lists are different from place to place. So you may be scoring an A in congregation one, move your home by a hundred miles to congregation two, and suddenly, you are getting an F, and you don’t know why it is that you’re not involved in teaching, why it is that you didn’t get invited to be in the choir, why it is that this, or whatever it is, until they produce their list. You say, “Oh, I didn’t know that chewing was on it! I mean, I didn’t know that… Oh, and it’s not just chewing; I see it’s Wrigley’s. You can’t… I see. Juicy Fruit. Aha!” You see? So as soon as you look at this list, it ties you up in knots.

In this kind of context, spirituality is then judged by one’s willingness to comply with the list of regulations. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a place like this. The result is that people who live that way find that their lives are not ordered by the Spirit, who brings us into freedom, but they are ordered by the law. And the mistake that is further made is this: that by refraining from the things on the list, you’re spiritual. So it becomes very easy: “Give me the list. Make sure I don’t do the list. I’m a spiritual person.”

So the man comes down to his breakfast, having not offended any of the list during sleep or in shaving or whatever it is, so he appears at the breakfast table as Mr. Spiritual. The fact that he disregards his wife, that he’s abusive towards his children—if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t affect him, because he got his list, and his freedom is found in making sure that he scores high on whoever wrote it down for him.

Let me tell you this: legalism stifles freedom, legalism confuses conscience, legalism limits the Word of God, and legalism diminishes the power of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. And it is a curse. It is a corrie. It is a deep pit into which people fall in trying their best to delineate Christian freedom.

Now, on the other side of Striding Edge is another corrie, another gully, and this one is stamped license. This is the absolute opposite extreme. In this little corrie, everything is acceptable. Freedom is absolute, and freedom is unqualified. You judge everything on the basis of your own conscience, and as long as your conscience tells you that it’s okay, you’re free to do it. And when you move in this kind of arena, you will find that you’re introduced to people who are engaging in all manner of activities, some of which have actually contravened the clear statements of Scripture, both in the pluses that should be seen and in the minuses that should be avoided, and yet they’ve got no concept of it at all. “This is freedom,” they said. “Don’t you know that we’re free?”

There is a distinction between freedom and license. License says I can do what I want, when I want, with anyone I want, because I’m free in Jesus Christ. And right along with this goes with the notion that “since I was forgiven for all my sins on the cross, past, present, and future, this is perfect! ’Cause not only have all the things, the bad things, I’m about to do already been forgiven, but hey, I’m free to do them all as well! So this is an absolutely beautiful setup.” It’s a curse. It’s a perversion. It’s a heresy.

So what are we left with? You’re left with the Bible. You’re left with what James refers to in James 1:25 as the perfect law which brings liberty—the great paradox, to which we’ll return next time, expressed in the hymn:

Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword
And I shall conqueror be.[10]

Freedom is not, as Kristofferson said—or was it Janis Ian? I think it was Janis Ian in “Bobby McGee.” She wrote it; he made it famous, ’cause her singing was dreadful. (But that’s just said in passing. It didn’t appeal to me.)

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.
[Freedom] ain’t worth nothing but it’s free.
Feelin’ good was easy … when Bobby sang the blues,
… Good enough for me,
Good enough for me and … Bobby McGee.[11]

“Hey, it’s the ’60s, and this is freedom. Come one, come all.” Jesus says, “No.” “Oh,” says somebody, “you mean legalism is?” No, that’s a deep pit. And license is a deep pit. Freedom is discovering the liberating power of being placed in bondage to Jesus Christ, which in turn releases us in a love for our fellows, which will, as we will see next time, determine things that we say yes to and things that we say no to, not on the basis of a list of rules and regulations but on the basis of the mandate of biblical love.

To summarize it: my knowledge of theological niceties or even your ability with Christian fundamentals may impress others, but minus love, it doesn’t build people up. And the real questions that we need to confront in relationship to our behavior, specifically in terms of freedom, are questions like these: In my exercise of freedom, are people brought closer to God? In my exercise of freedom, are Christians strengthened in their faith? In my exercise of freedom, are my brothers and sisters glad that they know me?

It’s much easier to be in a church that has a list of rules and regulations. The challenge is to live with the application of principle to specific life issues. Rules there are, but not for everything; therefore, it’s vital that we learn the nature of true Christian freedom.

Freedom is discovering the liberating power of being placed in bondage to Jesus Christ.

This is a great study that opens up before us, a very important study. Spoke with a man the other day who told me that he’d been horribly let down by a Christian friend to the tune of a large sum of money, and the man had been deceitful with him. And the gentleman said to me in passing, he said, “You know, and it’s remarkable, because this individual had to sign a thing in his church every year.” I said, “Sign a thing? What thing?” He said, “He had to sign a list of rules and regulations that said what he did.” I said, “Did anybody ever give you a list of rules and regulations that could change your heart?” The Ten Commandments can’t do it, and that’s the best list that God ever came up with. It’s the Spirit of God within our hearts.

Read on. Chapter 8’s important, chapter 9’s great, and before you know it, we’ll be right up to our necks in spiritual gifts.

Let’s pray together:

Father, I thank you for this day, and I thank you for these people. Thank you for their commitment to you and their interest in the Word of God. Thank you for giving us the privilege of singing tonight of your meekness and your majesty, Lord Jesus. And I pray now, at the end of the day, that you will bless and guide us as we go from here, and that you will take these words, written long ago by one man, as expressive of our hearts as we end this day together:

O Thou who art the Lord of the night as of the day and to whose will all the stars are obedient, in this hour of darkness I too would submit my will to [yours].

From the stirrings of self-will within my heart:
From cowardly avoidance of necessary duty:
From rebellious shrinking from necessary suffering:
From discontentment with my lot:
From jealousy of those whose lot is easier:
From thinking lightly of the one talent [you’ve] given me, because [you haven’t] given me five or ten;
From uncreaturely pride:
From undisciplined thought:
From unwillingness to learn and unreadiness to serve:
            O God, set me free.

O God my Father, who art often closest to me when I am [furthest] from [you] and who art near at hand even when I feel that [you’ve] forsaken me, … grant that the defeat of my self-will may be the triumph in me of [your] eternal purpose.

May I grow more sure of [your] reality and power:
May I attain a clearer mind as to the meaning of my life on earth:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
May I look more and more to things unseen:
May my desires grow less unruly and my imaginations more pure:
May my love for my fellow men grow deeper and more tender, and may I be more willing to take their burdens upon myself.

To [your] care, O God, I commend my soul and the souls of all whom I love and who love me; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[12]


[1] 1 Corinthians 7:1 (NIV 1984).

[2] See 1 Corinthians 2:1–16.

[3] James 3:1 (paraphrased).

[4] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 192.

[5] MacArthur, 192.

[6] Deuteronomy 6:6–7 (paraphrased).

[7] See Ephesians 4:12.

[8] John 8:32 (NIV 1984).

[9] See Galatians 5:1.

[10] George Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord” (1890).

[11] Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee” (1970).

[12] John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1949), 131.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.