This morning I want to look at a single verse in 1 Corinthians 4. Verse 7, one short verse that simply asks three questions: "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"
That verse is its own outline—three questions that rebuke the arrogance of human conceit and remind us of the debt we owe to God's sovereign grace. The passage is a reproof and a correction to everything that is man-centered in our theology, and it is a reminder that the truth of God's sovereignty ought to make us humble, not proud.
Let me remind you of the context of this passage. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church. This was a young church, filled with new believers—mostly Gentiles who had come to Christ out of a background of paganism. The church itself was set in a culture of extreme paganism. The largest building in the center of town was a temple to the god Apollo, built with enormous stone columns that still dominate the ruins of Corinth today. Corinth was also home of the Temple of Aphrodite, a large temple complex built atop Acrocorinth, which was high, fortified hill just on the outskirts of the city. Employed at the temple of Aphrodite were more than a thousand temple prostitutes, both men and women—slaves, whose job it was to service strangers who came to worship Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Visiting those temple courtesans was deemed a religious sacrament by the pagans of that time. Corinth was world-renowned for the savage lifestyle of the people who lived there, and for the immoral behavior of those who visited there. The city was filled with brothels, overrun with immorality, and shot through with the most gross and ungodly forms of paganism.
In other words, Corinth was like Los Vegas is today—a city filled with immorality and vice, but with one significant difference. They attractions at Corinth were not gambling casinos; they were temples. It gave the city's debauchery a religious veneer and enabled people in that culture to regard their immorality as something sacred. Corinth had temples everywhere—world-famous temples to Apollo, to Hermes, to Heracles, to Athena, and to Poseidon. One of the largest temples in the city was one dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing.
People would bring little terra-cotta replicas of body parts to the temple, signifying whatever part of their body needed healing. If you visit the ruins of ancient Corinth today, you can see the ruins of all those temples, and archaeologists have even unearthed some of the clay body parts that were offered at the temple of Asclepius.
But the main focus of activity in Corinth were the brothels—row after row of them. You can still see them in the ruins of Corinth today, and it is the most striking thing about Corinth. With all the prostitution going on, you wonder how any other kind of business could ever be transacted.
But in the midst of that immoral and superstitious culture was this community of Christians. The apostle Paul spent 18 months in Corinth when the church was founded there. The biblical record of his ministry in Corinth takes up most of Acts 18. Luke records that when Paul arrived in Corinth, he went first to the synagogue and preached the gospel there every Sabbath. Acts 18:4: "he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks." But for the most part, the Jews in Corinth rejected the message. Acts 18:6:
And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."
7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue.
8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
So most of the people in the church at Corinth were Gentiles converted out of the worst kind of paganism. In 1 Corinthians 12:2, Paul says to them, "You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols."
So this young church, consisting mostly of new believers converted out of that grossly immoral heathen culture, was, understandably, beset with problems. The paganism and debauchery of Corinth poisoned the culture of the whole city, and it even contaminated the church. So Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians was written to deal with several specific problems in that struggling fellowship of young believers.
And one of the prominent problems they had there was a spirit of sectarianism. The church was divided. After Paul left Corinth and moved on in his ministry, the believers at Corinth began to fragment into little groups and band together in competing factions that were based on loyalties to the various teachers whose ministries had influenced the people there. Paul confronts this tendency at the very start of his epistle, in 1 Corinthians 1:11:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Then he spends 3 chapters exposing the folly of human wisdom, reminding them that the message of the cross is foolishness as far as wise men and philosophers are concerned. He directs their hearts to the message of the cross, which is the wisdom and the power of God.
And then he closes chapter 3 with this summary (3:21-23):
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,
23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
And the point is this: anyone who would have the sort of factious, sectarian attitude that pits Paul against Apollos, or sets Peter against the other apostles can only be motivated by one thing, and that's sinful pride. Pride in human wisdom—or pride in one's spiritual pedigree—or simply a proud, contentious attitude that despises harmony in the body of Christ and seeks to exalt self at the expense of others. It was carnal pride, and Paul says so plainly in chapter 3, verses 3-4: "while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a [fleshly] way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being [fleshly]?"
Now, if there had been any tendency in the apostle Paul himself to cultivate that kind of carnal pride, he might have sided with the Paul party and argued that the followers of Paul—the ones who were saying, "I am of Paul"—were the best Christians. But he doesn't say that. Chapter 3, verses 5-7: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." Paul regarded himself as nothing but a servant, and he urged the Corinthians to have the same perspective.
Now look at chapter 4. He starts by saying once more that he is nothing but a steward of the gospel. His teaching was not Paul's own personal philosophy. It was a message that was committed to him as a steward, and the same was true of Apollos, and Peter, and all the apostles. Verse 1: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." There was no need to pit Peter against Paul. They were stewards accountable to the same master.
And a steward is accountable only to his master. It doesn't matter how other men judge him. The only thing that counts is if his master deems him faithful. Verse 3: "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself." Paul was willing to stand or fall by how God judged him. And he urged the Corinthians to stop comparing Paul and Peter and Apollos, but to leave all the judgments about men to God alone, in His perfect time. Why? Because the sectarian spirit was cultivating fleshly pride among the Corinthians. Verse 6, "that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another."
See, their sectarianism was not only wrong to pit Paul against Apollos, this attitude was also causing the Corinthians themselves to be puffed up and arrogant against one another.
So you had one group saying, "We like Paul, because of the depth of his teaching and the soundness of his doctrine. We're the best Christians because we are the finest theologians."
You had another group saying, "We follow Apollos, because he is the most eloquent orator. He is the finest preacher and the best motivator. We're the best Christians because we've accumulated the biggest following."
There was a third group saying, "We prefer Cephas, because his teaching is so practical and so down-to-earth. We're the best Christians because our faith is more practical and less theoretical than the rest of you.
And according to 1 Corinthians 1:12, there was even a fourth faction—a group of super-spiritual people who said, "We reject all those labels. We follow no human teacher and no system. We are of Christ. Christ alone, no creed. And in the name of love and unity, we reject and exclude all the rest of you."
You can see how that kind of sectarianism naturally fosters pride, arrogance, haughtiness, and conceit of every kind. They were, in Paul's words, "puffed up in favor of one against another."
This expression "puffed up" appears 7 times in the Bible—6 times in 1 Corinthians and once in Colossians 2:18. This is the first time it appears. It's from the Greek word phusioo, which means "inflated." It speaks of a scornful, unloving kind of arrogance.
Look at how Paul uses it throughout this epistle. Down in verses 18-19 of chapter 4, Paul mentions those who were "arrogant" against him because they thought he wasn't going to return to them in person. That's the same Greek word: "puffed up." In chapter 5, verse 2, he mentions people who were "arrogant," proud of their extreme moral threshold, because they had tolerated the behavior of this man who was living with his father's wife. And again, it's this same word, meaning "puffed up." They were bloated with arrogance rather than being humbled by the fact that someone in their midst was living in gross immorality.
Then in 8:1, Paul says [so-called] "'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up." And in 13:4, he says that one of the characteristics of love is that it is "not arrogant"—or, as the King James Version has it: "not puffed up."
So to be puffed up is to have an inflated ego—arrogance. It's a description of fleshly pride. It is inherently unloving. In a way, it is the very antithesis of love. And this sort of "I'm-better-than-you" arrogance was a particular problem among the Corinthians. It was the kind of attitude a corrupt culture would naturally tend to foster. And it was the very thing that had caused this church to divide into competing factions. But Paul says that sort of inflated, arrogant ego has absolutely no place in the church.
And in order to get them to face their pretentiousness for what it was, he poses a brief series of three questions to them. All three questions are in this one verse we are looking at this morning. Look at the verse again—1 Corinthians 4:7: "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" And I think that first question ought to be translated the way it is in the King James Version: "who maketh thee to differ from another?" Here's the NIV: "Who makes you different from anyone else?" That's what Paul is asking them.
Now, I want to consider those questions one at a time and try to draw from them the lessons Paul intended for the Corinthians. For those who take pride in their doctrine, there's a doctrinal lesson here. For those who are puffed up about the superiority of their more practical approach to religion, there are some practical lessons here. And for those who are inclined to glory in men, there's a crucial lesson about the sovereignty and glory of God alone.
Let's look at the questions one at a time. First, there's a question that exalts God's sovereignty. Then there's a question that extols divine grace. Finally, there's a question that exposes human pride. We'll look at them in order, and if you want to take down that outline, I'll give it to you again as we go. First is—
1. A question that exalts God's sovereignty
Consider this first question: "For who makes you different from anyone else?" Have you ever seriously contemplated this question? Who made you the way you are? Are you tempted to think of yourself as "a self-made man (or woman)?" Do you in your secret thoughts wish to take credit for your own virtues?
Let's face it: that is the natural tendency of the fallen human heart. It is a tendency we all have. We pride ourselves in things that should never be a source of pride in the first place. You may be smarter, or stronger, or wealthier, or more beautiful than most of us. But who gave you those advantages? A little reflection will reveal that if there's anything about you that makes you superior to the rest of us, it's not your doing in the first place. It was God who gave you the skills and abilities that you probably are tempted to take the most pride in.
Now, don't miss the point of the question Paul is asking. Some commentators miss it completely. I read several commentaries where it was suggested that the correct answer to this question is that there is no important difference between one person and another. They try to shoehorn Paul into a 21st-century notion of political correctness—as if he meant to say that all people are exactly the same in every meaningful sense.
After all, this is a canon dogma of American politics. Our Declaration of Independence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . " And, of course, the writers of the declaration of Independence were speaking about human rights and an equality of essence. I don't believe they were teaching the sort of egalitarianism that dominates modern thought and tries to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator.
In fact, if you will allow me to puncture one of the dogmas of modern political correctness, I want to point out that it is also a self-evident truth that we are not all absolutely equal in every sense. Some of you are smarter than me. Most of you are better-looking than me. Many of you are wealthier than me. And some of you have attained positions of power and influence that give you more clout than most of us have. We are not all created equal in the absolute sense.
Paul is not trying to deny those obvious differences. He doesn't expect his readers to reply to this question by denying that there is any difference between people. He's not claiming everyone is absolutely the same. He's not even pretending that there were no valid distinctions to be made between Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. He is simply saying that whatever distinctions there are between people—when it comes to their virtues and their abilities—those things afford no excuse for human pride, because God is the one who makes us different from one another.
Think carefully about this for a moment. It is an undeniable fact that some people have advantages that the rest of us do not enjoy.
In the realm of natural abilities, for example, it is obvious that some people are endowed with physical strength that most of us do not enjoy. Some are smarter than others. Some are more privileged than others. Some people are born with fine physical attributes—strong, healthy, vigorous, and powerful. Others are born with disabilities and congenital weaknesses that plague them for all their years. [Joe Zelenis has been in a wheelchair all his life. Allyson Felix is literally the fastest woman in the world.]
Some are born with great beauty, striking looks, attractive physical features. But let's face it: Most of us are not so attractive. Who made the difference? You might spend hours each day primping and adorning your hair and decorating your face in the mirror. But who gave you that fine head of hair? Who gave you your good looks? You may be proud of your strength and your athletic skills, but who made you that way in the first place? Who gave the runner swift legs or the weight-lifter powerful arms?
"Well," you say, "I work out. My strength and my good looks are at least partly the result of my own hard work."
Yes, but who gave you the ability and the energy to work out? Who gave you your athletic skill and your health in the first place? Who determined that you would be whole and healthy, while someone else would be confined to a hospital bed with a respirator?
Strength and beauty are gifts, not virtues. There is no such thing as a self-made man. No matter who you are and what you may have achieved, you did not create yourself. And if you enjoy any advantages that you are tempted to take pride in, you need to recognize that God is the source of all those advantages. You did not create yourself. God did.
What if you have taken those natural gifts and talents and make use of them to become prosperous in a material sense? Well, you can't even boast because of your wealth. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, "remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth." If you enjoy a position of prestige and power, you need to remember that it is ultimately God who exalts one and humbles another. Psalm 75:4-7: "to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'" For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another."
That is the bottom line in every case. If you prosper, or if you excel in whatever you do—you ought to recognize that it is God who enables you to prosper.
In raising such a basic question, the apostle Paul is confronting the Corinthians with the truth of divine sovereignty. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." That's Romans 9:16: Grace and blessing "[depend] not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." Psalm 100:3: "Know ye that the LORD . . . is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." Exodus 4:11: "The LORD said to [Moses], 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" Psalm 139:14: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made"—not self-made, but designed and created by God. Ephesians 2:10: "We are his workmanship." The potter has power over the clay. "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" By the same token, the thing formed cannot take credit for what the Potter has created. You may remember that Nebuchadnezzar, and the king of Tyre, and Herod in Acts 12 were all judged because they refused to give glory to God and tried to take credit for themselves because of the advantages and the prosperity God had graciously given them.
Nobody in all of history had more reason than the apostle Paul to think of himself as a self-made man. After his conversion, he says in Galatians 1:16, "I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia." He got his training for apostleship alone, in the desert. And he makes a point of informing us that even when he later visited Jerusalem, he saw none of the apostles except Peter, and James the Lord's brother. He did not benefit from their help or discipleship. He never used them as stepping-stones to prominence for himself. In Romans 15:20, he says, "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation." And in 2 Corinthians 11:23, he points out (not in a boastful way, but this was a matter of indisputable fact) that he worked harder and suffered more than any other apostle.
So some might call Paul a self-made man, but that's not the way Paul saw himself. If we put this question to him, "[Paul,] who makes you different from anyone else?" Here's how he would answer (1 Corinthians 15:10): "By the grace of God I am what I am." "Yes," he would say, "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
There is no more humbling truth than the sovereignty of God. A true understanding of divine sovereignty ought to provoke us to fall on our faces in gratitude to God for His grace to us.
Now, this is a sad fact, but I have to admit that the people I meet who call themselves Calvinists are sometimes the most arrogant people of all. They're exactly like the factious people Paul was rebuking in Corinth: "We are of Calvin;" "We are of John Owen"; "We are of the Puritans"; "We are Covenanters"—as if they glory in men whom they have made into heros.
But, my dear Calvinist brother, who makes you differ from that struggling Christian who has not yet come to grips with the sovereignty of God? Who gave you your theological understanding? Was Calvin crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Francis Turretin? Why do you have contempt for brethren who have not reached the same exalted plane of understanding as you? Who enlightened you to the truth? Do you imagine that your grasp of doctrine is something meritorious that you deserve credit for? Why do you boast as if you acquired understanding on your own, or through other men?
But let me also quickly say that a person who lacks humility is no true Calvinist. He doesn't understand the first thing about the sovereignty of God, no matter how much he talks about the subject.
So that's the first question: "Who makes you different from anyone else?" It is a question that exalts God's sovereignty. Here's the second question. It's—
2. A question that extols divine grace
Paul goes on to ask, "What do you have that you did not receive?" It is similar to the first question. What advantage do you have that is not a gift from God? What good thing can you point to in your life that is not an expression of God's grace to you?
Let's let Scripture answer this question, too. John 3:27: "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." James 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." Daniel 2:21-22: "[God] changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him."
Everything you have that is worth having, and everything you are that is not sinful, you owe to the bounty of divine grace. Psalm 115:1: "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory!"
Just as your natural gifts and talents are a gift from God, every grace and every spiritual gift you enjoy as a Christian is also a gift from God. If you are a Christian, thank God for it. Don't imagine that you came to Christ in the first place because you were more clever or more righteous than those who reject Christ. Your very first motion toward Christ was because God graciously drew you. You may not have been conscious of it, but before you ever sought Him, He was seeking you. John 6:44; Jesus said: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." John 6:65: "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." He told the apostles in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you."
Faith itself is a gift of God. Romans 12:3; Paul writes: "I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." You can't take pride in your salvation; not only your faith, but also your repentance, is a gracious gift given to you by God (Acts 11:18; Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25). Furthermore, if you have a new heart and new spirit and new righteous desires, it not because you have reformed yourself. It is because God removed your stony heart and gave you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Salvation—all of it—is God's work in you—not something you accomplished by an act of your own free will. Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So even the good works you do as a Christian were sovereignly and graciously prepared for you by God, and He is the One who ordained that you should walk in them.
"What do you have that you did not receive?"—And the clear biblical answer is nothing. Nothing good ever comes to you except as a gracious gift from a kind and merciful God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. And that ought to provoke gratitude and humility in us rather than pride.
That brings us to the third of the three questions in this verse. The first was a question that exalts God's sovereignty. Then there was a question that extols divine grace. Finally, here's
3. A question that exposes human pride
Look at the final question in the trilogy that makes up our verse: "If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"
If every advantage you enjoy, if every virtue you possess, came to you as a gracious gift from the hand of a loving God, why would you ever want to boast as if you deserved the credit for it?
Paul's point is this: pride results from a serious corruption of the truth. Pride is the fruit of bad doctrine. You may give lip service to the sovereignty of God and the centrality of grace, but if you are proud and arrogant, your life belies your theology. The testimony of your behavior is ruining your confession of faith.
To boast about what you have received by God's grace is to rob God of His glory. To take credit for what you have graciously received is to exalt yourself above God. And wasn't that the cause of Satan's fall in the first place? He was filled with pride because of how God had made him. The Lord speaks through the prophet to Satan in Ezekiel 28:17: "Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you." The whole universe of evil stems from that kind of pride.
Pride is pervasive and often subtle, and true humility is not as easy to cultivate as you might think. It's too easy to be proud of not being proud. And no one is more arrogant than the person who is proud of his own humility. "Of course, we would never boast!"—but the minute we make that claim we are guilty of boasting. Whenever I hear some super-spiritual person going on and on about his own unworthiness, I suspect that even that kind of talk is shot through with sinful self-confidence.
Spurgeon said, "It is easy to be proud while sneering at pride, and to glorify self while denouncing self-exaltation. . . . Pride is a subtle, serpentlike vice, it will insinuate itself into the most secret chamber and hide in the most unlikely places; it will speak like an angel of light, and cringe and fawn and display a mock modesty which might almost deceive the very elect. It will blush and be diffident and hesitating, while all the while Lucifer himself is not more puffed up."
But, listen: true Christian modesty is not that sort of artificial self-abasement. You can't attain genuine humility by self-flagellation or a phony belittlement of your gifts and abilities. My friend Steve Kreloff tells the story of a godly preacher who was speaking at a Bible college, and a student, wanting to impress this preacher with how humble he was, said, "Dr. So-and-so, please pray for me. Pray that I will be nothing."
And the preacher wisely responded, "You are nothing; take it by faith."
True humility is not a pretense. We're not supposed to pretend that we are empty and devoid of anything good. Rather, authentic humility is the knowledge that whatever there may be that's good or spiritually useful in us, it is given to us by the merciful hand of God, and therefore we are merely debtors to divine grace. We should glory in nothing of our own, because we have nothing good of our own. Everything good about us is a gift of God's grace.
The apostle Paul said that very thing in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, verses 29-31:
no flesh should glory in [God's] presence.
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Now before we close, let me draw a couple of doctrinal and practical lessons from this text.
First of all, a point of doctrine: I believe if you answer these three questions honestly and let the truth they suggest inform your theology, you will be a Calvinist. The logical and legitimate conclusion these questions drive us to should cause us to embrace the doctrines of grace. If you are a believer, ask yourself: How did you come to be a Christian? Was it ultimately because of something you did, or a choice you made? Did it all hinge on you, or was it solely the work of God in your heart? I hope you know that it was God's work in you that drew you to Christ.
In his commentary on this verse, John Gill quotes an Arminian, who wrote, in answer to this text, "I make myself to differ; since I could resist God, and divine predetermination, but have not resisted, why may not I glory in it as of my own?" Obviously that is not the answer the apostle Paul was expecting—but it is the answer Arminianism suggests. That's true of Pelagianism, and Open Theism, and every other free-will theology as well. That's bad doctrine because it gives sinners grounds for boasting.
Here's a second doctrinal lesson: While we emphasize the truth suggested by these questions—that God is sovereign; and He is the giver of every good and perfect gift; and everything good in us is His doing, and to the praise of the glory of His grace—don't imagine that the converse is true. The biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty does not suggest that God is the author of the evil that men do; nor does it mean God is to blame for those who pursue the path of evil. James 1:13-14: "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." Here's a simple principle: whatever is good in you, God deserves full credit for. But whenever some corruption, sinful desire, or evil intention arises in you, you have to take full responsibility for that. Does that seem unfair to you? If so, it is only because you do not understand the true depth of your own depravity.
Don't use the doctrine of God's sovereignty, as some people do, to make God the author or the efficient cause of evil. That's a corruption of biblical truth.
Here's a third doctrinal lesson, closely related to the second one: Far from diminishing or eliminating human responsibility, the truth that underlies this text magnifies human responsibility. God has distinguished you from others by the gracious gifts He has given you. But Scripture says (Luke 12:48), "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." Your responsibility is greater, not less, because of the sovereign work of God in your life. If you see God's sovereignty as something that contradicts human responsibility, you have a warped and imbalanced view of the sovereignty of God.
Now a couple of practical lessons: The truth of this text ought to move us to gratitude. If every good thing we possess is a gift from God, then we are profoundly indebted to God's grace—and that realization ought to make us perpetually thankful. Instead of complaining and murmuring about the trials and hardships we endure, we ought to focus on the many undeserved blessings we enjoy daily. "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1 Thess. 5:18). Lamentations 3:22-23 says: "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." In other words, if it were not for the bounty of divine grace that we all enjoy, every one of us would have been damned and destroyed long ago because of our sin. Remember that, and give thanks, even in the midst of your trials.
The truth of this text also ought to move us to tenderness in our ministry to others. "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?" Be patient with that brother or sister who is slow to learn or slow to perceive. Don't give up easily on the one who is still a prisoner to sin. Remember that the grace of God is the only reason you yourself are not in such a condition.
My mother was not a doctor of divinity, but she did have a decent grasp of practical religion. And from my earliest years I can remember her teaching me to look with compassion on people less fortunate than me, including people whose lives have been wrecked by sin. And whenever there was a story in the news or on television about someone who suffered the miseries of sin or someone who reaped the fruit of a life of crime, she would never gloat, but she would always say with a mixture of sadness and gratitude, "There but for the grace of God, go I." That is the very truth of our text, and it is a profound theological and practical point.
Finally, here's the sum of all the practical lessons of this text: learn humility. Shun vanity. Develop a holy hatred for arrogance and pride. Think of what you would be without God's grace, and it will cure you of boasting about your own accomplishments. Realize that every good thing you have comes from God, and glorify the giver, not the gifts—and certainly not the recipient of the gifts.
James 4:6 says, "He gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" If we understand the truth of God's sovereign grace, that ought to make us humble, and help us to realize that we are utterly dependent on that grace for every good thing we need.
It would be foolish of me to assume that everyone here is a true believer. If you are here this morning without Christ, these truths have a practical application for to you, too. Your only hope is divine grace. You are a fallen sinner with no potential to redeem yourself. You have nothing good in you. But God has shown grace to you already, simply by enabling you to hear the truth of His word. And now He calls you to repent of your sin and receive Christ as savior. And He makes this gracious promise in John 1:12: "To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." You cannot redeem yourself, but God will graciously redeem you if you set your faith on Christ, receive Him as your Lord and Savior, and trust in Him alone. So I implore you in Christ's stead this morning, be reconciled to God.