Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
There’s something about sweet and sour pork that really appeals to me. I think it is the contrast of tastes that I experience when I eat it. Regarding taste, I understand that there are only five different taste sensations that we are capable of experiencing – sweet, bitter, savory, sour, and salty. Sweet and sour are on somewhat opposite ends of the pendulum of tastes; maybe it is this paradox of tastes that makes “sweet and sour” dishes a popular item with me and many other people.
It was this same “poles apart” doctrinal contrast that moved Paul to write a portion of what he did to the troubled church at Corinth. One of the several issues that plagued the Lord’s church there during the first century was the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. In this context, Paul wrote, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” (1 Corinthians 11.19). In this “sweet and sour” experience at Corinth, there were those who were approved and there were those who followed the factious doctrines of false teachers. Just as surely as sweet could be distinguished from sour, so could the teachings of God’s approved ministers be distinguished from those of uninspired men. In fact, Paul said it was this “contrast experience” that made it possible to distinguish one from the other.
The key to this understanding turns on a word which Paul used in the subject text. Specifically, he stated that this contrast allowed the difference between truth and error to “be recognized among you.” Throughout the New Testament, the word translated here as “recognized” (Greek – phaneros) means “to be clearly evident.” It was used by Jesus when He spoke of things which should be done in secret and the open reward which God would give (see Matthew 6.4,6.6, and 6.18). Once again the difference between truth and error was the difference between daylight and dark, between secrecy and openness.
The clear and evident distinction between “those who are approved” and those who are not approved was made manifest by the heresy that beset Corinth. Beyond this affirmation, we know little about how this distinction became evident. However, it is entirely reasonable (and I think probable) that this distinction was made possible by the miraculous gifts with which God’s true messengers were endowed. We do not know if there might have been something as drastic as when Paul blinded the eyes of Elymas the sorcerer because he was opposing the truth (see Acts 13.6-13), but there is no reason to believe it could not have been something similar.
Remember that God’s messengers carried their credentials with them (their miraculous gifts) as a means of demonstrating beyond any doubt the source of the messages which they delivered. The Hebrews writer spoke of these credentials when he wrote that the gospel message was “…confirmed to us by those who heard Him [Jesus], God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.” (Hebrews 2.3-4). These displays may have been reminiscent of those which occurred between Moses and the magicians in Pharaoh’s court. When the true miracles were placed along side the quackery that had fooled many, the magicians were forced to declare to their King, “This is the finger of God!” (Exodus 8.19). This same mechanism was needed as long as truth was in the process of being revealed and until such time as the entire will of Christ had been committed to writing (which we now have in the form of the New Testament).
Today, “those who are approved” are made manifest by the Scriptures and those who are not approved are revealed in the same way. Our duty is to use God’s word as the gold standard against which all teachings are compared.
1. Why did Paul cause Elymas to be blind? By what power did he do this?
2. Other than Paul and Elymas, can you discover other biblical cases where the power of God was used by a prophet in what might otherwise be called a destructive manner?
3. Why did Paul say that there had to be factions among the early church? Must it be that way today? Why or why not?
4. When the magicians told Pharaoh that they had encountered the “finger of God,” what else were they admitting? Was/is there an evident difference between truth and error? Why or why not?
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