1 Corinthians 3:18-20
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”
We have researched and concluded the study of Mark last Friday and we made a conclusion of what Mark was trying to get across. And this is a little bit of application of what we discovered as a result of our study together for last six weeks. We truly explored how the author, Mark, how he saw Jesus and how he presented the Gospel. This is a real application in our lives. What we learn in Mark and how it works out in our daily living. St Paul said to not deceive yourself. I realized that we can deceive ourselves. We think we’re honest to ourselves, but without even realizing it, we can deceive ourselves. That’s why Paul warns to not deceive yourself. Similarly, Socrates also said, know yourself. He probably said that because it is difficult to know ourselves and difficult to know that I’m not deceiving myself. These philosophers and St Paul said to not deceive yourself know yourself.
I think the spiritual journey is the journey to fullness. Spiritual journey has two parts. One is to get to know God, but another part of the journey which is equally important is to get to know yourself. So spiritual journey is also to discover yourself, to find yourself. If you just emphasize one without the other. For example, if you emphasize only on God, you become fanatic. You don’t know yourself. If you emphasize only on yourself rather than God, then it becomes too devastating. When you discover yourself, it can be quite devastating. So spiritual journey is both getting to know God and also getting to getting to know yourself. That was a spiritual journey of Saint Paul. He lived his life deceiving himself. He didn’t think that he was deceiving himself. I don’t mean that he lived a double life. No, he thought he lived one kind of life, but he was actually deceiving himself. He didn’t know who he really was. He thought he did. He thought he did. How many of how many of us are like that? We think we know, but sometimes we may continuously deceive ourselves.
When he was awakened to himself, he saw what he was like before and this is what he thought he was: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the self,” I translated flesh into self because that’s what it meant. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in myself, I have more. Circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews as to the law, a Pharisee as to zeal, a persecutor of the church as to righteousness under the law, blameless”. That was almost like a formula for him. See, if somebody asks him who are you, then he would have answered with this. If somebody asked you, who are you, then you may have certain things or which school you graduated from and who’s your parents are. It was the clothes he wore, but it wasn’t him. Clothes hanger cannot mistake who it is by the clothes it hangs. We wear different clothes, but they’re only shells and not our true identity. Paul lived all this life thinking that his shells were from him. In that way he deceived himself.
But one day he discovered that he was doing that. Many of us don’t even discover that many of us live our lives without really knowing who I am and then just die. But Paul discovered the truth about himself. I think that is amazing. That’s great. Then, after he discovered himself, this was what he said: “I regard them as rubbish”. They are the ones that we just read. He was a Pharisee and all these things. He regards them as rubbish, useless to define who I am. All those things are useless to truly know who I am because shells come just like you change your clothes every day. His righteousness comes and goes. He thought he was righteous, but he wasn’t righteous. He was persecuting God’s people. He thought that that was a righteous thing to do. Morality comes and goes. Everything that we have, shells come and go. He wasn’t able to go beyond the shells that he wore was able to see his inner self. Not many of us can do that, but he went on the shelves and he was looking yet himself and this was, what is it?
I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. he saw his own contradiction. I’m a man of contradiction, not a man of integrity. I’m a man of contradiction. He discovered, so Paul’s testimony is very different from the testimonies that most of us here are used to hearing. I used to be bad. I used to smoke, I used to drink. I used to do this and that, but now after I met Christ, now I don’t know all of those things. I’m good. But Paul’s testimony was exactly opposite. I thought I was good. I thought I was living faithfully, living a righteous life, but after I met Christ, I realized that I’m a man of contradiction.
A very opposite testimony that you hear. When he was not awakened, he didn’t have any struggle, he thought he was doing very well He lived not his true self, but the self he wanted to put on. He wasn’t himself. He lived the life that he wanted to put on, but ultimately he had the courage to admit who he really was and embraced his struggle and boldly let us know his struggle and I’m thankful that Paul did. If Paul shied away from it, then we would not have known who we really are. Like Paul said, that great man, the man who founded Christianity, he boldly courageously said what he was inside. Now we have confidence.
We also struggle with our shortcomings, our weaknesses, and our own darkness. It is very hard to admit that. It’s much easier to hide them than confronting them. It is much easier to do this or that to confirm that I am okay than admitting our helpless and sometimes hopeless reality of our true self. We paint a beautiful picture of ourselves and try so hard to live that picture, to live out that picture, whatever does not fit that picture, we throw away or we hide them away and in the process of doing that, we’re not being true to ourselves, we are deceiving ourselves. We become a stranger to ourselves. Sometimes you look in the mirror and see yourself. Who are you? Who are you? We become a stranger to ourselves. When you don’t feel at home with who we are, there’s a huge gap between the image that you put on and what is going on inside.
The spiritual journey is to learn to see our inner self-accepted and embrace our honest struggle. In spirituality, we are achieving a condition where we can say it is all right not to be perfect. It is all right not to be the person my father or my mother wants me to be. It is all right to have our own brokenness. You don’t need to deceive ourselves. We think we’re smart enough to deal with our own inner contradiction, but be careful as you try to deal with your own inner contradiction, with your own wisdom as you may create a deeper contradiction in yourself. Saint Paul said, he catches the wise in their craftiness and again, the Lord. Lord knows the thoughts of the wise they are futile. When Paul discovered his own inner contradiction inside, instead of dealing with it with his own wisdom, he turned to God like a fool. He’s simply turned to God instead of using his brain to deal with his own contradiction. He just turned to God and as he turned to God, Huh? He discovers something else. Not only his inner contradiction, but something else starts appearing. You know what that is? God’s grace. God’s grace. When he saw his true self with that, he saw God’s grace. That’s why this he said this, by the grace of God, I am what I am. He found that grace to make him who he is. Not who he pretends to be that grace gave him the power and the empowerment to be who he is.
He discovered God’s grace. Not only his self-contradiction. God’s grace gave him the courage. My friends. It is really, really hard to see our darkness, our weakness, our selfishness, our pride with our bare eyes. It is really difficult to admit that and see that. That’s why even though we are weak, we pretend that we are strong. Even though we are insecure, we pretend that we are very confident. Even though we are selfish, sometimes we have to pretend to that we are generous. Even though you’re not righteous, we have to pretend that we have everything together. But with grace, we don’t need that protection. I’ll want to tell you the most important truth for you not to forget ever in your life. The most basic thing about the true wisdom is that I cannot save myself. I cannot save myself. That is the most important truth that all of you have to remember the rest of your lives. People have a hard time accepting it. Theoretically, they may agree, but they don’t truly accept this. The moment they see nakedly that they cannot see themselves, they become devastated.
The moment people realized that “I cannot see myself,” they get devastated, they’ve fallen into deep despair. Only God’s grace can lead us to the wisdom to know that we cannot save ourselves. That’s what Jesus showed on the cross, that’s what Jesus showed on the cross. People at the bottom, Jesus, why don’t you save yourself, if you’re the saviour? And Jesus simply said “I cannot save myself,” and he died on the cross and he showed to the world, we human beings cannot save ourselves and our Saviour showed that. That is a message of the cross. That’s a big difference between Superman and Jesus. That is the difference in the Gospel of Superman and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus simply died on the cross. Embracing his own vulnerability, embracing his death.
But you know what happened when Jesus did that, God’s power was revealed. When Jesus did that God’s power was manifested and that power raised him from the dead. Jesus did not save us with his own power. Jesus simply shows that we human beings can not save ourselves and he was faithful to the end and in God’s power saved all of us. He showed how important it is for us to embrace our own vulnerability. That cross that showed the ultimate vulnerability of the human being released the power of resurrection. Nothing else could release the power of resurrection. Power of the cross was not the power of Jesus, nor the power of any human being, but the power of God. And Jesus died on the cross and then Paul knowing his own spiritual journey, knowing his own contradiction, he captured what Jesus did so sharply and let us know, and this is what he said. “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
Foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. He understood the power of the cross. Oh, my goodness. How did he do that? Jesus simply died on the cross but how did St. Paul come out with this theological insight? Truth, because he himself went through that journey. So, my friends, when you embrace your vulnerability, you’ll see God’s power. When you run away from your vulnerability, you’ll forever live with that vulnerability, but when you embrace your vulnerability, you’ll be able to see God’s power. You won’t be devastated when you’re in a vulnerable situation. Don’t feel too sorry for yourself. God’s power will be manifested. There’s another confession of St. Paul related to this message. Once he went up to the third heaven, I don’t know what third heaven is, and Paul himself does not really know. I don’t know what it is, but somehow he was caught up in the third heaven, almost like paradise.
So he experienced the power of the divine. Immediately after that experience of going up to the third heaven, you know what he experienced? He experienced the thorn in the flesh. And St. Paul said, Satan gave me this thorn. He prayed three times to get rid of this thorn, but God did not get rid of that thorn. And there he understood this wisdom and this was what God gave him. Let us hear what is said. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Whenever you are strong, you will be weak. Whenever your week then God is strong and you will become strong. The people who pretend to be strong, they are not strong. They have a tremendous insecurity. They don’t deal with their vulnerability and insecurity. That’s why they pretend to be strong, so on the surface of you see strong people. They are not strong people rather they are weak. All the bullies, they are the weakest of all. Real power comes when we are weak. My foolishness is God’s wisdom. It is alright to be a fool. Be a fool for Christ.