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by Al Maxey

Issue #724 ------- July 10, 2017
Why spend years in tilling the rock or
sowing the iceberg, when virgin soil awaits
the plough and promises to reward the
toil of the spiritual husbandman?

Pulpit Commentary [vol. 19, p. 474]

Sow Thou Not Infertile Icebergs
Inspired Injunction Against the Invincibly
Ignorant: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 14:38

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of our nation's most famous statesmen, thinkers, inventors and writers, declared, "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." Some also work hard, or so it seems, to remain ignorant (which one might well argue is merely evidence of stupidity). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) opined, "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." Yes, there are some people who are quite sincere about their ignorance: there are things they genuinely do not wish to hear, know or understand, for it might mean having to rethink their convictions and change their practices. Such a prospect terrifies them, so they intentionally (even protectively) remain "blissfully ignorant." The American philosopher and author Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) correctly observed, "The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge." With such ignorance of, and willful intent never to consider, greater truths and realities often comes what I characterize as "militant arrogance." The parameters of personal and/or party perceptions are considered sacrosanct, and within these walls of factional exclusion are said to lie the very patterns and precepts of God Himself. Thus, it inevitably follows, in their thinking, that all persons and positions and practices lying outside these walls are nothing other than "damnable, devilish deception." Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was quite right when he noted: "The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance."

Penetrating the walls of intentional ignorance is a daunting prospect. It is far from being an easy endeavor, and may often be virtually an impossibility, for the walls constructed by those motivated by militant arrogance (a byproduct of factional fanaticism) are at times so high and wide as to be almost impregnable. "Getting through" to such well-indoctrinated partisans may well prove to be beyond our own capabilities. It is hard to "give up on" a person or group of people, but there are times we must acknowledge the futility of further effort. Sometimes, sadly, we must simply affirm the obvious: they have made their choice; thus, we leave them to it, and to whatever consequences may ensue from their choice. This is often painful for those who must abandon one to his/her ignorance, for such obstinacy on the part of the willfully obtuse may well prove to be self-destructive in the end. But, how do you help one who will not be helped? How do you enlighten one who will not be enlightened? How do you free one who will not accept freedom? It hurts - deeply - but there are times when our only real option is to give them over to their choice! Even here, we hope and we pray: "Lord, may the consequences of their choice awaken them to their ignorance and their bondage, and may this painful experience, if it should not prove to be fatal, lead them to a place where they may be reached with Your Truth."

What many may not realize is that the Scriptures contain a number of inspired injunctions against the invincibly ignorant. Those who "stop up their ears" lest they hear uncomfortable and inconvenient truths are pitiful, prideful partisans, and the Lord cautions us against spending all of our time, energy and resources trying to reach out to those who willfully choose not to be reached. Since there are many fertile fields to sow, and since "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few" (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2), one would be well-advised, says Jesus, to turn away from those who are willfully ignorant and abandon them to their ignorance, focusing instead upon those who are eager to learn and willing to change when confronted with and convicted of Truth. This is especially seen in the contrast between those in Thessalonica and Berea, as recorded for us in Acts 17 (please note my study of this contrast in Reflections #163 - "A Berean Spirit: Thugs vs. Thinkers"). There are times, Scripture suggests, when we must turn from those who have turned from Him, acknowledging the reality that some have no desire to reform, thus our efforts are wasted on them. "Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile" (Revelation 22:11). The point is: there are some who, frankly, are beyond our reach. Thus, we must abandon them to their folly and focus our efforts on those hearts and minds still fertile enough to be planted with the seed of our Lord's Good News, and still fertile enough to bear fruit from that sowing of Truth. Tilling rocks and sowing icebergs is the epitome of futility; it is an exercise guaranteed to produce little more than a harvest of frustration. We must be more perceptive than that, painful though that reality may be in practical application. Willful, obstinate ignorance abounds around us, and always has, for, as John Locke (1632-1704) rightly declared, "A great part of mankind are unavoidably given over to invincible ignorance." Thus, we should not be drawn into efforts to till rocks and sow icebergs, for nothing productive ever really comes of it.

The apostle Paul presents this maxim in his first letter to the disciples in the city of Corinth, saying, "But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant" (1 Corinthians 14:38 - KJV, NKJV, ASV). This teaching has bothered some within the church of our Lord Jesus. It seems to them to be rather dismissive and insensitive; even defeatist. It seems to suggest, at least to them, that some people are simply "not worth the effort;" that we should just walk away from them and "let them go to Hell where they belong!" This is not the message Paul sought to convey, however. Those who truly have a love for the lost, and who seek tirelessly to share the good news of God's grace with them, will go the extra mile and do all within their power to enlighten those in darkness and guide them to a saving relationship with the Lord. However, no matter how good one's intentions may be, there are simply some who are beyond our reach. They have "stopped up their ears" to the divine message and have stomped upon His messengers. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). Even the Lord, at a point, is compelled to acknowledge that not all desire deliverance; some, sadly, prefer the darkness of spiritual ignorance to the challenges and blessings of dwelling in the Light. Some, inexplicably, prefer slavery to freedom. Thus, at some point, such persons must be left to their choice, for there are fields "white unto harvest" awaiting willing workers. In Matthew 15, Jesus confronted those who were hardened legalists and religionists, boldly rebuking them for their love of tradition over Truth (vs. 3-9). His disciples came to Him later and said, "Don't You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" (vs. 12). The reply of Jesus was: "Leave them; they are blind guides" (vs. 14). When Jesus sent out the Twelve to proclaim the Good News, He gave them this instruction: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet" (Matthew 10:14).

It is this of which Paul speaks in his epistle to the church in Corinth: "But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." In a footnote to this passage in the 1599 Geneva Bible we read, "The church ought not to care for those who are stubbornly ignorant, and who will not abide to be taught." We can expend much time and energy and resources on such futile efforts, or we can leave them to their willful ignorance and engage in more fruitful endeavors. This is Paul's point. In Corinth there were some who had little regard for Paul and his apostleship. They didn't like him. These persons were also highly opinionated, regarding their views and practices to be nothing less than divine decrees. Thus, Paul confronts them, and "this language constitutes one of Paul's most sarcastic statements" [Dr. Jimmy Allen, Survey of 1 Corinthians, p. 179]. "Did the word of God originate with you? Are you the only people it has reached?" (1 Corinthians 14:36). There is definitely much arrogance associated with and evidenced by those who are convicted that they, and they alone, have it "all figured out." Contentions and divisions arise from this very quickly, as Paul noted on a number occasions in his epistles to the disciples in this city. If these people were truly as spiritually perceptive as they thought themselves to be, they would have recognized that Paul was simply seeking to convey Truth to them. "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I wrote to you is the Lord's command" (1 Corinthians 14:37). Paul is not suggesting that every sentence, every word or phrase, in this epistle is straight from the mouth of God (after all, he clearly points out that some of what he writes is his own conviction, and thus not "of the Lord"). His point is that what he is writing to them, whether it be to enlighten or discipline, is fully consistent with revealed divine truths. Those who are truly spiritual should readily recognize this. Yet, Paul laments, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly; mere infants in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). Their spiritual ignorance was manifested in their many contentions over religious matters. Paul sought to correct this problem, but had to admit, as did the Lord, that not all would be willing to submit to Truth. Those who remained militantly obstinate in their spiritual ignorance must be, at some point, abandoned to their choice. At some point the faithful messengers of God's grace must acknowledge that they have been tilling rocks and sowing icebergs. There will be no harvest; they must sow their seed elsewhere: in soil far more fertile. Hugo McCord, in his NT Translation of the Everlasting Gospel, rendered 1 Corinthians 14:38 this way: "If anyone continues to be uninformed, let him be uninformed." When Stephen sought to inform the people of truths they needed to hear, "they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him" (Acts 7:57, NIV). Yes, some would rather believe a lie; to be blissfully uninformed, a state Paul characterizes as "a powerful delusion" (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Dr. John Gill (1690-1771) wrote, "No regard is to be had, or pity shown, to a man of affected ignorance and willful obstinacy; such a man is not to be known and owned, but shunned and rejected" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. There are times and circumstances when all we can do is turn and walk away from those who will not consider any position or practice not their own. "If he will be ignorant and obstinate, let him remain so" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, vol. 2, p. 120]. Matthew Henry noted that God is just, and so also are we, in "leaving those to the blindness of their own minds who willfully shut out the light" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. There have been some during the course of my 41 years of fulltime ministry with whom I have dialogued many, many times, yet they seem to become more hardened with every exchange. I have wondered at times whether to continue trying to reach them; wondering what more I could say or do that I haven't already, and repeatedly, said and done. With some of these I keep trying (for I detect some willingness on their part to at least consider other views); with some, sadly, I have come to realize that there is nothing more I can do, so I leave them, as both Jesus and Paul instructed, to the choices they have made. "I leave him to his ignorance: it will be at his own peril; I feel it a waste of words to speak anything further to convince him" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1220]. Even the Creator Himself acts upon this principle at times: "Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!" (Hosea 4:17). What a frightening thought: that we may reach that point in our willful resistance to spiritual enlightenment where even God Himself abandons us to the consequences of our choice!

With some persons Paul had reached a crossroads: does he continue trying, or does he turn away? In our text, Paul declares his decision (and provides us a principle to follow today): "To invincible bigotry and ignorant obstinacy St. Paul will have no more to say" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 460]. He has exhausted every avenue to reach them with the Light. They won't have it. They resist it. So, Paul leaves them to their ignorance and turns to those who will listen and learn. Let me close this study with the following thoughts taken from The Pulpit Commentary: "Opinionatedness and ignorance often go together. A little experience convinces us that those who cling the most tenaciously to their own opinions, their own habits, are not always men of the soundest judgment. To resist evidence and authority is no sign of soundness of mind and power of intellect. Some are obstinate because they are blind to all testimony and evidence but that which is acceptable to their own prejudices. ... Young and sanguine ministers of religion often begin their work with an inward persuasion that they have only to place the truth fairly and fully before men, in order to their conviction and conversion. But experience teaches them that it is not so; that there is a moral obduracy which is proof against all efforts. It may be wise to abandon to their loved ignorance those who will not be enlightened. There is better employment for the time of Christian laborers than the endeavors to enlighten the invincibly ignorant. ... Why spend years in tilling the rock or sowing the iceberg, when virgin soil awaits the plough and promises to reward the toil of the spiritual husbandman?" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 473-474].

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Wyoming:

Al, thank you for your article "Unplunged Penitent Perpetrator: A Question about the Thief on the Cross and the Sacramental View of Baptism in Water" (Reflections #723). Alexander Campbell used the phrases "Actual Forgiveness" and "Formal Forgiveness." The former was, I believe, at the point of faith, while the latter was at baptism in water. He eventually grew out of the usage of these terms, but I do not think he changed his thinking on the topic. As you are aware, he believed that one could be a Christian without being baptized (as noted in The Lunenburg Letter). Of course, he never de-emphasized baptism, he simply believed some put way too much emphasis on it.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

My step-ladder isn't tall enough to look over God's shoulder to peek into the Lamb's Book of Life. One thing I've come to appreciate is the fact that our names are added to His book by Him, rather than by any one of us. I think it's important to understand that it is immersion into Christ, rather than immersion into water, that is vital to our being united with Him unto eternal life. Immersion into water is symbolic of immersion into Christ, but it is the latter that saves. If the thief on the cross was spiritually immersed into Jesus Christ, then he was united with Him, and, as Jesus said, would also be united with Him in Paradise. Immersion in the medium of water was the Jesus tradition symbolizing our cleansing (as the priests needed to wash themselves before entering into the presence of God in the Temple). All who bear the fruit of the Spirit exhibit the fact of the Spirit living within them.

From a Reader in California:

After reading your article "Unplunged Penitent Perpetrator," I suddenly realized the absurdity of even asking about baptism in reference to the thief on the cross. Romans 6 teaches us that baptism in water is just a representation of us joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Rather than needing such a symbol, however, this thief was actually/literally joining with Christ Jesus in His death and burial, and even in the ultimate resurrection to life. On Judgment Day, I think the penitent thief will be the first in line! Al, when I first saw your blog ministry (Reflections) I thought, "Not another religious blog!" But then, I started to read your studies and I was hooked. Not only have I been spiritually uplifted, but I made a dear friend as well. My inbox is always blessed when I see a new issue of Reflections in it. Keep up the good work for as long as the good Lord gives you strength!

From a Leader with Eastern European Mission:

When someone asks me about being saved "like the thief on the cross," I reply that this is the only way to be saved: to be crucified with Jesus, and then to be raised together with Him (Romans 6:3-4). The thief was saved by God's mercy, just as the laborers in the vineyard who came at the 11th hour were paid, not according to what they had earned, but according to the generosity of the owner of the vineyard. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, both of whom were praying in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14), it was the man who cried for mercy, not the man who boasted arrogantly to God about his own goodness, who went home justified that day. By the way, this Pharisee is the only man I know of who actually thanked God he was NOT saved (i.e., he thanked God he was not like the tax collector). All of this reminds me of the man I actually heard thanking God in a public prayer that "we have it all figured it." Didn't Paul say, "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2)? Paul also spoke of these in his first letter to Timothy when he wrote that some persons, who desired to be teachers of God's word, were "without understanding either of what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (1 Timothy 1:7). I've had to repent of this same attitude! A long time ago I learned that some of the things I "knew beyond the shadow of a doubt to be true," were simply not so.

From a Reader in Barbados:

Bro. Al, in the final paragraph of your most recent article ("Unplunged Penitent Perpetrator") you wrote the following: "Why can't we just accept the beauty of a manifestation of God's grace to a sinner in whose heart resides genuine faith and penitence?!" I read this issue of Reflections with the eager expectation that something within it would reinforce my assurance in the blessed, unmerited salvation that is in Christ Jesus, so when I saw this statement my heart leapt for joy! For me, this is the only assured explanation for what occurred between Jesus Christ and that dying thief. Thank God His promise is repeated for you and me, and the many others who lay hold of, by faith, the proffered grace of God in Christ Jesus. Based on the truth you declared in that statement, and all it implies, I can say most assuredly, "I am saved; wondrously saved!!" Also, after reading your article "The Spirit of the Law: Accepting a Legalist's Challenge" (Reflections #722), I really do not know what more could be said to open the eyes of such persons as Victor Eskew. I have concluded that they may be afraid to let go and simply trust God. It comes right down to whether we really accept the fact that we are "accepted in the Beloved" or if there are still a host of rigid rules and regulations we must keep in order to earn His acceptance. If your recent contribution to this discourse is not convincing enough to people like Mr. Eskew, then all I would posit is: There are none so blind as those who will not see! Such people continue to struggle with the lower life (the letter of law), when in fact they have been given the facility to live the higher life (the spirit of law). "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? ... I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing law, or was it by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? ... Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Galatians 3:1-5).

From a Reader in Georgia:

John 3:17 is the verse that came to mind as I read your article about the "Unplunged Penitent Perpetrator." Jesus says, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged" (John 3:17-18a). It is so sad that so many legalists want to paint a picture of an angry God who looks for reasons to prosecute those who are imperfect, when, in fact, He is doing just the opposite: He is looking for every opportunity to save us! Jesus reached out to him and saved him at the very last moment because it was at the last moment his faith reached mustard seed proportions!! While some search frantically for water (baptism) in this account, the real story is one of the Father's unmerited favor toward one who acknowledged and reached out to Jesus His Son. That is the picture of God I hold in my heart: A Father who redeems His children because He wants to! I don't understand the fixation of some on water, as if Jesus isn't sufficient. Should one be baptized in water? Sure!! But, water has never saved anyone, not even Noah. Paul tells us in Romans 4 that both old and new covenants were based on faith, rather than on any specific act proceeding from our faith.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

The synagogue is of special interest to me, and I was especially intrigued by your answer to the reader in Singapore in the readers' section of your latest Reflections (Issue #723). You wrote: "My sermon yesterday morning (June 25) was titled 'Jesus and the Synagogue.' I examined the origin and history of the synagogue system, how it was embraced by both Jesus and Paul (they went to the synagogue 'as was their custom'), how it served as a model for the development of the church system we know today in many ways, and how it was never mentioned in the OT writings! God never commanded it, and there is not a single example of its use in the OT Scriptures. Thus, why did Jesus and Paul embrace an 'unauthorized human innovation'? Digressives!! Apostates!! Jesus did the same with the four cups of wine in the Passover (they also were never commanded by God, and there is also not a single mention of them in the OT Scriptures: the 'law of silence,' right?!!). Jesus embraced them; He even used one of the cups to represent His blood of the new covenant. Thus, our church system and our Communion service, two of the things we fight about endlessly (with respect to 'the pattern'), were actually based on 'unauthorized human innovations.' Hmmm!!!" Al, I would love to hear that sermon, if you recorded it. Is it available? Thanks! Love you, and love your writings!

From an Elder in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada:

Al, I can't thank you enough for all the ways that you have opened up my understanding of the Scriptures and how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. You have been an inspiration to me over the years, and I pray God will continue to guide you in all the work you do in the name of His beloved Son Jesus Messiah!!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Thank you, Al Maxey, for the 15 years you have been publishing your Reflections. They have really impacted my life. Reading, studying and reflecting on these writings have moved me, in your words, "farther from religious forms and patterns," and have brought me "to a deeper faith in and relationship with our Lord." I've learned to question a lot of things that just never made sense to me. Thank you again for helping me to learn!

From a Minister in West Virginia:

Congratulations, Al, on your decade and a half of sending out your Reflections. I remember when you started this ministry, and truly enjoyed the years we worked together there. I think about you often, brother. Blessings to you and your family.

From a Missionary in American Samoa:

Thank you, Bro. Al, for all your good work! You are a blessing to the Kingdom, and don't you ever forget it!!

From an Elder's Wife in Missouri:

Congratulations on 15 years of Reflections! I have read many of your articles over the years, and you have definitely made me think. I appreciate your search of the Scriptures and your talent for writing. Love ya, brother!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Congratulations, Al Maxey! You have done more, quite possibly, to bring real unity within our Christian fellowship than anyone I can remember in recent years! Thanks for keeping our focus on Jesus our Savior.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Wow!! 15 years!! Thanks for your insightful challenges!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Thank you, Al, for all your work. I have greatly benefited through the years from your ministry. May God continue to bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Texas:

Congratulations on 15 years of service to those who are still looking for answers. It may be hard to believe, but one day people will quickly quote from you, and will offer you as their source of information, much as you do with the great thinkers and writers of our past! Way to go, Al.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

You've challenged and changed my faith, brother. God's blessings for 15 more years of your Reflections ... at least!! Great article on the thief on the cross, by the way. You have certainly challenged my ingrained, dare I say "indoctrinated," thoughts about the hereafter (namely your articles on "Paradise"): "The Promise of Jesus to the Thief on the Cross" (Reflections #28a) and "Restoring Paradise: New Heavens and New Earth" (Reflections #310). Keep the faith!!

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