Archive for January, 2020

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 Paul continues to tell us what love is not – 8 different qualities that do not define the agape love that God wants us to have toward one another. “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” are the next three on his ‘does not equal love’ list:

  1. Not envious
  2. Not boastful
  3. Not arrogant
  4. Not rude
  5. Does not insist on its own way
  6. Not irritable
  7. Not resentful

It’s interesting that Paul chooses to tell us far more about the things that love is not, than the list of things that love is. That should be a clue that while love is one of the most powerful things for us to live by, it also can be misused, misconstrued, misapplied and mis….lots of other things if we don’t love God’s way.

The fifth thing love is not – it is not about me. Love does not insist on its own way. This is being like Jesus in a most basic way, being an others-centered person instead of a self-centered person. There is no room for self-centeredness when we love someone. Our focus, our actions, our emotions – they all need to be focused on the person who is the object of our love. It is human nature to focus on self, but agape love is not that way. We put our focus on others. We put self aside and spend our energy on how we can lift up and put others in the center of our attention and action. It’s how Jesus lived His life, and if we’re truly going to love, we have to do the same.

Paul then says love is not irritable. We all find it easy to be irritated with those who are just plain annoying. And if we focus on their actions and attitudes, that becomes pretty easy to do. And unfortunately, we often are most easily irritated by the people we claim to love the most – those closest to us and those we spend the most time with. But it is a sin to be irritated, and it isn’t agape love. Does God take this seriously?  Remember that Moses was kept from the Promised Land because he became irritated at the people of Israel. You can argue that they were just responding to their circumstance and Moses was tired of the whining, but God cares how we treat others.

Then comes the truth that agape love is not resentful. Love does not keep score on who did what to whom, and especially who did what to me. Literally this means “love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received.” Love will put away the hurts of the past instead of clinging to them. Unfortunately many of us have long memories about things where we think we’ve been wronged or mistreated. But love let’s go of those things. It doesn’t mean we forget, but that we forgive and do not hold it within. Clarke writes real love “never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive… The original implies that he does not invent or devise any evil.” We assume the best intent and trust until we are proven that we cannot.

1 Corinthians 13:4

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul begins to dissect just exactly what ‘agape’ love is all about. “Love is patient and kind;”  He begins with telling us that love is:

  • Patient
  • Kind

As he describes love, it is described by action words, not by lofty concepts. Love is not a theory or and idea, it requires us to do something. Paul is not writing about how love feels, he is writing about how it can be seen in action. True love is always demonstrated by action. Love will endure a long time. It is the heart shown in God to us, thankfully because without His patience we’d be in deep trouble.

And likewise, if God’s agape love is in us, we will show patience to those who annoy us and hurt us. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said “this is the word used of the man who is wronged, and who easily has the power to avenge himself, but will not do it out of mercy and patience.” Do you avenge yourself as soon as you have the opportunity? Or do you respond with love God’s way and patiently work to help others learn. When we have and show God’s love, it will be seen in simple acts of kindness. A wonderful measure of kindness is to see how children receive us. Children won’t receive from or respond to unkind people. So Paul tells us two things that agape love is – patient and kind.

Paul then shifts gears to tell us what love is not – 8 different qualities that do not define the agape love that God wants us to have toward one another. “….love does not envy or boast;” Here are the first two on his ‘does not equal love’ list:

  1. Not envious
  2. Not boastful

Envy is one of the least productive and most damaging of all sins. It accomplishes nothing, except to hurt. Love keeps its distance from envy, and does not resent it when someone else is promoted or blessed. Elsewhere in scripture we are told to rejoice with those who rejoice. We need to not only embrace God’s blessing on others, but celebrate it with them.

The opposite side of the same coin is related to boasting or pride. Agape love in action can work anonymously. It does not have to have the limelight or the attention to do a good job, or even be satisfied with the result. When serving in love, it isn’t about me, but about those being served. Love gives because it loves to give, not out of the sense of praise it can have from showing itself off. When we are driven by the desire to get attention and ultimately boast of our efforts and outcomes, we completely miss God’s plan and often take any joy out of the good that may happen because of our actions and attitudes. God is never pleased with a prideful spirit. In fact, scripture tells us that pride is often the doorway to a fall.

1 Corinthians 13:3

In 1 Corinthians 13:3 Paul continues to teach the Corinthian church that spiritual gifts are subservient to love in every way. Gifts are not an end to themselves. They are given by the Holy Spirit to members of the body for the well being of the body. And the foundation upon which those gifts are to be used is love. He has made the point in the first few verses that gifts of tongues, prophecy, mystery and knowledge all are worth nothing if they are not exercised and used on a basis of love for the good of the body of Christ. There is no other way for gifts to be used properly. Love trumps all else.

Paul goes on to make one last case on just how important the contrast is between love and ANYTHING else. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” But what is this love that Paul writes of. Guzik explains it this way: “Paul uses the ancient Greek word agape. The ancient Greeks had four different words we could translate love. It is important to understand the difference between the words, and why the apostle Paul chose the Greek word agape here.

  • Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It refers to sexual love.
  • Storge was the second word for love. It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.
  • Philia is the third word for love. It speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love of which man, without God’s help, is capable of.
  • Agape is the fourth word for love. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting repayment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected.”

Paul drives the point deeply when he says that even dying without love is worthless. Even if we lay down our life in dramatic martyrdom, apart from love, it is of no value. Not just less, but NOTHING. Normally, no one would doubt the spiritual credentials of someone who gave away everything they had, and gave up their life in dramatic martyrdom. But those are not the best measures of someone’s true spiritual credentials. Love is the best measure. In fact, love is the only measure. Gifts don’t define our spirituality at all. But love, that is what God looks at and will determine our worth. Is love your guide?

There were some early Christians that were so arrogant they thought that the blood of martyrdom would wash away any sin. They were so proud about their ability to endure suffering for Jesus, they thought it was the most important thing in the Christian life. It is important, but not the most important. Many Christians believe the Christian life is all about sacrifice – sacrificing your money, your life, for the cause of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is important, but without love it is useless. Love is so valuable, so important, that apart from it, every other good thing is useless. Sometimes we make the great mistake of letting go of what is best for something else that is good, but not the best. Paul is clear – LOVE is above all else in God’s eyes.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 Paul continues his thoughts on spiritual gifts. We may have a chapter break in our modern bibles, but we have to remember how he just ended the teaching in chapter 12. He just gave us a long lesson on the importance of spiritual gifts, and then ends with “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” This ties the two chapters completely together. We know 1 Corinthians 13 as ‘the love chapter’ as that is the focus Paul will give us. But its about far more than love in our often shallow definition. Paul is going to school us on love from God’s perspective.

The Corinthians were enamored with spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. Paul reminds them even the gift of tongues is meaningless without love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Spiritual gifts without the foundation of love are noise.  Clarke wrote “People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it.” There has to be the right underlying motive to make any gift serve God’s purpose.

Paul’s first connection between gifts and love addressed speaking in tongues, but he quickly widened the requirement that all gifts be based on love. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The Corinthian Christians missed the motive and the goal of the gifts, making them their own goal. Paul draws the attention back to love. God gave and continues to give gifts for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. And the very foundation of that body and the work it is called to do is love.

Paul really shows how important love is when he tells the church that even if they had faith that would move mountains, which Jesus has said could happen if one had the faith of a mustard seed, even if they had that kind of faith – without love it would mean nothing. That kind of faith would be amazing and beyond what the church had seen. It still would be today. But without love – it is worthless. The very foundation of faith in God and His Kingdom is built on love. A man with that kind of faith can move great mountains, but he will set them down right in the path of somebody else – or right on somebody else – if he doesn’t have love.

Some believe gifts are a sign of being filled with the Spirit. But the truth is, gifts are not the measure – love is. It isn’t an issue of love versus the gifts. A church should never be forced to choose between love and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is emphasizing the focus and goal of the gifts: love, not the gifts for their own sake. It is love that trumps all else and having gifts, without love, will lead to outcomes that are not aligned with God’s purpose.

2 Corinthians 12:28-31

In 2 Corinthians 12:28-31 Paul wraps up his teaching to the church at Corinth around spiritual gifts. He summarizes his list of gifts reminding them that each is important and unique. “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”

  1. Apostles
  2. Prophets
  3. Teachers
  4. Miracles
  5. Healing
  6. Helping
  7. Administrating
  8. Tongues

These things are all important and are given to each person as the Holy Spirit chooses

Apostles are “special ambassadors” of the church. Paul and others in his day had a unique apostolic authority, which will never be repeated because the foundation of the church has already been set (Ephesians 2:20). However, God still has His “special ambassadors” in the church today, though not with the same authority as the original apostles.

Prophets are those particularly called to speak with the gift of prophecy. There was a unique, foundational authority to this gift as well (Ephesians 2:19-20). However, God raises up those to speak to the church and the world with a special blessing and power.

Teachers are those with the ability and giftedness to apply God’s truth to others in a practical and actionable way.

Miracles: Those used of God to do miracles. Yet, the Biblical pattern is for miracles to be done on the Holy Spirit’s initiative, not the initiative of the individual.

Healing is the ability to be used of God to impact a persons physical, emotional or spiritual health

Helper: One who helps, or assists others in doing the work of the Lord. Spurgeon lists these traits for someone who is an effective Helper:

  1. A tender heart to really care.
  2. A quick eye to see the need.
  3. A quick foot to get to the needy.
  4. A loving face to cheer them and bless them.
  5. A firm foot so you will not fall yourself.
  6. A strong hand to grip the needy with.
  7. A bent back to reach the man.

Administration is the ability to manage and utilize the resources God entrusts to the church for maximum impact

Tongues is a communicative gift, used in speaking to God

Paul ends reminding us of a couple principles about gifts. We are all uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit as He chooses and when He chooses. No one is the same as another. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” At the same time, Paul makes it clear that all gifts are not the same in terms of their value to the body, and it is acceptable for us to pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to anoint us with the gifts He chooses to impact the body. “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

1 Corinthians 12:21-27

In 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 Paul continues his instruction on spiritual gifts. Now Paul writes to those tempted to pride and a sense of superiority because of their gifts or place in the body. They cannot say to such parts, “I have no need of you.” God has created each member of the body uniquely and necessary for the good of all in the body. Every person is important and essential to God’s plan. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance, until it is hurt – then we realize how important it is! The hand or the eye may seem to be more important, and may have more “glamour” in its position, but it is not more necessary or important than other parts of the body.

If someone feels they are a “hidden” or “unglamorous” member of the body of Jesus Christ, God knows how to bestow honor upon them. God knows the value of each one of us, and will make sure that we are given the honor we should have as equal members of the body. “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” Clarke wrote about the less honorable parts: “Seem to mean the principle viscera, such as heart, lungs, stomach, and intestinal canal. These, when compared with the arms and limbs, are comparatively weak; and some of them, considered in themselves, uncomely and less honourable; yet these are more essential to life than any of the others.”

There is never any reason for division in the body. The “pride” of the “honorable” member is checked, as is the “shame” of the “less honorable” member. Spiritual gifts should NEVER cause any rift or division in the body. If they do, they are not being used as God designed, but for selfish motives. “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” The Corinthian Christians, and you and me, should care for one another because they are all part of the same body.

Here’s the reality. What happens to any member of the body happens to all members of the body. The parts of the body work together. The eyes and ears do not only serve themselves, but the whole body. The hands do not only feed and defend themselves, but the whole body. The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body. Sometimes there is a part of our body that only lives to serve itself. It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body, and everything it gets it uses to feed and grow itself. We call this cancer. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” God designed us as One.

1 Corinthians 12:15-20

In 1 Corinthians 12:15-20 Paul now gets into the details of how the body of Christ is to function. “If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.” Diversity does not disqualify one from the body. Paul puts the question in the mouth of the one who feels excluded from the body. It is as if some of the Corinthian Christians said, “I don’t have this certain spiritual gift. I guess I’m not part of the body of Jesus Christ.” After all, hands and eyes seem more important and more “glamorous” than feet and ears. So Paul wants these Christians who felt excluded to know they are indeed members of the body, and their sense that they are not is just as foolish as the foot or the ear that feels excluded.

Why is the foot a foot and the hand a hand? Because it pleased the Designer to make it so. The same is true of the ear and the eye. “And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.” Paul writes to those tempted to pride and a sense of superiority because of their gifts or place in the body. They cannot say to such parts, “I have no need of you.” In God’s design, all are critical and necessary. Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance, until it is hurt – then we realize how important it is!

Diversity is obviously part of God’s plan for the Body of Christ, just as it is for our human body. If we are missing different pieces of the Body, it won’t be able to function completely to God’s design. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” There would be all sorts of missing things if we lost part of the body. God has put together the parts and pieces and created each person uniquely so in the combination of those people – we have a perfect church. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”

It is God’s design and His gifting and creation that makes the church body what it is. When we treat it poorly, or choose to be divisive or exclusive we have the likelihood of pushing aside or even out pieces of the body necessary for it to work as God intends. And it certainly doeesn’t happen if it is an individual. “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” That’s not God’s design He put us into a body with many other equally unique and gifted people so we could function and walk with Him. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” There are many parts, but that is by His design!

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 Paul continues teaching about spiritual gifts and the church. He begins by reminding us that the Body of Christ is made up of lots of people. Being a Christian is not a solo event – we are part of a body with unique qualities and giftings. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” With the body should come unity – never division. The “body-like” unity of Christians is not a goal to achieve; it is a fact to be recognized. Paul clearly says we were all baptized into one body. That doesn’t mean everyone is identical and will always think the same but we should never lose sight of God’s design of the body.

Being a believer puts us into something very unique and no matter how great our physical, economic, giftings, or other qualities or characteristics may be – we are still one. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul is writing of the common “immersion” all believers have in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus, a common “immersion” which brings them into one body. Paul uses the brilliant illustration of the human body to relate the working of the community of Christians. Even as every cell in a human body is linked by a common thread (a common DNA code), yet the parts of our body (members) look different, are treated differently, work differently, and accomplish different purposes. Yet all are important.

The human body is miraculously crafted by God in every way. And when one or more parts are not functioning to design, we lose some ability to do things that we are able when all works as planned. The same holds for the Body of Christ. It consists of many members and when all are functioning as God intends great things happen in the church. When that isn’t the case, things go awry. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” Sometimes we create dividing lines like were created by the Corinthian Christians and were strictly artificial. Jew, Greek, slave, free, do not matter anymore, because they were all in one body.

Guzik writes “Passages like this have led many to regard baptism as sort of the “initiation ceremony into the community of Christians. While this may be an aspect of baptism, it is not the main point. The main idea behind Christian baptism is the identification of the believer – his “immersion” in Jesus Christ. The idea that baptism is primarily the initiation ceremony into the church has led to, and reinforced, unbiblical ideas. But here, Paul does not have in mind water baptism as much as Spirit baptism: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Paul here is writing of the common “immersion” all believers have in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus, a common “immersion” which brings them into one body.

1 Corinthians 12:10b-11

In 1 Corinthians 12:10b-11 Paul continues to describe gifts of the spirit to the church. He’s given description of the first handful, and now moves on to the gift of distinguishing between spirits. “….to another the ability to distinguish between spirits…”  This gift has the ability to tell the difference between true and false doctrine, and between what is of the Holy Spirit and what isn’t. There are plenty of false teachers and doctrines being shared in the world today, so this gift plays a significant role in the church. Satan appears as an angel of light and often deceives with a false, tempting message. A person with this gift would quickly point that out.

Next Paul moves on to a gift that can create controversy and even division within the church. The gift of tongues is a personal language of prayer given by God, whereby the believer can communicate with God beyond the limits of knowledge and understanding. “….to another various kinds of tongues….” Tongues have an important place in the devotional life of the believer, but a small place in the corporate life of the church, especially in “public” meetings. The ability to pray in a tongue is not the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit; this emphasis has led people to seek the gift of tongues (and to counterfeit it) merely to prove to themselves and others that they really are filled with the Holy Spirit.

When tongues are practiced in the corporate life of the church, it is to be carefully controlled, and never without an interpretation given by the Holy Spirit. That is the next and final gift Paul talks about in this passage of scripture. “… another the interpretation of tongues….” This gift allows the gift of tongues to be of benefit for those other than the speaker, as they are able to hear and agree with the tongue-speaker’s words to God. That is the only way that tongues should be part of any group meeting or worship time. They are not given so a person can feel superior or different than the other members of the body – all these gifts are necessary for the church to work as God designed.

Paul has listed the gifts here as:

  1. Word of wisdom
  2. Word of knowledge
  3. Faith
  4. Healing
  5. Miracles
  6. Prophecy
  7. Discernment of the spirit
  8. Tongues
  9. Interpretation of tongues

These are unique and important for the well-being of God’s church. The principle related to these and all gifts is that “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” They come from the same place – the Holy Spirit – and they are given exclusively by the Spirit to an individual in His time and His place and according to His will. Often, we assume spiritual gifts are given because a person is spiritually mature or closer to God, but this may not be the case at all. We should never assume that giftedness is connected to maturity. God can and does, for His own glory and purpose, distribute spiritual gifts to those who are not especially spiritually mature or close to Him. It is completely at His discretion.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10a

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10a Paul continues to teach around the spiritual gifts. He has set the foundation in the first few verses of the chapter and now dives into the individual gifts, the first being uttering wisdom, and the second much like it – uttering knowledge. “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,” Uttering wisdom is the unique ability to speak forth the wisdom of God, especially in an important situation. Uttering knowledge is the unique ability to declare knowledge that could only be revealed supernaturally. And Paul is careful to remind us that all these gifts come from One and the same Spirit.

It is important to understand the difference between the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. One may have great knowledge, even supernatural knowledge, yet have no wisdom from God in the application of that knowledge. We must also always use discernment in receiving a word of knowledge, remembering that God is not the only source of supernatural knowledge. Even if a word is true, it does not mean that it is from God and that the one speaking the word is truly representing God. Scripture tells us we have to compare what is said with the absolute truth of scripture and be sure it is true.

Paul continues and next calls out the gift of faith, and the gift of healing. “to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,” Though faith is an essential part of every Christian’s life, the gift of faith is the unique ability to trust God against all circumstances as Peter did when he walked out of the boat onto the water. The gift of healing is God’s healing power, either given or received, and has been repeatedly documented in the New Testament and since. Clarke wrote that “The power which at particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions”.

He continues and lists miracles and prophecy as two more gifts given by the Spirit. “….to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy….” The working of miracles is literally dynameis, or “acts of power.” This describes when the Holy Spirit chooses to “override” the laws of nature (as a pilot might use manual controls), working in or through an available person. Prophecy is the telling of God’s message in a particular situation, always in accord with His Word and His current work. Sometimes this has the characteristic of foretelling the future, but always in alignment with God’s Word.

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