If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
In one of the most quoted passages at weddings, Paul’s poetic words paint a beautiful picture of love. After much theology and advice to the Corinthian church, he brings us to the linchpin of it all…love. All of the gifts, all of the knowledge, all of the faith, all of the humility and service -- no matter how impressive -- mean nothing if they are not rooted in love. Christianity is built on relationship, not religion, ritual or rules. And relationships are shallow without love. Love is the essence of who God is.
1 John 4:7-8 tells us God is love. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that it isn’t just about following rules, it is about the condition of our heart. Jesus tells us that the way people will know we belong to Him is by our love. And He tells us the greatest commandments – the ones all the other laws and commandments hang off of – are to LOVE God and LOVE one another. The greatest gift – the blood of Jesus to pay in full our sin debt and make us righteous – was based on love; for God so LOVED the world.
Paul wants to make sure we know what love is, and equally important, what love is NOT.
The “love is” side is a gauge for genuine love….patient, kind, rejoicing in TRUTH, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. It is a check on how we are being treated and how we are treating others. The “love is not” side – envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, insistent on own ways, rejoicing in wrongdoing – give us some red flags both in our own hearts, as well as in assessing potentially toxic friendships or relationships. Those that may feel good in the manipulative moment, but aren’t true, lasting, satisfying, fulfilling, mutually beneficial, or edifying love.
Let us love real, love big, and love one another well.
Question: Can you think of examples of relationships you have been in on both sides of the “love is” description?
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4
The devil is the father of lies, and he has a few favorites. One lie is we aren’t good enough. We don’t have anything of value. We have no unique gifts worthy to share. And as we look around, we feel all alone and useless. It seems like everyone else has these amazing gifts and talents and platforms. But we just don’t matter. This is a LIE.
On the other end of the spectrum, the devil is working just as hard, making us believe that we are all that. That we are so valuable and independent. We can do it all on our own. We are better alone. We don’t need anyone else. This too is a LIE.
The devil loves to get our eyes looking to the front, back, left, and right…anywhere but up. Comparing and condemning… ourselves or others, or often both at the same time. He plants lies in our head that if people are different than us…in their look, behavior, mannerisms, giftings, priorities, passions, platforms, ministries, ways of worship…then they are wrong or they are better.
Paul is basically saying, “JUST STOP!” We are different because we have different purposes and callings, but they all come from the same source and we are all stronger together. There are things that we can accomplish in unity that could never be accomplished in isolation. In a symphony, if even one of the instruments is off-key, the entire sound is off. We are all instruments to make a joyful noise at the hands of the Great Conductor. We are all parts of one body. Though we are different, we all share the same DNA at our core…we are all created in the image and likeness of God, the creator of all things. No part of the body is more important than the other. No part of the body is insignificant. We all need each other. Paul is essentially saying, “Let’s start acting like it.”
The crazy thing is there is so much joy and freedom and peace in doing our thing…the thing we are good at and called to do…in beautiful community with other people doing their thing for the Kingdom of God.
Questions: Which lie do you generally fall for: that you are too much or too little? Do you ever let comparison get the best of you?
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3
Authority has become a four-letter word. Wait, scratch that… four-letter words are more accepted and often even revered than the idea of authority. We brisk at the concept, puff our chests and assert our authority over ourselves. No one is the boss of me, we declare.
It is such a stumbling block to our faith and our ability to genuinely accept God as the authority over our lives.
God is a God of order and authority. Authority exists in the Trinity itself – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Though all are fully and equally God, Jesus – God the Son – willingly submitted to the authority of God the Father.
The cycle of life from dependent infants to toddlers to figuring-it-out teens to students to employees to spouses all include places where we learn to submit to authority. Not only as a means for order and proper development, but also to train our hearts and minds toward a posture of authority SO THAT we can willingly and lovingly submit to the ultimate authority of Jesus. The more we buck authority in our training times the more difficult it is to submit to the authority of Jesus. The more we clench our fists around our authority over ourselves, the less our hearts are open to the authority of our Creator and Savior.
Paul has spent much ink ensuring we understand our freedom in Christ. So when he speaks of earthly authority, he isn’t taking something away from us, belittling us, or squashing us under the thumb of another. Earthly authority does not equal inferiority. Authority is not about submitting to the whims of the will of another. Jesus was no less God when He was submitting to the authority of the good and perfect will of the Father. Spiritual authority is always in the context of a loving and mutually beneficial relationship.
Questions: Do you have a hard time submitting to authority? In what ways do you rebel against the authority of Jesus as Lord of your life?
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23
We often look for the line. Some rebellious ones love nothing more than to cross the line just to show they can, or don’t care what people think, or to be their own boss. But I’m guessing most of us tiptoe toward the place we can go just up to and still technically be “okay.” We live life close to the line basking in our freedom. It’s all about us and the most we can get out of life. We look around at others to see where they interpret the line to be, or how crafty they are at getting as close as possible to it.
But our thinking here is self-centered, and it does little to add true joy to our lives or glorify God. In so many different ways Jesus teaches us how to live radically different. To be the one to pick up the towel and water basin and wash feet at the table. To put the comfort and success of others ahead of our own. To love others more than ourselves. To use our time and talents and resources to build others up; to build the kingdom here on earth. But often we look at our time, talent and resources and spin our wheels trying to get the most out of them for ourselves. We put ourselves first. We make sure we are comfortable before turning our eyes to others. We seek to glorify ourselves. All the while trying to maintain “good Christian” status and not cross the line. And quite honestly, it is exhausting and unfulfilling.
We have beautiful freedom bestowed on us because of the blood of Jesus. A great many things are permissible to us…but, not all are helpful. Not all are beneficial. Not all are constructive. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. Just because something is on the okay side of the metaphorical line doesn’t mean we have to slither up to it as close as possible. People are watching and even suffering a great distance from the line, and we are missing them. And as a result, they are missing God. Nobody wins.
Questions: What things are you doing, reading, watching, etc. that may technically be permissible, but aren’t beneficial? Are there things you can stop doing to grow stronger in your faith?
…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1
Knowledge is a good thing, but it isn’t the end game. If not correctly wielded, knowledge can backfire. As Paul says, instead of building up, knowledge can puff up… and then explode into judgment, condescension, arrogance, disdain. Quite the opposite of love.
It was an issue with the Corinthians, and honestly, you don’ have to look hard on social media to see knowledge used as a weapon by Christians today. Francis Chan has an incredible talk on this topic (Google “Francis Chan Think Hard / Stay Humble”). Chan says Paul is addressing Corinthians who may have their facts right, but their hearts are wrong. They are intelligent but unloving. They may technically have the correct theology, but they are wrong because they lack love. Their know-it-all-ness is becoming a stumbling block for their fellow believers.
Chan supposes Paul is saying…“You might be brilliant, but you’re killing our team. You’re not building up the brothers; you’re making them feel dumb and wounding their conscience. You’re not stirring them up to love and good deeds. You just keep making them feel inadequate. By your knowledge, this weaker brother is being destroyed!”
Chan challenges all of us more academic thinkers…how often do we think about people? How hard do we think about loving fellow Christians? How much do we think about the lost? Isn’t becoming like Jesus supposed to be the goal of all this knowledge accumulation?
We can be highly intelligent, a gifted communicator, generate the biggest crowds, memorize the most Bible verses, but it means nothing if we are not becoming more like Jesus. Chan says, “Your brilliance is worthless if you’re not building up your brother — and even worse if you’re destroying him with your knowledge?’” People will know Jesus by our love, not our knowledge. Knowledge is an essential tool. Accurate theology and a right view of God are critical. But it is the foundation, not the end result.
Questions: Can you think of examples when knowledge was used to tear down instead of build up? How can knowledge be used for good?
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18
Paul tells the Corinthians to FLEE from sexual immorality. Not stand strong against it. Not resist it. Not face it head-on with the full armor of God. Flee.
“Paul isn't saying sexual immorality is worse than any other sin, but he does teach that sexual sin has a unique effect on the body; not only in a physical way, but also in a moral and spiritual ways.” David Guzik
The Corinthians are knee-deep in a sexually promiscuous culture. Many believers don’t even question going to prostitutes and engaging in all manner of sexual relations. Culture rather than Christ is driving their morality. And things aren’t much different for us today. The cultural expectation is sex before marriage. You can’t even watch a sitcom without it being a common part of any even casual relationship. We’ve been taught that it equates to freedom. Freedom of ourselves, our bodies, our rights to do what we want. Paul is trying to get them to see it isn’t freedom at all.
As Christians, our bodies are not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (v.13). Our bodies are members of Christ (v. 15). Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). We were bought with a price (v. 20). We are to glorify God in our bodies (v. 20).
This was a hot and contentious topic in Corinth and it is a hot and contentious topic here today. I don’t have all of the answers, but God does. I pray for wisdom, discernment, and conviction on all things God has entrusted me with. I make a habit to spend time in God’s Word because I want to know His truth.
Challenge: If this is an area you are questioning or struggling with, take it to God. Study what His Word says about it, read commentaries, talk to Him in prayer about it. God promises to give us wisdom when we ask. The Holy Spirit in us gives us discernment, direction, and conviction. I truly believe God will honor your sincere seeking of direction.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1
Paul described himself as a spectacle to the world, subject to public ridicule, a humiliation, hungry, homeless, humbly dressed, laboring with his own hands, defamed, despised, accused, persecuted. The Corinthians certainly didn’t look up to or aspire to be Paul. They were not only prideful of their spirituality, but they were also embarrassed by Paul’s weak and humble state.
Paul admonishes this thinking. Everything good we have and do is from God alone. Judgment and reward are from God alone. And God sees the heart…what is hidden from man.
It isn’t smooth words, appearance, huge followings, entertainment factor, or marketing skills that count for the kingdom. It is God alone. Faithfulness to His Word. Everything we need to know is contained in the Scriptures. Paul reminds us to not go beyond what is written. How often do we see this to fit in, make the Word more culturally appealing, or try to increase following counts? But God’s word is powerful. It leads to our growth. It is meant to be read and studied and discussed. And, it needs no adding to or subtracting from.
Are we embarrassed to be or follow one who doesn’t have a polished image with worldly success and power? Would we look down at one such as Paul – tattered clothes, drifter, hungry, working with his hands and ridiculed – even though they are anointed by God to carry His message?
When we forget to look to God’s Word and instead look inward or use the world as our standard of assessment, we take steps backward on the goal of conforming to Jesus. The path we are on shifts in a wrong direction. The goal post gets moved. Being held in high honor and revered by man is not the end game. Adding to or subtracting from God’s Word is not our wheelhouse or authority. It only intensifies pride – the thing that keeps us and others from a deeper dependence on Jesus.
Question: Do you sometimes fall into the trap of looking at outward appearance as a sign of significance?
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready. 1 Corinthians 3:2
Why if you have been saved – if you have been set free – do you live like your non-Christian brothers and sisters? Why has the thing that has saved you not changed you? Paul ponders these questions. And the thing that triggers it: how they are treating each other. Envy, strife, tribal alignment fueled by arrogance and exclusivity are rampant among the Corinth Christians.
It’s not okay to be saved and not progress toward spiritual maturity; toward a changed life. And if we are being transformed, we love more. We don’t do the things we used to do. The citations for their rebuke are convicting: Envy…uh oh. Strife…ouch! Spiritual elitism around a “team” or particular leader …oh my. They aren’t the typical “sins” we think of that would cause people to say we are not on team Jesus. They are indicators of our hearts and our priorities. They are things that show how we are loving our neighbors. These things lead Paul to conclude that though they may be saved, they are not living out their faith.
Do we rest in our salvation and stop there, or do we strive for more? More Jesus. Deeper relationship. More wisdom. More displayed fruit of the Spirit in us. More grace. More compassion. More forgiveness. More love. Paul uses an analogy of feeding. For a time, milk is appropriate. We all start off as “babes in Christ.” But like the physical development of a child, spiritual development should be seen in believers. The Corinthians should be ready for solid food, but they are still serving each other milk, and this is not okay. The expectation is growth. The goal is to progress over time. At some point, we need a serious heart evaluation if we are still satisfied with milk alone to sustain us. Are we moving forward?
Are we content to say we have accepted Christ as our Savior, go to church more often than not, try to be a “good” person, pray here and there….but never fully surrender, fully strive for obedience, fully declare Jesus as LORD of our life? We should be growing and our lives should show it.
Questions: Have you become so complacent in your faith that you are failing to thrive? Are you seeking that deeper relationship with God?