July 13: Nothing Without Love.

1 Corinthians 13:2. if I… have not love, I am nothing.

Nobody wants to be a nothing. We all want to be a something. And so we find our worth and value in all kinds of things. For the Corinthians it was in their spiritual gifts, or their knowledge, and their status, or who they followed, or even where they sat at the Lord’s Supper. What is it for you? Your job? Your kids? Your looks? Your brains? Your money? Your reputation? Your behavior? Your spirituality? Your gifts?

We live in a culture of performancism. We judge each other by what we do. If we perform well, we are valued. If we don’t, we are forgotten (how many silver medalists can you name?). We debate who is the G.O.A.T. in various sports. We celebrate only spectacular achievements (think American Idol and American Ninja Warrior). Our students are growing up in a “no fail” world where stress, over-medication, and suicide are increasing rapidly. We tell our children to follow their dreams and that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to.

But what if they can’t?

What if none of us can? What if our value is found in simply who we are and who made us, and not in what we do? What if what makes us something rather than nothing is the simple fact that we are loved?

What if, when we focus on performance or getting better, we actually only get worse? What if, when we try to do anything apart from God’s unconditional love, we actually gain nothing from it, or at least nothing positive. What if, without love as our guiding truth, we actually just become self-absorbed, self promoting, and selfish? What if our spirituality could actually just be narcissism?

I know it can be easy to read 1 Corinthians 13 as just more performancism. If you don’t perform well at loving others you are nothing. But if you figure out how to love well, then you are something. You are valuable.

But what if this is not how this great “Love Chapter” is to be read? What if Paul is showing us that the only way to love is to first be loved. That is, first we must accept our worth based solely on the fact that we belong to God out of his sheer love and grace, and not out of our own performance or achievement.

What if love isn’t something we earn, or even something at which we succeed or fail, but rather it is something that is? Just is. A State of being.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Paul isn’t describing love as something we do. He is describing it as being. Paul doesn’t move from “Without love I am nothing” to “So now here are some ways I’ve learned how to love.” Rather, he has personified love. Love is. Love does. Not, “love this way or that way.” He doesn’t say here “be kind.” He says “Love is kind.”

Maybe this is where we need to start. Maybe we need to move away from seeing our love as a performance or a goal to accomplish. And instead see it as what it really is- a fruit, a gift, a life of faith not works.

“To live is Christ” means we are filled with love as a state of being. Love is. And love is in us. Why? Because Christ is in us. Without love we are nothing because without Christ we are nothing.

Do you have the love of Christ inside of you? You do if you have Christ inside of you. Do you believe this? Have you seen love as a performance? How does union with Christ allow us to see love as our state of being?

 

 

 

July 12: No Love. No Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:31. But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

What could possibly be more excellent than the wisdom, knowledge, words, and power of Christ being manifest in us through various supernatural gifts? I mean it can’t get any better than that can it?

1 Corinthians 13:1-3. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

No matter how gifted or talented you are, and no matter how virtuous and moral you are, if you do not have love, you gain nothing and you are nothing. Jesus put it this way: “abide in me…abide in my love…apart from me you can do nothing.”

Love is the more excellent way.

In verses 1-2, Paul is describing the same spiritual gifts he spoke of back in chapter 12 (although theres. These are gifts of communication, and insight, and power. The Corinthians had these gifts, and because they did, they thought they were more spiritual than others. In verse 3 Paul describes moral or virtuous behavior- giving everything to the poor and even martyrdom. The Corinthians don’t seem to be doing these things, but even if they were, they still would not be truly spiritual. Why? Because true spirituality is love.

You can have all the gifts and all the good behavior and still lack the character of Christ. You can be brilliant, talented, disciplined, successful, nice. You can be performing miracles, and leading people to Christ. You can stand up for what you believe and fight for justice. And yet, you can do all of these “Christian” things without the heart of Christ. You can give God your time, talents, money, and stuff without giving him your heart. You can be living an exemplary moral life and not be growing spiritually (Timothy Keller, Gospel Christianity).

How can all of this be possible? How can we live with amazing gifts, talents, knowledge, power, morality, and virtue and still not have Christ’s love? Notice the end of verse 3. I gain nothing.

When we live our lives in order to gain something for ourselves, to earn life, to garner favor with God or man, we have forfeited living from love. We have rejected the unconditional love of God for us through the freely offered gift of Christ’s life.

Here’s the thing, we most often do what we do for our own good, to gain power or to prove our own self-worth. In Galatians, Paul would have called this living from the flesh rather than the Spirit. You see, living from the flesh doesn’t have to be adultery, fornication, drug addiction, stealing and lying. It can be teaching the Bible, telling the truth, going to Sunday School, or feeding the poor. It can be living from the Law (Galatians) or living from “spirituality” (1 Corinthians). But all of these things can be done for your own selfish gain and not from love.

For example, why do you not tell lies? If your answer is because a “good Christian” would never lie, or because you don’t want to be considered a liar thus hurting your own reputation, is that love? Are you moral because you love God and others? Or are you moral because you are just looking out for yourself?

“To live is Christ” is far more than just virtuous living, morality, and even spiritual giftedness. It is loving. If it’s not in love, it’s not the fullness of Christ.

Have you been confusing your giftedness, morality, or virtue with the character of Christ apart from love? Have you seen very gifted and moral people who were not very kind, gentle, or loving? How can meditating on your union with Christ and the gospel begin to surround your heart’s motivations with love?

July 11: His Words. Our Words. His Power. Our Power.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles [power], to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

If it is true that Christ lives in us and through us, then we must, as Christians, wrestle with the implications of this amazing truth. If our actual bodies are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, then that must mean that our actions are now Christ’s actions, our thoughts are his thoughts, our emotions are his emotions, and our words are his words.

Look at the list of spiritual gifts above. We see gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and power (miracles). These gifts are from the Spirit. In Isaiah 11:2-3 we read:
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

Christ himself was given the gifts of the Spirit. He was given the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge and power. But beyond this, Christ himself IS wisdom and knowledge and power.

1 Corinthians 1:24. but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The spiritual gifts are the manifestation of Christ through the words and deeds of his followers. Christ had wisdom and power and he IS God’s wisdom and power. We also have wisdom and power through the life of Christ. We manifest the words and deeds of Christ himself. These words and deeds of Christ flow from the mind of Christ, which we also have.

1 Corinthians 2:16. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

This has great implications for us in regards to how we hear from Christ and how we speak for Christ. It seems that we go to two extremes when we talk about hearing from Christ. We say that we can only hear from Christ through the Bible. Or we say that we must go beyond the Bible and get silent and wait for a word from the Lord in some “super spiritual” way. But are both of these extremes missing the truth? Our own thoughts, words, and actions are literally those of Christ when they come from the Spirit within us. When Christians think, it is Christ thinking. When Christians talk they are speaking for Christ. When they serve they are Christ embodied. That is, when this is done in the Spirit, by faith in the indwelling grace and love of Christ.

Could it be that one of the primary ways that Christ speaks to us today, alongside scripture, is in our speaking to each other and serving each other? Could it be that Christ speaks to us today through the thoughts in our own minds- we have the mind of Christ, don’t we? I know God said, “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” But has union with Christ and the New Covenant changed this? Have the mysteries of God’s thoughts been revealed in Christ, and now in us?

But isn’t this a dangerous concept? How do we know that what we are speaking is from Christ? How do I know when what I am thinking is Christ?

Is it the gospel?

Remember, we not only have the wisdom, knowledge, and power of Christ. Christ IS the wisdom, knowledge, and power. His life, death, and resurrection are wisdom and power. If it’s the gospel message it is Christ’s mind and Christ’s words. If your actions are consistent with the sacrificial love of the gospel then it is Christ’s deeds. If it is just some personal wisdom, spiritual experience, or new insight into scripture- probably not Christ. If it builds others up in the glory of the cross- probably Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:2. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

“To live is Christ” gives us the words and power of Christ. And those words and power will be Christ. Words from Christ will be about Christ and his glory as seen in the cross and empty tomb. Power from Christ will be the weakness of the crucified life, and the strength of the resurrected life. “To live is Christ” is not just a concept, it is a reality lived out in your words and deeds of sacrificial power.

Do you think about your words and deeds as being Christ’s own words and deeds? Do you actively speak and live out the gospel? How does union with Christ challenge how you think Christ speaks to us today?

July 10: The Grace of Interdependence.

1 Corinthians 12:14-27. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

How are we to relate to each other within the church? Are some Christians more valuable than others? Can a Christian survive alone? Paul’s elaborate body metaphor here in 1 Corinthians 12 shows us the primary relationship of the members of a local church to one another- interdependence. Not independence. Not co-dependence. But interdependence.

Independence.

Paul clearly rules out that any Christian can go it alone. If all were a single member, where would the body be? And The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” We know this to be true theologically because every Christian shares the same spirit- the Spirit of Christ. We were baptized into the same Spirit and we are sustained by drinking the same Spirit every day (1 Corinthians 12:13). But we also know this to be true practically. Sin isolates us, and isolation is sin. You show me a Christian that doesn’t ever want to be around other Christians, and I’ll show you a Christian carrying sin and guilt. None of us can thrive alone. We all need our brothers and sisters to help bear our burdens, and come alongside us in times of trial. We all need to hear “I love you,” and “I accept you,” and “I need you.” Without this we die on the inside.

Co-dependency.

Paul is also ruling out co-dependency. Every Christian has all of Christ. This means that each individual Christian is fully alive, fully blessed, and fully saved all by themselves. Our salvation doesn’t come and go or grow or shrink based upon what others do or what they think about us. As Paul said back in chapter 9, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.” We are all free from all. But co-dependency is bondage to others, to their opinions and actions, and to their thoughts and movements.

Co-dependency means finding my identity in you. Not in Christ. It is dangerous and destructive for both people. It never seeks the other’s best interest but only the interests of self. It is, in actuality, making an idol of the other person. Co-dependency does not celebrate differences. In 1 Corinthians 12, differences are clearly celebrated: On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and that the members may have the same care for one another.

Interdependence.

I believe what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 12 is the relationships within the local church of interdependence. Interdependence occurs when each member realizes their need for other, but also their individual secure salvation. Each member keeps their own unique identity, and yet shares the identity of Christ. Every member is important, but none is ultimate.

Living in interdependence is living in grace. Grace is more than just dependency. It is that, but it is also empowerment. Grace is what empowers us to live as Christ and for Christ. Interdependence empowers us. It is the interdependency of the local church body that empowers each of us as individuals to live as Christ. Without the grace of interdependence, we would all, like the lost lamb, seek to go our own way. But by grace we have been brought back into the flock.

Interdependence is the key to finding joy in life. We may start our life journey completely dependent on our parents or caregiver. But over time we grow healthily into relationships of interdependence. We learn to accept help but also give help to those in need. We find joy in the acceptance that these relationships offer. We are both needy and needed. This is the relationship that God has chosen to have with us. Yes, we are completely dependent upon God, and no, he does not need us. And yet he invites us into a relationship of interdependence. We need him and he has chosen to need us. He lives through us. He indwells us. His life is manifest in the church. Not because he needs to, but because he wants to. Because he knows that this is the best way to love us and bring us the greatest joy.

“To live is Christ” means that we need each other in order to grow into the likeness of Christ. And, at the same time, we are free from being controlled by each other. The grace of interdependency is the primary characteristic of the body of Christ. Everyone matters, everyone has a role, everyone contributes to the growth of the whole. In the words of Lawrence Cunningham, “When we recognize our interdependence, we can love others as we love ourselves.”

Can you identify trends of independence or co-dependence in yourself? Do you recognize the grace of interdependence? How does union with Christ mean that you are both free from all and yet connected to all in the church?

July 9: The New Humanity.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14; 27. 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.13 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.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

The life of Christ inside of us is meant to be a communal experience. We aren’t saved into just a personal relationship with Christ. That is part of it to be sure. But we are saved into a corporate relationship with both Christ and the Church. We are born into a family. We are built into a building. We are sown into a field of crops. We are adopted into a household. We are saved into the church, a community.

The illustration Paul uses here is a body. This was a common illustration in Paul’s day. In fact the Roman Empire was spoken of as a body with the Emperor as the head. But for us in Christ it is more than just an illustration or metaphor. Because Christ indwells us, we literally are his body. His spirit, the Holy Spirit, animates us. We think his thoughts, feel his feelings, and speak his words. We are the physical manifestation of Christ on earth today.

Also, we are part of a new humanity, Jew and Greek, slave and free, united. The church isn’t just a nice place to go and sing some songs on Sunday mornings. It’s definitely not a social club, or an organization. It’s the place we go to practice how to be the new humanity. We learn to image God again. We worship. We serve. We love. All the things we were created to be, but failed to be, we now are once again- together.

This new humanity is accomplished through Christ. Notice that Paul calls us the body of Christ, not the body of Jesus. Jesus still has his body. It’s in Heaven seated next to the Father. Jesus is bound to his physical body and will be forever. But Jesus is also the Christ. By his death, resurrection, and ascension he has become a “life giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). We are one spirit with him (1 Cor. 7:16). This is possible because the Holy Spirit is now the Spirit of Christ. We have been baptized into one body in one Spirit at the moment of our salvation. And we all were made to drink of one Spirit each and every day since. This baptism into the Spirit and drinking of the Spirit is what allows us to all be united to Christ spiritually as one.

Jesus is the new humanity. Humanity made perfect. And Christ makes us the new humanity through our union with him. If Jesus were just a physical person still (and he is) but not also the spiritual Christ, then our union would be something we have to generate from outside of us. But Christ in us means that our union as the Body is a reality that is sown deep inside each and every one of us. What a glorious thought!

“To live is Christ” is to be baptized into a community by the Holy Spirit. This is what makes a Christian a Christian. Every Christian is part of something that is much bigger than themselves, a new humanity. A humanity re-created to love and serve both God and the world. Christ himself is the source of this new humanity because Jesus is the new humanity. This will radically change how we treat all others especially Christians. To denigrate any other Christian is to denigrate Christ himself. To tear apart Christians is to tear apart the limbs of Christ himself. To sin against a Christian is to sin against Christ himself.

Do you see yourself as part of the new humanity? How does union with Christ affect your view of the church and other Christians? Do you see them as equally important members of Christ? What are the implications of the new humanity for how we should live in the world and with other Christians?

July 8: Spiritual Gifts- The Trinity Inside.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

One of the most amazing truths about our union with Christ is that every Christian has the same Christ in them, but he manifests himself in each Christian uniquely. Paul explains this idea to us here in 1 Corinthians 12 as gifts from the Spirit. Spiritual gifts are the manifestation of Christ in us. But beyond this, their single purpose yet diverse expression, are the imaging of the Trinity through us.

“To live is Christ” means that there is both unity and diversity in the Body of Christ. This images the Trinity. God is one, and yet three. God is one in purpose, and yet his gifts, for carrying out that purpose, are many. As Christians we must realize that God’s single divine will is carried out in a variety of ways in the individual unique lives of his children. God’s will is for each of us to love him, love others, and make disciples. But how that works itself out in each individual Christian will be different. Different gifts. Different service. Different activities. Different manifestations. The gifts are meant for the whole church, not just one part of it. The diversity of our gifts used for the common good is truly one of the greatest ways that we image the Trinity.

Spiritual gifts in and of themselves are reflective of the Tri-Unity of God. All gifts originate from the Father. They are mediated by the Son. And they are enabled by the work of the Spirit. The same Spirit, same Lord, and same God are each uniquely at work in each and every Christian. And yet at the same time it is the unity of the Spirit, Lord, and Father God that creates our unity within this amazing diversity.

This truth should eliminate all ideas of competition or rivalry among us. God has handed out the gifts as he sees fit. No Christian has all the gifts. Only Christ does. Only the church as a whole does. No doubt the Corinthians were seeing these amazing spiritual gifts as a way to self-promote and seek even greater status. But our spirituality should never be seen as an opportunity to build up the self. And spiritual gifts should never be used to divide or damage the church. As we have seen and will see again soon, love is the boundary of our spirituality. True spirituality IS love.

“To live is Christ” means “to live is the Trinity.” Christ is the ultimate image bearer of the Trinity. And now he is living out his life through the manifestation of his life in you by the freely given spiritual gifts given to you. His power. His goodness. His life. Given to each one freely by grace for the building up and transformation of the church body, for the common good. But it can only be for the good if it is bounded by the love and holiness of Christ.

How open are you to God’s diversity? Do you expect every Christian to look and sound like you? Do you believe that you have a spiritual gift or gifts? How cool is it that Christ manifests himself in such a variety of ways through our own personalities and experiences but also through the different gifts he gives (OK, this is sort of rhetorical)? How would you explain the connection between union with Christ and spiritual gifts to someone?

July 7: Jesus Is The Lord!

1 Corinthians 12:3. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

The Corinthians saw spirituality as a mark of human capacity, knowledge, and status. But we must see spirituality as Holy Spirit given. Yes, it is a gift. Not something anyone achieves or earns. It is a life. The life of Christ in you and me. True spirituality is, therefore, something that every believer in Christ possesses. If you are a Christian, and have the life of Christ in you, then you are spiritual.

What is the mark of this true spirituality? The truly spiritual person will never say Jesus is cursed and only the truly spiritual person can say Jesus is Lord. Only someone who is in Christ will declare their submission to Christ. He is our Lord. Our Master. Those in Christ will live from the Lordship of Christ so as to build others up with our spiritual gifts and love each other with the fruit of the Spirit.

“To live is Christ” will never allow us to use Christ against others (not that we could even if we wanted to). Interestingly the phrase Jesus is accursed could be translated as “Jesus grant a curse” or “Jesus curse you.” Several curse tablets have been found in Corinth that appeal to pagan deities to curse an enemy or a rival business or athlete. No truly spiritual person would ever use the name of Jesus to curse their enemy. Real spirituality loves the enemy. It “blesses and curses not” (Rom. 12:14).

“To live is Christ” means confessing that we are the slaves of Christ. This is not just our obligatory creed. It is our new desire. By the indwelling life of Christ, and our union with Christ, our desires are renewed and reoriented toward Christ. The truly spiritual person (every Christian) will desire Christ above all else. Every Christian should be able to declare Jesus is Lord.

Claiming Jesus as Lord is the letting go of the old self. It is entrusting our lives into his control. This includes all of our hopes, dreams, sins, failures, successes, and tasks. This statement of slavery to Christ is then the greatest statement of freedom a human could ever utter. The Lordship of Christ over your heart is the freedom of your heart from the slavery of self. This is why saying Jesus is Lord is the first and foremost test of our faith. Can you say Jesus is Lord today?

What does it mean in your life to call Jesus Lord? How does the lordship of Jesus both constrain us and liberate us? How does union with Christ (both In Christ and Christ In You) mean that Jesus is both factually the Lord of your life and yet, experientially, you are making him the Lord of your life? Is there an area of your life where you need to let Jesus rule?