July 16: Pursue Love.

1 Corinthians 14:1. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts,

“To live is Christ” is not an “either – or” proposition: either have spiritual gifts or have love (but you can’t have both). No. You can and do have both. But love is supreme. Without it spiritual gifts mean nothing. You can have love without a spiritual gift and your great. But if you have spiritual gifts without love, watch out.

So pursue love, Paul says. Stop pursuing a false spirituality rooted in experiences that puff you up. Instead, pursue true spirituality as love. Love that seeks to build up the whole church. Everything we do and say should promote unity, and working together for the gospel’s sake.
1 Corinthians 8:1. we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

Paul will spend the next several verses of chapter 14 distinguishing between the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy. In the process his argument will always land on doing what is best for the church, and building her up.

1 Corinthians 14:12. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

In chapter 13 we saw that Love is a personified power. It is Christ’s life inside of us. It is something that we receive by faith. But here in 14:1, we are reminded again of the dual nature of faith. Faith is both dependency but also active response. So yes, we must depend on Love as a gift to us, and trust in God’s love for us through the Son and Spirit. But we must also, by faith, respond in an active pursuit of love within the church body. Love now is the law by which we live (the Law of Christ) and, at the same time, the indwelling power by which we live it.

The pursuit of love then becomes our collective aim. We are to desperately chase after it. This is an ongoing, never ending pursuit of an understanding of love and its response within the specific situations of life. This is not the pursuit of someone to love us, but rather, because Jesus already does love us, it is the pursuit of an experience of his same loving way of life.

To pursue Christ is to pursue his life of love. Do we just want to know facts about Christ? Do we just pursue Christ for his gifts? Or do we really want to know Christ as the crucified Savior King whose love changed the world? Do we really want his love to be our new way of life in a world that is desperate for love?

“To live is Christ” is the pursuit of love. When you are living from Christ’s life you are living from love. Life now becomes a faith journey whereby your trust in God’s love for you results in an active pursuit of understanding the way of love in each and every situation you find yourself. How can I be patient? What is the kind thing to do here? What will build up the Body? What will it cost me to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things? How can I pay that cost?

Are you pursuing love? Are you a student of how to love like Christ in the specific situations of life? Is love your new instinct? How can you desire knowledge, gifts, and strength and yet remain loving? How does our union with Christ answer this question for us?

July 15: The Greatest Of These Is Love.

1 Corinthians 13:13. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Faith. Hope. Love.

Hope is our reality. We don’t just hope; we have a hope. Our hope is Christ and our union with him. We are and will be transformed. We are and will be renewed. We have been and will be resurrected. We are and will live forever. Our sins are and will be eternally gone. These are our new realities, our hope.

Faith flows from this hope. We trust this new reality. We live in dependency upon Christ and our union with him. Faith is not something we try to do; it is the expression of hope. Faith is our new habit of the soul. We live by faith (Gal. 2:20) in the hope of Christ.

Love then flows from hope and faith. Faith produces love. If I truly trust and depend on the hope of my union with Christ, that I am in Christ, then faith in the love of Christ in me will produce love out of me.

Galatians 5:6. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

As Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, love is the person of Christ whose life of love is now a power that is present in us. Love is not a to-do list for us to accomplish. We cannot self generate love. Love is a power and Love is a person whose life we must receive. We must allow ourselves to be loved before we can love. Therefore love comes from faith. What this means is that the Christian life is less about trying to love better, and more about allowing ourselves to be loved, which will then cause us to love better instinctually.

Often as Christians we reverse this important order. We start our Christian life with a feeling of love and we attempt to maintain that feeling. We feel great about our salvation and we feel in love with God and so we work at continuing to feel this way. But this is self-generated love, rather than love generated from faith. Inevitably, somewhere along the way, life takes a hard turn and things get difficult. The feelings of love subside. We start to think, “Where is God?” “Does God love me?”

The problem is that this Christian was not grounded in hope. They never learned to live from faith in that hope, a hope that sees them through the hard turns and dark valleys. Their love was attachment only, not true commitment born from dependency. The love (agape) that Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians, is the real, committed, covenant love of God that sustains us in and out of trials. It is the love of the crucified Christ. The love that remains in the midst of the crosses of life.

That is why this kind of agape love is the greatest of the virtues. It is the proof of God. It is the manifestation of faith and hope. Faith and hope without love will never save a life. But faith and hope with love can. Love will change the world. It already has. Christ’s love has changed everything. His love has produced the hope and faith that we need in order to receive love, Love in the form of a person and his life.

Our love has to flow from faith and our faith has to produce love. Both of these are equally true. Love must begin as a received power. Again, it cannot be self generated or something that we “work at” over time. It has to be given to us from outside of us and received and trusted in by faith. But at the same time we must love. We are commanded to love. Our hope, faith, and union with Christ will by its very nature produce loving deeds and service. It will produce kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness. It will be patient and kind, it will not envy or boast. It will bear all things and believe all things and keep no record of wrongs.

If I believe that this power is in me, that this person called Love indwells me, then this same love will flow out of me. Faith will produce love. This is why Paul can say “without love we are nothing.” Because if there is no love, then there is no faith, and if there is no faith, then there is no hope. And without hope your life is meaningless and void. It is nothing.

“To live is Christ” is faith, hope, love. It gives us the hope our hearts need. Faith trusts in this hope through the questions, doubts, and beatings of life. And love flows from this faith even when it makes no sense to love.

Do you believe that you are I indwelt by love? Have you seen your love come from faith or only from feelings? How can faith in your union with Christ produce this love in your life?

So, this song is a bit simplistic view of the text but still fun.

Oh yeah and then there’s this.

July 14: Love Personified.

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; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Paul has been writing this letter to a church that has struggled to love. They simply have not acted in love toward one another in his absence. Divisions, infighting, legal battles, immorality, superiority, drunkenness at communion, arguing in church services- all of this and more was happening in the Corinthian church. The Corinthians wanted to be “super spiritual” and they thought that because they accepted Christ they had received a hidden form of knowledge and power that made them better than everyone else. The truth is, they did receive wisdom and power, but that wisdom and power is the crucified Christ. That wisdom and power is made manifest in sacrificial love. The crucified life is not a “super spirituality” or mystery that only a few achieve. It is the life of everyone who is in Christ. It is the life of love. If I don’t have love I am nothing and, If I don’t have love I gain nothing, Paul said.

Paul’s answer to their misguided spirituality is not to tell them what to do, or even how to love. His answer is to tell them what they are, what they have. He does this by personifying Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is presented as a power. Paul is not presenting a list for us to do. He is telling us what Love has done to us. Therefore, life is not about figuring out how to love. Life is about experiencing Love. That is what actually changes us. Just giving this church a “how to love” manual would never work, and it wouldn’t work for you either. We change only as our hearts are captured by pure, unconditional Love. “We love him because he first loved us.”

You’ll notice that I have been capitalizing the word Love. This is of course because Paul must be thinking of love as the person of Christ. God is love. Christ is love. The Greeks might see love as a disembodied idea, or force. But we see Love as a person. Someone that came to seek and save us. This is no mere concept. This is our reality- we are loved by the person of Christ.

Some have pointed out that Paul’s descriptors of love in verses 4-7 are the opposites of all the ways the Corinthians were behaving. They were not patient and kind. They did envy and boast. They did insist on their own way, etc. This is of course true. Pastor Tim Keller also points out that the descriptions of love in these verses reflect Christ on the cross, the greatest display of love in history.

  • Love is patient or love suffers long – “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”
  • it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful – “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
  • Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This kind of love is what can actually change us. We often try to produce character change through fear and pride. Fear of being punished when we are bad, and gaining pride by being good. “If you steal, you’ll get caught.” Or, “If you don’t steal, you will be a good person.” But all of this is selfish. This is life change from an outside “law,” not from an inner love. This is life change brought about only by restraining sin, not by a heart changed by love and the release of the Spirit of love.

“To live is Christ” is that Love. Love has pursued me and found me. Love has purchased me with his own blood. Love has made me his temple. Love has given to me freely of his cruciform wisdom and power. I am loved. You are loved. The more this most amazing of realities sinks into your heart, the more you will then be released from a life of fear and pride. Love will humble you beyond your pride, and empower you beyond your fear. Now you are ready to love as he loved.

Do you believe you are loved by God? Is the cross only your example of love or is it your power for love? Do you think of Love as the person of Christ that indwells you, or only as something you are supposed to do? Is your behavior motivated by fear and pride or from love? How does your union with Christ prove his unconditional love for you?

*Several of today’s thoughts come from Tim Keller’s Gospel Christianity.

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?