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Dealing with Death   Leave a comment

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Admiral James T. Kirk, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

We’re looking at Paul’s conclusion to his glorious passage on the resurrection. Consider these closing verses to be a climactic song of victory, similar to Brahm’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Actually the music analogy is a strong one, considering there are three movements or sections to this passage.

Celebrate the future transformation of your body 

Now this is what I am sayingbrothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of Godnor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. ListenI will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a momentin the blinking of an eyeat the last trumpetFor the trumpet will soundand the dead will be raised imperishableand we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishableand this mortal body must put on immortality.  (1Corinthians 15:50-53)

Image result for image of transformationWe are fans of Supernatural, so excuse the borrowing from this highly entertaining, if somewhat irreverent, show. Paul explained that a meat suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the Rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. You and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, sorrow, sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

The word translated “listen” in verse 51 is given more dramatic treatment in the King James Version. “Behold”  is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. The modern vernacular doesn’t do it justice. In the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles.The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the Second Coming of the Messiah, so Paul was not referring to either of these events. This “mystery” is what is called the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture was newly revealed truth. There will be a generation of Christians who will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed! The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. Paul said this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis.

The reason that the Rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed.15For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].”  I could get into a pre-Tribution versus post-Tribution debate here, but I’m going to skip that for today. Paul described our resurrected bodies as immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul called us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

Celebrate the future termination of sin

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortalitythen the saying that is written will happen

Death has been swallowed up in victory.  

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting? 

The sting of death is sinand the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to Godwho gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1Corinthians 15:54-57)

The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. Justice will be served. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won! Truthfully, through the event of Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. He served notice to Satan of his eventual loss. When Jesus resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.21

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die.

“When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.” Peter Joshua, Leadership, Vol 7, no 4.

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat … an auto accident … a stray bullet … a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. AThe verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every morning is Easter morning as we continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! 

Celebrate the future compensation of your work

So thendear brothers and sisters, be firmDo not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lordknowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1Corinthians 15:58)

Paul concluded his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage.30 The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior.This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, yet despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

After affirming his readers, Paul launched into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

What we should be. Paul commanded us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Instead, we should be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

What we should do. Paul urged us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urged us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul said it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. Yeah, you go to church and you read your Bible and you pray. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life.

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Everybody Dies, but Not Everybody Lives   2 comments

What gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? Why would anyone who is disabled be encouraged when they think of life after death? How can we see past the martyrdom of believers in the persecuted church? Where do the thoughts of young couples go when they lose their baby? What is God’s final answer to pain and suffering in this world?

Image result for image of life after deathThe answer is the hope of bodily resurrection. We draw strength from this truth almost every day of our lives, probably more than we realize. It becomes the mental glue that holds our otherwise shattered thoughts together. Impossible though it may be for us to understand the details of how God is going to pull it off, we hang our hopes on the fragile threadlike thought, “Someday, He will make it right, and thank God, all this will change.”

Or as my charismatic friends say “It’s all going to burn.”

Still, for many Christians death is disturbing. If we’re honest we acknowledge that death is scary. Yet, Paul said when we die is when we truly begin to live.

The bodily resurrection is familiar and unique 

15:35 But someone will say“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? 15:36 Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. 15:37 And what you sow is not the body that is to bebut a bare seed 23  – perhaps of wheat or something else.15:38 But God gives it a body just as he plannedand to each of the seeds a body of its own.

Paul argued strongly for the resurrection of the body, but he knew his teaching would spur two questions:

  • how will God resurrect our bodies
  • what does a resurrection body look like?

I think we all wonder how God will resurrect people out of the dirt. I still haven’t figured out how God will put all those molecules back together again. If someone died at sea and sailors buried him, maybe fish ate his body. The atoms and molecules of his body would become part of the fish. If a fisherman caught and ate the fish, its body would become part of the fisherman’s body. If the fisherman died and an undertaker buried him in the ground and someone eventually sowed wheat over his grave, the fisherman’s atoms and molecules would go into the wheat. A third person would eat the wheat and so on. How could the first person’s body ever come together again?4

The quick response to this dilemma is:

God is God

He can easily resurrect the humans He created. He constructed man out of dust in the first place, I’m not worried about him reconstructing us out of dust again. Reintegration is a problem for limited humans, but not for the unlimited God. How will He do it? I don’t know. The resurrection of our bodies does not depend upon us understanding how God will do it. When we grasp the fact that nothing is impossible with God, resurrection becomes simple. Absolutely nothing, including raising the dead, is too difficult for God (Jerermiah 32:17). God created the universe out of nothing, so resurrecting people out of dust is minor-league for Him (Hebrew 11:3).7

Of course, not everyone will accept this Biblical argument. Paul anticipated the objection of someone arguing against the idea of a bodily resurrection. In 15:36, he called such a person a “fool.” The Bible defines a “fool” as someone who fails to take God into account. Such a person excludes God from consideration. Remember, if God is God bodily resurrection is absolutely no problem!

Paul used an analogy from nature to get his point across. Calling the hypothetical scoffer a “fool” for not recognizing a simple fact of nature that can be observed every day. Choose any plant and you can  see the body that grows out of the ground is very different from the “body” that was planted. Compare a pumpkin seed with a pumpkin or an orange seed with an orange tree. Paul was not talking about the appearance of our resurrection bodies in terms of whether we will be recognizable. His point was the body that is planted in death is not the same body that is resurrected. When a seed is buried in the ground, a plant, not another seed, comes out of the seed. The plant does not look like the seed it came from. Likewise, when we are buried in the ground and resurrected, our bodies will not look identical to the ones we have now.

Good. I’m hoping to be taller and skinnier.

15:39 All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birdsand fish another. 24 

Paul expanded his argument by describing the unique nature of various “bodies.” How are the earthly sphere and heavenly sphere bridged? All flesh is not the same. There’s man flesh, beast flesh, bird flesh and fish flesh. These four different types of “flesh” also appear in the created order in Genesis but in the reverse of how they appear in here (see Genesis 1:20 – 26. Such a view is derived from Paul’s view of the Old Testament. God designed bodies to fit the environment they live in. Our resurrection bodies will be perfect for the environment of heaven. Earthly bodies equip us to live on earth. We breathe the earth’s oxygen, drink its water, and eat its fruit. However, these earthly bodies aren’t suitable for heaven. To get us ready for the next world they must undergo a change.

15:40 And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. 15:41 There is one glory of the sunand another glory of the moon and another glory of the starsfor star differs from star inglory.

Earthly bodies will pale in comparison to heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies will be glorious! There is a huge difference in brightness between a twenty-five watt light bulb and a 1000-watt light bulb. In the resurrection, our “lumens” of brightness will be turned up to the fullest. Our resurrection bodies will literally shine with brightness (Daniel 12:3Matthew 13:43). This passage could mean that there will be differing degrees of brightness in our glorified bodies or perhaps it refers the difference in glory between our natural and resurrection bodies. I opt for an allusion to the former. In light of the emphasis throughout 1 Corinthians on eternal rewards, it seems that Paul alluded to differences in the eternal state. One thing is certain: every resurrection body will be without defect and will literally radiate brightness. Death for the Christian is not gloom but glory.

The bodily resurrection is new and improved 

15:42 It is the same with the resurrection of the deadWhat is sown is perishablewhat is raised is imperishable. 25  15:43 It is sown in dishonorit is raised in gloryit is sown inweaknessit is raised in power; 15:44 it is sown a natural bodyit is raised a spiritualbodyIf there is a natural bodythere is also a spiritual body.

In these verses, Paul contrasted the two living bodies—the present body and the resurrection body. Your present body was created to last only several decades. Your resurrection body will equip you for a much higher level of existence. At the resurrection, our bodies will be transformed from our current “caterpillar” form to our future “butterfly” status. The beauty of a butterfly is far superior to that of a caterpillar, but the butterfly has to go through the transformation process first. Four changes must take place to transform your body from earthly to heavenly.

Change #1: Perishable to Imperishable (15:42). Our present bodies are perishable, and they degenerate as we race toward the grave. Just like Adam we are headed back to dust. In the resurrection, we will be raised imperishable, never to deteriorate or die again. In heaven no one will comment on your age or notice the years are beginning to take their toll. You will look as young a billion years from now as you will a thousand years from now.

Sir Michael Faraday, one of England’s greatest chemists and physicists, reportedly heard a student scoff at the idea of the resurrection. Faraday threw a silver goblet into a jar of acid, which completely dissolved it. He then added other chemicals that caused the silver to settle to the bottom of the jar. The chemists then took the silver to a silversmith, who made it into a goblet more beautiful than the first. Then Faraday held up a goblet and told the student, “If I, an ordinary scientist, can dissolve and remake a silver goblet, why is it hard to believe that God can raise the body from the dead?”

God will transform your perishable body into one that is indestructible. Once you receive it, dying will be impossible. You will live in it throughout eternity. Truly, it can be said, although our body is perishing our spirit can be flourishing. When we die we have truly begun to live.

Change #2: Dishonor to Glory (15:43a). All of us come to a point in life when we look in the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall—you’ve got to be kidding!” There is a sense in which our bodies are “dishonorable.” But God promises that we will be raised in glory. When a body is transported to a funeral home, it is always covered by a sheet to shield gaping eyes from the dishonor of looking upon the corpse. Every dead body is a reminder of our dishonor, a reminder that we are but frail.

Change #3: Weakness to Power (15:43b). Have you ever noticed everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to grow old? It is true. Our bodies wear out, slow down, decay, sag, groan, and even begin to smell bad. We brag about our strength but a tiny microbe can kill us. Sooner or later, we grow old and our bodies begin to break down. Eventually, they stop working altogether. No amount of Vitamin C or Siberian Ginseng can change that fact. At best, we can only slow down the aging process; we cannot delay it forever.

If you are like me, you probably have one part of your body (or maybe several parts) that you would like to change. Maybe it’s your weight, your height, your hair, or something about your face. To make it worse, our culture bombards us daily with images of beautiful, well-built people. In heaven, there will be no fad diets, Weight Watchers, aerobics, exercise bikes, personal trainers, physical therapists, stair masters, weight rooms, saunas, jogging tracks, low-fat foods, diet drinks, or plastic surgeons. God will give every one of His children a glorious, unique, perfect new body at the resurrection that will never fail or disappoint them.

Our resurrection bodies will be extremely powerful. We will never grow weary or weak. Can you imagine not having to sleep throughout all eternity? Since there will be no need to nap, we will never again have to toss and turn on lumpy mattresses. Wives will not have to listen to their husband snoring anymore. No more insomnia, sleeping pills, or alarm clocks, either. Our way of life will be radically different than our lifestyles here on earth.

Change #4: Natural to Spiritual. When Paul stated that our resurrection bodies will be spiritual, he does not mean like Casper the friendly ghost. He referred to the type of body we will have. When the disciples saw Jesus after He was resurrected, they thought they had seen a ghost. Jesus assured them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Jesus did not become a spirit, but was raised with a spiritual body. In heaven we will not be “spirits,” but we will have spiritual bodies. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He didn’t have two bodies, one natural and another spiritual. He had one body—a natural body that had been transformed into a spiritual body. Jesus showed His disciples the marks of the nails in His hands and feet and the wounds in His side that proved it was the same body. That body had undergone a radical change. Similarly, when you are resurrected your body also will be changed and perfected.

15:45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; 26  the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 15:46 Howeverthe spiritual did not come firstbut the naturaland then the spiritual. 15:47 The first man is from the earthmade of dustthe second man is fromheaven. 15:48 Like the one made of dustso too are those made of dustand like the one from heavenso too those who are heavenly. 15:49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dustlet us also bear 27  the image of the man of heaven.

Paul compared Adam and Jesus, arguing that there is a difference between earthy and spiritual bodies. The first Adam was merely “a living human being.” By emphatic contrast, the last Adam is not merely “living,” but “life-giving.” Christ gives life through His resurrection. The heavenly is greater than the earthy. But in order to experience the heavenly body, one must first live in the earthy body.

I knew this pastor mentioned in this story. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” said the pastor. “This is important,” the woman said. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, ‘What’s with the fork?’ I want you to tell them, ‘The best is yet to come!’”

This elderly woman got it right! The best is yet to come for when we die we have truly begun to live.

What If There Was No Heaven?   1 comment

What if there was no heaven? John Lennon asked us to imagine it and he didn’t think it would be hard to do. He thought it would bring peace on earth.

“Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.”

Image result for image of heavenHave you ever allowed yourself to think about that question. I think about it every time I hear Lennon’s song. What if everything I believe is a fairy tale, or worse yet, a malicious lie? What if Lennon was right? Of course, if there really is no heaven and the resurrection is a shame, life itself is an exercise in existential futility.

Which was Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34. If the bodily resurrection is only an empty dream and this life is all there is, Christians are to be pitied. We’re living in the world where you only go round once in life, so you’d better grab all the gusto you can, but we don’t because we believe a lie. Without the resurrection, our world is compassed about by “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Fortunately, since Christ was raised from the dead, and His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we don’t actually live in existential futility.

Christ’s resurrection provides hope

Paul claimed that if we have no future, we have no forgiveness of our sins in the past, and we have no advantage over unbelievers in the present.

15:12 Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1Corinthians 15:12)

Paul used so much ink on the topic of the resurrection because some Corinthians argued that there was no future physical resurrection. They denied that believers will experience resurrection. Paul argued since Christ has been raised, resurrection obviously is possible, but more, it is an essential part of our faith. However, before Paul could drive home this point, he conceded the possibility that Christ has not risen.

But if there is no resurrection of the deadthen not even Christ has been raised. (1Corinthians 15:13)

Paul disclosed seven disastrous consequences if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And if Christ has not been raisedthen our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Alsowe are found to be false witnesses about Godbecause we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raisedthen not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is uselessyou are still in your sins. Furthermorethose who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christwe should be pitied more than anyone. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)

First, if there is no resurrection Christ has not been raised from the dead. For the sake of debate, Paul granted there was no resurrection of the dead. Logically, no one has or ever will rise from the dead, which means that not even Christ has been raised, because He was a human being like you and me.

The erroneous Corinthians were not denying the resurrection of Christ per se, only the future resurrection of believers, but you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t believe in the resurrection of Christ and deny the eventual resurrection of believers, for resurrection is a single package. Thus, Paul introduced Doubt #1.

Second, if there is no resurrection our preaching is stupid (15:14).

There are some highly distinguished religious professors who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involves something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.” Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 129-131.

Dr. Borg won many awards when he was a professor of religion at University of Oregon. Despite his education and giftedness, Dr. Borg was wrong. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth proclaimed Christ’s literal resurrection (15:3-5). Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had received this gospel, stood on this gospel, and were being saved by this gospel (15:1-2). Thus, as far as Paul was concerned, if there is no resurrection there is nothing worth preaching! This remains true today. Eloquence, persuasion, humor, and passion make for wonderful sermons, but if the speech does not contain the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it cannot accurately be labeled “preaching”. Every thing stands or falls on the truth of the assertion that God raised Christ from the dead.

Third, if there is no resurrection our faith is worthless (15:14, 17). Regardless of how vibrant the outworking of faith, the core of Christian belief and life is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not rise from the dead faith has no foundation; it is empty and useless. The gospel is not good news but a hoax that has no real power to change lives or to do anything else except to deceive.

Fourth, if there is no resurrection we are false witnesses of God (15:15). Those who proclaim that Christ rose from the dead speak in God’s name what they know to be untrue. Christianity is not a system of philosophy or a moral code, but the declaration of what God has done in Christ. If the dead are not raised then the whole gospel is a sham and those who preach it are liars.

Fifth, if there is no resurrection we are still in our sins (15:17). In Romans 4:25, Paul asserted Jesus was raised “for our justification.” In other words, if Jesus failed to rise from the dead we are still dead in our sins.

Sixth, if there is no resurrection those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (15:18). If Christ has not been raised, then those who “fall asleep in Christ” are no different from unbelievers, who are consigned to ruin (1:18). Who wants to think of their relatives and loved ones who have trusted in Christ rotting with nowhere to go?

Seventh, if there is no resurrection we are to be pitied more than all human beings (15:19). I’m sure you’ve probably heard some people say even if Christianity is not true, the Christian faith is still the best way to live. “Even if it turned out Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and there was no such place as heaven, I would still have no regrets about living the Christian life.” You might have said that yourself at some point. Yet, the apostle Paul absolutely disagreed with that position. He wrote in 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ has not risen, Christians are the most miserable people in the world.

When drug companies develop a new product, they run tests with two groups of people. They give one group the new tablets, and they give the other group an identical-looking product that is a dummy. They do this to verify the efficacy to their new drug. The mind is powerful, and some people feel better just having taken a tablet, although the tablet has no substance that could change the body. It’s all in their minds. If Christ has not risen, Christians are like people who have swallowed the placebo. They are confessing some change that has no substantial basis. Like the dummy drug, such faith would not do anything except within the individual minds of these people. In medical research, the placebo group is still dying of cancer. In the faith realm, Christians are still headed to the worm farm and nowhere else.

Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory

According to Paul, Christ’s resurrection makes the resurrection of believers both necessary and inevitable. Those “in Christ” must arise since Christ arose. Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of all God’s enemies, including death. His resurrection demands our resurrection since otherwise death would remain undefeated.

But now Christ has been raised from the deadthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:20)

“But now” are two of the sweetest words in the Bible, for they are often followed by words of comfort and hope. “But now” Christ has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits” of those believers who have died. The imagery of “first fruits” links with the Feast of First Fruits in the Old Testament. At the beginning of the grain harvest, the Israelites brought the first sheaf harvested and dedicated it to the Lord. This offering assured the Israelites that the rest of the harvest would follow. Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection—the first person to be raised from the dead permanently. His resurrection assures us that someday there will be a complete harvest.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all dieso also in Christ all will be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:21-22)

Adam’s sin brought death (see Romans 5:12-21) and Jesus Christ’s resurrection offers life to those who believe. The word “all” is used twelve times in 15:22-28. Consequently, some argue that all people will eventually be saved. This is typically called “universalism.” However, the “all” that will be made alive with Christ refers only to those who have fallen asleep in Christ. Paul was only speaking about the Christian dead, not about a general resurrection.

The imagery of “first fruits” implies that Christ’s resurrection sets in motion a series of events that will culminate at His coming.

But each in his own order: Christthe firstfruitsthen when Christ comesthose who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Fatherwhen he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. (1Corinthians 15:23-24)

Every Christian is going to receive a brand-new body, but every one must wait his or her turn! The key word here is “order.” The word translated “order” (tagma) is a military term that refers to rank or order. Paul was describing a military parade passing by, with each corps falling into position at the proper time. Throughout history, different Christians fall into their place in the parade at their appointed times.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjectionit is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to himthen the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to himso that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:25-28)

Paul quoted Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6 to support his arguments about the Messiah’s reign. The point Paul made is that God empowers Christ to accomplish His purposes. Christ is equal to the Father but chooses of His own accord to submit to His Father so that He might receive glory.

Christ’s resurrection gives purpose

Otherwisewhat will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at allthen why are they baptized for them? Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raisedlet us eat and drinkfor tomorrow we die.  (1Corinthians 15:29-32)

I don’t know about you, but verse 29 has got to be the most confusing verse in the entire New Testament. Paul’s words here are so difficult that scholars have devised around 40 proposed interpretations. I decided not to bore people with an analysis of the various interpretations, but just touch lightly on a couple of the more controversial theories. Mormons, for example, have baptized millions upon millions of dead people by proxy in Mormon temples so that they might be saved, including Christians, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even avowed atheists.

As a result of this belief, the Mormon Church has amassed the greatest collection of genealogical data anywhere in the world, with billions of names in millions of family trees traced back as far as they can find even scant records. Hundreds of full-time employees do the research, which is recorded on over a billion pages of documents, all stored in a multi-million dollar underground vault system in a canyon near Salt Lake City. Now the information is available on the internet. After researchers come up with new names, hundreds of volunteers go through baptismal rites, hour after hour, day after day, in some fifty Mormon temples. They don’t hold services in those temples, you know; they are only for secret temple rites, including proxy baptisms. Many of your ancestors have been baptized in absentia in a Mormon temple, without either their consent or yours or mine.

All of this activity is based upon this one verse of Scripture which when you examine it, proves to be a very shaky foundation for such a practice, which flied directly in the face of Scriptures that clearly teaches that after death comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27), not a second chance if someone happens to be baptized for you. Therefore, I believe this verse deserves careful re-examination.

Theory – When new believers in Corinth were baptized, they credited their salvation to the gospel message they had heard or received from one or two of the apostles whom were now dead. They did this because they wanted these deceased apostles to receive greater reward in eternity for the work they had done. This seems to be the best view for four primary reasons. First, this interpretation is based upon a literal understanding of the terms “baptism,” “for,” and “the dead.” Baptism refers to a literal act for new believers; the word “for” means “for the benefit of;” and the phrase “the dead” is identified with physically dead people (see 15:6). Second, the Corinthians liked to associate themselves with the ministry of certain apostles (1:12-13; 3:4). This would explain why some of them were baptized “on behalf of” some deceased apostles. Third, some of the Corinthians did not believe in a resurrection (15:15-16). In refuting this, Paul referred to their practice of baptizing for the dead. Their practice contradicted their beliefs. Lastly, Paul had previously mentioned eternal rewards (3:13-15), the Corinthian desire to bring honor to the apostles (1:13-17), and how the Corinthians themselves would be part of Paul’s apostolic reward when he stood before Christ (3:10; 4:14-15). This reward can only be received in the resurrection, and if the Corinthians wanted the dead apostles to receive the reward they were ascribing to them by baptizing new believers for these apostles, resurrection was necessary.

Paul nowhere denounced the practice of baptizing for the dead, which is one reason I think the Corinthians were claiming “I am being baptized as a ministry from Apostle X.” I think Paul would have scoffed at the idea that a proxy baptism on behalf of someone already dead had any effect at all. We know from other Pauline writings that he view baptism as a symbol of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He didn’t see any saving grace in baptism. It was merely a first step of obedience in the Christian life … which means it would be silly to do it after someone was dead.

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus One case of Paul’s dying daily was fighting with “beasts” at Ephesus (15:32). It is nearly certain that the “beasts” are not wild animals. As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have fought with wild animals. Furthermore, he would have likely mentioned these beasts in all of his lists about his own personal suffering. It’s likely Paul wrote about the many who opposed him in Ephesus. It would make no sense for Paul to face his opponents head-on and endanger his life if there were no resurrection.

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

This is a quote from God’s people who are suffering in the midst of an Assyrian siege (Isaiah 22:13). They figured they had nothing to lose since they were going to be destroyed. If there is no resurrection then we might as well live for the present, in unadulterated hedonism.

So, of what use is the resurrection. Paul explained the reason he served God was because of his personal assurance of the resurrection of his body. Paul went through incredible suffering and pain in the course of his ministry. He was tortured, ship-wrecked, temporarily blinded, stoned — If there were no resurrection of the dead, he would be foolish risking his life for nothing. Paul’s boast in the Corinthians referred to the fruit of his apostolic labor and suffering (9:1-2). Paul felt deeply attached to this church. Note the expression of Paul’s basic satisfaction with his Corinthian converts despite the many things for which he had to rebuke them.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God – I say this to your shame! (1Corinthians 5:33-24)

Paul commanded the Corinthians to stop being deceived. He then quoted a well-known cliché. “Bad company corrupts good morals.” God’s people are susceptible to deception, especially from friends and fellow church members. It is dangerous to keep company with fellow Christians who are not characterized by consistent Christian living. Hanging around with people who claim to know Christ, but who are themselves far from the Lord can be more dangerous than spending time with non-Christians. We are inclined to be vulnerable to inconsistent thought and actions, to let down our guard, if the Christians around us are materialistic, sensual, loose talking, freethinking, irreverent persons. Remember, water flows downhill. Birds of a feather flock together. If we lay down with dogs, then we will get up with fleas. It is inevitable that evil companions warp good morals. This is why we should care about who our children “hang out” with. Similarly, you need to be careful about who influences you.

Paul commanded the church to be sober-minded and to stop sinning. Some of the Corinthians had been duped into believing that this life is all there is—you only go around once. Paul says such people have no knowledge of God. They are agnosia (“ignorant”) of God. We get our English word “agnostic” from this Greek word. Paul was saying, “Some Christians can live like functional agnostics.” Beware of such people! The crying shame of the church today is the glaring difference between what we believe and how we behave. There is little correlation between doctrine and deeds or creed and conduct with some Christians. High talk and no walk is a problem. We quote the Bible by the mile and live it by the inch.

What you believe about the resurrection controls how you live your life, how you spend your money and use your time—how you invest yourself. People who think wrongly invariably behave wrongly. Yet, you and I must remember, we will one day stand before the Lord to answer for our lives. We should live accordingly.

Providing Structure   Leave a comment

When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to co-housing. Fairbanks, Alaska had a housing shortage and my parents were renting a larger sized house, so for about a year, two of their friends shared the house with them. We had seven children under one roof. The husbands were all in and out working at remote camps. Two of the women worked outside of the home and one stayed home and cooked and cleaned and child-wrangled.

Image result for image of an orderly church serviceRaising seven children can’t be an easy job. The enormity of this task was compounded by Alaska’s cold climate. She couldn’t just send us outside. So, she had to institute some rules, some of which I remember:

Don’t throw things in anger, look the parents directly in the eye when they’re speaking to you, obey when sent to do something and don’t stomp, whine or argue, use your indoor voice, don’t make disgusting or obscene noises in public (that was the boys), don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking, take your shoes off at the door, don’t touch the walls (rented house), turn off the lights if you’re the last one to leave it, don’t flip light switches on and off, on and off.

I remember those rules because the adults took them serviously and there were consequences for disobedience. The rules were there to turn chaos into order.

Paul was the spiritual parent of the Corinthian congregation and in many ways he is our spiritual parent as well. Like any good parent, Paul communicated his “house rules”. He insisted there must be order in the church. If chaos and confusion reign supreme, worship will not build up the body of Christ. While worship can be creative and free, it still needs to be orderly. In our subject passage, Paul shared two directives that will help us maintain order in the church.

Pursue order in worship

What should you do thenbrothers and sisters? When you come togethereach one has a songhas a lessonhas a revelationhas a tonguehas an interpretationLet all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:26

Speaking across the centuries, Paul tells us how to have an orderly worship service. Addressing the Corinthians, he began with a general principle. The first expression in this verse, “What is the outcome then?” is one of Paul’s typical methods of summing up a discussion before moving on to the next section. Before he concluded this topic of spiritual gifts, he wanted to give a general perspective on their use in the worship setting. His counsel was for all of God’s people to come prepared to participate. When the house churches in Corinth met for worship, it was normal for everyone to come ready to contribute. Some would bring a song they had written, some a teaching, some a revelation and some a tongue or an interpretation. These five gifts are not exhaustive list of all spiritual gifts. Paul was merely saying that he longed for God’s people to come to church ready to build up the body.

Paul concluded with a command: “Let all things be done for edification.” The gifts that manifest themselves during worship must be done for the strengthening of the church. The corporate worship service is not a time for self-edification, showing off, or entertainment. It is a time for edification or strengthening of the body. Congregational worship is not about the individual, it is about the body.

Individual Christian must come to receive and to give. There can be no passive listeners. Is that your mentality when you come to church? Do you come to participate or to spectate? Historically, the church has usually grown the fastest in small, informal fellowships. These may be fledgling “church plants” or small groups within larger more established congregations. The church grows in health and size when people recognize their spiritual gifts and get involved. Do you know your gift? How are you presently using your gift in the body?

If someone speaks in a tongueit should be twoor at the most threeone after the otherand someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreterhe should be silent in the churchLet him speak to himself and to God. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28

Having recognized that the Corinthian church members were particularly dense to God’s guidance, Paul provided regulations on how tongues should manifest themselves in the corporate worship service, and those regulations have come down to us. Paul had rules for speaking in tongues in the congregation:

  • No more than two or three should speak in tongues in a given service
  • Only one person should speak in tongues at a time
  • No one should speak unless an interpreter is present and identified. A tongue speaker can control his gift. The interpreter can be the tongue speaker, but the interpreter must be identified before one speaks in a tongue or the speaker should hold silence, not just hope there is one. Of course, if there is no interpreter present, the tongues speaker doesn’t have to stifle his or her gift, he or she simply must use it silently.
  • There will be no audible tongues in public church meetings. This goes back to the problem of uninterpreted tongues and their ability to build up worship.
  • In small groups or adult fellowships, ask permission and consider who is present. If there is no interpretation, then there is no legitimate word from the Lord by tongues at that moment. This is not meant to stifle the use of gifts, but to instill order within corporate worship.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. And if someone sitting down receives a revelationthe person who is speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after anotherso all can learn and be encouraged. Indeedthe spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33

After providing regulations on tongues, Paul offered some restrictions on prophecy:

  • Limit prophesying to two or three speakers. The mind can only absorb so much at any given time.
  • The church is to weigh carefully what is said. Certainly, when prophecy is taken to include Spirit-filled preaching, it seems clear that the ordinary “layperson” is often in a better position to determine how well or accurately the preacher has communicated than are fellow-preachers, who are absorbed in the fine points of the theology or technique of the message. The word used here is diakrino, meaning “to evaluate carefully.” Sometimes this could take days. A prophecy might be controversial, and the elders may need some time of prayer to determine its validity. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:211 John 4:1).
  • One prophecy at a time. Prophesying is to be done in turn. If one person desires to speak, he or she should be given the floor. Paul made clear that there was to be no speaking over another person’s words. If this control is lost, a prophecy is not of God. I suspect Corinth had a problem with certain people monopolizing “prophecy time.” Paul insisted all may prophesy one by one (not in the same worship service, of course), it is only fair that everyone who has this gift should receive the opportunity to exercise it at one time or another. Paul declared that people can control themselves. A sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence is order and courtesy. The entire purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the entire congregation.

Paul concluded by sharing a crucial principle worth bearing in mind: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The procedures in the worship service shouldn’t be disruptive but orderly. Paul had already stated one reason for this principle — unbelievers will be turned off to the church if there is pandemonium through a free-for-all exercise of tongues. More importantly, orderly worship reflects the character of God.

Respect God-ordained authority

As in all the churches of the saints, the women 13  should be silent in the churchesfor they are not permitted to speak. 14  Ratherlet them be in submissionas in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about somethingthey should ask their husbands at homebecause it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

Paul provided a number of thoughts on how we can respect the authority that God has put in place.

What is the role of women in ministry? I wrote a study on that a while ago, so I’m not going to address it in detail here. I don’t think 14:34-35 is a blanket denial to women of a public ministry in the church. I go to a church where the music leader is a woman. I can read in Acts where women were deacons. In chapter 11, Paul clearly acknowledged that under certain situations a woman may pray or prophesy in public. So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So which is true – women can be deacons and leaders as seen in Acts, but they are to be silent and only ask questions at home?

Sometimes you have to get deep in the details. The Greek verb translated “to be silent” (sigao) doesn’t mean they can’t speak at all in the local church. The word has contextual limits. The restriction may be temporal or topical. In the former, someone is to be silent while someone else is speaking. In the latter, the one who is silent doesn’t speak in a certain manner or on a certain topic, but he or she can speak in other ways and on other issues. Thus, Paul was restricting speech designed to critique prophetic utterances, but that didn’t other forms of verbal participation. Paul forbid women to speak in church only in regard to the judgment or evaluation of prophetic utterances. Evidently, he believed that this entailed an exercise of authority restricted to men only.

Why? Again, you have to look at the Greek. I am not a Greek scholar, but I own a bunch of books written by Greek scholars.

The word “subject” was a military term describing the chain of command. Scripture uses it in reference to Jesus and is a universal truth for the church. All of God’s people are to practice Biblical submission. That’s not just women, that’s men, children, elders, pastors. It applies to all Christians.

In that context, Paul commanded women to respect the God-ordained authority of their husbands. What sort of situation might produce a challenge between the views of husbands and wives? Since both men and women could prophesy (see 11:4-5), it is entirely possible that a husband and wife might say different or even contradictory things, and this could lead to an argument in front of the rest of the church body. Or if when one prophet spoke and the church evaluated what was said (14: 29), once again a husband and wife could end up in an open, public disagreement as to the content of that prophecy. Paul considered it disgraceful to damage the witness of the church in the eyes of the culture around them.

14:36 Did the word of God begin with you, 16  or did it come to you alone?

If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual personhe should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38

The Old Testament does not teach that women are to remain silent at all times in worship, but it does endorse male headship in the home and in worship, consistent with Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere. Man was created first, then the woman was created to be a helpmate for him. It was in that order, not the other way around. In a matter of authority, the woman’s authority over creation involves her own voluntary submission under the authority of male leadership.

Paul sought to humble the arrogant Corinthians with a short and not entirely sweet point. An imperative appears in each verse. Paul gave a stern warning: anyone who ignores the advice/command he had just given will not be recognized as a leader, not by the congregation, but by God, Who will ignore these individuals and accomplish His work without them.

Paul turned to his summation for this section. Again, we should desire prophecy and refuse to forbid tongues. However, tongues operate best in a small group context where believers know one another. Ideally, each member of the group knows the other members’ spiritual gifts. Hence, if you know someone has the gift of interpretation, there is freedom for you to speak in tongues. We need balance on this matter of speaking in tongues. Many Christians error in extremes: everyone speaks in tongues or no one speaks in tongues. The whole focus of this chapter, I believe, was to discourage the public use of tongues, but for a higher reason than just to control people.

So thenbrothers and sisters, be eager to prophesyand do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.

1 Corinthians 14:39-40

Paul’s final words in this section sum up the overarching concern for congregational worship. The word translated “order” is a military term for falling in rank. Paul only used this word in one other context and it is translated “stability or firmness.” When the body of Christ functions the way it should, there will be a sense of stability that will encourage people to come back or more. We should strive for order within the churches, seeking to edify the whole congregation while not sliding into the “frozen chosen” stance where we seem not to allow God to work at all.

If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will come back, they will tell their friends, they will long for it. It’s all here—conviction of sin, a dissection of the heart, and awareness of God’s presence. God wants His church to come together and experience all that He has for her. Will you be a part of all that God wants to do?

 

Put Your Ministry Where Your Mouth Is   Leave a comment

It’s safe to say that email is the communication mode of choice in the 20-teens. It’s quick, you don’t have to spend time in idle chatter and you get a receipt that says whether it was delivered and opened. Yet, e-mail is not always the best form of communication. It’s sometimes misunderstood even by people we know pretty well. As the sender, we understand what we meant, but the recipient may not “get” our point or they might read into the e-mail something we never intended.

Image result for image of speaking in tonguesBack when I worked in social work, I appended a wry comment to a response to a coworker’s email. It was meant to be funny and I am known to be quippy. Imagine my surprise when I had to explain my email to the Human Resources officer because my coworker thought I was commenting on her sex life. For the record, I never discuss other people’s sex lives (unless they give me express permission to discuss it on this blog and then I change their names to protect their privacy. The HR officer was pretty sure that was what I meant and the coworker actually ended up apologizing to me, but it made me a lot more cautious of trying to make a joke over email. The inability to include body language and voice modulation in email should cause all of us to carefully read our e-mails and pause before we respond and hit the SEND button.

Likewise, reading a letter to a church that was written 2,000 years ago can be challenging. It’s easy to misunderstand the author’s intent because we may not be aware of what was taking place in the life of the church. Often, God’s people jump to conclusions before carefully studying a biblical passage. Have you been guilty of this? I know I have been. I think we all have. Then, there’s a whole lot of people fairly unfamiliar with the Bible who google Scripture passages and take them out of context to try to score some points in online haranguing sessions.

Christians, our aim must be to understand Scripture in the way God intended. We must try not to read our own traditions, preferences, or experiences into God’s Word. Scripture should inform our choices, not the other way around. This is especially important when it comes to the controversial areas of worship and spiritual gifts.

What does the Bible teaches about what a church worship service should look like? 1 Corinthians 14 gives us some insight into that question. It also calls some of us to task for how our churches currently conduct this important gathering.

If there’s an overriding message for today’s lesson it’s “Put your ministry where your mouth is.”

Clear communication is critical in the church

Paul highlighted prophecy and tongues as important spiritual gifts, but he gave prophesy the greater significance.

Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual giftsespecially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

Image result for image of prophesyFirst and foremost, Paul commanded the churches to pursue, strive for, and seek after love. This command “pursue” (dioko) means “to pursue or persecute.” It is a strong word that serves to remind us that love can be an elusive thing. We do not find real love by wishful thinking or halfhearted effort. We must pursue it eagerly every day if we are going to find it operating in our lives as it should. As a church, if we make love our top pursuit we will discover that our capacity to minister to those around us grows with every passing year.

Paul then commanded the church to “desire earnestly” spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy. To prophesy is “to proclaim divine revelation” or “to speak on behalf of God.” Prophecy is not necessarily preaching or teaching, but it has elements of both. It can be both spontaneous and prepared. Paul suggests in this passage that all God’s people can exercise prophecy. When we gather for worship, we ought to pray that the Lord will give us a word for someone in the church (see 14:26). Hence, we all come to church to minister. It’s not just the pastor who does this.

Apparently, the Corinthian church had exalted the gift of tongues above the prophetic gift of the proclamation of truth. Paul wanted to restore a healthy balance to the public worship life of that congregation by comparing and contrasting speaking in tongues and prophesying, while explaining why he put prophecy above tongues in terms of importance.

For the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to Godfor no one understandshe is speaking mysteries by the SpiritBut the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself upbut the one who prophesies builds up the church. I wish you all spoke in tonguesbut even more that you would prophesyThe one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tonguesunless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened. 1 Corinthians 14:2-5

Some observations:

  • Paul held a high view of speaking in tongues and considered it a viable spiritual gift. Some are critical of tongues because of its divisive nature, but my own belief (drawn from Paul’s words here) are that the only problem with tongues is when Christians abuse the gift and behave in an immature and prideful way. Tongues is a good gift that God has given His church for its edification. The problem doesn’t lie with the spiritual gift, but rather with those who misunderstand and misuse what God has graciously provided.
  • The gift of tongues that Paul referred to in this context is a private prayer language. Ooo, I feel the Southern Baptist Convention looking my way with displeasure. Sorry if that upsets some non-charismatics, but Paul wrote that he would like to see all the Corinthians inspired by the Spirit to speak in tongues, but presumably only in the privacy of their own homes and only if they had been given this gift (see 12:28-30).
  • The gift of prophecy is for today (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). Not in the sense of authoritative, inerrant revelation from God, but as a word of “edification, exhortation, and consolation” (14:3). The words “prophet”, “prophecies”, “prophesy”, and “prophesying” are used over 200 times in the New Testament. The whole notion of prophecy and prophesying is a big part of the New Testament. It’s not a minor doctrine. It’s a major teaching of the New Testament.
  • Paul’s primary concern was the edification of the body of Christ (the church). A form of the word “edify” is used four times in this passage. This is the foremost reason why spiritual gifts were given to us (see 12:7). It is important to note that Paul was not being critical of tongues speakers edifying themselves. He was not opposed to edifying oneself. This is one reason we come to church on Sunday, to strengthen ourselves. When we exercise our spiritual gifts, we edify ourselves in a similar way. Nevertheless, there is a double meaning to the word “edify” in this context. Since arrogance was such a problem the Corinthian church, it seems that some were getting puffed up over their use of tongues. Paul’s wish that everyone would speak in tongues is still a genuine desire, but in public worship, we should only engage in what builds up the church. Edification is the benchmark by which we measure what goes on in public worship.

Nowbrothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongueshow will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophesy or teachingIt is similar for lifeless things that make a soundlike a flute or harpUnless they make a distinction in the noteshow can what is played on the flute or harp be understood? Iffor example, the trumpet makes an unclear soundwho will get ready for battle? It is the same for you. If you do not speak clearly with your tonguehow will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the airThere are probably many kinds of languages in the worldand none is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of a languageI will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 1 Corinthians 14:6-11

Paul explained the problem with uninterpreted tongues is no one benefits from something that he or she can’t understand. Paul wanted to be sure that what occurs in the worship service is profitable for all attendees, so he emphasized gifts of clear communication. Paul wanted everything to be done for edification… strengthening … of the church body, not just select individuals who wanted to look good.

Paul gave three analogies or metaphors that expound on the necessity of intelligibility in congregational worship.

  1. In order to be understood or appreciated musical instruments must play a discernible melody. If the musicians playing the flute and harp don’t give a clear distinction between the notes, the audience will not understand the tune.
  2. On the field of battle, bugle calls must be clear enough for soldiers to distinguish “Advance!” from “Retreat!” Trumpets or bugles were often used to summon people to battle or to give a signal for when to charge the enemy or when to stop fighting because the battle was over. Presumably there were different note patterns for each command. But if the trumpeter sounded either an unclear note pattern or a muffled sound so that the soldiers could not clearly distinguish what was being played, they would become confused and not know what they were supposed to do.
  3. Foreign languages remain unintelligible to those who have not learned them. The one who speaks in tongues without interpreting is speaking into the air. It is important to understand that these verses merely serve as an illustration. Paul was not saying the gift of tongues in this context is a foreign language. He was simply trying to say that tongues must be interpreted or they are of no value to those who can’t interpret.

Applying all three of these illustrations, Paul said that it is not the mere sound of speaking that is important, but whether the sounds can be understood by the hearers.

It is the same with youSince you are eager for manifestations of the Spiritseek to abound in order to strengthen the church. 1 Corinthians 14:12

Paul again commanded the church to seek those gifts which would build up the body, particularly prophecy.

Look around your church on Sunday and ask yourself if the congregation you attend matches that instruction. If it doesn’t, that okay, because Paul provided the solution to the problem of uninterpreted tongues.

So thenone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. If I pray in a tonguemy spirit praysbut my mind is unproductive. What should I do? I will pray with my spiritbut I will also pray with my mindI will sing praises with my spiritbut I will also sing praises with my mindOtherwiseif you are praising God with your spirithow can someone without gift say “Amen” to your  thanksgivingsince he does not know what you are saying. For you are certainly giving thanks wellbut the other person is not strengthened. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct othersrather than ten thousand words in a tongue.  1 Corinthians 14:13-19

What must a person do if God has given him or her the gift of tongues? Paul exhorted those who speak in tongues to pray that they will be able to interpret their own tongues and those of others. He then explained that he prayed and sang in his native language(s) and his prayer language. He sought to experience the best of both worlds—the spirit and the mind. Yet, he was still sensitive to ensure that during the worship event, people understood what was happening. Turns out, my Baptist buddies, Paul was an avid tongues speaker, but out of consideration for others he left his prayer language at home.

Mature thinking is critical in the church

Paul sought maturity in public worship.

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinkingInsteadbe infants in evilbut in your thinking be mature.  1 Corinthians 14:20

Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop thinking like selfish, prideful children with regards to the gifts. They should be naïve infants with regards to evil, but mature believers in the worship service.

Citing a prophecy from Isaiah 28:11-12 (see also Deuteronomy 28:49), Paul wrote:

It is written in the law: “By people with strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to thispeople, yet not even in this way will they listen to me,” says the Lord. 1 Corinthians 14:21

The point of this Old Testament quotation is that if Israel would not hear the Lord through the prophets, they would not hear even when He spoke in foreign languages to them through foreign people. Why then, Paul asked, the emphasis on tongues in the Corinthian congregation?

So thentongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelieversProphecyhoweveris not for unbelievers but for believers. 1 Corinthians 14:22

I suspect this is one of those Jewish rabbi rhetorical questions that Paul sometimes slipped into his writing. It would be confusing to read it any other way because it seems to say the very opposite of what we would expect Paul to say. In Paul’s mind, tongues are a sign for believers and prophecy is a sign for unbelievers. How do I know that? I read the next few verses. (Context is everything!)

So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enterwill they not say that you have lost your minds? But if all prophesyand an unbeliever or uninformed person entershe will be convicted by allhe will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are his heart are disclosedand in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship Goddeclaring“God is really among you.” 1 Corinthians 14:23-25

The effect of Christian prophecy on the unbeliever is threefold:

  • He will be convicted of sin (see. John 16:8)
  • he will be called to take account of his sins and examine his sinful condition
  • and he will have his sinful heart and past laid open to inspection (see John 4:16-19)

The triple use of “all” in verse 24 emphasizes that all the church through its prophetic message plays a part in bringing the unbeliever to this place of conviction. For the unbeliever in the church service will recognize that God really is present and dealing with him.

In the modern churches there are two competing groups: evangelicals and charismatics. Both groups are similar, but they do have a different flavor and for many, many years, they were somewhat hostile to one another.

Brad and I are evangelicals. He prays in a spiritual language in his place of solitude (otherwise known as our basement). I do not. God has not given me that gift and I don’t feel deprived because I can’t exercise it. We sometimes worship with charismatic friends who are generally okay with Brad not praying in tongues in their prayer meetings, but some of them get a little pushy with me because they feel I am missing out on something or refusing God’s guidance. Meanwhile, our Baptist friends are concerned that Brad prays in tongues when he’s alone (or sometimes in my presence). Not so much younger Baptists, but a lot of the older ones.

I believe God wants us to move beyond segregation by spiritual gifts to tolerance and even acceptance of the gifts of others. God would have His churches reconciled on this subject. He is calling the two halves of the churches back together again, not just to endure one another, but to delight in one another’s uniqueness and profit from it. God is calling us to a higher level of unity than ever before. He is asking us to embrace the full diversity of the body of Christ.

Remember, in heaven, there won’t be any evangelicals or charismatics. There will only be Christians worshiping with Jesus. We should get used to it now, because we will be worshiping Him in our own ways in heaven.

Love is Eternal   Leave a comment

Love Never Fails
(13:8-13)

Love never endsBut if there are propheciesthey will be set asideif there are tonguesthey will ceaseif there is knowledgeit will be set aside. For we know in partand we prophesy in part,  but when what is perfect comesthe partial will be set aside. When I was a childI talked like a childI thought like a childI reasoned like a childBut when I became an adultI set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to faceNow I know inpartbut then I will know fullyjust as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faithhopeand loveBut the greatest of these is love.  (1Corinthians 13:8-13)

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul set out to show the superiority of character over charisma. Christian love overwhelms spiritual gifts.

  • Verses 1-3, Paul stated even the most highly prized gifts, exercised to the ultimate level of success, but without love, are of little value to the one who is gifted or to the one who is the recipient of his ministry.
  • Verses 4-7, Paul described love in a way which defines it in very practical terms and also shows the Corinthians’ lack of love.

In our subject passage for this week, verses 8-13, Paul reasoned love is superior to all the spiritual gifts because love outlasts them. Love never fails; spiritual gifts do fail.

The statement, “love never fails,” nicely links Paul’s words in verse 7 with those which follow. Love “never fails” because it always bears up, always has faith, always hopes, always endures (verse 7). Furthermore, love “never fails” because it is eternal.

The word “fail” is the translation of a word which literally means to fall. This same word is used to describe the fatal “fall” of the young man from the third story window during Paul’s really long sermon in Acts 20:9. Ananias and Saphira both “fell” dead when confronted by Peter (Acts 5:5, 10). Paul employed this term when he spoke of the 23,000 who “fell” dead in the wilderness due to their immorality (1 Corinthians 10:8; Exodus 32:28). In other words, love does not die; it does not come to an end. Love is like the Energizer Bunny that keeps going and going and going …

In contrast to love, which does not come to an end, spiritual gifts do come to an end. Paul said they fail. He wrote of the demise of the three spiritual gifts considered most valuable by the Corinthians. Gifts of prophecy will be done away with; tongues will cease; knowledge will be done away (verse 8). Knowledge and prophecy in this age are partial and incomplete. But when “the perfect” comes, this will render the “imperfect” obsolete.

My husband is a repairman. Often when he is called out in the middle of the night because someone has no heat, he will repair the boiler/furnace temporarily. He keeps used parts on hand to effect those repairs. He will then return the next day when he has secured the brand new part to make permanent repairs. Consider the late night repair to be “imperfect” until he makes the “perfect” permanent repairs.

Paul contrasted the permanence of love with the temporary nature of all spiritual gifts. I know there’s debate about how some gifts may be temporary in nature, but I don’t see that in Paul’s writing … and neither do the Bible commentators I read in research here. I guess the gift of tongues is singled out because of a subtle distinction in the Greek text. One Greek word is employed to refer to the passing of prophecy and knowledge, translated in the NASB by the expression “done away.” The cessation of tongues is depicted by a different term, rendered “cease” in the NASB. While the verb employed for the passing of prophecy and knowledge is passive in voice, the term used in reference to tongues is middle in voice. This subtlety is interpreted by some scholars to mean tongues will cease after the days of the apostles before the cessation of prophecy and knowledge.

“They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, p. 179.

All Christians should be knowledgeable and honest enough to say that the so-called “cessationist” position (certain gifts—especially tongues—came to an end at the close of the apostolic age) is based upon inferences rather than upon clear statements. Yes, I am a Baptist who does not speak in tongues, but I don’t agree with the “cessationist” position. It is one thing for the Bible to say tongues will cease; it is quite another to say tongues have ceased. Doctrine based upon clear, uncontradicted statements is to be held more dogmatically than doctrine based upon inference. I too hold certain beliefs based upon inference, but I desire to acknowledge them as just that. In 1 Corinthians 14:39, Paul pointedly prohibited us from forbidding others to speak in tongues. This is not an inference but a command. So, there you have it. I don’t speak in tongues because God hasn’t given me that gift, but I believe He has given others that gift. I’ve seen very.few people who exercise the gift do it properly, but the only argument I have against that is 1 Corinthians 14, which also tells me not to forbid others from speaking in tongues. Therefore, ….

I don’t embrace the cessationist position, but I also believe God is not obliged to give the gift of tongues anyone today. There are certain vital and necessary functions in the church, for which there are accompanying general commands. All are commanded to give, to help, and to encourage. All may not be gifted in these areas, but it seems necessary that there be some who are thus gifted. All are not commanded to prophesy or to speak in tongues. I don’t think tongues are necessary for the work of God, but I don’t deny the possibility of tongues. I also question the practice of tongues by some Christians. Not all that is called tongues is biblical tongues, and much of what is practiced as tongues (whether genuine tongues or false) is not practiced as the Scriptures require. In spite of this, a blanket rejection of the possibility of tongues cannot be biblically sustained.

Paul showed love to be superior to all spiritual gifts because it is permanence. Spiritual gifts are not permanent because they are not perfect. Spiritual gifts are partial. We know in part, and we prophesy in part. Prophecy is never wrong or inaccurate; it is simply incomplete. Peter wrote of the prophets of old who spoke of the sufferings and glories of the Messiah who was yet to come and whose own writings puzzled them because they were incomplete (1 Peter 1:10-12). Paul was privileged to fill in some of the gaps of the Old Testament Scriptures by unveiling certain mysteries (Ephesians 3:1-13). Nevertheless, his revelations were partial. He did not reveal all that we would like to know. Because of this, his letters raised unanswered questions, and false teachers were quickly on hand to distort his writings (2 Peter 3:14-16).

God used th prophets of old to reveal all He wanted us to know—but not all there is to know nor all that we would like to know. When “the perfect” comes, the imperfect will no longer be necessary. The imperfect will be done away with. I doubt the completed canon of Scripture is “the perfect” which will come (13:10) is the completed canon of Scripture. More likely, Paul meant the kingdom of God for which we eagerly wait. Only then will we know fully, just as we are now fully known (see verse 12).

In verses 11 and 12, Paul told the Corinthian Christians, and us, that we should view spiritual gifts as we do the toys of our childhood. We kept some of our kids’ toys for when friends bring their children to our house and while they still delight small children, our kids themselves have moved on to other “toys” … musical instruments, cars, etc. Childish toys are great when we are children, but they should hold little attraction for adults.

Paul’s illustration taught an important lesson to the Corinthians and also gently rebuked their pride and arrogance. Did they think they were wise? Of course, they did (see 4:6-21)! But their wisdom and understanding were partial. In the light of eternity, such knowledge will be set aside as imperfect. Did the Corinthians believe they saw things clearly and that their perception of matters was accurate? Paul let them know their knowledge was sketchy compared to the perfect knowledge which will be ours in eternity.

Our perception of truth and reality is like looking in a cheap, old mirror which only imperfectly reflects reality. Our modern mirrors are so much better than those of Paul’s day. His mirror was probably like the “mirrors” at a highway rest stop. Many states use metal “mirrors” in their restrooms to cut down on vandalism. Those mirrors make it very difficult to see yourself clearly. The Corinthians did not see as clearly as they thought, either. At best, their knowledge was partial. They shouldn’t have clung to their spiritual gifts with pride and thought too highly of themselves. They should have possessed and appreciated all the gifts as temporary provisions of God, seeing them as partial and inferior to what eternity holds for us.

Paul declared love is not only better than any or all of the spiritual gifts, but that it is even greater than faith and hope. Spiritual gifts fail, while love lasts. Faith, hope, and love all “abide” (verse 13). While love is greater than spiritual gifts which do not last, love is also greater than faith and hope, which “abides” and “endures.” Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It won’t be necessary in heaven because we will be with God face-to-face. Hope too seems to be temporal.  “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25). Faith is necessary for salvation because it waits for God to reveal His plans, but that level of trust in the unknown will be unnecessary when we’re with God in Heaven. We won’t need to hope for eternity any longer because we will already have received it. But love will still be there. Love is not something to look down upon as inferior to spiritual gifts and wisdom. It holds greater value than anything else.

Something of such great value must not only be esteemed, it should be sought. Jesus told the parable of the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46). When the merchant found the one pearl of great value, he gladly sold all he had to purchase it. Paul told us that love is that “pearl of great price.” It is the thing of great value. The Corinthians, knowingly or not, sacrificed love in their pursuit of certain spiritual gifts (see chapter 8). Paul showed this was contrary to eternal values, since love is the greatest. One does not wisely sacrifice that of the greatest value for something of lesser value.

The first verse of chapter 14 is Paul’s “bottom line,” the application he wants his readers to accept and accomplish. In saying love is the greatest, Paul is not belittling spiritual gifts. He merely seeks to put spiritual gifts into perspective. Spiritual gifts are a gracious provision of God, but they are never to be pursued or practiced at the expense of love. Love is to be pursued as the “pearl of great price,” but the spiritual gifts are not to be neglected. Love is the attitude of heart which adds value to the gifts.

A former pastor of mine was descended from the Bach family of musicians, so it was a family requirements that he learn to play an instrument and many of the men in his family were accomplished fiddlers (he grew up in the Ozarks). He learned the notes and fingering and bow work, but he just wasn’t that good. He tried (and his sons wished he wouldn’t), but he couldn’t make a good violin “sing purdy.” Spiritual gifts are like the violin. They are good. When employed by immature, carnal, self-seeking Christians, however, spiritual gifts produce an unpleasant sound. When spiritual gifts are employed by spiritual Christians, those who walk in love, the gifts they exercise are beautiful; they are edifying to others. Love is one ingredient that can never be absent without being noticed. The Corinthians might have professed to pursue and practice love, but they were lacking in it.

Christian love is a huge topic, but you can summarize Paul’s teaching on the subject with two main statements:

  1. Love should be our priority
  2. Love should be pursued

Love as a Priority

Spiritual gifts have little value apart from love. Spiritual gifts do not abide, while love does. Love is even superior to faith and hope, which do abide.

This truth is not unique to Paul. The teaching of the entire Old Testament and of our Lord Jesus Christ can be summed up by one word—“love.” (See Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; John 15:17).

Love was the goal of Paul’s instruction:

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Peter and John referred to love as the highest level of Christian growth, and Paul spoke of it as the basis for edification (see 1 Peter 1:22-23; 1 John 4:7-11; 2 Peter 1:5-7; Ephesians 4:1-3, 14-16).

Love is to be a high priority for the Christian, but it is so quickly and easily lost. Certainly love was lacking in the church at Corinth. The church at Ephesus all too quickly lost its first love and did not even seem to know it (see Revelation 2:1-5.

THE PURSUIT OF LOVE

Love is not automatic. It’s quickly lost, and it comes about only when we make it our priority and pursuit. How does one pursue love? We begin by reading God’s Word and meditating upon it. This epistle was written not only to the saints at Corinth but to all the saints, including us (see 1:1-2). The first thing we gain from God’s Word is an accurate definition of love. Our society does not have the same definition of “love” as the Bible says Christians should hold. The Bible is the only source of truth which defines what love is and does.

As the Word of God speaks to us of love, we should recognize our lack of love, and repent of it. Surely as Paul’s description of love’s conduct begins to unfold in verses 4-7 of chapter 13, it became increasingly clear the Corinthians lacked love. As we meditate on these verses and many like them in God’s Word, our lack of love must be recognized and repented from as the serious sin it is. This is what Jesus called for in His letter to the Ephesian saints in Revelation 2 and it is what He requires of us today.

Having recognized our lack of love and repented of this deficiency, we must now look to God alone as the source of love. Love does not originate within us. We love as a result of God’s love for us. We are to keep ourselves in this love (1 John 4:19; Jude 1:20-21). 

If we are to keep ourselves in the love of Christ, we must never stray from the cross of Christ, because that is where God’s love for us was poured out (Romans 5:3-8).

The love we have received from God came in the form of a cross—sacrificial love. That is the kind of love we are to manifest toward others (John 15:13; Ephesians 5:25-27).

The way we demonstrate love toward God and toward others is by obeying His commandments. This is why the Old Testament law can be summed up in two commandments, both of which are the expressions of love. Legalism is man’s attempt to keep God’s law without love. Love is that state of heart which seeks to please God by keeping His commands. In chapter 14, verse 1, Paul instructed his readers to pursue love, and the rest of the chapter tells us how that is to be done. We pursue love by exercising our gifts in a self-sacrificial way that endeavors to edify others. If most of the church today ignores the instructions Paul laid down here, we can conclude the problem begins with a lack of love toward God and toward others. Love is not so much a warm and fuzzy feeling as the grateful disposition to please God and others at our own expense, by keeping His commandments as initially laid down in the Old Testament and clarified in the New.

Just a reminder that I’m speaking primarily to Christians because this epistle was written primarily to Christians, but now I want to say something to those who have not yet acknowledged their sin and trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. You cannot express the love of God until you have first experienced it. This is why some Christians scoff at you when you try to lecture them about love. Christian love is impossible for those who have not yet accepted the love of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I urge you to consider the awesome reality of God’s love, expressed toward you in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us, to bear the penalty for our sins, and to give us His righteousness, as we place our trust in Him by faith. May you trust in Him this very hour and thus come to experience His love.

Christian Love Has No Sell-By Date   Leave a comment

It bears all thingsbelieves all thingshopes all thingsendures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Paul spoke of four different qualities of love, all linked to each other by the word rendered “all things.”, which seems to fall short of communicating what Paul is saying. Love does not, for example, believe everything. It is not “love” for a mother to believe her child when he denies getting into her freshly made pie, when the meringue has formed a mustache around his mouth. Paul had just written that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (verse 6). While we tend to read these as separate phrases, they are dependent upon one another and should be understood in context. How could he inform the Corinthians that “love” accepts everything as truth, believing whatever one is told and not contradict that earlier statement?

Image result for image of love enduresInstead, what it means is love is always characterized by certain qualities, without exception. Throughout history, man has sought to excuse disobedience or sin by convincing himself that his situation is an exception. Jesus was asked if a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all (Matthew 19:3). His response was a refusal to dwell on the exceptions. He focused instead on the rule. He knew that for the Pharisees, the exception had become the rule. This is why Paul had already excluded any “loopholes” in the Bible, by insisting that whenever we succumb to temptation, it is not because we had to (The “I’m only human” defense), but because we failed to act upon God’s divinely provided “way of escape”:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

And so Paul informed his readers that there are four things love never ceases to possess and to practice, four things which can always be expected from genuine love.

(1) Love always bears up under adversity (“bears all things”).

Love had endurance. It can continue no matter what the opposition.

Edwards points out that the Greek term employed by Paul has two senses:

The term used here by Paul “… means originally ‘cover over,’” … then, “contain as a vessel.” From this latter meaning two metaphorical uses of the word are derived, either of which may be here adopted:

  1. that love hides or is silent about the faults of others;
  2. that love bears without resentment injuries inflicted by others.

(T. C. Edwards, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d.) p. 347)

I do not believe we are forced to one choice or the other. It is completely within the realm of possibility that Paul meant us to understand this word in terms of its broader range of meaning. If true, we can see two major dimensions to love’s consistent capacity to “hold up” rather than “fold up.”

Firstlove bears up silently; that is, love covers sin with a cloak of silence. Sin is shameful, and love does not wish the sinner to be shamed more than necessary. Noah’s son, Ham, broadcast his father’s shame to his brothers when Noah was drunk and naked in his tent. His brothers “covered” Noah’s nakedness in a way that prevented them from viewing his shame (Genesis 9:20-23). Peter reminds us that Jesus suffered silently, not responding verbally to the abuses hurled upon Him, and that this pattern of silent suffering is to be followed by all the saints (1 Peter 2:18–3:15; 4:8).

Matthew’s Gospel sheds further light on this matter of our silence when Jesus teaches His disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20). We are to go privately to a brother who has sinned against us, and if he repents as a result of our rebuke, the matter is settled, never to be made public. If, however, this wayward brother resists and refuses to repent, then the matter once dealt with in the strictest privacy must now be dealt with in a way that becomes more and more public. After all efforts to turn the wayward brother from sin have been rejected, the whole church must be notified of his sin, and he must be publicly ex-communicated. Love always seeks to keep the sin of a wayward brother as private as possible, but this does not mean we cannot and should not be confronted publicly, if all private efforts have failed.

Second, love always bears up, no matter how great the persecution, suffering, or adversity. Job’s wife “tempted” him to sin by urging him to “curse God and die,” thus bringing his suffering to a conclusion. Love never caves in or collapses under duress. Love always holds up. Should we attempt to deceive ourselves by thinking otherwise, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13 jolt us back to reality.

Third, love always has faith (“believes all things”). Love never forsakes faith. The word translated “believes” in this verse is a verb, and the noun which shares the same root is very often translated “faith” in the New Testament. Of all the many times Paul employed the verb found here in our text, virtually every time it is used in a context which indicates the one who “believes” is the one who “has faith.” It is often used of those who have come to faith, those who have become “believers” (see 1 Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 14:22). Only once in Paul’s epistles does this verb refer to a belief in something other than the truth of the gospel:

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it (1 Corinthians 11:18, emphasis mine).

Love always believes; it always has faith, even when life seems to be crumbling about us. Adversity is never an occasion for unbelief. Paul, imprisoned and awaiting a verdict from Caesar, was filled with faith, trusting that his death would either bring him into the presence of God or that his life would be used to draw others nearer to God (Philippians 1). Suffering is not an excuse for the failure of faith; rather, it is an occasion where love and faith may be demonstrated.

I know that faith, hope, and love are often mentioned together or are found in very close proximity to each other. I’ve come to appreciate the very close association that exists between love and faith. When Jesus summoned the four fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John, why did these men leave their nets, their boats, and even their fathers to follow Jesus? Was it because of their faith? Partly, but I think they were drawn to Jesus out of love—His love for them and theirs for Him. These disciples did not understand a great deal about Jesus and His gospel until after His death, burial and resurrection. What kept them following Him before these things were clear in their minds? Faith, in part, but also love.

Love always has faith. Our love for God and our trust in His Word should give us unlimited faith in Him. Those men and women whom we love we must also trust, but within limits. We dare not believe everything we are told. In Deuteronomy 13, Moses warns the Israelites concerning those who would lead them astray. Included among those who might mislead us are those we call our “loved ones” (see 13:6-10). Love is never a license to uncritically accept all we are told. The love we find in the Bible is based on the truth (see Philippians 1:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:5).

Our faith must not be in our fellow man, but in God. No matter how bad things may be, no matter how much grief others may dish out to us, we should have unlimited faith in God. We should have faith in His promises to sustain us, to keep us from falling, and to perfect His work in us. We should have faith that God is using our trials and tribulations to strengthen our faith (Romans 5:1-11James 1:1-18) and to bring about our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Paul found great consolation in his sufferings for Christ’s sake because it enhanced his sense of identity with Him and his love for Him (see Philippians 3:8-11Colossians 1:24-29).

All too often I see a kind of cynicism in Christians that is not compatible with faith. Of course, we believe in the depravity of man. We know this world is passing away and that the unbelieving world’s efforts to bring about the improvement of man’s moral and spiritual nature are doomed. We know a genuine and permanent peace will never be negotiated or brought about on this earth, apart from the return of our Lord and the establishment of His kingdom. Nevertheless, we can have faith that God will bring about His purposes for this earth and that He can save those who are seemingly hopelessly lost in their sins (such as Saul of Tarsus). We can be optimistic about what God will accomplish through us in this world. Love, true love, always manifests faith.

Fourth, love always has hope. Faith is believing in what is ultimately real and true but not immediately seen (see Hebrews 11:1). Faith believes God is going to give us that which our eyes do not and cannot see but which God has promised to us. Hope is our longing and desire for those things which are future, which by faith we believe we shall receive.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:22-25).

The concept of hope is frequently found in Paul’s writings. Hope enables the Christian to face even the most adverse circumstances, hoping for the promised blessings which will follow. “Hopeth all things is the forward look. The thought is not that of an unreasoning optimism, which fails to take account of reality. It is rather a refusal to take failure as final. Following on from believeth all things it is the confidence which looks to ultimate triumph by the grace of God.”

We can fairly readily grasp the relationship between faith and hope, but what is the relationship between hope and love? It seems to me that we hope for what we really love. I think we see this kind of hope in the life of Jacob. When Jacob fled from home (really from his brother Esau), he went to live among his relatives in Padan Aram. Finding his uncle Laban, Jacob stayed with him, falling in love with his younger daughter, Rachel. Jacob worked for seven years to earn the dowry for Rachel, only to discover that Laban had given him Leah instead. It took another seven years of labor before Jacob had paid the dowry for Rachel. And yet we read these words concerning Jacob’s attitude toward the delay in obtaining Rachel for a wife: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20). Jacob’s love for Rachel gave him both hope and endurance.

Of course there is a sense in which our love for others should give us hope for them. We love the children God has given us, and as they grow up, we have hope that God will save them and that they will grow up to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. Our hope, however, is not in them so much as it is hope for them. We have hope for our children because ultimately our faith and hope are in God. We have hope that God will accomplish certain things in them.

Many of the Corinthian Christians were Paul’s spiritual children (1 Corinthians 4:14-15). In spite of all the abuse he had taken from these, his children, Paul had great hope for them (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 2 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 9:11-15; 13:6-14).

Man’s hope may be wrongly placed (see 1 Timothy 6:17), but the only true source of hope is God, and particularly the Lord Jesus Christ (see Psalm 33:171 Peter 1:21Psalm 31:24; 38:15; 42:5, 112 Corinthians 1:101 Timothy 1:1). Christians should be characterized by hope in the midst of adversity, and it may well be this hope which opens the door for sharing our faith with others: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). True love is characterized by a consistent hope. Love always hopes.

Fifth, love always perseveres (“endures all things”). Some have been troubled that the first description of love (“bears all things”) is too similar in meaning to Paul’s last description (“endures all things”). I believe these two things are related, just as “faith” and “hope” are related. I see the “bearing” of things related to the intensity of the trial or offense. “It was more than I could handle,” someone excuses. “How much am I supposed to put up with?” another asks. Perseverance or endurance do not focus so much on the intensity of the trouble as the duration of it.

Love, Paul wrote, does not run out of time. Love lasts. This point will be taken up in the following verses. No matter how difficult the trial, love bears up under it; no matter how long the trial, love perseveres. This was not the case when the Corinthians divorced one another (chapter 7) or when one believer took another to court (chapter 6). There is a world of difference between a Christian asking the question, “How long?” and the Christian throwing in the towel with the excuse, “Too long!”

This, by the way, are what marriage vows are all about. When a man and a woman love each other and enter into covenantal marriage by the taking of vows, they promise to love each other, no matter what. And when they repeat their vows to each other, they commit themselves to loving their mate, “until death do us part.” Love does not put time limits on its own existence, even when things get rough.

Sherry Parnell

Author of "Let the Willows Weep"

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