Archive for the ‘#examinedfaith’ Tag

Why Does Separation of Church & State Grow Churches?   2 comments

Image result for image of a anglican churchHave you ever noticed that Europe is largely a non-Christian society while in the United States, we value freedom of religion and have relatively higher levels of faith?

It’s sort of interesting how that works because in Europe, most countries have a state religion that is subsidized by the government while in the United States people have to dole out their hard-earned money if they want to support a church.

Seventy percent of young people in Europe identify with no religion. But almost every country in Europe has a state religion. In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, which is the government-sponsored religion of the United Kingdom. In Germany, where the state church is Lutheran, about 45% of young people never attend church. I’m told by a friend who is from Germany and attends our church here in the States that there is a growing independent evangelical movement in Germany.

“And we want nothing to do with the state. We’d rather meet in someone’s home than take a dime from the government because it appears the government is a killer of faith.”

His view echoes a friend from England who says the same thing — that non-subsidized evangelical churches are growing while the government-supported Anglican churches are mostly empty.

I read an article a few days ago about how the Church in the Czech Republic is almost non-existent. Meanwhile, small evangelical and charismatic denominations are thriving. These are the churches that never used the State to compel them to come in and now the faithful are willingly coming into their sanctuaries.

Of course, church attendance was declining in the United States for a long time even without government interference and I’m not convinced it has stabilized. But I just find it interesting that churches without government support do better than churches with government support.

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Sand in Your Shoes, by Lela Markham   Leave a comment

via Sand in Your Shoes, by Lela Markham

Does your faith make you uncomfortable? It should. Jesus wasn’t comfortable. He struggled with temptation, He was cold, hungry and tired, sometimes He was frustrated enough to toss usurpers out of His Father’s house by violent means. He risked censor by correcting the churchy, judgey people of His day in public settings. They tried to stone Him a couple of times and then they nailed Him to a cross to kill Him in a very cruel way. He then died with the sins of the world seeped into His very flesh. Our Savior was not comfortable:

John 15:18-19

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, 48  the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason 51  the world hates you. 

Jesus promised us that we would be as uncomfortable as He was – the world would hate us, we would struggle with our efforts to be His followers, sin would dog our steps.

If your Christian faith does not make you uncomfortable with the world around you and how you interact with it, then something is probably wrong with your Christian walk. Being a Christian in this world ought to feel a bit like having sand in your shoes.

When I write, more and more often, I find myself pausing with my fingers over the keyboard, thinking about how what I feel led to write might make some people uncomfortable. Sometimes it will make non-Christians uncomfortable, but more often than not, it will make Christians uncomfortable. I mostly don’t fear that anymore. I know that’s what God wants me to do … point out the uncomfortable tensions of Christians living in this world. We shouldn’t feel cozy with the world around us, but in many ways, we shouldn’t feel snuggly within the Christian community either.

I want my readers to think about the soldier sitting next to them on the pew – the guy who just got back from the Middle East. Sure, he’s a nice guy and his wife is wonderful. His kids love him and he can quote Scripture. Nothing wrong with any of that. I take him at his word that he is a Christian who walks with Christ every day. Now think back a month or two. What is the job of a soldier? Killing and subjugation of a foreign population. Cut away the politics that took our pew mate to that foreign country and just ask yourself “What would Jesus have said about what this guy was doing a month ago?” Would He have automatically said “Thank you for your service”? I doubt it. I think He’d probably have written the number of the man’s kills in the sand before saying “I forgive those who repent of their sins.” Imagine how uncomfortable that soldier would be as he watched Jesus writing in the sand. Imagine how uncomfortable you would feel watching that if you’d just thanked the soldier for his service. I want my readers to think about the people the soldier killed or subjugated and feel compassion for them, but I also want my readers to think about the scars on the soldier’s soul that were inevitable from that behavior and feel compassion for the soldier. I don’t think Jesus would forgive the soldiers and damn the subjugated based on politics and that’s an uncomfortable thought.

I used this example because I have a lot of friends who are or were in the military and that works its way into my books. I could have used almost any example where our lives outside the church conflict with our Christian faith … those points where we ought to feel uncomfortable but often don’t. You could substitute bar owners, prostitutes, cops, pharmacists, authors … the list goes on and on. Everyone of us has tensions between our faith and our “regular” life and we ought to care about that. But, in our consumeristic society, being comfortable is the chief societal goal and so those authors who seek to market themselves as “Christian authors” feel the need to make their audience comfortable. That is a smart marketing decision that avoids controversy and topics that might make their readers think about uncomfortable ideas.

Is that actually a ministry or is God calling us to something higher … to be the prophets to our society through our narrative talents? Can we entertain readers while teaching eternal truths in a palatable form?

I suppose that depends on how uncomfortable we’re willing to allow God to make us.

 

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Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

“I don’t seek to be known as a Christian author, but as an author for whom Christ is so central to who I am as a person that He shines through.”

Not Living Up to the World’s Standards   1 comment

A new post on Christian Creative Nexus.

https://deliatalent.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/not-living-up-to-the-worlds-standards/

What makes a Christian creative a Christian?

I had to ask myself that question recently when someone with an axe to grind posted a review of one of my books that said, in essence, that I wasn’t a Christian because I don’t think the Army would walk on water and hand out flowers during the Apocalypse.

Sigh.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsI grew up and now live in a very military town. About one-quarter of my friends and family are either in the military or were once in the military. I know some lovely military people. I also have had plenty of experience with jerks who were jacked up on the power of being in the military. There’s that dichotomy in human nature that doesn’t go away if you ignore it. The Transformation Project series focuses on how ordinary people, including military and civilian authorities, react in an apocalyptic situation where their command structure has been fractured. I don’t show all individuals with military authority acting in a heroic manner because I personally know people who wouldn’t act honorably in a situation where they’re given that kind of power and no oversight.  The news has covered some of these people. I believe there would be more of them if the command structure that is in place no longer existed. I have other military characters who do act honorably … and some of them die for that stand. That’s the only defense I’m going to offer.

Circling back to my original theme of “in the world, but not of it” … must Christian creatives stand for certain secular societal norms or be deemed “not Christian”?

Being a Christian is defined by one thing. You can discover it in Romans 10:9-10.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God, Savior of mankind and your soul and do you confess that publicly? Your lifestyle should adhere to that and your politics are part of your lifestyle. Whether you support the military, love policemen, eat apple pie, or spend Mother’s Day with your mom isn’t really addressed in the Bible, therefore, they are personal decisions that each of us make individually.

“Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing.

Writing a novel is about addressing truth as the author sees it. A lot of Christians are very supportive of conservative political causes that I can’t find anywhere in the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with that – most of the time. We live in this world and the politics of the secular world affects us. When my taxes go up, I have less money to give to the church, which I feel spends social welfare funds much more wisely than the government does. I vote accordingly. We should all care if a politician believes it is okay to kill babies in the womb. We should pray for people caught up in the cycle of drug addiction or alcoholism, pornography or polyamory. The Bible is clear on many issues that Christians ought to have an opinion on and the Bible tells us what that opinion should be.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsThe Bible is less clear on our involvement in those secular programs designed to address some of the world’s evils. I harbor doubts about how Jesus would feel about some secular programs American Christians are expected to support simply because we’re expected to support them. As a Christian creative who wants to reach a larger audience than just Christians who read religiously-oriented literature, I have given serious thought to which subjects for which I’m willing to fall on my authorial sword. I made a commitment to show Christian characters as human … with flaws, while showing their beliefs respectfully. I have every admiration for our Savior, not always the same feeling toward His followers. I try to show the world as I see it and not as I would like it to be, recognizing that it is fallen and so are the people in it. And, yet, I struggle with where the lines are because it’s not so simple as the Christian publishers make it seem. Because I’ve rejected those made-up constraints, I have to set new ones of my own – ones that I hope are Biblically-based, but not ignoring this world as it really is.

What about you? If you’re a Christian creative trying to reach a secular audience, do you find it difficult to push the “Christian” boundaries in a Christ-centric way without upsetting the “standards” people have applied to Christian creatives?

My Empire of Dirt   Leave a comment

Johnny Cash was a reprobate saved by a forgiving Savior and he never forgot that, even while he always remembered where he’d been when Jesus lifted him out of the muck he’d made of his life. The term “my empire of dirt” SOOO typifies the life we build outside of God.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt1Pwfnh5pc
Lyrics
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liars chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way
Songwriters: Trent Reznor
Hurt lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Christian Creatives in a Fallen World   1 comment

In case you can’t tell from the sudden drop-off of blog posts, my ordinary life got busy. I am also trying a few other things, just for variety. For example, I am posting over at Christian Creative Nexus, which this blog post comes from. I’m also thinking about asking my Facebook questions here on Aurorawater Alaska. And I’m now on MeWe. New territory helps to expand networks … I hope.

https://dyegirl1373.wixsite.com/website/single-post/2018/03/07/Lets-Talk-How-to-be-a-Christian-Creative-in-a-Fallen-World

 

I’m one of those Christian creatives who does not advertise my works as “Christian”. Historically, Christian creatives didn’t claim a territory and label themselves. We don’t think of Bach as a “Christian” musician, but rather a great composer who made his living as a church organist. Unless you’re a history geek like me, you might not know about his deep and abiding faith. Although we now think of CS Lewis as a “Christian” author, his fictional works weren’t advised as such when he was publishing because Christians of that era hadn’t decided to paint themselves into a box with a label. Back when I was a kid Elvis Presley (not an example of a “good” Christian, but a man with a church background) and Johnny Cash (by that time, a reprobate saved by Christ) were singing gospel tunes right along with their secular tunes on regular radio … and my non-believing parents didn’t find that the least bit odd.

I want modern Christian creatives to step out of the box labeled “weird” and “other” and place the products of our creativity where we can act as salt and light in the dark world around us. I think Christian creatives have a lot to give to the secular world if we’re willing. But how do we do that?

I think it starts with a conversation among Christian creatives about what it means for us and our creative works to be “in the world, but not of it.” There’s nothing wrong with being counter-cultural, but at least some of us should be speaking to the society around us without painting ourselves into a self-segregated box where our books end up in that lonely section at Barnes & Noble. The real trick is doing that while also paying respect to our Savior and the flawed human beings who follow Him.

Let’s explore that together.

Christians Who Don’t Care   Leave a comment

Image result for image of so what christiansSome Christians really annoy me. I am a Christian, but I am also a critic of my fellows. There are all kinds of us and some of us really aren’t true Christians – as defined at Antioch where the name “Christian” was first used as a negative label to describe Jesus’ followers. Those Antioch Christians believed:

  1. Jesus died for their sins.
  2. They were saved by that and not anything owing to their own behavior.
  3. They radically identified with Jesus so that there was no question of their allegiance.
  4. Because of that salvation experience, they were ethically required to obey God’s laws and evangelize non-Christians.
  5. They were a multi-racial church that allowed believers to live within their own culture while seeking unity on theological issues, while also allowing a plurality of voices within the congregation.
  6. They believed strongly in the local church community.
  7. They were caring and generous.
  8. They gathered often for teaching and discipleship training, for the equipping of leadership and disciples.
  9. They worshiped the God Jesus with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength.

There are other attributes I could describe, but this is the heart of what being a Biblical Christian is.

So there are a lot of other kinds of Christians and some of them give lip service to that label of “Christianity” without truly subscribing to the essence of Christianity. But rather than critique the whole Church, I’m just going to focus on one kind today. Let’s call them the “so-what” Christians. These folks, when presented with some negative assertion about the U.S. government, the military, wars, or U.S. foreign policy don’t bother with inquiring as to its validity, doing some research, or spending more than three seconds thinking about it. They simply dismiss it with “So what?,” usually followed by some ridiculous statement.

Here are some examples:

The U.S. military has bombed Afghan wedding parties:

So what? The bride and groom were going to produce potential terrorists.

The U.S. military has killed thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? They are just collateral damage.

The United States gives billions of dollars a year in foreign aid to Israel:

So what? The Jews are God’s chosen people.

The U.S. military has a thousand overseas military bases:

So what? America is the exceptional nation.

U.S. drone strikes regularly miss their targets and kills non-combatants:

So what? America makes no apologies.

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan longer than against Nazi Germany:

So what? It is better to fight “over there” instead of “over here.” (I actually used to believe this one!)

The real defense budget is around a trillion dollars:

So what? The military keeps us safe.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist minister:

So what? America is still one nation under God.

The U.S. military kills innocent Muslims that were no threat to the United States:

So what? All Muslims are terrorists.

Inmates at Guantanamo are being held indefinitely with neither charge nor trial:

So what? Terrorists don’t need trials.

U.S. soldiers have committed war crimes:

So what? There’s always a few bad apples in every bushel.

U.S. soldiers recite filthy cadences in basic training:

So what? I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.

The U.S. military pays sports teams for patriotic displays and troop tributes:

So what? God bless America.

The United States is increasing military actions in Africa:

So what? America is the greatest country in the world.

The U.S. military keeps brothels open overseas:

So what? The troops are defending our freedoms.

A preemptive war against Iraq was wrong because Iraq was no threat to the United States:

So what? There is “a time of war” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

Thousands of U.S. soldiers died unnecessarily in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? There is no greater honor than to die for your country.

Military recruiters lie to impressionable young people:

So what? There is nothing more noble than military service.

Veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate:

So what? They should not feel guilty for anything they did while in service to their country. (But they do, folks, so let’s have that conversation).

 

The U.S. military and intelligence services have tortured people:

So what? As long as it saves the life of one American.

The U.S. military has created tens of thousands of widows and orphans in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? The terrorists who kill Jews are Muslims.

The U.S. military killed millions of Vietnamese in the Vietnam War:

So what? The only good communist is a dead communist.

The U.S. military has bombed seven Muslim countries over the past few years:

So what? Islam is a false religion. (It is! But Muslims believe Christianity is a false religion. Would that justify them bombing us?).

The United States hasn’t constitutionally declared war on any country since World War II:

So what? Romans 13.

War is the greatest destroyer of civil liberties:

So what? Civil liberties are the concern of leftists. (Say the people who claim to be Constitutionalists)

The U.S. military is a bombing, maiming, and killing machine:

So what? The LORD is a man of war (Exodus 15:3).

It is shameful that some conservative Christians have this “So what?” attitude. It is even worse when this mindset is followed by ridiculous statements that display their willful ignorance. What to do about them? Educate them, instruct them, enlighten them and admonish them. They give all Christians a bad name and they harm the ministry of Christ.

Posted January 30, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

Tagged with , , , ,

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.

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