Love – 1 Corinthians 13.1-13. RBT Notes, 24th November

You want to know the Spirit’s power? You want your life to count, to make an impact, to bring Christ to others for their sake? Paul is speaking to people who were very confident with the gifts they had, but they were losing sight of the reasons they had been given those gifts. They had lost sight of the primary motivation of love for their gifts. Here’s what you need to know, and seek, if you’re going to avoid their problems, and make an impact for Christ.

 

Loveless gifts are spectacular show

 Tongues? Wow! Prophecy? The same. Who wouldn’t want to have obvious, attention-grabbing gifts? The same goes for a mighty mountain-shifting faith. Well, they are all useless without love, Paul warns us (vv.1-2).

 Sacrifice sucks

You can bleed for others. But you might just be shedding your blood out of a sense of duty, an iron will, or in the hope of gaining something for yourself. Without love, you’re a fake, and your efforts are a mistake (v.3).

Love looks like this

 Impatient Christians. Ruthless Christians. Squabbling Christians. Self-promoting Christians. Self-satisfied Christians. Touchy Christians. Score-settling Christians. Muck-raking Christians. The church can be a poisoned pond, sometimes, can’t it? It is all the more depressing when we remember that the church is the dwelling-place of the Lord, by His Spirit. And yet, is it full of people who are, well, who are just like us at our worst. That is why Paul lists the attributes of love, and in doing so he doesn’t write a pretty poem, but he writes of tough qualities which are the antidote to our poisonous attitudes and habits (vv.4-7). Reflect on them, repent over them, and pray them into your life. Then work out how to live with the new attitudes and habits of a life well-lived, a life of love.

Love lasts, church stuff doesn’t

Love is the life of heaven, lived on earth. Love, like heaven, is permanent. The spectacular gifts will fade, one day (v.8). One day all will be revealed, and there will be no need for tongues and prophecies (vv.9-10). One day we will finally grow up, and put our childish ways behind us, chief among them the desire to be noticed and thought well of (v.11). One day we will see Jesus, and we will think and make much of Him. Afterall, we walk by faith, not by sight, even sight in the precious gifts to be shared in the body of Christ. Be content to believe, content to hope, and serious about love. Those who outlove this world will also outlive it.

 

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The Beauty of the Body -1 Corinthians 12.12-31. RBT Notes, 23rd November

The Body of Christ, united under Christ’s Lordship, is empowered to live as that Body by the indwelling Spirit. He indwells every believer (v.13), and works to bring all from the slavery of self into the freedom of service.

In this Body all serve, and all serve differently. “The body is not made up of one part but of many” (v.14). That’s you, me and everyone else. There is no place for pride, and a pride-driven withdrawal from other believers who are different from us, or who are more or less gifted or prominent in the church (v.15). That is God’s design. Eyes, feet, ears and hands are all placed intentionally in the body, and are all there to compliment and serve the other parts. The Body of Christ is only the body when all the parts are there, and are functioning together: “there are many parts, but one body” (v.20).

Who ever thought that the parts of a body would ignore or try to do without the others? That is folly, and is especially so in the church. Whether our gifts and roles are obvious and more obviously important, all must be valued and honoured, and work together in unity (vv.21-25). This mutual sense of belonging goes deeper than cooperation, and right through to a shared emotional life: we care so deeply about one another that we share each other’s joys and sorrows (v.26).

body-of-christHow are we doing? Do we recognise that we have a place in the Body of Christ with fellow believers, or do we just see ourselves as individual Christians, sporadically connecting with those who happen to have the same faith? Our church has a membership, which is the best and most biblically-encouraged way of expressing meaningful partnership in the Gospel. But even membership can be stripped of its meaning, when we see serving, living and sharing as an optional extra for the overly-keen and the under-occupied. Paul is calling us to embrace a far more authentic model of discipleship: we really do belong to one another in the Body of Christ, and are gifted in order to enrich one another.

Anything less than that is not membership, and not Christianity. We may be able to justify it our consciences, and we may be able to look alright when we compare ourselves to others. How do we fare when we submit ourselves to the Word of God? Our world is lonely, and frustrating. The church is God’s genius, where the lonely belong, the empty are filled, all play their part, and the glory of Jesus Christ is seen in ordinary lives made extraordinary by grace, and shared together. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that body?

And you can be. God has given an array of gifts so that the church will thrive. He gives gifts of leadership, teaching, healing and serving (vv.27-28). The church is not a museum, where truth is put in glass cases to be admired by those who visit: the church is the Living Body, the place where Christ is learned, encountered, expressed and served. Gifts and ministries are given by the Spirit, and give for the building up of the church. The charge for us all is to know our gifts and to express them, as well as to recognise them in others, and humble ourselves to receive them. And all for Jesus’ sake.

 

The Spirit at Work – 1 Corinthians 12.1-11. RBT Notes, 22nd November

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It’s the Holy Spirit. The great bringer of unity was so misunderstood in Corinth that the apparent demonstration of His gifts was the great cause of disunity. Paul straightaway knows that something was deeply wrong in the church. How could God’s Spirit ever disunite God’s people? How can He ever now?

So Paul glories in the power of the Spirit, and teaches us how He works. Firstly, there is the miracle of regeneration, for Christians then and now. Any attempt to look down on other Christians because they don’t have our own spiritual gift is an insult to the Spirit Himself: “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (v.3). This is Pneumatology 1.01: the Spirit gives life. He indwells every believer through the act of new birth.

And all of His diverse gifts come from Him: “the same God works all of them in all men” (v.6). Whatever gifts the church enjoys, they are gifts of the same Spirit. He is their source, He knows why He has gifted as He has, all belong to Him.

Because of this, He gives gifts for “the common good” (v.7). That may be of wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts, prophecy or tongues (vv.8-10). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but Paul gives us this range of gifts in order to exhaust human pride before the goodness and wisdom of God. How often do we fall into the trap of congratulating ourselves because of something we’re able to do in church life? How often are we effectively waiting for the praise of others, when God alone deserves the praise and glory for anything He achieves through us? “He gives them to each one, just as He determines” (v.11).

The One Spirit loves to work astonishing variety in church, sharing different gifts with different people. And those gifts shape us. Our personalities and our characters are moulded as we allow the Spirit to work His gifting through us as the years go on. I can never do what you can in the Body of Christ, unless the Spirit gifts me accordingly, nor can you do what the Spirit has empowered me to do, without His sovereign working in your life. We will always be different, and our differences, worked out in servant-hearted living, show the powerful reality of God at work. The church is His home, don’t forget. And what home doesn’t show the personality of its Occupant?

So, enjoy the church, and enjoy the Spirit. Enjoy seeing the Spirit working in the church, and always long, pray and live so as to express the gifts He has given you. Because there is no such thing as a believer without the Spirit, and therefore, without His gifts.

Supper Talk – 1 Corinthians 11.17-34. RBT Notes, 21st November

Paul now speaks about the Lord’s Supper at Corinth. Although he’s addressing particular problems there, the lessons are universal, and surprisingly sharp for believers today. 

 

You share fellowship together   vv.17-22 

Paul has the lowest view of their supposed gathered worship – “your meetings do more harm than good” (v.17). The church comes divided, and their divisions are painfully aware, even as they are supposedly at worship. We don’t know quite how they shared the Lord’s Supper, and it quite possibly took the form of a full meal. Whatever its form, the meal which should have spoken of unity shouted out loud a message of disunity. Some were eating and drinking to excess, whereas others, maybe the poor or the slaves, struggling in later after an exhausting work day, had nothing to eat, and certainly no fellowship to enjoy (vv.20-22). The Supper isn’t a bond of covenant love, it is instead a mirror reflecting back the Corinthians’ broken church.

We may take bread and wine together at the same time, and even be alcohol-free; the question remains: do we eat and drink in true fellowship? Do we treasure and value one another as we eat and drink? Maybe we’re even seeking out our private experience of the Lord, but have little real interest in the very people we’re sharing with? Let’s look at our hearts: is there anything we need to repent of?

 

You share Jesus in fellowship together

The familiar words of vv.23-26 are still stunning words. Jesus says that we are to remember Him when we share bread and wine. He is to be the focus of our fellowship, the worshipping thanks of our hearts, and our hearts’ trust as we eat and drink. Jesus has given Himself in sacrifice for His own people. We take the bread and cup with awe, amazed, staggered at the freeness and fullness of this grace. Is this for us? Does this grace reach even to us? Can God really lavish the life of His own Son on us? He does, He has, and He will. This bread and this wine preach to our trembling hearts of God’s astounding and overwhelming love. We eat, drink, worship, and we share Jesus together, until He comes to take us to eat with Him (v.26).

 

You share your heart together

If the Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s people to share gladly together, and if it is to be the focus of our devotion, then the state of our hearts as we bring them to the Lord at the Table is all-important. If we feel we can bring our unrepented-for sins to the Table – indifference to others, coldness to the Lord, ungodly living – then we sin against the Lord Himself (v.27). If we come to the Table out of habit, we might be getting deeper into sin. Our need is a serious self-examination (v.28). The “body” Paul speaks of in v.29 is unlikely to be the symbolic bread, rather the Lord’s actual body, the church itself. So, if we come in our sin to the table, we dishonour the Head of the Church, Who we profess to be worshiping, and also we grieve His people, His Body, as we fail to honour them in meaningful fellowship.

In all of this, we are consuming judgement ourselves, and maybe our spiritual deadness, even as we handle holy things, is a testimony to this (v.30). Our only hope is speedy and sincere repentance, coming back to the Lord of all grace. The hand that disciplines us loves to give us the grace we need for our recovery (vv.31-32).

The Supper is a gift of Jesus, and a gift for our church’s shared life. We dare not abuse Supper, or church, but need to learn to treasure each again (v.33). The Lord is near.

 

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Gender Agenda? 1 Corinthians 11.2-16. RBT Notes, 20th November

Paul turns now to the matters concerning gathered worship in the church at Corinth.

ca070bbb07dc2a56a3919658ad43e88dHe starts his discussion of how we are to behave in an area few of us would expect, which is the distinctives of men and women, and first off, the headship of man over woman. This headship, focused on God’s creation order of first Adam and then Eve, is the pattern for humanity, and therefore for Corinth (v.3). Paul wants to see God’s order observed in men and women behaving in ways distinct to their respective genders, even down to their appearance. So, women covered their heads in Greco-Roman culture as a sign of modesty, but the opposite was expected of men. That’s our order, too, Paul says (vv.4-7). The woman is the glory of man, the partner of the Kingdom he is to glory in. Again, with Eve as the pattern in mind, Paul says that woman was created for man, and that recognition of this fact should extend even to her appearance (v.10).

Our age will simply not tolerate this. Nor will the church, most of the time. This talk seems sexist, patronising and – of course – hopelessly outdated. Any suggestion that we understand ourselves and gender roles according to, wait for it, theology, is intolerable in the minds of almost everyone. And then, to build a worldview which sounds like it’s saying that the purpose of woman is for the pleasure of man is dangerous and laughable in equal measure. Paul is doing the church, and himself, no favours at all. Just ask women.

But is Paul actually doing that? Yes, he says that men and women are distinct from each other, and that those distinctions are to be maintained, not merged. And yes, he does base his convictions on Scripture, rather than on majority opinion, or what feels right (as is the consensus today). He also says that man is the primary image-bearer, though he would also contend fiercely for the equality of women as being created in God’s image. Is this a sufficient case to be made to say that Paul is being misogynistic?

Look at v.11: men and women both depend on each other. That interdependence is repeated in v.12. Men should respect women deeply, and women must do the same for men. One way this is worked out is in gathered worship, where each gender celebrates its identity by through distinct dress and appearance. God has made the differences of male and female. When we deny them we rob God of His glory, as well as each other.

Feasting or Forgoing, for God’s Glory – 1 Corinthians 10.23-11.1. RBT Notes, 19th November

“Flee from idolatry” (v.14). The Bible doesn’t dress it up. What you are tempted to love alongside and in place of Christ, that is the idol you are to identify, and then flee from. In the place of our idols, we are to love the Living God. Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5.20).

090309Here’s how Paul puts it: our love must be focused on Jesus, and the call to love Him is clearly set before us in bread and wine of His Supper. The bread and wine demand from us that we bring our thanks to God in Christ, since taking them together reminds us that we share in Christ (v.16). And Christ is the focus of our unity as we work out our love. His love for us makes us the “one body”, even as we share His one loaf (v.17). What good news, and what a challenge for the church where we too often stand proudly on our differences. Here, we are called to lay those aside, to share Christ in unity. He is the Love of God given to us, to bring lasting change that no idol nor proud human heart could ever achieve.

Paul sets the Lord’s Supper before us here as the exact opposite of the idol feasts at Corinth. Those sacrifices are offered to demons (v.20), and that is the reason Paul counsels believers to avoid them. Idol feasts call for the worshipper’s heart, and so to share in them is to provoke the Lord to jealousy (vv.21-22). Instead, we already have the jealous love of God in Christ. He is the sacrifice which has been made for us. To participate in the Supper is to participate in Christ with fellow believers. What could be more beautiful and profound, than to share bread and wine together?  And what could be more ugly and futile – as well as dangerous – than to share in an idol feast?

After these strong words of denunciation, Paul is very aware that believers have freedom. This freedom includes liberty to eat or to avoid the idol feasts, if the believer’s conscience is strong enough so as not to be defiled by them. But, use your freedom carefully, and only if it means that you are “seeing the good of others” (v.24). One believer’s freedom which brings slavery to another is no freedom at all, for anyone.

Here’s the example: you know you can eat any food as a believer, even food sacrificed to other false gods (vv.26-27. Our modern example here would be halal meat). How, though, do you keep up a distinctive witness in a pluralistic world? Paul envisages an unbeliever gloating over the idol meat he sets before a Christian, in v.28. In that case, Paul says, don’t eat it: that’s the best way of showing that you refuse to be endorsing another person’s false worship. It’s a witness to him that you follow another Lord. It also keeps you free from any possible compromise of your own conscience. Yes, you’re free to eat, but never free to compromise your witness or your heart.

God through the Gospel has brought us to acknowledge Him in all of life: “whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, do it all to the glory of God” (v.31). The Christian is never called to do anything less. Everything comes under the Lordship of Christ. How we speak, do our jobs, enjoy leisure, related to others, use our bodies, enjoy food or drink, all is done for God’s praise. And that means, that we do all things to serve others, too. That may be those who are in the Kingdom, or those who are seeking salvation (vv.32-33). We must never make choices which make an obstacle to people seeing and trusting in the Lord Jesus. Grace forbids that. But live in the power of grace, and we make ourselves a worthy example of Gospel-living to all, because we live like Jesus (11.1).