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Devotional

Today’s Bible reading is often called “The Love Chapter”. Part of this chapter 1 Corinthians 13:4–7) is often used during wedding ceremonies. But Paul didn’t write this chapter to describe marital love.

Instead, he wrote it to show the superiority of love over spiritual gifts. He goes so far as to say that without love, the spiritual gifts are worthless. Wow! That puts spiritual gifts in a different perspective when you have a church arguing about who’s more spiritual than others based on their spiritual gifts. (See yesterday’s devotional.)

The church at Corinth was not unlike us today in that we tend to elevate some spiritual gifts while diminishing the importance (or validity) of others. We also tend to misuse and abuse spiritual gifts. More on that in a minute.

Are all of the spiritual gifts for today? Paul seems to indicate the tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will go away “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10). And many Bible teachers use 1 Corinthians 13:8 as their basis for their cessationist theology (cessationism believes these gifts have “ceased” in their legitimate purpose) because the Bible is God’s perfect revelation. But is this what Paul is talking about? Did Paul have the completed Biblical canon in mind when he wrote verse eight?

As I have said many times, whenever you want to understand a Bible passage, take a step back and look at the context. Read a few sentences before and a few sentences after the sentence in question. Yes, I believe the Bible is God’s perfect revelation. It is the only authority for what I teach and preach. But I don’t believe that Paul had the completed Bible in mind when he said that some of the gifts would end.

Look at 1 Corinthians 13:12 where Paul explains “when the perfect comes” as when we see Jesus face-to-face. In other words, the “perfect comes” when we cross over to the other side of eternity. Paul implies that until then, all of the spiritual gifts will have a legitimate purpose in building up Jesus’ church.

Cessationists would have us to believe that if all of the gifts were still operational after the Apostles died, we should expect to see widespread expression of those gifts. Since we don’t, they don’t. And cessationists often claim that the misuse of tongues is further proof that the gift of tongues isn’t for today.

OK, first, go back to verse twelve. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen Jesus face-to-face as Paul describes. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Second, just because a gift is misused doesn’t mean the gift isn’t legitimately operational today.

Third, I would argue that the gift of tongues is not the most misused spiritual gift. Perhaps the most abused spiritual gifts are teaching and prophecy/exhortation (preaching). And I say that as a Bible teacher and preacher. I can’t think of any way that anyone can say that they were spiritually wounded because someone spoke in tongues. But I can’t count how many people I know who have been spiritually wounded because of what a Bible teacher or preacher said when “speaking for God”.

Finally, love is the mark of properly using a spiritual gift. If a gift is used without love, it doesn’t mean the gift isn’t legitimate. It just means the gift isn’t being used in a legitimate way. And that applies to all of the spiritual gifts.

Application

Have you been spiritually wounded by someone who misused a spiritual gift? They weren’t using their gift in love? If you were wounded by a preacher or Bible teacher because they weren’t using their spiritual gifts in love, let me simply say, “I’m sorry. The way they used their gift was wrong.”

Now, having said that, let me add that sometimes using a gift like teaching or prophecy/exhortation can come across as abrasive. Quite frankly, a lot of the Bible can come across as abrasive! And rightfully so! Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) The sharpening process is by definition abrasive. In using their spiritual gifts, Bible teachers and preachers sometimes have to be abrasive. But just like everyone else with their spiritual gifts, Bible teachers and preachers need to exercise their gifts in love.

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul discusses spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts tends to be one of those topics that many Christians feel uncomfortable discussing. And unnecessarily so because Paul’s thesis could be boiled down to just three verses:

A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills. But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 (CSB)

When many Bible teachers teach on Spiritual Gifts, before anything else, he/she normally distributes a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire to the class. After a few minutes, the teacher collects the questionnaires and returns them a week later with a ranking of which spiritual gifts appear strongest in each student.

Sometimes students are a little surprised at the results. But you know something I have never heard? “Wow! I had no idea that was my spiritual gift!” Every time I have taught a class on spiritual gifts, there were no great revelations. Almost everyone responds with a “Hmm. I’ve been doing that for years. I just didn’t know it was my gift.”

That was my mom’s response when she saw her high “scores” for the spiritual gift of Helps. Previously, she was certain that she didn’t have a spiritual gift. But everyone around her knew her servant heart. The Questionnaire simply highlighted that gift that she was already using.

Almost without exception, people realize that they naturally gravitate to the gifts they have. The results of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory simply confirm what the student already knew.

I am confident that Paul never asked a church to complete a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire. Paul’s emphasis wasn’t on the gift(s) that someone had. Those three verses ( 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 ) were all that Paul was really concerned with. Paul’s bottom line was that God manifests Himself in believers as He chooses for the common good of the Body of Christ in order that God would get the glory.

But of course, the Corinthians were more concerned with which gift(s) they had and how much more “spiritual” they were than others because they had a particular gift. As I have said several times about the Corinthians: they (like we) were narcissists; they thought everything was about them.

But Paul tapped the brakes and told them to put God at the center of their discussion of spiritual gifts. And so should we.

Application

The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to equip the church to be the church to do the work of the church. None of the spiritual gifts is about that gift. None. God distributes every gift according to His sovereign design. Believers don’t get to pick and choose which gift they have. If they did, some gifts might be chosen by everyone, while other gifts would only have a few takers.

I won’t ask what your spiritual gift is because if you are living in a growing dependence on the Holy Spirit, you will (super)naturally manifest the gift(s) God has given to you. As you grow in the use of your gift(s), you will (super)naturally do everything you can to help others through the use of your gift(s). Your focus won’t be on your gift, but rather your focus will be on helping other people grow in their faith. And when they work together properly, the spiritual gifts will produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Tomorrow, we’ll see a little more about how this is supposed to work.

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Jesus celebrates Passover, the Lord's Supper
Image credit; LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses yet, another problem in the church at Corinth: the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:1-26) He recalls that famous night when Jesus sat down to celebrate the Passover Meal with His Disciples. But when the Corinthians come together to remember Jesus, they are divided. He describes this division in 1 Corinthians 11:20–22.

Instead of remembering Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, some church members celebrate themselves by bringing a private meal and gorging themselves. Others bring (and drink) enough wine to get drunk. All the while others come to remember Jesus and go away hungry. Paul basically says that if you want to gorge yourselves, do it at home!

Remembering Jesus in the Lord’s Supper should be a unifying celebration, rather than a divisive act. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at our church, I invite all believers to participate. We don’t limit it to just our church members. We don’t limit it to just baptized believers. We don’t limit it to just Southern Baptists. We don’t limit it to just Baptists. The Lord’s Supper is one of those times when all believers should be able to lay aside our preferences and celebrate together.

However, I have heard that some churches limit who can participate in the Supper, calling it a “closed communion”. Some churches limit it to just members of that specific church. Others limit it to just baptized believers. I heard of one church that meets on a Tuesday Night to eliminate an embarrassing situation where a visitor or non-member would have to be asked to pass the trays without taking a cup or piece of bread.

The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember Jesus. Didn’t He say, “As often as you do this, remember Me“? How could a church depart so far from the very purpose of the Supper? The same way that the church at Corinth! We really aren’t that far removed from the problem-ridden churches chronicled in the New Testament!

Application

The Passover Meal wasn’t just an ordinary, everyday supper. It was an annual celebration of the deliverance of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. As Jesus celebrated the Meal, His “Remember Me” comments pointed out that everything in the Meal — which consisted of more than just bread and a cup — pointed to Jesus.

If you ever have an opportunity to take part in a Messianic Jewish Seder, you’ll see how picturesque the Passover Meal was. I highly encourage you to look into it.

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Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.
Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

Paul gives us a couple of verses in today’s Bible reading that are perhaps the most misquoted verses in the entire Bible. Many Christians believe — and take comfort — in the idea that God will never give you more than you can handle. But is that what Paul says? Is it what Paul means?

In a word, NO!

This idea stems from a root of self-sufficiency and sounds like the non-biblical statement, “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s non-biblical because it doesn’t appear anywhere in any translation of the Bible. Actually, this statement comes from Deist, Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Both of these statements find their roots in narcissism, the belief that “it’s all about me.” “The universe revolves around me.” “God is obligated to do what I ask Him to do because I’m a believer.” This last statement may not be spoken, but you can hear the murmur under the breath of someone who quotes the statement.

Let me say as clearly and as strongly as I can: God is not obligated to do anything for you, regardless of what you may do for Him. God doesn’t make deals with anyone, even His children. God is not a magical genie!

The fact that God has offered anything good to any fallen creature is a testimony of His goodness, His grace, and His mercy. Until someone embraces this truth, he/she will never fully appreciate the grace and mercy He offers.

What Paul does say in 1 Corinthians 10:12–13 is that none of us is immune to temptation. Hey, even Jesus was tempted! Why in the world would anyone think that they, wouldn’t be tempted? That idea is also rooted in narcissism.

Application

No, what Paul says is that if you think you’re immune to temptation, you better watch out! You will be tempted, but God always provides a way out. You can never say that you had no choice, that you had to fall into temptation. Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” character couldn’t have been more mistaken: The devil can never make you do anything.

If you fall into sin, you and you alone are responsible for making that choice and not taking the way out that God provided for you.

I believe Martin Luther is the one who said, “I can’t stop the birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Temptations will come. You have the choice whether to “cook the thought” and decide to take the bait of sin or to take the way out.

The next time you feel tempted, ask God to show you the way out. Sometimes — oftentimes? — the answer is to preach the Gospel to yourself and realize that your true fulfillment, your true satisfaction, your true happiness can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Would God give you more than you can handle? I would argue that He often does, otherwise, we would have little reason to press into Him, depending on His strength to make it through the storms, the hard times of life.

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Think outside the box

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, expecting different results.”

Two versions of the deadliest seven words in advancing a cause: “We’ve never done it that way before.” and “We’ve always done it this way before.”

Such were the common sayings of the Customer Service Training I used to conduct.

Paul gives a mandate by way of example in today’s Bible reading. After discussing the fact that he has not lorded his apostleship over anyone, Paul tells us about his methodology for reaching people with the Gospel Message.

Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 (CSB)

Paul was willing to think outside the box to reach out to people with the Gospel. Oftentimes, this meant he was criticized, such as taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. It seems that everywhere Paul goes in the Book of Acts, a mob forms to oppose him. Sometimes, thinking outside the box almost cost him his life.

Paul knew the importance of changing his methods without changing his message. We should be willing to do that, too!

Application

It’s so easy to do what’s comfortable. It’s so easy to not think outside the box. And in doing what’s comfortable, we can easily waste time and other valuable resources and find ourselves frustrated that those great methods of fifty years ago aren’t working.

But any business person can tell you, you have to be willing to change your methods if you want to continue getting out your message. Don’t believe me? When was the last time a Fuller Brush salesperson knocked on your front door? When was the last time the Avon Lady rang your doorbell?

The Gospel Message is no different from any other message in this respect. We must be willing to think outside the box and do things differently — or not do them any longer — than we have always done it in the past.

Lost people are dying without Jesus.
We must be willing to change our methods in order to get out our message!

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