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Law of Love

Conflict

I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.

Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.

Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.

Application

Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.

Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)

Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.

I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.

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Paul began talking about spiritual gifts with 1 Corinthians 12. In yesterday’s reading (Chapter 13), he talked about love. In today’s Bible reading, he continues addressing spiritual gifts, specifically how the gifts should be used in the church setting.

The first thing to note is that things were not just a little bit different in the First Century. Today, at least in the US, we have many churches in metropolitan cities, some right across the street or right next door to ours. That wasn’t true in the First Century. We have structures in place — not just the brick-and-mortar kind, but church governing structures — that weren’t in place in the church at Corinth. We have historical differences. We have cultural differences. We have theological differences. Plus, we have the benefit of hindsight. So we need to be very careful about taking our concepts of how things are done in our Twenty-First Century churches and imposing them onto the church at Corinth.

Obviously, the church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward many things, including spiritual gifts. As I have said earlier (and throughout 1 Corinthians), the Church at Corinth had a major issue with narcissism, as well as pride, and a lack of humility.

As I said above, Paul tells us how the gifts should be used in the church setting. He is crystal clear in highlighting the point that when God’s people come together in an official setting, everything is to be done for the good of the church body. Everything. We don’t get to do whatever we want. The church is Jesus’ church. Jesus decides how things are done. Our place is to humbly submit to His design. Or… we can live in disobedience. And that’s not a good thing!

When God’s people come together in an official setting, there is to be order, not chaos. Look at a few of Paul’s comments.

In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air. So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church. What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. But everything is to be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:9, 12, 26, 40 (CSB)

In other words, everyone gets to participate. And those who have the same gifts have to take turns. Why? So that everyone benefits.

But I find it interesting that Paul never tells the church leaders to reign in anyone. Paul doesn’t seem to indicate that the leadership should shut down anyone in their chaotic use of their gifts. Instead, the people are to self-regulate. Notice the way Paul says that people should silence themselves, as opposed to being silenced by someone in leadership. Obviously, Paul recognizes that the people have some sense of decorum and humility. But I can see Paul handling things differently if they repeatedly didn’t practice self-control.

But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:28, 30–32 (CSB)

Application

God is generous in giving spiritual gifts. He gives according to His choice of who gets what. No one should be “puffed up” because of God’s choice to give him/her a particular gift. And no one should feel belittled for not receiving one of the “big gifts”. Again, God gives according to His choice. But then again, the focus should be on the Giver, not the gift.

By focusing on the Giver, everyone benefits from the humble, orderly exercise of everyone’s spiritual gifts.

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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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