If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV
Several years ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association made a rule that effectively banned the use of artificial noisemakers from all athletic events. An artificial noisemaker is a manufactured thing that makes a loud noise or sound such as a megaphone, whistle, air horn, firecracker, or bell. The NCAA unanimously agreed that artificial noisemakers were not an authentic part of the experience and were a hindrance that could negatively affect the outcome of a game.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is writing to a group of people that are arguing over the significance of their spiritual gifts. They are fighting over which ones are superior to the others and how speaking in tongues fits into it all. But Paul cuts right through all of that and says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
As they argued about the relative value of the gifts, Paul emphasizes love and reiterates that without it, none of the gifts matter. Without love, the gifts don’t honor God or help others. He says that we may be able to speak with the eloquence and power of an angel, but if we don’t have love, our gifts are artificial noisemakers. They are inauthentic distractions that hinder our true purpose as Christians.
All speech, action, and behavior that is not expressed in love is nothing more than a nuisance for other people. Our gifts, without love, don’t attract people to God and a relationship with Jesus. Paul even states that the absence of love negates our faith and reduces the good things we do for others to nothing. In essence, deeds without love, are not indicative of the Christian life and in the end, negatively affect the impact for God.
This passage makes it clear that love is the most important. Paul says in verse 13 that it is the greatest of all emotions and expressions. It takes precedence over all of our gifts, talents, and abilities. Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even dangerous if they are not used in love. Without love, they are artificial noisemakers, but with it, they become beautiful music that profoundly moves people and communicates the heart of God in a melodic and pleasing way.
God-honoring and effective gifts are ones underwritten by a love that is patient and kind and not proud. Love that honors other people and is selfless. Love that leads to forgiveness and peace. Love that does not tolerate bad behavior and is only interested in seeing the truth win out. Love that earns trust, protects people’s hearts, inspires hope and never goes away or fails. This type of love is supposed to be the real soundtrack to the life of a believer and servant of Jesus. This type of love makes all the difference.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 12
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit to form one body. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many.
– 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NIV
The season of giving and receiving gifts just passed, but remains fresh in our minds. Everyone enjoys receiving a gift. Those who would suggest otherwise are not being honest. To receive a gift is to get something from another person, and that is a special thing.
However, our first thought when we receive a gift is probably not centered on how we can use it for the benefit of others. We tend to hold tightly to the gift we receive and only think about how it can be put to use for our purposes. We fail to realize the joy, fulfillment, and blessing found in using a gift we receive to help or be of service to someone else.
Paul addresses this idea with the church in 1 Corinthians 12. Some members misunderstood and saw their spiritual gifts from God as something for personal gain and use. They regarded what the Lord had given them through His Spirit with pride and exclusiveness. Verse 7 directly corrects this attitude: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In other words, when it comes to the gifts, abilities, resources, and talent that God has given us, it is not all for one, it is one for all.
It is not just about one person and their gifts. It takes many different parts to make up a body. All are essential for health and wholeness. The parts are different, but yet they function toward the same unified purpose. Paul writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” No one, and their gifts, is elevated above the others. The body needs all of its different parts and functions to live, grow, and be of optimal use.
We need each other. Paul said, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Each member needs the other members and no one can afford to become independent or function apart from the others. When a part of the human body operates on its own, the entire body can become unhealthy and even die. Just like the physical body, the community of faith cannot say to anyone, “We don’t need you!” Everyone is needed, valued, and necessary for the whole to be successful.
God’s desire is for us to come together, work together and use our gifts for the good of the community. We are a powerful force when we have unity to achieve the mission. We become unstoppable for the kingdom when we cease competing and comparing our gifts and start cooperating. We are exactly what God intended us to be when we realize it is not all for one, but one for all.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 10
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV
Life does not revolve around us and our desires. Learning and knowing this is so difficult, especially when it comes to serving God and other people. It is not a natural thing to realize that we were created to live for something outside of ourselves and that our existence should not center around our recognition and pleasure.
We are innate self-worshippers that desperately need help to look beyond our interests and live for God’s glory and the good of others. Without the Holy Spirit’s help, we tend to choose behavior that only benefits and promotes our agenda. But in His power, we are capable of honoring the Lord and positively impacting others in the course of daily life.
This denial of one’s self to live for God and bless others is what Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 10. He calls attention to the principle of enjoying our freedom in Christ while understanding our responsibility to honor God before a watching world. We are responsible for making sure the regular activity and tasks of our lives are shaped and guided by the desire to glorify God. We are also responsible for building others up in the faith and seeking their welfare.
For these reasons Paul wrote in verses 23-24, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their good, but the good of others.” Simply put, we cannot glorify God in our homes, workplace, or the community if our actions, speech, and decisions are causing other people to stumble. Not everything that we can do, should be done, especially if we know it doesn’t honor God and will harm another person. It is not about us.
The message here in this passage is not a call to run away from life. It is not a mandate to avoid people and the enjoyment of the normal, permissible things around us. It is an invitation to be selfless and live freely and responsibly in our daily activities. This way, God is glorified and other people benefit. The final prescription is found in verse 31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 9
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NIV
Prejudice is a prison. It oppresses the heart and mind and keeps one from relating to and loving all people. It enslaves one to a baseless and negative attitude toward others. The emotional confinement of prejudice is damaging to all levels of relationships and has a lasting adverse effect on communities. Most importantly, it is a direct affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the inherent love of God for all human beings.
A person of prejudice operates under the delusion that they are exercising their freedom of thought and feeling, but they are actually binding themselves from the beauty of the human experience. They are restricting their full potential in the world and any chance of bringing glory to God.
The Apostle Paul had a deep understanding of freedom in Christ and its power to overcome prejudice. He was a Jew who had an intense passion for his people, but he had a special calling on his life to minister to and share the gospel with the Gentiles. These two people groups had a long history of animosity and racism toward one another. Yet, Paul did not allow this to keep him from serving and doing life with both. He writes about his freedom to serve beyond his cultural and natural prejudices in verse 22 where he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
This statement by Paul does not mean that he was inauthentic. He didn’t change who he was to fit his audience or please those he was around. He loved all people and understood the freedom God gave him to adapt his approach to different groups while overcoming cultural bias. How he interacted with and acclimated to various cultures never involved changing his spiritual identity or his message.
Paul’s ultimate purpose was for people to be saved and changed by Jesus Christ. No one’s race, background, or creed was going to stop him from sharing about Jesus even if his methods varied in how he shared. He wrote in verse 23, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” The freedom in his approach never altered the true gospel and the life-changing blessings it held for all people.
To become all things to all people is not an excuse to compromise our faith or standards. Compromise is the inability to know what one believes. Prejudice is the inability to bend to another. The freedom and wisdom that comes from Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, gives us the ability to take a stand while bending to the needs of others.
May we take this teaching and example seriously and apply it to our lives. May the love of God invade our hearts and empower us to serve others no matter how different or foreign we perceive them to be. May we be consistent in our message while accommodating others in our behavior. May we take risks and move out of our cultural comfort zones so that one person may know and experience the love of Jesus for all of eternity.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 8
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:9, 11-12 NIV
One of the most undervalued and underused emotions in life is empathy. Empathy is knowing about someone and balancing that knowledge with love and wisdom. It is the ability to understand and sincerely relate to another’s feelings while handling them with discernment and compassion.
In 1 Corinthians 8, we see Paul addressing the more mature and stronger Christians in the church, those who had more knowledge, experience, and a better understanding of their freedom in Christ. He is talking to them about activities that they have the freedom to do but require empathy toward others that are weaker. Paul wants them to be empathetic in their liberty because others can’t handle it in the same way.
In essence, Paul is saying that in our lifestyles, activities, and freedoms, we should look out for one another because everything permissible to do is not always helpful. What is good for one person may be risky for someone else. He wants us to be mindful, not proud of our ability to do certain things in front of others.
Paul writes in verse 9, “Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” The phrase stumbling block means spiritual destruction. In other words, if we fail to empathize with someone in their weakness when we exercise our freedom, it could cause that person to be destroyed by our actions. That’s why freedom and empathy must go together. We simply can’t do what we want without considering others. The strong should always look out for those who are weaker.
Living as an empathic person means to follow the example of Jesus. He was empathetic to others. He understood them, felt their pain, and was sensitive to their situations. He was God but did not use his power to take advantage of or lead people astray. That’s why Paul said when we fail to regard others in our freedom and do damage to their lives, we not only sin against them but we sin against Christ.
Empathy and wisdom can prevent this from happening. Being empathetic to one another makes us more aware of our actions and how it will affect someone else. Having empathy in our knowledge and freedom is limiting ourselves for the sake of others and their spiritual wellness. Empathy can keep someone from being destroyed. Empathy is selfless. Empathy is powerful. Empathy is love.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 7
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. – 1 Corinthians 7:17 NIV
Our circumstances are given too much credit for our happiness in life. We depend on them to be right instead of on God for our contentment and satisfaction. Our joy and peace are unnecessarily tethered to the state of a relationship, the disposition of another person or the trajectory of a career. Sometimes, our lives are dictated by where we live or where our kids go to school.
Throughout the Bible, we are exhorted, encouraged and commanded to be content with whatever state we are in. As Christians, this should be a reality because we are children of God, made in His image, loved by Him and called to live on mission for His eternal purposes. These affirming and amazing realities are all we need to have peace, joy, and hope whatever comes our way.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses some important issues. The church in Corinth was confronting serious things like marriage, divorce, singleness and life transitions. These circumstances were greatly affecting their perspective, mood, and outlook on life. They were also greatly affecting how they viewed and worshipped God. The same is true for us in our modern times. These issues and struggles are prevalent and impactful. They often determine our mindset, health, and spiritual direction.
However, in verses 11 and 17-24, Paul makes it clear that the call of God on the married, divorced or single person is the same. The call to handle things with God’s wisdom and live in peace and contentment with His will. In verse 11 he writes, “Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” Then summed it up in verse 24 with this encouragement: “Each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”
Marriage, divorce, and singleness are serious matters to contend with in life. Paul is not minimizing their impact but is outlining the proper way to deal with them. He does this while emphasizing their inferiority to God’s power and peace. In other words, God desires for us to trust Him and have the right perspective amid our circumstances. Our relationships do not change the character or intentions of God and his calling. Our situations don’t take precedence over our identity in Him.
The prevailing message here seems to be that there is no true categorization of our situations in life. There are just situations. Situations that look and feel differently. Situations that incite different emotions. Situations that burden us but where we are sustained, empowered and propelled by God’s grace. In all situations, joy and peace come from something greater, something distinct from our relationship status or life transition. It comes from the Lord. So whatever may come, we can have the strength to deal with it and live in peace.
Paul is also the writer of Philippians 4:13 that says, “For I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” which shows that the situation does not define a life nor does it determine or prevent the source of power. Our fulfillment is not subjected to circumstances but is ultimately provided by the person, Jesus Christ. In him, we have whatever we need for the journey.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 5
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NIV
The term judgy is thrown around in conversation and social circles when talking about a person that we perceive as overly critical and judgmental. This is the technical meaning of the word, but often that is not how we use it and is certainly not what we mean.
Chances are when judgy is being used as a descriptor for someone, it is most likely meant to describe a person who has poorly expressed disapproval or disagreement with our choices, lifestyle, relationships or worldview. It’s a different way of saying that a person doesn’t agree with what we think or do.
Judgment and being judgmental can easily be misunderstood in relationships especially when it comes to living the Christian life. There is a big difference between making judgments, forming thoughts on things that are observed and flat out being judgemental. Making a judgment comes from having a grace-filled, balanced and neutral approach to people and situations. However, being judgmental comes from an imbalanced, sinful and reactive mindset that seeks to elevate oneself and diminish others.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul is demonstrating the difference between making a judgment for healthy, moral purposes and being judgmental just because one can. To Paul, the problem was not that the church was living in an immoral society. It was the lack of sound judgment, accountability, and right living by the people of God in the world. The church had allowed the sin and immorality of society to invade and impact their community because they had not judged their behavior rightly or dealt with it.
The Christ-centered judgment of sin (verse 3) leads to restoration and correction. Simply being judgmental toward a person in their sin leads to unnecessary harm, resentment, and failure to change. This passage deals with serious sin issues that are also prevalent in our society and churches today. So we must understand the difference between a judgmental spirit that is not helpful and making truth-based judgments that allow us to live as God desires.
No one and no church is perfect, but human imperfection is not a reason to excuse sin and destructive behavior. Here in this chapter of Corinthians and throughout the Scriptures, we see that correction and discipline are necessary for us to stay on the right path. Yet these vital components of relationships and communities cannot come without proper judgment. The judgment that is granted to us by God, underwritten by love and meant to restore to a rightful place.
God has the awesome responsibility to judge the sin of the world through his eternality and supremacy. But through the expression of his grace and love in Christ, He gives us the responsibility and supplies the wisdom to judge ourselves with His truth.
We are called to avoid judging someone’s motives but to be broken over our sin and honest about our conduct. This approach is not judgy but caring and ultimately loving because it is God’s design to help us live for Him.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 4
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV
“Keep rowing!” This was a rallying cry issued to men in the galleys of ships so they wouldn’t give up on their job. It was a motivational tool for rowers to keep paddling no matter what happened or how exhausted they felt. They were not to look at the circumstances or the other people but remain faithful to the goal of moving the boat forward successfully.
This a great principle for the Christian life and one Paul evokes in 1 Corinthians 4. When he refers to himself and Apollos as “servants of Christ” he uses the word servant which means under-rower or a subordinate rower. He wants to make it clear to the people of Corinth who have become arrogant that they aren’t in charge of the ship. They are merely called to row the boat at the instruction of their captain, Jesus. According to Paul, Christians have the role of servants and faithful rowers of the master’s ship, not the operation of it.
If we will simply take the position of a faithful servant as outlined in chapter 4, it will eliminate the constant, unhealthy pursuit of personal agendas that can greatly hamper our effectiveness for God and His work. Our agenda isn’t always God’s so it’s better to be submissive to his leading instead of allowing our selfish, misguided ambitions to hurt the gospel ministry and damage other people. Paul writes in verse 5 that God “will expose the motives of the heart” so we must be sure that our attitudes and motivations are Christ-centered and service-oriented.
God, by His grace and good pleasure, has given us the privilege of serving Him and being His ambassadors on earth. We have the honor of sitting in the galley of His ship and rowing it toward his kingdom purposes. He merely calls on us to trust Him, obey His word and stay faithful to His truth no matter what life brings. We keep rowing on His command.
Paul concludes this chapter with the statement, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” In essence, he is challenging the Corinthian church and us to stop talking about what we know and be faithful to what God has already said. When it comes to life, leadership, relationships, and parenting, we are simply to take our directions from the captain and row the boat.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 3
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV
Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks. People will gather with friends and family for a time to reconnect, fellowship, and of course, eat good food. At each place where a range of ages are represented, there will likely be a table for the grown-ups and a kiddie table. The kiddie table is for those who don’t possess the manners, maturity, or ability to eat the same food as adults. It is for those that need to come of age before they can sit at the big table and interact with the grown-ups.
In chapter 3 of 1st Corinthians, Paul decides to address the churches at Corinth as those at the grown-up table and those at the kiddie table. He is still talking about division and infighting, but he’s not distinguishing between followers of Jesus and those outside the faith in this section. He is now talking directly to believers who he sees as either mature or immature.
Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ.” He is saying that their behavior and actions indicate that they are not mature enough yet to handle what he wants to give them. They are still acting like the world and essentially like children who need to grow up.
This passage shows that a Christian matures by allowing the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them as they read and consume God’s Word. However, the immature Christian does not value reading the Bible or living by the Spirit. They are still very much interested in the things of the world. A mature Christian wants God to change them from the inside out; an immature believer wants to align God with their life and choices. A grown-up Christian desires the meat of biblical truth. A baby Christian still craves the milk of a bible story. A mature Christian is convicted and broken over their sin; an immature Christian tries to justify it.
Paul says that another sign of maturity and readiness for the grown-up table is the way we treat others. He writes in verse 3, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” The mature Christian practices love and good relationships with people. Immature believers are like children who enjoy disagreement, fussing and getting their way.
The whole point and outcome of walking and doing life with God is growth, maturity and being more like Jesus. Just as it is unnatural for an adult to sit at the kiddie table at dinner, it is unnatural for a Christ-follower to remain in the same state they were in at salvation. Just as it is unnatural for an adult to drink milk from a sippy cup, it is unnatural for a Christian to ignore the Bible and how to apply it to their life.
The good and encouraging news for all Christians, as outlined in 1 Corinthians, is that there is equal access to God, His word and His wisdom. We can grow and benefit equally from His Spirit and power if we give ourselves to Him. We can all sit at the grown-up table where mature people belong.
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 2
We speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. – 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, 13 NIV
Decisions and choices build on each other. One bad decision usually leads to another, just as a good decision can establish a pattern of other sound choices. A decision can have a domino effect and put us on a course and trajectory for better or worse.
Throughout our lifetime, the decisions we make begin to set a direction that determines the content and quality of our lives. These choices cascade and lead to predictable developments and outcomes. Therefore, wise decisions often lead to good outcomes; poor decisions lead to bad ones.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul emphasizes the importance of getting wisdom from God. He wants to distinguish it as superior to human knowledge while recognizing that the wisdom gained from the world is not always bad, it just simply pails in comparison to the power and effectiveness of the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes in verses 6 and 7, “We speak a message of wisdom, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” The Bible makes it clear that Christian wisdom is not human. It comes from the Holy Spirit and not from man’s discovery. It is divine and centered in God’s redemptive plan for humanity, not the corruptible schemes of the world. It has an eternal view and purpose. It is unfailing and draws from an unlimited source of power.
Essentially, God is saying to us through this passage, that our best life and our best choices will not come from our own understanding. They will come from the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit (v.10). The course and trajectory of our lives will be filled with good decisions and positive choices if we seek the wisdom of God. Our relationships, marriages, business and even how we choose to spend our free time will lead to affirmative and successful outcomes if God’s wisdom is sought and applied above all else.
For those who love and pursue God, every day can be a good day underwritten with wise decisions. It may not always feel like a good day, but when we follow God and His plan, we can be confident of the best outcomes. It is when we try to do it on our own and forsake God’s way that life begins to take on a more negative tone. But, if we walk in God’s not human wisdom, we will enjoy His blessings beyond anything the world can offer.