Righteous Expectations

The New Testament writers often use the word picture of “walking” to describe living the Christian life.  Paul exhorts us to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4), “walk according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4), “walk in good works” (Eph 2:10), “walk in a manner worthy of our calling” (Eph 4:1), “walk in love” (Eph 5:2), “walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8), “walk as wise men and women” (Eph 5:15), “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10), and finally, “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (I Thess 2:12).  The Apostle John adds, “walk in the same manner as Christ walked” (I Jn 2:6) and “walk according to His commandments” (II Jn 1:6).  The Christian walk is summarized in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

At the risk of presenting an ABC formula for living the Christian life, let me review some specific and practical steps for “walking in the Spirit”.  Step one:  set the expectation on righteousness, not sin.  The “walking” instructions of the New Testament are all positive commands to live basically according to the new nature we already possess.  And our righteous expectation of ourselves and others is the first step to success.

You may have heard the story of the fellow who volunteered as a substitute teacher for the kindergarten Sunday School class at the local church.  Upon arriving for his first day on the job, he encountered two boys wrestling each other rolling around on the floor.  As he tried to separate the miscreants, one of the boys recognized they had a new teacher.  The child stopped and announced to the volunteer, “Hi, my name is Billy and this is Freddy and we are a handful!”

Now how did this child know that he and his friend were a handful?  I doubt the five-year-olds came up with that expression themselves.  Obviously, some adult had informed them.  And just as obviously, Billy and Freddy were living into that expectation.  It may be a simple story but the connection with how we label ourselves and our fellow believers is a serious point.

What is the expectation for us?  In Ephesians 4:1, Paul instructs us to live according to our calling, according to the expectation of our calling.  Paul has just spent the first three chapters of Ephesians explaining our calling and then takes chapters four through six to show what living into that calling is like with “walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph 4:1) as the bridge that connects the calling to the walk.  What is our calling?  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10).  You were created for righteousness.  May I encourage you?  Live into God’s righteous expectations.

Love and the Message of First Corinthians

The apostle Paul often commended churches for the strength their faith and love.  The church in Corinth, however, was not worthy of such a compliment.  In fact, following Paul’s introduction in his first letter to them, he starts through a laundry list of problems the church faced, offering specific instruction in church discipline (chapter 5), lawsuits (chapter 6a), immorality (chapter 6b), marriage (chapter 7), gray areas (chapters 8-10), roles in the church (chapter 11a), the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11b), and the exercise of spiritual gifts (chapter 12).

Then we come to I Corinthians chapter 13.  It is as if Paul is writing along saying, “Do this, don’t do that, act this way” in very specific instructions.  Then he puts his pen down, closes his eyes, and says to himself, “You know, the more I think about it, here is the summary answer to all your problems.”  Then he pens the great love chapter, I Corinthians 13.

Studied in its context, chapter 13 answers the specific problems that plagued the Corinthian church.  Paul starts with a bang.  “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love it profits me nothing” (I Cor 13:1-3).  Remember the church at Corinth was blessed with extraordinary knowledge, speech, and giftedness (I Cor 1:4-8).  However, without love, these gifts are useless.  Not merely diminished, but of no value whatsoever.

Starting at I Corinthians 13:4 and following, Paul begins comparing and contrasting what love does and the Corinthian experience.  It may be instructive to us to think about which of these two paths we find ourselves on.  “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous” (vs 4).  Compare to I Corinthians 3:3, “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?”

Love does not brag and is not arrogant” (vs 4).  Compare to I Corinthians 4:18, “Now some have become arrogant.”  Or “Love is not rude” (vs 5).  Compare to their habit of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a rude manner (I Cor 11:18-22).

Continuing on, “Love does not seek its own good” (vs 5).  Compare to Paul’s admonition concerning gray areas, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (I Cor 8:13).  And, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (I Cor 10:24).  Compare also to fulfilling our duty in marriage (I Cor 7:3-5), embracing our roles in the church (I Cor 11:3), and the practice of our spiritual gifts “as each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor 12:7).

Love is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” (vs 5).  Compare to I Corinthians 6:1-8 where Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for taking each other to court.  And finally, “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (vs 6).  Compare to the church’s arrogant acceptance of immorality among its members in I Corinthians 5:1-2.

Well, you get the idea.  The spiritual immaturity demonstrated by the Corinthian church is addressed by specific answers that Paul details throughout this letter.  But the overarching answer to their problems is love.  We saw last post that the theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross.  The practical answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is love.

“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Cor 16:14).

Humility and the Message of First Corinthians

While we are on the topic of love and humility, let’s take a quick look at the book of I Corinthians.  This letter gives us a fascinating look at healthy body life in the church by examining the negative.  That is, the church in Corinth was marked by division, selfishness, and worldliness.  “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as 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.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (I Cor 3:1-4).

The phrase “mere men” suggests that the Corinthians were indistinguishable in their selfish behavior from their pagan neighbors.  Their jealousy, quarreling, and lack of unity left the church spiritually ill.  Paul introduces a prescription for what ails them in his four-chapter introduction to the book.  In short, Paul explains that the theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross.

We saw in chapter 3 that the church was split into various factions following different teachers, a list of groups that Paul expands upon in I Corinthians 1:11-16.  Then in verse 17, Paul clears the air with, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void” (I Cor 1:17).  Paul addresses the division in the church with the idea that he did not come to gain a following for himself but to preach the cross of Christ.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world.  “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18).  Paul goes on in the remainder of I Corinthians chapter 1 to explain that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the natural man.  It is foolishness to the wise of this world.  It is foolishness to the Jew who never expected their Messiah to die on a cross, and foolishness to the Gentile – or Greek – who believed no deity would die a death so shameful as to hang on a cross.  Remember the historical setting of the time.  We see the cross as a steeple on a church, a piece of jewelry, or a religious icon.  The people of 1st century AD saw the cross as a naked man dying a painful and shameful death.

But Jesus “despised the shame of the cross” (Heb 12:2) and turned it into saving glory on our behalf.  Because of the cross, Paul closes I Corinthians chapter 1 with, “No man should boast before God.  “But by His doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.  That, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (I Cor 1:29-31).

We are offended by the cross being “His doing” because it makes our own merit of no account for salvation.  Understanding “His doing” completely destroys our pride and it should.  The theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross.  At the foot of the cross, we are all on level ground.

Love and Humility

Love in the body of Christ starts with humility.  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).  These qualities; humility, gentleness, and patient forgiveness are exactly how Jesus Christ demonstrated His love to us.  “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29).

Look at the following passage of admonitions for healthy body life in the church.  Notice the thread of love and humility that flows through it.  “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom 12:9-16).

Self-promotion and self-righteousness are the enemies of love.  A proud and self-righteous attitude was one of Jesus’ chief complaints against the Jewish leaders of His day.  He said of them, “I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and do not seek the the glory that is from the one and only God?” (Jn 5:41-44).  In contrast to Jesus, the Jewish leaders sought the glory of men rather than the glory of God.  Why?  Jesus makes clear in verse 42, because they lacked the love of God in their heart.  Love and selfish ambition are not compatible while love and humility are inseparable friends.

Finally, the apostle Paul, exhorts the church to maintain our unity through love and humility and holds up Jesus as our example.  “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:2-8).

“Make my joy complete.”  The greatest church planter in the history of the world was overjoyed by churches that were united in spirit, maintained in love, and marked by humility.  Finding these in our own church – in ourselves and our community of believers – are cause for much joy.

Love and the Body of Christ

Last post we introduced the idea that “love one another” is part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34).  The “new” of this commandment not only signals a radical departure from the consequence model of the Old Testament, but its practice also involves a new community; the church.  Following Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, His disciples became part of something totally new; the church, the literal expression of the body of Christ on earth.  And love is the foundation from which everything springs forth in how this body life is to be lived.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).  Love is the foundation for spiritual growth in the church.

“And so, as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).  Love is the foundation for unity in the church.

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love” (Col 2:1-2)  “Knit together in love” is a beautiful picture of the love fabric that unites us in the church.

“Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (I Thess 4:9).  The Thessalonians were taught by God to love one another.  What does God want to teach us about loving one another?  We will continue with that thought next time.