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.

Immanuel: God with Us, God in Us

Merry Christmas!!!

“Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’ ” (Mt 1:22-23).  And Immanuel did come and dwell among us.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (I Jn 1:1-2).

In his New Testament writings, John strongly emphasizes the eyewitness testimony of the apostles.  They saw, heard, and touched Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Eternal Life made flesh, God in the flesh.  Jesus truly was and is Immanuel; God with Us.

But Jesus Immanuel, God with Us, left the earthly scene, from an “in the flesh” standpoint, around 2000 years ago.  But He did not leave us without an Immanuel.  During His Last Supper discourse, Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not  go away, the Helper (i.e. the Holy Spirit) shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn 16:7).  “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).

God has given us a new Immanuel that is not only “God with Us” but has become “God in Us” as well.  While we celebrate the birth of Jesus Immanuel and thank Him for His sacrifice that rescued us and gave us eternal life, we should also celebrate and thank Holy Spirit Immanuel who infuses our present life with joy, peace, and victory over the power of sin.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).  In acknowledging God in all His fullness, the three-in-one, we thank you Father for sending the Holy Spirit to be “Christ in us, the hope of glory!” (Col 1:27).  Amen!

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.

The Greatest Commandment

“And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I Jn 3:23).  This, in my opinion, is the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  Believe in Jesus and love one another.  Accept Christ and love one another.  Embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ and love one another.  Or said another way, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).  Faith and love summarize the two part aspect of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for faith to enter His kingdom, to join His family.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn 5:24).  “They said therefore to Jesus, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn 6:28-29).  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (Jn 6:47).  Faith equals belief and gaining eternal life is synonymous with entering the kingdom of God.

Jesus introduced the second part of the greatest commandment in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This commandment may seem commonplace to us, but it was radically different and incredibly new to Jesus’ disciples.  They were used to the Old Testament consequence method of eye-for-an-eye where good people are blessed and bad people are punished.  But Jesus has been building up to something completely new as He has been introducing in various ways the idea that, in His kingdom, his citizen’s basic stance toward one another is love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

We have a hint of this in the conversation between Jesus and Peter in Matthew, chapter 18.  Peter, apparently beginning to embrace this idea of love and forgiveness, asks Jesus if this love should extend so far as to forgive his brother seven times.  Now, because we know the rest of the story, we think Peter was being a bit stingy at seven.  But think of Peter’s background in the Old Testament consequence model and we see that Peter’s offer to forgive seven times is actually quite generous in context.  Of course, Jesus blows Peter’s attempt at generous forgiveness out of the water by recommending unlimited forgiveness toward our brother in light of God’s great forgiveness of us (Mt 18:21-35).

The reason I bring this story up is because Peter did eventually fully grasp the love and forgiveness message of Christ.  He would later write, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8).  Love one another; its part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  And we will continue on this path to explore what love looks like when “kept fervent.”