1 Corinthians 14

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What’s love got to do with it? Paul urges believers to pursue love, which taken out of context is an exhortation that might mean a number of things, but thanks to the rest of the chapter, it is pretty clear what Paul has in mind. To pursue love is to “strive to excel in building up the church.” It’s tempting for believers to exercise their gifts to build up themselves rather than to encourage others, which isn’t something Paul totally condemns but does fall short of the best use of our gifts–loving and serving others. What’s something small and specific you can do today to build up or encourage someone else?

1 Corinthians 13

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People love this chapter, and for good reason. In a world that at times feels chaotic and anything but loving, Paul’s words here are like the needle on a compass–always pointing north (or in this case, toward love). We get busy this time of year, usually with good things–gathering with family and friends, opportunities to give and to serve others–but Paul’s words remind us that there are two ways to do everything we do–with love or without love.

Long before Tina Turner’s number-one single hit the top of the charts in 1984, Paul was encouraging his readers to ask, “What’s love got to do with it?” Is love the animating force behind all that we do? Do our lives bear the marks of love–patience, kindness, humility, honesty? Do our lives stand out against the backdrop of envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, irritability, and resentment? What’s love got to do with it? Paul says that exercising our spiritual gifts or our faith without love makes us a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. The truth is that both gongs and cymbals can sound great in the right setting, but at the wrong time and out of place, they aren’t all that pleasant. And there’s a way of approaching our lives and our faith that is just like that–separated from the symphony the Spirit is conducting, more clatter than character.

What’s love got to do with it? I want to encourage you over the next two weeks to regularly return to this question. As you shop, as you drive, as you work, as you cook, as you wrap gifts, as you exchange gifts, as you make plans, as you observe traditions…you get the point. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What’s love got to do with it?” In other words, how are you embodying the love of Christ in every activity or interaction? Will we fall short of love at times? Of course, but like the traveller who wanders off the trail, let the compass of God’s love lead us back to the path. That’s what we’ll be seeking to do here over the final two weeks of this year as well, asking that one simple question of our text for each day, “What’s love got to do with it?” I hope you’ll join us on the journey ahead.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV

1 Corinthians 12

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Variety is the spice of life–or so they say. And according to the apostle Paul, variety is also the beauty and strength of the church. To paraphrase Paul, the church is a gathering of different people from a multitude of backgrounds. If that weren’t diverse enough, the Holy Spirit spices things up by bestowing a variety of gifts upon an already diverse community.

Different folks with different experiences and different stories, equipped with different gifts to accomplish distinct purposes. On the surface, it sounds like a recipe for division, dissension, and dysfunction.

Instead, in God’s infinite wisdom, it’s the diversity that actually highlights the unity of the church. There are numerous gifts, yet they are given by the same Spirit (v. 4). There are countless ways to serve, but it’s all in service to the same Lord (v. 5). The activities of the church vary, “but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (v. 6). There are many individual members, but they are interdependent as members of one body (v. 12).

So what does this mean for you, practically? It means that whatever your story, whatever your abilities and gifts, you have an important, indispensable role to play in the church of Jesus Christ. Your story and your gifting might be very different from the brother or sister sitting next to you on a Sunday morning. But take heart: variety is the spice of life strength of the church!

1 Corinthians 11

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Paul has identified some behaviors in the church gatherings that were causing strife, division, and broken relationships. He uses this passage to correct the believers and remind them of who they are in Christ. The believers’ words and actions were powerful and whether they intended to be divisive or not, they certainly were doing more harm than good to the body of Christ. The spirits of greed, pride, and entitlement were acting as weeds strangling the love by which the believers were called to live. As we go about our days, let’s take time to humble ourselves and examine our own hearts so that our words and actions might be aligned with the love of our Savior and work as an encouragement to our brothers and sisters. Let’s care for those less fortunate, encourage those fighting to just make it through another day, and treat everyone with the kindness that our Father has lavished upon us.

1 Corinthians 10

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For our anniversary in August, my wife and I took a trip to Red River Gorge to hike trails and eat pizza. On our second day of hiking, we trekked a particularly difficult trail that included a lot of steep inclines and a less-than-sturdy looking bridge. When confronted with trail bridges, my job as the big guy is to cross first. If it holds me, it’s good. If, by chance, it were to collapse during my attempt, it would not be ideal for my wife to try it out.

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 

1 Corinthians 10:1-6, ESV

Paul writes in this passage of 1 Corinthians about the examples given by past generations. They are examples of what not to do. Because we are able to read the Bible in its entirety, we also have access to those examples. Just as it is obvious for us to not attempt to cross a trail bridge that didn’t withstand the weight of the person who went first, it should also be clear to us that we should not make the same spiritual mistakes of those who were before us.

1 Corinthians 9

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In general, it feels a tad dramatic to support your argument with the words, “For I would rather die,” but I guess it depends on the topic. Friends propose meeting at a restaurant you don’t like? I would rather die. A song comes on that annoys you to an irrational extent? I would rather die. But Paul’s situation is a little more serious than these. He’s determined not to create any unnecessary barrier to people hearing, believing, and enduring in the gospel of Christ, and because of this steadfast determination, he can say without the least bit of irony or drama in verse 15, “[15] But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.” Paul wasn’t going to insist on his own way in the moment when the ramifications for others could be farther reaching and longer lasting. He was determined to put others before himself and sets an example for us to do the same–exercising self-control and keeping our eye on the prize.

In the midst of a busy season marked by self-indulgence, how can we follow Paul’s example of putting the needs of others first?

1 Corinthians 8

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There’s a big difference in something that puffs up and something that builds up. Sure, both give the appearance of growth, but there’s a lot more to one than the other. Like a balloon filled with air, puffing up happens quickly but isn’t all that durable. A little bit of pressure or even a blade of grass can burst a balloon. The appearance of growth can vanish in an instant, with as little effort as it took to attain, and that isn’t to say that something built with more substance can’t be damaged or destroyed. In fact, it is precisely Paul’s point that it can, but something that has been built up isn’t nearly as fragile as that which is puffed up. It takes a lot more to demolish a well-built structure than to pop a balloon, and it takes a lot more to demolish a a well-built relationship than to burst an overly-inflated ego.

The exact occasion of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians isn’t one most of us experience, but the principle he applies is surely one we need. Knowing things is great, but there’s something far better–love. Seeming to have all the answers can make us feel (and even appear) big and important and accomplished, but it’s in living out what we know in love toward our brother and sister that real growth happens. And love means my brother or sister come before my insistence upon my own rights, even before my insistence that I am right.

1 Corinthians 7

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Marriage–marriage is what brings us together today. (IYKYK)

Anyways, here’s my best attempt at a one-sentence summary of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7: marriage is a gift from God, but marriage is not a god.

Marriage Is A Gift

After admonishing the Corinthians for tolerating the kind of grotesque sexual immorality “that is not tolerated even among the pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1), Paul commands the Corinthians to flee from such sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20). 

But God offers gifts to help his people flee such immorality and live in greater holiness–and one of those gifts is marriage (vv. 1-5). 

Marriage Is Not A God

Marriage is a good gift from a gracious God, but marriage is not a god–that is to say, marriage is not ultimate. Or, said another way, singleness is not second-class citizenry. Paul was single. Jesus was single. When you read your Bible, do you find yourself thinking Paul and Jesus would’ve been better off if they were married? Neither do I.

Glorify God In Your Marriage/Singleness

Which brings us to the application–whether you are married or single, your objective remains the same: to bring God the glory and honor due his name. Consider today how you might better leverage your marriage or singleness to bring God the glory he deserves.

1 Corinthians 5

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Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 5 is addressing an unrepentant sexual immorality inside the church. Paul says in verses 1 and 2 – “… A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?”

In today’s “you do you” culture this type of behavior is celebrated at the loss of society’s moral compass. It is imperative that we understand Paul’s teaching for what it is. Our unrepentance should be met with proper expulsion from fellowship with other believers, or in other words – from church.

Jesus himself directs us on how to conduct proper church discipline in Matthew chapter 18. Discipline in the context of church exists for the unrepentant heart, but the goal is complete restoration.

Glory to God for the one who repents, turns, and walks in the way of the Lord. 

Blessings. 

1 Corinthians 4

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, at least that’s what the song says. It’s also the time of year where everyone is trying to sell you something, the time where your email inbox is filled with deals and discounts designed to draw you into spending your holiday budget with a given company. After all, these deals are only for a limited time. You don’t want to miss out. Every word, every image is designed to lead you to the conclusion that your life will be better and happier if you buy the thing, whether for yourself or for someone you love. The trouble with it all is that it never seems to be enough. Everyone is trying to sell you something this time of year, except for the Apostle Paul.

[11] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, [12] and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; [13] when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ESV

None of the promotional emails in my inbox or the Instagram ads in my feed seem to take Paul’s approach, probably because nobody would be enticed to buy whatever they were selling. Paul, however, wasn’t trying to sell the Corinthians or us anything, which is why his words in this chapter shine so brightly against the backdrop of this season. Instead, Paul is reminding the reader that the success of his ministry–or Apollos’ for that matter–isn’t judged according to the standards of this age but by the standards of God. Paul was determined to be faithful to God and to remind the Corinthians to do the same, not by shaming them but by enduring in his love toward them.

Your ministry is not exactly the same as Paul’s, but what is the same is the One you serve. Like Paul, it does us no good to compare ourselves to others or to judge ourselves by the standards of others. What matters is our standing before God, who calls us “beloved children” even when serving Christ doesn’t come with all the glamour of a Christmas catalogue. Beloved child–that’s not an identity than can be bought or sold, only received, and it isn’t for a limited time either. Will you take a moment to rest in that identity today?