Freedom for the Benefit of Others

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1, 9
“Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up”…. take care that this right of yours (freedom in Christ) does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Reflection: Freedom for the Benefit of Others
By Saint Polycarp c. 125 C.E.

I rejoiced with you greatly in our Lord Jesus Christ… though you did not see Him, you believe with joy unutterable and full of glory; unto which joy many desire to enter in; forasmuch as you know that it is by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

Be compassionate, merciful towards all men, turning back the sheep that are gone astray, visiting all the infirm, not neglecting a widow or an orphan or a poor man: but providing always for that which is honorable in the sight of God and of men, abstaining from all anger, respect of persons, unrighteous judgment, being far from all love of money, not quick to believe anything against any man, not hasty in judgment, knowing that we all are debtors of sin.

If then we entreat the Lord that He would forgive us, we also ought to forgive: for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and each man must give an account of himself.

Let us therefore so serve Him with fear and all reverence, as He himself gave commandment and the Apostles who preached the Gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.

Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him.

Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and we believed this.

— Abridged and language updated from The Epistle of Saint Polycarp to Phillipi.

The Refrain
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69:7

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 25 (Listen – 7:12)
1 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 3:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 26 (Listen – 4:30) 1 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 6:09)
1 Samuel 27 (Listen – 1:59) 1 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 1:54)

The Strength in Being Broken

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:11-13
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

Reflection: The Strength in Being Broken
By John Tillman

The Apostle Paul never took a strength-finder test. He preferred to boast, not in his strengths but his weaknesses.

Modern evaluative tests can be a helpful tool to match up serving opportunities with our temperaments, but when relied on too heavily, they can put the focus on ourselves. There is a danger of allowing our consumerism to affect even how we choose to serve in the church.

We live in a day where the popular idea behind ministry training is to focus on developing one’s gifts. Gift inventories, personality surveys, and strength indicator tests are the rage among those who want to be equipped for ministry today. But these kinds of tests set your eyes on your gifts. They put the focus on your strengths and your natural abilities. They make you the center of attention. However, the Lord is far more interested in your weaknesses than in your strengths. He’s interested in breaking you. Why? Because when there is less of you in the way, there is more room for Him to work.

As we survey church history, we discover that A. W. Tozer’s piercing observation is most accurate: “All great Christians have been wounded souls.”

Where we have been broken, we rely more heavily on Christ. And where we rely on ourselves, we are unlikely to do successful work for the kingdom.

It’s not hard to spot a Christian in ministry who isn’t broken. Unbroken people don’t know how to lay their lives down and lose. They only know how to try to win. If they’re criticized, they retaliate. If they’re attacked, they return fire. If misunderstood, they defend in anger. They are capable of doing all sorts of damage to others in order to save their own ministries and keep their reputations. On the contrary, people who have been broken by the hand of God know how to turn the other cheek. They know how to go the second mile. They know how to give their coats when asked for their shirts. They know how to speak well of those who misrepresent them. They know how to return good for evil. They know how to lose. And in so doing, they exhibit the Spirit of the Lamb and allow God to win.

What we learn through brokenness can’t be learned any other way. The strength we need to find has its source in Christ alone.

*Excerpts condensed from God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola

The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34:8

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 23 (Listen – 4:18)
1 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:15)

Idolatry of Identity

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3.21
So then, no more boasting about human leaders!

Reflection: Idolatry of Identity
By John Tillman

In the Old Testament people reverenced household gods for prosperity, wealth, and identity. Today we reverence household brands. It’s unclear which group is more deceived.

In any market there are brands that appeal to desires for exclusivity and luxury. These brands broadcast signals of success and dominance. There are also brands who go the other direction—mocking luxury and exclusivity in an appeal to simplicity and common goodness. And then there are brands that combine mocking luxury with exclusivity—hipster brands. These brands strive to make their customers feel like they are taste leaders—that they are the smartest people around for discovering, before anyone else, this carefully marketed product.

Virtue signaling through conspicuous consumption of the right brands is an established norm. We have a strong desire to be identified as people who have good taste—even if the way we define good taste is by our distastes. We define our identity by what we support and what we disdain. This is true even among churches and Christian teaching.

In the Corinthian church, individuals were identifying with the “brand” of Christianity they associated with different Christian teachers. Their selfish pride in being a follower of a particular teacher was a shocking mark of immaturity to Paul.

We aren’t that different today. We often treat churches and Christian leaders just like any other brand. We follow them. We compare them. We promote their successes or complain about their failures. We even experience a bit of schadenfreude when those we disapprove of suffer or fall.

Christian leaders show this same weakness when they rely heavily on branding to appeal to followers. When the primary language of our culture is brand marketing, what choice do churches and Christian leaders have?

Paul places the burden to refrain from forming identity around a leader and not around the Gospel firmly on church members. Paul doesn’t condemn himself, or Apollos, or Peter of wrongdoing or theological error. (Apollos was corrected in his theological errors by Priscilla and her husband, Aquila.) The burden placed on leaders is that of building the church with lasting and sustainable teaching—the Gospel.

We desire marketable idols to identify ourselves as theological tastemakers. May we make no more “household gods” of Christian teachers. We are God’s field. May we give thanks for growth to the work of the Holy Spirit while still giving proper honor and support to the workers who help God’s field to thrive and be fruitful.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all people, to the glory of your Name…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 21-22 (Listen – 6:35)
1 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 3:05)

Paul’s Anti-Anti-Intellectualism

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Reflection: Paul’s Anti-Anti-Intellectualism
By John Tillman

Paul’s words in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians have often been misinterpreted. Some take them to mean that we need not concern ourselves with education, or reading, or study, or aesthetics—that we need not work to make worship or preaching a work of art, that we need not hone our logical mind, or use our analytical intelligence to seek and find God’s truth. It is always tempting for us to use spirituality as an excuse for our own laziness—intellectual or otherwise.

Even the original temptation in the garden was one involving knowledge without work. Just eat, said the snake, and you’ll be as wise as the maker. No need to continue in your boring tasks of Taxonomy or Botany. No need to labor to care for the earth. Just take knowledge you didn’t work for.

Those who disdain intellectualism like to make much of the fact that many of the Apostles were “unschooled men.” But the entire point of mentioning that the leading disciples had little formal training was the surprising fact that they argued well, with intellectually compelling logic and scripturally sound reasoning.

The New Testament is composed primarily by the two leading intellectuals of Jesus’ followers — Paul, the accomplished Pharisee and Luke, the Doctor. Paul was so famously intellectual that Peter said he was difficult to understand, and Festus accused him of going mad from too much reading and study.

Inspiration of the Spirit is not an excuse to neglect one’s homework, but neither does spiritual discipline stop with the intellect. It must have an emotional connection as well. John Piper says, “If a person doesn’t move from intellectual awareness of God and right thinking about God to an emotional embrace of God, he hasn’t loved God with his mind.”

Being without eloquence, wisdom, or knowledge—these aren’t markers of spiritual fervor. Being dry and distant from emotion is not a marker of superior discipleship. Paul did not mean he did not possess intellectual rigor, education, the wisdom of experience, and superior communication skills. He obviously possessed all of these traits.

Paul’s intent was that developing faith should not be dependent on the eloquence of a speaker or the artfulness of argumentative tactics. It is not an apologist who “wins” you to Christ, it is the power of the Gospel itself. We must indeed learn to be wary of worldly philosophies, but we must do so without casting aside spiritual and intellectual disciplines.

The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 20 (Listen – 6:42)
1 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:26)

Commenting in Community

Scripture: Romans 14.7
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

It is certain that nothing is more threatening, nor more often fatal, to Christian societies, than the contentions and divisions of their members. By these wounds the life and soul of religion expire. — Matthew Henry (1672-1714)

Never read the comments. — Internet Proverb, Anonymous (of course…)

Reflection: Commenting in Community
By John Tillman

When Paul wrote, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters,” one might imagine that he had a vision of modern Facebook comment squabbles. But in truth, the Holy Spirit was revealing not the future, but a current and eternal, deeply ingrained, sinful, broken need that we have to dominate and control others.

Writing for The New Yorker in 2013, Maria Konnikova discussed Popular Science’s justification for discontinuing comments on its site: “Internet comments…lead to a culture of aggression and mockery that hinders substantive discourse.” Popular Science eliminated comments completely and many sites disabled anonymous comments.

The consensus seemed to be that commenters using their real identities and names would be more civil, less brutal, less confrontational. Boy, were we wrong.

One of Facebook’s uniquenesses from its inception was that you were never anonymous—you used your real name. But Facebook comments through recent elections and conflicts have revealed that we don’t need to be anonymous to be as nasty as we want to be to each other. It seems many people don’t mind attaching their identities to noxious ideas, lies, exaggerations, hurtful and mean-spirited memes, name-calling, and desperate pandering to the powerful.

Whether online or in person, Christians have a greater identity than our own to represent and a greater power to be accountable to than a forum or group moderator. It doesn’t matter how many upvotes or likes we get from comments if we misrepresent the Spirit of Christ.

What is missing in online commenting is precisely what commenting attempts to recreate—community. In community, we have relational equity to push for change without being pushy. Our comments in community may be corrective while still being loving, and supportive without giving license to sin.

We can work together to sort out what we hold as sacred, as long as we remember that our fellow believers are held sacred by Christ through his sacrifice.

The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise — Psalm 51.16

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 16 (Listen – 3:45)
Romans 14 (Listen – 3:28)

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