Love Great or Terrible

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 13.1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 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

“Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.” — Tim Keller

Reflection: Love Great or Terrible
By John Tillman

People get poetic talking about love. In “love songs,” love is either great or terrible.

All you need is love.
What’s love got to do with it?
Love makes the world go ‘round.
Love me tender.
You’re gonna love me.
Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.
At last, my love has come along.
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
I just want to use your love tonight.
I don’t know where to put my love.
I want to know what love is.
Love hurts.
Love bites.
Love stinks.

Paul’s poem on love comes after discussing the gifts of the Spirit. The Corinthians used gifts in powerful, chaotic, and competitive ways that harmed the church. Paul determined to show them a better way—the way of love. (1 Corinthians 12.31)

Jesus named love (of God and neighbor) as the greatest commandment. Paul names love the greatest gift of the Spirit.

A saying around the church I attend is that we follow the words of Jesus and the way of Jesus. It’s one way of saying we speak truth in love. (Ephesians 4.15) The Corinthian church had the “gifts” of Jesus but they weren’t following the “way” of Jesus.

Truth, without love, does harm.
Love, without truth, does harm.

It doesn’t matter how true your words are if they wound people. Some have been wounded so badly by “truth-tellers,” they can’t distinguish the truth from the wound. If you use truth to put people in this condition, what use is your “truth?”

It doesn’t matter how much you love if you never speak truth. Some people mistake unconditional love for unconditional endorsement. Without the truth, people will continue in lies that destroy their bodies, minds, and souls. If you allow this to happen, what use is your “love?”

In the songs quoted above, the difference in love being great or terrible is usually the character of the lover. Let us love in a way that shows the character of Jesus. Don’t let the truth you speak be a resounding gong of nothingness that drives people from salvation, rather than calling them to it.

Love and truth, together, lift others. They don’t push them down.
Love and truth, together, enlighten others. They don’t blind them.
Love and truth, together, save others. They don’t terrorize them.
Love and truth, together, show the character of Jesus, the true lover of our souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 3 (Listen 4:33)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen 2:23)

Read more about Another Love Chapter
If asked about the Bible’s “Love Chapter”, most think 1 Corinthians 13. But there is another love chapter. 1 John 4…

Read more about Freedom For, Not From
Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Freedom For, Not From

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9.19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Reflection: Freedom For, Not From
By John Tillman

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.…” (Galatians 5.1)

Paul wrote some of the most stirring words about freedom in the scriptures but had a different idea about individual freedom than is common today.

Westerners especially are individualistic by default. Our cultural idea of freedom is personal: My freedom is mine. It is for me. It allows me to choose the best for myself. It allows me to do what I want to do. My freedom serves my pleasure, my needs, and my goals. Your freedom is important too, but only because all must be free so that I can be free. And if you use your freedom to do something I don’t like…well, I might work to restrict that freedom.

Individual freedom is good. Personal responsibility is good. However, this vision of individual freedom can fuel selfishness: I am free to care for myself and so are you. I am responsible to care for myself and so are you. Therefore you are not entitled to help from me and your need places no obligation upon me. This cultural idea, which says “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.” is condemned in scripture. (James 2.16

Rather than seeing his freedom as setting him free from others, Paul utilized his freedom for others. Paul called himself a “slave” of others. Paul leveraged his freedom for others. He sacrificed his freedom for others. He brought freedom to others.

Paul leveraged his freedom. Paul used the freedoms of his Roman citizenship to travel freely and to avoid persecution. His freedom of movement and legal rights ensured that the gospel continued to spread.

Paul sacrificed his freedom. Before Festus, Paul could have been set free. (Acts 26.32) Yet, he made a  strategic legal appeal that would mean imprisonment and death for him, but life for the church.

Paul brought freedom. Paul used the freedom he had in Christ to bring freedom to others and make the most of every evangelical opportunity. He was a cultural chameleon, yet without losing the distinctiveness of following Jesus. Rather than demanding his own freedom or enforcing his culture, Paul removed every cultural stumbling block except the gospel.

Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Praise the Name of the Lord; give praise, you servants of the Lord,
You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely. — Psalm 136.1-3

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen 4:41)
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen 2:15), 1 Corinthians 10(Listen 4:04)
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen 6:27), 1 Corinthians 11 (Listen 4:20)

Read more about Complaint to Commission
Paul also shows us how to go beyond complaint to the cure our culture needs—the gospel.

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Normalizing Idols

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 8.9-13
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 

Reflection: Normalizing Idols
By John Tillman

The ancient world was filled with gods and temples. Sacrifices in these temples were often of food that would be sold in the marketplace or even served at banquets in the temples themselves. Scrupulous Jews went to extreme lengths to avoid even accidentally purchasing and eating meat that may have been sacrificed to an idol. (Acts 15.29)

But if idols are merely fake gods made from wood and stone by men and I serve the God of Heaven who made the wood, the stone, and the man, why should I worry? If their god isn’t real, there’s nothing wrong with the meat. If my God is real, all things are clean that he has called clean. (Acts 10.15) Why shouldn’t I eat?

What should we do when someone’s convictions about moral choices are more restrictive than our own? What should we do when our rights interfere with someone else? When we are enlightened and they are repressed, when we are right and they are wrong, why should we defer to them?

When speaking into such controversy, Paul began by saying, “…knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”

Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge is power. Freedom is often abused and can be deceptively destructive. Power is often abused and corrupts those who wield it. It should not surprise us then that knowledge can be abused.

The Corinthian’s knowledge was leading them toward pride and boasting. Paul pointed out the dark path their so-called enlightenment was leading towards. Their boldness and boasting would normalize something that could destroy others’ faith.

It might seem that we don’t have temples on every corner, sacrificing animals to false gods and selling meat. But the false gods in our culture don’t go by names like “Aphrodite,” whose temple was in Corinth, or “Artemis,” whose temple was in Ephesus. The temples of our false gods aren’t selling meat but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sacrifices. Are we buying what they are selling? Should we be?

What idols of this age are we normalizing? Even if we, in our knowledge, “haven’t done anything wrong,” are we harming others by participating? Are we “puffed up” with knowledge or “building up” in love?

Love is a greater ethic than knowledge or freedom. When knowledge leads us toward pride, let love lead us toward humility. When freedom leads us toward boasting, let love lead us toward sacrifice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen 2:59)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen 1:54)

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

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Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 6.12-20
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Reflection: Embodied
By John Tillman

Why do we have bodies?

Some would rather we didn’t. Some say, “My body doesn’t matter. I’m a ghost pilot in a meat robot.” In this vision, the body is a throwaway, inconsequential shell. Some even hope to replace it, change it, or upgrade it.

Even now the bodies of over 200 “patients” are in cryonic freezers. Some have not even preserved their whole body—only the head and brain. They, or their families, have faith future scientists will resurrect them, either healing their diseases or transferring their brains to new bodies. The patients include a two-year-old child, one of the founders of Bitcoin, and baseball Hall of Famer, Ted Williams. What a strange trio they would be…

Even if these hopes are realized in the future, Christianity has a greater hope, a greater view of the body, and a greater future. Our bodies are not meat robots for our souls. We are integrated beings. It is not just our soul that will be with the Lord. Our bodies, even after returning to dust, will be resurrected.

Paul tells the Corinthians that their bodies are “for the Lord.” He also says the Lord is “for our bodies.” Our bodies are essential to who we are and to our experience of and with God, both now and in eternity. Our bodies aren’t just physical matter. They matter cosmically, spiritually, for eternity.

It is foolish to dismiss the body. It is also foolish to enthrone our bodies above all. Like the Corinthians, some think whatever our body wants, it deserves. We don’t deserve or need everything we hunger for. Our body’s desires are not “rights.” Indiscriminately feeding fleshly hungers is always unhealthy and often evil.

Our bodies are not our own. In Christ, we are made one body with him. No Christian can say “What I do with my body only affects me,” because it affects Christ and everyone connected to him. No one can say, “My body is dishonorable, broken, and worthless,” because Christ valued our embodied self, dying for our souls and being resurrected for our bodies.

Our bodies are not beneath us like robot shells. Our bodies are not over us like rulers. Our bodies are not our own to abuse, harm, or dishonor. With our bodies, we present the embodiment of Christ to the world—to honor him through service and love to others.

Divine Hours Prayer: 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 Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 32 (Listen 5:22)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen 3:03)

Read more about Inner Light of the Heart
Our bodies matter. Our spirit also matters. We are integrated beings—not solely spirit and not solely flesh.

Read more about Maintaining Sacred Space
Our bodies are our “tents” into which we invite the Holy Spirit of God, promised to us by Jesus.

Sins to Avoid

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 5.9-10
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

From John: Like many others we have spent the weekend mourning the passing of Tim Keller. And he will not leave our thoughts anytime soon. I never had the pleasure of meeting or interacting with him, but The Park Forum began in New York and our ministry owes Keller and Redeemer Church a debt of gratitude for inspiration and support. I’ve personally been blessed to listen to and read much of Tim’s writing, speaking, and interviews. Many of the ways I have learned to speak and write about the Bible have been indirectly gleaned from the edges of his fields. I hope to share a margin of his abundant crops of grace, humility, and hope. At the resurrection, when all is set right, one of the wrongs corrected will be the loss we feel now. His faith is now sight…as ours, one day, shall be.

Reflection: Sins to Avoid
By John Tillman

Pause for a moment and summon up your feelings about the sexual sin of incest. 

Think about how destructive it is, about how often it is rooted in or leads to abuse, and about how, even in our sexually freewheeling culture, it is considered repulsive….

In this letter to Corinth, sexual sins take the forefront because Paul is addressing a case of incest, a specific kind of sexual sin. But Paul hardly ever mentions sexual sins without also mentioning sins involving power, idolatry, and wealth. The most skipped-over words in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians may be “or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.”

Paul, in comparison to incest, considers greed and idolatry to be equally repulsive, equally abusive, equally destructive, equally sinful, and an equal cause for church discipline.

It’s uncomfortable to think about sins that we are prone to as spiritually equivalent to incest. Most Christians affirm the belief that “sin is sin,” meaning all sins are the same before God. However, we tend to see the sins of others as having great and terrible import, while minimizing, excusing, and normalizing our own sins. 

According to Paul we should be as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we? Are you greedy and a Christian? Paul advises other Christians not to eat with you. When was the last time someone was disfellowshipped from a church for greed? When was the last time Christians boycotted something due to greed?

Paul does not encourage boycotts or avoiding non-Christians who are active in sin. Only believers who are unrepentantly continuing in sin are subject to this treatment. Christians with an isolationist subculture mentality, who minimize contact with non-believing “sinners,” are doing exactly what Paul says not to do.

We should also remember that removing fellowship, in Paul’s view, was an intentional effort to warn and correct others—to win them back through repentance. 

May we never expect non-Christians to live differently before we show them love.

May we be gracious to one another as we face the conviction of the Holy Spirit in areas of serious sins, such as sexual sin, greed, and idolatry.

May we stand for the Christian sexual ethic without abandoning other ethical stances that scripture holds as equally important.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

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

Today’s Readings

Numbers 31 (Listen 5:52)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen 1:58)

Read more about Return From Financial Sins
“Greed is good,” is still the mantra of our culture. Financial sins have to be outlandish before anyone cares.

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