No Free Meals

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 ESV

The body of Christ is an organism, not just an organization. While it’s made up of individuals, they are expected to exist together in a state of mutual love and submission, displaying selfless acts of compassion and a shared concern for the well-being of one another. Paul used the metaphor of the human body as a way of describing the symbiotic relationship between believers.

We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:5 NLT

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-27 NLT

Paul viewed the body of Christ as a living organism in which the interdependence between its various members was essential to the overall spiritual health of the whole. And he expressed his desire that they act as a cohesive, mutually caring community in his first letter.

Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians  5:13-14 ESV

Paul was well aware of the fact that, inevitably, the body of Christ would be made up of all kinds of people who exhibited every conceivable level of spiritual maturity. In the verses above, he mentions the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak. And he spoke of the weak on more than one occasion, revealing his awareness that the spiritual immature would always be a part of any local body of believers.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. – Romans 14:1 ESV

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. – Romans 15:1-2 ESV

But in this second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is addressing something quite different than spiritual immaturity. He specifically calls out those who are “walking in idleness.” Paul uses two Greek words to describe these individuals. The first is peripateō, and it can be translated “to walk,” but can also mean “to conduct one’s self” or “to pass one’s life.” These people were conducting their daily lives in a way that Paul deemed unacceptable. That’s where the second Greek word comes in: ataktōs. It describes a soldier marching out of step with his peers. They were “deviating from the prescribed order or rule” (Outline of Biblical Usage). These individuals weren’t just marching to the beat of their own drum, they were stubbornly refusing to line up with the teaching of Paul and the other apostles. Their actions were blatantly disorderly and disruptive to the local body of Christ. These were not weak or immature believers in need of instruction and encouragement. They were men and women whose undisciplined conduct and stubborn resistance to discipline were damaging the entire faith community. They were like rogue cancer cells in the body of Christ and Paul recommended radical steps to prevent their further contamination.

Based on Paul’s admonitions, we can piece together a picture of what these people were guilty of doing. Their disorderly conduct included a refusal to work. We’re not told why they held this view, but it could be that they had been impacted by false teaching that had led them to believe that Jesus was coming back any day. In light of that expectation, it’s likely that they viewed work as unnecessary and a waste of time. But their undisciplined lifestyles were wreaking havoc on the local body of Christ. Rather than work, they expected the church to support them. And Paul reminds the faithful that he and the apostles didn’t model that kind of lifestyle.

…we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 ESV

These people were out of line, having broken ranks with the faith community and having placed an undue burden on the church. So, Paul gives a bold and unapologetic opinion regarding these people.

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV

And this was not the first time Paul had addressed this problem in the church. He had warned Timothy:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8 ESV

And he had expressed similar advice to Titus.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. – Titus 3:14 ESV

Paul and his ministry partners had demonstrated through their own lives what he was demanding of the Thessalonians. There was no place for disorderly conduct within the body of Christ. Laziness and idleness have no place in the church. The faith community, while an interdependent organism, is not intended to be a place where non-contributors thrive. Each believer has been gifted by the Spirit and is expected to play their God-ordained part in contributing to the overall well-being of the body. Yet, Paul states, “we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business” (2 Thessalonians 3:11 NLT). This was unacceptable, and Paul addresses these individuals directly and bluntly:

Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. – 2 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV

Paul labels these people as busybodies (periergazomai), a term used to describe those who occupy themselves with trivial and useless matters that don’t concern themselves. Rather than working, they had all kinds of time to worry about the affairs of others. So, Paul tells them to work quietly, a “description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

It was well into the 12th-Century that Chaucer labeled “idle hands the devil’s tools.” But Paul knew that to be true as early as the 1st-Century. And he warned the believers in Thessalonica to be wary of the idleness in their midst. It was dangerous and potentially deadly, because it emanated from an attitude of disobedience and disorderliness. So, it was sin. And, like cancer, sin spreads. Left untreated, in time it infects and impacts the entire body. That’s why Paul is so emphatic, providing the Thessalonians not just with advice, but with a command.

…we command you…that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV

In a sense, Paul is telling them to avoid these people like the plague. They weren’t the spiritually weak in need of strengthening. They were the rebellious in need of spiritual discipline. They were members of the body of Christ who were refusing to play their part in contributing to the overall health of the church. Like unwanted parasites, they were sucking the life out of the faith community by taking but never giving. They had given love of self precedence over Christ’s command to love others. And Paul, knowing the danger behind that mindset, warned that it was not to be tolerated.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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Love Like God

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

Paul has just reminded the Thessalonians that they have been sanctified or set apart by God. According to His divine will, God has consecrated them for His use. And Paul added the clarification that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). In other words, God had set them apart to something: holiness, and from something: sexual immorality. Paul is not saying that sexual immorality was the only thing they needed to avoid, but it was obviously a problem among them.  They had been raised in the Greek culture where sexuality permeated everyday life. There were few taboos regarding sex and, therefore, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage were a normal and expected part of life. There were even cases where the worship of their gods involved what Yahweh had deemed sexual immorality.

All kinds of immoralities were associated with the [Greco-Roman] gods. Not only was prostitution a recognized institution, but through the influence of the fertility cults of Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia it became a part of the religious rites at certain temples. Thus there were one thousand “sacred prostitutes” at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.1

The Greek culture was steeped is sexuality and it was not considered immoral for one to fulfill their natural physical passions. So, the Thessalonian believers found themselves juggling God’s call to set-apartness and the siren call of society to compromise their convictions.

For Paul, God’s call to sanctification was not to be viewed as a list of things not to do. Yes, he clearly states that they were to abstain from sexual immorality. But notice the context. They were to control their own bodies and manage their passions so that they would not transgress and wrong their brother. This was really about brotherly love. Adultery is a lack of love. It is an expression of lust, envy, and greed; taking what does not belong to you. Sex outside the God-ordained boundaries of marriage is not love. It’s little more than lust, a willing surrender to physical drives with little regard for the other individual’s needs or wants.

But Paul commends the Thessalonians for their brotherly love. They had “been taught by God to love one another” and they were doing it. But that did not mean they were immune to the temptations all around them. That’s why Paul urges them to love more and more. They were to grow in their love for one another, expressing that love in tangible ways. And those expressions of love can take both positive and negative forms. They could love by caring for the needs of one another. But they could also love by not taking advantage of one another. Their love could show up  in the form of an act of kindness or a decision to not spread a false rumor.

Paul provided the believers in Galatia with a sobering list of actions that emanate from a life driven by the sin nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.  – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Look closely at this list. Every one of these characteristics are selfish in nature. They are expressions of a loveless, self-centered life where any care for anyone else is absent. These are the actions of someone who loves self more than anything else. But compare this list with the one that describes a Spirit-led, Spirit-controlled life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

These attributes are other-oriented, not self-centered. They are expressions of love because they are the fruit of the Spirit of God. God is love and we love because He first loved us. We have been set apart for the purpose of expressing His love to one another. And Paul provides the Thessalonians and us with three concrete expressions of what it looks like to love others.

First, he says they are “to aspire to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV). This is an interesting one, because it could be translated, “strive to live a non-frantic life.” Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But the Greek word translated “aspire” is philotimeomai, and it can also mean “to be fond of.” The first half of the word is philos, and it means “friend.” The second half of the word is timē, and it means “to honor.” So, Paul is telling the Thessalonians to honor their friends by living quiet, peaceful lives. It is not a call to isolationism, but an encouragement to live in a way that brings the most good to others. It is a life of selflessness, not selfishness.

Secondly, Paul says, “to mind your own affairs.” In other words, manage your own life well. Don’t attempt to fix everyone else’s life by controlling or correcting them. It is not love when you find fault in others. It is not love when you constantly criticize and complain about others. Jesus warned, “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NLT). 

Paul is calling them to a life of self-examination, where they are slow to judge others, but quick to assess the condition of their own hearts. Because, as Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander“ (Matthew 15:19 ESV). How easy it is to focus all our attention on the faults of others, while ignoring the condition of our own hearts. And when we do, rather than love others, we judge, envy, slander, and take advantage of them. In other words, we fail to love them.

Finally, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “to work with your hands.” This is not a call to hard work and industry. Keep it within the context. He is calling the Thessalonians to grow in their love for one another. And a big part of what they are called to do is express that love by doing the things God has called them to do. Remember what Paul wrote the believers in Ephesus:

…we are his [God’] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV

Earlier, in the very same letter, Paul had told them: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love…” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Notice those last two words: in love. That’s the key. Love is to be the greatest proof of our holiness and blamelessness. And later on, he gave them further instructions “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

As God’s children, set apart by Him for His use, we are to emulate His character. We are to bear His image by behaving according to His will for us. And as Paul stated earlier, God’s will is our sanctification, our holiness lived out in everyday life. And the greatest expression of that holiness is our love, because God is love. This is what Jesus meant when He told His followers, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). And the apostle John so rightly states, “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT).

Paul summarizes his statements, telling the Thessalonians that their adherence to these three things: to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, will allow them to “walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:12 ESV). The image Paul paints is that of brotherly interdependence that mirrors for the lost world what it means to be part of the body of Christ. There is a love that is expressed in selflessness and mutual care and concern for one another that is like nothing the world has ever seen. And it should result in a lack of need among the family of God. But not just a lack of physical need. This brotherly love should create a overflowing sense of acceptance, significance, worth, and purpose in life.

The love we express for one another as fellow believers in Christ is the greatest proof of God’s existence. When we love as He has loved us, selflessly and sacrificially, we demonstrate the depth of love with which He loved us. And in doing so, we make God known. And the apostle John calls us to lives lives marked by that kind of love:

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

The Wildfire of Wickedness.

18 For wickedness burns like a fire;
    it consumes briers and thorns;
it kindles the thickets of the forest,
    and they roll upward in a column of smoke.
19 Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    the land is scorched,
and the people are like fuel for the fire;
    no one spares another.
20 They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry,
    and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied;
each devours the flesh of his own arm,
21 Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh;
    together they are against Judah.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
    and the writers who keep writing oppression,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
    and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the ruin that will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth?
Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. Isaiah 9:18-10:4 ESV

Mankind has a natural proclivity to rationalize the presence of sin. We either deny it exists or downplay its impact. And in doing so, we ignore the inherent danger of its existence. Sin is nothing short of rebellion against God’s will concerning man’s relationship with Him, but also with one another. When God gave His commandments, they had a vertical and horizontal aspect to them. They were intended to regulate man’s relationship with God, but also with the rest of creation, especially other men who had been made in God’s image.

God was not just interested in men showing Him honor and extending to Him the glory He deserved. He wanted them to treat one another with justice. And He wanted us to keep all His commandments, not just those that covered our relationship with Him.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. – 1 John 2:3-4 ESV

And John went on to clarify that keeping the commandments of God included all those commands that had to do with our relationships with our fellow men.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV

And Isaiah warned the people of Judah and Israel that their failure to keep the commands of God were going to bring the judgment of God. Their refusal to treat God as holy and to treat their brothers and sisters with dignity, was going to result in devastation.

The land will be blackened
    by the fury of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people will be fuel for the fire,
    and no one will spare even his own brother. – Isaiah 9:19 NLT

The people were going to find themselves turning on one another in a vain attempt to survive the judgment God would unleash on them. But this would simply be a more intense manifestation of their normal treatment of one another. Because of their disregard for God and their disrespect for one another, God would allow them to literally devour one another.

They will attack their neighbor on the right
    but will still be hungry.
They will devour their neighbor on the left
    but will not be satisfied.
In the end they will even eat their own children. – Isaiah 9:20 NLT

When the Assyrians attacked, it would become every man for himself.

Manasseh will feed on Ephraim,
    Ephraim will feed on Manasseh,
    and both will devour Judah. – Isaiah 9:21 NLT

Tribes would turn against their fellow tribes. Brothers would abuse brothers. All because they had failed to love God and love one another. The people of Judah and Israel had a track record of abuse, and Isaiah leveled some stinging indictments against them:

What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
    and those who issue unfair laws.
They deprive the poor of justice
    and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
    and take advantage of orphans. – Isaiah 10:1-2 NLT

From the top-down, they were all guilty of practicing injustices of all kinds. They took advantage of the weak and defenseless. They failed to care for the helpless and hopeless. And in doing so, they were violating the expressed will of God.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. – Proverbs 21:3 ESV

Righteousness, justice, kindness, mercy. These things were missing among the people of God. Because they had forsaken God, they no longer had a heart for God and their own hearts failed to reflect the character of God. They had turned way from Him and were now turning on one another. And their unjust and unrighteous behavior was going to bring down on them God’s righteous wrath in the form of the Assyrian army.

What will you do when I punish you,
    when I send disaster upon you from a distant land?
To whom will you turn for help?
    Where will your treasures be safe? – Isaiah 10:3 NLT

Israel had determined to put all their hope in their alliance with the Syrians. But they would prove to be no help when the Assyrians showed up. The nation of Judah had placed their faith in their alliance with the Assyrians. But they would soon discover that the fall of their northern neighbor at the hands of their ally would be far from good news. They would also suffer because of their failure to trust God. They too would endure the judgment of God because of their refusal to live in obedience to God.

But as bad as it would get, the end of God’s righteous wrath would not yet be exhausted.

You will stumble along as prisoners
    or lie among the dead.
But even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 10:4 NLT

This should give us some idea of just how much God hates sin. He doesn’t overlook it or excuse it. He doesn’t make light of it. In fact, Isaiah describes the devastating nature of sin in very stark terms.

This wickedness is like a brushfire.
    It burns not only briers and thorns
but also sets the forests ablaze.
    Its burning sends up clouds of smoke. – Isaiah 9:18 NLT

Sin is deadly. It may start small, but it spreads quickly and leaves a path of devastation in its wake. Like an out-of-control wildfire, it destroys everyone and everything in its path. Which is why God is obligated to deal with it in such a powerful manner. We may excuse it, rationalize it, minimize or deny it, but God cannot and will not.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Capacity to Love.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” – Matthew 5:21-26 ESV

Jesus has just finished saying, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 ESV). This was a direct reference to Pharisees and other religious leaders who were guilty of playing fast and loose with the Law. Jesus would make a habit of referring to them as hypocrites, accusing them of putting their own man-made laws ahead of God’s commands. They would find ways create loop holes regarding the Law by making their own set of counter commands that allowed them to claim strict obedience while actually ignoring God’s commands altogether. So, Jesus puts a kibosh on their little scheme by revealing that adherence to God’s law was not open to interpretation or alteration. Not even He, the Son of God, was free to eliminate or amend a single law. In fact, Jesus is now going to show that obedience to the Law required far more than merely external adherence. Keeping the letter of the law was not enough. It wasn’t so much about rule-keeping as it was about the condition of the heart.

One of the phrases you will see Jesus use repeatedly in these verses is “you have heard that it was said.” This is important to understanding what Jesus is saying. He is addressing perception versus reality. With the “help” of the religious leaders and interpreters of the law, the Jews had become confused about what the commands of God actually were. By saying, “You have heard”, Jesus is claiming that their understanding of the law was skewed and inaccurate. Somewhere along the way they had missed the whole point. It really wasn’t  about legalism and rule-keeping. It was about the condition of the heart. NOT doing something didn’t mean you had no desire to do it.

For instance, Jesus says that the general perception regarding God’s command not to commit murder was inaccurate and insufficient. It wasn’t just about taking someone else’s life, it was about hatred. And hatred stems from the heart. In fact, Jesus is getting to the heart of the issue (excuse the pun). Murder is an expression of hatred or contempt. And just because you manage not to commit murder, doesn’t mean you don’t have the desire to do so in your heart. Later on, in this same gospel. Matthew records the words of Jesus where He clarifies the true source of murder and why God created a law against it.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

Jesus spoke these words in response to an accusation leveled against His disciples by the scribes and Pharisees. The came to Jesus, in a huff, wondering why the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. This was one of the many man-made laws they had made that were of higher importance to them than the rest of God’s law. They were obsessed with outward purity and were accusing the disciples of eating with impure, defiled hands. And Jesus would have some very strong words for these men:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” – Matthew 23:25 ESV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 ESV

God is concerned about the condition of the heart. That is why Jesus makes the argument that it is not only those who commit physical murder who are guilty and worthy of judgment, but those who hate. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22 ESV). Whoever insults his brother or, out of hatred, calls him a fool, is just as guilty as a murderer. Jesus knew the heart of man. He was well aware of the pride that welled up in the hearts of those who could claim to have kept God’s law because they had never committed murder. But Jesus gives them the bad news that, in God’s eyes, their hatred was just as condemning. 

Most Bible translations label the topic of this section of Jesus’ sermon as “Murder.” But what Jesus is really talking about is love or the lack of it. Most of us have kept God’s command not to murder, but every one of us is guilty of having hated another human being. You see, our perception is that murder is forbidden and everyone who commits murder will be judged. But Jesus says that the reality is much different. Hatred is forbidden and anyone who hates his brother is just as guilty before God as if they had murdered him. God’s ultimate desire for us is not we simply refrain from murder, but that we replace our hatred with love.  Animosity and hatred were rife within the Jewish community, and they saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, they would come before God with their offerings and sacrifices, while harboring hatred for one another. Jesus says, “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT). How can you expect to show love to God by offering sacrifices to Him when you can’t even show love to those around you. The apostle John reveals the absurdity of that mindset.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. – 1 John 4:20-21 NLT

It is so easy for us to excuse our hatred of another human being. We justify it and rationalize it away as being well-deserved. We see our hatred is harmless. But Jesus would say that it devalues the life of another human being in the same way that murder does. It takes away their dignity. It diminishes their worth. We view them as unworthy of our love, all the while forgetting that God sent His Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). He had every right to hate us, but instead, He loved us. The apostle Paul reminds us of the amazing reality of that love.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

God loves, and so should we. This isn’t about an absence of murder, but the presence of hatred and a lack of love for others. A world devoid of murderers would not necessarily be a place marked by love. A decline in the crime rate does not reflect a change in the hearts of men, but is more likely tied to increased law enforcement. The law can enforce compliance, but cannot change the hearts of men. Paul wrote of his former relationship with God’s law:

I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

Paul could try to refrain from coveting, but his heart would do everything in its power to disobey God’s law. Coveting could not be stopped by a law. It could only be controlled. It would manage behavior, but not change the motivation behind the behavior. A speed limit sign does not get rid of the desire to speed. It simply controls it by threatening punishment for disobedience. But fear is never the right motivation for obedience. It can force compliance, but it can never change the sinful disposition within.

Jesus came to change the hearts of men and women. He came to do what the law could never have done. Paul tells us the good news of what Jesus later accomplished by His death on the cross.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Not only are we capable of refraining from committing murder, we are able to love one another. We can even love our enemies. Not in our own human strength, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We have the capacity to love as God has loved us.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Love, Not Tolerance.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.

And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. – 2 Corinthians 7:10-16 ESV

Something had happened within the church at Corinth. There was some situation that had taken place about which Paul was compelled to write a now-lost letter. In that letter he had be forced to confront the issue. He writes, “although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong” (2 Corinthians 7:12 ESV). Paul says the purpose in having written them his confrontational letter had been to reveal to them just how truly loyal they were to him and his leadership. Evidently the individual to whom Paul refers had been critical of his ministry and authority, and “the one who suffered the wrong” had been Paul himself. Paul always had critics. There was no shortage of those individuals who questioned his apostleship or argued against his authority. Whoever this individual was, he had been misleading the church and undermining all the work Paul had done there. So, in this letter, Paul is following up with the Corinthians, after having heard back from Titus, whom he had sent to check on the situation first-hand. The report from Titus was encouraging. “Therefore we are comforted,” Paul proudly states. They had remained committed to Paul’s teaching and committed to following his leadership. In fact, Paul states that any grief or sorrow his letter might have produced, had resulted in “a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV). That is why he can refer to it as godly sorrow, rather than worldly sorrow. The sorrow associated with this world can only produce death. Sorrow over sin that does not result in a willingness to repent of it can not produce life change. Sorrow over sin that does not drive us to the foot of the cross for cleansing by Christ’s blood can never produce life. Worldly sorrow can only produce despair, resentment, anger, and a growing callousness. We find ourselves becoming less and less sorrowful over our sin, finally reaching the point where we claim that we have not sinned at all.

But for believers, godly sorrow produces repentance, and repentance leads to forgiveness. Paul points out that the sorrow of the Corinthians had had a positive outcome.

Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. – 2 Corinthians 7:11 NLT

It had revealed their desire to do what was right. They had been saddened at the thought that their actions had caused Paul pain. They were motivated to show him that they remained faithful to him. It alarmed them that their behavior had led Paul to question their loyalty. And they realized that they had been lax in dealing with the one who had been causing the trouble.  All Paul had done was point out their sin. The Holy Spirit had done the rest. He had used the words of Paul to convict the Corinthians and the outcome was their repentance and the restoration of their relationship with Paul.

Paul even comments that Titus had been encouraged by his visit to check on the Corinthians. Paul says, “his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:13b ESV). He returned joyful and telling Paul that all his boasts about the Corinthians had been true.

Paul ends this section of his letter with the word, “I have complete confidence in you” (2 Corinthians 7:16 ESV). It is the same he started it. “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NET). Paul was encouraged greatly by the news that the Corinthians had not wandered away from the faith or rejected his role as their spiritual father. He had a deep, deep longing to see them grow spiritually. He had a father’s heart that desired to protect his spiritual children from harm and to keep them from straying away from the truth. So the news that they remained faithful was enough to help Paul make it through the trials and troubles he faced as he continued to share the gospel throughout Macedonia and the surrounding regions. He could rest easy knowing that his flock in Corinth remained safe and secure. His loving confrontation had resulted in their sorrow. Their sorrow had led to their repentance. And their repentance had resulted in their salvation. They had been rescued or delivered from a potentially destructive path. Because of the love of Paul and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they had been able to make a course correction and return to the path God had intended for them to follow. But what if Paul had never written that now-missing letter? What if he had chosen to ignore their sin? What if he had refused to confront them because he didn’t want to offend them? Love is not the same as tolerance. Godly love is willing to say the hard thing. It compassionately confronts. It affectionately admonishes. Allowing a brother or sister in Christ to continue in sin because you don’t want to offend them isn’t love. That would be like allowing your child to play in the street because you don’t want to spoil all their fun, because you don’t want to come across as the “bad” parent. But that’s not love, it’s a subtle and dangerous form of child abuse. Godly love is willing to hurt. Godly love is willing to produce godly sorrow, because godly sorrow leads to repentance and life.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. – James 5:19-20 NLT

Controlled By the Love of God.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 ESV

Paul has just told the Corinthians that there is a day coming when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). It is with that thought in mind that Paul refers to the “fear of the Lord.” It is an awareness of the future judgment of our present actions that should create in us a sober-minded evaluation of all that we do in this life. As believers, we should carefully consider all our thoughts and actions based on the knowledge that we will one day answer to God for all that we have done in this life since coming to faith in Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:10, 12 NLT).

Paul was not saying that he feared the judgment of God in the sense that he might lose his salvation or his place in heaven. It was just that he had a strong motivation not do anything that might bring the displeasure of his God on the day of judgment. He lived to please God. He wanted to do the will of God. And so he was unwilling to let what men thought about him in this life overshadow or influence the importance of what God would think about his actions when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ in the next life. That is what led him to persuade others. That is what prompted him to risk all in order to save some. His reputation took a back seat to the message of redemption. What concerned Paul the most was what God thought of him. “But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:11b ESV).

It seems that Paul had to spend a great deal of time defending his apostleship. Unlike the original disciples of Jesus, Paul had not been there at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was not one of the twelve. He had not been personally taught by Jesus and, therefore, his opponents argued that he had no authority. On top of that, it also seems that Paul had a less-than-impressive aura about him. He was evidently small in stature, unimpressive in appearance, and had gained a reputation for being a second-rate communicator. He even admitted as much in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NLT). The only reason Paul attempted to defend his apostleship or say anything about himself that might be construed as bragging was to that the Corinthians might be able to silence his critics who kept trying to diminish his influence among them. Paul didn’t mind if people thought he was crazy, as long as he knew that he was being faithful to God. And even if he did come across as somewhat crazy, it was only because he was obsessed with sharing the gospel with as many people as he possibly could. When it came to the good news, he was “out of his mind.”

Paul’s perspective was that, crazy or sane, “Christ’s love controls us.” He was motivated by love for the lost and a Christ-like compassion for believers. And his love for others was the direct result of God’s love for him. The apostle John wrote, “We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19-20 NLT). And how did God show His love for us? “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). It was that very love that motivated Paul. And because of what Jesus Christ had done for him, Paul was willing to risk all in order to tell all about the good news made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT

God’s love for us required that Jesus die in place of us. His death on our behalf made possible our new life. And that new life has freed us to live for Him, not ourselves. And our new-found capacity to live unselfishly shows up in our desire to share His love selflessly with all those we meet. “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

 

Genuine Generosity.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV

Paul opens up this series of verses with the same words he has used throughout this section of the letter:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote… – 1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Now concerning the betrothed… – 1 Corinthians 7:25 ESV

Now concerning food offered to idols… – 1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV

Now concerning spiritual gifts… – 1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV

Now concerning our brother Apollos… – 1 Corinthians 16:12 ESV

In each case, it seems that he is answering a question from the Corinthians or addressing a concern he has regarding the affairs of the church. In this case, he is dealing with their role in assisting the “saints”. This is most likely a reference to the saints in Jerusalem and Judea. Luke describes the situation in the book of Acts.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:27-30 ESV

Paul had a strong desire to assist the believers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas who were struggling through the time of famine. These believers, who were primarily Jews, were not only going without food, but were also having to deal with persecution from their Jewish peers because of their conversion to Christianity. Paul had written to the believers in Rome, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26 ESV). He went on to say that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to do it and even saw it as a debt they owed, “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:27 ESV). 

In the early days of the church, there was a need for community and mutual care throughout the body of Christ. The new, fledgling churches were commonly made up of individuals from the less affluent segments of society. Many, after having come to faith in Christ, had lost their jobs. They had been ostracized from their families. Some of the churches to which Paul ministered on his missionary journeys were better off than others and he strongly encouraged them to use their resources to help those in need, both within their own fellowships, but in other churches located in other cities as well. Paul would write a second letter to the Corinthians encouraging them to get involved in the support of the needs of others, something they seemed to have a hard time doing.

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NLT

Paul was not above using a bit of shaming by comparing the seeming stinginess of the Corinthians with the generosity of the churches in Macedonia. These churches, while enduring their own “deep poverty” were joyfully and eagerly giving to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, even begging for the opportunity to do so. Two times Paul refers to this as a “gracious work” and tells the Corinthians that generous giving is to be pursued with the same intensity and given the same priority as faith, speech, knowledge or even love. In fact, meeting the physical needs of others is one of the greatest expressions of our love for others.

So Paul tells the Corinthians, “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once” (1 Corinthians 1:3 NLT). He provides them with instructions as to how to take up their collection, fully expecting them to participate in the support of the needs of the believers in Judea. He is not commanding them to do so, but he is fully expecting their willing participation. Why? Because it is the will of God and the evidence of the Spirit’s working within them. God has a heart for the helpless, hopeless, the needy and the destitute. In the book of Micah, the prophet records what God expects of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The greatest expression of generosity and sacrifice Paul could think of was that of Jesus Christ and His willing sacrifice of His life. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). He gave His life so that we might live. He became poor, leaving the confines of heaven and taking on human flesh, so that we might become rich, becoming heirs of God Himself. 

The body of Christ is meant to care for itself. There is no room for selfishness and self-centeredness. God blesses some so that they might be a blessing to others. But even those who have little are able to assist those who have even less. This is not just about a redistribution of wealth and the creation of a socialistic society. It is about love. It is about generosity and a desire to express the love of God to those in need.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7-9 NLT

The goal for Paul was generosity – genuine, heart-felt, Spirit-inspired, love-based generosity that expressed the unity and community for which Christ died. Paul longed to see the churches to which he ministered experience and display the kind of love that was found in the early days of the church immediately after the coming of the Spirit.

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had…There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – Acts 4:32,34-35 NLT

Genuine generosity. Godly love. Brotherly affection. Selfless sacrifice. Compassionate care. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Love Lived Out.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV

It is virtually impossible to read these verses without considering Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit found in his letter to the Galatian churches:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

It is important to keep in mind that Paul’s discussion of love found in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians follows his discussion regarding the spiritual gifts. Those gifts, given by the Spirit of God, would most certainly reflect the fruit that He produces, and love would be included. To operate under the influence of the Spirit, utilizing a gift given by the Spirit, but without love, would be impossible. God is love and the same can be said of the Spirit of God. When we live by or under the influence of the Spirit, our lives will exhibit His loving nature. And Paul lets us know exactly what that love looks like.

It is patient – it puts up with a lot, including the offenses of others. It doesn’t seek to get even or enact revenge.

It is kind – it acts benevolently. In other words, it reveals itself in tangible expressions of kindness and goodness to others. Even to those who hurt us.

It isn’t envious – the actual Greek word means to “be heated or to boil with envy.” God’s kind of love rejoices with others, rather than getting jealous of what they have.

It doesn’t boast – It is impossible to love like God and grand stand at the same time. When godly love is in operation, it is other-focused, not self-promoting.

It isn’t arrogant – God’s love requires humility, not pride. It doesn’t have an inflated sense of its own self-worth.

It isn’t rude – you can’t say you love someone and treat them in a disrespectful or unseemly way.

It doesn’t insist on getting it’s on way – we can know we are loving like God does when we aren’t out for our own good. Love is selfless and sacrificial.

It isn’t irritable – when the Spirit’s love is operating in us and through us, we won’t be easily provoked. We will have a resilience and resistance to the words and actions of others.

It isn’t resentful – God’s kind of love doesn’t keep score, making a list of all the wrongs done to it. And it most certainly doesn’t seek to get even.

It doesn’t rejoice at wrong doing – when we love like God does, we won’t find pleasure in the sins of others. And we won’t love sinning ourselves.

It rejoices with the truth – godly love finds pleasure when others do what is right. It allows us to rejoice alongside them, rather than being jealous of them.

It bears all things – Spirit-empowered love is able to put up with all kinds of people and circumstances.

It believes all things – When are loving like God does, it allows us to maintain our faith in the midst of all kinds of situations and when surrounded by all kinds of people.

It hopes all things –godly love doesn’t become hopeless or defeated by what happens to us or what people do to us.

It endures all things –no matter what those we are loving might do or say. It patiently, persistently maintains its faith in the face of difficulties and difficult people.

It never ends – the kind of love Paul is describing is everlasting, not short-lived. There will never some a time when godly love becomes exhausted or non-essential.

But when it comes to the spiritual gifts, they have a shelf-life. They will not always be needed. When Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth, there will be no more need for prophecies, tongues, or the gift of knowledge. All will be fulfilled. God’s plan will be complete. But love will prevail and persist, because God is love. So godly love should have preeminence in our lives. And if we are truly operating under the control of the Spirit of God, we will exhibit the characteristics of love. Our spirituality will be marked by love, not envy, deceit, or provocation. Godly love unites and never divides. It is always flowing out and never turning in on itself. When all is said and done, the kind of love Paul is describing is the love of God flowing through us to others.

The apostle John gives us a much-needed reminder of just how vital love is and the wonder of God’s love for us that should motivate our love for others.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:7-12 ESV

Body Loathing.

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. – 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 ESV

Disorder, disunity and division. All three were taking place within the church in Corinth. That is partly the reason Paul had to address the issue of authority and headship. It seems that there were those who were not comfortable with his teaching regarding headship and submission. Once again, the issue of freedoms and rights had come up. In the opening verses of this chapter, Paul dealt with women in the church who refused to cover their heads while in worship. This was not about value or worth. It was about God-ordained headship and authority, but also responsibility. Paul said, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). Now, it is interesting to note that Paul makes it clear that both the husband and the wife, the male and the female, were free to prophesy and pray when the church assembled. But the man was to do so with his head uncovered, because to pray or prophesy with his head covered “dishonors his head” (1 Corinthians 11:4 ESV). In other words, he would be blatantly rejecting the headship of Christ in his life. And if a wife prophesies or prays with her head uncovered, she “dishonors her head” (1 Corinthians 11:5 ESV). Her actions would be construed as dishonoring the God-appointed headship of her husband.

This was all about order, unity and a submission to the will of God. And this was not the only issue going on in Corinth. Paul now addresses their attitude toward the practice of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Ordained by Jesus Christ Himself, this ordinance was to be a regular occurrence in the church. And the early church commemorated it as a feast. Unlike our modern version of the Lord’s Table, theirs was a meal. In the book of Acts we read, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47 ESV). This “love feast” was a communal gathering at which they commemorated the Lord’s death with the bread and the cup. But they also shared a meal together. And that’s where the problem developed. Paul says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Corinthians 11:20 ESV). In other words, they had turned the Lord’s supper into something altogether different. Their supper was marked by selfishness, division and even drunkenness. It had become all about the meal and not about the Messiah. They were there for the food, not to celebrate the sacrificial death of Jesus, which made possible their salvation.

Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the problem. “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). The gladness and generosity mentioned in Acts 2 was long gone. It was as if everyone was in for themselves. Some ate, while others went without. It had lost its communal aspect, because people were eating without waiting on the others. And then there were those who were using the “love feast” as an excuse to get drunk. There was little difference between this Christ-ordained event and the feasts practiced by the pagans in their temples. Paul is shocked by their behavior and can’t understand why they don’t just eat their meals at home if they can’t control themselves. The Lord’s supper was meant to remember all that Christ had done to make their salvation possible, not to satisfy their fleshly appetites.

In a not-so-subtle attempt to shame their actions, Paul asks them, “do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22b ESV). Their actions made it appear that they had no love for their brothers and sisters in Christ. There was no sharing of meals and compassion for the needy in their midst. The church in Corinth bore little resemblance to the early church in the books of Acts.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. – Acts 2:42-45 ESV

How easy it is to lose sight of our purpose as followers of Christ. We can turn our times of corporate worship into individually-focused moments of self-satisfaction. Forgetting that we are there to worship God, we can make it all about us, demanding that the music and the message cater to our personal preferences. We can go through an entire Sunday service neglecting those around us and never truly worshiping God. And in doing so, we miss the whole point of corporate worship. For Paul, the Corinthians had missed the message behind the Lord’s supper. It was not to be about enjoying a good meal. It was to be a celebration of our common bond in Christ and a commemoration of His sacrificial death on our behalf. Luke records the words of Jesus on the night that He instituted this sacred service.

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – Luke 22:14-20 NLT

Just moments after this sobering sequence of events, the disciples would be arguing about who was the greatest. They had missed the point. So Jesus said to them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27 ESV). The Kingdom of God was about selflessness, not selfishness. Followers of Christ, in imitation of Him, were to be servants, not self-serving. When we focus on self, we end up loathing the body of Christ. When we make it all about ourselves, we neglect the fact that Jesus died, not just that we might enjoy salvation, but solidarity as the people of God.

Loving Others. Not Self.

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? – 1 Corinthians 9:1-7 ESV

While Paul was on the issue of rights and the Christian’s need to die to them, he took the opportunity to address his rights as an apostle. There were evidently those in Corinth who were questioning if he really was an apostle at all. Others may have been by confused by some of Paul’s actions, because at times he did not appear to behave as an apostle. Some of this had to do with how Paul had handled himself when he had ministered among the the Corinthians. Rather than allow the Corinthians to meet all his financial needs and provide him with food and shelter, Paul and Barnabas had chosen to work (Acts 18:3). Evidently, other apostles, like Peter, had a reputation for bringing their wives with them while doing ministry and the churches were expected to cover their expenses as well. Paul didn’t fall into this category because he had no wife. But Paul’s point is that he had every right to expect the Corinthians to care for him while he was ministering among them. And if he had been married, he would have had the right to bring his wife with him and expect the church to pay her way. But Paul didn’t do those things. And yet that did not make him any less an apostle of Jesus Christ. He met the criteria. First of all, he had seen the risen Lord and had been commissioned by Him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He was every bit an apostle as much as Peter, James or John. And the Corinthians themselves were living proof of his apostleship, because their lives had been changed because of his ministry.

Paul gives three illustrations from daily life to prove his right to expect compensation and care from the Corinthians. First of all, he uses the example of a soldier. No member of the military is expected to pay his own way. He serves on behalf of the people, giving his time and, if necessary, his life in defense of his nation. In return, the citizens of that nation pay his salary and supply his needs for food, clothing and shelter. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The second illustration Paul uses is that of a farmer and his vineyard. No farmer in his right mind would plant a vineyard and not expect to benefit from the fruit that it yields. He is the one who tilled the soil, planted the vines and harvested the grapes. As a result, he had every right to enjoy the fruits of his labors. The final illustration Paul gives is the shepherd. To deny a shepherd the benefit of the milk his flocks provide would be ludicrous and unfair. He is the one who has provided for and protected the sheep, keeping them well-fed and safe, so he should be the one who enjoys some of the benefits of his hard work.

As we will see a little later on in this same chapter, the main concern Paul had was not regarding his rights but about the integrity of the gospel. His primary goal was that the gospel not be hindered in any way. That is why he and Barnabas had chosen to work rather than demanding their rights and expecting the Corinthians to pay their way. These two men did not want the Corinthians to resent their presence or reject the gospel because of a financial burden. So they willingly gave up their rights. Remember, this goes back to chapter eight and Paul’s warnings about those in the church who were allowing their “knowledge” of right and wrong to cause their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. They were allowing their rights to cause them to do wrong. And Paul was simply using himself as an illustration of how dying to one’s rights is the right thing to do some times.

At the core of the gospel is the message of love – God’s love for mankind. He sent His Son to die in the place of sinful men and women, out of love. Jesus had told His disciples that they were to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 ESV). In the very next verse, Jesus gave what He believed to be was the greatest expression of love for another human being. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). And in keeping with His teaching, Jesus would do just that, giving His life as the consummate expression of His love for mankind. The apostle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:12 ESV). And that was Paul’s primary point in his letter to the Corinthians. Just as Paul had been willing to give up his rights and lay down his life for them, he was expecting them to do the same. The gospel is not about rights, but about righteousness. It is about dying to self and living for God, which means loving those whom He has made in His image. God did not save us to make us isolated islands of self-righteousness where our rights rule the day. He saved us so that we might die to self and live for Him. And one of the best ways we can express our love for God is by loving those around us, sharing the gospel message of reconciliation in both words and actions. Jesus Himself made it perfectly clear and simple: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 15:35 ESV).