Love Is

Studies in First Corinthians – XIX

1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:1-3

I imagine love lights up the face of Paul as he dictates the next words of his letter. For twelve chapters he has dealt with issues concerning the low spiritual state and disunity of the Corinthian church. As he said in the beginning, they “came behind in no gift” (1:7), but they were tragically lacking in love. It must have been the climax for him to finally give the answer to every problem they faced: the love of God.

Love remains the answer for us today. In fact, Paul tells us quite plainly in these verses that if we have no love, we have nothing; but if we have love and lack much else, we have what matters most.

The word that Paul uses for “love” (translated “charity” in the KJV) is agape. It means an actual absorption of every part of our being in one great passion. It is used most often in relation to God: “God so loved [agapao] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). This word has little to do with emotion; it indicates love which deliberately, by an act of will, chooses its object, and through thick or thin, regardless of the attractiveness of the object concerned, goes on loving continually, unconditionally, eternally.

It suggests complete self-denial. Loving in this manner means never thinking of self over the object of love. There is only One who has ever lived up to its definition.

It is the only word used to describe God without any qualification or explanation: God is agape. No explanation needed.

Whatever love is, Jesus is. Jesus suffers long and is kind. Jesus envies not; Jesus vaunts not Himself, is not puffed up, does not behave Himself unseemly. Jesus seeks not His own, it not easily provoked, takes no account of evil, rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices with truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.

Love is the one thing that is completely indestructible. It is the most powerful force in the universe. While everything else fades, love lasts. It is not dependent on anything outside of itself. It is not affected by the worth or worthiness of its object.

God is love. Love is. That is the greatest truth you could ever know. To know Him is to love Him.

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What Gift Are You Giving?

Studies in First Corinthians – XVIII

1 Corinthians 12:1-12

As we turn to the twelfth chapter, Paul begins to deal with spiritual gifts. These gifts were God’s answer to the divisions and carnality that plagued the Corinthian Church. They are for the benefit, not of myself, but of other people. God gives us the gifts so that we can minister to the needs of others; He gives so that we can give. Spiritual gifts are an answer to division because they were meant for mutual ministry among the Church body.

Diversity is one of the most beautiful things about the body of Christ: different temperaments, personalities, races, social backgrounds, and many others. We are all saved but thank God that we are not all the same! Despite all of these differences we each go to the same source for our gifts:

“Now there are diversities of gifts (gifting, talents, ability), but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations (types of ministry), but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations (expressions of God’s power), but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (12:4-6).

The problem in Corinth was that these gifts were being used in an immature manner for self-promotion when they were meant to be used for the good of the Church body. The Lord desires that each of His children would not only be equipped individually for the journey, but that they would be well able to minister to and profit one another.

He knows how to distribute the gifts, and He “divides to every man according as he will” (12:11). It is not ours to decide which gift we will receive. We are not to complain if someone receives a gift and we do not. We are only asked to use the gift that He has given us to minister to the Body of Christ.

What gift are you giving?

Paul’s Teachings on Communion

Studies in First Corinthians – XVII

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

In this later portion of the eleventh chapter, Paul is correcting the Corinthians for abusing the Lord’s table (the taking of communion). In doing so, he teaches them the purpose and proper observance of communion.

First of all, communion is a remembrance of the past.

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (11:23-25).

We take communion to remember the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The One who gave His life at Calvary is asking that we remember His death and put it at the center of our Christian experience. He who loved us unto death is calling us from busyness and barrenness to wait upon Him and worship Him. He is pointing us back to the heart of the Gospel: the cross.

Paul is sure to bring out the important fact that when Jesus took bread, the symbol of His soon-to-be broken body, and gave it to the disciples, He did not complain. He gave thanks! At the moment when all of the powers of sin and evil were against Him, just before He endured the anguish of Gethsemane alone while disciples slept through the night, just before they hung Him on a tree, He gave thanks! How? Because it was His delight to do the will of the Father.

Taking communion is not only a remembrance, it is a proclamation.

“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26).

The Greek word for “shew” means to proclaim, declare, or preach. Even if you are not a preacher, you preach a sermon when you take communion. You are preaching to the powers of darkness, proclaiming the Lord’s death which has conquered them. You are also declaring a witness to the Lord that you trust His atoning work.

As much as communion is a remembrance, it is also hope for the future.

“…ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26b).

The Word of God emphasizes the hope of every child of God: any moment, and day, the clouds may part and Jesus Christ may come again! We will only partake of the Lord’s supper until that day we have been waiting for comes: the day He returns to take us home.

Finally, communion is a time of self-examination.

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (11:27-29).

Notice he doesn’t say “if we are unworthy.” None of us is worthy to eat or drink the Lord’s supper. He says, “whosoever shall [eat and drink] unworthily.” How do we eat and drink unworthily? If we come to His table without examining ourselves.

Paul is warning us that if we keep coming to the Lord’s table without examining ourselves and repenting of our sins, there is going to come a day when God will judge and punish us. He does not keep anyone from coming to the table, but He gives us a warning that should cause us to come in humility and repentance.

Can I? Could I? Should I?

Studies in First Corinthians – XVI

In a world of increasing darkness and an ever widening gulf between the holiness of God and the wickedness of mankind, it can be difficult for the Christian to know where to draw the line. Of course, the line should not move further from God as the world does. Certainly there must be some principles that we can follow as we make decisions. In the second part of chapter ten, Paul gives us three guidelines for making these decisions motivated by our love for God and others.

1. Live Sacrificially for Others

“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (10:24).

Paul wasn’t suggesting we steal each other’s money. He was teaching that we should all live sacrificially for other people. Because of love, the child of God will be careful to do nothing that would hinder another. His first concern is the spiritual wealth of that person. In every setting: at home, at church, on the job, in school, he is seeking the spiritual benefit of others.

2. Live in Separation Unto God

“What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (10:19-21).

Paul makes here an important distinction: our fellowship is at Calvary, but our contact must be with the world. Our fellowship is with Jesus, but our friendship is for those who do not know the Savior. In other words, Paul distinguishes between our associations and our fellowship. We associate with unsaved people as we move throughout this world, but we fellowship with the LORD and the body of Christ at Calvary.

It is impossible to belong to Christ and live in the enemy’s camp. Absolute separation unto God is demanded, but remember that separation is not isolation. Separation is contact without contamination. We are to move among the lost, talk with them, work with them, play with them – but always maintain the standard of Christian living.

3. The Glory of God is Our Purpose in Everything

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).

Paul was not suggesting we can make up our mind about the righteousness of an action and, whatever we decide, do it for the glory of God. He was teaching that we should ONLY do that which we CAN do to the glory of God. If an action or decision goes against the Word of God or the Spirit of God, it cannot be for His glory.

Ask yourself these three questions when you need to make a decision:

1. Will it be a stumbling block to others? If the answer is yes, your love for others should stop you.

2. Can God bless this action? If you can’t expect Him to bless it, then don’t do it.

3. Can I do this for the glory of God? In not, then have no part of it.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Studies in First Corinthians – XV

In chapter ten Paul begins to exhort the Corinthians to caution in their Christian walk. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (10:12). The devil’s great objective is to cause the child of God to stumble so that he loses his power in the Holy Ghost. In order to illustrate the importance of caution, Paul draws on the example of the children of Israel in the wilderness (10:1-11).

The first four verses show the incredible privileges of the people of God. With all that God brought these people through, you would think it would be impossible for them to fail. But in verse five, Paul is pointing out their failure: “But with many of them God was not well pleased.”

How many is “many?” All except for two! Only two who came out of Egypt entered into the promised land – Caleb and Joshua.

The others were “overthrown” in the wilderness. What overthrew them? Paul gives us the answer: he shows us four things that spell out tragedy, not only in the times of Moses, but for every believer today.

1. LUST“we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (10:6).

God provided them with everything they needed. Yet they were not satisfied. They asked for something different than what God had given. They asked for something perfectly legitimate, but it was not a part of God’s plan. God knew what was best for them but they demanded to have their way.

One of the first things that will take men away from God is a desire for something other than what He has planned for them. God will always meet us on the level of our desires. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will not withhold it. But if we desire something outside of His will, He will not fight us long to stay.

2. Idolatry“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them” (10:7).

When Moses was taking too long with God on the mountain, the people decided they needed a new God. Aaron set up an idol, pretending it was unintentional, but it was idolatry. The people worshiped the golden calf. They “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (10:7). Simply put, they took sacrifice out of their religion in favor of ease and comfort.

3. Fornication“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (10:8).

The children of Israel were involved in wrong relationship, unequally yoked with ungodly people. They lowered their standards of purity and became guilty of relationships which were completely opposed to God’s will, exposing the true desires of their hearts.

4. Unbelief“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (10:9-10).

How often they complained despite the faithfulness of their God! It seemed hardly a few days would pass from a great miracle before they forgot and were troubled by unbelief. How often in our own life do we fail to trust the leading of God when it takes us through the wilderness?

If you find yourself struggling with any of these today, there is hope!

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (10:13-14).

God does not say He will remove the pitfalls. He doesn’t say that He will not permit you to fall. But He does say that it doesn’t have to happen. He has provided a way of escape!

Sacrifice and Discipline

Studies in First Corinthians – XIV

In chapter nine, Paul writes about his policy on financial support to teach on discipline and sacrifice, illustrating a mature use of Christian liberty. Paul had every right to accept pay for his labors, but he set aside his rights to reach a higher goal. He waved his rights so that the Gospel wouldn’t be clouded by greed. He was giving up the good for the best; sacrificing the immediate for the eternal.

The sort of discipline of the body and sacrifice of personal rights Paul speaks of throughout this chapter are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is also evidence to the Christian and to the unbeliever alike of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

Paul vindicates his apostleship by pointing out things that were absolutely legitimate rights, but to which he had said “no” for the Lord’s sake. Within the scope of that test, what counts is not my success, my connections, my blessings, or my skill, but that my heart and life bear the marks of the cross and sacrifice. It will cost you something to follow Jesus.

Paul also speaks of the disciplining of the body. “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others I should myself be a castaway” (9:26-27).

I like the way J.B. Phillips paraphrases it in his Letters to Young Churches, “I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight! I am my body’s sternest master, for fear that when I have preached to others I should myself be disqualified.”

While we are saved by grace through faith, we also know that faith without works is dead. True faith gets into our hands, our feet, our tongue, our heart, and our mind. Simply put, faith is expressed in the physical. If faith in Jesus Christ does not begin to make the whole body move in the will of God, there is no evidence of faith at all. Saving faith disciplines the flesh by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.

Let us all examine our lives for the marks of sacrifice and discipline. Have we left behind certain things to which we are entitled for the sake of the Kingdom? Are we triumphing in our daily walk, not allowing the flesh and its appetites to dominate our life?

Remember, even the Apostle Paul could not do these things if it had not been for the power of the Holy Ghost. Jesus is the only one who could live such a life, and He did. He renounced His rights and brought His body under subjection even unto His death. When we are filled with His Spirit, these same characteristics will begin to work themselves out in us!

With What Are You Building?

Studies in First Corinthians – VII

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

-1 Corinthians 3:10-16

Paul points out the importance of having the correct foundation AND the correct building materials. Some Christians are building on the right foundation with the wrong materials (works of the flesh rather than the works of the Spirit). The Church will not stand on any other foundation than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet even on the correct foundation, it is possible to use the wrong materials.

Paul describes two types of building materials: indestructible—gold, silver, and precious stones; and destructible—wood, hay, and stubble. In this Scripture we see a clear distinction between salvation and rewards. It is possible for a man’s soul to be saved, but his works, being of no value, to be burned. If his motives are not eternal, but temporal or earthly, he may be saved, but his works will be destroyed. Our motives must be to build the Kingdom for the glory of God.

Build on the foundation with materials that will last the test of time. Build with the brick of submission to God’s will and purpose, even in times of suffering. Put in a doorway of prayer. Open up the windows of praise and worship. Be sure to include the gold of purity and righteousness, the silver of a radiant testimony, and the precious stones of victory over temptation.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians to pay close attention to how they build because they are the temple of God. Let us also be reminded, we are the temple of the Holy Ghost. We are intended to reveal the glory of the Lord.

Every one of us is building. Every moment of every day, we are building. Look in your hands – What are you building with today? Will it last?