Soul Growing.4

by admin on October 30, 2013

1 Corinthians 13
Reflections for 27 October 2013

Next to Psalm 23 this is probably the best known Bible story, chapter, collection of verses. Nearly everyone wants this read at their wedding. I think it’s either out of tradition, or some sort of good luck charm. Read the love chapter and it’ll be ok. Everybody I’ve ever married said they love each other….I think…yeh, until the first fight.

While the topic certainly is about love, St. Paul did not intend his letter to be read at wedding, or paraphrased on the covers of Hallmark cards, or even to be sung about in syrupy tunes. In a way of counter advice what was it our generation heard about love? “Love mans you never have to say you’re sorry.” Anybody have any practical advice on that one?

1 Corinthians 13 is not about love the feeling, emotion, or even the niceties of being polite. It is about offering a whole new way to consider in the middle of a fractured life. The little church in Corinth—think in terms of house gatherings, perhaps on the sly, gatherings of people who out in public may not even acknowledge one another due to social pressures, suddenly in a room and hearing about Jesus.

As we all have experienced, whenever people gather together there comes with it the inevitable clash of personalities. People think feel and act differently because we see the world differently. In Corinth this little church was filled with variant personalities, and in particular some of them were super spiritual. I called those people “spiritual high achievers.” They were sort of the gifted program back then.

Before you know it praise of Jesus and the weekly gathering of the saints became a contest of “who’s more spiritual this week.” It was a lot more fun to talk about people than to pray with them. You know the trajectory of this.

With great fondness I remember my home congregation. What a bunch of interesting characters. On of the more fundamental take homes was the constant bickering and infighting. Just go to any congregational meeting and you could sum up the sides by where people sat in the room. Never mind that you just took communion, too…..everyone was entitled to my opinion. Yelling, fighting and shaking of fists were always memorable.

Church lore is filled with all sorts of such human displays. We laugh, even at the fictitious Lake Wobegone, but it’s true. What is really true are the mismatched intents of the group. Mismatched I say because the end product does not fulfill the intended purpose.

What is the intended purpose of church? Well if we actually pay attention to the NT and the teachings of Jesus, and how they were further taught by Paul, Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we will discover that their intention is to be the living body of Jesus in the world. We call that soul formation. Call it character formation if you want. Regardless, the intended purpose of church is to be a community gathered about Jesus name in order to become Jesus in the world.

This was the initial attraction of the disciple community. They knew how to approach life from an entirely different perspective that yielded much more fulfilling results. We discovered the secret of intuitively knowing how to deal with situations that used to baffle us.

Like any other human institution, the church in Corinth had gotten derailed form its intended purpose. Here in these words Paul is adamant that they return to their first love: the author of love himself.

WHAT?
Let’s consider these famous words in three sections.
Vv1-3⇒ Without love your religiosity is worthless. That’s kind of stark and abrupt. Exactly. Religion without love is useless. There were many understanding of love in the ancient world, but Paul sticks to the one that best describes the love of God: sacrificial.

The proper framework for understanding any action in the life of a Jesus follower—which is the true understanding of “worship”—is to be love. This applies even to those morally praiseworthy actions of generosity. Noisy gong and clanging cymbal the “gong” is understood as the acoustical vases in the theatre used to amplify the actors voices. In other word, the emptied echoes of actors’ speech and the frenzied noise of pagan worship.

Even the quest for knowledge—big deal in Greek world—even gained through religious revelation—cf. oracle at Delphi—or philosophical reflection—without love: nothing.

Vv4-7⇒ One thing is for sure: love is the complete opposite of the behavior so often displayed in Corinth by the Jesus community. Here is a list of eight negative behaviors. Lots of puffed up folks that Paul deflates. Not every English translation does justice to the words here: “rude” is shameful behavior usually sexually oriented; love is not easily angered and certainly is not interested in record keeping. Love rejoices in the truth God’s way of righteous living. This is what makes love enduring.

Vv8-13⇒ There is a permanency to love that is lacking in the spiritual gifts to which the Corinthians are so firmly attached. There is an imperfection to the things that we hold dear. As a friend used to say: not to worry, every hundred years all new people. Paul likens the journey of spiritual formation to that of child to adult. Childish behavior has no place in the adult world. And yet…….golly, I know lots of people who are fifth grader masquerading as adults. You get the drift.

SO WHAT?
1. What is the center of your life? Think about this. What brings meaning into your life? If this is a foreign concept, read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I think what St. Paul does here is to invite his hearers, people he has known personally, btw, into the realm of actually contemplating and thinking about their lives from deep perspective. Love is the ground of meaning. It is as simple as that. Love as delineated by Paul in these few verses.

I am sure that the Corinthians had already heard much of Paul’s preaching here. He again keeps them on the beam by directing their attention away from the religious posturing they liked, to the eternal truth of love. Step back from our cherished projects and ask: Why am I doing this? What do you come up with?

2. Love calls forth the formation of character. We talked a lot about this last week. Soul formation. The soul is the hidden spiritual side of everyone. It is our thoughts, feelings, along with our heart and will, our intents and choices. Why do you choose to think, feel and do the way you do? This would also include our bodily life—Paul is big on this issue because it flies into the face of the prevailing Greek ideas—and our social relations.

Verses 4-7 offers up habitual actions and dispositions. The brain can be rewired by love. There is a definite learning curve to love. But cultivated over time, in the context of a community that models and supports such behavior, will yield revolutionary results. This is why Dallas Willard entitled his one book, Renovation of the Heart. Church is the school where such cultivation happens of habits and practice of love.

How can Nova be more effective in bringing this to fruition in our lives? When we act in accordance with our values, we feel more integrity, we feel happier. There is no need to get anything else in return.

3. All knowledge is partial. This is a biggie. From the earliest of ages we are told that being smart had something to do with knowledge management. Know more and get ahead. Sometimes there is just TMI. Here some the rubric of doubt. Just maybe we don’t have the whole picture. This is a fatal flaw in the belief of “full disclosure.” There is always more to the story. Experience says that those who command full disclosure of others are most likely to be hiding things themselves.

Love is about living in incompleteness, being aware that there is nothing perfect in this world. It’s about becoming comfortable with such imperfection, in others but most importantly in ourselves. Now is only a dimly lighted mirror. This is not fatalism, this is reality. Can you sit loose with the cares and concerns of your present existence? Easy to say, but most difficult to do. Our greatest internal wrestling is rooted in our incapacity to figure out all the detail of life. Why? Is the prevailing question.

But love doesn’t leave us in the lurch. Now……then.

NOW WHAT?
The most important thing happening at any moment is the kind of person we are becoming. What Jesus Kingdom of God project is about is forming our personality totally saturated with God’s kind of love.

Dallas Willard: God is greatly concerned with the quality of character we are building. The future he has planned for us will be built on the strength of character we forge by his grace. Intelligent, loving devotion to Christ will grow in importance through eternity and will never become obsolete.

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