In Love

At first glance, the phrase in love might lead some to think that this is going to be a piece about love.  It sounds like I am about to wax poetic on puppy love or lovey dovey things.  Of course, that could not be further from the truth; however, I may devote a post in the near future to that topic.  During my morning devotions, the phrase, in love, jumped out at me as I read the following verse:

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).

When I read over this verse, it feel like I need to duck from these commands.  They are like bullets from a machine gun.  Is this Paul’s intention?  My answer is no, but it might take some explaining to get there.  After reading this verse a third or fourth time, the second half of it seems to be the foundation.  I can be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., but without love, who cares?  In fact, the apostle Paul conveys this message in his justly famous love chapter, which is the thirteenth chapter to the same letter of the above text.   By the time we get to our verse, Paul throws out some concluding exhortations and reminders.  It makes total sense for Paul to repeat the love theme of chapter thirteen as he brings his letter to the Corinthians to a close.

In the English language, in love is a prepositional phrase.  My readers and followers might be thinking, ok, Mr. English Lit guy, so what?Prepositional phrases either modify nouns or verbs, which means in the above scripture text, the phrase in love modifies the action being performed by the person.  The apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to characterize their actions in love.  This means that the actions rest upon the foundation of love.  The next obvious question to ask is what kind of love is this?  According to the Greek lexicon, the word for love is agape, which comes from the Father in Christ by the Spirit.  Do these Corinthian believers exhibit such divine love in and of themselves apart from the Father?  The answer to that question is an obvious no.  Paul spends the entire first letter to the Corinthians reminding them of their position in Christ, and the responsibilities that result due to their union with Christ.

God’s love in Christ through the Spirit draws the Corinthian believers into the body of Christ.  Another way to say this is that God’s love characterizes and establishes these Corinthian believers in the body of Christ.  According to Paul’s words in chapters twelve and fourteen, these believers exhibit unique gifts of the Spirit in order to edify each other and to display Christ to the world.  All of these doings and manifestations of the Spirit have their foundation in love, God’s love.  When Paul fires off his quick list, be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., these qualities are not possible without being in God’s love.  How does one wind up in God’s love?  There are a number of ways to say it, but I will stick with a Pauline answer from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Corinthian believer’s position, and all believers’, is secure in Christ, it was a gift, and it is in love.  From this place, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be on the alert in love, to stand firm in the faith in love, and so on and so forth.  The manner of our being strong must be characterized by God’s love.  If one’s position is in love, then it follows that one’s actions may be in love, too.  It is not possible to exhibit God’s love without being in his love.  He is the source from which believers draw from in order to live.  Apart from God and his love, all that believers and anyone accomplishes is zero.

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No Longer a Young Man

Given my current age of thirty-seven, the title of today’s post may cause some to roll their eyes.  I guess this line of thinking springs up from the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13:11.  In this verse, Paul talks about the maturity of one from a child to an adult in terms of growing in love, the gifts of the Spirit, and our future glorification as followers of Jesus.  I am not growing for growth’s sake.  There is an expected end or result due to the shaping and molding.

There is a time of instruction and development needed in order to engage as an adult.  Once that time passes, there is the doing or the applying of what one has learned.  Do I stop learning as an adult?  Am I free to disregard ways to improve or better who I am?  The answer to both of those questions is a solid no.  Learning continues even after I exist this present life.  Back to the main point, in my walk with Christ, the young adult stage is definitely past; however, I sense that the young man stage is a thing of the past, too.

1 Corinthians 13 is a marvelous chapter about containing and expressing God’s love.  It is a call to be and to do as an adult in Christ.  This is not age dependent, but it is dependent upon my trust and obedience to Christ.  The call is to grow in Christ, which is by the Spirit.  In my flesh, I can do things that seem like love.  In my flesh, the love comes out in false ways like manipulation and scheming.   I may have the Holy Spirit and one or two of his gifts, but I am selfish, impatient, rigid, and discontented.  The solution to some of this is to remain quiet.  Speak or act only when prompted by the Spirit.  This might require that I stay silent long enough to sense the Spirit nudging me.

The very next question that comes to mind is what does it look like to stay silent?  Practically, this might mean taking some time out of the day to be with the Lord.  Rather than blitzing through passage of the bible, it might be wiser to rest at one verse or even one word.  There might be a variety of ways to seek the Lord.  It does not mean descending into some form of mysticism.  The Psalms are rife with passages and verses that command and encourage seeking God.  Here’s a wonderful example in Psalm 119:10 —

“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.”

In this verse, the Psalmist expresses that he seeks after God with his whole heart.  Then, he petitions his God for the ability to obey or follow God’s commands.  I think it is appropriate to pray this verse or to rest on it verse as a practical exercise for seeking God.  If I am disobeying his word in specific ways, then it follows that I am not seeking him or his ways.  He will show me those specific things that I am doing for confession and repentance.  This process refines me and enables me to draw nearer to my Heavenly Father.  It also matures me into more of an adult before God and men.  Childish ways are childish ways no matter how safe, comfortable and familiar.

What I need is God and his word.  There is no substitute as a spiritual adult in Christ.  Because I reside in this body of death to quote the apostle Paul, I will always need the Father’s help to read his word and to apply his truths to my life.  My prayer sounds no different than the Psalmist’s: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18, ESV).  Unless the Spirit of God opens my eyes, the bible ceases to be a lifegiving account of following Christ.  Without the Spirit, God’s word comes off as a confusing historical creative work about an unknown being anthropomorphized into someone important.  Given that I have the Spirit of God dwelling within me, I can read and obey his word to maximum effect as his man.