"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Poor in Spirit

For the last few weeks I have been approaching the definition of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13 phrase by phrase. The obvious title for the next phrase “is not arrogant” might have been: “Arrogance and Love on the Road Home.” Call me skeptical, but I thought no one would want to read such a blog post. Few of us think we are arrogant. If we suspect we are, we don’t want some blogger rubbing it in our face. If we think someone else is, we may be better off not dwelling on it (leads to judgment, after all.)

Jesus’ harshest words were unleashed upon the self-righteous, the “religious,” those arrogant in their moral superiority. Those who prayed, “thank you God that I am not like that sinner” versus “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” were not open to the gospel, because they were not aware of their need for it. On the other hand, he said of those repentant of heart, “Those forgiven much, love much.” There is, then, an inverse relationship between arrogance and love, and a direct correlation between poverty of spirit and the capacity for love.

Occasionally, it is my extraordinary pleasure as a counselor to work with individuals who recognize that they are poor in spirit. They are not coming to the counseling session for relief from a particular symptom or to deal with a particular relationship or even an event. They are seeking guidance and insight because they have come to see what Christ expects of them, and they recognize how far they fall short of those expectations.

They are not legalists. They are not concerning themselves with a set of external rules or behaviors. It is not generally abstinence from a vice that drives them to their knees. There are programs and self-help books in abundance for such issues. When they realize that, in the depths of their hearts, they love the likable and despise the rest, they fear that they are no different than the rest of the world. They wonder how knowing Christ has altered them. They may even question whether they really know Christ at all. When I think of such people, I am reminded of the rest of the beatitude~ “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is a good thing to realize that, in and of ourselves, we are utterly lacking. That is the truth that brings us to our knees before Christ. It causes us to cry out to him, to crave his righteousness to manifest itself in our hearts first, then in our lives and relationships. It is crucial that, in the process, we accept the agape of Spirit and others. That is what grace is for.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Love is not…arrogant.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 NASB

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love and Boasting on the Road Home

When attempting to describe something to someone who has never experienced it, we sometimes resort to its opposite: Snowy climates are not hot, the desert is not humid, and agape love does not boast.

In I Corinthians 13:4, as Paul was talking to the church in Corinth, the church body was being split into factions. They were tempted to see levels of gifts that the Holy Spirit never intended, placing some believers above others. The implications were far reaching. The temptation to boast was all too apparent. Paul's concern was that this boastful attitude was incongruent with the agape love of the Holy Spirit.

The one who is boasting (about gifts or anything else) is not loving. Such a person has become like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Lots of noise and attention, but not much real ministry going on. The word for boasting here, interestingly, is used only here in the New Testament.

It is no accident, I suspect, that Paul places this phrase so strategically after the phrase about envy (see last weeks post). We are prone to boast about the same things we are prone to envy. The particular flavor of our boasting is likely determined by the social setting (if we are sensitive to such things at all). So, if we are carnal folks, surrounded by worldly friends and family who openly live for today and live by the motto "he who dies with the most toys wins" we will brag about our toys. If, on the other hand, such boasting is not kosher in our circle of "spiriutal" friends, we may still quietly hoard and covet such things, inviting friends and family to see them, then boast in the success of our ministries or gifts and our special relationship with Jesus.

This matter can challenge us because it comes down to motives that nobody else can see-- nobody but you and Jesus. Hopefully, we want to glorify Him. We want to share with others the great things He is doing in our lives and ministries. If we are not very careful, our hearts can cross the line, and it becomes about the great things we have done, or even the great things He has done with us, his special pets. We can easily find ourselves saying, in the depths of our hearts--"Can I sit on your right hand in glory?"

There is no boasting in love. The fingernail does not boast that it is more visible than the toenail. It just does what the body tells it to do because it is integrated to the finger which is also doing what it is told in submission to the brain, etc.

Each part, each person, is necessary. Jesus is the great one. If we boast at all, let us boast in Him.

1 Corinthians 13:4 "Love ... does not boast."