Category Archives: Maturity

Firm Foundations – Study 6 – Colossians 3:1-17

The new you part 1: Put on love

Topic covered: How do we now live as Christians?
Glossary: sin; fruit of the Spirit; forgiveness; love. Now-but-not-yet.

Discussion Question

Which do you think is better: to be told what not to do or what to do?

Context

In the first half of his letter, Paul has proclaimed Christ to be above everything else. Christ is the source of life and Christ is the only way to or eternal hope. In Chapter 2, he hopes that his readers have ‘died with Christ’ so that every other reality is subordinate to knowing and following him. He has said that we are to continue living our lives in him, established and built up in the faith.

In the next section of his letter, we will hear examples of what this all looks like. Paul will give us some solid applications of what he has laid down in Chapters 1 to 3. What follows is not new thoughts on unrelated issues, but what flows out of our true knowledge of the gospel.

Read Colossians 3:1-17

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

What did you see?

Structure

  • Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)
  • Walk away from your old self (5-9)
  • Put on love (10-14)
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)

Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” Paul begins his second half of the letter with this brief reminder of what he has been saying so far. Remember that the letter is one flowing argument based on the truth that Christ is the source of life and the giver of eternal hope.

“…you have been raised with Christ…” This is another little gem statement about the gospel. If the free gift of salvation was not complete, then Paul couldn’t say that we HAVE been raised with Christ. He’s not talking about a future resurrection but about a reality right now for those who have already DIED with Christ. Our identity is now paired with him. Our status in life for all eternity is as alive and qualified because we are with Christ.

“…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” In 2:20, Paul said to stop allowing everyday things to have eternal meaning. He now says it in the positive: set your hearts on what is eternal. The King is on His throne and our destination is with Him. What matters most is to make what matters most matter. Christ, the eternal King, is all that matters. So, lift your eyes sinner. Set your horizon higher dreamer. Give your goals an eternal perspective. Our hearts are our loves and passions. What is it that you desire and long for? Take your eyes off what is fleeting and place it on the eternal and true. Fall in love with the hope that is in you. Believing that Jesus Christ is really seated in heaven at God’s right hand will change your life!

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Not just what we love but our thoughts. The bible speaks to both parts of the person which work together. What we know, we will train our hearts to love. And what we love, that is what we will pursue. Earthly things, refers to everything that is passing away. Our generation (as all that has preceded us) is so fickle and rejoices in short-lived shiny things. But this is the essence of the fight within all of us to sin no more. Sin is about grabbing hold of things that are not worth loving but we do anyway.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” This is not a new thought but embraces 2:20-3:2. Picture this like boarding a lifeboat. We have boarded the boat, which is Christ, because we see that we need saving and this is our only real option. But boarding the boat means leaving the water or the sinking vessel. Your only future is to stay in that boat and not play around with the danger that you have left behind.

“When Christ, who is your life, appears…” So, this is an important point of view of the Christian. Although we have not seen Christ, we love him and although we don’t see him now, we believe in him and are filled with the joy of knowing him now and anticipating seeing him face to face (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:1-2). A day will come, maybe in our lifetime, maybe not, when Jesus will come again in the flesh and wrap up this earth which is temporal. We live for this future and it affects the way we deal with everything in this world. We are in Christ now, but we will see him for real in the future. This is called the now-but-not-yet reality of now. We are hidden with Christ but we are not yet with him in sight.

“…then you also will appear with him in glory.” It’s easy to talk about God as the glorious one and that Jesus is the one to be glorified and praised but we are also told that there is a future version of us that even we don’t know the reality of. One day, the person who God is working in you to be will be revealed in glory. We will see ourselves for what God, by grace, has made us. On the last day, we will be united with Christ and both he and we will be seen for who we really are. This is what we live for now. So, don’t have a short view of the future. Think about eternity!

Walk away from your old self (5-9)

“Put to death…” Sit on this phrase and soak it in. What follows are things that we need to do away with and not put on a shelf to come back to but to end our relationship with them. Christ is our life, and we are to begin our discipleship by murdering. The examples that follow in verse 5 are about sex.

“…therefore…” This word tells us that what follows comes out of the work that Christ has and is doing in us. Christ is our life…therefore. We are hidden in Christ…therefore. You will appear with Christ in glory…therefore. This is the power of the gospel. We will put to death only because of what Christ has done. Without his work, we are incapable of putting these to death.

“…whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” This phrase in with Verse 2 when he told us not to set our minds on earthly things. But he then goes on to list what they are.

“…sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” We could say that these 5 items here relate to passions of the flesh. Most fall in the category of sex. Greed is related in that it is about taking what we feel is needed even though it is not. John Woodhouse, former Principal of Moore Theological College, argues that all of the items are under the umbrella of the first item: sexual immorality. It is easy to see that the items are to do with passions of the flesh. We see, we want, we take.

Sex contained inside marriage is a very Christian idea. At the time of the New Testament writers, this was not common sense nor the norm. We live in an age again when this is no longer normal. Saving sex for marriage and containing it in marriage seems a very odd thing to do in these days. If one believes that there is no God or that God does not wish to judge us, then we are merely creatures doing what creatures do. But Colossians 3:5-7 teaches us that there are immoral approaches to sex.

“…which is idolatry.” Feeding the passions of the flesh is akin to self-worship. It places sex above God. Just in case someone reads this and thinks I am suggesting God hates sex, clearly the passage is about sexual immorality and impurity, and not everything about sex.

“Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” When we read the bible, we understand that sin is about feeding the flesh in self worship. God’s anger is against his creatures who saw, liked, took and ate – despite the clear instruction against it. The wrath of God is judgment day.

“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” Remember that Christians are not good people, they are sinners saved by grace. We used to walk in these ways. We can never look on a Christian and presume that they know nothing of the ‘wild life’ or rebellion and so on. They just don’t tend to brag about them!

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these…” First we were to put to death sexual immorality. Now there is something we are to put away. Like you put the gun back in the holster. What follows is a list of things that we do with our mouth.

“…anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” A lot goes on between the eyes, the brain and the mouth. It can happen extremely quickly, but self-control is an outworking of the gospel. In the book of James we are taught that if you can control your tongue, then you can control your whole body! See James 3:3-12!

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” Here is a great summary of 3:5-8. The old self used to look out for number one. Child development experts note that lying is a normal stage of mental maturity, indicating intelligence. Could it not also be a kind of evidence that sin is in all of us?

The power of the gospel is transformed lives, desires and a trained tongue. We transform our thinking by growing in our knowledge of the gospel and of the true meaning of God’s grace. We reflect on the eternal hope stored up for us in heaven and that alters our wants and desires in the immediate.

Put on love (10-14)

“…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We don’t simply kill and put away the old self but we replace it with knew thinking. We learn more and more about our great and perfect Creator. God is referred to as Creator here to remind us that he has made us for a purpose and a reason. We are not made for lies and malice and anger and sexual immorality. We are being transformed to the likeness of God. Sin has turned his creation into a wild mess but grace will win in the end.

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew…Christ is all, and is in all.” Paul rounds out this paragraph under the theme of being images of God in that everywhere around the world, every race and human culture are one when in Christ. We lose our divisions and call one another brother and sister. In the church, there is no division according to race or anything, but we are all being transformed to the image of our one Creator in Christ Jesus.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people…” The title of God’s chosen people originates in the Old Testament when God called Abraham and his descendants to follow Him by faith. This is an element of the doctrine of election which says that we are not saved because we first came to God but that he first chose and called us.

“…holy and dearly loved…” What a way to speak of the people of God! We are not called to be enslaved to God and to serve Him for His own selfish gain – but we are holy because of the sins washed away from us and we are dearly loved, demonstrated by the sacrifice God made for us in Christ (Romans 5:8).

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The gospel produces fruit like this (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a decisiveness to this in that we are to clothe ourselves. Christian growth does not happen entirely by the work of the Spirit but by the cooperation of us with the Holy Spirit.

Compassion: to feel concern for others.

Kindness: often demonstrated with the way we use our tongue but always when we think of how our speech or actions will affect someone else.

Humility: the opposite of boasting and pride. Even an expert in a subject can demonstrate humility toward others – making them feel important too.

Gentleness: a soft word, a quiet approach and a soft touch all stem from compassion, kindness, humility and patience.

Patience: Don’t let your time be the most important. It could be that someone else needs more time to come to an answer or to learn a new skill.

“Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” This is a truly remarkable difference that the gospel can make. Bearing with one another is about letting things slide at times. It comes from patience. We give others room to make mistakes because you ain’t perfect either. I love it when others bear with me while I work things out or while I have time to repent of my anger or pride. Nobody rebuked me but knew that I had stuff to work on. So, don’t jump on one another every time someone does something wrong. This really helps with road rage! And then there’s forgiveness. After a recognition of sin or fault by someone else and a ‘sorry’, we run to forgiveness. The gospel must teach us this. Just like the gospel itself, forgiveness follows repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 5:3; Ezekiel 18:32; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 11:18; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Enough said? Well, forgiveness cost God. Forgiveness is not easy but God believes that it is worth the cost. It can hurt to forgive somebody but this is the way of grace.

“And over all these virtues…” What Paul has listed are examples only of Christian virtues – or virtues found in the chosen people of God. We were created to be like this.

“…put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” When you practice any of these virtues you are showing love and exercising love. Ever wondering what to do in a situation? Put on love. Ever wondering what to say to a person? Put on love.

So we have reflected on where our hearts and minds are to be directed (1-4), we have decided to put away the old man (5-9) and replace him with the virtues of love (10-16). Now we look at what gospel itself does in the community of believers.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” I love the thought of allowing the peace of Christ to do its thing. Don’t resist what God is doing. Allow the gospel to be communicated and meditated on. Let the impact of the gospel dominate your heart and your passions and desires. Allow God to be the greatest treasure to you. We let that happen by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and putting away the old habits of sin.

“…since as members of one body you were called to peace.” The gospel does not bring people together to be enemies but to be friends. We lose our high views of ourselves and surrender to Christ and all of us are on equal terms – one in Christ.

“And be thankful.” Practice being thankful. Make a point of ticking off the things to be thankful for. Christians ought to be thankful creatures. Thankfulness dominates resentment and discontentment.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…” Again, let the gospel flow in the Christian community. Let the church be well fertilized by the word of God.

“…as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” To teach is to instruct and remind one another of the gospel truth. To admonish is to urge and steer people back to the gospel life. Both are to be done with all wisdom. That means to know when and how to do it. We don’t just speak truth because it’s true. We do it with compassion, kindness and patience.

“…through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…” So, the teaching and admonishing are part of our singing tradition. The songs we sing ought to be filled with gospel teaching which encourages one another in the truths of God’s word. From the Spirit refers to the content of the songs being from the mind of God.

“…singing to God…” So, our songs are sung toward one another because they are for teaching and admonishing and also sung to God as our proclamation of faith.

“…with gratitude in your hearts.” Be thankful.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Paul ends this section also with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.

What did we learn?

Paul ends this section, in verse 17, with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: Putting to death and putting away. We must remember that our project is not to build up a perfect life but to embrace what God has already done for us in Christ. We are not earning a salvation for ourselves (Christ has claimed it for us) but when we turned to Christ, we became his followers. We are in the race. As runners, we need to get rid of things that don’t fit this life anymore. It is time to walk away from our past habits and embrace new ones. CS Lewis once wrote about Satan’s ploy to convince us that the only was to get rid of temptation is to give into it. This is a lie. Learn to turn up prayer when temptation comes. The temptation will pass and when it does, the deed will no longer look beautiful but pathetic.

Topic B: The fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit of God. They are not good deeds but good character and virtues. The fruit of the Spirit does not grow by focusing on the fruit but by focusing on the foundation which is Christ and His kingdom. Colossians talks about producing the fruit of the Spirit like putting on clothing. In that sense, we can help the Spirit work by practicing and thinking about such things as compassion and kindness. Again, understand that this improvement does not come by building your inner self and strength up but by letting Christ rule in your heart.

Topic C: Forgiving as the Lord forgave you. We’ve heard this before! The Lord’s prayer puts this right at the centre. Praying the Lord’s prayer can help us to meditate on who is the rightful ruler, whose kingdom are we serving and how are we to think about love and forgiveness, temptation and power. The point is to look to God for your motivation and direction. Maturity comes to those who let Christ rule. When faced with the hard choice of forgiving others, ask yourself what Jesus has been willing to do for you.

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Resurrection bodies

Discussion Question

For revision: how important is the resurrection?

Background (Context)

The first half of Chapter 15 focused on the truth, reality, historicity and importance of the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then we are the most to be pitied! Let’s just enjoy life and forget about mission, the gospel, church and God!

But the resurrection is real. Jesus has been raised! And because of this, we have the greatest hope!

From Verse 35 of this chapter, Paul describes what the resurrection might look like. How should we think about the future of our body? What do we mean when we talk about going to heaven? Will the resurrection be worth it?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)
  • The old versus the new (42-44a)
  • The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)
  • Therefore… (50-58)

Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)

“But someone will ask…” Paul was a preacher, evangelist and an apologist (this does not mean that he is sorry for what he says but that he defends what he says to his audience). Sometimes it is said that we need more apologetic discussions and debates around to show people why Christianity makes sense. It’s good to note that apologetics is a subset of preaching and evangelism. It ought not to stand alone from those things nor stand above them. Paul is already anticipating what someone might say to him. It seems wise that we all engage in apologetics with ourselves! That is, answer the question: why do you believe that?

“…How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” When we talk about the dead rising, I wonder how many people think about zombies or of the Sixth Sense? The logical next question after defending the reality of the resurrection is to ask: what does it look like?

“How foolish!…you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…” As The Message puts it (and I do not rely on The Message for deep thought but for alternate ways of phrasing something true), “You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.” 

“…each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Paul has three dimensions going on in this argument. The first is that the fruit looks nothing like the seed. The second is that each fruit (banana, tomato, apple) looks different! But the third dimension is that the seed becomes what it is destined to be. Each kind of seed gets its own body as God has determined for it to receive. We ought to expect that the resurrection body will be unlike what is sown and that it will be exactly as God has determined for it to be. More of this toward the end of the chapter. He explains for now that there are fish and animals and people and these are all distinct – of a different kind. The same is with the heavenly bodies. They will be something – but something different.

“…the splendor of the heavenly bodies…of the earthly bodies…the sun…the moon…the stars…” When you gaze at the moon, it looks amazing! But the sun is of a different kind of amazing! The stars, when we focus our attention on those, we are in awe, but they are different again from the moon and the sun. The human body is amazing! But there will be a whole level of different ‘wow’ when it comes to the heavenly body. We need to train ourselves to expect something different. Remember Jesus answering a question with the knowledge that there is no giving or receiving in marriage in heaven? It’s not that there will be a ban on marriage and we’ll all be lonely. But that we will enter something of a different splendor in heaven.

The old versus the new (42-44a)

“…sown…raised…” Paul compares the seed of our bodies that is sown compared to the new that is raised. Note that the sowing and raising are passive (done to us).

“…perishable…imperishable…” Humans are clothed in perishable garments. We have a use-by date. An expired date. We have only a lifetime guarantee. Our bodies are disposable. The bible states that we are from dust and to dust we shall return (Gen 2:7; 3:19; Ecc 3:20; Ps 90:3). Our mortality was secured after The Fall since before Genesis 3, humanity was given access to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9), when this tree was banned our bodies were destined to perish. That is, we are not immortal by nature but earthly. Our bodies are made for this earth. But God has something better destined for us. An imperishable body which will not suffer from asthma, migraines, fatigue or heart failure.

“…dishonor…glory…” These words help define one another when put in comparison together. The earthly body of dishonor is scared by sin, it is weak, it is enslaved to the things of this world. But the heavenly body is gloriously free for righteousness and honor. Of course we shall not go so far as to say that our bodies are ugly and unworthy of protection and care. But we will be ready to discard this body for the next in a heartbeat. A word search in the bible on ‘dishonor’ will reveal how it is used to describe dishonoring parents or marriages or the created order of things, or a bad word about somebody. This body does not declare what is truly meant to be. It leads us astray and holds us back from pursuing godliness.

…weakness…power…” Perhaps the weakness refers to our need for sleep and rest and our destiny which is death. While power may refer to the opposite of all these. It is easy to link what Paul is saying here with his battle between our flesh and the Spirit in Romans 6-8. While we live in this body, we are lured to the cravings of this body. See Romans 6:1-14. Paul also determined elsewhere to tell his body what it was going to do since mission means more than comfort (1 Cor 9:24-27).

“…natural body…spiritual body.” This statement leads into the next section. It is worth considering what we imagine when we think about heaven. We shall not be floating spirits but we shall have spiritual bodies. People often mention that Jesus still carried the scars of the cross after his resurrection and that he could also ‘walk through walls’ so to speak (John 20:26). It’s worth mentioning that Philip, though still in his earthly body, was transported from where the eunuch stood (Acts 8:39). So, what the spiritual body will look like, be able to do etc. is up to the imagination as we read between the lines of scripture. But let’s continue listening to Paul…

The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)

“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” In Verses 44 to 49 Paul makes the observation that we are all stemming from mankind. We are descended from Adam who did not exist prior to God creating him. His kind is the natural kind. The flesh and blood kind. And we are all of that kind! But through Christ, we are destined to be raised up a different kind – not just better but mapped with the same kind as Christ. I’m not suggesting that we will be god. But Paul says that the first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. When we are raised a spiritual body we will be native to heaven as the ‘second man’ is. We shall be welcomed to the environment that we were recreated for. To dwell with God and He with us. 

Therefore… (50-58)

“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In its context, we are told here that we ought to forget the concept of keeping our bodies in heaven. We would be like fish out of water. Enoch and Elijah were taken up without dying that also raises the question of what happens when Christ returns and there are those who have not died?

“We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…” Paul describes this as a mystery. Meaning that we know some pieces but we don’t have the whole picture. We know that we will all be changed. How that happens is yet to be seen. Nobody, Enoch, Elijah, or all those still alive at the second coming, nobody can hold on to their perishable bodies. For the old order of things must pass away!

“For the trumpet will sound…” The trumpet is synonymous with a triumphant/loud announcement (Matt 6:2) and is linked closely with the second coming of Christ (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). It is used in Numbers (10:7) to gather the assembly. It was blasted out on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). The trumpets were also a feature in the book of Revelation (see Rev 11:15). In 1 Cor 15:52 Paul records that at the end, with the unavoidable sound from heaven, the dead will rise and then all who are in Christ will be changed. Those who die prior to the trumpet blast shall lie sleeping and waiting for that time (this is just one view).

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable…the saying…will come true…” When Christ returns, the reign of this world will be over and death will be completely defeated. The victory over death was done at the cross and resurrection of Christ but we currently wait for the complete victory of death to be matured. Then we can say that death has been swallowed up. Revelation 20:14 describes the end of death itself.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Often, Paul can be understood when read backwards (don’t be too literal with that advice!). The law reveals sin within us. Without the law, sin would be powerless – meaningless – without strength, weight or consequence. Without sin, death would be harmless. It would either not exist! Or it would simply be a transition from one state to the next. But we die in our sin and we die in our sin because of the law.

“But thanks be to God!…through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ, we are cleared from all breaking of the law and therefore sin has no power over us and thus death has no sting. We shall still die. But our death shall mean a new spiritual body. And this is all only through Christ. Death does not bring us rest or peace if we die in our trespasses and sin. But we have already died with Christ at the cross and so death – our mortal end – does not have its sting. Like a toothless shark.

“Therefore…your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Paul concludes his piece on the resurrection. At the beginning of the Chapter he declared that if you throw out the resurrection you may as well throw out the cross of Christ also. He then declared, in this study, that the resurrection is the completion of Christ’s work in us. Death is not the end. And our efforts ought to be for the kingdom of God first and foremost and then for every other need second (Matthew 6:33). Paul commends us, not only to hold firm to the gospel, but to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. This is why we promote Growth Groups and long to see people pursue a daily bible reading plan AND to foster the work of making disciples. There are things that we pour effort into which last a little while and then have no meaning, but everything done for raising up disciples of Christ is eternal work worth every effort.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Heaven will not be like earth. Descendants of Adam are all destined to return to the dust. But those who have been born again of the Spirit through the gospel will exchange their perishable bodies for imperishable. Heaven is only guaranteed for those who are in Christ Jesus, through Whom the sting of death has been removed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: How to prepare for the afterlife. When much of the future remains a mystery (not fully known but we do know enough to have eternal hope), how can we prepare for it? Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all [the needs of tomorrow] will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33) The first priority is to know Jesus and salvation through Him. This is all about truly understanding the grace of God and our desperate need for forgiveness. Then, our pursuit is to remain in Him, and to help others to see this same gospel truth. This can come across sounding like fundamentalist faith but the bible, like all wisdom, teaches us to get the most important things in life right first and then pursue what’s next without letting go of the first. Jesus said, this is eternal life: to know  [God], AND Jesus Christ, whom [God] has sent (John 17:3). Knowing God through Christ is how we prepare ourselves and others for the afterlife.

Topic B: At home in your own skin? One lesson from this Chapter is that our bodies that we spend so much time in and get to know so well will be taken from us in place of something much more glorious. What does this say to time and money spent looking after our bodies? Or what about time and energy spent in preserving our planet? Of course there is a need for a balance in our answer. Anyone who lives long enough will have to grieve over the loss of a younger body. How can our lesson on the resurrection hope alter the way we perceive ourselves and live life this side of eternity? Consider in your discussion the challenge that living in this body brings when we are enslaved to sin. 

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Most Excellent Way

Discussion Question

How many classic songs can you list that have ‘love’ in the title? There’s ‘Love, love me do’, and ‘She loves me’, both by The Beatles. What else can you come up with in 2 minutes?

Background (Context)

The church in Corinth needed to hear how they were living no differently to the people of this world. Apart from their history with Paul and Apollos and their knowledge of the gospel, it would be difficult to identify this church as a Christian gathering. Divisions, quarrels, immorality, pride, selfishness, impatience, and superiority complexes – these are just the things off the top of my head to list down. They have forgotten how amazing their God is, how amazing grace is and how important the cross of Christ is. In Chapter 12, Paul reminded them that they are all part of the one body because they are all saved the same Spirit who enables them to call Jesus their Lord.

In the church, there are significant gifts such as prophecy and teaching (more on prophecy again in Chapter 14) but Paul takes a moment to talk about something greater than the biggest roles in the church. Notice that Paul began to talk about gifts from the Spirit in Chapter 12 which continues in Chapter 14. But something that is not a gift for just some people is the virtue of love. 1 Corinthians 14:1 will link this thought by saying: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. Love is the characteristic that all gifts need to be expressions of. Prophecy is a great gift but love is the excellent way for it to be shared.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)
  • A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)
  • Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  When Paul has just mentioned ‘eagerly desire the greater gifts’, we firstly wonder what the greater gifts must be! What should we pursue with earnestness? But then he stops to speak about, not the greater gifts, but the most excellent way. Love is not one of the gifts that Paul can ask, do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all have love? The answer to the first two questions is no! But the answer to the last ought to be yes! It is not one of the gifts but the way of Christian maturity. It is a virtuous growth that is expressed across everything that we do. No matter what you are engaged in, 1 Corinthians 13 has instruction on how you must engage in it! See 1 Jn 4:8.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…” Be careful to notice that Paul is not recommending that the tongue of angels is even a thing but that he says that if or even if we did that – but do not have love, it is nothing to be impressed by.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…” We can stop for a second and wonder if there is something to learn about the definition of prophecy here. Paul seems to have used hyperbole when describing ‘speaking in tongues’ and so it seems reasonable to think that we can learn something about prophecy but stop short of thinking that prophecy, by definition, is about understanding all mysteries and all knowledge – something like a fortune teller or a wise wizard. A working definition of prophecy is: speaking the word of God into the current environment. When the scriptures were incomplete (the direct revelation from God – see 2 Peter 1:19-21) prophecy is given for people to write down the word of God for the benefit of many to hear, read, pay attention to. But now that the scriptures are written, we refer to the written scriptures and can speak these words of God, with meaning and understanding into the lives of our hearers. Paul suggests that a prophet has knowledge of things beyond human capacity and that fits with the words of 2 Peter 1. The word of God, the scriptures, are filled with all knowledge and the mystery of God’s will revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. But such profound and ‘out-of-this-world’ knowledge is nothing and makes you nothing if you do not have love.

“…if I have faith that can move mountains…” Can you hear the hyperbole? Can you hear the exaggerated examples? Jesus spoke of the ability to tell a mountain to be moved into the sea or wherever with only the faith the size of a mustard seed (Mt 17:20; 21:21). The bible challenges us to put our trust in the God who made the mountains (Psalm 121:1-2). The message, even from Jesus, is to say that if you trust in God, you must raise your expectations of what is possible. But the thing that stops Christians from becoming superheroes with the abilities of Dr Strange is that our faith directs us to the will of God. When we pray, give me today my daily bread, we have first of all prayed, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Maybe our faith does not more work. Maybe we could experience more if our faith was increased. Or maybe, when we put our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will do more than move mountains for us, he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth! He will raise our mortal bodies from the dead! And he will use our words of faith to bring people from darkness to light and from death to life! And that would be God’s will being done!

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast…” Here we have again some exaggerated suggestions but a new bit of info. In the place of love, we would be doing these things in order to boast. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith acts, giving to the poor and suffering are all under the Christian umbrella of right things (when understood and done right) but none of them are successful or useful when boasting lies behind the motive.

“…I gain nothing…” The absence of love makes a useless action. So, here is the rebuke to the Corinthians: they were boasting for all sorts of reasons. But they possessed nothing because they did it all for their own boasting and pride. Before Paul can talk about the gifts, he needs to rebuke the receivers of the gifts because they are all acting like children who need to grow up and live for others and not for themselves. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is not an advertisement for love but a rebuke against boasting.

A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)

“Love is…”  The list of love attributes that follow fill out the full expressions of love. It is way more than simple desire or passion. To say that “love is love” does not say anything. To say “a bear is a bear” does not help describe what a bear is! Paul puts flesh and descriptions on love to help us see the breadth of it. We will discover that it is BIG! And if the Corinthian church had simply put on love and pursued that, then all of the problems outlined in this letter from Paul would not have existed or would have been solved.

“…patient…” If the church had known patience, they would not have messed up the Lord’s Supper so much. They may have listened patiently to one another instead of taking each other off to court!

“…kind…” If the church had expressed kindness, then they would have avoided the divisions that boasted in one leader over another, would have seen that some of their brothers and sisters were being ruined by the eating of food offered to idols.

“…it does not envy…” Envy is the desire for somebody else to lose. It says, I hope that you fail in your position that I want. It says, I would receive joy in seeing your demise. It says, I should be where you are. Paul spoke in Chapter 4 about his little care for what the Corinthians thought of him since his motives are to act like a servant who is judged by God for what he does. He seeks to pursue works that do not promote envy from anyone.

“…it does not boast…” Then they would not say “I follow Apollos!” See 3:21. No human has any right to boast especially in the church. We are all indebted to Christ so that if anyone were to boast, it ought to be to boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31).

“…it is not proud.” Envy is to wish somebody else’s downfall, boasting is to puff yourself up, and pride is to look down on others. All of these come from a place of insecurity. But when we boast in the Lord and practice thankfulness and praise to him, we exercise these other three out of our bad habits.

“It does not dishonour… not self-seeking… not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs.” Can you picture how these areas may have fixed problems in the Corinthian church? Can you imagine what your life would look like if these four areas were godly? I must say, when our society falls in love with the slogan: love is love and yet displays all the signs of an unloving bunch, we’ve been raised very uneducated by the Word of God.

“Love does not delight in evil…” Remember when Paul pointed out the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife and all were boasting about that?! We may say, again as we look at our culture, that we have delighted recently in some evils. But then we are left with the question, what is evil and what is not. What is good for you may not be good for you. This is where the next statement helps.

“…but rejoices with the truth.” Evil and truth are connected categorically here. Right and wrong have very much to do with truth and lies. To align love with the truth is to align truth with God. Paul pushes us to go beyond ‘aligning with’ the truth and says that love rejoices with the truth. The gospel is truth. The first change that we make when we enter into our relationship of love with God is to confess that we are not lovely. To rejoice in the truth that Jesus is in a different category of humanity and that we need Him. And to rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. To run away from this and promote the soft lie that everybody is basically good is, really, to live with evil.

“It always protects…” This seems fitting that love is protecting. It does not follow that love covers up sin or evil or something like that. God is described in Psalm 121 as our protector who always watches over us. It does not follow that God always keeps us away from suffering and trials. These things are actually good for growth and faith. Love does not require “helicopter” protection. Overseers in the church, for example, don’t need to react every time something uncomfortable is going on. A Growth Group Leader, for example, does not need to correct every little thing that is said in a group nor finish every conversation that the group is having. A protector can appear to be very passive (or am I now getting on a personal soap box?). Love always protects – and a good mature protector will not act out of anxiety for others.

“…always trusts…” I find this one tricky because how can we trust everyone? But perhaps we are not told to trust everyone but to always trust – is there a difference? Perhaps it is fitting that this item is placed straight after protects. The two can work quite well together. Note that trust and faith are pretty synonymous. So love is aligned with faith – not simply faith in God but faith in the work that God is doing in the world and that His work stretches to all of our interactions with people and the events in this world. It seems that our knowledge of the Sovereignty of God helps us to be able to trust, even when things look scary.

“…always hopes, always perseveres.” Verse 7 contains attributes of love that all seem dependant on our knowledge of God. He is the God of tomorrow. He is the source of our hope and perseverance. Without our faith (trust) we have no hope. Without hope there is no motivation to persevere.

Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

“Love never fails.” That is it. When wondering what to do or how to act: choose the path of love as prescribed in Verses 4-7. Love always works because it embraces the work of God which is patient, kind, well tempered and so on. The alternatives to love do fail. Envy, boasting, pride, dishonor/lies, self-seeking, quick tempered and fault finding – these fail to get anybody anywhere good. But Paul has a different angle to give us here. It is not just that love is the better way – it is the forever way.

“…prophecies… will cease… tongues… will be stilled… knowledge… will pass away.” Our time here on planet earth – for all humanity – is a passing thing. A day will come when what we think is important now will be shown to be trivial. The work and building and projects that we invest in so much now will all pass away and be replaced with something so much greater. Paul expands on this in Verses 9-10 – those verses I will not expand on.

“When I was a child…” Paul uses the analogy of growing up to illustrate the difference between what we know now and what we will know in the future. You think of your childhood now and you conclude: I had no clue. And now that you are older, you put aside your limited view of life and embrace adult thinking (some people mourn this because they believe that childhood is an age of innocence and purity but it is more of an age of being protected and dependant).

“For now we see only a reflection…” Paul’s second illustration is to say that this life looks clear and true but there is a greater reality that goes beyond this existence. We talk about God and love Him and rejoice in the truth of the gospel but one day, we shall see God and His kingdom in the clearest vision ever! It’s more dramatic than comparing a black and white silent movie with a 3D cinema experience!

“……then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” What a little gem of a line. It is easy to miss these treasures hidden in the midst of other great truths. Paul is talking about the short life-span of prophecy, tongues and knowledge compared to the eternal and unstopping value of love. As he addresses knowledge, it is not that knowledge will cease, but what we know will be vastly superior to what we know now. So, here are my two take-aways from this. 1) knowledge is about clarity. Even now we must expect that our knowledge of things should grow. We come to faith in Christ and young Christians believe they know everything, but as you mature you realise that knowledge of God is just ever-expanding. A young Growth Group Leader should feel confidence in this because they will not be scared of heresy, but simply a knowledge that we grow in clarity as they mature. 2) We will look forward to knowing God better but God already knows us in full. His knowledge of us is not growing in clarity. He knows you. We often worry about how other people perceive us and whether they understand where we are coming from. Well, God understands where you are coming from. How wonderful is that little jewel of knowledge!

“…faith, hope and love.” When all is said and done, our trust in the Lord is paramount and it feeds our hope which in turn strengthens our perseverance. These three words all speak of our relationship with God which is forever. Faith and hope will be modified in eternity because of the clarity of vision and change of environment but love will be unaltered. Our eternal God who is love has shown us the most excellent way!

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Love never fails. Never expires. Always excellent. The attributes of love are seen in the character of God. If we would learn this, we would cover over a multitude of sins. Thank God that His love has done just that for us in Christ Jesus!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The rebuke of love. Paul’s rebuke to this church is challenged in every way by the description of love. In how many ways has this passage rebuked you? We all fail to love perfectly. That’s why we need the perfect saviour who loved perfectly. Is there one or two aspects that you can identify as urgent areas to repent of? Perhaps it is dishonouring somebody. Perhaps envy or pride. Reflect on what you can do this week to repent and repair a relationship then pray about that.

Topic B: The desire for love. This lesson to love is an ongoing transformation which will never be perfect this side of heaven. It seems wise to take a passage like this and store it permanently so that we can train our hearts to respond in love quicker and quicker over time. So, memorise 1 Corinthians 13. Simple. It’s a small chapter and can be a project that your group begins this week and works on together over time. Why not start with Verses 4-7. Get that in your head. Then add Verses 8-13. Finally, include Verses 1-3.

Topic C: Love speaks less. When we consider the attributes of love in this Chapter, we may begin to see how our tongues are trained. The first thing that acts in many situations is the tongue. Patience? Hold your tongue. Kind? Watch your tongue. Envious, boastful or proud? Convert your tongue to praise and thankfulness. Engaging the brain through prayer and understanding before we speak will save us from much damage. When we continue onto Chapter 14, we discover that we are not told to stop speaking altogether, but to join love and truth together.