Thank You! Renewed by the Spiri
10/15/2017 2:33:19 PM
“Thank You! Renewed by the Spirit”
1 Corinthians 13:1-7
October 1, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
[pic] Imagine being born in North Korea. North Korea is a difficult place to live. It is a closed off country under a totalitarian regime. Because of the centralized government, there is frequent famine because the people making decisions about what farmers grow and how they grow it aren’t farmers. It is cut off from trade with the outside world as well as cut off from communication too. It’s a tough place to live. When the US sends food aid, the North Korean people are told it’s “tribute” paid to North Korea by the Americans because the Americans are afraid of them. Nutrition and health is so bad in the North that on average North Koreans are 1-3 inches shorter than their counterparts in South Korea and life expectancy is 10 years less!
[pic] As difficult as life is there, it is made even worse by the atmosphere of suspicion. If you anger the wrong person or express the wrong view you can be thrown into a prison work camp where you will languish for years, maybe even the rest of your life, doing hard labour with no real trial or opportunity to either defend yourself or clear you name. People live in fear of being “reported on” and sent to one of these prisons, or worse. Imagine growing up in such a country.
It would be tough to live in North Korea. The people are regularly subjected to propaganda. They are limited in what they are allowed to see, hear or read. Many are sent to work camps. Here they are worked under horrendous, violent conditions. Frequently subjected to beatings, many prisoners are outright killed, all because they hold the wrong political beliefs or because they crossed the wrong person who accused them of being a political dissident. It is horrendous being sent to such a work camp!
Imagine, though, what it would be like to be born and raised in one of those work camps! Essentially bred to be slave labour, imagine being a child raised in a prison work camp. From the beginning of your life, you are surrounded by violence, misery and oppression.
[pic] That’s the story of Shin Dong-hyuk. He was born inside one of these political prison camps and that was where he was raised. Later on, he managed to escape to a large country next door, then fled to South Korea. From there he got to California. He told a reporter the story of his upbringing and his escape. There has since been some issues over the details of his story, he has added to, retracted from and altered some of the details of his account, but that is to be expected from a person whose entire childhood was spent in a political work camp!
Shin talks about his earliest memory being taken out to a field with hundreds or even thousands of other prisoners to watch the execution of a fellow prisoner who disobeyed in some way. That’s his fist memory! Talk about PTSD! He grew up being indoctrinated to obey the guards at all costs and to ingratiate himself with the guards with every opportunity. In one interview he said that his mother never hugged him, ever. Around him, children were beaten for stealing, sometimes beaten to death. Teenagers were killed in work accidents. Torture was normal. But the most frightening thing is that he knew no different. This was “normal” for him. It was all he had ever experienced. He had no idea the world was different outside the camp, or even that something different could exist! [Joohee Cho, “Born and Raised in a North Korean Prison Camp,” ABC News, Oct 30, 2007]
He speaks of coming home one day and seeing his mother making rice for his older brother. He was jealous because rice was precious. He came to learn that they were planning to escape. What did he to? He told a friend who encouraged him to report his mother and brother to the guards! When he did, the guard took credit for discovering the plan and had Shin arrested and tortured as a supposed co-conspirator! Since the book was written, Shin has also admitted that he signed a paper while in prison that led to his mother and brother’s executions! That’s going to mess you up!
At one point, Shin and a fellow prisoner planned an escape. The other prisoner, named Park, was a grown man who had travelled before being imprisoned. He had been to East Germany and that same large country next door and told Shin about all kinds of food Shin had never even imaged! He also sang to Shin the first song Shin had ever heard. Up to that point, Shin had never sung or even heard music! [Cho] Their plan was that Shin would
use his knowledge of the camp to get them out and Park would use his knowledge of North Korea to get them out of the country. Park was killed trying to crawl over an electric fence. Shin climbed over his body, still on the electric fence, and managed to escape. He lived in secret in North Korea, stealing food and whatever he could find. He found an old military uniform in a barn and masqueraded as a soldier when he needed to. He scrimped together enough money to bribe some border guards so he could escape to North Korea.
Imagine the shock to Shin’s system going from a prison camp in North Korea, to South Korea and then the USA! Life outside the camp, but still in North Korea, would have been an amazing change! But then to get to the large country next door, then to South Korea?!? Imagine the experience of food in California! Growing up, the only food Shin had ever tasted was a thin gruel with salty cabbage and the occasional rat they caught. Imagine going from that to fresh fruit!
Imagine, too, how hard it would be to adapt to life in a free country! In the camp, Shin knew nothing about trust. He nothing of affection, nothing of relationship or intimacy. The only “honesty” was snitching on fellow prisoners to the guards! You told authority figures whatever you thought they wanted to hear just to make sure they wouldn’t torture you. Shin lost a finger while being tortured once. So even telling them what they wanted didn’t always save you!
What kind of changes would have to take place for you to function on this new world? Apparently, during his time in the States, Shin was “adopted” by a Christian family in Ohio who began the work of teaching hi about affection and love. He is back living in South Korea now, but keeps in touch with his adopted family in Ohio and visits when he can.
How would you go about integrating into a free, open society? How would you learn how to trust people? How would you deal with the trauma of your childhood and young adult life? How would you unlearn the brutal lessons of living in a prison camp?
It would be terrible. It would be overwhelming. It would be so very difficult! Escaping the camp and then escaping North Korea would just be the first step. First you have to be free, then, and only then, can you begin the work of being healed. First, it would have to set in that you were free, that you wouldn’t be caught and sent back. Then you would start to notice that people around you were different. You would start to notice that you didn’t understand why people around you behaved certain ways. You would be baffled by things other people took for granted. You would fall into old habits that didn’t fit your new life. As wonderful as things would be living in freedom, much of it wouldn’t make sense, not for a long time.
Imagine all the things you would have to learn. Imagine all the things you would have to unlearn. Your entire moral compass would have to be reset. You would have to unlearn things your family taught you. You would have to unlearn the rules, written and unwritten, of living in a prison camp. You would have to reprioritize your goals and values. Inside the camp, food was everything. Outside the camp, food was essential, but not a priority per se.
Shin’s experience is heart-wrenching. The changes he has had to undergo adjusting to his new life are profound. Frankly, he needs a lot of help!
Imagine the huge change Shin has to undergo from being born and raised in a prison camp to living in a free, open society. This is a huge change that I don’t want to downplay in any way.
Now I want you to think about the change people must undergo from being slaves and prisoners of sin, from being broken in sin, so being set free and given new life in Jesus Christ. Think about the change from being ruled by sin to being ruled by God. This kind of change is on a similar scale to the change Shin is having to undergo having grown up in a prison camp to living in the free world.
Some of you may object. Some of you may say, “The change to being a Christian isn’t nearly that big!” But I would argue it is. Why? Because the change involved in being a slave to sin to being a child of God is an eternal change, and the gap between sin and our Holy God is even greater than the gap between earthly oppression and earthly freedom!
But why, then, are so many people living for Christ? If Shin has so much growing and changing to do, how is it that Christians seem to be more functional than Shin (likely) is? The answer is God. Shin escaped under his own power (arguably with divine help but we don’t know yet for sure). He is learning under his own power. The difference for Christians is that our change is empowered by God, by the Holy Spirit! The
transformation in a Christian is moved by the Spirit, we are just required to cooperate and make use of the tools the Spirit gives us!
One of the most profound ways to describe the Christian’s transformation is to be made like Christ. But what is Christ like? What does it mean to be like Jesus? Or to be like God? God’s character is that of agape love. What is agape love? It is a divine, self-giving love, primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. This is a profound concept! We as human beings, infected with sin, are predominantly self-centred. We are primarily focussed on our own well-being and maybe the well-being of those close to us, like family and friends. But agape love is other-centred. Agape love is primarily concerned with the well-being of others, even at one’s own expense!
This is best seen in Jesus himself. He who was fully God, emptied himself of the privilege of and experience of being God and became a human being. Not just a human, but a baby. And having subjected himself to life on earth, he put himself in harm’s way, going to the cross for our sake. That is a profound demonstration of self-giving love primarily concerned with the well-being of others! And the most remarkable thing about it is that he didn’t do it for his family and friends. He did it for his enemies! Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is the character of God! This is what we are called to be. This is what Christian maturity looks like. And this is something we struggle to wrap our heads around and struggle to grow into. It fights against our very sinful core of looking out for oneself. It fights against our culture, whose primary message is to be yourself, look out for yourself, fulfil yourself and find yourself within yourself. Against this cultural background, the good news of Jesus comes dropping in like a bombshell telling us to be centred on others, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, to be motivated by the good of others and to make our goal in life to see others become spiritually whole in Jesus. Completely counter-cultural. Completely counter-intuitive. It goes completely against our natural inclinations.
Thank God that Jesus sent his Spirit to work in our hearts to affect this transformation and renewal!
But it’s great to talk about agape love “up here.” It’s great to talk about the theory, and we need to talk about it at the theoretical level if we are to begin to grasp what is expected of us as members of the New Family of Jesus. But what does agape love look like in practice? What characteristics are we to be working on, through the power of the Spirit, if we are to be more like Jesus?
This is where our text comes in, and this is where Emotionally Healthy Relationships ties in too. We are going to look at what love is like and then talk about how each of the 8 sessions in EHR helps us develop these characteristics. Why? Because we have a more dramatic change to undergo than even Shin Dong-hyuk when he escaped a prison labour camp in North Korea!
Turn to 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
What It Says
Paul is writing to a church in crisis. Paul is writing to a church in crisis that doesn’t know it’s in crisis, but actually thinks it has it all together! It is a city-wide church, likely with a number of congregations or satellite sites as we might call them today. And the church is growing in numbers and demonstrating what we would call “revival” today. They have spiritual gifts galore! There are prophecies and speaking in tongues. There may even be healings. By all their own measures, they are doing awesome.
But then Paul gets word of what else is happening there. The church is turning a blind eye to rampant sexual immorality. The church is characterized by factions and in-fighting. Leaders within the church are vying for power. They are gathering around them groups of supporters who idolize them. Some are even starting to separate themselves from Paul and question is apostleship. It’s a mess.
Throughout the first 12 chapters, Paul has pointed out a number of these flaws in the Corinthian church. He has defended his own authority to speak. He has taught on spiritual gifts and their proper use- in unity with one another under the Holy Spirit.
Then he comes to this passage! He takes their pride in their spiritual superiority and accomplishment and turns it on its head! He begins by talking about all the markers of church success the
Corinthians are using, like speaking in tongues and having the gift of prophecy and divine knowledge of how God’s plans are going to work out, and yet without agape love, these things are nothing; they are worthless. He actually likens speaking in tongues without having a live characterized by agape love to a resounding gong and clanging cymbal. These were instruments used in pagan worship! Paul is saying that speaking in tongues, the Corinthians’ marker of spiritual excellence, is no better than pagan worship if our character is not dominated by Christ-like, self-giving love!
Even acts of self-sacrifice, like selling what you have to buy food for the poor, or surrendering your physical body for martyrdom, or, potentially, turning over one’s body to be sold into slavery and using the money to buy food for the poor are nothing if not done by a person whose life is dominated by Christ-like, godly, agape love! [Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 634 n.46]
Paul is not just saying love is important, or love is more important even than gifts. Paul is saying that the only thing that matters to God is our character of love. If we are allowing the Spirit to produce agape love in us, then these others things flow out of that love and are characterized by love for others. But without that love in our character, these other seemingly good things are empty before God.
Paul goes on to give a series of descriptions of what love is and isn’t, what love does and doesn’t do. What love is is patient and kind. These are passive and active responses to others. Love is patient in that it has a very long fuse, it does not easily come to its breaking point. Love puts up with a heck of a lot for the sake of others. This is like God’s patience in not punishing sin, but rather giving time for people to come to repentance. (Rom 2:4) [Fee, p. 636] Kindness is the active side of patience. Kindness means doing positive things for others, showing mercy and kindness. This, too, as a characteristic of how God relates to sinful humanity. God’s kindness is shown in his multitude of mercies shown towards us, even sinners.
What love is not consists of a series of 7 verbs. The interesting thing is that the first 5 terms used to describe what love is not are terms Paul has already used to describe what the Corinthian Christians are! [Fee, p. 637] He’s saying, “Love is all these things, which I’ve already established you are not!” Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love does not envy which means it does not jealously desire something at another’s expense. That is the opposite of being other-centred.
It does not boast, literally, it is not a windbag! [Fee, p. 637] The Corinthians had a number of windbags in their midst who were gathering followers and creating factions. They were concerned with “look at me! Look at me!” which is contrary to love’s attitude of, “ignore me for the good of the group.”
Love is not proud, or literally “puffed up.” They were proud of their spiritual gifts and yet blind to their blatant sin and immorality. They were boastful, arrogant puffed up hypocrites who thought they were better than the other Christians in the city because of their gifts.
Love is not rude, which means ill-mannered or behaves in a shameful way. Love does not bring dishonour on Christ or the church. The Corinthians were involved in a lot of shameful behaviour, including the rich shaming the poor at the Lord’s table, bringing their own food and gorging themselves while the poor went hungry. [Fee, p. 638]
Love is not self-seeking. Why? Because love is primarily other-centred, seeking the good of others, especially their spiritual good.
Finally, Paul says that love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. The list to this point was a list of 5 things love does not produce in the loving person. Now, there are two ways that love does not respond to the sin in other people. Love is not easily angered when it encounters offensive things in others. Love is not easily provoked. Similarly, love does not keep record of wrongs done to oneself. There is no grudge holding, just as Jesus did not keep a record of the wrongs done to him when he was on the cross. Instead, he said, “Father forgive them!”
Like God, love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects others, because love is concerned with their well-being. Love always trusts. The word here is the verb form of the word faith, or believes! And love always hopes for the future. Faith, hope and love are a triad Paul often uses to sum up the Christian character. Finally, love always perseveres. Just as God persevered in pursuing sinful humanity and perseveres to this day with its redemption, love does not give up.
What It Means
So what does this mean? What does this tell us about the Christian life? How do we go about being loving people?
This chapter gives us our #1 priority for discipleship. Our top priority in living for Jesus is not pursuit of or even use of our spiritual gifts. Our top priority is not reading our Bibles. It is not giving sacrificially to the church. It isn’t even evangelism! No, the top priority for living as a Christian is to cooperate with the Spirit in changing your character to be dominated by agape love. This, in turn, shapes how you use your gifts, why you read the Bible, why you give or make sacrifices, why you tell others about Jesus. Agape love is in a whole different category of these things. It isn’t just the motivation for these things, it is the source of these things!
And agape love is completely counter-intuitive and runs contrary to our nature. It is not in our nature to be patient. That is the result of the work of the Spirit in us. It is not in our nature to be kind to strangers, let alone our enemies! And yet this is what God was towards us- kind to an infinite degree! Agape love is the defining element of the Christian life!
Our sinful, self-centred nature, fuelled mightily by our culture, puffs us up, makes us proud, makes us shout “Look at me! Like me! Like my post! Forward my Tweet! Follow my Instagram!” Our culture makes us think that all we have is ours and that we deserve to have it. In contrast, love says, “It’s not about you, it’s about others. You have things, but they came from God and in the New Family Of Jesus, they have been given to you to bless others, not yourself.”
Love says, “I will consider others before I act, and therefore not act in a way that will bring shame on them, or on Jesus.” Love says, “I will not seek my own good, but instead the good of others,” which runs contrary to the lesson we learn and are bombarded with every day, to fulfil ourselves, to serve ourselves, to gratify our own desires.
In light of who God is, and what he has done, especially in Christ Jesus, who died for our sins, we are to live with a similar attitude of looking to the needs of others above our own. This is radically different and supremely difficult. To do it requires a miracle. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit in us to renew our minds, to renew our wills, to renew our feelings, our desires and our goals. It takes the Spirit to renew us, to remake us, to do that ongoing work of creating in us clean hearts as we talked about last week. Jesus came to die for the sins of the world! Can we die to ourselves long enough to listen to the hurt in another person’s heart and do what we can to heal it?
God is love. Jesus is God, therefore Jesus is love. You can go back through this chapter and replace the word “love” with God, or with Jesus, and you will see the nature of God. “God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth! God always protects, God always trusts (is always faithful), God always hopes and God always perseveres.
That’s great, isn’t it? Don’t we have a wonderful God? Don’t we follow and live for a wonderful saviour?
But what happens when you put your name in there? How does it sound then? “Dave is patient. Dave is kind.” Ok. Maybe. “Dave does not envy, Dave does not boast, Dave is not proud.” Oh. Not so easy now. “Dave is not rude, Dave is not self-seeking, Dave is not easily angered, Dave keeps no record of wrongs.” Uh oh. Yikes. I don’t think this exercise is as much fun with my name in there as with God’s name. Ouch! “Dave does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Well, that depends on the truth…. Is it good truth about me or difficult truth about me? “Dave always protects, always trusts (or is always faithful), always hopes, always perseveres.” Ok, this is just getting depressing now! I have a long way to go! I’m missing the mark!
Thank God that it’s not up to me to produce agape love in myself! Thank God that the Holy Spirit is the one who works this in us! Thank God my role is not to do this on my own. However, I am expected to cooperate. I am expected to make use of the tools the Spirit gives us to produce fruit, to produce love within us. I do need to work on these things within the context of submitting myself to God’s work in my heart through the Spirit. And, frankly, so do we all!
What To Do About It?
So what are we to do about it? If we can’t do it ourselves, but have to make use of the tools God gives us, what does that look like? What are some of those tools and skills we are to use and learn?
This is where EHR comes in. EHR is a series of 8 skills we can practice that help us learn how to be patient and kind. They help us focus on others so we are not prone to being proud, puffed up windbags. These skills teach us how to look to the good of others and examine ourselves to see where God wants change.
What are these skills? Let me list them. Check Your Community Temperature Reading, Stop Mind Reading and Clarify Expectations, Genogram Your Family, Explore The Iceberg, Listen Incarnationally, Climb the Ladder to Integrity, Fight Cleanly, Develop a “Rule of Life” to Implement Your New Learnings.
Taking a community temperature reading is a way of asking the people around you what they appreciate, what they are concerned about, or troubled by, and what their hopes and dreams are. It’s a simple exercise, but it literally turns the conversation to the well-being of others. It means you invite people to share about their well-being. It is a skill of kindness and other-centredness. It is about rejoicing with the truth.
Stop mind reading and clarify expectations is another simple but profound skill or habit. It eliminates all those conversations we have when we think about what the other person would say if we spoke to them. It means we actually speak to them and hear what they would actually say! It works against our own nature of being a windbag. It helps diffuse potential conflicts. It is about protecting others and being faithful.
Genogram your family is about examining habits and characteristics in our relationships with others that we take for granted because we learned them growing up. We rarely even think about these things, let along evaluate if they are good or bad or do anything to change. This is part of examining ourselves to root out those things God would root out.
Similarly, explore the iceberg is about opening ourselves up to the Spirit to go deep in our character to establish Godly love. It’s about looking at yourself honestly, which pokes a hole in our arrogance and prevents us from being puffed up. These two work on helping us root out those things that prevent us from developing in love.
Listening Incarnationally is back to a relationship skill. It is a profound act of loving kindness to not only listen to a person’s words, but to actually focus on them wholly, listening to what they are feeling as well as saying. It is an act of devotion to them that we do in response to what God has done for us. It, again, is about being other-centred and being concerned with their well-being.
Climb the ladder of integrity is a process we can use to figure out why we have animosity towards someone. It helps us figure out what offense or grudge we are holding against someone, why we are uncomfortable around them, it helps us let go of wrongs we are holding on to, because love keeps no record of wrongs.
Fighting cleanly is about how to disagree well, how to voice our concerns, disappointments and disagreements in God-honouring ways. It helps us rejoice in the truth, even the truth of disagreement. This skill helps us to not be easily provoked! It helps us not be easily angered.
Finally, developing a rule or pattern of life that helps us integrate these skills into our character and make them an everyday part of our lives is about making agape love part of who we are and not just something we know about and try to do when we think about it. It’s one thing to learn skills, it’s another to practice them so much the become second nature.
This is what we are doing with EHR. This is why we are doing it. We want to learn how to practice agape love in our relationships. We want to learn how to live out the love God has shown us. The Spirit gives us tools to use to grow spiritual fruit. This course is one such tool, or a means to learn 8 individual tools, that we want to help you learn how to use. But beyond just being skills you know, we want these to become skills we use as a church family. As the New Family of Jesus, we want our team meetings to begin with community temperature readings. We want our teams to stop mind reading and clarify expectations with one another as we serve. We want to be examining ourselves to grow, and we want to learn how to let go of offenses and fight clean in our church relationships, within our teams, small groups, etc.
We want to be spiritually mature, which doesn’t mean having and using all the cool gifts of the Spirit. Being spiritually mature means being like Jesus, who, as God, is agape love. We want to be made like him, as described in 1 Cor 13, and we want to begin that growth with EHR. So please join us on Tuesday nights starting next week for 8 weeks. Then, help us remember to use these skills with one another here at Priory. Amen.
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