1st Corinthians

How to Find Hope When Hopelessness Strikes

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Advent 1 - Where to find hope

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Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and shines like a beacon in a dark place. And those who first heard it really needed a beacon because even though things weren’t at their darkest, it still wasn’t a great time in the life of Israel.

Malachi was a prophet that lived about 400 years before Jesus and 100 years after the Babylonian exile. He came on the scene in the years after Nehemiah and Ezra had already rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system, but things were still pretty bleak. Though things were going ok for the generation that had come back to their homeland of Judah things were far from perfect. The prophets that had encouraged them to rebuild their temple had given promises of blessing, renewal, expansion, prosperity, peace, that would come when God’s glorious presence would once again come to the temple.

But when they looked around at their life they were disillusioned – it wasn’t anything like that. Sure, they were no longer being oppressed in a foreign land, but the glory days of expansion under King David and the peace and prosperity under King Solomon were long distant memories. Now they were the least important territory in Persia under Artaxerxes, were barely getting by, suffering from droughts and crop failure, and were constantly fighting with their neighbours.

It wasn’t just the living conditions and lack of plenty that bothered them, there was also a spiritual drought. Sure, the temple was rebuilt, but it was much smaller and spiritually inferior to the great Temple of Solomon. God had shown up to help Esther save the nation and Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem, but they thought that once the final stone was laid at the temple that the miracles would automatically rain down on them, but it seemed that God’s presence had all but left their nation. Even the Holy of Holies seemed deserted.[1]

Of course, the problem wasn’t that God was gone, but that their hearts were far from him. Their worship was lethargic and empty of love or passion. They constantly complained about God’s lack of love and how he was unjustly punishing them. They even withheld their tithes because they were worried they wouldn’t have enough. It can be summarized in Malachi 3:13-15, “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

Disappointed with God

Have you ever felt this way? What’s the point of following God? Where’s the gain in following all God’s rules, doing things His way, which is almost always harder, and then things just getting worse? God is the “Lord of hosts”, the “God of gods”, the “God of angel armies”, but where is He? The arrogant, self-willed, atheistic, non-believers all seem like they are doing better than us. And people who are outright committing evil, mocking God to His face, are getting away with it! What’s the point in believing in God when He never does anything to make our lives any better?

That was the attitude of the Israelites during the time of Malachi, and it’s the attitude of many today. They were tired of waiting, tired of suffering, tired of not having enough, tired of seeing evil get away with it, tired of calling themselves the people of God and then losing every other battle to those which they used to conquer easily. God wasn’t blessing anything they were doing, so they blamed God for all their problems.

But Malachi doesn’t allow for that. Malachi comes to God’s defense. He reminds them that God is more than happy to bless them, but refuses to bless their sin. He reminds them that God was the one that chose Israel and has stayed committed to them, showing them great love even when they had completely turned their backs on Him, and then restored them back to their land. And what was their response? To worship and praise and obey and give thanks and take care of each other? No… it was to grumble, complain and dishonour God by bringing worthless, impure offerings – to withhold their worship, love, and obedience – to commit sexual sins, divorce each other, and marry unbelievers – to dishonour and live unjustly towards one another – and to live as hypocrites who say one thing and do another.

He tells them that they aren’t receiving God’s blessing right now because their hearts and lives are a mess… which is a story we’ve all heard so many times, right? Almost to the point we’re tired of it. I know I can start to feel that way.

God, where’s the good news!? Why is everything so hard? Marriage is hard, and parenting is hard, and getting older is hard, and being young is hard, and being sick is hard, and staying healthy is hard, and our spiritual life is hard, and there are so many temptations, and there is so much pain and uncertainty – and that’s just the tip our own little iceberg. This world is a whole other thing. I don’t understand what the government are doing, corporations seem to be getting more powerful and sometimes more evil, people seem to be getting either more gullible or more selfish. Nature itself seems to be going crazy as people panic about climate change, natural disasters, and species extinction. And then we have crazy scientists who are doing all sorts of terrible things like creating human embryos and then destroying them, messing with human genetics, cutting off heads and putting them on other people’s bodies – it’s like a sci-fi movie out there right now!

Our spirits cry out to God, we hit our knees, we cry out to God and nothing seems to happen. We read our bibles, say our prayers, go to church, and nothing gets any better. Sure, maybe we’re distracted for an hour or two, but invariably it all comes crashing back on us. Or worse, we come into church hoping for an uplifting message with some answers and just hear once again how our problems are somehow all our fault – and we go home feeling even more miserable. Seems to be the same story over and over, right?

Then it’s easy to slip into the mindset that Malachi was writing about: What’s the point of all this religious stuff? What’s the point of believing in God if things are just going to be miserable anyway? Where is God when all this insanity is going on? We hear stories about amazing things happening in India, China, and Florida – but what about Beckwith, or Ottawa? And like Israel, we get disillusioned and disappointed with God and start to back off our faith.

Instead of tithing as we should, we keep a little more back each week because we are worried about the budget. We think, “God hasn’t given us enough money, so how can we afford to tithe?”

We start to skip church events, skip Sundays, drop out of ministries – after all, there’s lots of work to be done and attending church hasn’t really produced anything other than guilt and broken promises about “finding joy in suffering”.

We start to indulge a little more in the things that bring us temporary joy – porn, drinking, drugs, food, violence, entertainment – and it gives us that little rush we weren’t getting when we were trying to connect with God. Sure, it produces some shame… but if we keep at it we know that the shame will eventually be quieter.

We pull away from our Christian friends, stop going to small groups, stop calling our accountability partner, stop listening to Christian music, because it all just reminds us about how everyone else in the world is either just as miserable or better off– and I don’t want to hear from either one of those people.

So we head to the doctor in hopes of a medical solution, and they are more than happy to give us something that numbs our feelings and forces us into unconsciousness at night.

Sure, we still call ourselves Christians, but we stop reading the Bible because it just produces more guilt and we rarely pray, except to complain to God about how unfair life is, how He’s not doing His job, how if He’d just fix things then we’d come back to doing what we’re supposed to. But the prayer bounces off the roof, nothing changes, and we start to contemplate not only why we started to believe in the first place, but whether God even exists at all.

It would be far easier if He didn’t, we think. If God didn’t exist, then nothing matters. There are no consequences, no Hell, just oblivion. That, by definition is hopelessness, and that’s not only where a lot of people are today, but where Israel was headed during the time of Malachi. By the time we reach the birth of Christ, except for a few people, hopelessness had almost totally engulfed the nation.

Where to Find Hope

What is the cure for hopelessness? The simple answer is hope. “Hope that does not disappoint”, as Romans 5:5 puts it. What message does Malachi give to these people whose faith was falling apart and who were losing hope? Look at the very end of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament. Open up to Malachi 3:16. After all the complaining and faithless and disobedient had had their say against God, another group immerges:

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.”

Pause there a second. In this nation that had all but fallen away from God, there was one group that was still faithful, one group who had not bowed their knee to another god, one that had continued to remain obedient despite all the troubles they had seen. How?

Look what they did. They “spoke with one another”. I’m sure most of you have gone camping and had a camp fire. These days they make you buy your wood from the store at the campground, and it’s really expensive, so you really need to enjoy every little piece. You start with a nice fire, but as the night wears on, the wood burns down, the logs get smaller, until there is only one little charred block, with a tiny flame, surrounded by orange embers. So what do you do? You stoke the fire, right? When the flames are dying down, and you’re all out of wood, what do you need to do to make sure it doesn’t go out? You bring the embers together, you keep the flame alive by bringing the warmth together. In order to kill a fire, you spread it out, right? To keep it going, you pull it together.

In the same way, when the fire of faith is burning low, believers should be drawing together to keep the flames of faith alive. And what did they do? They spoke with one another. What did they speak about?

Hebrews 10:23-25 shows believers who were in a very similar situation. Oppressive government, dangerous times, losing hope, and it says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

They confessed their hope to one another: “What brings you hope this week? How have you seen God this week? What do you remember of God’s covenant to us? How has He been faithful to you this week?”

What else did they speak about? They stirred one another up to love and good works. “How have you been doing this week? How can we help you? How can we help others? Have you been caught in sin? How are you doing with forgiveness?”

What else did they speak about? They encouraged one another. “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’re doing great. I know you feel lonely but I’m here. I know you feel your prayers aren’t answered, but I assure you God is listening and doing more than you know. I know you feel stuck, but I see such wonderful potential in you. God is doing something amazing with you and I can see it. Don’t give up!

Another group in Ephesus was going through a similar situation, living in evil days, and the Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 5:15-21, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” Which all makes sense right? Sinning by drinking or doing drugs isn’t really going to help, right? But look what he says next, because it’s really important. Essentially, he says what Malachi and Hebrews says:

Verse 19, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

How do you keep your hope up when things are getting hopeless? When the fires are going out in your heart? Satan will tell you to get alone. Turn away from God, away from friends, away from prayer, away from church, away from your spouse and children, to get alone – so you are an easier target. What does God say? Not just “Speak to each other.” But “sing to each other!”

He says, if you are down and feeling hopeless and want to feel more hopeful and closer to God, get together and sing to each other! Sing your praise, sing your thanks, sing about God, sing about Jesus… but not just to feel better, but out of submission and reverence for Jesus. When we sing songs of faith together our hearts knit together, and then fall before Jesus.

How do you fire up dying coals? Blow on them! So how do you encourage yourself when you feel your faith is dying? Draw together with other believers and speak and sing!

Elijah is John the Baptist

Let’s close by reading the end of Malachi, the last words of the Old Testament, starting in 3:16 again,

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”

I can almost hear the words of the faithful in response to this, “Yes God! We will keep meeting together, keep remind one another, keep speaking your name and singing your songs. We believe you will completely save us one day. But when, God? When will you come and deal with the evil once and for all? When will you come and raise up your people like the sun? When will healing come? When will you tread down the wicked and cause us to leap for joy?

And God tells them the sign to wait for in 3:5 that will kick off this glorious time,

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Who was this one that would come right before the “great and awesome day of the Lord”? Who would come to prepare the land so it wouldn’t be “utterly destroyed”? According to the Bible and the words of Jesus it was John the Baptist, who would come and proclaim Jesus’ coming as Son of God and Saviour of the world. (Matthew 11:7-14; Luke 1:17).

Choose to Meet

Next week we enter into the Advent season, the season of waiting and preparing ourselves for Christmas. I know that for some of you this is a wonderful time that you are looking forward to, and that there is much to be cheerful and thankful for. And I know that for some of you, you’ve got so much going on in your life and in your souls that even the idea of celebrating Christmas seems like more of a chore than a blessing.

My encouragement to both of you is to keep doing the things that will point you and others to hope in Jesus. If you are having a good season right now, then that’s great, come to the church events, host people in your homes, make excuses for people to get together and invite those from outside your usual circles so more people can encourage one another. And if you are going through a struggling season right now, then I encourage you to clear your schedule and be willing to accept these forthcoming invitations so you can be with your fellow believers more and more. Honestly decide in your heart that you will make your church family and various Christian events a priority, to meet with Christian friends, and to find ways to sing and talk with each other – as medicine for your soul! If you are sliding into hopelessness, that’s the recipe for hope – and there’s no more perfect time of year to make excuses to get together to speak and sing with one another than Christmas time, right?

[1] Acosta, D. R. (2016). Lord of Hosts. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. & ESV Study Bible Malachi Introduction.

Love

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48 - LOVE.JPG

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Have you ever had the experience where you look at a word too often and it suddenly loses its meaning? You read it, try to spell it, sound it out, and then suddenly that word looks really weird, you don’t recognize it, the letters all look misspelled, and you’re not even sure what it means anymore? Because I spend so much time writing and reading it happens to me all the time.

It’s actually a very normal thing that happens. It’s called “Semantic Satiation” and it happens when you ask part of your brain to access a piece of information too many times in a row. Essentially that little bit of your brain gets tired and needs to recover.

This can happen with more than just words though. This is why we usually don’t like listening to songs more than once and why songs with repetitive lyrics lose their meaning after a while as the words become just part of the beat. It happens to warning signs where the words “Danger” or “Caution” are seen so many times that they lose their ability to affect us. It’s also why advertising companies keep changing the names, logos, and boxes. You’ve probably noticed this when you’ve written a note and stuck it on a wall, right? It was supposed to remind of something, but after a short period of time, you don’t even see it anymore. The same thing happens with companies as the wow factor of their product goes down and they have to change up how it looks or what it’s called so you’ll notice it again.

This rabbit hole goes deeper though. There were some studies done on Semantic Satiation that showed how using emotional words a bunch of times can change how you see other people. In one study in 2012, they took a bunch of students, stuck them in a room, and gave them a bunch of faces to get familiar with. They were then divided into two separate groups. One group was asked to repeat a feeling word 30 times (like “happiness”, “anger” or “fear”) putting them way into Semantic Satiation of that word. Then they showed a picture of someone they had just memorized with their facial expression showing that emotion (being happy for example). It took the group that repeated “happiness, happiness, happiness” over and over much longer to identify the person than the group that hadn’t – even when they made the face super extremely happy. It had fatigued that part of the brain so sufficiently that when they saw happiness, not only had the word “happiness” lost its meaning, but their ability to detect happiness it in other people’s faces![1]

Defining Love

One could make a pretty good argument that we’ve done this with a lot of really good words like “Epic” and “Awesome”, which are now all used to describe not only the most majestic parts of creation but also the most mundane things. You can stand on the edge of Niagara Falls, witness its power and listen to its roar and say, “wow, that’s awesome” – or when your waitress asks how your food is, you can say, “wow, it’s awesome.”

I think in a very real and even more serious way, this has happened to the word “Love”. It’s supposed to mean “an intense feeling of deep affection”, but it seems to have lost its punch.

Most people know the Bible has a lot to say about Love, but it doesn’t really help much to read that if our brains simply can’t soak in what that word means because either we see it too much or we have no real definition of it, right? It just bounces off us like water off a duck’s back, never penetrating the shell of our hearts.

1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

How can we understand what that means if we are using the word “love” to describe our feelings for God – but also our spouse, our kids, our car, for new fallen snow, and our favourite dessert? How can I love God but also love tacos?

The New Testament was written mostly in Greek and Greek had 4 different words for “love”. There’s EROS, where we get our word “erotic”. It was represented in the Greek god EROS, who the Romans called “Cupid”. It is the feeling of arousal where people are sexually attracted to each other.

Then there was STORGE, which was the special love shown for relatives like parents and children, and the word PHILIA which is the love between very close friends or even brothers and sisters. There’s a really combination word in Romans 12:10 that says Christians are to “PHILOSTORGOI one another”. Love as a family and love as friends mushed together.

But there is one word for love that towers above all others in the New Testament and that is the word AGAPE or “unconditional or sacrificial love”. It is not a love that is based on familiarity, charm, or attraction. This is a love that has more to do with principles than feelings. That being said, it’s not just the cold, religious duty that we give to God or we give to others because we have to, but more as an affection driven by something deeper than mere feelings. This is love based in commitment, given by self-sacrifice, made by choice, regardless of how much the other person deserves it or the risk of disappointment or rejection.[2] [3]

The Love of God

AGAPE love is the love that is “of and from God”. It is love that is “of” (as in, aligns to His design for it) and “from” (as in, the kind of love God gives us). It is the kind of love God gives to us and the kind we are to give to others. This is what 1 John 4:19-20 means when it says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” That’s the concept of AGAPE laid out. We can only have the deep, AGAPE type of love – sacrificial, committed, fearless, unselfish love – if God not only demonstrates it to us but also helps us to have it.

Once we start to grasp the concept of how much God loves us, it gives us the courage and the impetuous, the motivation to love others. As long as we think God is against us, will leave us, hates us, is angry at us, or is too distant to care about us, we will never be able to truly give AGAPE love others.

But when you realize that God loved you so much that He was willing to trade His one and only Son for you – you start to get it. When it becomes real to you that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and chose you before the beginning of time to be His – you start to get it. When you realize that even your worst sins are not only forgiven but will be used for your good and God’s glory – you start to get it. When you realize that you were dead, condemned, an enemy and yet God saved you anyway – you start to get it. When you realize that even on your worst day, when everything is wrong, that there is nothing in the whole universe that can separate you from the love of God, because His love doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Jesus – you start to get it. When you realize that you were the leper and Jesus touched you, you were the blind and Jesus made you see, you were the outcast, the Pharisee, the prostitute, the hypocrite, the corrupt official, the fool, the afraid, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the one who owed more than could be repaid in many lifetimes – and Jesus came and got you, healed you, cleaned you, paid your debt with His own blood, and walks with you every moment of every day – you start to get how much you are loved.

And then that type of love can’t help but leak out on to others. Just like “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), the love God shows us must spill onto others. Love must be “demonstrated”, shown, made real and practical. That’s Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love for us is most clearly shown at the cross. God’s AGAPE love is love we don’t deserve. Ephesians 2:4-5, right? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

But what does that type of love even look like in our lives? It’s all well and good to talk about big, God-sized love, and it makes us feel warm and fuzzy to read and sing about, but how does it work out practically in our lives? What does it look like? If “love” has truly reached “Semantic Satiation” in our culture, then how can we recover it? Well, we not only need to experience it for ourselves by being saved by Jesus, but we also need some concrete concepts and examples to help us understand. And that’s when we turn to 1 Corinthians 13.

Context

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, often called “The Love Chapter”, and let’s pull out some real, concrete, ways that God’s AGAPE is lived out in our lives.

Remember the context of this church? They were divided into factions (1:12), participating and encouraging all kinds of sin (5:1, 6:12-20), suing each other (6:1), messing up their marriages and families (7:1-16), constantly offending one another and tempting one another to sin (8:12; 10:31; 11), coming to church drunk and eating all the food before everyone got there (11:17-34), even desperately wanting to be able to have the kind of crazy spiritual experiences they used to have when they worshipped demons at the temple (12:2).

Remember the context from last week about Spiritual Gifts? Last week we learned that they had gotten the idea of spiritual gifts completely confused and were not only wishing they could all have sign gifts, but were belittling themselves and anyone who had gifts they deemed less important. And so the Apostle Paul, writing under the authority of Jesus, says, “You guys have this all wrong! We’re a body that needs all these different parts!”

At then, at the end of his illustration of the Body of Christ, where he tries to teach them to accept the gifts as God gives them and work together, he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” What’s more excellent than getting the gift of tongues, or healing, or miracles, or teaching? What’s more excellent than having some intense, ecstatic worship experience? Paul starts with a preface.

Meaningless Actions

Look at verse 1-3:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

What’s he saying here? He’s saying that you can have all the gifts, talents, powers, and faith in the world – but if it’s not motivated by AGAPE love – sacrificial, committed, unselfish love – it is meaningless. Why? Remember what I said last week about the difference between demonic spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit? What was the difference?

The ones from the Holy Spirit point to Jesus and the demonic ones point everywhere else. What’s the difference between real, meaningful, good works and ones that are meaningless? Love.

Listen to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:21-23,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

These passages sound very familiar, don’t they? “Jesus! We spoke in the tongues of men and angels, we gave great, prophetic messages and sermons, we studied so we could understand mysteries, and memorized bible passages and theologies and doctrines and psychologies and medicines and technologies so we would have all kinds of knowledge, and we did mighty works in your name, fed nations, started ministries, cured disease, travelled the globe singing your songs and speaking your name.

And what does Jesus say? “You had not love, neither for me nor my people. You were only thinking of yourself. So when you taught and spoke and sang all I heard was an irritating, clanging symbol. I don’t even know who you are. My ears were closed to you. And your faith and mighty works, were not motivated by AGAPE because you don’t even know me. There was no sacrifice, no commitment, it was selfish love meant to point back to you – and so it all meant nothing. We weren’t working together, Me as your Lord and Saviour, you full of my Spirit. You were doing it all on your own. All your supposed good works, because they were not motivated by my love, were all works of lawlessness, doing more harm than good.”

No good deed, no great religious work, no level of knowledge can save us, nor can it please God alone. Why? Because even though it looks like love for others, it is actually just love for ourselves. What does this look like?

Verse 1 speaks of words. Consider your words. Where do your compliments come from? From a desire to make others feel loved or because you want compliments back? Why do you try to solve relationship issues like arguments? Because you love the person or because you hate conflict? Why do you insert yourself into people’s lives and try to befriend them? Because you love them and want to bear life’s burdens with them – or because you are afraid to be alone or need someone to stir drama up with? Consider why you do what you do. Is it out of love for others or love for yourself?

Verse 2 speaks of knowledge. Why do you study? So you can serve others or so you can sound smart? Why do you seek excellence? Because you want to maximize the joy of others or because you are a controlling perfectionist? Why do you like hearing people’s problems and giving advice? Because you have a soft heart and want to walk with them or because you have a saviour complex and want to be Jesus to them?

Verse 3 speaks of actions. Why do you do what you do? Love is not merely measured by your actions, but by your motives. Why did you buy that gift for that person? Because you love them and thought it would make them feel love – or our of obligation, to shut them up, to distract them, or to make yourself look good. Motives matter. This says you can give away everything you have, be the most generous person alive, live in a cardboard box, and then die as a result – and it could mean nothing to God, gain you no heavenly reward, because it was not motivated by love.

What a different view of spirituality, religion, wisdom, and sacrifice God has compared to us, right? We could judge someone the most amazing believer ever – the voice of an angel, the preaching power of Spurgeon, the wisdom of Solomon, the spirituality of Augustine, the knowledge of Da Vinci, and the sacrificial life of Mother Theresa – and yet, before the face of God in heaven it would all count for exactly zero because it was not motivated by love.

Love Is

So what does true, AGAPE love look like? We see it in verse 4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Hopefully the picture begins to form. Have you ever known someone who was amazingly skilled, knowledgeable, or giving – but their heart was a mess? What a smart guy, but what an unkind man, he has no patience for anyone. That woman volunteers all over town and serves in every ministry – but what a bragger. That guy sure knows a lot about the Bible, and is such a man of prayer – but he is so rude, always insisting on his own way – you should see how he treats the waiters and waitresses at restaurants.

“Of course I love my husband and my family and my church”… then why are you always so irritated and resentful of them? Why do you have a ready list of everything they have ever done wrong since you met them? “I love my wife and family and church”… then why do you constantly like about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and why you were late?

Do you see how our motives can completely negate our loving actions? How our actions can completely negate our words? The love of God, AGAPE love, looks like this. Remember I said that love is “of” God and “from” God. The way we understand how to love others is to understand how God loves us. So what does true love look like?

Love is patient, longsuffering. The Bible says repeatedly that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:5). He’s not sitting around waiting to zap you, constantly stomping around, disappointed with you because you’ve “done it again” – He’s patient. Are you? Some of you ask, “How long do I have to put up with this?” The Biblical answer is, “A good, long while.” “But they keep doing it! How many times do I have to forgive them and be patient? They’ve done this like seven times!” And Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but 490 times.” (Matthew 18:22) So many times that you end up losing count. Are you patient? Keep in mind that one of the fruits of the Spirit that you can ask for is “Patience” (Gal 5:22-23).

Love is kind. Kindness is the initiative to respond to people’s needs. You see someone in need and you are compelled by a drive inside, because of the kindness God has shown you when you were in need, to go and fill it generously. “Need a quarter? Here’s a dollar”. “You look sad, here’s something to cheer you up.” “Can’t afford a babysitter? I’ll come for free – and tidy the kitchen when you’re gone.” “You need a ride? Here, borrow my car.”

Love does not envy, or is not jealous. Envy is when you get angry that someone has something you want. When seeing someone that has something causes you to feel sorry for yourself. “That person is richer than me, smarter than me, prettier than me, better at a skill than me, and that makes me angry at them and assume the worst about them. I can’t be their friend because they have something I don’t. They have a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child, home, car, whatever, and when I see them or think about them I immediately feel bad about myself. That’s envy and jealousy. It was, perhaps, Satan’s greatest sin. Love says, “I am happy that person has something awesome like that. Sure, I’d like that too, but I’m really glad they are blessed in that way. I wouldn’t trade with them because then they would be without. I’d rather go without if it meant their happiness.”

Love does not boast; it is not arrogant. This is the mirror of envy. This is making others feel badly because of the things we have. We are given a gift by God and are meant to use it to bless people – but instead we use it to make ourselves feel superior to others. That’s sin. Love says, “I have this awesome thing and I’m going to share it with you. I have this talent and I’m going to bless you with it. I have this ability and I’m going to use it for you, without cost, because I love you.”

Love is not rude, or unseemly. In other words, love doesn’t make people cringe by being crude, impolite, or offensive. Usually this means sexual talk and profanity, but it can also mean simply not waiting your turn, serving yourself first, or telling jokes that try to humiliate or embarrass others. Love lifts people up, encourages, and is sensitive to others. It wants God to be honoured and everyone to enjoy what’s going on.

Love does not insist on its own way. Being self-seeking, or insisting on your own way, is literally the opposite of love. Love looks out for others, gives way to them, insists others go first, listens to what others have to say and lets them try it their way.

Love is not irritable or resentful. Another translation says, “Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.” Love isn’t touchy, irritable, hot headed, always on the edge of exploding. It doesn’t have a list ready every time someone talks. Love doesn’t jump down people’s throats over a misspoken word or cause others to hide in fear of them. It doesn’t sit there with their thumb on the nuclear button that they know will blow the other person up and make them stop talking. Love is patient, right? It gives people latitude, lets them speak, lets them make mistakes, lets them try again, lets people explain themselves, and contributes calm to the room – not fear. Which do you contribute?

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love loves morality. When sin and evil happens it’s not happy about it, but sad. God doesn’t delight in wickedness (Ps 5:4). In fact, He hates sin. Injustice and evil causes Him to feel sadness and wrath. God didn’t sweep the sin under the rug, but dealt with it justly and righteously. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross, to take the wrath of God for us.[4]

After explaining what love does not do, he turns to the positive and gives us what it does – and they all point to Jesus. To “bear all things” means to “cover” or “hide”. Think of someone being a human shield or throwing themselves on a grenade. Love protects. You see someone being embarrassed or gossiped about or about to face harm and the love inside you makes you jump out and help them. That’s what Jesus did for as He took the punishment for our sins and continues to intercede for us as our advocate.

To “believes all things” doesn’t mean to be gullible or naive, but to be willing to think the best of people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Jesus does this to us as He walks with us, continues to listen to our prayers, keeps helping us, keeps encouraging us, and treats us as friends. One of His titles, after all, is Jesus, Friend of Sinners. A friend knows our weaknesses and cuts us lots of slack.

To “hope all things” means we look forward, not backward. You can’t keep a record of wrongs if you are looking forward, right? It means knowing that God is working on people, that tomorrow is another day, and trusts that God is working things out for our good and His glory. Jesus is our ultimate hope, allowing us to know that as bad as it can get, God has it under control and it will all eventually make sense in Him.

To “endure all things” means to persevere. It was not the Jews or the Romans who put Jesus on the cross. He could have stopped anytime. It was Jesus that put Himself there. He, because of His AGAPE love for us, endured the cross (Heb 12:2) so that we could be saved. Love doesn’t take off when things get tough, it sticks through. Love doesn’t give up. Hardship and pain doesn’t stop love, it purifies it. They strive to save their marriages, families, friendships, as much as they can – for the sake of love.

Conclusion

And that kind of love goes beyond feelings doesn’t it? It’s not temporary, it’s permanent because it is rooted something that doesn’t change: in God Himself. That’s the kind of love Christians have been given and that we have access to when we submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It really is the “more excellent way”.

[1] http://mentalfloss.com/article/71855/why-does-word-sometimes-lose-all-meaning

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/eros-love.html

[3] White, R. E. O. (1988). Love. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/love-not-delight-evil-rejoices-truth.html

Spiritual Gifts, The Body of Christ, and The Weakest Members

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47 - Spiritual Gifts

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Christmas is coming and I’m very excited already. I went to the Christmas store at the Carleton Place nursery and officially got myself in the mood. There was free mulled cider, cookies, Christmas music playing in the background… I love the colours and lights and trees and everything. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and though I’m practicing some self-control by not putting up my tree yet, I’ve already busted out a shuffle of my Christmas Music Playlist and have sung along to such wonderful hymns as “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

And while I love all the colours of Christmas I’m just like anyone else and know that a big part of the season is the exchanging of gifts. I’ve already sent out my list to some key family members, ordered some for people online, and have been talking with grandma about what the kids want.

I was thinking back as to the best Christmas gift I ever received. And while I’ve gotten a lot of cool gifts there was one that stuck out in my mind as the best one. It was 1989, I was 11 years old, and desperately wanted the hottest new item of the season – the one that none of my friends had and which would complete my life so I would never need anything again. I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money and this thing would cost a lot. I was cool about it though. I didn’t beg or remind my parents over and over. I just sort of left out a picture of it on the counter, circled it in the Sears catalog and kept turning to that page and leaving it open, and just, like, casually bringing it up naturally in conversation.  Nothing annoying.

I absolutely didn’t think I was going to get it – at all. But on Christmas morning, on grandma’s couch, I couldn’t believe when I opened up the box that it was there… a Nintendo GameBoy complete with Super Mario Land and Tetris! The greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was a huge moment and I barely contained myself.

I loved that thing for a long time, got every accessory, and played it constantly – until the Sega Game Gear came out two years later. The Sega Game Gear had something that the GameBoy didn’t – a colour screen. And I was hooked, but I knew that my parents would never get me another game system, especially since the one I had was still great. So what to do?

[This is a painful, regretful memory actually. I get a little misty just talking about it.]

The Game Gear came out in October of 1991 and was $150. The GameBoy, brand new was $100, but I had all the accessories.

So 13 year old me, by myself, without my parent’s knowledge, went down to the only pawn shop in town and sold it to the guy. It was insane. Somehow, between his talking and my idiotic mind, I ended up giving him my GameBoy, all the games, and all the accessories and walking out with something like $40 or $50. I still remember standing outside the store, with the money in my hand, wondering what happened, and wondering where I was going to get the extra $100. I never did. [Ugh, that hurts to share.]

Spiritual Gifts

I’m sure you’ve gotten some pretty memorable Christmas gifts, right? Maybe even ones that you, hopefully, still have and cherish to this day? Well, today we are going to open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about something that God gives all believers, which the Bible calls “Spiritual Gifts”. So please open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to read it together.

As you open I want you to marvel at our giving, generous God. God gives us life and this amazing world to live in – and then we sin and mess it up. And then God gives us His Law to guide us and teach us how to live the best way together – and then we sin and mess ourselves up. And then God sends prophets and teachers and leaders to guide us back to Him – and we don’t listen to them, even going so far as to reject and murder them. And then, even while we were yet dead in our sins, having made ourselves His enemies, God sends His Son to show us how to live, teach us the truth, inaugurate His kingdom, and then take the death and punishment we deserve, having God the Father’s wrath poured out on Himself, exchanging Himself sinners. And then He rose again to conquer death and offers us the free gift of salvation, justification, sanctification, for all who would believe – not for all who would do amazing works, or follow the rules, or perform religious acts – but simply by faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour.

But the gifts don’t end there. Once we accept Jesus as Lord the gifts keep on coming, and the greatest gift that Christians receive is the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. Just as God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with Moses, or the Temple in Jerusalem, so now the Spirit of God dwells in everyone who believes(1 Cor 9:19). When His disciples wondered why Jesus would be dying and then leaving them to take His place in Heaven, He said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Jesus said that it is better to have the Holy Spirit inside us than Jesus walking beside us! And He does some amazing things for us.

In John 16 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper, helping us with evangelism, convicting the world of sin, showing us how to be righteous, warning us of spiritual dangers. He helps our minds to see the difference between good and evil, lies and truth, light and darkness. It says that He helps us understand the Bible. It’s not just priests and preachers and scholars that can interpret the Bible, because every believer who is dependent on the Spirit will be taught by Him. In John 14 the Holy Spirit is called the Counsellor who comes alongside us to encourage us, guide us, inspire our good works, and never leave us (Jn 14:16). He binds Christians together with God and each other, causing us to love Him and one another (1 Cor 12:13). He teaches us who Jesus is and helps us to worship and glorify Him (John 15:26, 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to produce Godly fruit. When we are convicted that we do not love enough, that we are at war within ourselves, that we are too angry, or out of control, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [1]

That is a LOT of gifts from God to Christians. And yet, how often are we like me at age 13, taking these awesome gifts and disregarding them, ignoring them, or just callously throwing them away in favour of something else the world has to offer – that just ends up not working out anyway.

1 Corinthians 12

Let’s read though 1 Corinthians 12 together and see what we can learn. We’re going to do a quick study of it because there’s a lot there, and then at the end of this message I’m going to point you at a good resource where you can really dig deeper into it.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

First, I want you to notice that Paul wants to make sure that believers are not “uninformed” about Spiritual Gifts – which means it behooves us to put some time into public and private study regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the discovery and use of our spiritual gifts.

There’s a few ways to do this. One is private study of course. Taking it upon yourself to read and study scripture and some good books on this topic. Second is to go to RightNow Media and watch something called “Your Divine Design” by Chip Ingram. I watched a couple of them and they are a great overview. And third, I’m actually going to be working with the leadership team to put together a 36-week leadership training course for the church where one of the things we cover is how to discover and use our Spiritual Gifts.

The second thing I want you to notice here is the contrast of influences we see here. Before you were saved you were “led astray” or “influenced” toward useless, pagan, idolatrous things. He talks about “mute idols”, pointing back to what we talked about during our discussion of eating meat offered to idols, right? That the actual statues of the gods were just mute, stone carvings. But even though the statues were mute, the followers were not. These cultic religions were full of wild displays and all kinds of ecstatic speech where they would claim to have special words from the gods or the afterlife.

Paul acknowledges that this happens and gives the warning again that there are only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Satan, and sometimes they look similar. Both have great influence over their followers. Satan often makes false copies, or imitations, of what God does in order to confuse and tempt people away from the true faith.

But Paul gets down to brass tacks and says, “These pagan idol worshippers are absolutely being influenced by the spiritual realm and have some kind of ‘gift’ from the demons, but they are forgeries of what God gives. How can you know the difference? Because when the Holy Spirit gives a gift to someone it always points them and everyone else to Jesus. All the other influences, the false gifts, the demonic powers, all point people away from Jesus. That’s the litmus test.”

We’ll see that later in the chapter, but that’s an important place to start. We see a lot of gifted people, some with some incredible sorts of power, even spiritual power. How do we tell if it’s from God or from Satan?

The same way we tell whether we have a good compass or not. A good compass always points North. A bad compass wobbles around and points all sorts of other directs. The Holy Spirit always points to directly to Jesus as Saviour, Lord and the focus of our worship. The other powers won’t. They will wobble around and point everywhere else except Jesus. This tells us something important about why we are given these gifts, right? We are given them to point people to Jesus! Not to lift ourselves up, not to build our popularity, not to keep to ourselves, not even to draw people to our church, but to bring glory and praise to Jesus and accomplish the works He has given us to do!

What are the Gifts?

So, the natural next question is “Ok, so what are the gifts?” That’s what Paul covers next. Start in verse 4:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

That is a lot of different gifts, and it’s not even all of them because he lists more in verse 28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” And there’s even more listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.

Now, this study can go deep because each one of these gifts requires some study, right? What does it mean to have the gift of prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues? What does it mean to have the gift of helping or administrating? And is this even the full list? For example, in the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel are given a gift from the Spirit of God to interpret dreams (Gen 41; Dan 1) and Bezalel is given a spiritual gift to help him make works of art (Exo 31). What about those?

Well, I’m not going to explain every gift because we can study privately, but let’s pull out a few things and see some important points are here.

A Variety of Gifts

First, from 4, notice that there is a “variety” of gifts. One of the problems in the Corinthian church that seems to carry forward today is that people were belittling some of the gifts and only desiring the ones that put on a good show – like tongues. They wanted their church to look like the pagan temples where people were flipping out and speaking in crazy languages, and Paul knew that this sort of thing was not of God.

They didn’t want what the gifts God had given them, but wanted what they had before. They didn’t accept the gift that the Holy Spirit gave them, but complained and wanted something more flashy, more exciting, more interesting.

The Babylon Bee is one of my favourite websites because it gives satirical articles about different things going on in the church and culture. One recent one was entitled, “Unlucky Charismatic Gets Boring Gift Of Hospitality” and part of it said,

“’A man with the ‘really cool’ gift of prophecy reportedly moved throughout the room at Wade’s church and read each member’s aura to determine which spiritual gift the Holy Spirit had granted. Wade grew more and more excited as he approached, but was devastated as he learned he just had the “super lame” gift of hospitality.

‘Ugh, hospitality, are you serious?’ Wade said as the church prophet announced he had detected the Christian virtue as Wade’s supernaturally bestowed talent. ‘I was really pulling for something cool like tongues or healing.’

‘Heck, I’d even take teaching at this point. This sucks,’ a downcast Wade added. At publishing time, Wade had consoled himself by focusing on the fact that he hadn’t gotten something even worse, like giving.”

That’s a perfect example of what was happening then and what happens now. Christians who haven’t learned about the Spiritual Gifts get a little understanding of what they are and then immediately want whatever one gives them the most strokes. They want evangelism so they can be the next Billy Graham, or Teacher or Pastor because they think then they can be a super Christian that everyone looks up to, or healings or miracles or tongues so that everyone can see the power coming out of them.

Do you see the problem there? They are really only concerned about their own glory. And what was the difference between spiritual gifts from Satan and ones from the Holy Spirit? That they point to Jesus. This was the danger that the church was falling into, and that some churches fall into today. The Satanic work of stealing God’s glory.

Look at verses 12-26. This is what they were doing to each other in the church as they disparaged their own gifts and belittled others:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is where we get where we call Christians the “Body of Christ”. The Apostle Paul equates the parts of a church to be like the parts of a human body. Sure, there are some upfront parts that everyone sees – eyes, muscles, skin – but there are a lot more parts that people don’t see that are just as important – like our heart, liver, and pancreas.

No part of the body should tell another part of the body they are more or less important. That would be crazy! In the same way, no part of the church should call their own, or any other Christians gift unimportant! This brings division to the body.

We do this all the time in the church. Say someone is an “encourager” or a “helper”. That’s their gift. They love sending notes and cheering people up. Or they love to show up and help do the chores in the church. What do we do with them? “Oh, you’re friendly! You should be in charge of all the greeters! Oh, you’re a good helper, you should be a Deacon!” Hold on! Do they have the gift of leadership? Do they have the gift of administration?  Nope. Which is why when they end up being “promoted” they are miserable at it, which makes them miserable, and everyone else miserable. But what happened? We took them out of their gifting and put them somewhere they weren’t meant to be! We took a hand and tried to make it into a mouth. We took a heart and tried to turn it into a pancreas.  And it didn’t work.

Weaker Members

I want you to notice something really neat in verses 22-25,

“…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

This is a huge part of being in God’s Upside Down Kingdom. Who gets all the glory in worldly kingdoms? The warriors and intellects, right? People that are strong, fast, smart, clever… and everyone else is less important, right? What does the world do with “weak”, and “less honourable” parts like the mentally challenged, sick, hurting, immature, elderly. We hide them. We avoid them. We lock them away. Worse, these days we kill them.

What does this verse say? It says that the weaker parts of the body are “indispensable”. The parts with “less honour” or need to be taken care of, are bestowed greater honour. The parts that require protection we protect.

Think of your own body. There are certain parts we take really good care of, right? We wear eye protection and athletic cups because eyes are really sensitive.

What happens when you poke someone in the belly or get something in your eye? The whole body constricts. The head drops, the elbows and arms come in, the knees come up, the muscles contract, to protect damaged area. When one part of our body gets hurt, the other parts naturally protect it. That’s a picture of what’s supposed to happen in the church.

Some people in the church are designed by God to be the arms, legs, knees, elbows, and muscles. Able to take a beating and keep moving. Other members are designed to be weaker. Not less important, but weaker so they can do a special job. A knee can’t do what an eye can do, right? But when the eye gets hurt? Everything stops, right? The rest of the body surrounds it.

What is a church supposed to do with weak and hurting people? We surround them, help them, protect them, care for them, using our own gifts to serve them. Maybe the knee and the elbow can’t come up with a good plan, but the brain can, and the knee and elbow use their strength to protect. The brain can’t cry out for help, but the mouth can. We all work together.

The whole point is that there are a variety of gifts given by God on purpose. So Paul says, “There aren’t just three gifts meant to bring attention to yourself, there are a whole variety of gifts, and none of them are accidents or unimportant.”

Whatever gift you have, it wasn’t your idea. These gifts are not earned. You didn’t ask for the gift you got. They are not chosen or appointed or voted on by people. It is God alone, the Holy Spirit, who administers the gifts among His people.[2] To reject or call one better or more important than another is a great sin. God controls the gifts, not us. It is the believer’s responsibility to seek God’s guidance, read His word, pray and listen to see which gift God has given you and how God wants you to use it for His purposes!

For the Common Good

And that’s the second point, found in verse 7.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul answers the questions, “Where do the gifts come from?” From the Spiritual Realm. “How can we tell which ones are from the Holy Spirit or a demon?” Because the good ones point to Jesus. “What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?” He says there are a variety and gives examples. Then he answers the question, “What are they for?” They are given by God for the common good of the church.

Incidentally, that’s what Paul means in verse 31 when he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” We know after some study that he doesn’t mean that some gifts are better than others, right? He just told the church to stop competing with each other and belittling some people because of their gifts. So what does this mean?

The encouragement is to desire gifts that will spread more and love for the common good, not to bring attention to ourselves. It means that instead of desiring gifts that put on a good show and make us look good, to instead earnestly pursue that which would build up the church and glorify God the most. It leads directly into what Paul is going to talk about in chapter 13, that no matter what gifts we have they need to be motivated by and done with love.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this: Ephesians 2:10 says, Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Part of those good works are simply the helpful life that all Christians are meant to lead, but it also has to do with the spiritual gifts you have been given. You and I were shaped to serve God and the church. And we won’t feel like we fit until we are working in the place we were designed to be. You will never feel more joy or satisfaction than when you work within your spiritual gifts. And conversely, as long as you are trying to do things you weren’t designed for, jealous of someone else’s gift, or belittling others, you will never feel the satisfaction that comes with serving God with His special gift to you.

So my encouragement to the Christians here is to take some time to further study this passage and discover your spiritual gift, then tell others what it is, and then allow us to help you live it out! Check out that Chip Ingram study called “Your Divine Design”, check out GotQuestions.org and read some more about it, and prepare yourself to do the leadership course we’re starting soon.

Finding and using your gift means you’ll have to say yes to some things and stop doing other things, but that means you’ll be coming more in line with how God created you to live, which is always better. It is God who builds our church, not us. His way is best, not ours. His glory is our highest purpose, not ours. Our task is to simply follow His plan to work together as an effective body.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-today.html

[2] Life Application Bible Commentary, 1&2 Corinthians, Pg 169-170

 

The Battle of the Sexes 3: Male Headship

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46 - The Battle of the Sexes and God's Original Plan - Male Headship pt 3

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Have you ever been house shopping? Anita and I have moved a few times and have owned a couple homes, so we know what it’s like to spend days and days going through strangers homes and wondering if you can see yourself living there. I was really, really bad at it because even if the house was shaped perfectly if I didn’t like the colour of the walls, I just couldn’t get past it. Anita would be like, “Wow, this place is great!” and I’d be like, “Yeah, but that one wall is purple, and I don’t think I could live with that, so let’s try somewhere else.” Not a good way to buy a house, right?

Buying a house isn’t just buying a paint colour, right? There’s a lot to consider. There’s the big picture stuff like what neighbourhood are you living in? How close are you to the next house? Where’s the nearest shopping or bus station? How long do you intend to stay?

Then there’s the living space. How many rooms will you need? How big of a kitchen? Does your stuff fit in it?

But it goes deeper, right? You have to check behind the walls to see how the electrical and plumbing are. You have to check the furnace, the roof, the attic. Check for ants or termites. In Cleveland, we had to get it tested for Radon gas to see if the air in our house would kill us.

But it goes even deeper than that, right? You have to check the foundation of the house to see if there are cracks, if it supports the house, if it’s draining water properly, or if it’s slowly sinking into the ground. If the foundation isn’t right, your whole house can twist so your doors and windows don’t even fit properly.

As we’ve been going through our passage in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 I’ve been trying to explain it from the foundation up so we can understand what God is saying. This type of passage is like walking into one of those modern architecture houses where everything looks kind of weird and you wonder how anyone can live there, or how it even remains standing – but once the architect takes you through it you start to see the genius of the design. Let’s read our passage one more time and then we’ll do a bit of review:

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

The Foundation

On the first week, we talked about the foundation of the house. What is it built on? Will it stay standing? What makes it strong? And we said that the foundations of this passage is built on five important things: First, the authority of the Apostles, who carry the authority of King Jesus. Second, the Godhead of the Trinity which extends beyond time and culture. Third, it is established in God as Creator and fourth, in the way He purposefully designed His creation. And fifth, it is established in common church practice, which again goes beyond personal preference and culture. So the teaching in this passage has a strong, strong foundation.

The Walls

The next week we talked about the walls of the passage, explaining the cultural context of the passage and figuring out what parts are decorative and which parts are structural. It’s natural to ask, “Why is Jesus, through Paul the apostle, making such a big deal over what a woman wears on her head?” The answer is that choice of whether or not a woman wears a head covering in that culture showed told a lot about what was going on in her heart. It showed pride, irreverence, and promiscuity. It was disrespectful to God, the church, and their families. It was confusing to new believers and a poor witness to non-believers. There was a lot of ways this heart issue came out, but one of the main ones that we read over and over, and which I’ve been dancing around, is that it showed a lack of submission to God’s established authority structure.

Why is this a big deal? Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”

How the women were presenting themselves showed what was going on in their heart, and the biggest problem was that it showed that these wives were refusing to submit to the headship of their husband, which meant they were refusing to submit to the headship of God. That’s why the head coverings were such a big issue in Corinth. Not because a woman’s supposed to have long hair, or because she needs to wear a hat, but because in that culture, removing your head covering in the Christian church announced to everyone that your heart was not right with God.

In our house analogy, the head coverings were like the decorations, paint, pictures, and furniture in the home. It’s usually the first and most lasting impression we have of the house, but it’s all temporary and according to the style of the owner, right? If I hate the purple and want to do it up in a watermelon theme, I totally can, right? But when it comes to buying a home what really matters is what’s happening inside the walls and the foundation, right?

The Gospel of Jesus

But before I came to this main issue, we needed to ensure that this really was God’s original plan, so we spent two weeks going through Genesis 1 and 2 so we could see God’s establishment of Male and Female, husband and wife, before the Fall of Man, before sin messed everything up.

Why? Because this is a gospel issue. A couple weeks ago we said that the story of Jesus Christ is the story God’s plan of salvation – how He intends to fix the problem of sin once and for all. The Bible speaks of becoming a Christian as being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). It says that being in Christ means we are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). It speaks of being purified, redeemed, cleaned, and washed. And all that happens through faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. We believe that He died on the cross, taking our punishment on Himself, shedding his blood in place of ours, taking God’s wrath so we don’t have to, in order that we could be saved from the consequences of sin. And we further believe that this isn’t just about us, but all of creation being redeemed (Rom 8:20-23) along with us. Through Jesus, God is fixing all the things that sin has wrecked, destroying everything that is evil, and remaking everything to be good again. As 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

And that includes the relationship between men and women, which was terribly broken when sin entered the world. If you call when we studied Genesis 1 we saw how God made men and women the same in worthy of glory, power, dominion, honour, and calling. Then last week we saw that God also gave us important differences. God made Adam first, making him live without Eve for some time without her, and then introduced her as his complementary helper. We noted that He made Adam out of the dust like all other animals, but the woman was made out of a piece of the man, saying something very special about her and their relationship with one another. And we also noted that Adam named Eve, just as he had done with all of the other living creatures, and we said that in the Bible, naming something shows authority.

The Eternal Sonship of Jesus

It is that authority structure, the issue of Male Headship, that we see in our 1st Corinthians 11 passage – and it’s represented in the head coverings controversy.

It is God’s plan that man and woman are uniquely made in His image, unlike any other creature. That means a lot of things – our ability to love, be creative, be rational, be just, and make choices – but it also means that we are social. Humanity was made to be in fellowship. We see this in the mystery of the Trinity as it’s presented in the Bible. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equal in essence, but distinct in person. The Father as God (Philippians 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4), but speaks of them all as separate persons. They have been in relationship for all eternity, and therefore it is no surprise that when God created an image bearer, that it would be a relational creature.

But something else that is part of God’s plan, and part of us being in the image of God, is that there is a divinely established authority structure. There is a Father and a Son. This is called the “Doctrine of Eternal Sonship” and it simply says that the Bible presents Jesus as having always existed as the Son. There was never a time when Jesus was not the Son of God, and there has always been a Father/Son relationship in the Godhead. Jesus didn’t merely assume this role when He came to earth, but is, and has always been the second person of the Godhead.

We won’t get into the full doctrine here, but it comes from all manner of passages (Colossians 1:13-36, Hebrews 1:2, John 20:21, Galatians 4:4, John 3:16, 16:28, Hebrews 13:8) and Christians have agreed on this for a long time. It’s in the Nicene Creed from 325AD which says that Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”[1]

The point is that there has always been a hierarchical structure within the Godhead of the Trinity, and so when God created man in His image, He created that in us too. And he did so by making the man the head, as God is the head, and the female the one under his authority.

Back to our 1 Corinthians passage: Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” It’s about reflecting the image of God in our lives and relationships.

Sin Ruined It

But then, in Genesis 3 we how when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil everything changed. (Open with me there). The story opens with the tempter, Satan, manipulating the words of God and telling Eve that God has lied to her. Where is Adam? Where is the partnership? They are meant to help each other, to follow God together, but where is Adam? It says in Genesis 3:6 that Adam is standing right beside her, but he’s silent. He’s not leading, guarding, protecting, helping, correcting, or anything. He’s just standing there. He’s not doing what he should be doing. It wasn’t the eating of the fruit that was the first sin, the whole situation was kicked off by Adam’s sin.

One commentary I have says, “Adam’s sin was both an act of conscious rebellion against God and also a failure to carry out his divinely ordained responsibility to guard or ‘keep’ both the garden and the woman that God had created as a ‘helper fit for him’. The disastrous consequences of Adam’s sin cannot be overemphasized, resulting in the fall of mankind…”[2]

In verse 8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

God already knew what had happened, of course, but who did God call out to? To head of the family, Adam. He was the one primarily responsible for what happened.

Keep reading, “And he [that is Adam] said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’”

Watch carefully what happens next: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

God confronts the man and he totally blame shifts to both God and Eve. God confronts Eve and she blame shifts to Satan. The authority structure has completely fallen apart. Adam even tries to drag God into taking some blame. Now guilt and shame is spreading onto both of them as they squirm uncomfortably in front of God – and why? Because the head didn’t do his job. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all [men and women]…” Who takes the blame for the fall of man throughout all of scripture? Eve who ate first? No. Adam, the “head”. In 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus is called the “Second Adam”, the one who did it right. The first Adam caused sin to corrupt everyone and everything, and the Second Adam, Jesus, will cause everything to finally be made right again.

The Curse on Men and Women

All of this came because God’s created order, His established hierarchy, was disregarded and disobeyed. Can you see now the true sin that was happening in the Corinthian church? It wasn’t about head dresses, it was about the disrespecting, disregarding, and disobeying God’s established created order of authority between men and women, husbands and wives.

This sort of talk doesn’t fly outside of conservative, evangelical circles, does it? In fact, it goes against most of our natural inclinations, doesn’t it? Does that give you a certain gut reaction? It does for me.

Do you know why we have such a hard time with this? Look at Genesis 3:16 as God pronounces the curse that comes from their sin. The serpent receives the first curse, as the first one to act in disobedience to God. Then Eve, the next one to act, receives the second curse:

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’”

Pain is a common theme in all three curses. The serpent’s crushed head, the woman in childbearing and childrearing, and Adam in his work. And though it affects all mankind, it is Adam who receives the curse of death. But there’s something else in the curse as well that I want you to notice: the woman’s curse impacts her two primary roles, in procreation and in her relationship with her husband.

In verse 15 we see that it is through the woman’s children that the serpent’s head will be bruised – pointing to Jesus, who would have a human mother, but whose Father was the Holy Spirit, not a man like Adam. But the other curse was in her relationship with her husband. From that point on the relationship between men and women would be strained and difficult.

The word desire is important there and it has 2 important meanings. It partly means that her “desire” will be for her husband, meaning women will have an inner drive to be with men for emotional support, protection, and for sexual fulfillment, and in order to make babies. It is also used in Genesis 4:7 to describe sin pulling Cain in the wrong direction. God says to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Sounds a lot like Eve’s curse, doesn’t it?

So what’s happening in Eve’s curse here? Essentially it means that even though Eve desires to be with Adam just like they were in the Garden of Eden, now Adam and Eve, and all men and women after them, are going to have a lot of messed up, confusing, contrary, hurtful desires. Part of her will want to have Adam around, but then they are going to fight and argue and compete for domination. Instead of being perfect partners that complete and complement one another’s strengths, now her desires will conflict with to his. Now instead of men and women working together, they will be engaged in a battle to see who will rule. Adam will use his physical strength to subdue her and rule over her, she will resist and reject and seek to usurp him. Both, drawn together with mutual need and desire, but neither submitting to the other, each always thinking they are getting the short end of the stick, trying to oppress or control the other.

Conclusion

This is the curse of Genesis 3 and the main issue of 1 Corinthians 11:2-6. Paul was talking to Christians, to believers who had been set free from sin, imbued with the Holy Spirit, made new by their relationship with Jesus, set free from the curse, set free from all of this horrible battle of the sexes, and were meant to be restored back to the way that God had originally intended men and women to live together: equal in dignity, worth, respect, mission, dominion, gifting, and access to God. Not grasping for power or oppressing one another. Not asserting their dominance over the other. Not women trying to replace men and men trying to oppress women. Not trying to escape God’s plan for how the world is meant to work, but submitting themselves to it in a worshipful humility.

But, in the head coverings controversy, the women were showing that they were still living like people who were under the curse. Pridefully grasping for power and attention, having contrary desires that caused them to disobey and disrespect their husband and their God, promoting the confusion of the roles of men and women, disgracing themselves in the church, and disregarding their own place in God’s plan of salvation. They were acting like unbelievers.

My encouragement to you is the same as it has been for the past few weeks: To consider whether you are submitting to God in the area of the roles of men and women. To ask yourselves in what ways you are seeking to oppress, control, or subjugate the opposite sex, instead of thanking God and appreciating the differences He created. To consider your marriage and what ways you’ve allowed your own sinful nature to dictate your beliefs about how you are to relate to your husband or wife.

Men, have you, like Adam, relinquished your role as head of the family? Women, are you ignoring him and just doing whatever you desire?

Submit yourselves, your relationships, and your marriages to Christ. Ask for and receive forgiveness for your sins in the name of Jesus, and then ask Him to teach you how to live His way, not yours.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/eternal-Sonship.html

[2] ESV Study Bible

The Battle of the Sexes and God’s Original Plan (Part 2)

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45 - The Battle of the Sexes and God's Original Plan pt 2

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What you believe will dictate how you behave, that is a universal truism. If you change your beliefs you will transform your behaviour.

If a person doesn’t take care of their body says they know they should eat better and exercise, that they believe a healthy lifestyle is valuable but doesn’t actually eat veggies or get off their chair, can you truly say they believe what they say they know? Not really. But watch what happens when they have their first heart attack, or when they are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes – suddenly the excuses melt away and they are forced to confront their belief system and make some changes.

Or consider the student who tells themselves and everyone else that they are “studying”. They go to their room, check their phone, open their books, sharpen their pencil, go look for a highlighter, grab a snack, call a friend, look up the perfect study music on the internet, realize their desk is too cluttered so they tidy it up, but then they’re thirsty and need a drink, so they go to get some water, but really, they’re kinda tired so they should get some study fuel so they run out to get some Starbucks…. And all along the way people are saying, “hey, what are you doing today?” The student’s response, “I’m studying!”. “Then why are you at the store?” – “Oh, I’m just taking a quick break. Studying is hard work!” Part of them somewhat even believes it, right? But what happens when the test comes and they fail? They are forced to confront their actions. They are forced to confront whether they were really studying.

If you ask people what they believe about the roles of men and women in the church and in marriage you will get a lot of responses, based on a lot of beliefs, won’t you? People will quote verses, tell stories, share their personal understandings and beliefs, but how many of them actually believe what they are saying? How many of the things we actually say marriage line up to what we practice?

For example, take the simple phrase, “Men and women are equal.” A lot of people say they believe this, but do they? Are men and women equal? Well, if we define equal as being “the same”, then no, we’re not. Our bodies are obviously different, what with hormones and baby making system and all, but it’s not only that. According to neuroscientists, there are some considerable differences in how we see our world.[1] There’s no difference in intelligence between men and women, but they did learn that women are better at situational thinking and men are better at predicting patterns. Men are better at focusing on one task while women are better at multi-tasking. Women are better at picking up social cues and can empathize with what’s going on around them, while men are better at disregarding emotional distractions and rude behaviour and focusing on exact issues. Men are typically better at math than women. Women feel pain more intensely than men. Men are better with controlling their bodies movements and have faster reaction times, but women are better at discerning colours and learning languages and have better long-term memories than men. Men are better at short-term memory. Men get a rush of pleasure chemicals when they are faced with a risky situation. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward. Sexually, men are aroused mostly through their eyes, while women are more complex requiring multiple senses, ambiance, touch, scent, temperature, to get excited.

That’s pretty interesting, isn’t it? Now, I want you to be careful when you hear that because there was absolutely no judgment in any of those statements, yet we are conditioned by the society around us to be immediately offended by hearing that we are different – because the word “different” has become associated with “inferior”.

If a scientist says men are better at disregarding emotional distractions, focusing on one task then somehow it gets translated into, “Female emotions are bad.” If a scientist says, “Men are better at controlling their body and have faster reaction times.” it somehow gets turned into, “Women are bad at sports!” But that’s not what he said! He’s just reporting the facts. But when those facts get filtered through our belief system, we often end up with an emotional response. And when our sinful nature gets involved it turns into arguments, put-downs, contests, and hard feelings. We somehow, naturally turn the information turns into a battle of the sexes.

Review

But that’s not how God intended the relationship between men and women to be! The differences between us are not meant to be a source of contention, but a reason to worship God. They weren’t meant to drive us apart from each other, arguing about which set of strengths is better, but cause us to marvel at the differences and depend on one another. Men have strengths that women don’t have and women have strengths that men don’t have.

The laser focused, risk-taking man needs the balance of the woman’s ability to multitask and be emotionally and situationally aware – and the overwhelmed and harried woman who is seeing a million things the man doesn’t needs the man’s ability to predict patterns, establish priorities, and focus on one thing at a time. Of course, I’m speaking stereotypically, and not everyone is like this. I fully grant that there are lots of ways that this isn’t the hard and fast rule. Some men are more in touch with emotions, some women are amazing at math, some guys couldn’t hit a fastball to save their life, and some women are super driven and focused on achievement and their work – but hopefully, you see the point that we need each other’s differences. Or as a bunch of smart people at the TGC said it, “Men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.”[2]

And this is represented in scripture too, certainly in the 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 passage we’ve been studying for the past few weeks, but also in other passages in scripture. So what I want to take us to a few different places in scripture and then flesh the concept of the different roles of men and women, often called “complementarianism” out. But first, we’ll do a quick review of where we’ve already been.

On the first week, we talked about the authority behind the passage, citing everything from the authority of Jesus to how God biologically created men and women. The next week we studied the cultural context of the passage, discussing head coverings in ancient Corinth, what was happening in that particular church, and how that applies to us today. Last week we went back to Genesis 1 and talked about God’s original intention to make men and women equal in dignity, worth, glory, power, honour and dominion and the sin of disrespecting, subjugating, denying and ignoring one another. But I told you last week that wasn’t the whole picture. While Genesis 1 emphasizes our similarities, Genesis 2 retells the story of the creation of man and woman emphasizing our differences.

The Original Plan

So let’s open up to Genesis 2:5-25,

“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…. [skip to verse 15]… The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

God the Sculptor

I want to point out a few things here that tell us about how God intended men and women to understand and relate to one another, particularly husbands and wives, but also generally. Certainly, a lot of the language at the beginning of Genesis is poetic – it’s not a science textbook on genetics, but there are some incredibly important truths here. The whole narrative slows down and God is portrayed as a gardener, a sculptor, an artist, forming, designing, and bringing to life a very special portion of creation. Everything else He spoke into being, but now the picture is of him bending down, hand-crafting something special, like a potter working with clay.

This shows us something of the importance of living creatures, animals and mankind to God. He sees living creatures, especially mankind, different compared to everything else. Mountains and galaxies and flowers are beautiful, but they are not living creatures. And while animals are amazing, humans are His masterpiece, His image in the world. Here we see God forming out of the earth, out of the dirt, all living creatures – except one.

Something’s Not Right

Look at verse 18. Notice that Eve, woman, is not around yet. That’s not an accident. God had created every other animal in all creation with a mate, every flower had a way to reproduce, the cycle of life had been engaged for every part of the planet – but not for Adam. Was this an oversight on God’s part?

Obviously not, but wow, people have used thinking like that to torture this passage into a patriarchal, sexist, misogynist insult to women. They say this whole story was written by men, for men, so that they would have a religious reason to subjugate women. Is that what this is? Is this section an insult to women? No way!

Just as the story slows down and zooms into God’s artistic hands when He starts creating Adam, here we see the story start to build drama. A story is unfolding here and it’s meant to show us something very important. Adam pops onto the scene along with the animals, by God’s design, as a natural part of creation. He’s part of the creative order – but now something special happens. Instead of the story slowing down, the whole narrative of creation stops.

In verse 15 we see God take Adam and place him in the garden of Eden so he can work it and keep it. “Ok, Adam, here you go. Enjoy the garden, work it, eat whatever you want, except that tree over there… but have fun and get to work.”

And Adam’s out there doing whatever he’s supposed to be doing, right? He’s hoeing away, taste testing everything, petting the cats, figuring out how seeds work, or whatever, but something is “not good”. Those two words introduce drama into the story of creation. It brings the whole story to a stop. Everything up to this point has been “Good” and “very good”, but now, something is “not good”. What’s not good? What on earth is missing? What’s wrong? Adam is sinless, standing in the garden of Eden, in the most idyllic setting imaginable. The planet still has that new-car smell. But something is not good? What is it? Woman is missing.

Was this God’s oversight? We sometimes read it that way, don’t we? It’s like whenever I buy something from Ikea. I take it home, look at the plans, lay it all out, do my best, try to get it all right – but then when I step back to admire my work, it looks a little off. It’s too wobbly, it’s not good. So I go looking in the box and realize that I missed a piece!

That’s not what’s happening here. God doesn’t make mistakes, so what is happening here? God is grandly introducing the greatest part of creation, the best thing He will ever produce for Adam. He’s teaching Adam something important by making him go without for a little while. Look how it happens!

In verse 19 we are reminded, once again, that Adam and every other creature was made out of the dirt. They were all from the same stuff, living in the same land. And all of these creatures were paraded before Adam so he might see them and name them. Naming something designates authority.

We still do this today. What’s the first thing we do when we get a pet – or a new piece of equipment? What do we do after we create a piece of art or a new invention? Name it. Most of science involves finding and naming things. This shows our dominion over creation. Adam names a bunch of animals and it stirs something in him. There was no helper fit for him.

Wait a minute. Not a helper fit for him? Consider the options. Horse, elephant, badger, falcon, wolves… but nope. Wait, I’m forgetting someone important that was around. God! God was there. This was before the fall, before sin. God and Adam could speak face to face. He could ask God anything and it would be given to Him because there was no such thing as a wrong choice! But yet God had said it was not good for Adam to be alone, and after a time of working the garden and seeing all the animals, Adam knew it too. Adam felt alone, in Eden, standing next to God.

There was a longing in his heart that nothing on earth, even, for some reason, God, could not fill. I know that sounds strange to evangelical ears, but it’s right there. He looked to find a helper, He found none, and God Himself knew it was “not good”.

Longing For A Helper

What does that tell you about how much men need women? Why there is such a deep longing in our hearts for the love of our mothers, our sisters, our female friends, and our wives. This section doesn’t denigrate women, it lifts them up in the highest of esteem. There is nothing in the world equal to women! When God said “I will make a helper fit for [Adam].” our modern ears want to lower the value of that word. Who’s more important the man or his helper? We assume the man, right? But that word is the term EZER in Hebrew and does not signify a lesser relationship. It is the term used when neighbors and relatives help each other accomplish a task (Isa 41:6). It’s used when two nations make a political alliance or when military reinforcements join a fight (Ezra 10:15, Josh 10:4, 2 Sam 8:5). And it’s also used repeatedly of God who is our “helper” (Psalm 54:4; 118:7, 121). If it’s used of God, then it cannot be a negative term or one implying something that is lesser than the other.

God knew that Adam would need a helper. Soon Adam too would know he needed a helper, a partner, someone to alleviate his alone-ness and partner with him on the mission God had given him[3].

But he didn’t need another Adam. He needed someone suitable, or “fit” for him. That’s what God said, “I will make a helper fit for him.” That word means a corresponding part, the other piece of the puzzle, someone that had what God purposefully didn’t give him. There is no sense of subordination or subservience there. It is an equal partnership of people who are the same in worth. This doesn’t make men higher and women lower, it makes them partners. Their differences make them need each other, and working together makes them stronger than if they worked by themselves.

God The Surgeon

Now, look at verse 21. Notice that the picture of God changes. He is no longer a sculptor or a sculptor but a surgeon. The picture we have is of God anesthetizing the man, causing a deeper than normal sleep to come upon him so He could do something special.

The woman is not formed from dirt, like every other living creature. She is not spoken into being like the rest of creation. What is happening? The woman is taken out of man to show that they are not just made of the same substance, but united in a bond that goes beyond any other. Adam was formed from dirt, but so were alligators. Here we see something different. We see God showing us something special: The bond between men and women is different than anything else in all creation. God takes a piece out of man, and forms, or builds, the woman from it. The man was “formed” from dirt, the woman was “made or built” from man.

And from then on, God would work the miracle of creating His human images, not from dirt or ribs, but the children of mankind would be formed in the woman’s womb, built out of the same stuff, the same material as their parents. And what would bring this about? The physical, loving, intimate, sexual union of the man and the woman together in the covenant bonds of marriage. We see the first marriage ceremony take place in Eden and it was to form the system by which God would continue to spread His glory, His Image, throughout the world.

Conclusion                                                                                      

Next week we will get into verse 23, where man names the woman, and what that means about male headship, but I want to close for now saying that when I began today I said that “what you believe will dictate how you behave”.

I think everyone here agrees with that, but as I said, I wonder if your beliefs line up with what you are saying.

  • Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
  • Do you believe God has the right to tell you how to view the relationship between men and women?
  • Do you believe you must submit yourselves to Him, despite what you think or have experienced?

If so, then what I’ve just taught you may require you to change your behaviour.

  • Do you believe that men and women are equally intelligent and equally worthy of respect – or do you value the opinion of one over the other?
  • Do you believe that God made men and women purposefully different and that those differences should be celebrated – or do you believe that to be different is to somehow be lesser?
  • Do you believe that the women you work, serve and worship with are a gift to mankind –that every part of society truly needs women – or do you believe that women are a hindrance to getting things done?

Of course, this works both ways, so I encourage you to think long and hard about your beliefs about the roles of men and women in this world and how you perceive them – to ask God to show you where you are biased for or against, where you have confused difference for inferiority, and to ask forgiveness for insulting God’s design and His image.

 

[1] https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html & http://www.fitbrains.com/blog/women-men-brains/ & http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/study-finds-some-significant-differences-brains-men-and-women

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/four-dangers-for-complementarians

[3] http://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

The Battle of the Sexes and God’s Original Plan (Part 1)

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Review

If you’ve been with us for the past 2 weeks hopefully you’ll remember how we’ve been building the foundation of understanding here. I’ve taken this one slowly because if we don’t build study this passage from the bottom up, it could be easily misinterpreted and therefore potentially damaging.

It’s easy to dismiss something if you think that it’s just cultural or from the “olden days”, right? Certainly, we’re all biased by preferring newer methods and means, but more-so when it comes to ancient cultures and practices. We eat modern diets, read modern books, use modern technology, and believe modern concepts – and the idea of importing and applying millennia old ideas doesn’t come naturally, so we require some pretty good reasons as to why it’s better or more authoritative.

So we started with the authority behind the passage. If this is cultural, then it’s changeable, but if it’s established in something that transcends culture, then we’d better pay attention. And if you recall, there were 5 of them. Whatever this passage is teaching is, as we see in verse 2, built on Apostolic Authority, which is to say, the same authority as Jesus. The second foundation, as we saw in verse 3, was the Trinity, or God’s established hierarchy. The third, as we saw in verse 8, was the foundation of Creation or God as Creator, going all the way back to before the fall of man in Genesis 3. The fourth foundation, as we saw in verse 12, was biology. The teaching here is rooted in God’s choice to make humans as male and female. And fifth, as we saw in verse 16, was common church practice – that this wasn’t a special teaching for the Corinthians, but a universal teaching for all churches everywhere.

So that was the first week. Last week we moved onto the cultural considerations or historical context for whatever is being said here. Even though the foundation of this passages teaching is beyond culture, we still have to understand the context of the writing, and so last week we studied head coverings and fashion in ancient Greek and Roman culture. This led us to understand the issue being addressed in this passage, that being the freedom that women were finding with their new relationship with Christ, the unique nature of the church being a place that considered men and women to be equal in dignity, worth, and access to God, had gotten out of control and the women were breaking with societal norms and doing away with the head coverings that their culture wore.

This helped us to understand that what Jesus is telling us, through Paul. The foundation of the passage was universal, but the issue was contemporary to the Corinthian church. So, their cultural issue, that of doing away with head coverings, was showing a something deeper – a problem of the heart. I said last week that the women in the church were experiencing an “intoxicating level of freedom in Christ” and that because they were human they had taken it too far. They had used their freedom to sin (Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16) by disrespecting their husbands, disobeying Jesus, confusing new believers, and offending anyone who saw them.

Male Headship Controversy

But we’re not done with this passage yet. Foundationally, this was about breaking God’s divine standards. This showed up in a cultural way in the head coverings issue, but our interpretation of the passage is still missing a crucial part, and it’s something that I’ve been hinting at, but skipping past: and that is the issue of Male Headship.

How do you feel when I say that term? It likely depends on your age, your environment, your history, your education, and your knowledge of the Bible. We live in the modern and liberal nation of Canada, outside the very modern and very liberal city of Ottawa, and these two words are incredibly divisive right now. In fact, in a lot of places, with the rise of things like transgenderism and radical feminism, just using the term “Male Headship” would be considered hate speech.

That sounds radical doesn’t it? Like fear mongering. Well, here’s an example of what I mean: This is Kevin Arriola, a student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He’s seen some difficult things in his life and wanted to start the Men’s Issues Awareness Society. The invitation was to get some of the men and women at the school together to talk about some of the issues they’ve seen. Things like: male homelessness, the higher rate of suicide and incarceration, the declining performance of boys in academic settings, etc. Immediately, the feminist groups at the university flipped out, calling the group misogynist, anti-feminist, and ideologically dangerous. Within days, the student union shut them down. Ironically, half of the members of Kevin’s little group are women! In fact, the main team consists of Kevin and his social media director Alexandra! They’re fighting it right now, but it doesn’t look good.

My point behind sharing this story is to say that if a young man can’t start a discussion group un a university campus – the supposed bastion of learning and debate – about serious issues facing men today – then how do you think society is going to react to the words: “Male Headship”? Not well, right? It stirs up a lot of preconceptions and emotions, doesn’t it?

Therefore, we must be very careful when talking about this subject. We need to make sure that when we talk about it that we speak biblically, not passing along our own ideas, our history, our family upbringing, our culture, or assumptions about what we think the Bible says.

For Christians, we believe that God’s way is the best way, and therefore we pray and search the scriptures to see what He has to say and then submit ourselves to that – knowing that even if it goes against our feelings, history, preconceptions, culture, or desires, that it will be the best for human flourishing and bring God the most glory.

The Gospel

This is a gospel issue. The story of Jesus Christ, the good news (the gospel), is that Jesus Christ is using His power to restore everything to the way it should be. As Jesus says in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new!” This is why we talk about being born again, washed clean, or regenerated. God the Father made everything perfect, but then humans sinned and messed it up. But through Jesus death on the cross, He has broken the power of sin and is not only saving individuals, but redeeming them, delivering them from sin and darkness, and sanctifying them, taking out their sinful heart of stone and replacing it with a holy heart of flesh. And the story of the gospel is that He’s doing the same thing to the whole world.

That’s why Romans 8:20-23 says,

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (ESV)

Sin messed up all of creation, and just as Christians have an inward groan and longing to be “set free from our bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of… glory…” waiting eagerly for our final redemption, so does everything else. We hate how messed up the relationships between men and women are, and we want it to be better. And it isn’t merely education that is going to fix it. It can only come from God through the work of Jesus Christ.

The Battle in Our Current Context

We’ve seen a lot of problems and confusion with male female relations over the past little while haven’t we. On one hand we have Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of entrapping, raping, molesting, and all kinds of other horrible behaviour to women in Hollywood. And then on the other hand we have the death of Hugh Hefner, the creator of a publishing empire built on the sexual objectification of women. Both of these men are predators, using their money and influence to take something very precious. But for some reason, though Hefner was an abusive rapist predator just like Weinstein, he was heralded by the media. It shows just how confused the culture is about male female relations.[1]

But it’s not just non-believers and ultra-left Hollywood that is confused, is it? The Christian church doesn’t get off scott free. Recently a #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear hashtag went around social media, and while some of it was ridiculous, some of it was really sad to read. The history of Christianity is full of all kinds of rebellion, oppression and domination. I still remember 2008 when I preaching a series based off some curriculum called “They Like Jesus, but Not the Church”. Dan Kimball had interviewed a whole bunch of twenty and thirty year olds and asked them what they had against Christianity. And one of those common objections was that the Christian church has a reputation for restricting and oppressing women.

And sadly, that’s been true in some cases as men take biblical passages like this one today, and others, misinterpret them, misapply them, and use them to harm women. Sure, as we’ve seen in our Corinthian context, this can happen in reverse as women use scripture to wrongly too, but a lot of the guilt falls on the shoulders of men.

This is likely why the term “Male Headship” creates such a visceral, instinctive, gut fear reaction. It’s because the church has often done a very poor job in seeking to understand and apply these passages properly. Men take it as permission to oppress women, and some women see it as a command from God to allow themselves to be disrespected and subjugated. This is where we get ideas like women are supposed to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, where men can demand sex whenever they want and the women aren’t supposed to enjoy it, where men are better managers and women better parents – all of which is unbiblical garbage. It’s a mess of wrong interpretations, which is why we need to be so very careful.

The Original Plan

This frustration between men and women, husbands and wives, is sometimes called “the battle of the sexes”. Where does that come from? Unsurprisingly, it comes from sin. This isn’t God’s doing, it’s ours. Let’s look at how God created it in the beginning. Open with me to Genesis 1:26-31 because I want to show you something very special and very important.

In Genesis 1, when God was creating everything, He did it in a very purposeful, very meaningful, way. First He did big things, like separate light and darkness, divide the earth and sky and space, and then He filled those big things with stars and planets, plants, birds, and land and water creatures. And then, pausing there, God began a special creation unlike any other.

Take a look at this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” It’s no accident here that God presents himself as a plurality. “Let us… after our…” God is speaking to Himself, to the Trinity. God the Father, addressing Jesus Christ the Son, through whom John 1:1-3 says all creation was made, and by whom Colossians 1:17 says all things are held together. They are a plurality of oneship; all equally worthy of glory, power, dominion, and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.

And so it should surprise us that when the creation that reflects His image would also be a plurality – male and female, both equal in glory, power, dominion and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.

Now look at verse 26 again,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”

Who gets dominion over the earth? The word “man” as in “make man in our image” is the inclusive term for mankind – both men and women. And then it says, “let them have dominion…” Who gets dominion? “Them”.

There’s a great scene in the original, and better, Jurassic Park where three of the main are sitting in the jeep staring out at some of the dinosaurs and one of the men says quietly, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.” The woman continues the thought and says, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

And while this is a great quote in in the movie it also betrays a common misunderstanding of what we’re seeing here in Genesis. A lot of people think it says that God gave the whole world to Adam and everything else, including women, are subject to Him, but that’s not what it says. God gave dominion of the world to both.

Let’s keep reading in verse 27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

God, in His second commandment, says that there shall be no idols made of Him. Why? Because Genesis 1 is clear that both men and women are created in the image of God, and like a two piece jigsaw puzzle, it is only when they come together that they complete image. We don’t need a gold or stone image of God because humanity is God’s image!

Genesis 1 is almost all plural! Both men and women, all mankind are given equal dominion, equal rights, equal blessings, and given the same commandments. Look at verse 28:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.’” (ESV)

“It was very good.” Men and women, equal in dignity, worth, glory, power, honour and dominion. Both given the charge to enjoy the world God had created, to work it together, to be together in love and harmony, cultivating the earth, spreading God’s Garden Temple across the entire planet, and populating it with the fruit of their love, generations and generations of children who would all worship and enjoy the perfect presence of God. All the “you’s” in that passage are plural, God’s blessings and commandments are given to both Adam and Eve, man and woman, together. Not just Adam.

To Be Continued

But then, if you’ve read your Bibles at all, you’ll realize that you get this story again in Genesis 2. Why is that? Why do we read about Adam and Eve being created in Genesis 1 and then again in Genesis 2? Is it just a repeated story for effect? No, it’s because we are learning through those stories, in their similarities and differences, about God’s design for men and women, especially husbands and wives. Genesis 1 emphasizes our similarities, Genesis 2, our differences.

I wish I had time to complete this study, but we’re going to have to continue it next week. I’m told that my sermons are getting too long and the pews are too uncomfortable, so I need to cut things short, but let me end with this: We lose a lot of blessings when we engage in the battle of the sexes and refuse to submit to God’s teaching about male and female relations. Everyone loses out when humanity disrespects, subjugates, denies, or ignores each other – men or women.

I just sat in a two day Leadership conference and was surrounded and taught by some amazing women. There were some seniors, but I was amazed by how many younger women there were. Some were in business suits, others in fashionable dresses, others in jeans, and a few even had nuns habits, but all were there to learn how to be a better leader in their job and community.

One woman speaker, Sheryl Sandberg, is the COO of Facebook and spoke not only on leadership and hiring issues, but also on how to move forward after we face difficult challenges in life. Another very successful woman, Juliet Funt, spoke in the importance of not only being focused and doing hard work, but also balancing work with meditation and family life. Angela Duckworth has an incredible amount of education and spoke about passion and perseverance. Immaculee Ilibagiza shared an amazing testimony about her experience during the Rwandan genocide and the power of forgiveness.

It would be sheer insanity for anyone to deny that these were all very gifted, strong, intelligent, creative women that everyone – both men and women – ought to listen to. And yet, in the church today there are people who will simply refuse to listen to women, in so many areas, even silencing them, believing them to be somehow inferior to men. Men and husbands, mocking their wives and daughters, dismissing their opinions, gifts, talents, and desires, simply because they are female. That’s not how we God intended us to be together, and it is sin.

My encouragement to you today, whether you are male or female, is to look inward and ask yourself if you are engaged in the battle of the sexes. Are you biased against women? Have you been taught, or somehow come to the conclusion, that women are somehow lesser than men, or that men are somehow lesser than women?

Do you, deep down think men are stupid and women smart (or vice versa) That a woman is less trustworthy than a man (or vice versa)? Do you think women are more loving and better parents then men, men are better at leadership and management? Women are too emotional, men too angry, women too talkative, men too stubborn, women too anxious, men too childish, men too worried about sex, women too worried about looks?

I challenge you to submit these assumptions to God, to pray about them, and to ask if they are biblical – or if you’ve simply allowed sin to dictate your beliefs about others and are actually biased and engaged in battle with the other gender. Then we’ll talk more next week.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/28/hugh-hefner-playboy-founder-91-dark-side

Head Coverings: A Matter of the Heart

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We’re still in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16  and when we began studying this last week I asked you to lay aside for a moment, the first presenting issue that we see when we read this passage – namely the head coverings and discussion of male female relations. Instead, we looked at the roots of the passage, the foundation on which the teaching is built. And, if you recall, there were 5: Apostolic Authority, The Trinity, Creation, Biology, and Common Church Practice.

And then I asked you to do some heart work this week in asking yourself if you are willing to submit yourself to God’s authority or not. Essentially, if you are a Christian today and have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, are you also willing to accept Him as Lord, even if His commands go against your feelings or upbringing? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator, your Saviour, your Lord and your God?

It’s still amazing to me that Jesus leaves this open as an option to humanity. We read part of Philippians 2 last week and I think it would be good to read part of it again because it really drives home our need for humility, the example of Christ’s humility, but also His absolute Lordship over all creation.

It says in Philippians 2:3-11, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

That’s all about humility, right? Humble before others, humble and obedient to God, following the perfect example of Jesus. But even though Jesus laid aside His divine majesty and took on the form of a servant, even to the point of dying in our place on a sinners cross, the passage doesn’t leave Him there, but continues from His humiliation to his glorification:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It should amaze us that Jesus gives us the option to disobey Him. It’s amazing to me. He is Almighty God, Creator, Lord of all, worthy of all worship and praise – and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christians are merely the ones who get to do it first, of our own volition, by our own choice – but one day, everyone who has ever lived, every creature, every country, every leader, will bow before Jesus as Lord – His glory and His power will make them bow, will make them confess.

Part of the Christian life is acknowledging that fact today. It’s in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (or worshipped or held high) be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians claim God as our highest authority in all areas of our life, our King, And we acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s prayer! And then we ask Him to submit all the world, including us, to His divine will, causing everyone to worship and obey Him, just as they do in heaven. Because we believe His Kingship, His leadership, His way, His Will is the best plan for joy, peace, happiness, and justice that that humanity could ever hope for.

This was the main topic last week: Will you, in all areas of your life, submit yourself to the will of God? The answer to that question will dramatically affect how you respond to the Bible. So let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and see what it says:

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

Historical Context

As with all passages, it’s important to start with the context. Last week I said over and over that this passage isn’t rooted in culture. Whatever God is telling us through the Apostle Paul goes beyond hair and clothing styles or historical understandings of gender roles. It’s deeper than that.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the cultural context into consideration. In the city of Corinth, in Greek culture, and like many Middle Eastern countries today, most men and women wore something on their head like a veil, turban or headscarf to protect against the sun. But like today, they were more than a practical fashion accessory. What they were made of and how they were decorated would tell you a lot about how wealthy or important someone was.

And, like today the women’s version was way more complicated than the men’s. The fabric was of different quality and the veil could be was pinned to a stiff hat and set with jewels and ornaments. If the woman was married, the headdress got very complicated with even more decorations, even putting important coins in the front to signify her dowry. And of course, as the head covering and veil got more complicated, so did the style of the hair. Competitive fashion is nothing new and this status symbol competition had gotten so out of control that the Apostle Peter actually took time in his letter to warn Christian women about this (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Like today, it was common practice for a man to take off their head covering during a worship time to signify their respect for and submission to their deity, like we do when we take off our hats for prayer or to sing the national anthem. It’s a sign of respect. For a man to choose to cover his head during worship showed there was something wrong with his attitude. It was the opposite for women. At that time in Greece, only immoral women would be seen with their heads uncovered.[1] [2]

We understand this concept today because we have the same fashion issues, right? Certain styles of clothes signify certain events. A man’s hair, beard, and clothing signify something about them. Some guys are very concerned about this, some are less concerned, but none of us get dressed by accident. Our clothing choices reflect something about us.

And I think that whatever pressures men feel must be a hundred-fold for women. Every day, no matter what country they are in or what job they do, women are judged more by how they look than almost anything else. Judged by everyone – men and women are all very hard on women for their clothing choices. And whether we like it or not, those choices reflect something about us to the people around us. A high skirt and crop top sends a different message than a t-shirt and jeans. A sweatshirt and pair of leggings gets a different societal reaction than a cocktail dress. When a woman leaves the house, whether they like it or not, even though it’s not fair, they are forced by society and their own inward drive to consider every part of their appearance – hair length and style, jewels, pants or skirt, length, tightness or looseness, how deep the V neck goes – even their perfume is going to be judged.

All of this is not new and has been happening forever.

The Problem

Now, what was happening in the Christian church in Corinth was that, because of their newfound freedom in Christ, some people were breaking from societal norms – especially the women. The Christian church was different than all the other religions around them. Christians taught that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, both worthy of the same respect and honour. Both men and women have the same level of access to God through Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit within them. No longer were women considered inferior, unfit for teaching or learning – as they were in the rest of society – now they were invited to sit alongside their fathers and husbands and listen to the same teacher, ask questions, and even, after some time of maturing and study, to teach! There were even times when God would show up in a special way and give a message, a prophecy, through one of the women in the church.

This was amazing to everyone! The women in Corinth were obeying God and were praying publically and prophesying in church, speaking out words from scripture and explaining passages to people, right in front of everybody, and it was an awesome thing to witness. This was all approved of by the Apostles and the scriptures, Old and New Testament, give examples of women prophets and teachers all over the place (Exo 15:20-21; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9) This level of freedom and respect was unlike anything they had ever experienced – and being human, they took it too far.

When they spoke during the worship times they were, apparently uncovering their head, like the men did. This was a problem. In their freedom, they were “flaunting social convention and sending ambiguous signals”[3] to everyone around them. Remember, their head covering was more than just a hat to keep the sun out, but was like a billboard with all sorts of information. To take it off in church, during a worship time, was to send a signal about your sexual freedom, your marital status, your religious commitment, your respect for your husband and family.

Without question, the head covering was a cultural convention, neither commanded nor prohibited by God, but it still had very important meaning. And remember, one of the most important messages that keep coming up in 1st Corinthians is that the church needs to take other people into consideration when we do things – we just covered this over and over in our study of the last few chapters, right?

To disregard the social conventions and expectations of their culture wasn’t a small thing. They were experiencing an intoxicating level of freedom in Christ. To learn they are as loved by God and as useful to God as any man was an awesome thing. So, some of them figured, “Why do I have to wear this head covering, then? Jesus doesn’t command me to, and He’s my Lord. I don’t have to listen to anyone else, so forget this thing, I’m going to be like the men and uncover my head during worship.” And herein lay the problem. For them to do that showed there was something bigger going on in their hearts.

Their fashion choice wasn’t just about the fashion, it was about the heart. Casting aside their head covering was doing a lot of damage. It disrespected their fathers, husbands, and family, flaunted their sexuality, and hurt their testimony before all of the new believers and the watching world who would be utterly shocked and unable to understand what was going on. It also blurred the biblical distinctions between males and females, something very important to God in scripture, and something we will cover next week.

So, when we read this section, we aren’t really reading about head coverings, are we? This section, on the first pass, ends up reading like an oppressive command that tells women they always need to wear hats and veils. And some people get that far and stop. Certainly, some religions demand this, but there are also Christian churches that still require all women to wear a head covering during church. Someone told me this week that some women took this so literally that they would even wear hats to bed because they would often pray before they went to sleep. But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about head coverings, it’s about what’s happening in the heart of the women and the church.

The Heart of the Issue

With all that in mind, the historical and literary context of the passage, let’s go through it together and take it apart so we can better understand it. Verse 2-3, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

One of the questions that was sent to Paul was evidently about this head covering issue that was dividing the church. We talked a little about the root of this passage last week, in that it is rooted in Apostolic Authority, as important as the teachings about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but look at where it goes. Paul says, “You do well to ask me, and thereby ask Jesus, about what He thinks of everything you do, but you need to understand something important when it comes to head coverings: it’s not just about the fabric covering a woman’s head but what it represents is going on in the woman’s heart.”

So Paul uses the question about heads to talk about real and true headship as it’s presented in the Bible. “You think this is about a fashion accessory and cultural conformity, but it’s about so much more.” “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” “So, women”, Paul seems to be saying, “When you cast aside your head covering, are you still obeying Christ as your head, your Lord, and still respecting your husband? Probably not, right? You’re making it all about you, your freedom, your choices, your desires – and completely forgetting about Jesus, your husband, (or father if you’re unmarried), and all the believers around you. When you come to church dressed the way you are, what message are you sending about yourself, your marriage, your faith, and your submission to God’s order? Instead of bringing glory to God and to your husbands, you bring them shame and that isn’t good.”

Imagine the picture there, right? A man brings his wife to church. They attend for some months, grow in God, learn some scripture, tastes freedom in Christ. She learns that her sins are forgiven and she is free from all the horrible things the culture around her has been telling her about women. It’s a big adjustment, but they learn to live as equals, share with each other, learn from each other, serve together. Eventually, they become deacons in the church. He administrates and she has a talent for singing and reading scripture.

But then one day she comes to church – and I’m grasping for a modern equivalent here so bear with me – and she’s wearing a short, strapless party dress, heels, and a huge, gaudy necklace. She proceeds down the aisle and as she nears the front, she takes off her engagement ring and tosses it into the offering plate, declaring that since men don’t have to wear them, neither does she anymore. She heads up to the platform, grabs the mic and says,

“Before we do our opening song and read scripture, I just want to let you know about the freedom I’ve found in Jesus. For years society, even my husband, has told me how to dress, and I realized that I don’t have to anymore. God gave me this body and I can decorate it however I want. And I encourage you to join me, ladies. Take off those oppressive diamonds, change those drab, uncomfortable clothes and let’s worship God the way we all want to! Why should the world have all the fun! Let’s bring the same energy as we would on a Friday night with our friends! This is a place without judgement, without fear, where men and women are free to do whatever they want because Jesus has freed them from the Law and from culture! So either sit or stand or whatever you want and let’s sing and really dance together!”

That’s as best as I can do to give a modern equivalent to what was happening in the Corinthian church – except to remind you that in their culture worship and sex were completely tied together and most of the church would have had a very messed up, sexualized history. Basically, it was like a church full of former sex and porn addicts.

Everyone in the church, including the husband, is shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Why? What would you think in that situation? What would go through your head as she walked the aisle and spoke? She’s technically not altogether wrong with what she’s saying. Men and women are equal before God. Society does oppress and judge women, and the Christian church isn’t supposed to. Engagement rings are not in the Bible. God did give her that body and there’s a lot of freedom in how Christians can dress.” So is she wrong? What’s going on there?

The reason we have a reaction to that situation is because it’s not about the dress or the shoes or the jewelry. It’s about the effect on the people at the church. It’s about disrespecting and embarrassing her husband. It’s about the example being set for other believers and the message that is sent to any non-Christians. Are you going to that woman for marriage advice? If you walked into a church and saw everyone dressed the way they would dress in a night-club or at a rave, what would you think? That’s a lot of what’s going on here.

Our scripture addresses it this way. Look at verse 4-7:

“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.”

It says to the men and the women: you can’t dress and comport yourself, or conduct your life in an irreverent, rude, disrespectful way, while at the same time saying your marriage, family, and spiritual life is ok. What is happening on the outside shows what’s going on on the inside. If you are disrespecting yourself and your spouse in public, dressing with a great, prideful concern for your looks or for how seductive you are – your relationship with God and your spouse is probably quite a mess.

It says, in effect, “Showing up with your head uncovered should have the same effect on you as if you were to show up bald. The shame you would feel if all your hair fell out is the same shame you should feel if you are disrespecting yourself, your spouse, or your church.”

In any culture, your hair and your clothes mean something. It shows how much you respect yourself, your culture, your spouse, your family, and your church. To break cultural convention because it’s sinful or wrong or because it goes against your conscience is perfectly fine. But to do it simply because you want some shameless attention or declare yourself better than everyone else, is sin. You are stealing God’s glory and disrespecting those around you. Recall what we said in Philippians 2.

Your Look Says a Lot

I want to get into the male headship aspect of verses 8-16, but hopefully you see how this ties to last week and many of our other studies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Christian, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus commands us and gives us the example of humbling ourselves before God and each other. So, in your clothing styles, in your hair styles, are you being humble?

And this doesn’t just have to be expensive or seductive clothes, or strange and complicated hair styles. This attitude can be conveyed with any type of clothing. There are people who dress like slobs and never shave because they want to declare to everyone how little they care about themselves or what anyone else thinks. There are people who only wear certain brands or have a certain beard because they convey a certain message – that they’re tough, cool, smart, trendy, sexually liberated, or counter-culture. There are women who put on skin-tight clothes in the morning and think, “I don’t care what anyone else says, this is comfortable.” and head out not giving and regard to how it affects those around them. Or men who put on the same shirt every day, the one that their wife begs them to change and is so embarrassed by, even wearing it when company is over, and keep doing it because they like it. They don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Clothing can say a lot about the heart: There are men who wear suits to church simply so they can judge those who don’t. There are women who wear conservative clothes because they have a real fear of the men around them. There are men who hate women simply because of their clothes, and women who look at their closets and hate themselves. There are beautiful people that try to cover their beauty because they have been told it’s shameful. And others who have been treated like commodities and objects for so long that they feel their only worth is in how they look. It’s a mess.

So, this isn’t a prescription for how to dress. I’m not telling you how to dress at all, nor should I. I’m not saying wear dresses or don’t, have a beard or don’t, wear tights or don’t, wax your mustache or don’t. That’s between you, your spouse, your parents, your culture, and God. But, when you get dressed, when you choose a hair style, when you buy that piece of clothing, will you submit that choice to God’s leadership? Will you see that decision through God’s lens, asking yourself, “What does this say about me? How does this reflect on my spouse and family? How does this affect my testimony? How will this affect others today? What does this say about my faith in God? Is God honoured by this choice? Does this bring glory to Him? Will this help my witness and encourage people?”

Let me close with the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, only a few verses before our passage today: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Head Covering. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 936). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875

[3] NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875