You Might also like
By Haddon Anderson — 1 year ago
What have Christians been known for in 2021? What has marked the church?
Jesus has commissioned his followers to represent him in this world. When nonbelievers look at our lives, we want them to see people distinguished by Christlike character. When they look at churches, we want them to see outposts of God’s heavenly kingdom, early installments of the new creation. And in particular, whether they look at individual Christians or churches, we want them to notice three dominant graces: faith, hope, and most of all, love.
The gospel creates people who are filled with faith in Christ, captivated by the hope of eternal life, and overflowing in love for God and neighbor. In fact, at least nine passages — scattered throughout the letters of Paul, Peter, and Hebrews — mention this trio of Christian graces (1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5–6; Ephesians 4:2–5; Colossians 1:4–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Hebrews 6:10–12; 10:22–24; 1 Peter 1:21–22).
If you could travel back in time and ask New Testament believers how they live the Christian life, I expect that you would hear the same answer again and again: we aim to abound in faith, hope, and love.
Greatest of These
First Corinthians 13:13 is the most well-known passage that highlights this trio. Paul tells us, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” His claim raises an important question: Why is love “the greatest” of these graces? After all, we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and we continue to grow as believers through faith in Christ and his promises. Likewise, as we look forward to Christ’s return with eager anticipation, hope fills us with joy and empowers us to persevere through suffering (Romans 12:12). Yet Paul tells us that love holds the highest place in this holy triad. So why is love the greatest?
Let’s answer that question by approaching 1 Corinthians 13:13 in three contexts. We’ll begin with the larger context of Paul’s letters, then focus more closely on this section of 1 Corinthians (chapters 12–14), and finally zero in on the immediate context in 1 Corinthians 13:8–13. As we do so, my hope is that our hearts will be stirred up to love one another, so that our homes, our churches, and our neighborhoods would be saturated with love that spreads the fame of Christ.
Faith and Hope Produce Love
Several passages in Paul’s letters show us that both faith and hope produce love. We can see this connection between faith and love in Galatians 5:6: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Though we are justified by faith alone, the kind of faith that justifies never remains alone; it always works through love for others. God does not save us in order that we might remain indifferent to the needs of those around us. Rather, as the Holy Spirit begets faith in our hearts, he intends for that faith to produce countless deeds of love.
Similarly, the hope that is ours in Christ leads us to love one another. In Colossians 1:4–5, Paul tells the Colossian believers about his gratitude for them, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” The Colossian Christians loved their fellow believers, Paul says, because they knew they had a glorious hope awaiting them in heaven. They knew they would spend eternity in the presence of Christ, and this hope freed them to give of their time, their possessions, and perhaps even their lives to serve their fellow believers.
Faith and hope are, in one sense, means to an even greater end, without which they would be incomplete: they transform us so that our lives overflow with Christlike love.
Love Builds Up the Church
Now we’ll narrow our focus to the section of 1 Corinthians in which Paul says that “the greatest of these is love.” In 1 Corinthians 12–14, Paul is teaching the church about spiritual gifts. As he sorts through issues such as the variety of gifts in the church and the use of what we might call “miraculous gifts,” his great concern is for everything to be done for the building up of the church. When Christ’s people meet together for worship, everyone may bring something to contribute with this goal in mind: “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
“What makes the difference between fruitless religious activity and church-strengthening service? Love.”
When Christians worship God together, it’s possible for them to exercise their spiritual gifts in ways that do not build up the rest of the body. God has no desire for the church to be filled with exciting manifestations that glorify those with the gifts but fail to edify the church. And what makes the difference between fruitless religious activity and church-strengthening service? Love.
Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote that “love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). In the context of 1 Corinthians 12–14, Paul’s famous words about love in chapter 13 reveal that love is what makes the difference between Christians whose gifts build up the body and those who are just “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Because Jesus loves his church with a love “that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), he desires for the members of his body to build up one another — and in order to do that, we need not only faith, and not only hope, but love.
Love Will Be Greatest for Eternity
A third reason why love holds the highest place in the trio of Christian graces is found in the second half of 1 Corinthians 13. In verses 8–13, Paul says that spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are temporary provisions for the present age. In contrast, when he writes in verse 13 that “faith, hope, and love abide, these three,” he shows us that these graces are superior to the gifts because they will endure forever. In the new creation, we will continue to have faith in God and his promises, and we will continue to look forward to the future with hope. But most of all, the life of the new creation will be characterized by love, flowing through us from the God who is love (1 John 4:16).
“As followers of Jesus, we rejoice in the hope of spending eternity in a world saturated with pure love.”
In 1738, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon entitled “Heaven Is a World of Love.” He pointed out that since heaven is God’s dwelling place, “this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven fills heaven with love, as the sun placed in the midst of the hemisphere in a clear day fills the world with light” (Works, 8:369). Furthermore, “love reigns in every heart” in heaven, as the saints abound in love for God and for one another (8:373).
As followers of Jesus, we rejoice in the hope of spending eternity in a world saturated with pure love. And as our lives are filled increasingly with love here, we reflect the new creation in the present, and our churches fulfill their callings as outposts of the kingdom of heaven. Our lives and our churches spread the sweet aroma of heaven as we love God and one another, for “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
By Greg Morse — 7 months ago
Have you also found that it can be much easier to pray for your own sins than to deal with others’ sins against you?
With the first, we can confess to our Lord, take up one of his many promises of pardon, and have our souls restored. With the second, the process can be more inconvenient, messier.
With sinners who betray us, who embarrass us, who hurt us in that place we are most vulnerable, it can feel like climbing a mountain to even tell them we forgive them, let alone to forgive them “from [the] heart” (Matthew 18:35).
The fallen mind has a propensity to involuntarily replay others’ offenses. You see the scene, hear the words, feel the same stab repeatedly. Like a worm, the breach threatens to burrow deeper and deeper within us. The initial shock becomes a growing How could they? And the closer the relationship, the greater the chance of infection, as David knew well:
It is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it;it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him.But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
Perhaps you have been well taught on what to do with your sins against God, but is your heart also well instructed in what to do — and not to do — when others, especially fellow Christians, sin against you?
Ancient Help for Lingering Hurt
Love was expected from the start. From the beginning of Israel’s history under the Mosaic covenant, it was enshrined in law, passed down to subsequent generations:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17–18)
I find this text supremely helpful in bearing the affliction of others’ sins against me.
First, it tells me that I shall not hate my brother in my heart. I can think that if I don’t lash out in the moment, if I don’t react unkindly or coldly, that this is the same as doing so in my heart. Self-control is not the same as love. You can practice self-control and harbor a cool contempt. This command forbids me from taking their sins as a squirrel does an acorn, storing them up in my heart and mind.
Second, it tells me I can sin against others in how I respond to their sin. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart . . . lest you incur sin because of him.” God is more concerned here with addressing my present or future sin than the past sin of the person who wronged me. This is challenging. I can be — and many times have been — simultaneously a victim and a culprit in the same situation because of how I responded.
And when I ruminate on sins, inwardly score-keep and note-take their crimes, this practice leads to the two other diseased fruits of hatred described: vengeance and grudges. I feel the need to either settle scores (vengeance) or refuse to move on (hold a grudge). And notice, in passing, the people against whom you and I are tempted to bear a grudge or seek vengeance: the people of your God. His children. His saints. Your own family.
How to Let It Go
What strikes me most in this text, however, are not the sinful ways I can respond to others’ sins — caressing the offense in my heart, holding a grudge, seeking to pay them back. Sadly, I know each too well. What strikes me most are God’s alternatives.
1. Do not hate him — go to him.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but. Here lies the narrow path: you shall speak with the person who sinned against you. (I’m assuming here normal circumstances in which there is no reasonable threat of physical harm that might preclude going alone).
Go to him — not away from him, treasuring his sins in your heart. Go to him, not away from him, to publish it on Twitter or to gossip it to others. Go to him. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Do not go to him to injure him, to take vengeance upon him, to accumulate more strength for your grudge. And while it may not be wise to speak with him that same day, do the heart-work necessary on that received sin before the sun falls: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27).
“If you want to let the devil into your life, procrastinate and neglect to resolve your anger toward others.”
If you want to let the devil into your life, procrastinate and neglect to resolve your anger toward others. Don’t ever talk with them. Let the sun sleep before you have quieted and calmed your heart in prayer and confession before Christ.
2. Do not hate him — reason plainly with him.
“You shall reason frankly with your neighbor.” Isn’t it amazing that the alternative to hating your bother in your heart is talking to him? I am not to keep the offense in my mouth and savor it as candy; rather, I am to let it out through speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
I have made the mistake of understanding “reason frankly” as “assume you’ve interpreted things rightly and tell that person.” I’ve learned to say instead, “I perceive you have done this,” or, “I believe you to have sinned against me and against God.” These have proved more fruitful beginnings. But be honest, for all of that. Don’t downplay their sin, but speak plainly in love for them.
To some, this will be very difficult. You despise conflict. You despise people disliking you. You would rather your brother or sister remain in patterns of sin against God, you would rather harbor the seeds of resentment inside, you would rather cover their sins in unrighteousness, than have an uncomfortable conversation. Your self-protection, in the end, is hate to your brother.
Half the time, while you might expectantly wait for an apology, your brother has no idea he sinned against you. Your noiseless bitterness robs him of repentance, and robs you of the opportunity to grow in courage, in obedience, in death to self, in self-awareness and repentance if you are wrong. I wager that silent resentment has done even more harm among us than contention following plain speech.
3. Do not hate him — love him as yourself.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, . . . but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Is all of this not how we typically deal with ourselves?
No one has done more ill to you than you. No one has given more offense, no one has caused more problems, no one has made your life harder for yourself than yourself. Our sin — not others’ sins against us — is always our biggest problem. Not “him over here” or “that person there,” but me. Others’ sins can’t damn me. Others’ sins can’t ruin my soul (without my permission).
“Our sin — not others’ sins against us — is always our biggest problem.”
But though our biggest problem is us, we still love ourselves, don’t we? Few go around begrudging themselves, plotting vengeance against themselves, refusing to lend compassion to their own sins against others. Millions have passed without replay.
So how do you love your Christian neighbor? Like that. As Matthew Henry comments, “We often wrong ourselves, but we soon forgive ourselves those wrongs, and they do not at all lessen our love to ourselves; and in like manner we should love our neighbor.”
Don’t Hide Their Sins in Your Heart
Dealing plainly, honestly, speedily with our brothers and sisters in Christ loves them as we love ourselves, and as we have been loved ourselves. And are not even Christian communities that willingly bring faults to one another in love altogether rare? Is it not rather terrible and uncommon to be taken aside by a believer and told of your perceived wrongdoings? And here is the question: Should it be?
This is not a word to embolden faultfinders to voice all sins they see — unleashing Egypt’s plagues of flies, gnats, and frogs upon small groups everywhere. Nor does it remove the very real and beautiful call to silently cover others’ sins in love (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). It is, rather, a word to encourage speech where there has been bitter silence, courage where there has been cowardice, and love where there has been hate.
By Bobby Jamieson — 6 months ago
Different pastors have different tendencies and temptations. Some are tempted to let urgent relational and practical issues keep them from giving enough time to prepare a solid sermon. Other pastors hide in their study, using sermon preparation as an excuse to keep people and their pesky problems at a safe distance.
This article is far more for the latter than the former, and its point is simple: pastoring is more than preaching. This article is also for men who aspire to pastor, as well as men who do pastor, but who serve as associate or assistant pastors, and perhaps preach less than they’d like.
Not only is pastoring more than preaching, but a key thread connects preaching to every other major part of the job: bringing the Bible to bear on the messy details of people’s hearts, minds, and lives. Pastoring is more than preaching, and preaching is more than dropping truth bombs from a shock-proof height. If you want to be a pastor (or you are a pastor but don’t preach as much as you want), you can grow as a preacher by constantly practicing that triple-B in every other area of your ministry — bring the Bible to bear.
So, in addition to preaching, what else does pastoring entail?
Pastoring Is Discipling
By “discipling,” I mean developing personal relationships in which a primary goal is to help someone else grow more mature in Christ. The way the apostle Paul did this in his evangelistic, apostolic ministry provides a standing pattern for pastors today.
Paul so affectionately yearned for the Thessalonians to come to Christ and grow in Christ that, as he reminds them, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). He didn’t just preach to them in large groups, but, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). Paul didn’t just bring the Bible to bear in a big meeting, but in countless personal conversations.
In the course of a regular week, whom do you personally exhort and charge? With whom do you share not only the gospel but your own self?
Pastoring Is Counseling
Counseling aims at the same goal as discipling, but focuses on more acute sins, struggles, and suffering. Counseling is like an eddy in the stream of discipling; we step aside for a time to help someone re-enter the stream sounder and stronger. And, of course, the difference here is much more of degree than kind. Counseling is a key part of how you “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2), a necessary means by which you fulfill Paul’s charge: “Pay careful attention . . . to all the flock” (Acts 20:28).
What Paul charges the whole Thessalonian church to do applies doubly to pastors: “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The more severe the malady, the more crucial it is to dispense the right medicine. And the more hours you spend in the counseling chair, the more skilled a spiritual pharmacologist you’ll become.
In my first few years as a pastor, I learned that it can be surprisingly difficult and delicate to turn a counseling session toward Scripture. Someone has come to you with a big issue. Maybe he or she is struggling to trust God or care what he says. Maybe she feels like she’s heard it all before (and maybe she tells you so). Maybe so much pent-up pain and frustration pour out of him that it’s tough to get a word in edgewise. In such situations, patient listening and evident compassion go a long way — but not all the way. Your job includes helping that struggling saint learn to see his or her life the way God sees it, which means you need to find a light from Scripture that can make it through the crack in the blinds.
I don’t know if I’m an outlier among pastors here, but when I’m counseling a member who’s in acute difficulty, it feels like a third of my effort goes to listening and learning, and a third to trying to find appropriate expressions of compassion and encouragement. The last third is claimed by a program running constantly in the back of my mind, silently asking, “What passage or passages of Scripture can offer this person the most help, right now?”
Pastoring Is Leading in Discipline
If you’re a pastor, you don’t need me to tell you that hard cases will find their way to you — cases that might keep you up at night or crowd your mind all day. When a church member’s sin proves so severe that the church may need to act to exclude him or her, it is natural that a church’s pastors take the lead in addressing the erring member, assessing the situation, and recommending how the church respond.
Taking the lead in discipline can bring headache and heartache. It can bring insult and slander. It can threaten fatigue and frustration and distraction. But when you leave the ninety-nine to go after the one (Matthew 18:13–14), when you look others in the eye and confront them with the flat contradiction between their actions and God’s directions, know this: you are smack in the middle of the bull’s-eye of God’s will for your ministry.
God’s love is a holy love, a love that rescues from destructive self-deception, and in that moment you are a vessel of God’s love pursuing a desperately endangered soul.
Pastoring Is Watching Your Own Life and Doctrine
Paul charges Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). You have to put the mask on yourself, and benefit from its oxygen flow, before you can safely serve others. Pastoring presents a standing temptation to professionalize your Christianity, and therefore outsource your piety. As a pastor, you have to study the Bible — for others. You have to pray — with others. You have to meditate on spiritual realities — on behalf of others. But do you still study and pray and meditate for your own soul? If you don’t, you are putting yourself and your flock into a deeply dangerous position.
“Pastoring presents a standing temptation to professionalize your Christianity, and therefore outsource your piety.”
Keep a close watch on yourself. Study Scripture not just to encourage and correct others, but to encourage and correct yourself. Whatever your stated office hours are, I would encourage you to maintain regular devotional habits outside those hours, just like you would expect a teacher or banker to do. And make sure that you are continually bringing the Bible to bear on your own fears and frustrations, your own thwarted ambitions, your own disordered desires. “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him, how I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!” Are you proving Jesus in private, in ways none of your people will necessarily see, but from which they will indirectly benefit, as your confidence in him deepens daily?
Parlor Preaching and Pulpit Preaching
Maybe you wished you preached more, or you yearn to preach to more people. If you are frustrated about quantity, focus on quality. You usually can’t do much about the former, but you can do a whole lot about the latter. Focus on the quality of your relationship to Christ, the quality of your efforts as a discipler and counselor, the quality of your care for members who are straying into sin. The better a Christian you are, the better a pastor you’ll become.
“The better a Christian you are, the better a pastor you’ll become.”
And not only that, but your investments in all these other, non-preaching areas of your ministry will bear fruit in your preaching. By digging deeper into the depths of individual members’ struggles with sin and suffering, you’ll learn how to apply Scripture with greater nuance and precision. That’s why Richard Baxter called pastoral visitation “parlor preaching.” When you can enter deeply into one person’s struggles, in a way that informs your application without exposing their situation, it’s more than likely that a dozen people will say to themselves as they listen, “How did he know that’s just what I’m going through? Who gave him a readout of my thoughts from the past week?”
Paul exhorted the Thessalonians as a father does his children: one by one, attending to their unique abilities and struggles and situations (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). The more you do that outside the pulpit, the more effective you’ll be in the pulpit. The more diligently you pastor people throughout the week, the more effectively you’ll pastor them in the pulpit.