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Faith, Hope, and Heaven on Earth: What Makes Love the GreatestBy 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.”
Two Kinds of PastorsBy David Mathis — 4 months ago
Some churches plant “staff-light.” That’s what we did in early 2015.
Our mother church sent us out with four founding pastors, all of us working full-time jobs elsewhere. The arrangement gave us remarkable flexibility in our first year. Our ongoing costs were very low — essentially just renting a high school auditorium, buying bread and wine for weekly communion, and providing the lead planter with a modest stipend (since he shouldered more responsibility than the other three).
However, as we grew, we soon realized our fledging church was developing needs that four unpaid pastors were struggling to cover. We needed at least one of us to put aside his day job and be our first full-time paid pastor — that is, make it his breadwinning vocation. We needed at least one man, at this stage, to give his primary work time and attention to our young church for it to be healthy. Thankfully, the risen Christ provided. And in time, as the church has grown and needs have changed, we’ve received additional staff pastors to fill out and strengthen our pastoral team.
Three years after we launched, a dear sister church of ours planted “staff-heavy,” with three founding pastors, all paid. It was a financial load to carry at launch. They were more strapped for funds than a staff-light model, but their young congregation received unusual deposits of pastoral time and attention. They’ve made it too. And along the way, Christ has added to their number non-staff pastors to fill out and strengthen their pastoral team.
“Most churches discover, in time, the need for a healthy blend of both paid and unpaid leaders.”
Whether staff-heavy or staff-light initially, most churches discover, in time, the need for a healthy blend of both paid and unpaid leaders. The nature of the church lends itself to needing both in due course — not only plants and young churches, but also older and more established congregations. Even churches with staff-only polities learn to lean heavily on key laymen who come to function in various pastoral capacities (even if they’re never called “pastor,” “elder,” or “overseer”). In any case, these pastor-teachers, Ephesians 4:11 says, are gifts from the risen Christ for the good of his church: “he gave . . . the shepherds-teachers.” And these gifts come in two basic kinds.
Some Paid, Some Unpaid
Search the New Testament, and you will not find two types of pastor-elders according to function (that is, say, teaching versus ruling). But you will find two sources of pastoral revenue (from the church or from other work) and, with it, comes the greater or lesser investment of time and energy. All pastor-elders feed (teach) and lead (govern), but some give part (or all) of their revenue-generating “work life” to the church, while others formally “labor” in vocations outside the church. Both can prove vital to healthy churches in the long run.
We should clarify that, in the New Testament, pastor = elder = overseer. These are three names for the one lead or teaching office in the local church (flanked by a second, assisting office called “deacon,” Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8–13). Elder is the same office often called “pastor” today (based on the noun pastor or shepherd in Ephesians 4:11 and its verb forms in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2). This same lead office is also called overseer in four places (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–2; Titus 1:7).
Within that group of pastor-elder-overseers, we find “two kinds of pastors,” we might say. Two texts in Paul’s letters in particular, both leaning on the words of Christ, establish the categories for these two types of leaders: some paid, some not.
Laborers Deserve Their Wages
First, leaning on Jesus, Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 9 a “right” for other gospel workers to receive pay (while not claiming it for himself, which is vintage Paul). It’s fitting that a tentmaker construct the argument; neither Christian maturity nor love insists on its own rights, and so Paul lays out the case for others, for pastors in his day and ours. He writes, “The Lord [Jesus] commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Where did Jesus say that? We have it in Luke 10:7 (and Matthew 10:10): “the laborer deserves his wages.”
In the second key text, Paul quotes the same words again (alongside Deuteronomy 25:4) in 1 Timothy 5:17–18:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Observe carefully, because this is often missed, that the distinction among elders here is labor, not teaching. Paul does not say that all elders “rule” but only some teach. Rather, the emphasis is labor, that is, in context, working full-time or making a living as elders. We know from elsewhere that ruling (leading) and teaching (feeding) are the two main tasks of the pastor-elders (1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:12). All elders rule and teach, but not all “labor” at this calling, as Paul makes plain in the explanation that follows: “For . . . the laborer deserves his wages.”
What Is ‘Double Honor’?
What, then, is this “double honor” that is especially for those who labor (that is, professionally) at the ruling and teaching work of pastoral ministry? “Double honor” means both (1) the honor of deserved respect as faithful leaders and (2) the honor of deserved remuneration or payment for the work. (From this second sense, we get the word honoraria.)
Good pastors are worthy not only of the church’s respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13), but also of financial support, and especially if they are doing this labor and not other breadwinning work. Paul’s language here is precise: being “considered worthy” means some elders may receive pay from the church and others not. Neither he nor Christ require that all pastor-elders be paid (or all unpaid), but he does establish a principle that is applicable to churches and pastors everywhere.
First Timothy 5:18 argues (“for”) that it is justice, not kindness or mercy, for a church to “doubly honor” its pastors with both respect and remuneration. Some will receive that right and bless the church through their willingness to give their work life (“career”) to the church’s needs. And others, like Paul himself, will forgo that right and bless the church by supporting themselves (and the church) through labors other than pastoral ministry.
In this healthy mix of both paid and unpaid, staff and non-staff pastors, we want to keep two truths in mind — truths that correspond to the two functions of pastor-elders in the New Testament.
All Pastors Lead and Feed
First, all pastor-elders are teachers. “Able to teach” is at the heart of the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications, and the culminating assertion of the Titus list. The Christian faith is a teaching movement, and its leaders are teachers — equipped, eager, and effective teachers — or the church languishes.
All elders are teachers — feeding the congregation through teaching in its various forms and settings — but some labor at their preaching (literally, “word”) and teaching. (We might here permit a practical distinction between teaching and preaching, such that some elders, while manifestly teachers, may not gravitate to preaching. Healthy churches need far more teaching than just a weekly sermon.) All elders teach, but not all labor full-time at pastoral ministry. The point is the amount of labor (and thus necessity of remuneration), not a division of gifting among the elders (as if some were able to teach and others not).
As this works out over time in the life of the church, it is often those who labor as a career in pastoral work who are most equipped through formal training, and have the time to adequately study and prepare, who therefore often carry more of the teaching and especially preaching demands. But this doesn’t mean that non-staff pastor-elders are not teachers. (If they have no interest in teaching, or no availability for it, then they are simply not good fits for the church’s lead office, which is a teaching office. But, if qualified, they may serve well in the assisting office, that of deacon.)
“Teaching remains at the heart of the pastoral calling, paid and unpaid.”
Teaching remains at the heart of the pastoral calling, paid and unpaid. And let this also be clear: the pastors are called to more than teaching — to overseeing, governing, prayer, and other critical aspects of local-church leadership. Pastor-elders are not only teachers but also overseers who do more than teach, yet without letting their teaching take a back seat. Such are the tensions we live in for this age. On the one hand, pastors should not give in to carnal pressures to do a thousand other tasks than preaching and teaching. On the other hand, it is naïve to think they can only preach and teach. Pastors are called neither to a thousand tasks nor to one alone.
But at the heart of the elder’s calling is teaching, whoever writes his regular paycheck.
Time and Attention, Not Gifting
To be sure, “laboring” outside the church doesn’t mean not laboring at all in the church through teaching and leading. But it does mean less labor.
Because good teaching and preaching make for emotionally difficult work, and require training and study and careful preparation, and because teaching is central to the pastoral calling, it makes sense that often paid pastors do more of the teaching (and perhaps especially the preaching in the context of worship).
However, we also observe that the paid pastors (because it’s their day job) do more of all the work. They also provide more oversight and contribute more the day-in, day-out aspects of the leading (“ruling”) in the life of the church. So, yes, it will often be the case that the paid pastors, who pastor for more hours, also do more teaching. However, correspond as it may, it would be a mistake to coordinate paid ministry with teaching and unpaid ministry with mere ruling.
The distinction, then, between two kinds of elders is not “gifting” but time and attention. An unpaid elder may be more “gifted” as a teacher than a full-time paid elder. Either way, as a pastor, neither is relieved of teaching or ruling. Paid and unpaid leadership may make for two kinds of pastors, but only one office of pastor-elder, and one pastor-elder team.
Paid and Unpaid Gifts
In the end, we see that both paid and unpaid pastor-elders are gifts from the risen Christ to his church. And he has his own particular blend for varying seasons in the lives of his churches. From my limited vantage, I doubt churches will thrive in the long haul with all their pastors paid (or all unpaid, for that matter). Given the nature of the church, pastoral teams function best, over time, when composed of some wise blend of both paid and unpaid leaders.
In the good times, the more staff pastors, the better. They are Christ’s gift to his church in giving their full-time work life and primary labor and energy to the church and its mission.
However, especially in leaner seasons, when there is tension within the church or even within the staff, the more unpaid pastors, the better. Because these men do not draw their livelihood from the church, they can be a stabilizing influence in conflicted times and (depending on the structure) less personally and vocationally beholden to the lead pastor. So too, when seasons of transition come, and paid pastors transition (particularly a senior leader), the balance of unpaid pastors can contribute greatly to stability during change.1
It is an amazing gift to a church when a man is willing, and eager, to give his life’s work, his “career,” to full-time Christian ministry. And it’s also an amazing gift that a man, in another line of work, would give himself to sufficient training and equipping, and then give many of his evenings and weekends (and often important moments during the work week) to unpaid Christian ministry.
Both kinds of pastors are gifts from Jesus to build and keep his church.
Our God-Sized Ordinary: Six Ways to See the Holy SpiritBy Marshall Segal — 12 months ago
Life in the Spirit can feel ordinary at times. It really is one of Satan’s greatest feats.
If he cannot keep God from breaking in and reviving a once-dead soul, he will do what he can to downplay what has happened. He’ll seed thorns that disrupt our sense of safety and rest (2 Corinthians 12:7). He’ll try to veil the glory of God in us and around us (2 Corinthians 4:4). He’ll flood us with cares and riches and pleasures to distract us from spiritual reality (Luke 8:14). He’ll seize on any glimpse of sin: “See, you’re exactly who you were before” (Revelation 12:10).
Satan can convince us that a life invaded by the presence, help, and joy of God — by the Holy Spirit — isn’t really all that different from any other life. He convinces us to perceive and define our lives by what’s left of the curse, rather than by the inbreaking of the new creation.
Yes, life in the Spirit — for now — often feels ordinary. We eat and drink, work and sleep, toil and spin, and then do it all again tomorrow. But none of now is the same as it was, not even our morning coffee or our afternoon snack. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This glory doesn’t skip meals; it invades them. And who empowers us to eat and drink and do everything for the glory of God? The Spirit.
Now, we eat with the Spirit. Now, we drink with the Spirit. Now, we work and play and sleep in the Spirit. Now, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). A normal day may feel ordinary, but below the surface of our perceptions, God is knitting together a new, miraculous, unfinished life in us — by his Spirit.
You Have the Spirit
Do you remember that, if you belong to Christ, the Spirit of God lives in you? He doesn’t hover above you waiting to help. He’s not waiting at a desk in heaven for you to call. He’s not patrolling neighborhoods looking for souls in need. No, when God delivered you from the prison of sin and death, he not only invited you into his presence and family, but he came to live in you. He made a home for himself in your weak, broken, and forgiven soul.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple,” the apostle Paul asks, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do you know? Has the ordinariness of life made you forget? God is living in the ordinary, in your ordinary.
Paul writes in Romans 8:8–9, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Even if many aspects of your life stayed the same after you came to Christ — your family, your job, your neighborhood, your car, your wardrobe, even what you have for breakfast — something fundamental changed. Someone fundamental. God flooded every familiar and unremarkable corner of your life with God — with himself, with his Spirit.
Feel the force of Paul’s wonder as he repeats himself three times in just a few verses:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. . . . If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9–11)
He’s captivated by a reality we often miss. God does not just love you, protect you, provide for you, and draw near to you; he dwells in you. He dwells in you. He dwells in you.
Making His Presence Felt
If we could see all that the Holy Spirit is working in us and through us, we would not yawn or groan over “ordinary” like we’re prone to. One day, we’ll have eyes and ears tuned to these miracles, but for now, we have to search for them — for him. But what do we look for?
We look for child-like dependence. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15–16). Whenever we reach out in faith to God as our Father — as someone who sovereignly loves and cares for us as his children — we do so by the Spirit. Do you have an impulse to pray when you feel tempted or weak or confused or discouraged? That impulse is not ordinary or natural; it’s a work of God.
We look for an awareness of spiritual reality. Anything you truly understand about God, his word, and his will are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Anyone can read God’s words and perhaps even make sense of the vocabulary and grammar and logic, but no one grasps the realities unless the Spirit moves. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). We will never fully comprehend all God has done for us in Christ, but what we do understand now, we understand because of what God has done for us in the Holy Spirit.
“Humans die in a thousand different ways, but sin dies in just one: by the Spirit.”
We look for rejected temptations and conquered sins. “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Humans die in a thousand different ways, but sin dies in just one: by the Spirit. We may miss the power of these deaths because we assume, somewhere deep down, that we could overcome sin on our own — but we can’t and we don’t. If sin dies by our hand, it is only because our hand has become a mighty weapon in the hands of God himself.
We look for God-like love. The Holy Spirit doesn’t only weed out the remaining wickedness in us; he also plants and nurtures a garden of righteousness. The clearest evidence that he dwells in us is not the ugliness he removes, but the beauty he creates. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). In other words, he makes us more like Christ. We look for love like his, joy like his, faithfulness like his. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” — his image — “from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We look for specific giftings or insights that meet needs in the church. Everyone in whom the Spirit lives has been given abilities for the good of other believers. Paul says of the church, “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” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7). To each — not just some or many. If the Spirit lives in you, then to you too. So how has God recently met a specific need through you? When he does, he’s reminding you that he lives in you, by his Spirit.
Most of all, though, we look for love for Jesus. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’” Paul says, “except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Of course, they can say it, but not with their heart — not with their faith, their joy, their hope, their love. Sustained love for Jesus only happens where the Spirit lives. Paul describes the same miracle in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “[God] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we still love what we see when we look at Jesus, we see something only the Spirit could do in us.
“The clearest evidence that the Spirit dwells in us is not the ugliness he removes, but the beauty he creates.”
Do you see continued dependence on God in your life? Do you see any gifting from him, any victory over sin, any Christlike love or peace or joy? Do you still love what you see of Jesus? Then your ordinary isn’t as ordinary as you might think, because the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in you.
Prophecies of Paradise
As Christians, we have — yes, have — the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We have the Holy Spirit now, but what we experience now is only a taste of what’s to come. The Spirit, Paul says, “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14). Guarantee, meaning there’s more.
Whatever good the Spirit does in each of us now is merely an appetizer of what he will do in all of us forever. The Spirit living in us in this world is a taste of what it will be like for us to live in his coming world. And, at the center of it all, we’ll find him. The Christ whose Spirit lives in us will be the Christ who lives with us.
Life in the Spirit feels mundane when we grow dull to miracles. Yes, we live and work and love among thorns and thistles for now, but we do so by the strength and wisdom of God — until the day when he makes glory our ordinary.