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Friday, February 12, 2010

Tough Love

With Valentines day coming up on Sunday, leaving love at the forefront of all our minds, and given that my post yesterday reflected on 2 Corinthians, I thought that today I would start from the beginning with 1 Corinthians.

I have always been passionate about understanding the ways in which our Faith should be evident in our lives. I have perhaps a na├»ve or even arguably a slightly judgmental attitude, in believing that our Faith should transform our lives, there should be a falling away of the things of the world, and an ever increasing abundance of fruit of the spirit. I have heard it said that we become like that which we worship, and I know that we are called to be conformed into the likeness of Christ. We will never be sinless, but should not the indwelling of the spirit, be promoting Christ like attitudes and actions? It seems that the church of Corinth, suffers from the same struggle the churches, and we Christians of today do, in a world of abundance, and opportunity, where God competes for our attention among a myriad of distractions and competing offers, we become oblivious to the slow fade, that is taking place in our spiritual walk. We begin to compromise in our tolerance of worldly ways, and blur the lines of what is righteous. Now I am not promoting legalism – or justification through works, but there is a fine balance that needs to be trod so that liberty does not turn into license. Perhaps a healthy dose of tough love is needed every now and again to keep us on the path of righteousness, shedding light among the grey and sometimes blackened areas of our spiritual understandings. A clear call to walk in the freedom of Christ but also in obedience to His Holy call serves us well.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians did just this, offering up some tough love and so serves not only as a powerful message of exhortation and rebuke to them but also a pertinent message for us. I have often thought to myself, which Bible are you reading, when I see seasoned Christians adopting attitudes or actions contrary to the message they have received (including me at times). Paul must have had similar feelings, having established and raised up the church in Corinth in the ways it was to walk, only to see them now living lives in opposition to the word of God He had preached.

I appreciate the example that Paul provides us of speaking the truth in love. It was love that motivated Paul to confront the church. Sometimes in "tough love" we are required to say and do things things that may be hard for others to accept, and as equally hard to deliver, but given from a heart of love necessity. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." ~Proverbs 27:6  The word translated ‘faithful’ in this context shows that the wounds of a friend can be trusted because they are meant to help and not destroy - but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to take! Paul had developed a relationship with the Corinthians and it was the love that he had shown them that allowed him to hold the people accountable and confront their wrongdoing by the power of the cross. Without relationship rebuke is simply received as judgment and condemnation and often ends up doing more harm then good. It takes love to keep one another accountable. It is easier for sure to turn a blind eye, or sweep the unmentionable under the proverbial rug, hoping that it will go away, but that serves to benefit know one and Paul understood this. So with courage and boldness, armed with the word of God and the power of the cross He rebuked the church of Corinth, calling them back to lives of purity and unity for their benefit and to the Glory of God.

It is through the cross that we are united and only through the cross can divisions be laid to rest, and like mindedness found among the body of believers. If we rely on the power of the cross for guidance and direction, as opposed to leaders, or factions we would see schisms subside and unity increase. Paul exhortation declares that unity is found only when we come together in worship of Jesus Christ, not the things of this world, leaders, or other idols. [1:10-17]

In all things we should be seeking to love God and others, to live in unity and peace with another, to do that which will glorify, guide and edify the church and one another. This applies to the exercise of our freedom [8:9], our attitude, actions and the gifts that the Lord is so gracious in pouring out among the believers. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that we are to contribute to the body of Christ using the gifts we have been giving without minimizing the contributions of others. A healthy church of God works together, sharing what they have been given to support each other, for the coming good [12:7] – understanding that though there may be many members, they are one body – and need one another to function properly with Jesus as the Head of that body which unifies the whole. [12:12-31]

Paul clearly confronts the Corinthians on the motives of their heart in chapter 13, and instructs them that Love must be the motivator in all that they do as the love of Christ is the common denominator which unifies the church. Love motivates edification of both the believer and the church. It was love that motivated Paul to confront the church. 

I want to live my life so that I may be able to say, or better that others can say of me with all confidence as Paul does that my way of life in Christ Jesus agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. [4:17]

I loved the underlying theme present throughout the book of 1 Corinthians in a number of ways that “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others”.[10:24]  This is  the motive of accountability in a nut shell. This theme was also evident in Paul’s exhortation on Spiritual gifts, Food sacrificed to idols, Lawsuits among brothers, love, orderly worship, the collection for others and more. This is an underlying theme throughout the New Testament and as I have stated before the key to the kingdom. [Obviously as a product of a saving faith relationship with Christ.] “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” [13:13]

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