Three ways to live

Which is your way?

1 Corinthians 13 – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:28 am on Monday, October 29, 2007

This passage is often quoted during wedding ceremonies for its beautiful definition of love. However, just by looking at the context, the passage is situated right in between two chapters on spiritual gifts and how Corinthians misused them. So rather than a cute passage on what love is, the best way to see the passage is as a stern indictment to Corinthians for what they are lacking.

1. What is the main teaching of the passage?

From vv.1-3, Paul’s is criticizing the Corinthians for the lack of love in exercising their gifts. According to Paul, gifts without love mean (or profit) nothing, so exercise your gifts with love, then they would mean (or profit) something.

Note that Paul says exercising the gifts without love is completely useless to the giver. Hence, it might still be useful to the recipient of the action.

2. What does it mean to exercise your gifts with love?

It is easier to say what it does not mean. Verses 4-7 are best viewed as a series of tests that, if failed, signify to us that our exercise of gifts is lacking love. For example, if you are inpatient or easily angered while teaching (assuming this is your gift), there is a chance you are teaching without love. If you give up easily while encouraging others, there is a chance you are doing it without love (or with not enough love).

Most of the terms mentioned in these verses are quite clear to us. Note that “love always trusts” does not necessarily mean gullibility. Jesus, a perfectly loving person, did not trust people because he knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24-25). Rather it means deliberately making yourself vulnerable at the risk of being let down, in the hope of changing the person.

3. What is another reason why we should exercise our gifts with love from vv. 8-12?

Knowledge, tongues, prophecies will all pass away but love will remain. Concentrating on temporal gifts while neglecting the (more important) eternal one makes the former worthless.

Application

1. What is the root of the problem? Why are we inpatient when helping others? Why do we tend to boast? Why do we easily give up?

One potential root of the problem is that you can exercise your gifts for wrong reasons. You see, love is not self-seeking, it’s always about other people. Yet there is a way to exercise your gifts, serve other people, which is really about you. There are several examples of this in the Bible, Martha who were serving Jesus by exercising her gift of hospitality, but by getting upset with Mary really revealed she was doing it for her own sake (to be approved by Jesus maybe?), see Luke 10:38-42. Another example is the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, who stayed with the father for his own sake, rather than for his father, as their last conversation revealed (Luke 15:11-31).

We maybe be serving others to make us feel important, useful, out of boredom, expecting to get something in return, get approval, etc.

2. What are is the root beneath the problem of serving God or other people which is really about us?

We don’t understand the gospel.

a. Incomplete understanding of the salvation by grace. This can have a very direct form of serving God to make him bless or reward us. But there is a much subtler way when we doing it because we think we can please God purely by what we do. Instead, what pleases God is our inner transformation that can be evidenced (but never proved) by our external behavior. This leads to point b)

b. We often mistake person’s spiritual gifts for character. We think that if a person is talented speaker, teacher, administrator, he must be walking with God. No, says Paul! You can have all of these and be spiritually nothing, if you doing these things without love, e.g. with a wrong motivation.

This is a recurring problem in the Gospels. One of the accusations that Jesus brought up against Pharisees and teachers of the law was that they cleaned the outside of the cup (external behavior), but left the inside (character, motivation, mercy) dirty. So, the concluding section of chapter 13 can be read as Paul’s reminder of futility of looking at the outside rather than inside. Outside is temporal – all you gifts will cease. But what’s inside will live forever.

c. The real reason why we may exercise our gifts to gain people’s approval is because we lack the approval of God. We simply don’t understand how much he loves that he went as far as to die for us. Only when we can fully understand this love, we would stop being dependent on love from other people. Of course, we would desire love and relationship, but nothing compared to how much we would be willing to share this love with others.

D.A Carson and Christian character

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:46 pm on Sunday, October 28, 2007

This weekend I attended talks by famous Christian scholar, D. A. Carson, see my earlier announcement. Dr. Carson is not a frequent visitor to Singapore, last time he came 10 years ago, so I simply could not miss it.

Well, the talks have left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the guy is indeed brilliant, both as scholar and as speaker. I listened to some of his lectures online, but those were probably addressed to seminary students and hence sounded very academic. Well, his address to this audience was much easier to understand. The main topic was how to see the Bible as one continuing connected revelation, and use this to preach the OT passages that are seemingly of no relevance to us. He demonstrated this on the example of the book of Nehemiah and it was, well, brilliant.

On the other hand, I also got to speak with him in person. To confess, I always try to approach speakers with questions, just to learn how they are in person (rather than to get answers). Well, on a personal level, Dr. Carson leaves a very different (not very positive) impression. I am not sure I could define this impression precisely, but the best term I can come up with is “intellectual dominance”. Basically, instead of giving you the answers or pointing out what’s wrong with the questions, he makes you fell rather silly for even asking these questions. Not a nice feeling. He was also quite quick to judge me on the basis of the questions I asked.

I would, of course, discard this experience as a fluke, but the truth is I have heard similar stories from former students of Dr. Carson in various online forums. And I have also seen this attitude very often in the academic world from the “stars” in the field. Yet the question for me would be, is it compatible with the Christian character? You see, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). It is not our brilliance as scholars or speakers – these are spiritual gifts, not the fruit.

Well, I should stop now before I reach any big conclusions. After all, 10 min conversation is not enough to go by. But I think it is important for us not to mistake gifts for character. The former are given to us by the Holy Spirit to serve the church, the latter is a transforming work of the Spirit to turn us into the likeness of the Son. As 1 Corinthians 13 clearly imply, it is very possible to have the gifts but not the character. But more on this in the summary of our last week’s study, coming up soon.

Randy Pausch and the meaning of life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:02 am on Friday, October 26, 2007

Randy Pausch, a 47 years old professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, has been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has about 3-6 months left to live. He has recently made headlines with his brave last lecture, which has been watched by more than a million people around the world.

Apparently, the lecture has become an inspiration to many. I have just watched it myself, and it’s quite remarkable how a man can hold its own knowing he will be dead in a few months. But I am not inspired. Don’t take me wrong, I feel for the man, I think I can imagine what’s he is going through and I really admire his character. I am just not inspired.

In his lecture, Randy talks about achieving his childhood dreams, getting the best job he ever dreamed of, changing the world a little. But somehow, through his words I hear a different voice, that of Ecclesiastes,

What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered by those who follow.

Yes, he lived a nice and successful life, but so what? Who cares? He will be forgotten as were many people before and after him. His impact on the world would soon disappear. Whatever he achieved in research will soon become useless.

Here is Randy’s advice to us:

When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it. Show gratitude. Don’t complain. Just work harder. Be good at something, it makes you valuable. Work hard (Randy stayed late in his office even on Friday nights, which made him get tenure one year earlier). Find the best in everybody. And be prepared.

Some of it is common sense, but if I dare to translate this into my own words, it would be something like “I lived a meaningless life following meaningless rules, so should you”.

What do I think? If there is no God, if there is no life after death, this life and all that is in it are absolutely meaningless. We are made to spend eternity with Him. This life is a gift and we should not waste it. But how much greater is the gift of eternal life promised to us. And here is my advice: “Don’t waste your life being blind to the reality. Don’t kid yourself that you life means something by itself. It is nothing without God”.

World Clock

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 5:34 am on Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Said At Southern Seminary, one of my favorite blogs, posted a link to an interesting world clock.

Dunno about you, but it makes me think…

1 Corinthians 12 – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 12:01 pm on Monday, October 22, 2007

I am posting this on behalf of Ivy, one of our bible study facilitators.

Chapter 12 commences a new subject, which continues till the close of Chapter 14. The underlying subject matter of these chapters is spiritual gifts, or more practically, how the church should exercise spiritual gifts. It is obvious that the church of Corinth was well-endowed with these gifts, but that did not stop some of them from abusing those gifts.

It is not improbable that someone in the church had written a letter to Paul requesting his counsel on the subject. Paul addresses the issues in these famous chapters, and begin in Chapter 12 by stating the objectives of his teaching, i.e.:

1) For the members to be aware of the many different spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit

2) To appreciate the interdependence of the members of the Body of Christ

During last Wednesday’s study, we discussed:

A. The origin and nature of spiritual gifts.

Comparing similar passages in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, the general consensus is that there is no exhaustive list of spiritual gifts provided in the Bible, but there might be a difference between spiritual gifts (see this Chapter and Romans 12 ), and equipping roles (Eph 4, i.e. apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers). All spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit.

B. Definition of a spiritual gift

While a person may have a particular talent, or natural ability, that resembles a spiritual gift (e.g. teaching), that talent only becomes a spiritual gift when it is intended by the Holy Spirit to edify the church. A working definition may therefore be:

An ability that a Christian possesses (whether from before the time of conversion or after) given by the Holy Spirit freely and for the purpose of edifying the members of the Body of Christ.

C. The description, benefits and potential pitfalls of a spiritual gift.

We discussed a list of spiritual gifts – how each of them looked like, the benefits they confer on the church, and the potential pitfalls which the person who possesses them may need to be careful about.

D. Unity of the Body

We discussed the idea of unity in the body of Christ, and how one pitfall of a church that is blessed with many spiritual gifts in its members may be divisiveness arising from envy, pride and selfishness.

For those who would like to do a simple test to identify your spiritual gifts, you might like to refer to the short test contained in the free workbook on spiritual gifts. There is also a gift-by-gift discussion in the workbook.

P.S. On my own behalf, I would also like to mention a few other insights, borrowed from Tim Keller:

1) We shouldn’t confuse gift with talent. Charles Spurgeon was a talented and charismatic speaker. Someone has once said that had he not become a preacher, he would probably be a prime minister. In his case God decided to use his natural ability to serve the church. But Dwight L. Moody wasn’t a good speaker, yet he still has became a successful preacher. His contemporary witness recalls:

The first meeting I ever saw him at was in a little old shanty that had been abandoned by a saloon-keeper. Mr. Moody had got the place to hold the meetings in at night. I went there a little late; and the first thing I saw was a man standing up with a few tallow candles around him, holding a negro boy, and trying to read to him the story of the Prodigal Son and a great many words he could not read out, and had to skip. I thought, ‘If the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for His honor and glory, it will astonish me.

2) How to discover your gifts? Since gift is not equal talent, instead of looking at the list of gifts and thinking which one you are most compatible with, take a look at the needs of the church you are most gravitating towards. If your natural talent is not of much use in your church, maybe God will give you a gift that church needs. The workbook Ivy mentioned is actually doing a good job achieving this goal.

Bible Flash

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:34 pm on Saturday, October 20, 2007

I have just found out that BibleMap website, about which I blogged some time ago, is also a part of a larger project run by guys at HeLives.com. Here is another of their recent projects: Bible Flash, a collection of interactive flash experiences teaching truths of the Bible. For now they only have a few classes, including 4min overview of the book of Jonah, a rather comprehensive classes on Biblical view of finances and church history, and several others.

I really like how they combine presentation with maps and useful summaries, makes it much easier to see the big picture. I guess people who better learn from visual information will benefit the most. Do check it out.

Do you like your church?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:05 pm on Thursday, October 18, 2007

Here is an interesting find from the senior staff of Willow Creek Community church. Apparently, these guys undertook a serious research survey to find out what their members liked and disliked and the results are very thought provoking. Watch the videos to get a fuller picture, but here are key observations:

1) Personal spiritual growth does not correlate with attendance of various church programs (worship services, small groups, etc.). There are plenty of Christians with very good attendance record but no (or even negative) spiritual growth.
2) The church programs are most useful for people who are exploring Christianity or just became Christians, but much much less so for mature Christians
3) There is a large portion of very mature Christians who are dissatisfied with the church to the point they are seriously deliberating leaving. This happens because they feel it does no longer satisfy their needs.

I am quite happy that these guys understand that it is wrong to resolve problem #3 by creating even more church programs. The deeper problem is the consumer mentality that many Christians possess. Their purpose of attending the church is to get something out of it. While that’s OK when you are growing in the faith, there should be a time when you can say, “I have such a deep relationship with God that I no longer need to attend a bible study or a worship service to keep growing. Now I can come to church not only to receive but also to give.” It should be the responsibility of the church to teach people to pray, study the bible on their own, and serve with whatever gift the Spirit gave them.

Gospel vs. Religion according to Mark Driscoll

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 1:30 am on Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You might have noticed that I have changed the title of this blog to “Three ways to live”. This is the name of our bible study group and, in my opinion, a better way to present the gospel. See some of my previous posts on this subject: “Three ways to live“, “Gospel, Moralism and Irreligion“, “Difference between religion and the gospel“.

Here is Mark Driscoll’s view on the same subject:

Prosperity gospel straight up!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 12:53 am on Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Have you ever heard prosperity gospel preached? I heard it here and there, but it was always a borderline case. But here is for you prosperity gospel straight up, courtesy of Joel Osteen, the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, with 42,000 attendance.

I have an earlier post on this issue. But here is another possible response by Mark Driscoll, a pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle:

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:16 am on Monday, October 15, 2007

The Lord’s supper is the tradition of breaking bread and drinking wine as act of remembrance of and participation in Jesus’ sacrifice. The source of this tradition is the direct request by Jesus, made on the last night before his death. Apart from obvious passages in the gospels describing this event, the 1 Corinthians passage is the only place to go for more detail about the meaning and proper execution of this tradition.

1. What did Corinthians do wrong?

a. Divisions (v.18)
b. Not waiting for each other (v.21), as a result of which some don’t get enough food, while others get drunk
c. Despising the church of God (v. 22)
d. Humiliating those who have nothing (v. 22)
e. Eating the bread and drinking the cup in unworthy manner (v.27)
f. Eating an drinking without examining themselves (v.28)
g. Eating and drinking without recognizing the body of Christ

The results of such a behavior is that Paul says that their Lord’s supper is not real (v.20) and would lead to judgment, discipline and even death (v.30).

2. What can we learn about this situation from history?

It seems that in those time the Lord’s supper included both the meal as well as partaking of the bread and wine. The basic problem appears to have arisen out of tensions in the church between the poor and the rich. Since there were no church buildings, meals were held in the houses of church members, usually those who are richer as their houses were larger. These occasions were full meals with plenty of food and drink—at least for some members. The rich brought plentiful food for themselves (including meat), whereas the poorer members had to make do with their own scanty fare.

3. How did this behavior violate the Lord’s supper?

One of the meaning of Lord’s supper was to confirm the unity of believers. From 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,

16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

That’s why the Lord’s supper is often called the communion – to emphasize that it upholds the community and unity of believers.

Application

1. If we are to partake in the Lord’s supper we need to understand its true meaning. Basically, the Lord’s supper is a mini gospel presentation. We can distinguish at least four implications:

a. It reminds us of the Christ’s death and the new covenant made in Jesus’ blood. By drinking the wine which symbolizes his blood we are reminded of the new covenant.
b. It proclaims Jesus’ death (v.26). Participation in the Lord’s supper is a public proclamation of our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
c. Participation in the benefit of Christ’s death. As we individually reach out and take the cup for ourselves, each one of us is by that action proclaiming, “I am taking the benefits of Christ’s death to myself.”
d. The Unity of Believers. When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper together they also give a clear sign of their unity with one another, see 1 Cor. 10:17.

2. Do the bread and wine have the power in themselves to purify and cleanse us? Or do they serve as a reminder only?

Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that the bread is literally becoming the body of Christ and hence has the power to heal and purify us. Lutherans follow the teaching of Martin Luther, who taught that Christ spirit permeates the bread and wine without becoming them (very complicated!). Yet the reformers starting with John Calvin treat bread and wine purely symbolically, as a reminder.

While I agree with the Reformer’s view, it is a mistake to think of the Lord’s supper just a token of remembrance. As discussed in Application #1, it also symbolizes unity, participating in the benefits of Christ’s death, and as a public proclamation of the faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.

Note that v.29 (not recognizing the body) does not support Catholic or Orthodox point of view, as the body here is likely to stand for the body of believers, as in 1 Cor. 10:17, rather than Christ’s body.

3. It is commonly taught that one need to make sure that he/she has no unrepentant sin before taking the Lord’s supper. If one feels guilty of something, he should abstain. I can’t find the support for this in Bible. While v.28 does seem to talk about examining yourself, judging from context it probably means examining your attitude toward other people. The same is true for v.27 – partaking of Lord’s supper in unworthy manner probably means doing it without consideration for other people.

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