God was naked at the cross.
Whenever you see a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, He always has a strategically-placed loincloth to cover Him up. And, of course, from historical accounts, we know this was highly unlikely in reality. As part of the shame and humiliation of crucifixion, victims hung on their crosses totally naked.
But when I say God was naked at the cross, I’m talking about a different kind of naked. What I mean is that He was completely exposed, thoroughly revealed, totally unmasked.
And what was revealed about God at the cross?
- That He is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
- That there is nothing we can do to Him to make Him retaliate against us.
- That He thinks of others before Himself.
- That He forgives us before we ask.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface. As we continue to study the cross for eternity, we’ll always discover new things about God. In the whole of human history, nothing revealed the character of God so fully as the events leading up to and surrounding His death on Calvary.
That’s why it’s interesting to me that Paul says this message has one of two effects on people: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (vs 18)
What this means is that some people see the truth about who God is, and they hate it. They see the mercy, grace, forgiveness, humility, and meekness of God, and it totally turns them off. They want nothing to do with a God like that.
But for those who are being saved, the message of the cross and what it reveals about God is power. It is the power to defeat the lies of Satan. It is the power to withstand the temptations of Satan. It is the power to set us free from anything that binds us.
How we respond to the message of the cross reveals whether we are perishing or being saved. Because in no other time and place was God ever so naked than He was at Golgotha.
If we don’t like what we see there, there’s not much God can do for us.
God wants you to know Him.
Paul makes a very interesting statement in this chapter of 1 Corinthians: “As it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (vs 9-11)
Here, Paul illuminates a relational reality: The only way any of us can ever be known is by choosing to reveal ourselves in relationship. Think about it. Nobody except you (and God, who reads the heart) knows what goes on in your mind. The thoughts you have, the beliefs you hold, the way you look at the world . . . nobody else on the face of the planet is privy to this information unless you choose to share it with them.
This means that the only way we can be revealed to another person is in the context of a relationship. It may be through a personal, one-on-one relationship, or it may be through a more indirect relationship (such as an author and her readers), but unless we engage in a relational way with others, we will never be known. You might guess what another person is thinking, but you will never really know for sure unless they tell you.
Astonishingly, Paul says that the same is true of God. If He chose not to reveal Himself, we might try to guess at what He’s like or what He thinks, but there would be no way to ever know for sure. Only God knows what His thoughts are. Just like us.
Thankfully, we don’t have to guess! Because even more astonishing is the fact that God wants us to know Him. Just as He knows us, so He wants to be known by us. He wants us to know what He’s thinking. He wants us to know what He’s like. He wants us to know how He looks at the world. And the more we come to know, the more He wants to reveal to us.
It’s a never-ending revelation, a never-ending discovery.
God wants you to know Him, and He wants to reveal Himself to you in the same way you reveal yourself to others—in the context of a relationship. He has called you His friend (Jn 15:15), and He’s hoping it won’t be long before you have learned enough about Him to be able to call Him your friend, too.
God is a master gardener.
What I loved in this chapter was the description of how God works to grow each of us in faith: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (vs 5-9)
What this says to me is that God uses any number of things to nurture our spiritual growth. It’s not just one person or one thing or one place or one time. Something readies our heart’s soil for the seed, something else plants the seed, something else waters the seed, something else fertilizes the seed, something else gets rid of the weeds, etc. And all the while, it is God who is behind the scenes making that seed of faith grow.
It’s good to remember this, because when we are zealous for the good news about God, it’s easy to think that we can be all things to all people. (Even Paul strove hard for that!) But the truth is, no one person can be “it” for another when it comes to spiritual maturity. It requires a great number of people, working (often unawares) in concert with each other, to nurture the seed of faith. It doesn’t all rest of my shoulders or your shoulders or Paul’s shoulders.
In addition to this, the intriguing thing is that we never know exactly what we’re doing for another person in this process or when we’re doing it. Some days, we may plant a seed in someone’s heart. On another day, we may water a seed previously left by someone else. Other days, we may pluck up weeds that are threatening to choke the seed. And we may never know it!
This is the amazing part of offering ourselves to God to be used by Him however He sees fit. He alone knows the heart, and He alone knows what any given person is in need of when it comes to their spiritual lives. That’s why I loved what Paul said in the first part of this chapter: “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” (vs 1-2)
God knows just what we need and when we need it, and in this process of spiritual maturity, He is not willing to make us go any faster than we are able. If we need to “drink milk” for twenty years, then He will bring us people and situations and circumstances which will meet that need. When we are ready for “solid food,” He will prepare different people and situations and circumstances to “grow the seed” in us.
God is a master gardener, and what a privilege it is to be involved in any small way in His garden! He is ready and willing to use us today if we will offer ourselves for His service. We may be planting, watering, tilling, weeding, fertilizing, or encouraging . . . who knows? But no matter what we do, we can trust that God has a plan to use it to help grow the faith of one of His precious children.
Maybe even us!
God doesn't judge anyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment recently, so this passage from Paul really jumped out at me: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (vs 2-5)
You might be wondering why I titled this blog God doesn’t judge anyone when this passage clearly says, “It is the Lord who judges me.” For me, the difference comes in how we usually think of a judge. In the context of the American judicial system, a judge is someone who pronounces a verdict—guilty or innocent. Often (we hope), this pronouncement is in line with reality.
But not always.
Things are not always as they may appear on the surface, and there have been many defendants who have been pronounced “guilty” by a judge when, in reality, they were totally innocent. In such unfortunate cases, unless the accused are granted a new trial, the actual reality of the situation doesn’t matter. They may be innocent, but in the eyes of the law, they stand guilty.
This is not how God’s “judgment” works. There is no “pronouncement” to it at all. Paul goes right on to explain: “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” As judge, God does not declare something to be reality; He reveals what is reality already. He simply exposes what is in the heart, revealing to all whether a person is truly “innocent” or “guilty.”
Paul didn’t make up this idea about judgment. Jesus Himself said He wasn’t going to “judge” anyone: “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” (Jn 12:47-48)
At the end of the day, God doesn’t determine our reality; instead, He respects the reality of what we’ve become. God doesn’t judge anyone because He doesn’t have to. We will judge ourselves by the way we have responded to the light He has given us.
God doesn't acquit the guilty.
I must admit, I was blown away when I read this chapter of 1 Corinthians. It’s not like I haven’t read it before, but it seems to stand in such stark contrast to so much of what I hear from my culture these days—even from Christians. But then again, when hasn’t God’s word been counter-cultural?
These days, especially as a Christian, I hear a lot about how we’re supposed to just love everyone and (as a result) tolerate most anything. And I have no problem with loving people, but in this chapter, Paul says that the loving thing to do for this person who is openly living in sin is to expel him from the church: “My judgment is this: that the man should be left to the mercy of Satan so that while his body will experience the destructive powers of sin, his spirit may yet be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (vs 5)
But haven’t we always been told that the “loving” thing is just to accept people where they are and whatever they’re doing, no matter what?
Did Jesus Himself model that behavior?
Well, He certainly associated with a lot of people who were considered “sinners” in His day. He forged friendships with people that the “religious” people wouldn’t look at twice, and they were really angry with Him for it. But for those who were “in the church,” so to speak, He didn’t mince words. He expected much, much more from them and told them so! And it seems Paul is taking the same tack here. He isn’t speaking against the things that unbelievers do, but the things that believers do.
For Paul, calling yourself a follower of Christ comes with some responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to strive for purity.
It’s interesting to me that Paul calls the other church members out on their “tolerant” attitude: “Someone has told me about a sex sin among you. It is so bad that even the people who do not know God would not do it. I have been told that one of the men is living with his father’s wife as if she were his wife. Instead of being sorry, you are proud of yourselves. The man who is living like that should be sent away from you.” (vs 1-2)
Paul wasn’t impressed with their “tolerant” attitude. Instead, he called it downright unloving—both for the church and for the man who was living in sin. Again, as counter-cultural as it appears at first, I think this is right in line with Jesus’ example. When He encountered open sin in the religious leaders of His day, He called them on it—using quite shocking language! And even when the woman in adultery was laid at His feet—whom He did not condemn—He said, “Go and sin no more.”
This isn’t to say that God isn’t tolerant, but that His tolerance does not include white-washing sin.
On the contrary, God said of Himself: “[I am] the Lord! the Lord! A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, keeping mercy and loving-kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Ex 34:6-7)
Sin is truly dangerous business, and because of that, God takes it very seriously. He doesn’t ignore it, excuse it, or fail to call it what it is. He doesn’t, because to do so would be to put us in jeopardy, and His ultimate goal is to save us.
God doesn’t acquit the guilty. He rescues them—if they will let Him!
God is mighty to save.
When the angel Gabriel announced to Joseph that his fiancée Mary was going to have a baby, he said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) Today, many Christians have forgotten this text, and they are under the impression that Jesus came to save us from the Father’s wrath. But in this chapter, Paul reminds us that God saves us from sin.
In fact, in verses 9 and 10, Paul gives the Christians in Corinth a laundry list of people who are so dominated by sin that they won’t inherit the kingdom of God:
- Those who indulge in sexual sin.
- Those who worship idols.
- Those who commit adultery.
- Those who are male prostitutes.
- Those who practice homosexuality.
- Those who are thieves.
- Those who are greedy.
- Those who are drunkards.
- Those who are abusive.
- Those who cheat others.
Now, Paul doesn’t mean that anyone who has committed an act of fornication or theft is automatically excluded from God’s kingdom. Let’s be honest: all of us can find ourselves somewhere on that list. We are all sinners, and we have all been guilty of indulging in sin in one way or another. Instead, since Paul describes these people by their sins, he is talking about those whose lives have become dominated and characterized by these sins.
That’s the dangerous thing with sin. It seems harmless at first, but the more we indulge in it, the tighter it grips us until we can find ourselves completely helpless in its clutches. Fortunately, the chapter doesn’t end at verse 10!
Paul goes on to say, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (vs 11) To me, this is wonderful news! God can take the kind of people described in verses 9 and 10 and transform them into the kind of people described in verse 11! Nothing is impossible with God!
Nobody has to live in bondage to sin any longer. The God-man who came from heaven was named Jesus because he can save his people from their sins. There is no sin so bad that He can’t redeem us from it, if we will let Him. There is no damage done by sin that He can’t heal, if we’ll let Him. There is no place so dark that He can’t find us and bring us back, if we will let Him.
Sin may seem powerful, but God is much stronger. No matter how dirty we have become, He is more than able to cleanse us, make us holy, and set us right.
He is mighty to save!
God can use you.
Theologian William Barclay wrote this regarding Paul’s advice to married Christians in Corinth: “Tragically, much of the early church did not heed God’s word to keep marriages together, as much as possible, when married to unbelievers. One of the great heathen complaints against the early Christians was that Christianity broke up families. One of the first charges brought against Christians was ‘tampering with domestic relationships.’”
What Paul was trying to help the Corinthians understand in this portion of his letter was that Christianity—which changes everything—didn’t require the change of a person’s status. If a person was married when he became a Christian, he ought to stay married. If a person was single when he became a Christian, he wasn’t required to get married. And so on:
“Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. . . Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” (vs 17-18, 20)
No matter what your situation in life, God can use you. You don’t have to be in a certain profession, have a certain relationship status, or live in a certain place. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, God can use you. If you’re a Wall Street banker, God can use you. If you’re a thrice-divorced, unemployed man, God can use you.
When God calls us, He calls us right where we’re at, and He can also use us right where we’re at. Although we may not stay in the same situation forever, we don’t have to wait for our situation to change before we can live for the Lord. On the contrary, every person has unique opportunities to serve God wherever they are right now.
When our circumstances change, our opportunities for serving God will also change.
So, the next time you’re tempted to think that God can’t use you because of where you live, what you do, or how many relationships you’ve been in, think again. You’ve heard that old saying: God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, God can use you. Right now.
God helps us mature.
As I was reading this chapter of 1 Corinthians (which was all about eating food sacrificed to idols), I couldn’t help but remember the story of Daniel, who—centuries earlier—had placed himself at such risk by refusing to eat food sacrificed to idols: “The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. . . But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” (Dan 1:5,8)
In Daniel’s day, abstaining from eating such food was certainly a matter of conscience. It was a sign that he would not “honor” any other gods by eating their food, but would remain true to the God of the Israelites. Hundreds of years later, however, Paul (who was also a servant of the God of the Israelites) had something very different to say on the subject:
“So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. . . It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.” (vs 4,8)
Paul went on to say that the most important thing was to not use your beliefs as an excuse to cause someone else with different beliefs to stumble. In other words, if a person still had a conscientious problem with eating food offered to idols, it was best for those who knew there was nothing wrong with it not to eat it in front of them “just because they could.”
For Christians, love trumps everything else.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t such a thing as right and wrong and that we aren’t expected to live our lives according to our convictions, but it is terribly interesting to note that what was “right” for Daniel in the situation he was in wasn’t necessarily “right” for the Corinthian Christians. For Daniel, eating the meat would have been “showing honor” to the idols, but in Paul’s day, it could be argued that not eating the meat was somehow “showing honor” to gods that Christians knew were bogus. Still, in both cases, the effect on those around them of eating (or not eating) the meat was a consideration.
It’s obvious, isn’t it? God helps us mature in our spiritual understanding, just as we help our children grow and develop and learn. For instance, there are things that are an absolute no-no for my 21-month-old daughter right now. There are many rules she abides by right now which will be unnecessary for her when she is an older child or adult. As her circumstances change, so will the specific applications that govern her life.
The same is true with our spiritual life. With God, there are really few absolutes. In fact, there may only be one absolute—Love. From that principle, there may be a million different applications (and some may seem totally contrary to each other at times, depending on the circumstances at hand), and as we “grow up” and our circumstances change, we may move through a great deal of them.
And as we do, it is God who helps us mature. With Him, there is continual growth and learning and development. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” That’s a great description of life with God. As we stick it out with Him day by day, He helps us mature.
God promotes servanthood.
As Paul continues to talk about the relationship between his freedom and the impact it has on others, he articulates a truth that directly affects all those who surrender their lives to Christ: “I am free and belong to no one. But I make myself a slave to all people to win as many as I can. . . To those who are ruled by the law I became like a person who is ruled by the law. I did this to win those who are ruled by the law. To those who are without the law I became like a person who is without the law. I did this to win those people who are without the law. . . I have become all things to all people so I could save some of them in any way possible.” (vs 19-22)
In other words, Paul says, the freer we are, the more willing we are to be servants.
Nobody exemplifies this better than God. He must be, without a doubt, the freest being in the universe. Nobody can oppose Him. Nobody can back Him into a corner or force Him to do something. He is under no mandate to do or not do anything. Yet He has used this freedom to make Himself a humble servant to all His creation.
Instead of using His freedom to elevate Himself, He uses it to elevate His creatures.
That’s exactly what Paul became—making himself a slave to any who would receive him in order to elevate as many as he could. This, of course, is not without its own challenges. Are you willing to serve anyone who asks of you? As soon as you say “yes” to that question, you quickly realize that a lot of the time (perhaps most of the time), that will mean spending our time and energies on others who may not be grateful or even courteous enough to acknowledge our effort.
It means being willing to love without expecting anything in return.
Just like God.
The more we come to know our Master, the more we will discover that He has liberated us from the slavery of sin so that we may freely give ourselves over to the service of love. Thus, God may abolish slavery, but He definitely promotes servanthood.
His greatest wish is that we would become more and more and more like Him—
And He is the greatest Servant in the universe.
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In this chapter, Paul sheds a startling light on the Old Testament: “I don’t want you to forget about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.” (vs 1-4)
I can’t tell you how often I hear Christian friends or commentators draw a distinction between “the God of the Old Testament” and “the God of the New Testament.” Although they don’t make the argument in so many words, the clear implication is that Jesus (that nice guy we read about in the Gospels) came to save us from His Father (that awful guy we read about in the Old Testament).
But Paul turns that assertion on its head by suggesting that it wasn’t the Father who was acting in the Old Testament, but Christ! It was gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Ex 14). It was gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who sent fire and plagues against the Israelites in the wilderness (Num 11). It was gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who ordered that the Sabbath-breaker be stoned to death (Num 15).
It wasn’t the Father. It was Jesus.
Of course, it could just have easily been the Father, for Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)
But, could it be that Paul was mistaken? Perhaps he didn’t realize the implications of such a suggestion. On the other hand, maybe he was familiar with Jesus’ own words about His relationship to the events memorialized in the Old Testament. On at least three recorded occasions, Jesus claimed to be “the God of the Old Testament”:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (Jn 5:39-40)
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? (Jn 5:46-47)
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Lk 24:27)
For followers of Christ, this changes the conversation dramatically—from Why does Jesus need to rescue us from the Father? to Why would Jesus use such different methods with His people in the Old Testament than He did in the New Testament?
Regardless of how we answer that question, one thing is for sure: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. At the very least, Jesus read His Bible and declared that He was the God of the Old Testament. He apparently didn't have any problem "reconciling" the methods He had used in the past with the ones He employed in the 1st century B.C.
Thus, if the God of the Old and New Testaments don't appear to be the same person, we must be missing something. We either must not be "seeing" those Old Testament Scriptures the same way Jesus did . . . or we're practicing "selective attention" with the New Testament Scriptures.
In any event, maybe it's time for us to dig a little deeper.
God is the head, I mean, tail, I mean, head.
I have now written more than 1,050 blogs on God in the Bible, and this is the first chapter that has given me a major problem in determining what to write. It’s not like I haven’t encountered difficult subjects and issues in previous chapters, but I’m not sure I’ve come across a more controversial one than the zinger Paul delivers in this chapter: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (vs 3)
Talk about offending every single one of our 21st-century, Western sensibilities! If you want to make a feminist cringe, read this verse. In fact, it’s not just the feminists. I have had recent conversations with Christian friends who suggest that Paul (a) didn’t know what he was talking about here, (b) was only speaking to the people in the Corinthian culture, or (c) was not acting “under inspiration” when he wrote this verse. Some of my friends who want to give Paul more of the “benefit of the doubt” suggest that he didn’t even write this—that someone else added this to his letter after the fact.
I might be amenable to some of those ideas if it wasn’t for the last part of that verse—the head of Christ is God. If that’s true, then this concept must be something that transcends time and place and circumstance, for God Himself transcends time and place and circumstance.
The question is, is it really true? Did Jesus consider Himself to be “under the authority” of the Father?
- Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19)
- So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (Jn 8:28)
- “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:37-38)
- He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:41-42)
These statements would seem to suggest that Jesus would have agreed with Paul that “the head of Christ is God.” So it then becomes very fair to ask if Paul’s other statements are correct: Is Christ the head of every man? Is man the head of woman? And if so, what does all of that mean, and why do we have such a problem with it?
Not only would I like to declare that, indeed, it’s true, but I’d like to suggest that the reason we have such a problem with it (especially in our Western culture) is that, at least in part, we still subscribe to Satan’s definitions of “power” and “authority.” We believe that, if a “hierarchy” exists, it must mean that the one who is not the head is somehow inferior to the one who is. Or we believe that the one who is the head automatically uses his position to “lord it over” or have “power over” those who are not the head.
And it certainly works that way most of the time in the kingdom of this world.
But Paul wasn’t writing to people who were part of the kingdom of this world. Paul was writing to people who were supposed to have rejected the kingdom of this world and, instead, recognized their true identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God! Does the Kingdom of God employ hierarchy? Yes! Does it look anything like the hierarchy so often employed by the kingdom of this world? Absolutely not!
Or have we forgotten these things Jesus said about power and position in the kingdom of God?
- Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:42-45)
- “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16)
What does this mean? If the “hierarchy” of the Kingdom as outlined in 1 Corinthians 11 is God (the Father), Christ, man, woman, then according to the principle given in Matthew 20, women are first in the Kingdom of God! (Okay, that’s just a little encouragement for the feminists.) What the principle in Matthew 20 really means is that there is no first and last in the Kingdom of God. There is full equality.
And didn’t Jesus also declare that this was so? His position, or role, of submission to His Father didn’t make Him inferior in the least bit. On the contrary, Jesus declared that He and the Father were equally God:
- “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn 8:58)
- “I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:30)
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn 1:1)
Jesus is fully and completely God—just as much as the Father is fully and completely God. They are equal in nature, but Christ has assumed a role that is in voluntary submission to His Father. I think the same is true for the relationship between a man and woman. In the eyes of God, men and women are equal (Gal 3:28), but they have different roles. Man is the head of woman, just as God is the head of Christ.
Now, what does that mean? Once again, it’s God who shows us beautifully what “being the head” means and how it works: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Phil 2:5-9)
Did you catch the sequence of events there? It’s important. Christ is in very nature God, and because He is, He willingly humbled Himself. Now, in this role, God is the head of Christ, and after Christ humbled Himself, what did the Father do? He exalted him to the highest place!
So now, we might say that Christ has become the head by virtue of the Father. But wait, what does Paul say Christ—being the supreme authority of this world—will do? Why, He will hand it all right back over to the Father, exalting Him just as He was exalted by Him! “After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. . . Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.” (1 Cor 15:24, 28)
The reason we have trouble with 1 Corinthians 11:3 is because, to a certain extent, we still buy into the way power and authority are expressed in Satan’s kingdom. But is it not clear from Scripture that power and authority are expressed completely differently in the Kingdom of God? Those who are “the head,” those who are in positions of “greatness” serve and exalt those who are “under their authority,” and those who have been exalted, in turn, respond by serving and exalting their “head.”
There is nothing top-down about it. It is cyclical—a beautiful cycle of serving and submission and exaltation and glory. God is the head, I mean the tail, I mean the head. In effect, He is all, and the closer we come to Him, the more we will realize that (as women and men both) we are great only when we serve and we are powerful only when we submit.
God loves unified diversity.
As the Psalmist once said, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Ps 139:13-14) Surely, the more you study the body, the more “intelligent design” becomes apparent:
- Your brain generates more electrical impulses in a single day than all of the world’s telephones put together.
- Your stomach produces a new inner layer every two weeks; otherwise it would digest itself.
- Your body produces 25 million new cells each second. That’s almost the entire population of Canada—every second!
- When we touch something, we send a message to our brains at 124 mph.
- The surface area of a human lung is equal to that of a tennis court.
- A sixteen-week-old female fetus already has two million eggs in her ovaries. (Only about 400 will be released during her reproductive life.)
The body is amazing! Every part is wildly diverse, yet all its parts function together for a unified purpose. No wonder Paul used the illustration of the body in his letter to the Corinthians, since it perfectly embodies the way God created us to be unique individuals who exist in unity.
Each one of us is special—no doubt about it!—but God designed our individuality to work within the context of a community. And, just as it was for the Corinthians in Paul’s day, this is very important for us to understand, because there are two ditches on either side of this road that we commonly fall into.
The first ditch is the one that says there is no individuality. In this ditch, we try to make everyone look the same. We try to achieve uniformity (which is not the same thing as unity, by the way) in one of two ways: Either by ignoring or downplaying the things that make us diverse or—God forbid!—by attempting to obliterate the things that make us unique!
This is not God’s attitude. God highly values individuality! He loves wild variety. He is the Creator of both the giraffe and the alligator. He doesn’t want things to all look the same. He created us and this world to be a place of outrageous variety. There is room in His Kingdom for every different kind of creature you can think of.
And that includes us. Each one of us is created special and unique.
You are an original masterpiece. You have unique DNA, unique fingerprints, and even a unique tongue print. God doesn’t make copies, and there is no way He can replace you. You are one-of-a-kind! So hang on to the things that make you a unique individual, and don’t fall into the ditch of trying to make everyone else be like you.
But while we’re holding onto what makes us special, we shouldn’t fall into the ditch on the opposite side of the road, which is the ditch of independence and elitism. God creates wildly individual things, but just like the different parts of our bodies, He creates these individual things to work together perfectly into an integrated system.
As John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.” We are not meant to live in disconnected independence, but to live as an integrated community where every part contributes to the whole. Just as our bodies aren’t meant to be (and can’t function if they are) chopped up into separate pieces, we aren’t to be isolated from one another.
The church is the body of Christ, and Christ wants an attractive, optimum-functioning body just as much as the next person! You wouldn’t like it if you had six hands or only one ear or fifty toes. You need all the parts you have (in the quantities you have them!) to make life easy and fun. And God wants His body to have all the parts it needs (and in the quantities in which they are needed!) in order to function properly. That won’t happen if you want everyone to be like you or if you want to cut yourself off from the body.
God loves diversity, variety, and individuality, and He also loves to take all of His one-of-a-kind masterpieces and weave them together into a unified, functioning whole. So, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not “special,” but don’t be so “special” that you refuse to be part of the body.
God needs you!
God is love.
When I was a girl, I loved math, and one of the things I clearly remember from Algebra is this: If a=b and b=c, then a=c. So, here we come to the great Love chapter of the Bible, and as I read it today, I couldn’t help but remember the statement of John in his first epistle: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
If it’s true that God is love, then 1 Corinthians 13 can also be a beautiful portrait of our God’s character. So today, let’s apply a little mathematical equation to this chapter and see what we get:
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I do not
know God, it will sound like noisy brass.
If I have the gift of speaking God’s Word and if I understand all secrets, but do
not know God, I am nothing.
If I know all things and if I have the gift of faith so I can move mountains, but
do not know God, I am nothing.
If I give everything I have to feed poor people and if I give my body to be
burned, but do not know God, it will not help me.
God is patient and kind.
God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
God does not demand His own way.
God is not irritable, and He keeps no record of being wronged.
God does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices when the truth wins out.
God takes everything that comes without giving up.
God is always supportive and loyal and hopeful and trustworthy.
God can outlast anything.
God is, in fact, the one who still stands when all else has fallen.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
What do you think? Is this the picture that always came to your mind when you read that “God is love”?
Is this a portrait of the God you know?
God values understanding.
It seems that the Christians in Corinth had become convinced that speaking in tongues was the “best” gift they could receive from the Holy Spirit. Maybe some of them thought that speaking in an unintelligible language was a true “sign” that they had received the Spirit.
Come to think of it, there are still some Christians who espouse that view today.
But Paul didn’t agree with them. Instead, in this chapter, he makes a great case for the gift of understanding:“I wish all of you spoke in special sounds. But more than that, I wish all of you spoke God’s Word. The one who speaks God’s Word has a more important gift than the one who speaks in special sounds. . . If I come to you speaking in special sounds, what good is it to you? But if I tell you something God has shown me or something I have learned or . . . teach you God’s Word, it will be for your good. . . Since you want gifts from the Holy Spirit, ask for those that will build up the whole church.” (vs 5-6, 12)
Just to be clear, Paul wasn’t claiming that the gift of tongues wasn’t okay, just that its proper use was to aid understanding. Apparently, the Corinthian church had gotten away from using this particular gift for that purpose, and Paul wanted to remind them that their worship was meaningless without understanding.
And so he concludes, “I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my mind also. I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my mind also. If you honor and give thanks to God with your spirit in sounds nobody understands, how can others honor and give thanks also if they do not know what you are saying? . . . In a meeting of the church, it is better if I say five words that others can understand and be helped by than 10,000 words in special sounds.” (vs 15-16, 19)
Why? Because God values understanding. Worship and faith aren’t about going through the right motions or performing the correct rituals or reciting empty words (whether they’re in your mother tongue or not). One of the primary necessary elements for worship and faith is understanding. Of course, God wants us to worship Him out of the fullness of our spirits, but it doesn’t mean much if our minds aren’t engaged.
God values understanding because He’s not after worship for worship’s sake. He’s after relationship, and that requires your mind, not just your tongue!
God is a quick change artist.
If you’ve never seen a quick change artist at work, do yourself a favor: Go to youtube.com, type “quick change artist” in the search box and watch one of the many videos that have been uploaded. It definitely involves illusion, but it’s fantastic to watch!
In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says that God is also a quick change artist: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (vs 51-52)
As Paul reminds his readers about the resurrection, he assures them that God can and will change everything in the blink of an eye. This has to be one of the most hope-filled reminders in all of Scripture, because let’s face it, who doesn’t have at least one thing in their lives they’d like to see changed?
Of course, Paul isn’t talking about circumstances in our lives changing. He’s talking about the moment of resurrection when Jesus returns, but let me assure you of this: The God who can resurrect millions of people in an instant with new and perfect bodies also has the power to change anything in your life at any time.
That means there is always hope for things to change.
It only takes a second.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that God will change something in our lives just because we want Him to and He has the power to do it. Everything He does is filtered through love—meaning that He only does what will be in our best interest. (And often, what we think will be in our best interest isn’t what God thinks will be in our best interest!)
That’s where trust comes in. When you know God loves you, and when you know He is for you, you can relax and trust Him to do what is best for you—even if you don’t understand it at the time.
But don’t ever let temporary disappointment trick you into thinking that God doesn’t have the power to change your life. He most certainly does, and He can do it so much faster than you can imagine. He’s a quick change artist!
God wants one thing.
As Paul closes his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, he sums up his desires for them in very plain language: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (vs 13-14)
So simple, yet I couldn’t help but see that this is a perfect description of God and the way He has acted on behalf of His children in this great, universe-wide war. He’s always standing guard, firm in His ways, courageous, and strong. And everything He does is done in love.
It occurred to me that this final command from Paul—to do everything in love—is something that really can’t be judged from the outside by others. We might be able to evaluate whether we think a person’s actions are “good” or “bad,” but there’s no way to discern what motivation they come from.
A legalistic person may do all the “right” things for all the wrong reasons. We may think they’re loving when, in fact, they’re really self-serving. And a misguided person may do all the “wrong” things for all the right reasons. We may think they’re unloving when, in fact, they are trying to do the best they know how to do for someone else.
But it’s not only the motives of others that we can’t judge. The Bible says that we can’t even judge our own motives with accuracy: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer 17:9)
So, where does that lead us? Where all roads in the Bible seem to lead—back to trust in God. He is the only one who can know the heart and its motives. And the best we can do is to express to Him our desire to love our fellow man and do what we think is in line with that. If our motives don’t match up with our actions anywhere along the way, God will let us know.
God wants one thing—love—because He is one thing—Love. As we surrender our heart, our motives, our actions, and our very lives to Him, He will keep what is good and weed out what isn’t until we are but a reflection of His glory.
And His glory is love.