Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The way of love - Part II: The measure of meaninglessness

I Corinthians 13 is an all-too familiar passage on love. It therefore takes some effort to hear these words in the context Paul used as he was writing them to the Corinthians: that of spiritual gifts.

After going back and re-reading the chapter with this context as my focus, I can mentally insert two sub-headings into Paul’s words. In the first three verses, we read about the futility of anything that isn’t motivated by love:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

I read these comparisons as warnings. Paul is saying that effectiveness and success in life, even success in the spiritual realm, is meaningless if it isn’t for the sake of love. Find history’s greatest person of faith, most renowned prophet, biggest philanthropist and bravest martyr - Paul says that these characteristics of their lives amount to nothing if love’s not at the core.

This causes me to wonder about the motivation behind the things I have done in my own life. I tend to do a lot of “behind-the-scenes” or “helps”-type work - this has typically been indicated as one of my main strengths by any test that aims to identify my spiritual gifting. But am I prone to giving without loving? And how can I know?

I am aided in my discovery by the next four verses, where Paul gives some benchmarks to identify whether or not love is the motive behind any action:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

When I measure some of my acts of service against these benchmarks, I often see the motivation of love eroded. Each verse rings like an accusation to which I must plead guilty in many of the circumstances I can recollect. Patience is not often a characteristic of the way I serve others, nor is humility (which rules out not boasting or being proud.) As for self-seeking… well, let’s just say it is astonishing how much serving can really be done for the personal benefit of the server. And Paul’s list continues.

Can even the pursuit of spiritual formation be carried out in way that is rendered meaningless for its lack of love? Clearly, Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees proved the answer to be an unquestionable “yes.”

[to be continued]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The way of love - Part I: Bankrupt

I’m currently working out a stream of consciousness dealing with a subject that I’m not an expert in: love. Not romantic love, (which I’m also not an expert in,) but the kind of love which the apostle Paul referred to as “the most excellent way.” He described it as greater than both faith and hope (see I Corinthians 13.)

I’ve written before about the connection between love and character traits like servanthood (see in particular Legalism vs. Life by the Spirit). Specifically, I’ve written about how servanthood and other fruits should be a natural and evident byproduct of the love that motivates us. Lately, I’ve been impressed with the need to seek balance in this equation by taking a closer look at the other side of the line – the motivation itself. The shocking discovery has been that here, too, the fruits can be easily forced without the actual presence of love as a true motivation.

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” I’ve been quick to make a case for the latter half of that statement. But I don’t know that I’ve ever, before now, given much thought to the reality of the first half. Sadly, it doesn’t take very much self-evaluation to reveal my tendency for giving without loving. This is very troubling, for, as Paul states, “no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” I Cor 13:3b (Msg)

[to be continued]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Activity is the enemy of adoration

"The divine priority is worship first, service second… Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration.” … “One grave temptation we all face is to run around answering calls to service without ministering to the Lord himself."

-Richard Foster on the discipline of worship in Celebration of Discipline

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The essence of testimony (or "Why I blog")

I process by writing, and I learn and grow by processing.

Funny though… I’m not, and never have been, a journaler, in the traditional sense. The biggest reason I don’t journal is that I can’t stand the thought of a written record of how stupid I once was! So now, instead of writing those things on paper, I publish them on the web (wait, what?????)

I hardly understand it myself, but like I said, I write to process. Something about the possibility of an audience (however small it may be) gives me sufficient compulsion to write. If I was the only one who’d ever read this stuff, I undoubtedly wouldn’t go through the process of working it all out.

I’ve got a document on my laptop that is filled with thought fragments that I need to process and develop. If I were writing to myself (i.e. journaling,) I’d probably never bother to get around to them, because there wouldn’t be much point, in my mind. But the outlet of a blog somehow lends purpose to the process of developing these thoughts. I frame my thoughts for the consumption of an audience rather than just for myself. I labor over vocabulary, grammar and formatting. I seek out word illustrations to make the things floating around in my mind more easily understood by the world… and in the process, they become more understandable to me.

I don’t think this is a method that should be prescribed for everyone, but it works for me. I blog for my own development, really. But it is always my hope that God touches someone else through what He’s teaching me. To me, that’s the essence of testimony.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

God is not interested in your spiritual life

Too often people think about their 'spiritual lives' as just one more aspect of their existence, alongside and largely separate from their 'financial lives' or their 'vocational lives.' Periodically they may try to 'get their spiritual lives together' by praying more regularly or trying to master another spiritual discipline. It is the religious equivalent of going on a diet or trying to stick to a budget.

The truth is that the term spiritual life is simply a way of referring to one's life - every moment and facet of it - from God's perspective...

...God is not interested in your 'spiritual life.' God is just interested in your life. He intends to redeem it.

-John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted