Not Jealous (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Love is patient, love is kind; is not jealous; love does not brag; is not arrogant

1 Corinthians 13:4

Fun fact: the word that is translated jealous is also translated zealous elsewhere. This is not a bad translation, it is because the Ancient Greeks believed that Zeal was a daemon; an embodied concept. Daemons should never be confused with the Judaeo-Christian concept of demons, as the two are not the same thing at all. Daemons were, as already mentioned, the embodiment of ideas. Zeal took form in the person of Zelus, who was a sibling of Nike (victory), Cratos (strength), and Bia (force). Other notable daemons are Thanatos and Hypnos, the twin brothers who personified Death and Sleep.

Why take the time to go through all that? Because Zelus’ “humanity” meant that he could be both good and evil; right and wrong. The Ancient Greeks, for all that they got wrong, did understand something of duality. Zeal — the consuming passion for a person thing or idea — is not inherently bad. The disciples remembered an Old Testament prophecy that said zeal for the house of God would consume the Messiah. Zeal can be a very good thing. Even jealousy, taken in context, can be a good thing. I can jealously guard my family time and that is A Very Good Thing. Even God calls Himself a jealous God in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; Joshua 24:19). But the fourth verse of 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is not jealous which means that God is not jealous and that I should also seek to not be jealous. What gives?

And I am back to that reality that zeal and jealousy can be good and bad; healthy and unhealthy. Zeal and jealousy in the negative means that I am consumed by envy or hatred or anger. If I am jealous of what someone else has, then I am jealous in the negative. If I am jealous for what I have, it is very possibly in the positive. And I notice that the preposition changes when the idea changes. If I am jealous of someone or something, then it is most often negative. If I am jealous for someone or something, then it is most often positive.

Love is not jealous in the negative connotation of the word. Love is not envious or hateful (which is the antithesis of love) or angry. Let me not be the worst that zealous or jealous can be, but aim for all that is good in the concept.

Kind (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Love is patient, love is kind; is not jealous; love does not brag; is not arrogant

1 Corinthians 13:4

And the report card continues. The second area mentioned is kindness. Love is kind. The word translated kind means pretty much that, though it also carries the meaning of mild. Am I kind?

To unpack the term, I need to know that kind means “of a good or benevolent disposition; having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence; considerate or helpful; mild or gentle.” Is my disposition generally good or benevolent? Put another way, the flag of my disposition should most frequently fly towards doing good to those around me.

If I am honest, then I admit that this is not true of me. This is not to say that I am habitually sour or malevolent. I do not actively look for ways to harm my fellow people. However, not actively seeking someone’s harm is not the same thing as actively seeking their good. To not actively seek to harm others could be disinterest, ambivalence, or apathy. To be kind is to actively seek their good. God’s character is such that He actively seeks everyone’s good. Let me be like my God.

Patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Love is patient, love is kind; is not jealous; love does not brag; is not arrogant,

1 Corinthians 13:4

Years ago, I heard the teaching that I should be able to substitute my name for the word love in this passage. This section of The Bible operates as a sort of report card, in that respect. I can run down the list of attributes and determine where I stand; how much growing God still has to accomplish in me.

This morning, I found myself drawn to the reminder that love is patient. I have not been patient, in recent times, so the verse is also an exhortation to be patient. The term used in the original is richer than our English word patient. The original word carries the meaning of persevering patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles; of being patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; to be mild and slow to avenge; to be longsuffering; to be slow to anger; to be slow to punish. Enduring misfortune is difficult — to endure patiently and bravely is worlds apart from mere endurance. Bearing the offenses offered by others and accepting the injuries they cause is on a much lower level than being patient in bearing them. And I am not even going to start talking about being longsuffering — the fact that words suffer and long are both contained within the word is more than enough explanation.

How am I doing with regard to item one on my spiritual report card? If I am honest, not very well. I have been terse with people I love and quick to punish offenses. I have not consistently been slow to anger — sometimes, I have had a very short fuse. I can make excuses or try to provide mitigating circumstances, but those are attempts to shirk my responsibility. God does not call me to His service only when it is convenient, but often when it is least convenient. He does not accept my mitigations and excuses, but He will accept my confession and repentance. Let me confess that I have not been patient and pray that God will work patience in me.

What Someone Else Has (1 Corinthians 12:4)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4

I have noticed that there is a very human tendency to want whatever it is I do not have. Paul, in speaking of the gifts given by the holy Spirit to believers, notes early on that there are several varieties of gifts, but only One Giver of those gifts. And that Giver — the Holy Spirit — divides to each of us as He wants. There is purpose and plan and a design that would boggle my tiny little mind if I could see it, but the Holy Spirit does not give me a view of the whole picture, only my place in it. And, unfortunately, I can also see what the believers near me have.

In grade school, it was often the case that there would be lunch swapping going on. All the kids would open up their lunch bags and set down their trays and start bargaining over who could get what from whom. This never really stopped. As I grew older, the things swapped changed, but it was always a question of getting what someone else has. The whole concept of commerce is based on me wanting or needing what someone else has. This gives rise to a problem in my walk with God: I am not allowed to swap gifts with other believers. I may have the gift of teaching and prefer the gift of speaking in tongues and someone else may speak in tongues but want the gift of prophecy. The issue that I run into is that the Holy Spirit gave me the gifts I have and He gave them with a purpose.

While I might think speaking in tongues would be awesome (I don’t) or that being a great evangelist would be stellar (not at all, crowds make me uncomfortable), the Holy Spirit has given me gifts that are tailored for the work He has in store for me. Ephesians 2:10 tells me that God prepared good works for me before I was even born so that I might walk in those works. Then the Holy Spirit came along and gave me gifts that equip me for those works. I cannot accomplish the good works God has prepared for me with what someone else has — their gifts are meant for their good works, not mine. Let me learn contentment and learn to use the gifts that the Spirit has given me for the good works which God prepared for me.

Whatever You Do (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

The phrase that caught my attention this morning is whatever you do. A glance at the concordance gives me the impression that it means something more akin to this thing you do. What should I do to bring glory to God? This thing. Which thing? Whatever thing it is I am doing. If I eat, let it be for God’s glory (Paul was writing to folks who had issues with food sacrificed to idols and a whole different meaning behind sharing a meal with someone than we have now). If I drink (we still have issues with alcohol and whatnot), let it be for God’s glory (meaning I should partake or abstain as will bring God the most glory). If I exercise, let it be done in a way that glorifies God. If I relax; work; vacation; love; laugh; cry; wander; read; draw; compose; arrange — insert whatever verb I am considering doing and let it be done for God’s glory. If it cannot be done for God’s glory, then let it not be done by me. There are plenty of folks who are not interested in God’s glory who will gladly do those things.

Common (1 Corinthians 10:13)

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

There are several truths bound up in this one thought and I felt that I should consider each of them this morning.

No temptation has overtaken [me] but such as is common to man. Every temptation I have faced, every temptation I am currently facing, every temptation I ever will face is common to humanity. I am not a special snowflake. There are no new temptations created just to mess me up. The same old temptations that have been used since Eden will suffice to cause me no end of grief.

And God is faithful. While I am often faithless, God is faithful. There is even a verse that says almost precisely that. I will fail; fall; lose heart. All people do. God will not. God will remain faithful to me and to what He has begun to work in me until He has completed the work.

God … will not allow [me] to be tempted beyond what [I am] able. This is often misquoted as God not giving me more than I can handle. That is utter nonsense. God frequently gives me more than I can handle on my own. There is no other way to build strength. When I had leisure to frequent the gym and work with a trainer, the trainer would gradually increase the amount of weight I was moving around. The goal was to strengthen the muscles by making them work harder. God will never give me a temptation that I am unable to resist in some fashion — often, the best strategy is to simply flee temptation. That is what this verse is saying. This verse is my guarantee that God is not going to allow a temptation into my life that I cannot resist. There are no offers I cannot refuse. No such thing.

With the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape also, so that [I] will be able to endure it. The actual term seems, according to the concordance, to mean “the exit.” Years ago, “The Matrix” came along and included the line “I need an exit.” God provides me with an exit from temptation. The reason? So that I can bear up under the weight of the temptation. If I know that a time of suffering has a definite end, it is much easier to look to that end and endure. Those who have trained know this well. The training for anything has definite ends. A workout; a class; a course; everything that trains us has a definite end. We look to those ends as both the moment when we will have achieved our goal and the moment that our hardship will end.

So, I face common temptations permitted by a faithful God Who will not allow any temptations that I cannot resist and will provide me an exit; a definite end to the time of temptation so that I am able to endure and to flee the temptation. Just your common, Garden(of Eden)-variety temptations. Nothing for which God has not provided an exit.

Stand/Fall (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12

This verse comes after several verses wherein Paul talks about how all of the people who took part in the exodus from Egypt were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink. They had a shared spiritual experience. Paul continues on to say that with most of them God was not well-pleased. These people who lived miracles and continued to live because of daily miracles were the ones with whom God was not well-pleased.

Why was God not pleased with them? Paul explains that some of them were idolaters and some were immoral and some tested God and some grumbled — i.e. discontentedly complained against God … the same God Who was giving them literal manna from Heaven — and God is not pleased by any of these things. Paul reaches the conclusion that these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction. Since these things are written for my instruction, Paul gives me some insight as to how I might apply it.

First, let me evaluate whether I think I stand or whether I am reliant on God for my standing. There is a chasm between those two viewpoints. The one who thinks he stands looks at his life and sees everything going okay. Sure, he has some immoral things going on, but not as bad as that other guy about whom we will not speak (that would be gossip, after all). And, yes, he has some things that regularly keep him from fellowship, but God is everywhere and he can worship God anywhere, right? The one who relies on God for his standing looks at a life very similar to the first and sees those immoralities as things that God must remove from his life if he is ever to be fit for Heaven. He sees those things that keep him from fellowship as things to be removed from his life. After all, what profit is it to a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul? The one who thinks he stands might be saved, but he is not experiencing the joys of salvation or coming into closer relationship with the One he claims to follow. The one who relies entirely on God knows that he must get closer to God than he is now, because this close is too far away.

Let me place myself squarely in the group who is reliant completely on God; who knows that however close I am is still much too far away; who is, like my God, mindful that I am but dust and I should not expect much from a dirt bag. On the contrary, every good thing that I find within me is placed there by God and for His glory. Let me be mindful of that and I will not think I stand. If I think I stand, let me be very careful, because I am then in serious danger of a fall.

Liberty (1 Corinthians 8:9)

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

1 Corinthians 8:9

The last of the Star Trek movies to feature to original cast — The Undiscovered Country — included a quote that has stuck with me. The President of the Federation is giving a speech and says, “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing it does not follow that we must do that thing.” There is quite a bit of liberty in walking with God, but just because I am free to do a thing, it does not follow that I must do that thing. In point of fact, it has become slavery if I must do it.

Paul expresses a similar thought when he writes to the Corinthian believers that they should not allow their liberty in Christ to stumble their fellow believers. To be free to do a thing means that we are equally free to choose not to do that thing.

As I walk with God, He lets me know that some things are not good for me — certain movies and music and books and whatnot just is not healthy for my soul. Other believers have no compunctions about these things and that is fine. They are free to have those things or not as God gives them grace. If, however, some liberty I have — drinking alcohol, for example — causes another believer to stumble, then I should choose not to partake. It is not that I am in bondage to anything, rather that I am free to prevent my brother from stumbling.

I do not know what liberties I may have that could cause others to stumble, but let me be mindful and think of others that my freedom not become a cause of stumbling.

Called Condition (1 Corinthians 7:24)

Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that [condition] in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:24

Every believer was someplace when God called to them and they responded. Some were married while others single. Some were, when Paul wrote this, slaves while others freedmen. Some were Roman citizens while others were only subjects of the empire. Paul writes that the believer should remain in that condition wherein he was called.

There is good reason for this. If God called a slave to repentance, then that slave has access to all the other slaves in that household. And in wealthy Roman households, that could mean quite a few people. Single people were free to serve God in any way that God might call them; could just up and go on a missionary journey. Citizens had rights that subjects did not and those rights afforded them protections that allowed them to speak the gospel more boldly than mere subjects of the empire might — a possible explanation why Peter is not all that bold about preaching outside Jerusalem (not a citizen) and Paul goes every place God sent him (Paul was a citizen). Paul could appeal to Caesar for justice and bear witness of Christ to everyone in the Roman administrative, bureaucratic, and justice system with whom he came in contact.

In a more modern context, we are called while in the middle of a part of our lives. We might be single and working a particular job. There is no reason, unless we have a definite instruction from God, that we should quit our job to do missions work or that we should automatically go on a search for a spouse. If God calls us to missions work, then we should obey. Otherwise, God has granted that we each have a mission field in the form of our workplace. We should work to the glory of God and witness as opportunity presents itself. If God calls us to marriage, then we should definitely obey. Marriage can be an awesome blessing, but it is not for the faint of heart and it is not to be entered into lightly and it brings along with it a host of trials and tribulations and temptations that are unique to it. Plus, as Paul points out, the single person is free to serve God in any and every way they feel led. Want to work in children’s ministry? Do it. Want to join the praise team or the choir? Have at it. Want to usher? Direct cars? Perform puppet shows? Work with youth? Go on retreats? Attend every study that does not specifically exclude you (like the married couples’ study)? You can do any of that and rightly should.

I had the most freedom to serve when I was a single man. And I served. I was a part of the puppet team and the youth leadership and taught Sunday school and directed traffic and went on retreats and planned retreats and all manner of thing. I was free to serve as I felt led. I felt led to do many things. And I had joy in all of them. I am not less joyful because I am less free to serve in those capacities, rather I derive joy from the ministries of husband and father to which God has now called me. And those are full-time ministries.

To my shame, I did try to find a spouse rather than enjoy the freedom that God had given to me as a single man. Doing so robbed me of some of the joy I might otherwise have had in the service of God. Would I change my current situation? Not a bit. It is challenging to want to raise my children in the fear and admonition of the LORD and to be uncertain precisely what that looks like and how to do what God would have me do. And the challenge is somewhat exciting, because I know that God wants it done and that He is ready to instruct me in how to do it. Being a husband is a big deal, because God points at the relationship of husband and wife as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church (not the band). If I mess up my role in this, then I mess up the picture God is trying to paint with the reference. And I do not want to mess that up.

Let me be content where God has me and listen for His instruction and look for His direction. If He wants me to move, then I want to move. If He wants me to stay, then I want to stay.

Flee Immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18)

Flee immorality. Every [other] sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

1 Corinthians 6:18

Growing up where I did is full of advantages. There was not much crowding until I was into my late teens. Housing was affordable — still is more affordable than where I currently live. There were plenty of local places to hang out and no one seemed to mind teenagers sitting around on the block walls just having a bit of a palaver.

There were distinct problems with where I grew up, too. The weather forecast was usually hot with a chance of outskirts of Hell. There was not all that much to do, really, and most activities required a bit of a drive to somewhere else. Hang with friends? No problem. Actually do anything? Get in your car. And there were (and still are) the ubiquitous billboards. More recently, things have grown somewhat tame and I am grateful for it, but the billboards present during my adolescence were most often for strip clubs and the advertisers pushed the boundaries to see how much of the human body they could show before a public outcry resulted. That sort of club was so common in that area that I was acquainted with a young woman who worked in one. To really make it awkward, I was a tutor for students with special needs and she was a student at the continuation school where I worked. She was not one of my students, but she was friends with one or more of them, and she invited both one of her teachers and myself to come see her perform. The levels of inappropriate there are off the charts. Neither he nor I ever took her up on the offer, though we did visit a restaurant (I think) where she was tending bar some years later.

All of this loops back around to this morning’s verse. Flee immorality. There is a host of excellent reasons why Paul delivers this instruction and Paul gives one of them. I want to elaborate on a few more.

Paul’s reason is the best: the immoral man sins against his own body. The human body comes equipped with what scientists sometimes call a biological imperative to procreate. Our bodies have plenty of biological imperatives: food, drink, sleep … actually, that might be most of the list. But there is something that is often overlooked about these so-called imperatives: We can deny these imperatives for varying periods of time without detriment. People can fast; eat no food for a period of time and cause themselves no harm. We can do without drink for a while (not very long). We can even go without sleep for a bit (most estimates I have read place it at about two days). And we can not procreate without suffering any adverse side effects. Based on how The Media portrays it, one might think that extremities will begin to wither and drop off if we do not procreate, but that simply is not the case. And to commit immorality; to attempt procreation in a manner not sanctioned by God is to do irreparable damage to our souls and psyche and emotions and bodies. We are marked. From personal experience, I can say that immorality is something that refuses to go away. Years after a single failure to obey God in this arena and the mind and body and emotions still twitch like a reflex when something brings that failure to remembrance. And my soul aches anew at my failure to obey. This is not to say that God has not forgiven me, but my own body is the traitor that recalls things best left forgotten. So, it is best to flee immorality and be as far from potential failure as possible.

It is also most prudent to flee immorality because fighting it is most often a losing battle. As mentioned, there is a so-called biological imperative to procreate, so immorality takes a legitimate desire — one that could even be an act of obedience to God’s command to Adam and Eve that they be fruitful and multiply, if it were observed in the correct context —and warps it. These are, in my experience, the most difficult temptations to resist, because there is a legitimate and sometimes even laudable way that this thing could be done. Paul notes that I can eat or drink or do most anything to the glory of God. My biological urges are not always inherently bad. But I will never be content or at peace unless I sate those desires in the way that God commands me. Food is good, but many have fallen prey to the temptation to eat more than is necessary (myself included). Not eating can be good, but there are many who have fallen into the error of starving themselves — which is not good. Likewise procreation can be good and even condoned by God … even praised by Him. But only in the place He has made for it. Immorality removes the satiation of that desire from its right place and puts it elsewhere. And, because the desire has a right and good way it can be sated, it is an even more difficult temptation to resist. So the best course of action is to simply flee immorality.

Lest anyone think this entry is a condemnation on them or any particular form of immorality; of sexual sin, I write this to my own exhortation. I have been guilty of immorality and the temptation remains. It always remains. But God is faithful and is able to make my feet like hind’s feet, so I can book it into rocky, mountainous places where the temptation cannot follow. Flee immorality.