I was reading 1 Corinthians this week and noticed some interesting things in Chapter 1.
The saints at Corinth were very proud of themselves. They were, after all, FILLED with many spiritual gifts – particularly the *visible* ones. They spoke in tongues all the time (and often all the church at once) – how much more spiritual can you be when the Spirit of God speaks through you? Paul had heard all about them and I’m sure they were expecting a letter of praise for their spirituality and piety.
In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians we DO see praise from Paul. But if you look closely you will see that all the praise is toward GOD: His grace in them, His knowledge bestowed on them, His confirmation (through the Spirit) of the testimony of Christ, and God’s faithfulness in calling them to faith and eventually HE will confirm them blameless at the coming of Christ.
As I read this I was chuckling. These Corinthians were so proud of their giftedness as a testimony of their spirituality. They made a big deal about it in their meetings together. But not once did Paul praise them; not for the gifts they seem to take credit for nor for the life of holiness they thought the gifts signified. I’m not quite sure if they even noticed those first few lines of his letter were NOT praise of them but of God alone.
But, of course, it led me to contemplate my own life and the church today. How many times do I (or we) think – although we would never actually SAY it – “You know, God, I am actually doing really well. I have so many things to say in Sunday School class, and all those major insights in bible study this week really wowed the class. And I think I saw Nancy cry when I prayed for her this week! The fact that I have so many spiritual things to say is really a sign that I am doing well spiritually. After all, how could I if I weren’t so ‘in tune’ with the Spirit. We are simply simpatico!!”
But this chapter is a sign to us that use of spiritual gifts really does NOT correlate to our humility and surrender to the Lord, unfortunately a sign that we don’t often read correctly. Paul goes on in the rest of the book to point out the sins of the saints in Corinth: divisions and taking sides, acceptance of sin within the congregation (even boasting about it), quarrels among them that they are taking to the world for arbitration rather than working it out with the elders, etc.
I wonder if their shocked response was, “But, but, but…” When I find myself so very confident in my own spirituality only to be reproved by God, the shock is usually quite overwhelming! I’m trying to get God to look at one aspect of my life and He is pointing His Conviction Laser on a glaring sin that I have turned away from (and deep down am desperately hoping He doesn’t see).
And generally, in my spiritual pride, what I hadn’t noticed recently is that ANY spiritual growth I have or had or any spiritual gifts I can use are NOT of my own making! I have forgotten:
So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Cor 3:7)
All of these things come from God and NOT from me. It isn’t MY spiritual maturity or MY insights from the Word or MY spectacular delivery in bible studies that mean anything. It is the transformation of my life and character to the image of Christ, a work done ONLY by the Spirit of God, that matters for eternity. It is the repentance of sin when the Spirit brings conviction and humility to my heart that makes way for the godly character to take root in my heart. All of this is the work of God. He is the One who not only brings me to faith but He is the One who maintains and strengthens that faith by the power of His Spirit. BUT it is a joy to know that He uses me in the process; He uses my submission and surrender to work WITH His plan and work of sanctification. He uses my longing for freedom from sin and the flesh to complete the work of faith He began in me. But my error comes when I begin to believe that I am a great catch for Him and that the signs of outward spiritual affect is a sign of the maturity in my life. They are merely a sign of His blessing toward us.
Sort of a lot of challenge simply by some praise that was NOT in a few verses of scripture!