Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 6

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Is Not Rude.

A lump of clay is rudimentary. It is the raw material of something more. When it had been part of the riverbank, its form had fit its function. It was a wall against spring rains swelling the creek into a riotous rush, threatening to overrun the edges of field, forest, and even city. But as a lump, washed from the bank and carried downstream, clay no longer assumes its natural function. Clay smears, smudges and muddens everything it touches. It stains clothing, clumps annoyingly on boot soles, and gets wedged under fingernails. It is rude.

When the Apostle Paul addends his list in I Corinthians 13 to include what love is not, he declares, “it is not rude.” What does this mean? Is it just another ‘thou shalt not’ that adds to the negative impression many have of what it means to be a person of faith? If it’s just about tiptoeing around other people’s compulsive sensitivities, surely we are culturally beyond that sanctimonious Victorian-era of priggishness, are we not?

Yet there it stands: “Love…is not rude.” No apology or explanation. What did Paul mean? Firstly, Paul didn’t actually use the word rude, because the international language of trade was not, of course, English. The word he used was a word with a negative prefix added to it—the way we add prefixes to words to make them mean the opposite—like: a-symmetry, mis-understanding, and il-logical. The word he negativized was from the verb ‘to form.’ He made it into something like de-form.

“Love,” Paul writes to the new believers in Corinth, “does not deform.” Love does not deform, twist, warp, disfigure or besmirch others—either in actions or with words. It does not muddy the waters of truth, smear others’ reputations, or stain the purity of others’ minds with its clinging insinuations.

“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” Paul elaborates to another budding group of Christ-followers, “but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” Unwholesome talk is a part of rudeness. It must go. But as with many aspects of being formed with the character of Jesus and living with integrity, the void it leaves must be filled with something Christlike. It’s like taking that messy, muddy, clay and bringing it into the craftsman’s studio. It must be dealt with on the potter’s wheel. It must be thrown, centred, pushed, pulled, squeezed, pressured, collared, shaped, raised, smoothed and inspected (my potter friends can confirm if these actions will make something of usefulness and value in the process of their craft).

“Finally,” Paul expands in an epistle to a third young assembly of believers, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Bringing love into the workrooms of our minds is where rudeness is reshaped into grace, disrespect is molded into consideration, and impropriety is transformed into high and noble conduct. Love is applying the beauty and grace of Christ to the raw material of our hearts and minds so it can work its way out through our mouths and hands and feet. It is centering our worldview upon the eternal truths of God’s Word. It is submitting ourselves to the hands of the Great Potter to see what He will create.

Paul was right. Love is not rude. It is too vast and inclusive to be bound by the sorry restrictions of rudeness. The Holy Spirit, the one Jesus designated to counsel and supply wisdom to His true followers, is present and perfectly qualified to do His recreative work in us, so let’s work with Him. We have love to become.

(Photo Credit By Siim Sepp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=328890)

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 18

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‘Ayin’

The most awful realization is that one can never be good enough for God. It is also the most wonderful. No accumulation of good deeds could ever outweigh the sins we’ve committed or earn us eternal life, but then again, it doesn’t need to.

“The gospel,” explains theologian Tim Keller, “is, you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe, but you’re more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared hope.”

So in ‘Ayin’—the sixteenth stanza of Psalm 119—as the psalmist opens with the apparent corollary: “I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors”, we must be careful not to make a faulty assumption. The psalmist is not saying that he has an inherent goodness, which has put God in debt to him to make his life easy. Rather, the psalmist knows of an ancient pronouncement made by God regarding humanity—a presage that hinted of a distant future: In order for anyone to truly flourish in full and joyful relationship with God, a certain Someone must and would come to “crush the head” of evil. Only then would the proper relationship between God and people be restored, would rebellion and its consequences be vanquished, and would love overrule law. Not surprisingly, the psalmist builds the remainder of his stanza around the theme of the loving Master-servant relationship. Listen.

“I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors. / Ensure your servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. / My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. / Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. / I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. / It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken. / Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.”

We need to consider our reaction to the psalmist’s three-fold use of the term “servant”. Virtually every human based master-servant relationship to ever have occurred in history has been painfully flawed: masters have abused their power causing much suffering; servants have resented their masters’ power, secretly trying to undermine it. It has been a lose-lose situation.

But imagine a Master whose character is noble and perfectly good, who is loving and generous and just. Imagine a Master whose goal is to empower His servants to steward tremendous resources put into their care. Imagine a Master who shares with His servants the fruit of all His labours and who helps them find greater freedom within their servanthood than they could ever experience in their rebellion. Imagine a Master who became human to “ma(k)e himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and who…humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7,8). This is the Master-servant relationship the psalmist catches a glimpse of in his psalm.

The psalmist hints at this relationship because he–writer in the second millenium B.C.– occupies a place in history well before the arrival of Jesus, the Master-incarnated-as-servant. He is yet “looking for (the One who would be his) salvation.” But leaf forward through the pages of Scripture to the Gospel of John, and we hear Jesus speaking to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.

“You call me Teacher and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13,14).

Jesus claims to be the Lord God, the eternal Master of humanity, calling loving hearts to be His servants, recipients of His love, to even become transformed individuals. And how must they demonstrate this new role? Like their Master, they must serve others with humility and love; they must demonstrate their new life to the Master who took the sting out of death by bearing the spiritual death penalty Himself in His crucifixion. They must fix their hope on the eternity their Master Jesus has prepared for them—an eternity of productive, fulfilling, beloved servanthood.

So while it is natural to call upon God to interrupt the oppression and injustice we suffer at times, it is important we recognize God’s greatest act of justice in the history of humankind—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death has made impotent the power of evil. His resurrection has given His followers new lives that will eventually be characterized perfectly by Christ’s own character.

Let’s join the psalmist in looking to God’s salvation, His righteous promise: Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, whose perfect goodness is credited to our account as we entrust ourselves to Him.

POP-UP PROBLEM

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The pop-up notification has been annoying. You know what I mean: in the middle any task it interrupts our train of thought and our view of the screen with its bold message. Finally, after several days of ignoring it and clearing it from view I decided to respond. Something struck me that I may have a real problem here. The icon on my screen showing a stethoscope poised over a hard drive indicates an error needing diagnostic help. If I follow the prompts and instructions the prognosis is significantly better than if I ignore the problem. I have found out my backup hard drive needs to spend some time in a recovery programme—I am assured there are only a few minutes remaining until that is complete.

Little did Isaiah know twenty-eight centuries ago that something he would write would have a counterpart illustration in my world today—maybe in your world too. He says the mind, the hard drive of every person, has a problem that needs repair. Listen to a few of his phrases:

“For the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil: He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the LORD; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water.” (Isaiah 32:6)

That describes all of us at times, doesn’t it? We none of us are as consistently good as we long to be. We find ourselves caring less for others than is good for them, and more for our own selfish wants than is good for us.

Isaiah goes on to say, “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” Now that’s a high standard. That’s like the perfect condition my computer should be in, but desperately needs some diagnostics and recovery before it can achieve. What does our recovery require?

“The fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure”, explains the ancient writer in the next chapter.

Yes, that’s what we need. The LORD is the source of true and good character leading to noble plans and deeds. Fearing Him is the only route to avoiding the hacking destruction of our own characters, to recovery from our temptation and tendency to speak folly, practice ungodliness, spread error, leave the hungry empty and withhold water from the thirsty.

“God, we want our lives to count. Our deepest core yearns to be productive and effective, to live noble lives. Help us, Father, to take note of your soul-warning words that alert us to error, to apply the key of fearing You to our lives that desperately need you. Help us submit to the sometimes difficult process of becoming noble, as You, Jesus, designed us to be.”

(Photo Credit: Richard Wheeler, Wikimedia Commons)