What would you say makes someone spiritual?
I was thinking about that the other day so I did what every thinking person in 2013 does when they want a quick answer to a difficult question - and asked Google.
And you should see some of the results. Being spiritual means anything from 'being in touch with nature' to 'loving oneself and others' to apparently, 'sitting on top of a mountain in your underwear'
But what would you say? What makes someone spiritual?
This morning's an exciting morning at HTG because, after we finished Acts last Sunday evening, for the second time in the space of a week we get to finish a book of the Bible. We've been in 1 Corinthians between April and June for 3 years, and over that time we've covered loads of ground. We've heard Paul lovingly reminding the Corinthians of the gospel, of the love God has shown them in Jesus and, at times he's been almost brutal, addressing all sorts of errors and problems. And this week we're in the last chapter.
Now, I have to confess to some difficulty this morning. Because after covering so much ground, after soaring through chapter 15 on Jesus' resurrection and the certainty of our resurrection, we suddenly come down to earth with a bit of a bump in chapter 16.
It's almost as if he finished the main part but there's a few bits and pieces left over.
But actually, if not on first glance, on second reading, this chapter has a huge amount going on. Because Paul's tying up a whole load of threads that have been running through the entire letter and applying them in practical ways. He's addressed divisions in the church - so he's going to exhort them to unity in giving and submitting to leadership. He's addressed pride - so he's going to talk about leaders who devote themselves to the service of the saints. He's rebuked them for their lack of love and forgetfulness of the gospel - so he's going to remind them to stand firm and do everything in love.
But there's one particular theme Paul's been addressing in the last few chapters that really shows up here. It started a few weeks ago in chapter 12 when Rod helped us hear Paul addressing the subject of spiritual gifts, or more literally 'spirituals'. The question there was: what makes someone truly spiritual? And Paul's answer was clear: chapter 12 verse 3: No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says "Jesus be cursed", and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
What makes someone truly spiritual? Submitting to Jesus as Lord.
And now in his last chapter Paul drives that home with amazing practicality. So the headline for this chapter is this: True Spirituality means giving Jesus access all areas. True Spirituality means giving Jesus access all areas.
And what I'm going to try and do is unlock this chapter via one verse before we see all the ways Paul applies this to us.
1. Give Jesus access all areas
Because there's one verse that really sticks out in this chapter. Did you spot it? It's as if Paul's adding post-scripts to the letter...
P.S. here's some instructions about money P.P.S. here's my itinerary. P.P.P.S get ready to welcome Timothy. P.P.P.P.S. make sure you submit to your leaders. P.P.P.P.P.S verse 22:
if anyone doesn't love the Lord - a curse be on him. Come O Lord!
Where did that come from? One second he's telling us his itinerary and talking about holy kisses and suddenly he throws this at us.
If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him.
It's pretty scary stuff. But what does he mean?
Well, literally he says: If anyone does not love the Lord let him be anathema.
Which isn't a word we use often, but it does get around. For example, a couple of seasons ago when they were briefly doing pretty well I remember a football pundit describing Newcastle's success as 'almost anathema' to Sunderland fans. It means something abhorrent. Sunderland fans want Newcastle separated from them as far as possible.
And when Paul uses the word it contains something of that idea of separation too. The other places he uses this word might help us. For example flick over the page to Galatians chapter 1. (Page 821) Paul's concerned the Galatians are falling for false teaching which isn't the true gospel and in verse 9 he says this:
...if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Literally: let him be anathema.
So its pretty clear isn't it? For Paul, anathema means to be eternally condemned. That is to be separated from God in any way except his eternal anger at sin.
So - back to 1 Corinthians 16: if anyone does not love the Lord, let him be eternally condemned
If it wasn't sounding scary before, it is now, right?
But again: what does Paul mean? Well the key's in the word: Lord. If anyone does not love the Lord... That's the Lord Jesus. So Paul's saying there's a real risk of being separated from God's favour if we don't love Jesus as Lord. Which Jesus himself tells us means to obey him. In other words to gladly embrace his lordship. Recognise him for the Lord he is and give all of ourselves over to him in joyful submission.
And the thing is, if we call ourselves Christians we read a verse like that and go 'ah well, that's not for me - that's for people who aren't Christians yet - it's a warning - they need to come to Jesus.' And if you're here and you're not a Christian please do hear the warning. But please also hear the next verse, 23:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
It's by grace, meaning it's utterly undeserved, but Jesus will accept you and reconcile you to God when you come to him as Lord.
But Paul isn't writing this letter primarily to people who know they're not Christians is he? No, this is to the church at Corinth, people who've stood up and pinned their colours to the mast. I mean, the clue's in the name: if you're a Christian you've given Jesus Christ lordship of your life. So he's saying: Love your Lord as your Lord.
You see for all of the problems that have run through this letter, all of the different errors Paul's had to address about division or factions or pride, or misunderstanding marriage and singleness or misusing the Lord's supper or spiritual gifts or lack of love, or denying the resurrection, there's been one common underlying problem: A failure of the Lord's people to submit to their Lord's Lordship.
So now Paul uses his final few words to jolt them out of any false security they have. It's as if he's saying: Look into your heart. Do you love the Lord? With all of it? Have you given him access as Lord to all of you?
But how do you know? That's where the next phrase is key v22 again:
if anyone doesn't love the Lord - a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
Because if you love Jesus as Lord, you can honestly join in with that prayer. In other words as you look to that day when Jesus will return you long for it. First, because Jesus is your Lord. If you love him, you to long to see him and long to be finally rid of the sin that's so offensive to him. And second, because Jesus is the Lord. If you love him, you long for the day when every knee will bow to him and every tongue confess his Lordship - because that's what he deserves. Yes, we want those who don't yet submit to Jesus to accept the salvation he offers before then, but at the same time if we genuinely recognise the hostility of the world in sin to the only Lord of it all, and we love him - we should long for the day he quashes that hostility once and for all.
So Paul is asking us: do you love the Lord? Have you genuinely given all him access all areas? Or are there areas of your life that you're quite happy keeping charge of? Perhaps things in the world you want to hang onto - your career, your money, your time, you family even - things you'd even miss when Jesus returns. And do you genuinely feel concern about the world's rejection of their rightful Lord? How often does that drive you to your knees to pray: come, O Lord?
Do you love the Lord?
But that question's all very well. It's great to be asking questions of our hearts, and stirring ourselves up to love him. But what does giving Jesus access all areas - loving him as Lord - actually look like?
For the short time that remains we're going to look to this chapter to get some answers to that question as Paul looks at 4 areas of our lives and hearts.
Area 1: Give Jesus access to your wallet, v1-4
Now about the collection for the Lord's people: do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
So, this starts with that phrase 'now about such and such' which has appeared each time Paul addressed one of their questions. This time it seems they want to get involved with Paul's project raising support for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
And as he gives them instructions the whole thing is laced with principles for giving with Jesus as Lord. First, giving is to be regular - not just on a whim when prompted as if he's only Lord when there's enough emotional hype or we're feeling guilty enough... In that culture pay was usually given weekly - which means Paul is basically saying: give as you earn. And second, giving is to come first. Notice he says on the first day of the week - which isn't just because it's Sunday. The point is they'd be paid on the last day of the week, so on their budget, giving to be the first item in the expenditure column. Not at the end of the week, totting up how much is left after they've paid the bills, been to the cinema, had a night out, bought a new phone or whatever. Giving first because Jesus is Lord - not any of that other stuff. And third, giving is to be generous. Each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income. The point is there's no specific figure. Give generously as you're able.
Which makes sense doesn't it? If you love the Lord who is Lord of your wallet you're going to want to give regularly, generously and make that the first thing you do with the money he's given you.
But there's one other principle here that we might miss if we don't look for it. Because it's worth asking: why is Paul bothering so much with this? When these problems are beginning in Jerusalem back in Acts 6, the apostles delegate the organising of relief to the poor so they can focus on preaching and prayer. Paul, almost more than any of them would be well within his rights to delegate so that his time's devoted to preaching too. But he spends time on this collection. Why? Because it's not just an ordinary collection. These are Gentile churches. Giving to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. This is a collection that confirms and proves the unity of the whole church. There's the Jewish believers looking on the Gentile church with not insignificant suspicion, and here's the Gentile church overflowing with generosity to them as their genuine brothers. This is giving that truly expresses the Lordship of Jesus uniting his people across any boundary you can think of.
So who's Lord over your wallet? Who gets access to your regular income – wherever it's from? More: if you get some unexpected income what's the first thing you think to do with it? Mortgage? Rent? Food? Stuff? Or giving to your Lord and his work? Giving Jesus access all areas means giving Jesus access to your wallet
Area 2: Give Jesus access to your plans v5-9
After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
So Paul wants the Corinthians to know he's planning to come and see them.
But did you notice how much he's in submission to Jesus? Everything is aimed at proclaiming Jesus' Lordship as widely as possible. That's clearest in verse 9. Why would he stay in Ephesus - a city that ends up in complete uproar, dragging him through the streets, wanting to kill him? Because a great door for effective work has opened. In other words, the gospel of Jesus' Lordship is being preached to loads of people, and loads of people are coming to Jesus as their Lord. And yet, even as he outlines his plans, all of them are qualified by those 4 words in verse 7: if the Lord permits. Paul submits everything to the will of his Lord.
So again, who's Lord over your plans, your ambitions? Do your hopes and plans involve proclaiming Jesus' Lordship? And when you make plans how tightly do you hang on to them? All too often we count Jesus out of our plans. I'm going to go to work there, live there, get married to them, have kids then… all the while forgetting that we don't call the shots. There's one Lord and all of your plans are yes…if the Lord permits. Giving Jesus access all areas means giving Jesus access to your plans.
Area 3: Give Jesus access to your ego v10-18
If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.
So we've heard time and again that there were parts of this church with snobbish views about teachers. They had to be flashy, charismatic. We're far too important to be taught by just anybody. So imagine how Timothy felt. If Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles could get a hard time, what's it going to be like for his young assistant? But the point is there in verse 10: he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. If he's carrying on the work of the Lord then of course those who hold Jesus as Lord will welcome him if they can get over their self-importance and truly hold Jesus as Lord.
And we too, if we're truly submitting to our Lord, will gladly accept those he sends us. Rather than sitting in judgement thinking 'they're not doing a good job of keeping me awake' or whatever, we'll work hard to accept them as fellow servants of our Lord.
And then comes Apollos. Verse 12:
Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity
There's that phrase again: 'Now about such and such'. So they've asked Paul to send Apollos to them. But cast your minds back about 3 years to chapter 1. Paul blasts the Corinthians for dividing over different teachers, so chapter 1 verse 12:
one of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.'
And now the Corinthians ask him for Apollos. What would you have done? Wouldn't you say something like: 'You want him – You ask him'? But not Paul. He urges Apollos to go. Because he knows that Jesus is Lord. They're not Apollos' church any more than they're Paul's church. They're Jesus' church. So chapter 3 Paul can say:
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.
I wonder if you've ever had this experience. Maybe you're the one in your home group who loves to serve. You make the drinks, you bring cake every week and when you're all done you do the washing up. And its really appreciated. But then someone new arrives and you find they make pretty good coffee and great cakes too. And it's really appreciated. So in your heart you're going 'hey, back off. This home group ain't big enough for the both of us. I'm the servant hearted one round here.' No. Jesus is Lord. We're not in this so that we can make a name for ourselves. We're here to know and love our Lord and make him known. He doesn't share it. Giving Jesus access all areas means giving Jesus access to your ego.
Area 4: Give Jesus access to our relationships v19-20
The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
The greetings we give one another say an awful lot about out relationships as Christians.
I mean, how often have you met someone new who's a Christian. Maybe at work or on holiday or something. On the outside you're warm enough. 'Hey that's great, me too...' But its a luke warm greeting because there's a little voice in the back of your head that goes: 'hmmm. say they're a Christian do they...how can I be sure. Gotta test them'. Then you're watching them, waiting to pounce on something they say - calling it heresy or something so you can get back to comfortably keeping them at arms length.
They say they're a Christian: they've pinned their colours to the mast. Jesus is Lord. Forget luke warm - follow Aquila and Priscilla and greet them warmly in the Lord.
And then with one another. How many times do we greet each other with a weak smile and a half hearted handshake whilst looking straight through them at the cakes?
I mean, imagine you saw a family with good relationships greeting one another that way. You'd think there was something wrong. Some major rift in their past. If we're both Christians we're both saying Jesus is Lord. Which means, as twee as it might sound, as cringeworthy as some of us find it (especially you blokes) we are genuinely family.
Now I'm not about to say we should be kissing everyone at church all the time. Imagine that in communion services. We always like to take a moment at this part of our service to kiss as many people as possible. No - like in parts of Europe a kiss was the cultural way of greeting a close friend or family member. But I am saying that as an expression of the warmth of our relationships with others who declare Jesus as their Lord, we should be greeting one another warmly. Giving Jesus access all areas means giving Jesus access to our relationships, however uncomfortable we find it to get close to one another.
So how is your love for the Lord working out? Do you genuinely love him as Lord? Are there areas of your life that you hold back and hold onto. Let go and cling to Jesus. Because true spirituality is only found in giving him access all areas.