Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
– Romans 12:9-18
The church at Corinth was one with problems. It was a congregation of differences and disputes, each group, no doubt, thinking they knew best. Each member of every faction within the group thinking they were the ones in the right. Time and again in this letter, Paul comes back to the idea of thinking we know. These problems build up to chapters 12-14 and their focus on self in their spiritual gifts.
Some members at Corinth feel superior to others because of the gifts they possess. By I Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells the group to let love be their guide after he carefully explains what love entails in chapter 13. Romans 14:19 expresses this idea as pursuing or seeking love. In this, Paul places an emphasis in exhortation. He defines what it means to be spiritual, and he makes a connection between love and unity.
Edification & Exhortation
Do we make edification a goal of our spirituality? Notice I Corinthians 14. Numerous times in this chapter, Paul writes of edification. In context, this congregation has individuals who wish to interrupt worship to demonstrate their own spiritual gifts, but Paul warns against setting our brothers and sisters at naught in amplifying self. Applying this to ourselves, do we place our preferences, our desires, our opinions ahead of the needs of our brothers and sisters?
We all have favorite topics of study; we have favorite songs to lift up before God; we have speakers with whom we connect better than others. We will never have unanimous, synonymous, and equal edification in every service. We have to be able to yield to our brethren, recognizing some things edify my brothers and sisters more than myself.
Returning to Romans 14:19, let us earnestly pursue peace and edification in our spiritual lives. Romans 15:2 and Ephesians 4:29 also remind us on the priority we should be giving to one another. So long as we are making the edification, the exhortation, and the consolation of one another our goal, then we will be likewise edified.
In I Corinthians 14:37, Paul writes that we should pay attention to what he is writing if we think ourselves spiritual. Again, this in the context of elevating self and imposing self on worshipping God. Do we know what it means to be spiritual? Is it simply having been baptized? Is it observing the Lord’s Supper? Is it the ability to lead in worship? Do we look at our own contributions to our congregations to define our level of spirituality.
I Corinthians 10:1-5 uses our spiritual forerunners as examples, having been baptized in the cloud and sea, having drunk from a spiritual rock. God, however, was not pleased with them despite these evidences of spirituality. Hebrews 6 speaks of those who consider themselves spiritual but have fallen away from enlightenment.
It is not the outward that brings us closer to God. Rather, it is what comes from inside; it is the meaning behind our worship. True spirituality is seen in our devotion to God and our devotion to one another. John 4:24 calls for spiritual worship rooted in truth. In I Peter 2:5 calls us to offer spiritual sacrifices, and Hebrews 13:15-16 calls helping one another pleasing sacrifice to God. Finally, Hebrews 6:9-10 calls on us to work love toward one another, working toward salvation in that.
Love & Unity
We sometimes treat I Corinthians 13 as if it stands alone from the rest of the book, but it comes in the middle of this discussion on unity and edification in the face of a splintering congregation. Ephesians 4:1-4, Colossians 3:13-14, Philippians 2:1-5, John 13:34-35 – these and more tell us to work for unity in love, being patient with one another. Paul illustrates this in I Corinthians 12, comparing the numerous members of the physical body with the diversity found in the body of Christ.
Just as a human body is united in its efforts to care for every part, so too should we care for each other. We may not perceive ourselves as important as other members, but Paul makes it clear we are all essential. We are all needed, and we should all be unified in our work for the Lord. We may not have unanimity, but we can have unity. Remember Psalm 133, describing the beauty of brotherly love and unity, comparing it to that first consecration of God’s priesthood and to the water that starts as dew on a mountain that will flow into rivers and lakes below.
We are perhaps more similar to the church at Corinth than we are willing to admit. We can grow closer in unity, though, if we can focus on unity in love, developing a true sense of spirituality, and prioritizing our brothers and sisters over ourselves. We can be a whole body by placing self aside, de-emphasizing our own desires and opinions, and by lifting each other up to the Lord as we work together toward Heaven.
lesson by Tim Smelser