Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, 13

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

COMMENTARY

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity
As I contemplated what solutions the scriptures offer for the conundrum of cynicism, I had come to my mind the virtues of faith, hope and charity. And not only faith, hope, and charity towards God, but also towards His children. I will therefore be dedicating the next several posts to these topics, beginning with the matter of charity.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing
First of all I want to point out that charity is not just doing kind things to others. It is entirely possible to do one’s duty to their follow man and be wishing them ill the whole time. Consider the example we recently considered of Jonah, who preached to the people of Nineveh while hoping for their destruction.
As Paul suggests in this quoted verse, it doesn’t matter what you do towards the world if your heart has not been opened to charity. Charity is not about what you do, it is about why you do it.

Charity suffereth long, is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil
I often hear of charity in terms of how spouses, parents and children, and members at church should treat one another. But today let us consider how charity applies to our relationship with the very people we believe are destroying the world. How should we behave to the people we want to change more than any other? Well, take a look at the descriptors I have selected for charity in this verse: longsuffering, not seeking its own, not easily provoked, and thinking no evil. How would those qualities look when applied to those we find hardest to love?
Well, speaking for myself, the image of brotherly kindness and love brought to mind is entirely impossible so long as I view these “others” as “others.” To apply such a patient understanding to my enemies I must first find a way to relabel them as my friends.

The Epic Life- Romans 7:14-15, Acts 9:1, 4-6

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

COMMENTARY

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Yesterday I mentioned that we might be kept from our great life only by a decision that we are unwilling to make. I suggested that we come across an action that is essential for us to do, but which feels like it would break us to make.
I believe Paul’s words describe that situation very aptly. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” These sentiments apply both ways between our spirit and carnal natures. These sides of us are in constant conflict, despising the actions of the other, doing the things that the other forbids.
Saul had a life as a persecutor of saints. He hated the gospel of Jesus, he spent all of his energy to destroy it. But through it all he “kicked against the pricks,” wounding his spirit, denying the epic life that he was meant to live.
For him to live that great life would require him cross that fundamental divide and break the man he was. He must become the very thing he hated: a disciple of Jesus. Amazingly he did it, and Saul (the part that hated Jesus and would not follow him) had to die along the way. Saul ended, and now began the great and epic life of Paul.

Worthy Vessels- Acts 9:15, 1 Corinthians 1:28

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

COMMENTARY

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me
When Ananias protested going to bless Saul, God informed him that the man was a “chosen vessel,” and indeed one can see how Saul would be considered a powerful asset to God’s cause. He was intelligent, effective, and tireless in his pursuits, even if those pursuits were momentarily pointed in the wrong direction.
And yet the man that Ananias found in need of a blessing must have been a far cry from the self-powerful tyrant that he had been afraid of. For at this point Saul had had his preconceptions of God shattered, been rebuked by the true Lord, completely blinded, and left to wallow three days and three nights without either food or water. In short, God had broken the vessel that Saul once was, and the “chosen vessel” that he referred to, was going to be a new creature. One that would be called Paul.

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen
Paul himself later avowed that God did His work with the base and the despised, the humbled and the broken. He spoke of how the “foolishness” of God was greater than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1: 25). He knew this because he had been directly at the receiving end of it! While still wise in the ways of the world, he had been broken by the same Savior he had voraciously denied. And now he had thrown in his lot with those that he once considered “base and despised.”
In short, Saul, the brittle vessel could not have done anything for God, only Paul, the humbled clay could. It has been said that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He has no need for our power, only for our will.

Respect in Our Differences- Romans 14:2-3, 5, 14-15

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

COMMENTARY

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Any moral code is going to stipulate some actions as being worthy and others as unworthy. This is not only true of the moral codes within organized religion, even a rubric as vague as “what’s currently trending in society” still advocates for certain behaviors over others. Of course, different moral codes will disagree with one another as to which actions are worthy and which are not.
Proponents of these different moral beliefs often waste a lot of time arguing their points to those that do not even subscribe to the same tenets. Because each side values entirely different criteria, the vast majority of these debates are completely pointless, destined to generate aggravation, not understanding.
Why don’t we take Paul’s advice? Let us maintain the code we truly believe in, and let others do the same. We do not have to demand that everyone else agree with us, only that they be sincere in their own morals.

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Tolerating another’s beliefs is good, but we can also take it a step further. Paul points out that we can take special care to not step on that which is sacred to others. Even if we don’t agree with all of their restrictions, we can govern ourselves by them while in their presence.
One does not even need to be religious do this, only socially polite. Those with vices still often put their cigarette out around non-smokers, choose jokes that don’t offend any present demographic, and avoid swearing around children.
Paul isn’t trying to tell us to be disingenuous, he simply wants us to be courteous.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Galatians 1:10, 1 Kings 12:6, 8

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.

COMMENTARY

Or do I seek to please men?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him
We are social creatures, ones that crave the approval of our peers. Rehoboam preferred to be aligned with the men of his own age, and by that lost the kingdom of Israel. Paul suggested that if his desire was to please his peers, he would not be able to remain a servant of Christ.
I do believe that one of the greatest obstacles to letting go of our misconceptions is social. Most likely, if we are trying to accept a higher truth, we are close to others who still firmly believe the lower things that we once did. Those that drink socially have described how quitting the bottle was made all the more difficult by worrying what their friends might think of them.
True friends, of course, will still support one another in divergent beliefs. The things is, you’ll never know whether you have a true friend or not, until you see how they react to your boldly living a higher truth.

The Need for Refreshing- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

COMMENTARY

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus took bread, brake it, and said, Take, this is my body, this do in remembrance of me...
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he describes that he had “received of the Lord,” and what he had received he now passed on to them. And just what was it that he had received? The sacrament and the testament associated with it. What is interesting about this assertion is that Paul was not actually present when Jesus gave this sacrament. He was not a follower of Jesus at that time, nor would be until after Jesus’s death.
Now Paul did have a direct experience with the Savior though. He heard his voice and received a charge from him while traveling to Damascus. But this is not the experience Paul points to as having been his moment of “receiving the Lord.” He points instead to the formal sacrament ceremony, which ceremony he had evidently held among the saints in Corinth.

As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come
And they continued steadfastly in breaking of bread, and in prayers
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread
Nor did Paul share the sacrament with others only once. As we know, the pattern was to meet together often and break bread and drink wine, even on a weekly basis. And so it is a regularly reoccurring practice that Paul is pointing to as the roots of his discipleship.

This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
I have also had singular moments of spiritual intensity in my discipleship. But those brief, powerful moments do not encompass my entire life. Perhaps they were enough to keep me faithful in the moment that they occurred, but if they were all that I had, eventually the spiritual fervor would grow stale and I would stray.
What keeps me grounded through the years is regular, simple reaffirmations, such as are found in the sacrament. It would seem that Paul felt the same. That was the whole idea behind the sacrament, in fact. As Jesus gave it to his disciples, he specifically instructed that this was something to be done repeatedly, in order to maintain a continual remembrance of him.

Sacrifice and Consecration- Acts 9:1-2, 19-22

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

COMMENTARY

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ
Saul was a very committed, very motivated man. He seems to have been a being of great power and capability, and one that struck fear into the hearts of the saints. Indeed he had a gift, but he put it to a terrible use.
When Saul was converted, two changes occurred in him, and I think it is important to note the difference between those changes.
First, he no longer breathed out “threatening and slaughter.” Indeed, some of the most beautiful messages of love and peace come from the epistles he later wrote.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:2- If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13- And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


It would seem that Paul sacrificed, or forever gave up, all of his hate and violence. He did not, however, become some meek simpleton. He was still just as committed, motivated, and powerful. Therefore it would not be appropriate to say that he “sacrificed” his gifts and talents. What he did do, though, was channel them to a new purpose. He consecrated, or set apart, these skills for the building up of God’s kingdom.
Coming to God entails sacrifice and consecration. Our evil parts are given away, but the good parts are repurposed for something higher.

Finding Our Purpose- Acts 9:15, John 15:16

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

COMMENTARY

For he is a chosen vessel unto me
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you
Saul set out for Damascus with the express purpose of imprisoning the Saints. Who could have believed that he would instead be called to carry the Lord’s gospel to the Gentiles? Clearly neither Ananias nor Saul did, to them that notion seemed ridiculous. Yet that was exactly the purpose for which Saul was chosen.
Who could have assumed that a lowly fisherman would become the head of Christ’s church? And yet that was who was chosen.
The key factor in both of these examples is who was doing the choosing. Not Saul, not Ananias, not Peter, and not any other man. Only God.
If you are concerned because you do not know what purpose God has for you, do not worry. It isn’t some puzzle that you have to solve, and it isn’t a revelation that you have to disclose to yourself. Our purposes are given to us, they are something that only God can reveal. All you have to do is make yourself a willing receptacle for that.