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Encouraged to Grow

As Paul nears the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church, he gives a series of exhortations.  I think that we would do well to live by them.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.  Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

These five simple statements are the foundation for a growing walk with the Lord.  If we would make it a point to see these activated in our lives, we’d be a lot better off.

Be on your guard.  This literally means to stay awake.  I think that too many Christians are spiritually asleep in this generation.  What do I mean by this?

When you’re asleep, you’re unaware of what’s happening around you.  Spiritual sleep is the same.  There are Christians who are totally unaware of the spiritual aspects of their life.

They think that everything revolves around what they see in the natural.  It’s all about satisfying their wants and desires.  They never ask, “What’s God’s will for my life?”

I need to seek what God has destined me for.  Then, with His strength, I can start heading in that direction.  I want my spiritual eyes to be open.

Stand firm in the faith.  This simply means that once you know what God’s Word says, you don’t waver or move from believing it.

Believing means taking action.  If I believe something is true, then I’ll act on it.  If I believe that a chair is strong enough to hold me, then I’ll sit on it.  If I believe that God’s my Provider, then I’ll move forward in what He’s called me to do.

Be men of courage.  This is the second step of faith.  If I believe that something’s true, then I won’t be afraid to let people know that I believe it.  I think that all too often, courage is the missing ingredient in many of our lives.

We are a part of a culture that tells us that it’s offensive to believe in Jesus Christ as a Savior.  So in order to accommodate them, we keep silent.  At the same time, every other belief is allowed to take center stage.

We need to be vocal about what we believe, while at the same time being sensitive to walk in love.

Be strong.  This actually means to be strengthened.  We shouldn’t be stagnant in our spiritual growth.  There are things we can be doing to build ourselves up.

Prayer in the spirit, meditation on the Word, and fasting are just a few ways to become stronger.  Just like in the physical, we can’t neglect our spiritual health.  If we do, then the consequences could be devastating.

Do everything in love.  This is the one that ties everything else together.  Our lives should reflect the love of Christ in all that we do.

This is the agape-love.  It’s the non-emotional desire to treat others as if you like them, no matter how you actually feel about them.  And also, whether you know them or not.

This love is a choice that we make to walk like Jesus did.  Our love is what will draw people to the cross.  That should be the goal of all that we do.

Question: How well is each of these characteristics visible in your life?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Friendship with Christ

As Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthian church, he makes a number of concluding remarks.  Most of them are private greetings.

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.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
If anyone does not love the Lord — a curse be on him.  Come, O Lord!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.  Amen.
1 Corinthians 16:19-24

As I read through these statements, there’s one that grabs my attention.  Is Paul really pronouncing a curse on someone?  What’s that all about?

It’s important that we understand what the apostle is saying here.  To start with, the love that he’s speaking about is not the normal word, agape, that’s usually translated as such.

Paul uses a word that speaks of the emotional feelings of affection that two friends have toward one another.  He’s talking about being a friend of Christ.

As believers, we should have a deeper level of love for Christ than just a choice to love Him.  There should be an emotional component as well.  Just thinking of all He’s done for us should cause us to desire to be with Jesus.

This goes right along with something that James said.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
James 4:4

In this verse, James uses the same word that Paul used.  It’s an emotional desire for friendship.

We know that the Lord wants to be your friend.  But what He reveals about Himself is that you can’t be both His friend and the world’s friend.

Understand – you can have friends in the world.  But the Spirit of God doesn’t want you to be a friend of the world system.  We can’t be chasing after the same things that the world does.

What is Paul trying to tell us by cursing someone who befriends the world system?  Actually, he doesn’t use the normal word for a curse.

He uses the Greek word, anathema.  In that society, this word meant a religious ban.  Paul is talking about someone who claims to be a Christian, yet shows no emotional attachment to Christ.  In other words, if you know someone like that, then don’t hang around with them.

You don’t want to have an intimate friendship with someone who doesn’t have an affection for Christ.  A love for the world will rub off on you.  Your walk with the Lord will suffer for it.

We need to be wise in our choice of intimate relationships.  They’ll affect our devotion to Christ – either for good or bad.

Don’t just choose to love Christ.  Cultivate an emotional friendship with Him as well.

Question: What does friendship with Christ look like in your life?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2019 in Fellowship, Relationships, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Power of Love

We’re continuing to look at Paul’s view of the spiritual gifts.  He’s explaining them to the church in Corinth.  The apostle was trying to straighten out some of their foolishness.

For the last few posts, we saw that the Gifts of the Spirit are useless without walking in love.  That’s the most important ingredient in any ministry.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1

We’re told here, that of the three most important concepts in Scripture – faith, hope, and love – the greatest is love.  Paul then tells us to pursue love.  In order to do that effectively, we need to walk in the spiritual gifts.

It literally says to be passionate about the things of the spirit.  We should especially desire to show love by speaking a Word on behalf of God.  That’s what prophecy is.  God is love and if you speak His Word, then love will be evident.

In order to understand First Corinthians, chapter 14, we need to keep it in its context.  Paul is writing to a church where everyone’s doing their own thing.  All they care about is their own wants and desires.  Love for others doesn’t enter into their thoughts.

He wants them to use their gifts to bless others.  That’s the context of his next statement.

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.  Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
1 Corinthians 14:2-3

There are those who look at these verses, and the ones that follow, and conclude that the gift of tongues is bad and prophecy is good.  That’s not what Paul is trying to get across to this church.  That’s why I talked about the context.

The apostle wants us to see that in the church setting, love needs to be the major component.  Prayer in tongues has a definite purpose.  I use it to build myself up.  That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t directly show love to others.

So if I come to church and all I do is pray in the spirit, then I’m not loving others.  Instead, I’m being self-centric.

In the church, there needs to be an evident communication of God’s love.  Prophecy is a great gift for showing God’s love.  God’s Word can be a powerful encouragement to those around us.

In the church, I have a choice.  I can major on making sure that I’m blessed.  That’s what the Corinthian Christians were doing and Paul wasn’t happy with them.

My other option is to go to church with a desire to bless others.  Through the gift of prophecy, I can speak a word of strength, encouragement, and comfort.  I believe that’s what “being the church” is all about.

And in reality, I’ve found that when I want to bless others, God finds a way to bless me in the process.  There’s a mutual encouragement in the body of Christ.

Be passionate about spiritual gifts.  And seek to show the love of God in all that you do.

Question: How were you positively affected by someone operating in their spiritual gift?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Fellowship, Ministry, The Church

 

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Love and the Gifts

We’re continuing our study of love in First Corinthians, chapter 13.  Paul is now going to compare its lasting effects to that of some spiritual gifts.

Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:8

This is a verse that has sparked a lot of debate over the years.  There are those who point to it and say that the Gifts of the Spirit had an expiration date.  They conclude that these gifts ceased to operate after the original 12 apostles died.

I don’t think that’s what Paul is trying to say.  He’s teaching us a more excellent way of walking in the gifts.  Love is a factor that brings greater results.

He starts by saying that love never fails.  This means that the effects of love are enduring.  An act of love will continue to touch someone’s life long after the event has passed.  With that in mind, look at some of the other gifts.

Paul says that prophecies will cease.  That word, cease, means to be rendered useless or idle.  It does NOT mean that people will stop prophesying.

The prophecies themselves are only temporary.  Once they’ve been fulfilled, they have no more purpose.  That’s because a prophecy will always point to something.  And once the focus of the prophecy arrives, we begin a new chapter.

He goes on to say that tongues will be stilled.  Again, this verse does NOT say that the gift of tongues will no longer be available.  The word, stilled, means to be paused or restrained.

This tells me that the gift of tongues will be paused or put on hold.  It also means that those who operate in this gift would be physically or legalistically retrained from using it.  A look at church history will prove the truth of this interpretation.

Finally, the apostle says that knowledge will pass away.  It’s actually the same Greek word he used when he said that prophecies would cease.  It simply means that the usefulness of the knowledge given will come to an end.

Why is Paul telling us all this?  Because he wants to take our supernatural gifts to a higher level.

The Gifts of the Spirit, all by themselves, are only temporary events.  People won’t remember that I gave a prophecy on a certain date in the past.  But they will remember if the prophecy was used to show love to them.

Prophecy, tongues, and word of knowledge – they all give temporary benefits.  But if they’re used to show love to others in a tangible way, they have a lasting effect.

The Corinthian church was boasting in their ability to “flow in the anointing.”  They had all the gifts evident in their meetings.  Unfortunately, it was all for show – “Look what I can do!”

They left out the most important ingredient – love for one another.  There were factions and divisions.  The poor within their congregation was being publically shamed.  Love was noticeably absent.

We need to learn their lesson.  Having a move of God with the Gifts of the Spirit is an awesome thing.  But we can’t leave out love for our brothers and sisters.

It’s not an either/or proposition.  We need both the Gifts of the Spirit and love if we’re going to minister as Christ did.

Question: How have you experienced the Gifts of the Spirit operated in love?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Love Defined

In my last post, we saw that ministry without love, no matter how powerful, is not up to God’s standards.  Love must play a major role in all that we do.

But do we really understand what love is?  People have so many ideas.  Let’s see what God has to say.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Think about what this verse says – patient, kind, not rude, and not easily angered.  Are there any times during which we have a better chance of doing this – times when it feels more natural?

Of course, it’s when we’re around people that we like; when we’re with our friends.  I was first able to grasp this concept while reading the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

Remember, this type of love carries with it no emotional attachment.  It’s purely based on decision and will.  True love cannot be based on emotion, it must be my choice.

I find that it’s easiest for me to treat people I like in this way.  Sometimes I choose to treat them correctly even if I don’t feel like it, simply because I like them.  This brings us to the definition of love that I first heard from C.S. Lewis.

The way of love is to treat people as if you like them – whether you do or not.  Also, I would add, whether you know them or not and whether you’re in their presence or not.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I Corinthians 13:7

This is the atmosphere that should surround a ministry of excellence.  When you’re ministering to people, all these aspects should be evident in your work.  Too often, we’re guilty of loving our ministry more than the people we’re called to perfect.  This verse tells us that we’re to always protect, trust in, hope for and persevere for THE PEOPLE.

The ministry is a good thing.  But it’s still a thing.  Things can never be more important than people.  Excellence will never develop in an atmosphere where you love what you’re doing to the extent that you don’t care for the people.

You’re not their Lord, Jesus is.  Your ministry is never more important than God’s plan for their individual lives.  If you’re walking in excellence, in the way of love, you’ll be able to balance the two.

Love for people must start with your family.  Too many Christians think that it’s noble to give up their family for “God’s work.”

I even heard a guest minister once prove how devoted he was to the ministry by saying that his children were not walking with the Lord.  It was a sacrifice he had to make for the ministry.  I never let him preach at our church again.  God has never accepted child sacrifice.  The Bible is clear that ministry begins at home.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

It’s clear from the life of Christ (and we probably don’t want to hear it) that the way of love sees everyone as our friends.  Jesus even laid down His life for those who were His sworn enemies.

If so, then He included the whole race of mankind into His list of “friends.”  We cannot use this verse for an excuse not to love.  Christ’s example stops us from doing this.

He laid down His life for the Pharisee and the Atheist, as well as the disciples.  When you walk in the love of Christ, you exhibit the same evidence of love that He did.

Question: What is the evidence of the love that can be seen in your life and ministry?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

<Note – This post was an excerpt from my book, Breaking Free from the Pack – How to Develop a Spirit of Excellence available on Amazon>

 

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Useless Without Love

How do you rate churches or ministries?  What criteria do you use in determining their impact or effectiveness?  Let’s see what the Scripture uses as a standard.

In my last post, the Apostle Paul introduced what he called a more excellent way of ministry.  That brings us to First Corinthians, chapter 13 – the Love Chapter.

The word used for love, is the Greek word, agape.  This word is very significant.

Agape-love has no emotion attached to its definition.  It’s purely an act of your will.  It’s a choice that you make in how you treat others.

We know that Jesus Christ, Himself, commanded us to love each other.  If it were based upon feelings, then He could never make such a request.

Keep this in mind as we go through this chapter over the next few posts.  It’s up to you how you choose to treat people.  You’ll either walk in love or choose to follow the leading of your flesh.

The first thing we see in this chapter, are three things that human religion would point to as excellence in ministry.  Unfortunately, they’re not what God’s rating system includes.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1

The first area is that of your preaching and teaching ministry.  What if I had the command of every language on earth?  I could preach the Gospel anywhere I wanted to.

I could stand before thousands and proclaim Christ.  I could be God’s messenger to the world.  After all, that’s what the word, angel, means (messenger).

According to this verse, without love, I’m not ministering.  I’m simply making a noise that gets people’s attention.

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 13:2

What about the flow of supernatural power.  Certainly, that would mean my ministry is on track with God’s plan.  Not necessarily.

Signs, wonders, and miracles are things that we point to as indicators of success.

“Look at my ministry.  The miracles are proof that I’m in the center of God’s will.  Send me your offering.”

We think the supernatural move of God is an indication that we’re someone special.  On the contrary, it only proves that we serve a great God.  Paul makes it clear that no matter how many miracles in my ministry, without love I’m a nobody in God’s kingdom.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3

The third area is one we’d probably never think of.  Self-sacrifice for others.

The word for flames is actually the Greek word, glory.  In other words, I use up every ounce of my physical strength for the benefit of others.

We sometimes think that we’ll give to the poor because God wants us to.  Or maybe because we see it as sowing seeds for God’s blessing.

The problem is that if I don’t give out of love…a desire to see the recipient blessed by my giving, then I’ve gained nothing.  There’s no profit, physically or spiritually.

Love is the determining factor in how God rates a ministry.  Keep that in mind as you work for the Lord.

Question: How can you tell if love plays a role in what you do for Christ?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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Knowledge vs. Love

In my last post, I concluded the section of First Corinthians that dealt with romantic relationships.  Now the Apostle Paul is starting a new subject.

The Corinthian church had sent him a letter asking whether or not they could eat meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple.  You may think that this doesn’t apply to us, but I assure you, it does.  You’ll find out why as we go through chapter 8 of Paul’s letter.

In his society, the people of his day would look for any advantage they could get.  They would seek the blessing of an idol so they would bring an animal for sacrifice to the pagan temple.  Usually, they would bring their very best for this purpose.

The pagan priests who ran the temples would then take this meat from the sacrificed animals and sell it in the market to raise money for their support.  Because of its source, it was usually the best meat available.  So the question of whether a Christian could purchase this meat was a valid one.

How would this apply to us?  The problem of Paul’s day was that there was no Old Testament Scripture that directly talked about this issue.  So there were some believers who said it was a sin while others thought it was perfectly fine.

There are issues that we deal with in the church today that are like that.  Things that the Bible doesn’t mention, yet we have opinions about.  We ask are they sin or not.  I’m talking about things like dancing, drinking alcohol, going to a casino, getting a tattoo, or playing the lottery.

We need to hear Paul’s answer if we’re to walk correctly before God.  He starts by laying down some important principles.

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3

It all starts with our knowledge and love.  In all cases love trumps knowledge.  That’s because with knowledge comes pride.  We think that we’re somehow better than others because we possess more knowledge than them.

That’s not the case.  Knowledge is like air.  You can blow up a balloon, but there’s no substance to it.  In our society, people will spend years of their lives accumulating knowledge in universities.  They think that somehow they’re more valuable because of it.  In reality, the more love you possess, the better a person you become.

This is especially true when you think that you know something completely.  Paul is trying to get across to us that you can never know everything about a particular subject – especially when it deals with your walk with God.

Paul says that the man who loves God is known by God.  That phrase literally says that the one who loves God is known under God.  That tells me that the more you love God, the more you submit yourself under His control.

The more you love the Lord, the more people begin to see your submission to Him.  Then, your love for others will begin to increase.  The more you love, the more valuable you are to God and His kingdom.  It has no relationship to how much knowledge you possess.

Make it your goal to live a life of love, then you’ll be able to use your knowledge for the benefit of others.

Question: How have you seen the effect of knowledge bringing pride with it?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2019 in Fellowship, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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