Friday, October 25, 2019

What Does it Mean to Be "Spiritual?"

What does it mean to be "spiritual" but not "religious"?  Most people I talk to usually mean that they do not attend a religious institution and do not get bogged down in biblical dogma.  They have little if any focus on religious rules, command, practices, or principles found in scripture.  But is it possible to truly be spiritual without being religious?

It seems to me that if the Bible is God's word, then we need to refer to the Bible to tell us what it means to be spiritual.  After all, the scriptures were written by those who were "moved by the Spirit" to communicate God's word accurately and with authority (2 Pet 1:20-21). 

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is one passage that describes true spirituality.  Read it carefully, and note the following about spirituality:

1) Spirituality brings godly wisdom not the wisdom of the world:   "…a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away" (1 Cor 2:6).  The theme of wisdom is actually introduced in chapter one, where it says, "Where is the wise man?  Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?   Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20).  In applying it to today, we could add, Where is the college professor?  Where is the celebrity?  Where is the politician?  Where is the news anchor?  Etc.  Our wisdom does not come from the world because we are " in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God" (1 Cor 1:29).  Jesus is our wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world.

2) Spirituality is knowing God's thoughts, what he loves, what he hates, and what his will is:  "Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God" (1 Cor 2:11-12).  One cannot be "spiritual" unless you know God.  This means knowing God, and not some caricature of God one may make up in his mind, which amounts to idolatry.

3) Spirituality is communicated with words from the mind of God:   "…which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Cor 2:13).  This is why it is absolutely necessary to have the word of God in order to grow in spirituality.

4) Spirituality is what enables us to understand God's will as wisdom, and to see the world's way for what it is:  "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things" (1 Cor 2:14-15).  Worldly wisdom and Godly Wisdom are an eternity apart.  To be spiritual means to apply God's wisdom in every circumstance.

After 1 Corinthians 1 introduces godly wisdom as a major theme, chapter 2 explicitly connects this wisdom to the Spirit.  Spirituality and godly wisdom go hand in hand.

Using this as a template to understand everything else in 1 Corinthians, it becomes evident that 1 Corinthians is a book about being "spiritual."  For each topic in 1 Corinthians, it is helpful to compare the "spiritual" way of thinking about and dealing with it to the "worldly way of thinking about and dealing with it." 

Here are some examples: 

In chapter 3, a spiritual person is humble and recognizes that he is one of many partners in doing the work of God.  The credit and recognition goes ultimately to God who causes the growth and was the one who laid the foundation.  Unspiritual godly wisdom would see personal ambition that calls attention to personal accomplishments as a good and worthy thing.  However, it will not withstand the test because the foundation would be on the teacher rather than on Christ.

In chapter 5, a spiritual person understands God's view on sin and how ongoing sin not only devastates a relationship with God.  He will not only mourn the sin, but take steps to motivate the brother to repent and keep the sin from spreading to others.  Unspiritual godly wisdom would pride itself on being enlightened rather than archaic and backwards.  It would brag about tolerance and acceptance.  However, the end result of this would be eternal condemnation not only for the one brother, but possibly others to whom the sin might spread.

In chapter 6, a spiritual person recognizes that Christians are the ones with godly wisdom that can help with a dispute between himself and a brother.  He will avoid going to worldly courts to try and arbitrate because they are of the world.  If it cannot be resolved with his brother, he will simply swallow the loss and move on. However, unspiritual worldly wisdom would say to take your brother to court, call a news conference, and fight for what is yours.  The former would seem like foolishness to the world, but to us it is a demonstration of the wisdom of God.

Spirituality according to the Bible looks very different than what many people call "spirituality."  That self-made religion amounts to idolatry.  Spirituality can only grow through regular meditation on the word of God with faithfulness and humility.  This creates the environment in the heart for the Spirit to lead and transform us into a true "spiritual" person.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Want Justice

I still remember years ago, when I was a student at Harding University, someone submitted a prayer request for our preaching student chapel.  I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that they were praying for justice to be done.  Carl Mitchell, who was the Dean of the College of Bible and Religion added, "I let's also remember to pray for the perpetrator, that he can find redemption as well."  That really struck a nerve.  Everyone wanted justice, which may have bordered on a desire for revenge.  Dr. Mitchell's addition to the prayer request brought us back to the sobering reality of the cross.  The cross is a place of grace, redemption, and forgiveness. 

I was reminded of that once again when I listened to the victim impact statement of Brandt Jean yesterday.  His older brother, Botham Jean, was shot by Amber Guyger, an off duty police officer who mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking it was hers.  Thinking Botham to be an intruder, she shot him dead.  This case became a lightning rod for the racial tensions in this country since the officer is white and the victim is black.  People across the country were crying out for justice for Jean.  Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.  News crews had their cameras on emotional crowds in the hall who were yelling that ten years was not justice at all.

Brandt Jean, Botham's younger brother, gave a surprising victim's impact statement at the end of the trial.  Instead of focusing on the crime or on his now deceased brother, he focused on forgiveness.  He told Guyger things like, "I love you as a person," "I don't wish anything bad on you," and "I forgive you."  He also stated that "I want the best for you, because I know that's exactly what Botham would want you to do, and the best would be give your life to Christ."  After he was finished, he requested permission to hug her. 

According to the Christian Chronicle, the mood in the building was transformed after this.  The commotion and the yelling stopped.  A lot of the media stories focused on the hug, and even on the offer of forgiveness, but either downplayed or omitted the talk of God and accepting Christ.  Instead of crying out for justice or even vengeance, Brandt, who is a Christ follower like his older brother Botham was, offered forgiveness and reconciliation.  Allison Jean, their mother, later said in an interview, "Botham loved humanity.  He was a forgiving person. And What Brandt demonstrated yesterday is what I believe Botham would have done.  To be honest, when I saw Brandt up there and what he was saying, I really felt Botham's presence in the room.  I really think Brandt was heavily influenced by his older brother and did just what he felt Botham would have done."

It occurs to me that his is part of what it means to be the salt of the earth.  What an effect he had on that room!  Our prayer should be that God continue to use us as the salt of the earth in this way.

This is also demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation, which has the message, "Be reconciled to God."  I have been reading this passage again and reflecting on how I saw this in action:

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:16-21).