We began this Reigniting Hope series ten weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been wrestling with how to stoke the flames of hope within us while there is so much in the world, our families, and even our own hearts that rises up to extinguish the hope we desire.
Together, we’ve been learning how faith, hope, and love are gifts meant to become our sources, fuel, anchors, and outcome. And now, we’re ready to receive another key element to reigniting hope – oneness.
This week we turn our eyes back to Paul, back to the beginning of our series when we read his Love Chapter to discover that faith, hope, and love are the three gifts that remain (1 Corinthians 13:13). Only this time we’ll unpack the context of this foundational statement in order to understand that faith, hope, and love – by their very existence as a trio of graces – demonstrate to us the necessity of sticking together as believers of Jesus.
Context, Context, Context
Paul packed his letter to the Corinthians with exhortations to help them realign with Christ rather than the world’s ways because the church had so much coming against them, especially from within.
Specifically, their conflict over spiritual gifts divided them. And, the way they dismissed one another based on their imagined hierarchy of giftings was extinguishing the work of the Spirit in them and through them.
Paul employed the ‘body’ metaphor to emphasize that every gift matters so that the parts could function as a whole. He wrote many words explaining how gifts are designed to work – as a unifying, edifying package that blesses everyone in the church.
By the end of what we know as chapter twelve, Paul’s list of gifts, though not exhaustive, drives home his point that there is not one gift that is meant to be elevated over the others.
Then, he abruptly ends with, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts” (v.31a).
If we don’t keep reading-on into chapter thirteen, we might think Paul has contradicted himself. But, as we continue, we hear more of the same language. He teaches how annoying and useless we become if we use our gift of tongues without love (13:1). Or how gifts are worthless unless they are shared in love (v.2). The descriptions, the lists continue as Paul comes back to his point that there are greater gifts. They’re ‘greater’ because they are for the greater good; they keep our motives pure; and they go with us into eternity.
By the time we get to the familiar line, these three remain, we hit our foreheads with understanding. Oh! The ‘greater gifts’ (12:31) are faith, hope, and love (13:13).
As simple as Paul’s words are for us, they’re also profoundly important to our walk with Christ. Faith, hope, and love should always be what we seek – above and beyond what’s comfortable or habitual or just plain ol’ preferred.
- Because when we move through our days faced with turmoil and challenges and frustration, FAITH in the Lord helps us trust Him and keeps us drawing near to Him.
- Because when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and are tempted to withdraw out of self-preservation, LOVE from the Lord sustains us and moves out toward others.
- Because when the engulfing flames of cynicism and despair surround us, HOPE in Christ strengthens us and helps us to keep moving forward despite what we see and feel.
No matter the size of the fires of trauma or doubt or regret or shame or fear, faith and hope and love remain. Always and forever, these three remain.
And, they knit us together into one body.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians shows up again in his letter to the Ephesians, albeit in a more condensed way:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”Ephesians 4:2-6*
Because we know the Corinthians’ context, our ears pick up on a similar situation for the Ephesians. They, too, face division within the ranks. Whatever the source of this church’s conflict, the message is the same. Bear with one another in love. Keep the unity of the Spirit.
Paul goes on saying that there is one body – one Spirit – one Lord. One hope. One faith.
If we’re honest, we can admit we need the same message in our Christian gatherings and churches today. This message of oneness needs to be played on repeat. Without it, we get off track – our human tendencies takeover even though God calls us to a higher way of walking through the world.
Recognizing that these messages of unity in the body of Christ are universal, it’s wise for us to acknowledge the threats that come against such oneness. Within each of us are toxins like pride, fear, envy, greed, shame (fill in your blank) that will consume us – individually and collectively – if we don’t keep them doused by God’s Spirit and Word.1
Hope will not survive unless we obediently step into God’s presence and allow His grace to cover everything that comes against the goodness He desires to do in us and through us.
And, y’all – this isn’t a one and done type thing. The language of following Jesus as a journey is appropriate because each and every day we need to be intentional to fall in behind Him on the narrow road, surrendering our self-preservation tendencies for His Way and laying down our plans for His.
The dailiness of walking in God’s sanctifying grace is the only way to come against the threats to our unity, to give our trio of Christian graces space to do their work in us, and to fan the flames of hope back to life.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians and Ephesians find their origin in Jesus’ prayer, in His final moments alone with His disciples. Praying aloud, He asks God for His believers to “be one” just as He and His Father “are one” (John 17:21). He prays that believers would be “in us” and “one as we are one” (v.21). Jesus seeks to be in us just as God is in Him so that we would be brought to complete unity (vv.22-23).
His parting words to His followers and to us are not about how to preach or how to interpret Scripture or even how to evangelize. It’s a prayer for unity in the body of Christ.
Why? Because it’s so stinkin’ important. In another conversation, Jesus talks about how a house divided cannot stand (Matthew 12:25). We can apply the same logic here. Friends, if we continue to live as a gathering of believers that only knows conflict, we’ve built our house on sand (Matthew 7:26-27). And we won’t remain standing.
Rather than putting our focus on ‘being right’ about the style of worship that’s ‘most holy’ or the kind of baptism that’s best or the spiritual gift that’s most prominent (fill in your blank), we should be fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Because when our minds are set on Him, those greater gifts can knit us together. They can make us one.
Oneness is a bond. Like the threads in Ecclesiastes,2 we are sturdier and more secure when two are together. And when we bring in a third strand, we’re stronger yet – especially if that third strand is the Lord.
When I was a 20-something leader of a women’s group, the spiritual mothers around me continually prayed for ‘Trinity unity’ within our homes, our group, and our church. At first, this language was foreign to me, yet my spirit resonated with it. I felt the truth of it. And over the years, I’ve come to see how perfectly unified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. No jealousy rages among them. No pride prohibits plans. No insecurity gives way to temptation. The Three who are most whole and holy work seamlessly together.
They become our model for what it looks like to live in the unity Jesus desires for us. They illustrate the truth of strength when bonded together by Spirit and Word.1 Friends, we will never be strong enough to stand against the lies, temptations, and accusations of the enemy when we’re alone. Which is why the enemy would love nothing more than to isolate us. Like a prowling lion, he knows that it’s much easier to pick us off one-by-one when we we’re the stragglers at the back of the pack. He knows that the best way to destroy the mission of Christ is to divide the Church.
Friends, our hope will only burn brighter and hotter when we are one with other believers and Christ.
So, here’s to taking the narrow road. Here’s to choosing the three that remain. Here’s to being brave enough to lay down pride and fear and shame so that we can be part of the body of Christ as He intended it – because we’re stronger together!
Heavenly Father, thank You for sending your Son, the Word, and your Spirit. Their presence in our lives is invaluable. Their truths are impenetrable. Their holiness is pure enough to withstand anything we could bring into our relationship with You. Thank You for creating each of us to be in y’all’s image so that we can live out the Trinity unity that You all exhibit every moment of every day, showing us the power of being one with each other just as You are one with one another. Lord Jesus, we’re so grateful for the prayer You spoke over us so long ago. Thank You for inspiring Paul to put in writing all the exhortations of living in unity as your Body. They help us see where we’ve taken a step or two off the narrow road, allowing secondary and tertiary things come between us, to distract us, and to cause us to fall. We want to stand with You at the center of all that we are. Holy Spirit, lead us into full repentance individually for all the ways we’ve separated ourselves from holy community. Lead us into repentance corporately for all the ways we’ve allowed conflict and hurt and disappointment to weaken us as your Church. We long to be brought into complete unity so that we might stand strong together in faith, hope, and love – so that we might actually become the salt and light of Christ in the world. Show us what threatens to divide us. Reveal to us what keeps us from coming together. And seal us in Trinity unity for the good of God’s kingdom. In Jesus’ name.
(inspired by Ephesians 1:13; John 16:13; Psalm 119:160; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Genesis 1:26; John 17:21-23; 1 Corinthians 12-13; Ephesians 4:2-6; Matthew 7:13-14, 26-27; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Romans 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Matthew 5:13-14)
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- *if you read the rest of Ephesians 4, you hear more about spiritual gifts
- 1 – This week JD Walt had some great words to say about how the Spirit and Word work together, Jesus “is the Word made flesh and on him the Spirit dwells without measure. That’s why we say the core value of the kingdom of Jesus is the ministry of the Word and Spirit.” He goes on — “Jesus of Nazareth, the risen and ascended Lord, is present to us by the power of Word and Spirit. …As we walk in this way we have two primary responsibilities: 1. Be responsive to what the Word of God has revealed. 2. Be responsive to what the Holy Spirit is revealing.” The entire post is awesome, and if you’ve never listened to JD as he shares the Wake Up Call, well, you might wanna try. 😉
- 2 – Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
- Our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist is one of our longer playlists — mainly because this happens to be a rather long series. LOL. But also because there’s just so much to be discovered about these amazing three gifts that remain. A lot of these songs are packed with Scripture, and all of them convey truths to support everything we’ve been learning. So, how much MORE will we take in all this goodness than to sing along to music that pours out God’s message to us in a way we’ll remember!
- On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
- Rhythms — Our rhythm this fall, stillness, has a deceptively easy ring to it. “Ah, get still. I can do that,” we say. That is, until we realize just how hard it is to actually make time to do so everyday. That is, until we discover the difficulty of getting our minds to stop spinning. That is, until we admit that getting still with our emotions and thoughts in the presence of God scares us. It’s why we must practice. We start small and build ourselves up — a little everyday. We TRUST that God’s got us. That He loves us. That He wants only good for us. All that helps us put to rest the fears holding us back. When we give space for the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, we finally get to see how good it is for us to get still — we figure out there’s nothing to actually fear. We experience the truth that faith, hope, and love are GIFTS. And they remain, just as we remain in Christ. So. Let’s get still before the Lord! XOXO
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!