Faith, Hope & Love
Simple answers to complex questions are not a sign of a mature faith. The most brilliant mind in Christian history said that as his faith matured, he understood that his understanding was partial and incomplete. In dealing with all the tensions and complex questions in the Kingdom, we are left with three tools: faith, hope and love.
How do you deal with difficult situations and complex questions in the Christian faith? Through this message series we have explored several tensions we experience in the Kingdom, like the already & not yet of the Kingdom and the tension we experience in the church about how we can be both our unique selves, yet united into one church family. Throughout our lives, we may experience the tensions these topics bring, and I realise that a quick 30 minute message is not going to solve that.
There are several ways you can deal with a tension. Again, we experience tension when there are two opposing forces or ideas, that pull us like a tug-of-war.
Think for example of the tension in the already & not yet of the Kingdom. How can this be? Something cannot be already here and not yet here at the same time.
When my wife texts me: “are you on your way home?” I can either respond yes, or no. Texting back, I’m already there, but haven’t left yet, would surely initiate a phone call with a request to explain what the heck I’m saying.
These tensions, or paradoxes, are always subjective. The one may experience the tension between in the world, but not of the world as heavier and more difficult than the other.
There are several ways we tend to deal with a tension like this:
Downplaying the tension by taking the sharp edges off
In the Unique & United tension, this would result in a unity-sausage approach where everyone has to look the same in order to have some sort of idea unity.
Leaving the tension as is convinced they are irreconcilable. In the already & not yet tension, this would result in a “I don’t know, let’s just see what happens. All we can pray is for God’s will be done” type of approach.
This is a 50/50 approach where you switch from one side to the other of the paradox.
In the Prayer & Action tension, this would result in sometimes only choosing prayer, and sometimes only choosing action, whatever feels right in the situation.
Refusing to struggle through the tension by a seemingly relaxed approach.
With the IN the world, not OF the world tension, this could result in an approach like: “I’m just doing my best, that’s all you can do right? The Bible isn’t very clear anyway.”
This is fully choosing one side over the other.
In the already & not yet tension, this would result in the idea that if you don’t get healed from your disease, even after prayer, it’s due to a lack of faith.
In the unique & united tension, this could result in the idea that as soon as Christians come together, they lose their uniqueness. You are better off serving Christ in isolation, the rest just slows you down.
The thing is; these are all ways that actually avoid engaging with the tension. Each of these approaches are signs of an immature faith.
And so, what we have been doing in this sermon series, is not serving you the answers on a silver platter, but giving you some tools to help you identify and acknowledge the tensions and navigate through them.
I think that, what we need to realize is, that our faith matures as we struggle. Having simple answers to difficult questions is not a sign of mature faith. Our faith matures as we struggle through some of these tensions, and get an inner conviction about how we should deal with them.
Having simple answers to difficult questions is not a sign of mature faith. Our faith matures as we struggle.
Mature faith understands which tensions consist of absolute opponents; Truth vs. Lie, Life vs. Death and Good vs. Evil
These tensions do require a black-and-white approach – but they are not paradoxes. They are not two sides of the same coin. Mature faith is able to identify these absolute opponents.
Mature faith is able to deal with the tension of seemingly opponent concepts like: Truth & Grace, Prayer & Action; Unique & United; Already & Not Yet, IN the world & not OF the world.
Mature faith is able to reconcile them, not by escaping or denying the tension, but by navigating through it.
We’re going to talk through the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians today, starting in verse 4, because there are some tools in her to help us do this.
1 Corinthians 13:4-10 (NLT)
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
First of all, I love how this passage makes love the bottom-line of all Christian action and speaking. Love. Even when you disagree on how to approach a certain tension, then disagree in love. Even when you are convinced that you are right and the other is wrong – there is a loving way to do this, and there is a boastful, rude and irritable way to do this.
More on love later.
Let’s focus first on these last few verses, marked by these words: Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete...
Acknowledging that your understanding is incomplete is essential when you navigate through these tensions. You need to get comfortable with the fact that you do not have the full answer and that you don’t see the complete picture.
Scripture helps us to deal with difficult concepts and situations, prophecy reveals part of the mysteries of God and can be incredibly helpful to get deeper insight. And so, with God’s help, we learn to navigate through these tensions.
Yet, these are things that we all have to do personally. We cannot impose what we’ve discovered on anyone.We can give good and sound advice. Yes. But my main advice would always be to struggle through the tension yourself, Scripture in hand, because that is when your faith actually matures.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (NLT)
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Isn’t it interesting to see that, apparently, Paul’s own testimony of his development from a childish faith to a mature faith, results in him saying: “I see things imperfectly”.
The most brilliant mind and one of the highest authorities in the Christian world says: it’s like a foggy mirror.
Mirrors in that day were not as clear as mirrors today. Mirrors only gave an imperfect reflection.
Part of your faith maturing is that you acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. Some complex things are actually supposed to be complex. You can’t dumb them down to a simple answer. However much we’d like to escape or simplify the tensions, maturing faith acknowledges that these tensions are actually created by God. He had a purpose with them.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
This is the clear instruction that Paul leaves us with as we navigate through these difficult concepts: faith, hope, love.
Let’s unfold how these three can help us.
Faith - integrate
Faith helps us to believe something for the simple fact that God says it is so.
Through faith we worship a God that is one in being, yet exists in three persons. Through faith, we understand the Jesus described in the Gospels as fully God and fully human. We believe that we are saved, that we are being saved and that we will be saved. We believe that God is in heaven, and lives inside of us. Through faith, we know that the Kingdom is already here, but not yet here – all at the same time.
Through faith we believe what our minds can't comprehend and what our words can't explain, for the simple fact that God says it is so.
All of these things go far beyond what we can grasp with our minds or explain with our words. And any attempt to give words to it, we know, is incomplete and partial. We are talking about divine mysteries here. Sometimes the Bible is like a puzzle, and we have to put the pieces together.
Faith helps us to trust, beyond our own understanding. And so, faith helps us to acknowledge the tensions and see them as integrated.
In faith, we know that we are accepted by God just as we are. And in faith, we know that the same grace through which we are accepted, is empowering and enabling us from now on to live a different life from now on.
Through faith, you know that God’s silence does not mean His absence. He is with you, even if you don’t feel it.
Through faith, you crawl out of your little shell and initiate a God-conversation with a colleague, not because your life is so much more together than his, but because you both are traveling through a desert, and you have found some water!
Through faith you understand that, when you miss something in the church community you are part of, God is not calling you away from it to find it somewhere else, but He is calling you to engage to contribute the very thing He has been putting on your heart.
Through faith, you know that not all hope is lost when someone is not healed of a terminal disease, but you know that our hope is based in the resurrection of Jesus, giving us eternal life, not in the resurrection of Lazarus.
Through faith, we understand that we can only start navigating through some tensions when we fully depend on God’s guidance through His Holy Spirit, and that we cannot rely on our own wisdom and insight.
Hope – anticipate
When something happens that shakes your faith, hope carries you through.
Hebrews 6 describes hope as an ‘anchor for the soul’. When the storm comes, and your faith is tossed from left to right through the waves of disappointment, embarrassment, spiritual drought, fear and anxiety – our hope in God functions as a lifeline.
This hope is not just a hope for immediate deliverance. Of course, when we are going through trials, we look to God and pray for a solution. And sometimes the solution is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that God is near. Sometimes, He supernaturally intervenes to deliver you.
Yet, ultimately, our hope in God is for His complete restoration of this earth. Our hope is based in the promise that He will make everything right. That He will judge the wicked and deliver the righteous.
Hope acknowledges both the pain of the here and now, and the complete restoration of the future. This hope is not a wishful thinking, like you hope that your favorite football team wins. This is a hope that is based in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the promises of God.
Love – participate
Last but not least, is love.
Love is our basic attitude. Loving God. Loving people.
When you don’t know what to do anymore, choose to love.
True love is about giving away. Love is about serving. Love is not about me, it’s about you. And so, through love, God calls us to participate in all these tensions.
When you don't know what to do; choose love.
Through love we both pray for others and serve them.
Through love, we accept others the way they are, and in love, encourage them to follow after Jesus. Lovingly we engage with the world, blessing people whenever we can, knowing that our Lord also wasn’t of this world, but was sent into the world because of God’s love.
You see, we are plugged into an unending source of love. Love doesn’t run out when you give it away. It multiplies. Love is not like a battery that only endures for so long, we are plugged in to the love of God. And as we are receiving this love, our mission is to send it through to others.