Day 1

1 Corinthians 13:1-7a

V. 1-3 basically says that all the characteristics we typically see as indicators of spiritual maturity are not true Christian maturity in and of themselves. We can study to attain theological clarity; learn languages for the purpose of mission, or speak in tongues given by the Spirit; give sacrificially and generously to the poor and advancement of the gospel; suffer persecution on account of the gospel; have deep faith in God for things well outside of my control; or receive and share profound spiritual insights from God with others; and any of these things would appear to be clear signs of Christian maturity to most followers of Jesus.

And yet Paul says all of these things can seem real, or even be real at some level, and yet they do not represent progress in and of themselves. Giftedness does not equal maturity. The mark of Christian maturity is not the presence spiritual gifts, but the heart behind our stewardship of those gifts. We can grow proud and sinfully steward spiritual gifts. That's why the measure of Christian maturity is the heart behind our service to God... a heart of love for God, love for our brothers and sisters, love for our neighbors, and love for our enemies.

The gifts mentioned of course are useful to the Lord but they only honor and give life in as much as they are used to love and and build them up, rather than for the promotion of self or the feeding of the flesh. Any other use of spiritual gifts actually repels people and turns them away from our message and pushes them away from our influence.

This has enormous implications for how we evaluate our own lives and the lives of those we admire, respect and imitate. So here's something to think about on each of those before Paul defines love in tomorrow's passage.

Personally, are you using the gifts of God to you in order to build your own reputation or sense of identity, or are you using them as ways of loving and encouraging others?

Are you judging people on the surface level of giftedness, or seeing deeper to the heart behind their gifts? In other words, are you assuming things about others based on outward appearances or the heart?

Ultimately, is your evaluation of Christian maturity in you and others based on earthly perspective or heavenly perspectives?

Day 2

1 Corinthians 13:7b-13

Notice quite plainly that love is defined in relational terms. You cannot be loving and be alone or detached. Maybe this seems too obvious but it needs to be acknowledged: there is no such thing as a mature Christian loner. A Christian loner is by definition immature. Christian maturity compels us outward in our focus. To walk faithfully with Jesus we must walk faithfully in community. Our experience of the Spirit necessitates our engagement with people and relationships because that's what the heart of God is all about... People. If you can be gentle and peaceful and kind in the flesh pretty easily if you stay distant from people. But walking closely and deeply with other sinners in need of grace will reveal your lack of love clearly and provoke your dependence upon the Spirit necessarily.

This means we must open our heart, rearrange our lives, and inconvenience ourselves to share life with others in a real and meaningful way. Only then will we see our enormous need for God's patience, presence and power for every moment if we are to live in ways that truly glorify him and give life to others.

Is my life oriented around others enough to even my progress in loving well, or does my privacy and distance from others indicate my inherent lack of love?

What can I do this week to move toward deeper community where I can grow in love?

If I'm walking in community, based on the different characteristics of love listed, in which ones am I strong and in which ones am I weak? {maybe ask your closest friend to give their perspective}

Day 3

1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Paul is pretty clear. The aim of real Christianity is to grow in love. God pours out his Spirit to that end, that Jesus' love would be reflected in and through his body, the church. And one of the most effective and important means by which people are loved is through encouragement. The ministry of encouragement is to be a high priority in the church. And that's really what the gift of prophecy is intended to facilitate and accomplish. God's Spirit gives his people knowledge, understanding and insight into how we might speak words from the heart of God to the building up of God's people.

My experience of walking with Christians is that discouragement is always close at hand, threatening to hinder our progress in the Lord. So, we should seek God's face, and ask him to reveal his heart for others so that we might speak words of life and encouragement to strengthen and sustain our brothers and sisters. This should be something we desire, pursue, and expect as a normative means by which the church builds itself up in love.

The gift of tongues is real and present in the church and to be desired even, but because it builds up only the individual and not the body it is not carry the same value. Paul's overarching point is that what builds up the body as a whole is always more important and valuable than what builds up just me personally. The church is not to have an individualistic culture but a community and family culture, prioritizing the health of the body over the preferences of any individual.

Let's put this into practice today... Ask God to give you a desire and openness to prophecy is in this way. And ask him to give you a word of encouragement for someone in the church today or this week. And when he puts someone on your heart, ask for something specifically from God that would encourage them. Then, have the courage to share with them what God puts on your heart for them.

Day 4

1 Corinthians 14:6-13

So this is a particularly poignant passage considering I am in Burkina Faso right now, surrounded by people speaking French, Jula, Lobarie, and many other languages and dialects from varying people groups. I'm very in touch with listening to words of great depth and meaning and power in a language I can't understand is of no value to me. Paul is saying its the same thing with speaking in tongues when the church is together. It edifices the person speaking but apart from an interpretation, it does nothing for the people listening. In fact, it probably has a negative impact on them. They lose interest perhaps and get bored, or just think it strange.

These verses are really just reiterating what he's already said, that in our desire for spiritual gifts and the manifestation of the spirit in power, we must not desire those that appeal to our senses, or to using gifts to elevate our standing. Any aspiration for spiritual gifts motivated by self betrays the whole point of those gifts. Our desire must be oriented toward the building up the church and those we walk with in community. If our hearts are motivated to love and serve and encourage others, the Holy Spirit will be glad to use us as conduits to minister to others, for the glory of God, the comfort of people.

Confess your desires for spiritual experiences that purely selfishly motivated. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a heart to build up God's people, and ask him again today, how you can encourage a brother or sister. Walk through the exercise of yesterday. Let's practice the ministry of encouragement.

Day 5

1 Corinthians 14:14-25

This passage is getting into some heavily debated theological territory. But this is for devotional purposes so I don't want to get bogged down there. {If you are curious and want to understand some of the deeper things here, I'd be happy talk to you and/or steer you in the direction of helpful resources}. The biggest take away for me here is in v. 20, which says "do not be children in thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature."

Paul is urging us as believers not to settle for a diet of milk, when it comes to the word of God, but to get on a diet of meat. In this specific context, immaturity is attributed to those. In the church who are speaking in tongues when the church is gathered. Maturity is represented by the wisdom and discernment to know that the church is not built up, and unbelievers are not evangelized, by others speaking in tongues. Praying in tongues is for the benefit of the individual and not of the body. So to prioritize them when the body gathers is selfish and indulgent. It's childish.

Maturity values and prioritized what is beneficial to the body as a whole. Adults are to think about how they impact others. Children only think about themselves and their wants. The unity and maturity of the church is undermined by childish members. So when we come together, childish Christians are looking for an experience that builds them up while mature Christians are looking for how they can contribute to the building up of the body.

This consumeristic and individualistic mindset is deeply embedded in the American Church. So many Christians approach church as an infant and toddler, looking to have their needs met, while far fewer actually come with the dominant desire to build up others. Every church will and should have "infants" and others in immature stages of development, but we must also be moving toward maturity and allowing those who are mature to influence and set the example for the immature.

In what ways does your mindset or approach to church reflect "childishness"? How are you living as an infant or toddler spiritually, seeking your own needs rather than giving of yourself?

What is one step you can take to move toward maturity and adulthood, where you set aside your desires in order to serve and build up others?

Please share that with your spouse or a close friend so that someone else is praying for you and supporting you as you take more responsibility for your spiritual growth.