Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saxophones, 5 inch Floppies, and Training Wheels - 1 Corinthains 13:8-12 (Week 5)

by JM
I’ve sat down with a number of couples facing significant relational stress in their marriages. Often the man and/or women have invested considerable time, money, and energy in something regarded as important: usually, but not exclusively, a job or education. It can easily be a passion or a calling different from career: ministry or marionette making. Such endeavors are sometimes met with degrees, certifications, awards, or something like this. Now of course, these things are quite important for living a fulfilled life, yet as the counseling session soon reveals, these things occupy too much importance. Imagine with me such a session.

“So Bob,” I say “you have a degree in engineering?” “Yep.” Bob responds. I continue, “I bet that means you’ve read a ton of books on the topic?” “More than I wanted to” he sighs. I retort, “But probably no less than you needed.” “You’re right” he says, “in fact, periodically I’ll take night courses to keep up with the industry.” “Bob, I imagine you’re good at what you do?” Bob, with half-suppressed but glaring pride says, “Well, I consider my job my calling.”
At this point, the conversation takes a revealing turn.

“So Bob, how many books have you read on marriage?” Silence………. “They make books on that,” Bob says with inappropriate humor trying to alleviate the painful, glaring, and undeniable reality to which he was oblivious to up to the question. I prod. “You haven’t answered the question: how many books?” He turns to his wife and asks with desperation, “Honey, didn’t we read a book by John Dobson; you know that Families in Focus ministry, right before we got married? You know the one, ‘Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus.’”

Now, certainly Bob would have admitted that his wife is far much more important than the job, and at some level we might even believe him. But he’s certainly not convincing his wife nor the counselor trying to repair years of dysfunction.

This little illustration isn’t a spring board for a discussion on marriage, but on all things that matter in life, including marriage. In keeping with Paul’s overall thought in 1 Corinthians. 13, I want to address the following problem: There are certain matters in life which are very important, but not most important. Due to some flaw in our vision, we gravitate towards elevating very important matters as most important matters, and most important matters as of lesser importance. In addressing this problem, I’m going to import the temporally important matters of life (e.g., car, credit, career, clout, comfort) into Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in chapter 13. To illustrate Paul’s thought, I will use a Saxophone, a 5 inch Floppy Disk, and Training Wheels.


During a fundraising event at our church, one of our members donated a saxophone to be displayed and bid on in an auction. This seemed to be an ordinary saxophone: it produces sounds when you exhale into it in a certain way; it has knobs which when operated properly provide soul-stirring notes; it came with a case to be used, as it appeared to have been use before - for travel purposes. But when someone purchased it and brought it home for use, something wasn’t right. They tried and they tried to produce sound, but to no avail. It then became apparent to the new owner that there was an obstruction in the saxophone. They placed their hand into the instrument and pulled out a bag of marijuana. One can only image the reaction at this point: “I don’t think that this was in the bidding description at the church?” Of course, it wasn’t. In the exoneration of our altruistic member who donated the sax, it was from a time long ago when he knew not Christ. Nevertheless, it was no longer a secret that the saxophone was used a bit differently than it was designed to be used.

Paul says this in verses 8-13

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
If I may paraphrase the thought, Paul is saying

“One day you will shed your gifts. When they are removed, what will remain? Sure, they are on display now, and what they do is obvious. Oh, certainly, it appeared that your prophecies, tongues, and teaching were all meant to sound a glorious tune for God’s fame and love for neighbor. But not so fast, Oh Corinthians, you might have fallen into the trap of elevating the very important function of your gift above their most important function and God-designed intention: loving God and others. Are you blowing your own horn? Are you inhaling when you should be exhaling? What’s at the core of your instrument?”
Or take ones’ car, career, credit, clout - the important things of life: a person may keep telling others that all these important matters are pursued out of love and devotion to others, family, church, or God. “The reason I work so hard is for you…for them..for...” That’s the appearance; that’s the claim; that’s the supposed function of our lifes’ activities. But when these things are shed, will love remain, or self-love? Paul says that one day one’s motives will be revealed – will it be elating, or embarrassing?

5 Inch Floppy Disks

I imagine a man who had the inside scoop on the cutting edge technology of floppy disks. I also image that such a man might have believed this invention to be one which will have enduring affect and place in all future technology. “The Floppy disk is the wheel of the 20th century.” Of course, he invests heart and money into the budding technology, and when the 80s rolled around, all hopes and aspirations were confirmed beyond his wildest imaginations. “The plane, the wheel, the 5 inch Floppy disk!” was his cry of joy. By the early 90s, we find him mourning. You see, the burgeoning information technology roared passed the unsophisticated and clumsy floppy disk. One can no more retrofit the floppy to the new and ever-changing technology than one can retrofit a covered wagon with hydraulic breaks. The wagon, as well as the floppy, must be scrapped.

Here was his mistake. Certainly the man should have invested in the floppy, but he should have also positioned himself for long term success by putting his attention in the technology under girding the floppy. Put differently, he failed to see the difference between the temporary floppy-disk wave of technology, and the oceanic reservoir that would toss up other waves like CDs, Flash drives, and the like.

In addressing the church, Paul says,

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
Spiritual gifts, or those temporally important matters of life have a shelf-life; they are designed to become obsolete. Their present glimmer and shine makes one think that they will endure, yet as quickly as are born, they will die. “The world is passing away… (1 John 2:17). Love, on the other hand, is eternal. As such, I must discern the difference between the transient waves of love (be it prophecy, knowledge, or some human endeavor), and the oceanic reservoir of love that fuels every wave that rises and falls. If I master love, I’ll be prepared for whatever expression that God establishes in time or eternity. If I master temporary expressions or shells of love, and not the love itself, I’ll be ill-equipped for new and heavenly dimensions awaiting.

Training Wheels

My 4 year old daughter is under the delusion that she has mastered bike riding because she has training wheels. It’s the exact opposite. The fact that she has training wheels is powerful evidence that she has accomplished anything but mastery in bike riding. Because of her delusion, she attempts to handle her bike in ways unfit for bikes with training wheels. We all know that training wheels help, but they can easily harm. She’s safe so long as she rides slow and avoids dips into driveways, but as soon as she reaches a certain speed or drops into a drive way, the occasions are ripe for serious injury.

We all know that a little age will clear up her misperceptions of her bike-riding ability. Right about nine years of age, she’ll see her childish ways - her misplaced pride in training wheels - as well as her ‘mastery’ of bike-riding, and then shed the training wheels and truly experience the joy of the sport.

1 Corinthians 13:11 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Paul relates this chapter to a group of people who believe that they had mastered the Christian life because of their possession and use of spiritual gifts. Paul saw the absurdity of that view. The fact that the spiritual gifts were in operation was clear proof that they had not arrived. The fact that prophecy is in operation shows that we know very little of what we need to know. The fact that knowledge and tongues are in use shows that we only see faint glimpses of glory and perfection. Spiritual gifts are crutches, or training wheels for people who aren’t even remotely ready for glory. If we boast in the gifts, we glory in our deficiency.

Spiritual gifts are to love what training wheels are to a bike. One day we will shed the gifts. When that day comes, did we take advantage of the training wheels to learn some rudiments of love? Or will we have missed the lesson altogether to our embarrassment.

Let’s use the important matters in life as an application. How many people are under the delusion that if they get these things in life in place (e.g. cash, credit, car, career, comfort, clout) and are managing them well, then they have arrived? The fact that one would boast in such an accomplishment discloses the childish overestimation of earthly things. Success is rooted in how well we do in taking the important matters of life and wielding them in service of the most important matters of life: loving God and others. Life and its blessings are meant to hang on these two things:

Matthew 22:35-40 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."