read 1 Corinthians 16. How can we go through each day without feeling grumpy? We know grumpy is bad for our health. It’s poison for our relationships. It’s bad for our self-esteem. It hinders our work. And yet we can do everything within our control – we can eat healthy food; sleep eight hours; love the best we can; exercise; pray; read our Bibles; share our failings with trustworthy friends who will pray for us – and yet we can still find ourselves suffering from an acute case of grumpy-itis. What’s up with that? And how can a seemingly “random” chapter like 1 Cor. 16 help?
At first glance, 1 Cor. 16 comes across as just a tidying up of loose ends at the end of a long letter. It seems irrelevant to our daily struggles. Paul dispenses sound bites of advice on a variety of topics. And yet if we look at the underlying assumptions beneath Paul’s advice, we find a tension running through the chapter that explains the tension in our own lives and points to the solution.
On the one hand, Paul’s here implies that all humans can be pretty lame. His advice on collecting and transporting money implies humans are greedy, poor planners, lacking in self-control, adept at making excuses for not being generous, can be outright thieves and are generally untrustworthy. Next, Paul says to stand up to abusers: “don’t let anyone treat Timothy with contempt.” The assumption here is that even the so-called Christians WILL treat a fellow believer with contempt, and that others will stand by passively. Next, Paul tells the believers to “submit” to their leaders and to “show appreciation” for them. Again, the implication is that the believers will shower leaders with criticism, rebellion and forget to be thankful. Lastly, Paul issues a slew of aphorisms: Be on guard! Stand firm in the faith! Be courageous! Be strong! Do everything in love! Paul’s words imply that every human is in danger of not doing these things. We can all, at any moment, slip away from the faith; slip into degenerate behavior; be cowardly; be weak; and make some choices not out of love but out of hate.
So if believers can be full of greed, sloppiness, stealth, rationalizations, theft, contempt, weakness, rebellion, thanklessness and hate, why be a believer? What’s the point? Frankly, we believers can fall into the even WORSE sin of self-righteousness. We can start to think we’re better than those non-believers just because we know God. But that kind of superiority complex is based on false pride. It means we’ve forgotten the basis of our belief. It means we’ve forgotten what Paul spells out at the end of the letter:
We are all under a curse.
No wonder we’re grumpy.
So what’s the curse? The curse is that we are born wanting to be “God” ourselves. We are born without faith. We are born thinking we can be masters of our own destiny. We are born not wanting to obey the One who created us. We want to decide what’s right and wrong for others, and for ourselves, and we think others should treat us better than we treat them. In other words, we are born doomed to spending eternity without God, because we don’t want to spend even a second of our lifetime submitting to Him.
One day, we can realize our blindness and need of God and cry out to Him. When that happens, we can become born again. Jesus died on the cross to forgive and redeem our sins, and by asking for forgiveness we can become believers. Any of us at any moment can do this. And it changes everything. The Holy Spirit WILL fill us. The Spirit of God is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. We experience those things. They feel supernatural forces, feelings and beings flow through us. They are supernatural. They’re the coolest thing we’ve ever felt. We KNOW God is real. We see Him, taste Him, touch Him and love Him.
But even then, even as believers, we still wake up with part of us thinking we’re still “under” that old curse. We wake up wanting to please ourselves. We wake up and wipe only the sleep from our eyes but not the pride from our hearts. We wake up thinking about what WE want and need and feeling outraged that no one has yet provided it. We think we’re waking up, but truly we’ve fallen asleep all over again.
For here is the second strain of this chapter, its notes rising up like a song from the other words. Unlike us, God never steals. God always plans ahead. God never treats us with contempt. God always gives strength. God always appreciates us. God always encourages us. God does everything in love. God is all the things we are not. THAT is what a Christian has invited to live inside of herself. We have the Spirit of God within us, the Holy Spirit. It’s the antidote to the curse.
That’s when the grumpiness lifts. It never lifts from our own efforts. We can do nothing to save ourselves. No matter how long we’ve believed in God, we’re like babies all over again when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit. We’re forgetters. We need fresh outpourings of the Spirit, just as every flower on earth needs constant rain and food. No matter how hard we TRY to be filled with love all on our own, we will fail. In fact, we’ll feel worse, because we’ll know we’ve done our best and experienced in a bitter and existential way that our best is never enough. But the wonderful thing is that the place of our failure is where we can find victory. There, in the grumpiness itself, we will find our joy. Take that, grumpiness. You can have no victory over us. For our strength, hope and joy lies in Jesus and Him alone.
Our grumpiness, like all our other faults and negative feelings, can be a door. Paul here talks of God opening a “door of opportunity” for him in Ephesus even though “many oppose” him.
God opens those same doors of opportunity in our faults for us to access His grace. Our ability to access God’s love is always open, no matter how much opposition is thrown at us from our own weak flesh and from the prince of darkness known as the devil. Those forces of evil can and will always try to throw grumpiness in our faces. But when we feel that grumpiness hitting us like a bucketful of cold water, instead of resisting it with rage – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME WHY DO I FEEL SO ROTTEN I’M SUPPOSED TO BE HAP HAP HAPPY ALL THE TIME SO SOMEONE ELSE MUST BE AT FAULT OR MAYBE IT’S ME AND EITHER WAY I’VE HAD IT – we can submit to it. We can melt under the force of it. We are all the Wicked Witch of the West, and the forces of evil that assault us from within and without, serve only to melt us down to the needy puddles we all are. As humans, we can cry out to the living God three of the most powerful words known to mankind:
PLEASE HELP ME!
And He will.
Why? Because God is NEVER grumpy.
Posted on December 12, 2013, a day I woke grumpy for no reason at all, and wrote myself back into joy by remembering all that God is, and all that I’m not. Amen to that.