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God loves Martin Luther King Jr. and Miley Cyrus the same (August 20, 2023)

Tara W. Bulger looks at 1 Corinthians 4 — how to deal with disagreements and the merciful equality of God's love.

Outlook Standard Lesson for August 20, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Corinthians 4:1-6, 17-21

After the apostle Paul founds the church in Corinth, he leaves to spread the gospel again. In the time that follows, the Corinthian church experiences turmoil over many issues: allegiances to different preachers and a host of moral, social and theological differences. Basically, the problems in the church boil down to how the faithful treat one another and to what standard they must be held.

These are problems any current church might find in its congregation. How do we treat one another while worshiping with others who may have different views than our own? To what standard must we and others be held? This passage from 1 Corinthians offers us guidance on these issues for today.

The trouble and solution in Corinth

Paul begins this passage by reminding the faithful that they are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries (v. 1). A steward is usually an enslaved person or freedman entrusted with the day-to-day affairs of the owner’s estate. The very well-being of the owner’s household is reliant upon the steward’s good work. In the same way, Paul reminds the church that the gospel relies upon their good work. Dissension in the church can diminish the spread of Christianity.

Not only that, but it is God who judges humanity, not other humans (v. 4). Therefore, the judgment of others is to be left to God, for God knows what is hidden and what is in the heart (v. 5).

Paul also encourages the church not to go beyond what is written (v. 6). This reminds the faithful to stick to what God has shown in Scripture and not to require more of each other than God requires. Paul points out that many in the community have become arrogant, judging one another and demanding more than even God does.

The point Paul is making is clear: if God alone judges and we are to be faithful to the teachings of Christ alone, it should foster a new kind of attitude. Instead of being concerned about others’ actions and behaviors, we should leave their judgment to God and approach one another with humility. We must not operate out of arrogance or a sense of self-importance but rather by the knowledge that God alone determines a person’s worth and sin.

A revelation

In the same way that God judges each person, God loves each person. Maybe you can think of a person who challenges you, whom you are sure is not the person you think they should be? Does it change your perspective to realize that only God alone can judge them?

When my oldest daughter was around eight years old, she first learned about the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She also happened to be, at the time, a Miley Cyrus fan because of her show Hannah Montana. One day, while driving in the car, my daughter said, “Mom, do you think God loves all people equally?” I said, “Yes.”

There was silence in the back seat.

Then she said, “Are you sure? That God loves everyone the same, no matter what?” A note of incredulity had crept into her voice. I said, “Yes.”

More silence from the back seat.

Then she said, “Do you mean to tell me that God loves Dr. King as much as God loves Miley Cyrus?! After all Dr. King did for the world?!” She sounded outraged at the prospect. I simply said, “Yes.”

A longer silence from the back seat. And then my daughter said, “Well, that’s good news for Miley.”

It’s good news for us all. God, working through Christ, has reconciled us all to God’s self and calls us all beloved. We are relieved of the burden of having to judge others and called instead to love as Christ did — just like the words of Scripture tell us. Paul knows that the many disputes in the church in Corinth can be remedied if only the faithful would approach one another with a sense of humility and love.

The same teaching holds true for the church today. Whether it is a “purple” church whose political differences make it difficult for people to get along or just the day-to-day struggles of living with other humans, a sense of humility and a reliance on the words of scripture is a helpful and healthy guide. May our churches, and the faithful, be united always in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Who is someone that challenges you? That you find yourself often judging?
  2. Imagine that person as God’s beloved child, whom only God can judge. How does that change your outlook on the person?
  3. Are there factions or discord in your church community? Pray for humility in all your interactions with them.

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