Rigid Spirits

Recently, in closing up a Bible study on 1 Corinthians, I spent some time studying 1 Cor 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” That is such a great verse. It’s loaded with imperatives; clear and concise instructions on how we are to live according to the grace we have received in the Lord Jesus Christ:

  • Be watchful – that is, be alert, watch for temptation, and do not let your guard down to sin
  • Stand firm in the faith – Do not waiver from the truth of the Gospel, hold fast to the doctrine taught in the word of God
  • Act like men – Be mature, not tossed about by your passions as young men are, but mature and ready to serve the Lord.
  • Be strong – Elsewhere, Paul speaks of being strong in the strength of the Lord – let the Lord be your strength and your power in moving forward.
  • Most of all, let all you do be done in love – Love balances everything else. 
    • Love keeps our watchfulness from becoming self-righteousness
    • Love keeps our steadfastness in the truth from becoming dogmatism
    • Love keeps our maturity from becoming brash arrogance
    • Love keeps our strength from becoming domineering.

This is what Burroughs calls for in his rebuke of Rigidness in the Christian life.  As Burroughs explores the Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, he turns his attention to the “rigid, harsh, sour, crabbed, rough-hewn spirits.” Rather than obeying the Scriptures which teach, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24), the Rigid spirit seeks its own pleasure, but is pleasing to no one else: “in their ways, they will [give up] nothing of their own, nor yield anything to others.”

This is the “my way or the highway” attitude. This is the person who, rather than consider the needs, preferences, or abilities of others, insist that all things be done his way or not at all. 

The Rigid spirit is convinced that his unmoving resilience flows from his strength, for he will make all things bend to his will. In reality, the Rigid individual is closer to death.  When does rigor fully set in? When are we completely unmoving? Only in death. 

“Men who are of austere spirits… think it to be the commendation of the strength of their spirits: no, that is but lightness, and weakness in men.”

“The strongest swords are not those which will not bend; but such as yield and bend with the most ease, and stand straight again.”

Those who are unmoving, fixed in their ways, and Rigid in their spirit will have a very difficult time fitting in to any fellowship of believers, let alone following after Jesus. 

In order for a craftsman to join two pieces of wood, “he must first plain them. Except our sprits be plained, they are unfit for joining.” Love is that great plain that smooths off our rough-hewn spirits and makes us pliable and ready for genuine, peaceful fellowship.  The love of God, demonstrated in Christ our Lord, who gave Himself for us, suffering on our behalf, putting our needs before His own in order to make us one with Him: this love transforms us. As we keep this love before us, we will consider first the needs of our neighbor before insisting upon our own preferences. 1 Corinthians 13:4 teaches, “Love does not insist upon its own way…” Oh how our fellowship and witness would be strengthened were we to put others before ourselves.

Grace and peace be with you. 

Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG