Going back over my archives, I was reminded of an article from Milk & Honey: the Marks of a Spiritual Man by Bob Gesner. I remembered posting it (with permission) while planning t to interact with it.
Essentially the article highlights seven marks of a spiritual man: (1) hunger for God’s word; (2) dependency through prayer; (3) humility and obedience; (4) compassion for the lost; (5) longsuffering and forgiveness; (6) love towards the unlovely; (7) endurance and faithfulness. These seven marks are supported by various passages and are predicated on looking a certain way.
A hunger for God’s word is evidenced by daily devotions on God’s word. Putting away desires of the natural man evidences a spirit of humility and obedience. An overwhelming concern for the lost (like being moved in the spirit or weeping like Christ) is evidence.
Now, it’s great to encourage someone to read the Word and meditate on it—the Bible itself illustrates this in say Psalm 119, for instance. Unfortunately, I think the list winds up giving us a bunch of requirements that we all fall short of and, ultimately, can cause lost hope if we don’t cheat our way to attaining it. I find myself in agreement with the article where it says “most of us must conclude that there is much to be done in our spiritual life” but then don’t feel like I should be aiming to do anything. After all, I can’t.
Gesner agrees when he states that the spiritual man is quietly growing and maturing in Christ with no attempts to self-improvement.
And there’s now dissonance within me.
I look at myself and find that I don’t see this whole quiet growing in maturity. I find myself struggling. Sweating. Fighting. Gritting my teeth. Not because Christ’s bond isn’t easy (it is) but rather because I know myself. I totally identify with Romans 7 (Article one and two).
And then, when I see a list of rules like this, I find myself knowing (wrongly) that I can be spiritual just by doing these things. I’ll read my Bible every day and think about it, and I’m finally a better Christian than you. I neglect everything around me to give out tracts or something and I find myself a better Christian than you.
I am then “Spiritual”.
An all too common abuse of the Spiritual. I can almost hear the most obnoxious group in Corinth, the ones who thought themselves as The Most Spiritual, puffing up their chests and saying “We’re not of Paul or Peter: we are of Christ!” and Paul immediately snapping when they speak up. Martin Luther is so right: The Law is for the proud and the Gospel for the brokenhearted.
Which is why I love 1 Corinthians 12-14.
English Bibles open the section saying something like “concerning spiritual gifts”. But that’s not what Paul says.
Obviously the question they were asking in Corinth was about the spiritual gifts, lest Paul wouldn’t spend the rest of the three chapters talking about them. But Corinth didn’t have a problem with having Spiritual Gifts. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that they do not lack any of them.
But that couldn’t have been the extent of the question in light of the sharp divisions in the assembly and Paul’s constant complaint about those who thought themselves spiritual and even not being able to speak to them as spiritual at all (1 Cor 3:1).
Don Carson points out that it would seem to be a double-edged question: one group, say the Spiritual Group, asking “Are spiritual gifts the mark of the Spiritual?” and another group asking a similar question as a complaint. So when Paul answers “regarding The Spiritual” it happily covers a nice range: from the gifts to those who are The Spiritual.
Which has direct bearing on these sorts of lists.
I see my confession of “Christ is Lord” in the first few verses and happily note that I didn’t do that alone: God’s Spirit made it possible. No struggling in the A.M to read the Bible. No rejection of everything natural with unwavering focus on the invisible: God worked.
I see that my abilities (be they weak or not) are on a spectrum which is all God given. And by here I don’t mean a gradating spectrum where some people’s gifts are more and more useless; rather I mean that God himself is giving gifts for specific purposes to individuals for the sake of the body. Sure there should be an aiming at doing better and more effective things, but that’s not the best.
The best, says Paul, is love. God’s grace lavished in us in love now reflected in us loving. He paints what it looks like and then quickly bolsters us by pointing out that we’re not there yet and won’t be there until when that is Perfect finally comes.
Love always remains.
That tells me something. This whole hunting for actions that The Spiritual Do is of a secondary importance. Paul spoke in tongues, which in Corinth was surely a Mark of the Spiritual, but he didn’t give two figs about it. He would rather speak five intelligible words for the edification of all than speak 10,000 words as a mark of a Spiritual.
So mess up. Grit your teeth. Struggle with the jealousies in you. If you’re anything like me, you’re a screwed up and messy person. But look to the freeing hope found in God’s Gospel that interrupted our lives with extravagant grace and love. Reflect that love to others, even when you feel unlovely, and you’ll find that you are walking in the very steps of the Most Spiritual, Christ Jesus.
Because the Marks of the Spiritual Man aren’t Bible Reading or weeping when Christ or Paul might have. The Marks of the Spiritual Man look like the God-Man, who was once pinned to a tree, coming back in a physical and marked up body to encourage his brothers saying “We’re family. I’ve conquered. You are conquerors with me. I’ll come back for you.”
It’s love revealed in action, no matter how ugly our marks.