Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Overcoming Obstacles to Love Relationship: Personal Flaws and Scars

1 Corinthians 13

Teaching t22451

Introduction

Our study of 1 Corinthians brought us to the subject of Christian community (chaps. 11-14). We learned that the heart of Christian community is biblical love—specifically, Christians who are committed to build what we called Christ-centered friendships in a home group context. We went into some detail on what casual and close CCF’s look like.

As we seek build these CCF’s, we will bump into obstacles—not them, but within ourselves! Some of these obstacles are obviously connected to friendship-building (e.g., mishandling conflict; harboring unrighteous anger), but others are not so obviously connected (LAST WEEK). This morning, we will deal with another such non-obvious obstacle—our personal flaws and scars.

Definition & examples

In a fallen world, we all have flaws and scars. I am using the terms “flaws and scars” to refer to ones that can seriously undermine a healthy acceptance of ourselves and basic confidence that we can be used by God to bless those around us. EXAMPLES:

Flaws in our physical appearance—congenital (e.g., HEIGHT; FACIAL IMPERFECTIONS; PHYSICAL BUILD), and acquired (e.g., DEBILITATING/DISFIGURING INJURY; AGING).

Flaws in our personalities—some amoral (e.g., INTROVERSION IN AN EXTROVERT CULTURE; PRONENESS TO DEPRESSION), but some moral (e.g., BESETTING SINS LIKE SINFUL ANGER, FEAR, ETC.).

Scars from the past—from abuse or neglect (e.g., INSECURITY, SHAME, ANGER, SEXUAL DAMAGE FROM SEXUAL ABUSE; DETACHMENT FROM PHYSICAL ABUSE/NEGLECT), from benign or even beneficial choices (e.g., INSECURITY FROM ADOPTION), or from our own poor choices (e.g., LOST OPPORTUNITY FOR EDUCATION; DRUG DAMAGE).

Unless we respond properly to these flaws and scars, they will undermine our ability to build love relationships. Let’s consider how they can do this...

How they can undermine our love relationships

We can become negatively self-focused (self-critical comments), which inhibits attending to the other person, inhibits our confidence that God can work through us to bless others, and promotes self-pity which repels people.

We can become especially vulnerable to envy and jealousy toward people who do not have the same “defects”—which prevents or inhibits relationships with those people.

We can sabotage relationships out of self-protection. Convinced that we will fail or be rejected, we blow up relationships before we this happens. That way, we have some control over it and think we can mitigate the pain.

We can become obsessed with eliminating our flaws and scars—rather than focused on becoming an effective servant of Christ/lover of others. We have a multi-billion dollar cosmetic and therapeutic industry that encourages this.

We can become mistrustful of and/or bitter toward God (“If this is an example of Your love, leave me alone!”; “You made me this way!”), which pulls the plug on His Spirit empowering us to love others, and which may result in a bitter spirit that repels others.

Responding properly to our flaws and scars

What is most important is not the fact of our flaws and scars, but how we respond to them. Many people (in the Bible and since then) have demonstrated that it is possible to have severe flaws and scars, and yet become powerfully effective in loving others. I am not implying that this is easy—but it is doable because God is totally behind it! Proper response involves two areas—our perspective and our actions:

We have to start by changing our perspective on our flaws and scars. Specifically, we must reject the perspective that we, key others, or our culture have on them—and we must believe and embrace God’s perspective as revealed through the Bible.

They do not define you. Will you let your flaws and scars define you as a “monster/defective person/loser?” Or will you receive the radically new identity that God offers through faith in Christ (2Cor.5:17)—as His child in whom He delights as much as He delights in Jesus?

They are not permanent. Christians look forward to the return of Christ, when He will give us glorious new bodies (Phil.3:20,21) and heal all of our emotional and psychological damage (Rev.20:4).

In the meantime, they do not prevent God from accomplishing His purpose for your life—to form Christ’s character in you so He can attract others to Himself through you (Rom.8:29; Gal.5:22,23). This is what Paul means in 2Cor.4:7 (read and explain). To switch metaphors, think of your life as a PICTURE & FRAME.

The PICTURE (Christ-like character) is the most important part—the part God values the most (1Sam.16:7), the part that will have the greatest lasting impact on others, and the part that will yield the deepest fulfillment in your life. The FRAME is your physical appearance, personality, etc. Its purpose is not to draw attention to itself, but to draw attention to the PICTURE.

If God asked you: “What part of your FRAME would you change if you had the chance,” you would probably be able to tell Him quickly and specifically. But if God also asked you: “Why do you want Me to change this part, what would your honest answer be? Would it be: “So that I can draw people to you,” or “So people will be more impressed with me” or “So my life will be easier?”

Jesus had flaws and scars (quote Isa.53:2,3)—physical imperfections and painful scars from Joseph dying, being called a bastard, etc. Yet these things did not prevent God from accomplishing His purpose through Jesus. (If anything, they make it easier for us to believe this about our own flaws and scars.)

In fact, God can work through our flaws and scars to promote His purpose for our lives. He did this supremely through the Cross, in which Jesus’ scars and shame became the ultimate way He revealed His love and purchased our forgiveness (Isa.52:14,15a). Many, many passages teach that He can work through our flaws and scars to glorify Himself. Learn these passages!

Rom.8:28,29 – God is at work in through all things (including our flaws and scars) for our good/to conform us to the image of Christ.

Eph. 2:10 – God has fashioned (poiema) us for the good works He has prepared for us, and this fashioning takes into account our flaws and scars.

Gen. 50:20 – God worked through Joseph’s abuse to accomplish His purpose to bless others through him.

Along with embracing God’s perspective on our flaws and scars, we must also be willing to take practical steps related to them.

Improve the FRAME where you can, and within reason. A stocky build need not be obese. An introverted personality need not be isolated and/or silent in public settings. A non-intellectual need not be a non-reader/learner.

Choose to serve others in spite of remaining feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. If you believe the above truths, you must step out to give others Christ’s love. If you wait until these feelings are gone before serve others, you will be disappointed. But if you choose to act by faith to be God’s instrument in others’ lives, such feelings will be gradually replaced by security and confidence that God can fulfill His good plan for your life.

Thank God for how He uses them to advance His purpose. This is what Paul did with his “thorn in the flesh” in 2Cor.12 (EXPLAIN).

After Paul accepted his “thorn,” God showed him that through it He was protecting Paul from self-exaltation (12:7) and increasing his dependence on God (12:9a,10b) so that he could more empowered by God. Therefore, he learned to boast (12:9b) in and become well-content (12:10a) with his weaknesses.

What about you? How might God be using your “thorn” to protect you from spiritual downfall, to increase your dependence on Him, etc.? Have you asked Him for insight into this? Have you thanked Him by faith even before you see this?

Share with your Christian friends (and non-Christians) about what God is doing in this area of your life. This glorifies Christ! This is also a form of the transparency that deepens friendships. It will help them, because they have deficiencies and scars. You will also likely receive insight, encouragement from God through them.

Conclusion

Recommend Joni and Genius, Grief & Grace.

AFTER: Ask others to share what God has taught them about this issue in their lives