Love trumps everything, including our rights.

I have been prayerfully reading through 1 Corinthians. There is so much that is obviously relevant for the modern church. The challenge for unity, which I talked about in a previous blog, wise teaching on singleness and marriage, the use of spiritual gifts and the primacy of love. There are other passages that are also relevant but less obviously so. Paul’s answer to the question of whether the Corinthians could eat food offered to idols is also very relevant. Not because we face the same issues, but his reasoning is so relevant to us.

Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is that love trumps everything including our freedom and our rights. Something that it is so important for us to both hear and apply. The primacy of love is repeated in Paul’s most famous chapter 13.

This has so many applications for today, where our society values our individual rights over everything. No, as Christian’s love is our prime motivator not rights.

E.g., Drinking alcohol in the presence of certain individuals might cause them not just to fall off the wagon but to abandon Christianity. The food we eat, the way we spend our money, the language we use, the shows and movies we watch and even the clothes we wear have the capacity to lead others away from Christ by tempting them to violate their consciences.

It is also relevant regarding vaccines. Obviously, we have the right not to be vaccinated as I have seen many Christians declaring. However, I believe that Paul would say that our love and desire to serve our neighbours means that we will be vaccinated to keep them safe. We will apply the maxim that love trumps our freedom not to be vaccinated.

Many will be happy to leave the blog at this point. For those who are interested in exactly what Paul is saying read on!

Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 8-10 in more detail.

The context is that pagan worship centred around sacrificed animals, the meat could then be eaten in either a Temple dining room as part of an act of worship or sold in a market for ordinary people to buy and cook at home.

The Corinthians ask Paul if they can eat this meat. Paul’s answer in summary is that it depends. If idol food is eaten in the context of idolatrous worship in a pagan temple, then no (8:1 – 10:22). If it is bought in the meat market without knowing where it comes from, then yes (10:25-26). If it is eaten in a private home, then yes, unless it will harm the conscience of anyone present, in which case no (10:27 – 11:1). The food itself, in other words, is not the issue; the issue is the character and context of the meal taking place.

The church was church divided on the issue. One group saying it is ok to eat idol food, another urging people not to. The argument of those who said it was ok was that we all possess knowledge, an idol is nothing, there is no God but one. Idols don’t exist therefore how can eating food offered to idols mean anything at all? A good argument but Paul doesn’t accept it.

It is his reasons for rejecting this argument that is so helpful and relevant for us. Love trumps knowledge.

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (8:1). Knowing things can make our egos and heads bigger; loving people can make our brothers and sisters bigger. So, if you’re obsessed with “knowing”, then you may not know anything at all. Loving God, on the other hand, means that you end up with the best sort of “knowing” there is: being known by God (v 2-3).

Idols are not real, but they do exert a power. Not everyone knows that there is no God but one. They associate the sacrificial food with the god to which it was offered. Therefore, since food doesn’t bring us close to God, eating it doesn’t help us, we should be careful of flaunting our right to eat what we like.

Paul’s punchline.

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). This, in a sentence, is the point Paul is going to press home throughout 1 Corinthians 9, using himself as an extended example. Paul gives example after example of where he has given up his rights in order to serve and love others. The Corinthians may or may not have the right to eat idol food but what they absolutely must not do is to exercise their “right” in such a way as to destroy their weaker brother or sister.

Put the care of others above your own rights. Love trumps freedom. This sets the scene for Paul’s most famous chapter 13 where the priority of love is developed.


The Spirit of God brings diversity

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I have just finished a new book, People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States by Michael O. Emerson. It is an academic investigation into diversity in the modern church in America. Using a definition of a multiracial congregation is one in which no one racial group comprises 80 percent or more of the people, it estimates that 7 percent of American congregations are multiracial. Not a very impressive number at all. Even worse is the fact that just 2 percent of congregations have at least 20 percent white and at least 20 percent black.

Fascinatingly the book highlights only two periods in American church history where the church was in any sense of the word diverse. The first was during the evangelical revival of the late 18C where implications of evangelical teachings were not lost on many slaves. John Wesley and George Whitefield marvelled at the numbers of African Americans who flocked to hear them preach. The second was in the early twentieth century, the early Pentecostal movement, and its focus on a life-changing baptism of the Holy Spirit brought more whites and blacks together in integrated revival meetings and church services.

When the Spirit of God moves it would seem that barriers between people are broken down, however when man takes back control of the church it once again becomes divided. I don’t think this should surprise us; the Spirit brings unity. We need to make every effort to maintain it. Ephesians 4v3.


I recently came across an article by Ed Silvoso which I found helpful and believe it is worth sharing some of his insights.

He talks about three different types of storms found in the Bible.

In the first type, believers cry out for help, Jesus rebukes the storm and it stops right away (see Mark 4:39).

The second type is a storm where Jesus invites us to face the winds and walk on water, and when we sink, He rescues us, walks with us back to the boat, and the storm stops (see Matthew 14:22ff).

The third type is the most severe storm because the boat capsizes and everything on it is lost, and the only way to survive is to hang on to a piece of wood from the wreckage to reach the safety of the beach. That was the case with the apostle Paul in Acts 26.

He suggests that COVID-19 and today’s social distress is the third type of storm. Everything we have been sailing on or with—things we took for granted—have been disappearing. Not only in government, education, business, health care and the economy, but even the way we used to do church has washed away, leaving us with little to hang on to but a plank of wood, as was the case with Paul and his fellow passengers.

That piece of wood symbolizes the Cross. When everything else is sinking, we must hang on to it and remind ourselves that we are saved by the blood that Jesus shed on that Cross and propelled by that unsinkable fact and the power it emanates, we will gain the strength to swim to a safe shore.

But make no mistake…once we get there, it will get worse before it gets better, as Paul experienced.

As he was building a fire to warm himself and the other distressed passengers, he was bitten by a viper. This caused the locals to suspect Paul of a crime for which the viper’s attack was divine punishment. But Paul shook the viper off, threw it into the fire, and survived the attack. When the locals saw this, they looked to him as a divine messenger which led to the establishment of a new church in Malta where many came to faith, including the governor when his father was miraculously healed.

The devastation wrought by the storm was used by God to establish the church in a place that otherwise would have been left without one.

In the context of today’s crisis, the fullness of the power of the Cross symbolized by that piece of wood, now that so much is going under, provides the way to not only survive, but to thrive in the storm. To see churches established in ways they would not have been without the crisis. Some storms are tough, tougher than we could ever imagine, but God can cause great things to come out of them. We have to hang on to the cross in the meantime, trusting in God.

Helpful words for today. Let’s be excited about the good things that God is going to produce out of the COVID storm.

Thoughts on the UK church from a Malawian academic.

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Hope Church is wanting to welcome and empower people from many different backgrounds, seeking to learn from each other. Knowing that no one culture fully reflects the diversity of God. As such I try to learn from leaders who come from different from myself.

Recently I read Multicultural Kingdom: Ethnic Diversity, Mission and the Church written by Harvey Kwiyani, an academic originally from Malawi.

He has powerful things to say about the church in the UK, much of which I find challenging and extremely helpful and relevant to us. Below are some quotes that I think are particularly worth reflecting on. There are many of them, but it is worth reading them all and allowing their truths to hit home.


Our segregated Christianity is an anomaly and it is my sincere hope that we will not export it to the rest of the world like we have other aspects of our Christianity in the past.

Essentially, God is building a kingdom in which people of many national, tribal or linguistic identities belong together. It is not a monocultural kingdom: all cultures are invited and all cultures are needed. It is not a monoracial kingdom: all races are welcome. It is not a colour-blind kingdom. It does not see one human race but sees us all as who we really are: Africans, Asians, Europeans, everybody. It expects us all to bring our unique gifts to make the kingdom what it is meant to be – the kingdom of Jesus, the Lord of the nations.

Both the African and the Chinese stories show that it is only in the second half of the twentieth century – after the missionaries had left Africa and Asia, placing the so-called ‘young churches’ under indigenous leadership – that Christianity became a worldwide religion.

Unfortunately, our missiology still believes that Christianity is only real if it is led by Westerners, and that is why we hear more about the decline of the Church in Europe and North America when we could be celebrating the growth of Christianity in other parts of the world.

Walter Hollenweger said that ‘British Christians prayed for revival, and when it came, they did not recognize it because it was black’. I would add to this statement that British Christians did not recognize the revival because it came dressed in Pentecostal clothes.

It is the argument of this book that a proper engagement between British and non-Western Christians resident in Britain will enrich British Christianity, and hopefully help it rediscover its missional impulses to re-evangelize Britain.

I am also convinced that the multicultural context of (urban) Britain needs a multicultural missionary movement. African, Latin American, Asian and British Christians need to work together in mission. For that to happen, there needs to be some intentional collaboration. Congregational leaders may need to model this for their followers by working together more visibly. I anticipate that the body of Christ in Britain can model racial reconciliation for the world by living an alternative reality where all races are one in Christ. Such a church may be a critical missional testimony to the world that the love of Christ can set people free.

Homogeneity, whatever form it takes, is slow death. A community that builds walls to keep strangers out only imprisons itself within its own walls in the end. A prison guard is also a prisoner.

Being in the kingdom of God does not erase our cultural differences. To do so would be colonialism, and God does not colonize.

I am convinced that wherever communities are made up of people of different cultures, Christian churches must reflect that diversity in their gatherings.

The plea for unity anticipates that we will meet people who are different from us. Unity demands the presence of a different other.

A great deal of our understanding of community and belonging reflects the Western marks of individualism and capitalism. That is why most British denominations – including the Church of England – find it hard to connect with lower-class parts of the society.

Great multicultural congregations realize that their congregational culture has to be the authentic aggregate of the cultures of their members. They have to develop and embrace a culture that makes space for a variety of subcultures to thrive together, that is expansive enough to welcome new subcultures into its mix, highlighting them and encouraging them to share their gifts with the wider congregation.

True multicultural congregations happen when all cultures – both host and guest – intentionally displace themselves from the centre to allow for the emergence of a new culture that comes out of all cultures present working together.

Leaders of multicultural congregations, however, hardly pay any attention to the nationalities of their members. Of course, they notice the nationalities, as they should, but they focus on the culture. They focus on shaping a congregation in which the many nationalities’ cultures are expressed. Not every multinational church is multicultural. It is never about how many nationalities one can gather. Yes, there may be many nationalities in a congregation, but that means little if they are unable to make their cultural contribution.

We will worship together in eternity. There is nothing we can do about it. We will not be able to bring our racist tendencies to God’s throne.

Revival has come to Britain, but it looks like the messy migration of African and Caribbean Christians to Britain, and thus it does not look like revival at all.

Most African pastors in Europe and North America mention race as the most difficult issue facing their ministries, and yet most of my white British middle-aged middle-class Christian friends say that racism is a thing of the past.

All in all, multicultural worshipping communities need to learn new habits and practices that enforce their commitment to cultural diversity. They cannot continue to live in a monocultural mode while expecting to be multicultural.

Monoracial churches will continue to exist as they are safe, convenient and comfortable.

Perhaps, the wealthy would prefer to keep their less well-off neighbours out. Black folk might actively want to keep the white people out (‘we cannot let them dominate us in our worship too’), and white people want to keep black people out (‘they bring issues that we don’t have time for’). Ironically, British churches will send missionaries to Africa while neglecting their African neighbours on their streets in Britain.

More often than not, such monocultural churches will have a quasi-theological justification that supports their practice of a racist form of Christianity.

If the size of a congregation is what matters most to a minister, it is possible that he or she has substituted capitalism for God.

Statement on recent incidents of racism

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Last Sunday morning we were all looking forward to the Euros final, most but not all wanting England to win. The after math was not just disappointment with the result but disgust with the racist abuse directed at some of the young black England players.

I feel it is important to comment on this as the impact on some people has been significant. This is from someone in the congregation – the social media racism towards Rashford and Saka has been appalling. My heart feels a bit broken at the levels of racism shown by some of the English. I feel it personally, as it screams that unless you are white you don’t belong and aren’t welcome here.

I know not everyone feels like this, but the fact that some people do should concern us all. I have resisted saying anything myself on social media, however I am pleased that many people have demonstrated a solidarity with those who are victims of racism. I believe we need to move beyond words to actions. Which is what we have been trying to do as a church. Celebrating and emphasising the fact that we are all members of the human race, each made in the image of God and made to reflect his glory.

On your behalf I have been working with leaders of predominantly African and Caribbean churches in the town looking at how we can together bring racial reconciliation within are churches and into wider society.

We all need to move beyond mere words to actions to combat the evil sin of racism in its various forms. Whether personal or institutional. Remembering our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of principalities and powers.

We can start by lament, crying out to God that things are not how he intended them to be. Expressing to God our deep distress for the racism that exists in our society and the damage that it causes.

We can then each move on to confession, confessing to God and one another our part in this. This can include feelings of alienation towards white people because of the hurt they have inflicted or feelings of superiority over people of other ethnicities or cultures. It can be confessing a failure to stand up for the rights and dignity of those who are negatively impacted by racism.

Then we need to ask for and offer forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves and others before God, we also need to ask for forgiveness from individuals where appropriate. If your brother has sinned against you, you have to forgive them, or it will fester and cause you hurt and pain as the anger eats away in you.

The only way, in my opinion, to start to deal with racism is by lament, confession and forgiveness. Not just once, but continually. This is the foundation on which we can then look at other ways that we can seek to deal with the evil of racism and prejudice, but it must start here.

Tony Thompson 18 July 2021

Labour prompted by love.

We are currently looking at the first letter that Paul sent to the newly formed church in Thessalonica on Sundays. We are spending 7 weeks preaching from the book, but there is much more that could be said than even in 7 sermons. Rather than extending the series or preaching even longer sermons I am looking to supplement the sermons with blogs. The sermons are available from our website once they have been preached.

The themes of the letter are introduced at the very beginning.

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1v3

The most recent sermon looked at labour prompted by love. The effect of such love should be  that “your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” 4v12

These are quotes from John Perkins in his book, Dream with me, where he talks about how the church in America is not seen as loving and is not winning the respect of outsiders. Perkins is a well-respected, veteran civil rights leader. I find his comments challenging and relevant to our situation in the UK but was unable to include them in the sermon.

Sadly, when many look at the church in America today, they don’t see a group of disciples characterized by love for one another. Instead, they see (and hear) a group of people making a lot of noise about issues—abortion, homosexuality, and other social and political hot topics.


A recent nationwide Barna Group study looked at positive and negative contributions that Christianity has made in society. On the negative side, this is what they found: “When asked to identify what they thought were the negative contributions of Christians to American society in recent years, the most frequent response was violence or hatred incited in the name of Jesus Christ. One out of five Americans mentioned such vitriolic attitudes.” On the positive side, “One out of every five adults (19 percent) mentioned how Christians in the United States have helped poor or underprivileged people to have a better life.” Of course, that positive statement thrills me. But the two taken together remind me of something the apostle Paul wrote: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).


According to that recent Barna Group survey I already mentioned, the second most frequent response in the negative contribution category was “the opposition of Christians to gay marriage.” I personally am not in favor of gay marriage. However, I think it is significant that the way in which Christians have approached this issue is viewed as a negative contribution to society. So much hatred finds its way into discussions about this issue, and I often feel the need to apologize to the gay and lesbian community for the church’s inability to find the right language to affirm gay people as human beings. Yes, people have different opinions and beliefs about this topic, but there must be a way to discuss it and demonstrate love at the same time.


When I talk about love being the final fight, sometimes people are confused about what that means. When we think about fighting, we usually think about inflicting physical or emotional harm on one another—we punch, we shoot, we yell—we are violent. When we think about love, we get an entirely different picture in our minds—we think of gentleness, perhaps, or romance or kindness. So what does this love fight look like?

Love is action; it is truth; and it is sacrifice. Love is being willing to give our lives for and to one another. It is sharing what God has given us—whether that means material possessions, wisdom, or anything else He has entrusted to our stewardship.


My most unshakeable belief is in God and His love for me. Whatever else I think I know, I am certain that He loves me, and I believe Paul’s statement that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). Because I am convinced of that love, I am committed to spending the rest of my life fighting the good fight by being a conduit of God’s love to those who desperately need to experience it.


I say amen to all that. May we fight the fight of love.


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