2 Corinthians 4:18
“We fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.” (1 Corinthians 4:18, GNB)
When we study the activity of the Spirit in our lives, we could become very introspective, even self-oriented. We live in an age of radical individualism and some people might see “spiraling up” as a very exclusive relationship between God and me. But the Holy Spirit won’t let that happen! We were born in community, and we were designed to live in community. Furthermore, the more like God we become the more we’ll be oriented outward, preoccupied with others, not with self. And the startling thing is this: God has chosen to do His work in the world through us! So a major activity of the Holy Spirit is to get God’s purposes on planet earth accomplished through His people reaching out.
“People reaching out,” however, does not mean individuals doing God’s work independently of one another. God’s method is called the church. The Spirit of God works primarily through and in relation to the church. How is church impacting your life? How did the latter days of the Covid pandemic impact church attendance? Are we still reaching out? Perhaps we’ve become passive in affirming that “being spiritual” is all we need.
The off-duty flight attendant sitting beside me on the plane was an articulate conversationalist. As we talked, I learned that she was active in her church and occasionally listened to Billy Graham on TV. Yes, she believed what he taught, though she herself was not a member of an evangelical church. What about her husband? “Well, he doesn’t have any use for church,” she said. “But he is very spiritual.” Spiritual? What did she mean? She meant what many people today mean by the word spiritual. She meant that her husband believed in an unseen world and was interested in it. The contemporary fascination with the unseen represents a mega-shift in Western thinking. For several centuries we have concentrated on what can be seen and measured: scientific facts and the competence of the human mind to figure it all out. But now it seems feeling is more important than thinking; unseen forces are center stage. Spiritual is in, and the most ungodly people are said to be spiritual. But is this what the Bible means by spiritual? Biblical spirituality grows out of the nature and activities of God. God is a spirit-being, not material; we were originally created in His image.
Three approaches to understanding the word spiritual coexist in our society. Generally, people use the word spiritual in one of the following ways:
- Some people deny that we have a spiritual nature or that a spiritual world beyond the reach of science exists: we might call this the naturalistic worldview. With the dawn of the scientific era, many people embraced the scientific method as the only way to valid knowledge and came to view the unseen world as nonexistent or at least irrelevant. According to this view, the meaning of spirit must be limited to the processes of the natural world.
- Some people recognize our spiritual nature and dabble in the spiritual world. They choose not to limit themselves to biblical guidelines for dealing with spiritual reality. We might call this the spiritualistic worldview. Today angels, magic, reincarnation, prayer, horoscopes, crystals and the occult, and life-after-death experiences fill newspapers, magazines, and talk shows. Maybe the interest came from the Eastern belief systems with New Age thinking. Some say it came from widespread disillusionment with a sterile, rational approach to life — the scientific outlook. Science, it turned out, wasn’t solving our basic human problems. Wherever this new concept of spirituality came from, it influences many people today. This view recognizes the reality of the spiritual dimension but does not always distinguish between the good and the evil aspects of that spiritual world.
- Others recognize our spiritual nature and the spirit world but choose to deal with the spirit world only through a relationship with the God of the Bible: I call this the biblical worldview. Those who believe the Bible recognize that the material, visible world is not all that exists in life; it is not even the most important part. To treat what we can see, hear, touch, or taste as if the world we see were everything — or even the most important thing — will sooner or later lead to disaster. Paul reminded the people of Corinth of this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:18. Christians recognize the spiritual world, and they deal with it through obedience to the Triune God.
Only the biblical view of the world can provide a foundation for building a true and effective spiritual life. People are beginning to recognize an unseen, “spiritual” realm, but we need to know just what really is out there. We need the ability to distinguish what part of that unseen world is good and what is not. If we want to understand spiritual reality and to link up only with the good part, we need to get better acquainted with the source of all spiritual good, the Holy Spirit of God. What about you? Do you try to experiment with “the spiritual world” or do you work to understand the spiritual through a relationship with the God of the Bible? Where will you invest your life? How will you know what is good? Take a few minutes and evaluate if you working to reach out in community primarily through and in relation to the church. Perhaps you allowed the isolation of Covid or past disappointments to sever that relationship. Why not commit to pursuing the spiritual world within the context of biblical community?