Paul, the SBNR OG?
The spiritual but not religious. SBNRs. We all know folks who fit the description. Maybe some of you feel an affinity with such folks or maybe would even accept the label yourself.
What’s for sure, SBNR’s are growing in number, far outpacing folks claiming a specific religion or church.
Now, there is some credence for the idea of being spiritual but not religious in the scriptures, but with a very specific idea of what it means to be spiritual. What it means to be spiritual according to the scriptures is what I’d like to discuss today.
I’d like to begin by suggesting to you that the SNBR originals, the Spiritual but Not Religious OG’s, are the two most important figures in the Christian New Testament, Paul and Jesus.
We see Paul’s SBNR provenance quite clearly in today’s reading from I Corinthians, verse 15 especially: “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.”
But what does Paul mean by “spiritual”? What makes someone spiritual versus nonspiritual?
Paul tells us in verse 10. God reveals to us spiritual things through God’s Spirit. God through the Spirit moves us to be spiritual. The Spirit of God, the breath of God, breathes out who God is and leads us to understand God’s wisdom and love. Those who take in, those who internalize this breath of God, the breath that exhales God’s still speaking voice, those who receive God’s spirit which tell us about God fully, come to understand spiritual things.
Verse 12 says it all, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”
Being spiritual for Paul means receiving the spirit of God into our own spirits. The spirit of God infusing the human spirit – that is what makes someone spiritual for Paul.
Okay, we see what Paul means by spiritual. Spiritual means our spirits are infused with God’s spirit. What about the BNR though? What about the “but not religious?” Is Paul against religion?
If a religion is void of the Spirit of grace, love, and freedom, then, yes, Paul, like Christ whom he follows, is against religion. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, makes this specific. 2 Corinthians 3:6 says this: “God has made us competent to be ministers of Christ’s new covenant, not of letter of the law but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
It is the spiritual life that matters most. Our religious faith ought to give way to a spiritual life that grows in God. A religion of rules and regulations, of rotely being religious just because, is not primary for Paul. A spirituality of grace and relationship is the point. The letter of the law kills. The Spirit of grace gives life.
So, Paul would be okay with the idea of being spiritual but not religious as long as we see spirituality as a gift from God. In fact, the aim of religious faith is to be spiritual in the truest sense of the word – receiving the Spirit of God complete with grace, love, and wisdom into our hearts.
However, what Paul would urge against is dismissing the importance of community. Being spiritual alone, on your lonesome, and not connecting to a community that seeks to do God’s work together, this is a recipe for disconnection and self-centeredness. Let’s not forget, Paul is talking to a community of Jesus-followers in Corinth. And he uses the language of we and us not I and me.
We speak God’s wisdom
God has revealed godly wisdom to us
We have received the Spirit that is from God so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
And we speak these things in words not taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit.
We have the mind of Christ.
A spirituality without the we, a spirituality without a community, is not spirituality in the truest sense for Paul. Spirituality and community go together. A spiritual person lives its finest and truest life when it lives as part of a community focused on the Spirit of God, the spiritual life, and collectively living out the mind of Christ.
Speaking of the mind of Christ, we don’t see the mind of Christ more clearly than we do in the chapter from Matthew we’ve been reading from these last couple weeks and will continue to read from for the next couple. Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount found therein gives us the perfect picture of Christ’s mind.
Last week we read the beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in the spirit and the mournful, those empty at heart and starving for justice, the meek and the merciful, the peacemakers and persecuted…
This week we read:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
In a couple weeks, some churches will read these later words from the Sermon on the Mount,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven”
Yes, those rich and full with worldly power and pride may laugh at Jesus’ words as they did last week at the National Prayer Breakfast, they may see such divine wisdom as foolishness and hence laughable, they may see it as naivety and nicety instead of the mind of Christ and hence the ultimate Christian aim, but we as the church, as the extension of Christ in the world, as Christ’s light in the world, we know better. At least, we ought to.
As I come to a close, I say this: worldly power will use and abuse religion. Religion void of a spirituality based in grace, love, and compassion is a tool worldly power prefer. For it is so easy to use such a graceless, hateful, and callous tool when worldly power is all you seek. Godly power is the way of the Spirit. Godly power is the way of Christ and his kingdom. Godly power is found secure in those living the spiritual life, a life moved by grace, love, wisdom, and compassion. And godly power is not sought or possessed but shared with those who are powerless. Let us as Christians and as a Christian church embody godly power and share it with those we meet along life’s way. Amen.