Warning Signs of Spiritual Bankruptcy

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
By Michael Cariño (IGSL Faculty)

Have you ever been bankrupt? In terms of our spiritual lives, becoming bankrupt is like being a Christian whose life does not reflect the life of Christ. It is a type of Christianity without Christ – devoid, deficient, barren, and bankrupt. It is a Christian life that is reduced to a spirituality without the power, the presence, the character, and the reality of Christ.

The opposite of spiritual bankruptcy is “spiritual abundance” – this is the full life that Jesus promised to every believer. This is the flourishing life of believers that is rooted in the reality of Christ within them.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, seems to suggest that the mark of spiritual abundance is not great intelligence, excellent ministry, nor impressive skills. Rather, the mark of a flourishing life in Christ is the believer’s ability to relate well – to listen to those who hurt, to forgive those who sinned, to care for those who despair, to show grace to those who are offensive, and to encourage those who are feeling down.

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You can sense that you are experiencing spiritual bankruptcy when you can say the right words, gain the right knowledge, and do the right things with the wrong heart.

 In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul rebukes believers about the emptiness of spiritual gifts without love. He argues that spiritual gifts, such as the gift of tongues, the gift of prophesy, the gift of knowledge, the gift of doing miracles, the gift of helping others, while important, are less significant compared with love. All these spiritual gifts are temporary, but love lasts forever. Love is the greatest of them all. Love should be your highest goal.

Impressive eloquence without love is nothing but empty noise. You may be a very gifted speaker, an eloquent preacher, but when you are unable to relate in a loving way to your family, to your friends, to your subordinates, to other Christians, and to other people, then your impressive speech is mere empty talk.

Impressive knowledge without love is nothing but empty arrogance. While correct beliefs, biblical knowledge, and theological understanding are important to our hope and faith as Christians, they are not the most important. The Bible says that love is the greatest. Sadly, there are many pastors and church leaders who are intellectually astute and are impressive in their ministry but are spiritually bankrupt because they fail in relating well.

Impressive faith without love is nothing but empty confidence. It is very inspiring when we accomplish difficult things in ministry because of our faith in God. But when we cannot live in harmony with our fellow believers, family members, or fellow leaders, even our greatest achievements of faith are nothing but empty ministry activities. How you relate with people who are different from you, or people who disagree with you, is the ultimate litmus test of true spirituality.

Impressive sacrifice without love is nothing but empty service. Our self-sacrifice for others is not the same as real love. Even the Apostle Paul’s personal sufferings for the salvation of others were also worthless without love (2 Cor. 11:23-29; 2 Cor. 12:10). Even one’s sacrifice through martyrdom is valueless in the sight of God if it was not done out of love.

While the mark of spiritual abundance is a life filled with love, on the other hand, the mark of spiritual bankruptcy is giftedness without love, knowledge without love, ministry without love, and life without love.