My thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11-13 for Valentine’s Day.
All quotes are from the NASB translation unless otherwise noted
When I teach I always try to get my students to see the big picture before looking at the details. The big picture here is that Paul very much wants the Corinthians to understand that although they no longer have to follow strict rules and laws about food, behaviour, dress etc., they should act in ways that demonstrate their salvation. If we bear this in mind and, as always, remember that this is a letter (no chapter or verse divisions) perhaps some of the more troubling sections make more sense.
The beginning of Chapter 11 is one of those sections of scripture that we shy away from. It seems on the surface to be undeniably misogynistic. Paul lays down the law about the behaviour of women in church. I leave delving deeply into that to the theologians. However the HCSB study Bible points out that many behaviours (for all believers) were required to avoid alienating the Jews and/or avoiding doing anything which seemed to align them with pagan practises or rituals. If I may quote an example from my Pastor. He recently told us that whilst there is nothing in scripture to prohibit him preaching to us in his pyjamas, it would be inappropriate and would certainly upset many of the congregation. It would also give the wrong message to outsiders. A trivial example perhaps, but one which helps us to see why it is so important to not only do what is right, but be seen to do what is right.
In the next section of this chapter, Paul denounces the behaviour of some of the believers with regard to the Lord’s Supper. He has heard that many take it as an opportunity to eat and drink to excess. Perhaps even worse, whilst they are feasting, some of the brethren are eating very little. Such behaviour is wrong on so many levels, they are not sharing their food, they are exhibiting glutony, they are ignoring or even abusing the poor, they are disrepecting the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and in so doing dishonouring Jesus himself. This should be a a time of sharing and fellowship, there should be no distinction between them, certainly not based on wealth.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; (Romans 10:12)
The sharing of the Lord’s Supper should be distinct from general eating and drinking, believers are advised to eat before coming together for the Lord’s supper. We can perhaps assume that if they were celebrating communion as part of general fellowship, they would be expected to share all that they had, so that each received sufficient food. Paul urged them (and us) to make sure that they were worthy; in particular they should confess unforgiven sin and make themselves right with each other before sharing the bread and wine.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself [herself], and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
During fellowship it would be commonplace to talk about how the Lord was working in the lives of the believers. Perhaps Paul had heard that some thought themselves better than others because they had “superior” gifts.
For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
As we share in the Lord’s Supper and share fellowship, so we should share the gifts that we have been given.
There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:6-11)
The gifts are given not to glorify the individual but to allow believers all to work together. Just as a healthy body needs all of it parts to function correctly and work together, so a healthy church needs all of it’s members to use their gifts and work together. No member of the church is more important than another, though perhaps it can be argued that some are more essential. Just as the heart and brain are essential for life, so some members of the church may have more important roles, but all members are equal in their relationship with Christ.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)
Paul finishes this part of his letter (chapter 12) with a series of questions and then goes on to “show us a more excellent way”. Chapter 13 is such a well known passage of scripture. It is a wonderful description of what love should look like. However, if we read it in the original context, i.e. continuing on from chapter 12 with no chapter or verse breaks, it becomes even more wonderful. Paul is clearly telling us that gifts are useless, if they are not used in and with love.
All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Roman13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.