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Friday, August 19, 2016

1 Corinthians (Lesson 38)

Home Bible Study©
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                     Published weekly on Friday

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)

1 Corinthians                                                                         (Lesson 38)

There were approximately 40 to 150 people attending the Corinthian church.  Some of these folks were Jews but most of them were Gentiles.  These men and women would meet regularly in “house churches;” one of these was the home of Justus (Acts 18:7-11).   However, when the entire church at Corinth assembled it’s likely they met in a rented dining hall in the city or a large garden venue (1 Corinthians 11:34, 14:23, 34-35).

One other thing we know is this assembly of Believers was adversely affected by the sin of pride.  Pride was the root cause of their immoral behavior and their internal strife and it lies at the heart of the most recent problem addressed by our Apostle Paul – some of these Believers did not care about other members of this church.  This offensive attitude demonstrated a total disregard for one of Jesus Christ’s most important teachings (Matthew 22:36-40).  But the sad reality is those arrogant, self-centered members of the church had created a schism (split) in the body by means of their disrespectful behavior and Paul could not praise them for this (11:22).

Paul teaches this conduct is contrary to God’s design for His Church.  God is interested in “body-building.”  But here in Corinth, instead of working together, as one body, each person exercising their spiritual gifts for the common good to “build-up” the Body of Christ, these Believers were steadily tearing it down.

“The parts of the body work together.  The eyes and ears do not only serve themselves, but the whole body.  The hands do not only feed and defend themselves, but the whole body.  The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body.  Sometimes there is a part of the body that only lives to serve itself.  It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body, and everything it gets it uses to feed and grow itself.  We call this cancer.

I want every member of this church to be a worker.  We do not want any drones.  If there are any of you who want to eat and drink, and do nothing, there are plenty of places elsewhere, where you can do it; there are empty pews about in abundance; go and fill them, for we do not want you.  Every Christian who is not a bee is a wasp.  The most quarrelsome persons are the most useless, and they who are the most happy are peaceable, are generally those who are doing (the) most for Christ.”   
Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892)


Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 12:27.

1 Corinthians 12

27: Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

28: 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.

29: 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?

30: All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?

31: But earnestly desire the greater gifts.  And I show you a still more excellent way.

Now you are Christ’s body – using figurative language, as before, Paul asserts these Corinthians (and every true Believer) is the Body of Christ.  He doesn’t say you might be; he said unequivocally you are Christ’s body. 

In one sense Jesus Christ and Believers form one Body (v12), but in another sense He is the Head and we are the Body.  Permit me to illustrate:  anyone who uses both of their hands in their chosen field of expertise to “get er’ done” work diligently in the course of the day to complete their assignments or goals, but there’s no real unity in your hands; the true unity starts and ends with your head.  Your head (the brain) is sending all the necessary instructions to your hands and to various other parts of your body, telling them how to function, and here’s the thing, you don’t have to plan any of this.  In like manner, we, the members of Christ’s Body, should let Him, our Head, do the planning and He should be instructing His Body (v27). 

The other thing Paul mentioned is all of us don’t receive the same spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit.  If you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago we looked at the fact that God loves variety.  This was demonstrated in creation and revealed to us by Paul in regard to the giving of spiritual gifts, so we’re all different in this respect.  So, here’s the other thing, we all will work joyfully, in harmony with one another, if we allow Jesus Christ to be the source, the Head, of the body.  We covered the meaning of source in Scripture awhile ago too.  The word source, in its fullest sense, communicates the idea of headship and authority.  Scripture affirms it is not only appropriate it’s right to submit to someone who is our head (v28).  (Romans 13:1; Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Peter 2:13-15).  

Paul is also saying it is wrong to value one spiritual gift over another – tongues in this instance.  It is also wrong to equate one of God’s gifts with spirituality as these Believers were doing.   Each Believer in Corinth had been Spirit baptized (12:13), but not everyone spoke in tongues (12:30).  Thus, Paul debunks their theory that speaking in tongues is the sign of the possession of the Holy Spirit in an individual, because the answer, “No” is the expected response to Paul’s questions in verses 29-30.
Let’s go to verse 31.

12:31: But earnestly desire the greater gifts.  And I show you a still more excellent way.

But (you) earnestly desire the greater gifts – this is a command from God just in case you’re unaware (14:37).  Paul isn’t addressing the individuals who believed the gift of tongues was the supreme gift; he’s addressing the entire assembly at Corinth.  I’ve added the word you to this verse, which is implied.  In fact, you could insert your name instead into the place where I’ve added the word “you.”    

The Believer doesn’t select his or her spiritual gifts; the Holy Spirit is in charge of this operation.  However, as a church we can earnestly desire that the greater gifts be manifested (appear) among us.  I say this because nowhere in Scripture does it say that we receive our spiritual gifts at the moment of our salvation, or that they’re associated with a person’s  natural skill set, which means we can earnestly desire (seek) the greater gifts through prayer, and God may answer those prayers. 

What are the greater gifts?  These are spiritual gifts that benefit the general Body of Christ as a whole.  For example, Paul lists prophesy as a greater gift in 1 Corinthians 14:1.  Our Apostle Paul advised the Corinthians to seek some gifts more than others because some, more than others, lend themselves in “building-up” the Body of Christ. 

Please turn to 1 Corinthians 13:1.

Between chapter 12 and chapter 14 sits one of the most recognizable gems in all of Scripture; many people refer to as the “Love Chapter.”  In chapter 12 Paul gives instructions regarding spiritual gifts, those abilities by which Believers minister or serve others; Believers and unbelievers alike.  In chapter 14, Paul gives explicit instructions on the specific use or exercise of those gifts, and we’ll get to that in short order.  Sandwiched in between those two chapters is this chapter on (agape) love because the only environment in which an individual’s spiritual gifts can function properly is in the atmosphere of love.

The New Testament was written in Koine Greek.  The word Koine denotes “common” because this style of Greek was the language of the common person-on-the-street during the time of Christ.  Koine Greek came into vogue about 300 years before the birth of Jesus, and it became an obsolete language about three centuries after the Lord’s death.  However, during its time, it was the most precise instrument for conveying human thoughts the world has ever known.  Without a doubt, this language was providentially chosen by God in giving the world the N.T. revelation of His Son and the true meaning of the cross. 

Koine Greek had several words representing different aspects of love. 

Eros generally had to do with sexual love.  We get our English word Erotic from this Greek word, but you won’t find it in the N.T. 

Storge, a Noun, was a term primarily used to describe family affection.  Paul spoke of those who were “without natural affection” (astorgous) in Romans 1:31. 

Philia was a very common word for love during the apostolic age.  It is the word for genuine affection or heartfelt love.  Jesus had this kind of love for His closest friend and disciple, John (John 20:2), and for Lazarus (John 11:3). 

Agape was the noblest form of love.  William Barclay wrote:  Agape has to do with the mind:  it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.  Since we’re to be imitators of Jesus Christ, as is our Apostle Paul, it is the kind of love that every Believer must have for all – even our enemies (Matthew 5:44; 1 Corinthians 11:1).  The Believer must always act out of love, i.e. in the best interest of his fellow human beings – seeking their highest good.

Paul directs this message to the Corinthian church because, as he said in 1 Corinthians 1:7 …you are not lacking in any gift; meaning they were saved, they all had received their spiritual gifts, i.e. abilities, but they lacked (agape) love, which is actually the point – it’s not about the individual church members, it’s not about their gifts; it’s about exercising those gifts accordingly for the common good (Romans 12:3-14; 1 Corinthians 12:7).  Simply said, they were not obeying the Law of Christ, which in a nutshell means:  seek one another’s highest good.  (Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:17-21)

The Excellence of Love

1 Corinthians 13

1: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have (agape) love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.

2: 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.

3: 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.

4: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.

5: does not act unbecomingly: it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,

6: does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

7: bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is evident from Paul’s statements both in 1 Corinthians 12:11 and 12:31 that the chapter about the body and its members, was written to correct the abuse of the sign gifts by the Corinthian church.  The bestowal of the sign gifts at Corinth was without a doubt related to Pentecost because, as Scripture shows us, Cornelius, his relatives and close friends, the first Gentiles to receive the gift of tongues, the Apostle Peter said: And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning (Acts 2, 10, 11:1-18).

In verse one, Paul deals sternly with the Corinthians self-centered and unloving use of the gift of tongues saying, If I speak with the tongues (the better translation would be languages) of men and of angels (the verbal communication of both heaven and earth by the way), but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. 

If you have ever stood near a pair of clanging symbols, or a noisy gong, then you get Paul’s meaning in verse 1.  The question isn’t, “Are symbols noisy?”   The real question is could an individual with the gift of tongues, a gift from the Spirit, make such a resounding ruckus before God?  The answer is, “Yes.”  The person may even speak in an angelic tongue (language) and still be nothing but noise before God! 

Therefore, once again, the gift of tongues was not an indication of spirituality in any individual for Paul states in verse 2 even the gift of prophesying, was not, in itself, any indication of spirituality, absent of (agape) love:  If I have the gift of prophecy, but am without love, I am nothing. 

In verse 2 Paul reminds these folks of his previous teaching found in 12:8-9, concerning the gifts of wisdom and knowledge given by the one Spirit, but here he declares that even the understanding of all mysteries, and all knowledge, and faith, strong enough to remove mountains would amount to nothing, without love. 

If an individual had faith that could move a mountain, as Jesus Christ spoke of in Matthew 21:21, Paul wants these folks to know their labor would be in vain, if they lacked love.  We know some of these Corinthians thought too highly of themselves because they supposedly possessed superior knowledge, but in God’s eyes he or she is nothing, if they are not accomplishing something of spiritual value in “building-up” the Body of Christ. 

Verse 3:

3: 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.

Paul goes on to say even if a person was generous enough to sell all he or she had so that they could feed the poor, in an act of tremendous charity, God would not even take notice of the act, there would be no eternal benefit, if it was done without love.  Again, this type of love characterizes God’s love which was most clearly displayed at the cross:  But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6). 

It’s no secret.  (Agape) love is driven (motivated) by the desire to please God the Father first and foremost, and then others.  It’s not about us.  It’s not about drawing attention to oneself or seeking accolades.  Paul said even if a person was martyred for the sake of Christ, but opted to do so without love; it would be of no eternal value.  Here’s the thing, it does no good to say you stand for the Truth, while hating the opposition.  When God said to love all people, by this they will know you are My disciples, that’s what He meant (John 13:35).  He didn’t say, pick and choose whom you will love… we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and some would say this is the easy peasy part of this command, but we are also commanded to love our enemies. 

Food for Thought

Our Lord and Savior gave 7 final statements before He died on the cross.  His first expression was:  “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  He forgave them because they acted in ignorance.  Jesus Christ could have stepped down from the cross.  He could have called down 10,000 angels to exact revenge on those who were treating Him so spitefully, but the Lion of Judah became our Lamb of God, just as the Scriptures prophesied (Isaiah 53:7).  His emotions didn’t get the best of Him – He fulfilled His Father’s will to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-10).  But can we say the same thing when someone is rude to us or does something harmful to us?  Our Apostle Paul wants us to know to love is the greatest achievement in Christ Jesus and the greatest gift one can either experience or give.
Let’s go to verse 4.

4: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.

We know for a fact the Corinthians were NOT patient with one another, they were NOT kind, Believers were jealous of each other’s spiritual gifts, and arrogance was the chief problem in this church.  So, the key ingredient needed for their fellowship to function as God planned was love; once achieved, then the divisions would cease. 

Obviously some of these Corinthians weren’t moving forward spiritually - their spiritual growth was stunted (1 Corinthians 11:1).  We know pride is a deterrent to accepting God’s free offer of salvation and to understanding the Truths of God.  Some of these folks believed themselves to be spiritual giants but in truth:

  • When they needed to be exercising patience with one another, they chose intolerance instead. 

  • Instead of showing kindness, they displayed indifference. 

  • Instead of being jealous of another’s God-given gifts, they should have been contented with their gifts, giving thanks to God while putting them to use in the community both within and without for the common good. 

  • Instead of bragging about their position in the church, based on the supposed ranking of their spiritual gift, they should have adopted the persona of Jesus Christ and displayed humility.  For love is not cruel but gentle, peaceful, and peacemaking.  As our Apostle Paul put it, love is not in competition with other Believers, “It rejoices with the rejoicing of others and mourns with their mourning (Romans 12:15).

Love does not brag or draw attention to itself because it is drawn to be the servant of all.  I don’t think I need to point out the Lord Jesus Christ is the best example of the humble Servant in all of Scripture, therefore He is our example.  There are many Bible verses I could direct you to but if you’ll turn to Mark 10:45 this verse expresses the meaning quite clearly:  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” 

(Agape) love does not boast about its vain accomplishments or take glory in self-achievement.  Instead, loving individuals seek to encourage others, their “building-up” others in the Body of Christ.  Love draws attention to God the Father not to itself.

Let’s examine verses 5:

5: does not act unbecomingly: it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,

To be quite frank, to act unbecomingly would be to live as a child of Satan rather than a child of God.  You see, the love Paul speaks of motivates a person to live as Christ would have them live, shunning evil, clinging to what is good (like a barnacle to the underside of a ship’s hull) and to all that is beneficial in life (Romans 12:9-13).  Love does not seek its own agenda or selfish ambition, but looks to the Lord for His planning and His instructions.  It views the well-being of others as more important.  Love is not provoked, meaning it does not throw gasoline on the fire of another’s aggression, insults, etc. (Proverbs 15:1).  Love does not enjoy conflict.  Love is quick to forgive and forget, not holding grudges, or reminding people of their past failures or offenses (1 Peter 2:23).

Let’s go to verses 6-7.

6: does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

7: bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Those who love and follow Jesus Christ rejoice with the truth, meaning they abhor evil and the ways in which the world conducts its routine business minus God the Father and His Son – they do not enjoy sinning or seeing others sin or condone it.  No Believer “winks” at sin.  Believers seek to advance God’s truths and the principles of His kingdom wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit opens the door, or presents an opportunity because love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.  In the world you may bump into the truth on occasion, if you search for it, but there is no falsehood in Christ Jesus; those who have a relationship with the Lord know full well what it means to be “set free” by the truth and they operate freely from this firm foundation (Matthew 7:24-27; John 8:31-32). 

Love bears all things means it is willing to forgive the transgressions of others; it doesn’t go around broadcasting other people’s failures to the world, “Do you know what Susan did last night…?”  “I called to let you know what David said about you the other day while we we’re golfing…”  Furthermore, it doesn’t break trust; it protects the dignity of others who have confided in them.  It also doesn’t take offense.  It doesn’t take things personally; instead it seeks through prayer and the desire to forgive others to see the good, the truth, in all situations, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and in all other circumstances remembering God has said, “Vengeance is mine…” (Romans 12:19).  

Love believes all things.  It has the utmost confidence in God’s Word and holds fast to them in enthusiastic faith.  It is not unduly critical of others understanding discernment and a forbearing spirit ought to go hand-in-hand.  Love continually looks forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church, and love believes that God is still at work, able and willing to do great things here on earth. 

Love hopes all things.  Love doesn’t give up on people and it doesn’t lose faith in God (Psalm 130:5).  It keeps hoping, in faith, to see the power of God at work in their lives and the lives of others, especially when the rough and tough times come (Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:25). 

Love endures.  It doesn’t curse those who persecute, it’s not busy seeking to “get even” with those who have mistreated it, love trusts that God is in control of every situation and there is a blessing behind the “storm cloud,” or the trials and tribulations (pressure) that come our way (Romans 8:28-31).  Love keeps doing all that it can to demonstrate the character of Christ Jesus to a world in need of a Savior and to a church which must have good examples in its midst. 

Verse 8:

8a: Love never fails - Believers never do wrong to love.  Love is the fulfillment of the law of Christ, which means we’re seeking others highest good, putting the needs of others above our own, and worshipping God with all our being.  Since no one can force us NOT to love them, love is undefeatable.  It is the love of Christ Jesus that enables people to see their own sin, so love is powerful (Romans 12:20).  The church is to have and to utilize the love of Christ in its dealing with one another and with the world (John 13:34-35).  Lost people ought to see Christ in us, if not we’ll lose whatever influence, whatever impact God meant for us to have on society.  This begs the question, if we can’t demonstrate the character and the love of Christ for one another in the church how are we going to be good examples to a world, who’s watching keenly?

8b: 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.

9: For we know in part and we prophesy in part;

10: but (behold the underlying truth) when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11: When I was a child, I used to speak like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

12: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully well just as I also have been fully known.

13: But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

No one was more charismatic than our Apostle Paul.  He wrote to the Corinthian church, “…you are not lacking in any gifts (1 Corinthians 1:7), so when it came to spiritual gifts no church had more of the gifts of the Holy Spirit than these saints in Corinth, yet Paul said he spoke in tongues more than all of them (1 Corinthians 14:18). 

Despite being the most gifted church Paul planted, the Lord revealed to Paul that the sign gifts were going to cease:  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.

In verse 8 Paul speaks specifically of the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, and the gift of knowledge (13:1-2), and states the Lord Jesus Christ had revealed to him (11:23, 15:3; Galatians 1:11-12) a time was coming when these sign gifts were going to cease to function within the church.  The reason for this is given in verses 9-10.

9: For we know in part and we prophesy in part;

10: but (behold the underlying truth) when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

The gift of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge during the Acts period were only in part, meaning they were incomplete; they did not communicate the full knowledge that the Lord had to reveal.  But the Lord revealed to Paul that which is perfect was coming.  Paul wasn’t writing about “the coming” of “He who is perfect” as many assume, he’s writing about the coming of a thing, the full knowledge of God, which is perfect:  For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:1-3).

When that which is perfect came, then the gifts which were only in part would cease – they would no longer be necessary.  Paul said it would be like the difference between being a child and becoming a grown man, or between seeing someone’s face reflected in a wavy ancient Greek mirror, and seeing the person face-to-face. 

(To be continued)

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