What Did I Learn When I Re-Read 1 Corinthians 13?
I’VE BEEN RE-READING through 1 Corinthians 13 this week.
Each time I mull over and meditate on the verses within this chapter, I try to treat them as though they’re new to me—as though I’ve never read them before. I’ve been trying not to bring my prejudices and preconceptions to the text; I just want the Word to teach me. Here’s what I’ve gleaned thus far:
- The context of the chapter is miraculous; Paul mentions gifts of tongues, prophecies, faith and knowledge (v. 2).
- Chapter thirteen is actually sandwiched between two other chapters concerning miraculous gifts. Chapter twelve addresses the number and MANIFESTATION of gifts, chapter fourteen addresses the use and REGULATION of gifts, while chapter thirteen addresses the DURATION of gifts.
- Each member of the Corinth congregation who possessed a gift was able to exercise it of their own free will and volition (cf. 14:32). Unlike many Pentecostals today, there was no out-of-control, frantic behavior by those who had received an endowment.
- Not everybody who exercised their miraculous gift did so with the right intent. Some used it with selfish, proud and arrogant motives rather than for the edification of the church body at large (v. 3). “Look at me! Look at the gift I possess!” The underlying problem that permeated Corinth was division (cf. 1:10ff), and ultimately what created the division in the first place was a lack of love.
- Agapē love is based upon a decision as opposed to a feeling.
- Love (vv. 4-8a) is expressed by what it does positively (e.g., patience, kindness, bears-believes-hopes-endures all), as well as by what it doesn’t do negatively (e.g., envies, parades, puffs up, behaves rudely, seeks its own, is provoked, thinks evil, rejoices in iniquity).
- It is possible to understand, from an historical perspective, how the lack of love hurt the church at Corinth and still act in an unloving fashion today.
- The apostle made a clear distinction between those gifts which were temporary (e.g., miraculous) and the gifts that were permanent (e.g. faith, hope and love). See #2—and remember DURATION.
- Paul distinguished between that which was “in part” (v. 10b) and that which was “perfect” (v. 10a). The Word was being received in part/fragments—while the finished, finalized (Jude 3) Word would be perfect/complete (cf. Eph. 4:11-13).
- The miraculous gift period of the early church was child-like and immature because it did not possess the finalized, entire Word of God (v. 11). It only had bits and segments of the whole, divine revelation.
- The miraculous gift period of the early church was like looking into a cloudy, brass mirror (v. 12). But when God fully and finally revealed the totality of His Word in the latter part of the 1st century, the church’s insight would no longer be obscured, and she would be able to see and understand the Father’s will from a sharper and richer perspective (i.e., “face to face”).
- Paul couldn’t have been talking about the return of Jesus when he said, “When that which is perfect is come,” and I don’t need a degree in Greek language to know that: a) If “that which is perfect” refers to Jesus at His final coming, THEN ALL MIRACULOUS GIFTS ARE PRESENT IN THE CHURCH TODAY. But Paul didn’t say, “These twelve…”, he said, “these three” (v. 13), and b) If “that which is perfect” refers to Jesus at His final coming, THEN WE DO NOT HAVE THE COMPLETE, FINALIZED WORD OF GOD TODAY.
- Even though miraculous gifts are no longer employed in the 21st century, love must continue to be practiced.