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1 Corinthians 13

September 23rd, 2012 by Vic

1 Corinthians 13

September 23, 2012

“The Better Way to Grow a Church”

 

Some Corinthian Christians were bringing their baggage with them from their old ways.  The church was starting to resemble their pagan ritual worship.  Some were getting drunk at communion.  Some were eating too much at potluck dinners.  They were blatantly immoral.  They were arrogant.  The gifts mentioned in Chapter 12 were common in the mystery religions.  Paul is rebuking the church.  In general he says, “Having and demonstrating the showy gifts should not be the epitome of all worship.  Love, the Fruit of the Spirit, is the better way.”

 

Chapter 12 identified a problem.  Chapter 13 is the better way.  Chapter 14 compares what they are doing with what they should be doing.

13:1 – This chapter begins with the word ‘if’.  There are 4 different Greek words that are translated ‘if’ in English.  This ‘if’ is a third class condition expressing a simple supposition with no expectation of it ever being so.

 

This third class of ‘if’ is used in 1 Cor 13:1,2,2,2,3,3; and 14:6,6,7,8,9,11,14,16,23,24,28,30.  Chapter 14 is the ‘ifiest’ chapter in the NT.

 

Therefore, when Paul begins this lesson on love he is not expecting to speak the tongues of men or angels.  That is not the point.  Paul invites us to consider the remote possibility of someone having a gift of languages so he could even speak the language of angels.  Think about knowing all the languages that were spoken in this sea port city.  Nobody could be more educated than that.  Then if they could also speak the language of angels…  Who could be more spiritual than that?

 

The mystery religions considered ecstatic utterances or unknown tongues to be the language of angels.  If you could “speak with tongues” that no one understood, you were communing with a god.  You had reached the highest experience of pagan worship possible.  However angles in the OT spoke a language that the hearer was expected to understand.  The God of the OT expected to be understood.  He wanted to be understood so much that He sent Jesus.

 

“If with the languages of men I speak and of angels…”

 

“But I have not love.”  The Corinthians had never heard a ‘but’ before.  If you could speak with angels, you had arrived — no ‘buts’ about it.  Paul introduces a corrective to their thinking.

 

“I am already become echoing copper or clanging cymbal.”  Two pieces of bronze or copper were often used for noisemakers for attention getters like a wind chime.  In the pagan worship they may have used copper or bronze gongs or just strips of metal.  Loud noise and rhythm aided in creating emotional highs and ecstatic experiences.

 

13:2 – The gift package you received when you become a Christian has no value without love.  Love is Paul’s umbrella term for all the Fruit of the Spirit.

 

Paul now suggests a series of exaggerated hypothetical illustrations to emphasize his point.

Literally Paul says, “And if I have prophecy and if I know all mysteries and all knowledge and I have all the faith so as to mountains remove, but love I have not, nothing I am.”  How many people do you know that understand everything about everything?  How many mountains have you seen moved lately?  But even if you had, it would be worthless without love.  Love is essential for the proper use of gifts.  Love brings value to all our experiences in life.

 

“Even if I feed out in morsels, just dole out everything I have in my possession including the things necessary to exist, and if I surrender my body to be burned as a martyr, but love I have not, I am helped nothing.”  Even if I did more than anyone has ever done before, God is not impressed.  “Even if I give my body to be burned” and no one could ask anymore of me than that, even if I had the gift of giving to the ultimate degree so that I gave my body, but I do it without a good attitude, I am “nothing helped.”  Giving is not always good.  Feeding the poor is not always an act of love.

 

13:4 – If what the Corinthians were doing in the church had little value without love, what is this love?  To a messed up church, Paul defines agape love.

 

“The love is long suffering.”  The word here describes patience with people (not circumstances).  Patience is a characteristic of God, but not of the Corinthians.  They were making fun of Paul (1 Cor. 4:10-13).  The church was not demonstrating agape love toward Paul.

 

“Kind is the love”  This word for ‘kind’ is only used here in the NT.  The root idea includes useful, gracious, and merciful.  Love is gentle in behavior.  The Corinthians were crude, harsh and just the opposite of love (1 Cor. 6:7).  They were taking each other to court.

 

“Envieth not”  This verb is present active indicative, the same as in 12:31 except that here it is a 3rd person singular pronoun (it) and in 12:31 it is second person plural pronoun (you all).  Love does not envy or desire like the Corinthians were doing.

 

“Does not brag”  This word is only used here in the NT.  We have nothing that we have not received.  If we really understand the body analogy of chapter 12, there is no room for bragging.  God gave each of us just what He wanted to.  Boasting is out of place (5:6).

 

“Does not puff himself out like a pair of bellows’  This word refers to inward attitude whereas the previous word denotes outward display.  It is used seven times in the NT.  Six of those time are in 1 Corinthians (4:6,18,19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4; Col. 2:18).  Paul is saying it another way again, “Love is not what some of you are.”  Some of you are arrogant (4:18); some of you are proud (5:2).

 

13:5 – “Not indecent”  Agape love is never disgraceful or immodest (Rev. 16:15; 1 Cor. 12:23).

 

“Not self-seeking”  Love does not seek itself.  The Greeks were seeking their own wisdom (1:22).  Paul says in 10:24 nobody should seek his own good (exact same phrase), but the good of others.  1 Cor 14:12 clarifies this verse even more.  If you are going to seek anything for yourself seek those things for yourself that will build up others.  This is Paul’s major criteria for identifying and exercising true gifts in the church.

 

“Not provoked”  This is a 3rd person singular present passive form of the verb.  Love does not react to others or outside circumstances to be provoked or exasperated.  A mature Christian can keep his cool when he is being rightly or wrongly accused.  He does not hate when he is hated.

 

“Does not keep a record of wrongs.”  A loving person does not keep track of the other person’s wrongs.  God purposely forgets our sins.  He remembers them no more.  Love has no accurate memory or up to date record of wrongs done by another so it is impossible for a loving person to be critical.  He has chosen not to remember.  The same verb is used in 1 Cor. 4:1 and 13:11.  It is interesting that in verse 11, Paul says children keep a tally.   In chapter 4 he had told them if they were going to evaluate him, they could just call him a servant of God.  It was very childish to be comparing him with other men.  The loving person living the more excellent way does not do what the Corinthians were doing.

13:6 – “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.”  The verb form of unrighteousness is used in 1 Corinthians 6:8 when Paul said, “You do wrong and cheat.”  These Corinthians were doing what love does not do.  It is interesting to note the word ‘righteous’ is used 80 times in the NT, but it does not occur in the Corinthian letters.

 

The loving person does not rejoice when his neighbor is wronged and cheated.  If we really believe that we are all part of the body as Paul stressed in chapter 12, then it will become natural to rejoice when others rejoice and weep with those who weep. (12:24-26)

 

“But rejoices with the truth”  Paul now makes the contrasting transition to the positive side of love.  This word ‘to rejoice with’ is used 7 times in the NT.  Christ used the word for finding the lost sheep and the lost coin, “rejoice with me”.  It may be significant to note that it was used in 12:26.  The reason why God gave everyone different abilities was to avoid divisions so everyone could rejoice with each other’s successes.

 

Paul is saying that love is a close friend of the truth.  He is personifying the truth and saying the love person rejoices with the truth person.  They are compatible.  Loving and truthing go together.

 

13:7 – “It covers all things”  This word is used for the tower that keeps off the enemy, or the ship that keeps out the sea, or the roof that keeps off the rain.  Love can protect from any external onslaughts.  Loving keeps me from resenting and getting bitter.  This verb is only in 1 Cor. 9:12; 13:7 and 1 Thes 3:1,5.  The Christian with a loving attitude is covered from all unjustified criticism.  Love is a source of protection.

 

“Believes all things”  God can be completely trusted.  The loving person believes absolutely in His promises.  The loving person always believes the best about other people.

 

“Hopes all things”  Love hopes completely.  Our hope is for this life and for life eternal (1 Cor. 15:19).  Christ in us is our hope of glory (Col 1:27).  Our hope is based on our belief in the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus.  The loving person never loses sight of his inheritance; there is no room for despair.

 

“Endures all things”  Based on his hope, the loving person perseveres like a stout-hearted soldier.  When there is no reason to believe or hope he perseveres, not with passive resignation, but with triumphant fortitude.  Literally it means to remain under.  The loving person is not a quitter.  He sticks to it when the going gets tough.

 

13:8 – Now in the rest of the chapter Paul emphasizes the permanency of love.  Everything else is temporal, but the love is forever; it can never become null and void.  Even gifts are temporal, though some last longer than others, but love is forever.  God is love.

 

“The love never fails”  This word ‘fail’ is used to describe a leaf or flower falling off the plant.  Love does not fade.  Love holds its beauty.  Love does not separate itself from the Vine.

 

“But where there are prophecies they will be ceased (passive), where there are tongues they will cause themselves to cease (middle), where there is knowledge it will be ceased (passive).”  Paul is contrasting 3 gifts with love.  He had used the same three gifts in the first 2 verses to illustrate the importance of love.  Now he uses these to illustrate the permanency of love.

 

Here in verse 8 he makes a subtle distinction in verb forms that he explains in verses 9-12.  The passive form suggests that the subject receives the action.  So prophecy and knowledge will be ceased by something acting upon them.  The middle voice describes the subject as participating in the results of the action.  Usually the subject is acting upon itself.  So tongues will cease in and of themselves, by acting upon themselves.

 

“The love never fails but where there are prophecies they will be ceased.  Where there are tongues they will cease of themselves.  Where there is knowledge it will be ceased.”

 

13:9 – When will prophecies and knowledge be ceased and when will tongues cease?  Paul is coming to that, but first in verse 9 he reminds us that the gifts of prophecy and knowledge are incomplete.  They are imperfect.  They are just a part of something greater.

 

“For out of (from) part we know and out of (from) part we prophecy…(verse 9).  The out of part shall be done away…(verse 10).  Now I know out of (from) part…(Verse 12).”  My knowledge and prophecy are limited to the part that God has revealed to me now in this life (12:20).

 

13:10 – “But when the completion is come, the out of (from) part shall be done away.”  Christ came the first time to complete, fulfill, and bring to maturity, the law.  In the future He will complete the Kingdom of God.  Knowledge and prophecy will no longer be necessary because we will know as we are known.

 

13:12 – When He shall come again my knowledge will be complete.  My whole frame of reference will be reoriented.  I will see from God’s point of view. The presence of Christ will make my partial thinking redundant.

 

13:11 – The child illustrates the verb in the middle voice.  There are 8 different Greek words translated ‘child’ in the NT.  The word used 5 times in this verse is only used 9 other times.  One of those is 1 Cor. 3:1 where Paul called the Corinthians babes in Christ.  Literally the word means not able to speak or one who babbles, but it was commonly used as a broad term for baby or as a general term for a minor.

 

The child by his very nature babbles.  As he matures from childhood to adulthood he speaks more clearly and hopefully puts away childish things for good.  Children are self-centered.  Children use tools as toys.  The Corinthians were being childish.

 

Paul reminds us that the child talks like a child, understands like a child and thinks like a child.  Each verb is a unique word that emphasizes childishness.  There are 15 different Greek words that could be translated ‘think’ in English.  The word Paul uses is the same one he used in 13:5 to say “the love does not keep a record of wrongs.”  Love does not think like a child.  How many times have you heard a child say, “I’ll get you for that.”  or “That makes us even.”  That type of attitude is childish.  Paul is saying when you grow up, that attitude will have been put away.  When your heart is full of love, childishness is gone.

 

13:13 – We live by faith, hope, love and not by sight.  Paul does not want us ignorant of the unseen spirituals, the Fruit of the Spirit.

 

Now these three remain: faith in a loving God who has always kept His promises, hope for the future, and love in the present.  In 7:31 Paul had reminded them that this world and everything in it is passing away.  Everything that you see will change.  But the spiritual does not change.

 

The last admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians in this letter (16:14) was, “Do everything in love.”  Even faith must be exercised in love.  Faith without love is cold.  Hope without love is lonely.  Love is the sphere in which Christian graces become effective.  Are you loving?  Begin reading 13:4 and put your name in place of the word love.  Now put Jesus’ name in place of the word love.

 

The greatest of these is love.  The more excellent way is love.

 

 

 

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