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I Corinthians 12:20 – 14:19

LESSON 41

Each Serving All

I Cor. 12:20-31

 

This section continues the thought of the former lesson but now directs it toward an application needful in the Corinthian church. There was danger that some envied the gifts others had, there was danger of the ‘greater’ proudly disdaining the ‘lesser’, and there was the danger of using whatever gift one had for selfish display. All of this is wrong. Therefore Paul concludes this chapter with the exhortation to promote edification with all the gifts. Each serving the whole. And then proceeds in Chapter 13 to say that Love is the excellent thing while using the gifts in love is the excellent way.

In the vss. 21-26 Paul instructs them how the members should live toward each other in the church, but illustrates it by the figure of the human body. The human body is an earthly replica of the heavenly reality. The eye is a beautiful member of the body, can see much farther than the hand can reach; the head too, holds a position quite above the feet and, truly, without a head your feet would be useless. But it is impossible for the eye to boast that it needs no hands, or of the head to boast it needs no feet (vs. 21). God has created the body symmetrically, so that there is a relation of interdependence among the members. All have need of all. So God made it, because it must reflect the heavenly.

Some members of the body seem to you (who consider yourself strong members) to be weaker, and therefore dispensable. Much to the contrary. All members are vitally necessary (vs. 22). If we have a certain member of the body lacking in honor, i.e. (I think) if a certain member of your body lacks in beauty you go about to make it beautiful. At least if your nose is disfigured you think of plastic surgery rather than amputation. And the secret parts of your body you cover with clothes, making the whole beautiful (vs. 23). All the members of the body agree to clothe one member, enhance the beauty of another and help strengthen a third. Such cooperation, such symmetry, such interdependence.

God has co-mingled the bodily members (vs. 24) that there should be no schism, but that the members should be concerned about each other (vs.25). So closely has God knit them together that if your tooth hurts, your whole person is in pain; if one remarks about what a keen mind you have, your whole person rejoices in it (vs. 26).

If such is the case in the body (and who does not cherish his own body Eph. 5:29) how horrible if in the church an opposite rule applies. Then Paul advances to say: “Ye are (the) Body of Christ” (vs. 27). There you have it. This is what Paul had in mind all the while but he came to it by masterful steps. The Corinthian congregation is Christ’s Body. All the elect are members of that Body. There is an adequate manifestation of it wherever a church is organized according to God’s Word. The Corinthian should BE what it IS. Everything God said about the human body, the Corinthians should take to heart. Ye are members “in particular” i.e. each of you believers has his own membership place and his own membership part in the Body. And so you ought to function. How grievous it is that sin destroys this ideal, mutilates the Body, and how great the wrath of God against any who disfigure the Body. We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. He rejoices to see anything that has the Name of Christ written over it, fall into mutiny and chaos.

As God has set members in the body, so He has set some in the Church as first Apostles, then Prophets, then Teachers (vs. 28). Here we have gifts but also the peculiar offices into which God has ordained them whom He has furnished with those gifts. But each does not have everything. What a confusion if all were Apostles etc. There is difference of gifts and each must serve for edification of all. And let Love be under and behind it all. That is the excellent way. With all your gifts, forget not the great gift, LOVE. Let LOVE function in truth and righteousness and thus the whole Body grows. (Eph. 4).

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   Such gifts as skill and art and aptitude in business are not mentioned. Wonder why? Are they valueless for the welfare of the Body? E.g. a Christian businessman has great skill and profit in his business. Is that useable for the church welfare? Discuss.

2.   The Unity of the Body roots in the “election in Christ”. How?

3.   If Corinth is the Body of Christ, is not also Philippi, and Ephesus etc.? Are there then many “bodies”? Or is the Denomination the Body and each Congregation a part? Or what?

LESSON 42

What Without Love?

(I Cor. 13:1-6)

 

Chap. 13 is not merely a methodical dissertation on love (I prefer the word love to charity) but rather it is an instruction to the Corinthians and to us, as to how the believers should use the gifts God gave them. As almost all instruction in the New Testament is suggested by some occasion, and adapted to it, so Chap 13 still treats of the special gifts which the Corinthians had. Chap. 14 carries it forward. God has ordained Christ the FULLNESS of the Church. When the Spirit distributes this fullness in the Church, He gives “gifts” but what if He had not given LOVE? What a chaos the church would be if men had gifts, but not love to use those gifts to mutual edification. The gifts are vain, they are like a skeleton if you in your use of them are not motivated by the love of God and the love of the saints of God. If God has so marvelously knit the Body together, and graced each member with a peculiar gift, the life of the Body lies in LOVE. Neither is Paul speaking of some intangible thing. God has so loved us that He gave His only Begotten. So much He has forgiven us. Would not we love much? And John says: “for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

Starting out with the gift most popular in the Corinthian church namely—-speaking in tongues—(vs. 1) Paul says even if I spoke in a language utterly out of this world, if I spoke angel-language, and used it as not having love, what would I be? I would be making loud shrill and discordant noises like brass beat against brass, but nothing more. No benefit in it for others, no edification. Just sounds and noises.

Or take the next popular gift. . .prophecy. In 14:5 Paul ranks prophecy as greater than speaking in tongues. But bring prophecy even to its superlative and say you could understand mysteries. What a prophet you would be. And then suppose you had all knowledge, and were really initiated into the realm of things hidden from others. And suppose you had a miraculous faith so that you could do what no saints have ever been capacitated to do, say you could move mountains. What a figure you would be. The entire church world would take notice of you and the denomination would glory in your skill. . .But, says Paul, if you had all this and no love, what would you be? What would I be, says Paul. Zero, that’s what I’d be. (vs.2)

And suppose I should give away, in food, all my possessions, and I would welcome martyrdom, even giving my body to be burned. Even such display is profitless if I have not love (vs.3). However magnificent our deeds may seem to men, they are odious to God if love be absent. What is not of faith is sin. We use this text to beat down the false theory of “the good that reprobate do,” and that is well. Provided on our part our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Having shown that the ultimate in gifts is worthless if love be absent, Paul now proceeds to show us LOVE itself. He personifies her and declares her beauty. It is the supreme gift of God to His people, given that they might walk in it.

Love is longsuffering or patient (vs. 4). The very first description tells us that we live our love-life in the midst of a hard, cruel world and an imperfect church. It is over against others who lack in this love that love shows itself in you as being patient. Here it is from Paul himself: “the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (II Cor. 12:15). Love is kind, unselfishly helpful, bountiful, not only takes the opportunities to do good, but looks for such opportunities. Love envies not. Envy is the effect of ill-will, of pride, love “vaunteth not itself”, it does not brag about itself, detests arrogance and insolence because it seeks not the glory of men. (vs. 4) Love is not ill-mannered and tactless, does not put its own ego in the center. Is not quickly provoked since it is quick to forgive. Anger rests in the bosom of fools. Love thinketh no evil. The meaning, I think, is that love does not think in terms of revenge for evil done to it. “Avenge not yourselves, dearly beloved.” Love does not take pleasure in the doing, hearing or seeing of what is contrary to the Word of God (vs. 6) but rejoices with the truth, i.e. when the truth reigns. It hates dissembling, it loves sincerity; hates apostasy, loves constancy and Word-purity.

And, oh we say, where is the man who has such love? By nature prone to hate God and the neighbor, we confess this love as a gift of God through Jesus Christ. And this gift too is calculated to be exercised by us who profess to be of Christ.

 

Questions for Discussion

1. The law is fulfilled in one word, namely, LOVE. What does that mean?

2.   Someone says: God commands us to love each other, but then we must also want to be “loveable”. What do you think about that reasoning?

3.   In Matt. 5:46 I read: “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the Publicans the same?” How shall we exceed the Publican?

 

LESSON 43

Love, All-excelling

I Cor. 13:7-13

 

There is much more to say about love, more than our books could contain. Our words cannot exhaust its riches, it exhausts our words.

So Paul goes on: love beareth all things (vs. 7). It reaches beyond the limits. Peter asked about forgiving seven times and Jesus said something about forgiving seventy times seven times. Love meets obstacles, it has to put up with horrible imperfections which also reveal themselves in us who say that we have this love. It bears all things, that is, it suffers affliction without complaining about its lot. It believes all things. Not as if it were blind to fact or careless about righteousness and truth, but it mixes kindness with its every judgment of others. Love hopeth all things, and, rather than suspect the brother, it can pray for him. It endureth all things, it is not quickly exhausted even as Paul in this very letter to the Corinthians shows. They showed so many imperfections, they were even telling around that Paul’s letters were weighty and powerful but his bodily presence was weak, and his “oratory” was actually contemptible. Yet his love for them went on, enough so he would admonish them still. He received no salary while at work here, the more he loved the less he was loved. . .yet Paul loved them enough to write them what we are studying in this lesson.

In the vs. 8-13 Paul testifies that love excels all gifts, even faith and hope. For love never faileth (vs. 8). Prophecies, tongues and knowledge are for the duration and calculated for this imperfect state. Sooner or later the prophet, the teacher, the speaker will no more be needed, for in the glory-state we all reach the manhood of Christ (Eph. 4:13). These shall cease, therefore, but love never ceases.

Vs. 9 proves what had been said in vs. 8. Prophecies etc. are adapted to the present, imperfect state of knowing “in part” i.e. because we are not yet perfect. Our knowledge of God is NOT incorrect or faulty. By no means. God does not give us a distorted picture of Himself in the Scripture. God’s Revelation is perfect and sufficient. But our knowledge is imperfect, incomplete, compared to the state of perfection which awaits. Therefore in vs. 10 the Lord tells us that when that which God has prepared for us, when that End has been reached, then all that which leads to that End shall be put away. So the prophet, the teacher, the missionary shall cease; even our Bible in its present printed form, our pulpit, our communion table and our baptism font, all of it has served its good purpose and it is needed no more, Not so with love. It is the difference between the child and the man (vs. 11). Things suitable to children are put away when they reach their maturity. As yet immature, earthly, sinful children we need things fit for infants, but when perfection comes such things, as prophecy and speaking with tongues, shall cease. For now we see imperfectly (as in a mirror) and we know imperfectly, but the time comes that we shall see face to face and shall know in the highest possible degree, (vs. 12)

Faith shall cease, hope ceases (vs. 13) because it belongs to the “not seeing.” Scripture speaks of not seeing but believing (I Pet. 1:8) and of hoping for what we see not (Rom. 8:24). If then we finally SEE God, faith and hope in that sense make way for the perfected covenant fellowship. When all this ceases, love goes on and on. Everything in the glory-life throbs with love. The love wherewith God loved us before the world was, our love reflected toward Him and toward all who with us have been glorified by His love.

See then, ye Corinthians, that ye hold high the gift of love for without it your boasted “gifts” are all in vain. And to us Paul says: see that ye love one another with unfeigned love, for whosoever loveth is born of God.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   In Numbers 12:8 God asserts that He speaks with Moses face to face and not in dark speeches. Yet Paul asserts in I Cor. 13:12 that we now see through a glass, darkly. How explain this?

2.   Someone says: we always know only in part and therefore we can never be absolutely sure about any doctrinal proposition. What would you answer to that?

3.   “He that hateth his brother is a murderer” (I John 3:15). If now he have the “gift” of prophecy, tongues etc. and uses them as hating the brother, how great a murderer he will be. Is that correct?

4.   Why does Scripture warn us so much, to love one another? Even husbands ‘’ must be exhorted to love their wives (Eph. 5:25) wives, to love their husbands and even mothers to love their children (Titus 2:4) Why is that?

 

LESSON 44

But Do You Edify

I Cor. 14:1-19

 

Having exhorted the Corinthians concerning the excellency of Love the conclusion is not: loving one another is everything, the gifts are nothing. Instead, the conclusion is: exercise yourselves to love one-another, and let the gifts be the tools with which love works.

As one glaring example of this Paul devotes a good part of this chapter to the gift the Corinthians seemed most excited about, namely, the speaking in foreign languages. It does not edify anyone, says Paul, if the church members do not understand the language. You speak foreign languages indeed, but do you edify? And what comes of love if you are not edifying each other while you live next to each other in the Body of Christ?

It were better you prophesied (vs .l). That is, it were better you spoke so that men could grasp what you say. From vs. 26 I conclude that at that time, when the Revelation of Scripture was still in the making, saints would receive revelations from God on high. That revelation was valuable to the one and to all. Suppose now that this saint would speak this ‘revelation in an utterly “foreign and incomprehensible language,” he would speak, to God, only God could understand what he Was saying. Only the man himself knew what he meant, but the fellow-man stood by, enthralled but ignorant. Of what benefit is this? (vs. 2) It is better that you prophesy, for he that prophesies (explains his words as he goes) speaks so that men can grasp it, and then he builds up, encourages and comforts the church (vs. 3). Prophesying’s and speaking in tongues are not opposites. Vs. 4 wants the speaking in tongues to be understandable to the hearers. Then it IS prophesying (vs. 5). Let all of you speak in tongues, it is a gift of God, but let him that does such speaking interpret (give hermaneutics) what he says. Then the church receives edification and isn’t that the all important thing? Isn’t that how love works?

From vss. 6-13 Paul emphasizes how useless is the boasted gift of tongues if it be not accompanied with an explanation. Vs. 9 underscores this futility. Except you, by means of your tongue, give speech that man can readily understand you will be speaking into the air. You can probably make a great show of learning, but what comes of edification? Paul uses three examples. The example of his own conduct in vs. 6. What if I had come to you with a language none of you could understand? But I did not do that. Again, if a musical instrument make no melody, who will appreciate, the sounds coming from reeds and strings? (vs 7) Again, if the trumpet gives an obscure sound, who of the older will know that it is a call to battle? (vs. 8). O Corinthians, let us not come with meaningless sounds, with showing off of our own skill and learning, but let us speak so that Christ’s glory may be enhanced, to the edification of the saints.

Paul will make it still plainer. The edification of the church is important enough to repeat a thing several times, and make it plainer with each repetition. There are many sounds (of voices) in our world and they all have their meaning (vs. 10). If therefore we do not understand the meaning of the other’s voice we are barbarians to each other, we stand looking at each other as foreigners (vs 11). Use the languages to edification, abound in edification (vs 12) and let him that speaks in foreign languages, before he utters any sound, let him pray that he may explain as he goes. If not, it were better he did not begin, (vs 13).

I speak with tongues more than you all (thank God) but you must know that I would rather speak five words that can edify the church than ten thousand foreign words, (vs 19). In speaking, and praying and singing (vss. 14-16) the things must be understood by learned and unlearned alike. If not, thou performest ably, but the brother is not edified. And then what have you? Then where is the love of Chap. 13?

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   The edification of the church is the primary thing. Neglect that and the church becomes the world, where each performs for the glory and advantage of himself, instead of the Christ. This applies to office bearers especially. Also to the singer, the organist, Sunday School teacher, Men’s Soc. Ladies’ Aid etc., the janitor and the ushers.

2.   By virtue of his office the minister must do most of the speaking in the church. Is there the possibility still that he speaks in an “unknown tongue” If so, how?

3.   Of what value to the church at the time was the speaking in tongues?