Category Archives: The Word of God

1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Resurrection hope

Discussion Question

What would change for you if you knew you were going to receive a billion dollars in 15 years from now?

Background (Context)

The topic of spiritual gifts has been discussed by Paul since Chapter 12 and concluded in Chapter 14 with the reminder that the word of God did not originate from them nor is it singularly aimed at them. Prophecy is desired above all gifts for the church to understand the mind of God in the present age in anticipating the age to come. This is where Paul picks up in Chapter 15 – looking toward the future.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The well established message of the gospel (1-11)
    • The priority of the gospel (1-2)
    • The content of the gospel (3-5)
    • The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)
    • The unworthy witness (9-11)
  • The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)
  • The order of God and of the end (20-34)
    • The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)
    • Then comes the end (24-26)
    • The order of God (27-28)
  • What’s the point if death’s the end? (29-34)

We have so much text to deal with here and some deep theological issues to grapple with. I will endeavour to speak to only the things that are hardest!

The well established message of the gospel (1-11)

The priority of the gospel (1-2)

“…remind you…I preached…you received…you stand…you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” These verses are simple enough to understand and the lesson is important. Paul preached for a good reason – so that the hearer might be saved. He urges the Corinthians to stand in that same message and not move. The urgency of the gospel is that it is the only way of salvation. This whole chapter stems from these simple words that belief in the gospel is essential – otherwise our faith is in vain. Paul will expand on everything that he has said in these short verses.

“…are being saved…” This is a curious expression. It taps into the idea of the now but not yet – meaning that salvation has come now through Christ and all who believe are saved, but the full reality of salvation is still yet to come. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and these opening verses in Chapter 15 urge the reader to stay with the gospel or else they will not be saved. This speaks into the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It may imply sanctification but the context of the chapter leads the meaning toward hope for the future as Paul focuses on the topic of the resurrection.

The content of the gospel (3-5)

“For I delivered to you of first importance…” Recall Paul’s words in Chapter 2:2 ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What he lists next as the content of his message has been considered by scholars to be a record of the earliest creed – a concise statement of faith that is being transmitted as the core of what the early church believed.

“…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” The first point to be made is that Christ/Messiah died for our sins. He did not die as an example of love and/or suffering only. His death was for our sins. It is the promised One of God who died. 

“…he was buried…” So as to be sure that he truly died.

“…he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” The two emphasised points in the creed is that Jesus died (and then buried) and that he rose (and seen by many). Both are marked with the words, ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. This is not to say that these things happened according to a particular piece of Scripture but that the whole of the Scriptures were pointing to this conclusion. His death accords with the sacrifice of the OT and his resurrection accords with the hope of restoration as described in the OT. See Luke 18:31-33 and Luke 24:44-47 on Jesus aligning the events of his ministry with that of the Scriptures. Of course, there are also moments in the OT that draw very real pointers to the death and resurrection of Jesus such as Isaiah 53:5-6, 11-12 but I commend the reading of the Bible to you as one unfolding story which makes sense when it is concluded in Christ.

Note that the message of the gospel is not primarily the story of those who are saved but the story of Christ. That he died, was buried and rose and that our hope rests on the genuineness of His story over ours. The NT teaches us to find ourselves ‘in Christ’ and that we die because He died. What is paramount and of first importance to us is not our own experience of salvation but the knowledge of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Cephas” is Peter in Aramaic and means rock.

The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)

“…appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…” This is a key verse for the historicity of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ made such a powerful impact on the people in the first century that on one day, 3000 Jews came to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 2). It was after the resurrection that the Christian church arose. Christ’s resurrection was the proof of His ministry and declaration that He was not only sent by God but the One that God had been promising would come. His death suggested his weakness but the resurrection proved his authority and genuineness. The encounter of Jesus with this large crowd of 500 people is not recorded other than here. The risen Christ remained among us for 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1:1-3). These witnesses were able to testify to the resurrection to the readers at Corinth.

“…Cephas….James…to me also…” Three key elders in the church alongside all of the Apostles also mentioned in Verse 7. Peter and Paul were central to the story in Acts as the gospel began in Jerusalem and spread out from there (Acts 1:8) and James, the brother of Jesus, lead the expanded leadership of followers beyond the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15). That is, Peter was head of the 12, Paul the leader in world mission and James the head of the first century church. This is a very short and simplification of things and I do not wish to say anything further than reason why these three names in particular are listed in our current passage. The faith stemming from the resurrection is the faith central to the Christian church from day one.

The unworthy witness (9-11)

“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” The message preached and believed is the important thing. Who preached it and who believed is secondary. The letter opened with a similar argument: forget who belongs to Cephas or Apollos or Paul or even Christ – the gospel preached is of Christ died and raised again. Despite Paul’s shaky beginnings, it is the message that he now preaches that matters. And it ought to matter to us too. The quality of the church comes down to the centrality of the gospel – preached and believed.

The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)

The argument in Verses 12-19 are a response to those who claim that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul’s response to that is to conclude that a) then Christ did not raise b) our preaching is useless because the central message is about Christ died and raised, c) your faith is empty and worthless, d) we are misrepresenting God as One who did the raising, e) you are still in your sins because Christ did not conquer sin and death, f) there is no hope for those who have died before us, g) and if faith in Christ is only beneficial before the grave then this is a really pathetic faith. The resurrection of Christ is crucial to all that we believe. If our belief is in a mystical resurrection or an ideological resurrection or anything other than a bodily resurrection then our hope is gone.

“…we are of all people most to be pitied.” We have the words of eternal life. Without that, we have nothing. And to many outside the church who do not believe in the resurrection through Christ will likely pity us. If the resurrection is fake news then we ought to be at the beach sipping latte’s on a Sunday morning.

The order of God and of the end (20-28)

The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” Paul believes this to be fact. Stated as much already in the opening Verses of this passage. Here put succinctly that the resurrection is a fact. Christ was raised. He was passive in this action. These are the little details that create a bigger picture of the work of the Trinity in salvation. See Romans 8:11.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The logic here is not a universal salvation logic but that through one man came sin and through one man is the source and fountain of salvation. Paul describes Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His is the initial resurrection and a model of the rest to come. Christ was raised first and is the risen LORD seated on the throne right now. Next will be raised all who have died in Christ (and those who believed God in the past (not just believed in God but had the faith of the righteous). Then all who belong to him. Compare 1 Thess 4:13-18.

Then comes the end (24-26)

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The sequence of events in Verses 24-26 are not actually a sequence but a comparison between now and later. Paul begins with “then the end will come…” and mentions the reign of Christ until his enemies are defeated but a careful read ought to reveal that when the end comes, he will hand the kingdom over to God the Father who gave Him the name that is above all names to begin with. Jesus must reign until his enemy is defeated and then the end will come. His reign is right now. Death has been defeated and a day will come when death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). So Paul is not describing any millennial position here (for those who understand) but that the next thing to happen in God’s plans for this creation is for death to be destroyed and the kingdom handed back to the Father.

The order of God (27-28)

I have nothing to add to what seems to be a clear statement of fact in Verses 27-28. It is an adventure to pick up clues throughout all of Scripture with regard to the relationship inside the Trinity. If anybody is to use this Verse as an argument against Jesus being God, then further reading on the Trinity is recommended.

What’s the point if death is the end? (29-34)

“…what will those do who are baptized for the dead?” Now this is an interesting verse if ever I’ve seen one! Let me tell you what I believe this means by stepping you through my investigation into this…

  1. That verse looks odd because it immediately doesn’t fit my theology.
  2. Either my theology is wrong and we ought to be baptising people on behalf of the dead OR there is something else happening – something I’m missing.
  3. I wonder if Paul is referring to something that the Corinthians are doing and rather than correct them, he is using their practice (right or wrong) to continue to defend the resurrection.
  4. BUT I almost never need to lean on background information (cultural practices and such) in order to understand a tricky passage. What is it that we need to use? Context!
  5. Context will definitely come in handy but I still can’t get around the simple reading of this verse that seems to tell me that people are being baptised on behalf of the dead. I will go to a commentary for some help with the original language…
  6. Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, in their 2012 commentary show convincingly that the word ‘for’ can definitely be translated ‘on account of’. This changes the purpose of the baptism – not for the dead but because of the dead. That is, why do you get baptised on the basis of the faith of those who are now dead?! This is worth exploring and seeing how it fits in the CONTEXT of the rest of the section.
  7. “If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on account of them? And…why do we endagner ourselves…if the dead are not raised” (emphasis added using Verses 29-32 to see this in it’s context).

So, that is the process I went through to untangle this passage. I did need a commentary to help me at this point and it gave me the confidence with the author’s thorough investigation in the use of the Greek to suggest an alternate reading and then I checked that new reading against the context of the section and it fits very, very well.

Paul has been arguing that if the resurrection is not true then our faith is empty and useless. Verses 29 to 32 are the nail in the coffin of this argument. If death is the end, then why are we bothering to be baptised ourselves and why would we endure the hardships of evangelism? Let’s just eat and drink and sleep in on Sundays cause death is the end!

“…wild beasts in Ephesus…” Paul is using this language to speak of the push back he received there against the gospel but it was worth it for the sake of those who were baptised in the end. It is worth it because the resurrection is real.

“Do not be misled…come back to your senses…there are some who are ignorant of God…” The final two Verses make a good segway to the second half of the Chapter where we’ll pick up next week. There are clearly some people speaking into the hearers in Corinth saying that there is no resurrection and Paul reports that this is corrupting their faith resulting in sin. Perhaps it is these people who are saying: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Paul says, let’s preach Christ crucified and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit since the resurrection means that we will all be raised up in glory at the last.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The hope that we have which drives all that we do is for the resurrection. If there is nothing after death, then our faith is stupid. If there is a resurrection then we must pay close attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, and raised up in glory. If we trust in him then we shall be raised up with him. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the pinnacle of our faith. It points us back to the historic and researchable evidence of Christ and it points us forward to eternal life. And it shapes our present to persevere and fight the good fight of faith.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The historic resurrection. Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then our faith is pointless. So, when we live in an age that even doubts the moon landing (don’t get me started), how can we be so confident that Jesus rose from the dead. Surely we should wonder if this is just an incredible myth that found traction and we’re all fools for continuing to believe it! Well, here are a few thoughts in this very short space. 1) Jesus did die. This is true beyond the gospel narratives. If there is to be a resurrection ‘legend’ then his death must also be concrete. Otherwise any news of seeing Jesus could be discredited by the claim that he didn’t die to begin with. 2) The report that he rose from the dead would be a very extreme lie, easily refuted. This is known as the ‘criterion of embarrassment’. Why would our church thrive on such a ridiculous claim? Furthermore, the gospel accounts speak with such credibility because they use women as their first witnesses. If it was a made up story, it would not have been women as the primary source unless that’s exactly what happened. 3) Paul and Peter and James all claim to have seen the risen Jesus. Now, that’s not the proof. The weight of their report is not in what they said but in the life and ministry that they were willing to die for. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – why go through all that if the resurrection was not real? Paul was not relying on secondary evidence but on his own eyes seeing the risen Lord. 4) The shape of the Jewish church did not change on the basis of Jesus’ death but on the basis of His resurrection. There were others who claimed to be the Messiah or someone of importance that came and went, so what made Jesus different? If it were just his teachings then his crucifixion showed that all who followed him fled at such persecution. But the speeches in Acts show that it is the resurrection that gave the apostles the confidence that this was all for real and worth giving your life to.

Topic B: Dealing with difficult Verses. Look back to the explanation of Verse 29 and discuss the good approach to understanding the bible when things are hard. Things NOT to do: 1) write difficult things off as cultural or impossible to know because we don’t know the culture. 2) Ask Google. 3) write off difficult things just because it seems odd or silly. We must humble ourselves under the word of God and not treat the word of God as something that we have the right to sit in judgment over. 4) Import whatever we feel to be right and force the text to agree with us.

Topic C: Looking forward to the resurrection. Paul says that His faith means something only because of the resurrection. He says that he goes on endangering his life because of the resurrection. So, it follows that we ought to have a faith that is strong if we hold fast to the hope of the resurrection and that we are willing to live sacrificially because of the resurrection hope. We can lose everything that we have and know that we will be eternally rich. We can risk friendships if it might mean that people hear the gospel and turn to Christ and live. We can learn the lesson of perseverance and thankfulness even through pain and suffering because we believe in the resurrection. What would you do differently if you knew that in a year from now, you would be living your eternal life with Christ in heaven?

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Order in the house of God

Discussion Question

What would be worse: someone bringing their own sense of order to your house or someone packing up your house in their own way? Why?

OR

Share an experience of being in a noisy, busy place. What did you love about it; what frustrated you? 

Background (Context)

1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion Paul began at 1 Corinthians 12:1 about spiritual gifts (or spiritual things). Building on the reality that everyone in the church has been given gifts from God (12:7, 27) and the importance of each other and the inter-relatedness of each other (12:14, 20, 25), Paul turned his mind to the antidote to much of the Corinthian dramas in chapter 13 – love. The first part of chapter 14 then dealt with (what looks like) a specific problem in Corinth – they have become enamoured with tongues speaking which is of detriment to the church because it does not build them up (14:12). Having unpacked the theology and usefulness of tongues and prophecy, from 14:26 Paul turns his mind to exactly how they ought to be used in the body of Christ so that everything is done in accordance with the character (14:33) and will of God (14:40).  

Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Practical outworkings for the church  (v.26-33)
  • Particular outworkings for women (v.34-36)
  • Practical warnings and encouragements for the church (v.37-40)

Practical Outworkings for the Church (v.26-33)

“What then shall we say…” (v.26) – Paul starts a new section dealing with the practicalities of tongues and prophecy. It looks like the Corinthians all come with a desire to exercise their different speaking gifts (hymn, word, revelation, tongue) and now Paul practically applies both the way of love and the need to build up the church (14:12) to their convoluted and chaotic gathering.

“…someone must interpret.” (v.27) – this is the outworking of 14:23. If there is no interpreter (v.28) then there ought not be any tongues because the church cannot be built up and unbelievers cannot be built in. This is a clear word of Scripture but there are churches where tongues speaking happens without interpretation in a chaotic fashion (ie. everyone prays in tongues simultaneously). Such practices would appear to be in clear contravention of the Scriptures. Speaking in tongues is never noted as a mark of true salvation or a special presence of the Spirit and should always be interpreted. 

That said, note that tongues speaking is interpreted but not weighed. You may want to ponder this and what you would do if someone spoke in tongues in church and said something contrary to the scriptures. Does the lack of necessity to weigh tongues interpretations mean they ought never be weighed?

“Two or three prophets…” (v.29) – again, two or three. You can see the orderliness of speaking in church without the theological justification being yet stated. Your group should have discussed the meaning of prophecy last week. To be completely practical, what a good service leader does is prophecy; same with a good song leader, a person giving a testimony or sharing a story of a conversion or something that happened for them as a Christian. So in the public gathering that we call church, when someone speaks a word of encouragement, male or female, they are prophesying. Not everyone can or should but many ought to.

“…the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (v.29) – the goal of prophecy is that people may be instructed and encouraged and if people are being instructed or encouraged in such a way that is contrary to God’s word then that must be countered in the church. The responsibility for this lays with other prophets but not all the prophets (v.34-36). The orderliness of the process is emphasised in v.30-32.

It is interesting to ponder how we might utilise prophecy more often in church. As far as can be seen, we don’t have prophets getting up to speak and we don’t weigh the words of those who do… or do we? 

I know of one church where at the end of each sermon series they have prophesy week and people are encouraged to come with a story from their life, a point of application or something they have learnt and been changed by from the series and they all share and are encouraged and pray. I don’t know about you but in some of our congregations that may be worth considering.

It is also worth noting that ministry staff do listen to what is said from the front; the people who speak are chosen for their wisdom and clarity and when they say something awry, it is often subtly corrected later in the church and brought to the speakers attention afterwards. Should this be more formal in our church? 

It is also worth noting that in an environment where the Word of God was not so readily available, prophecy was more necessary.  There was not a “bible” when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians and encouraging applications from the stories (written and passed on) of the life of Christ may well have been much of the content of prophecy. Would we expect or do we need so much prophecy today given that we have the Word of God in Scripture?

These are all good questions it is worth getting your group to chew over.

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” (v.33) – Don Carson writes on this verse: This truth does not of course sanction mere traditionalism in worship or sanctify stuffiness;  but it does warn us sharply about the dangers of the opposite end of the spectrum. Wise worship does not pursue freedom at the expense of order or spontaneity at the expense of reverence. This reality flows into v.34.

Particular Outworkings for Women (v.34-36)

If you are looking for a controversial part of the Bible, you have found it! However, the heat and confusion is all taken out of this verse if we remember our basic skills of reading in context and being thoughtful and careful with the text. Like last week, encourage your group to grapple with the meaning rather than throw this text in the bin, refine it to some archaic mistake or simply ignore it. 

You will be helped in guiding the group on the meaning by going back to 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. You will see there, and elsewhere (Ephesians 5:18b-20), that Paul expresses no reservation about women praying or using prophetic speech in the church. So 14:34 cannot be a blanket ban on women making noise in church. It must mean something else.    

Look back into v.29-33 and see that prophecy needs to be weighed – checked, evaluated – as to whether it is true and accords with what God has said. Thus, prophesy in NT is not authoritative in and of itself, it is a word that must be weighed carefully and in an orderly fashion for the Glory of God.

In the context then, two things are true; (1) we have already seen that women are not to remain silent as they pray or prophesy, and (2) in the weighing of prophecy being discussed here (which necessarily involves authority and teaching); it is this weighing/ evaluating’ sifting that women are not to engage in inside the church. Not having a husband does not change the meaning of the situation here. It may mean that a person can ask and discuss a matter later but not in the public setting. The Bible is clear that we should teach and admonish one another.  

It is the teaching of the Bible that in the public church setting, the only limitations on the participation of women seem to be in teaching and weighing of prophecy. Prophecy itself, singing, praising, encouragement and praying are all gifts women have and are able to exercise for the benefit of others in the church. 

“As in all the congregations of God’s people” (v.33) – this is not just a Corinthian issue but a principle issue that applies across all churches in all places and times based in the order of creation and authority in men and women.

“…as the law says” (v.34) – this sounds like strange reasoning but Paul has already used it in 14:21 by which he meant the OT Scriptures. Paul is probably referring to Genesis 1-2 (2:20-24) for it is that passage that Paul quotes explicitly on two other occasions when discussing female roles in church and marriage. Paul means here that because man was made first and women was made for man, a pattern has been laid down reading the roles the two should play in family and church.   

“…speak in the church.” (v.35) – again, there is difficulty here with such an unqualified statement but you should guide your group to again see context and the importance of extracting meaning from context. You might argue that you could include the words “in such a way” in v.35 to fit the context because it is certainly not shameful for a woman to pray or prophesy. 

“Or did….” (v.36) – this verse bridges v.34-35 with the conclusion. It is a rebuke of the Corinthians with Paul saying “Did you write the Bible? Are you able to make your own rules?” The answer is of course no! They must sit under the authority of the Word like everyone else, everywhere, for all time.

Practical Warnings and Encouragements for the Church (v.37-40)

“…ignore…ignored..” (v.37-38) – those people who are working in line with the Word and work of God will acknowledge all that has been said as good and true because they will want to sit under God’s authority and not wrestle it for themselves.  

“…be eager…fitting and orderly…” (v.39) – Paul ties together all he has been saying from 12:1, through 12:31, through 14:1, through 14:21 and encourages them towards orderly, intelligible worship. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Body of Christ ought to reflect Christ himself and the nature of the God who is worshipped. Words ought to be used to build people up and speakers should not seek to push their own agenda or their own personhood but to speak God’s words in God’s way to benefit God’s people for God’s glory.  To do church in a worldly way (that appears to be a significant Corinthian issue!!) is contrary to the nature and purpose of church and must be stopped. The enthusiastic language of v.39 (be eager to) ought not be underestimated. Paul wants people to hear the good news of Jesus and respond with delight saying, God is really among you!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The Place of Prophecy in Church. You may discuss this when you get to v.29. See the notes above. Do you think our church should open up to more prophecy? What might this look like? How can we maintain order and truth in a chaotic world? What place truth in a world of freedom?

Topic B: The Way we do Church. Our church services are carefully planned with songs and readings; leaders and musicians are trained and given feedback and encouragement. But sometimes, there is laughter and hilarity; sometimes boredom and sombreness. Is there enough order in our gatherings? Could there be more? Is there disorder? Should it be repealed? What would Paul say is missing from our gatherings?

Topic C: Ordering of men and women. The Bible is clear that God created men and women equally but differently. The pattern of marriage is that men and women have different roles. The difference does not make one inferior to the other. The difference does not make one better than the other. The difference does not negate all that is good about the other. The difference is something God created us to be and it’s for our good that he has given us different responsibilities in our relationship with each other. It is the same in the church. How can we show this equality and difference in such a way as to help people rejoice in the goodness of God’s creation?

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Most Excellent Way

Discussion Question

How many classic songs can you list that have ‘love’ in the title? There’s ‘Love, love me do’, and ‘She loves me’, both by The Beatles. What else can you come up with in 2 minutes?

Background (Context)

The church in Corinth needed to hear how they were living no differently to the people of this world. Apart from their history with Paul and Apollos and their knowledge of the gospel, it would be difficult to identify this church as a Christian gathering. Divisions, quarrels, immorality, pride, selfishness, impatience, and superiority complexes – these are just the things off the top of my head to list down. They have forgotten how amazing their God is, how amazing grace is and how important the cross of Christ is. In Chapter 12, Paul reminded them that they are all part of the one body because they are all saved the same Spirit who enables them to call Jesus their Lord.

In the church, there are significant gifts such as prophecy and teaching (more on prophecy again in Chapter 14) but Paul takes a moment to talk about something greater than the biggest roles in the church. Notice that Paul began to talk about gifts from the Spirit in Chapter 12 which continues in Chapter 14. But something that is not a gift for just some people is the virtue of love. 1 Corinthians 14:1 will link this thought by saying: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. Love is the characteristic that all gifts need to be expressions of. Prophecy is a great gift but love is the excellent way for it to be shared.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)
  • A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)
  • Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  When Paul has just mentioned ‘eagerly desire the greater gifts’, we firstly wonder what the greater gifts must be! What should we pursue with earnestness? But then he stops to speak about, not the greater gifts, but the most excellent way. Love is not one of the gifts that Paul can ask, do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all have love? The answer to the first two questions is no! But the answer to the last ought to be yes! It is not one of the gifts but the way of Christian maturity. It is a virtuous growth that is expressed across everything that we do. No matter what you are engaged in, 1 Corinthians 13 has instruction on how you must engage in it! See 1 Jn 4:8.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…” Be careful to notice that Paul is not recommending that the tongue of angels is even a thing but that he says that if or even if we did that – but do not have love, it is nothing to be impressed by.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…” We can stop for a second and wonder if there is something to learn about the definition of prophecy here. Paul seems to have used hyperbole when describing ‘speaking in tongues’ and so it seems reasonable to think that we can learn something about prophecy but stop short of thinking that prophecy, by definition, is about understanding all mysteries and all knowledge – something like a fortune teller or a wise wizard. A working definition of prophecy is: speaking the word of God into the current environment. When the scriptures were incomplete (the direct revelation from God – see 2 Peter 1:19-21) prophecy is given for people to write down the word of God for the benefit of many to hear, read, pay attention to. But now that the scriptures are written, we refer to the written scriptures and can speak these words of God, with meaning and understanding into the lives of our hearers. Paul suggests that a prophet has knowledge of things beyond human capacity and that fits with the words of 2 Peter 1. The word of God, the scriptures, are filled with all knowledge and the mystery of God’s will revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. But such profound and ‘out-of-this-world’ knowledge is nothing and makes you nothing if you do not have love.

“…if I have faith that can move mountains…” Can you hear the hyperbole? Can you hear the exaggerated examples? Jesus spoke of the ability to tell a mountain to be moved into the sea or wherever with only the faith the size of a mustard seed (Mt 17:20; 21:21). The bible challenges us to put our trust in the God who made the mountains (Psalm 121:1-2). The message, even from Jesus, is to say that if you trust in God, you must raise your expectations of what is possible. But the thing that stops Christians from becoming superheroes with the abilities of Dr Strange is that our faith directs us to the will of God. When we pray, give me today my daily bread, we have first of all prayed, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Maybe our faith does not more work. Maybe we could experience more if our faith was increased. Or maybe, when we put our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will do more than move mountains for us, he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth! He will raise our mortal bodies from the dead! And he will use our words of faith to bring people from darkness to light and from death to life! And that would be God’s will being done!

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast…” Here we have again some exaggerated suggestions but a new bit of info. In the place of love, we would be doing these things in order to boast. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith acts, giving to the poor and suffering are all under the Christian umbrella of right things (when understood and done right) but none of them are successful or useful when boasting lies behind the motive.

“…I gain nothing…” The absence of love makes a useless action. So, here is the rebuke to the Corinthians: they were boasting for all sorts of reasons. But they possessed nothing because they did it all for their own boasting and pride. Before Paul can talk about the gifts, he needs to rebuke the receivers of the gifts because they are all acting like children who need to grow up and live for others and not for themselves. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is not an advertisement for love but a rebuke against boasting.

A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)

“Love is…”  The list of love attributes that follow fill out the full expressions of love. It is way more than simple desire or passion. To say that “love is love” does not say anything. To say “a bear is a bear” does not help describe what a bear is! Paul puts flesh and descriptions on love to help us see the breadth of it. We will discover that it is BIG! And if the Corinthian church had simply put on love and pursued that, then all of the problems outlined in this letter from Paul would not have existed or would have been solved.

“…patient…” If the church had known patience, they would not have messed up the Lord’s Supper so much. They may have listened patiently to one another instead of taking each other off to court!

“…kind…” If the church had expressed kindness, then they would have avoided the divisions that boasted in one leader over another, would have seen that some of their brothers and sisters were being ruined by the eating of food offered to idols.

“…it does not envy…” Envy is the desire for somebody else to lose. It says, I hope that you fail in your position that I want. It says, I would receive joy in seeing your demise. It says, I should be where you are. Paul spoke in Chapter 4 about his little care for what the Corinthians thought of him since his motives are to act like a servant who is judged by God for what he does. He seeks to pursue works that do not promote envy from anyone.

“…it does not boast…” Then they would not say “I follow Apollos!” See 3:21. No human has any right to boast especially in the church. We are all indebted to Christ so that if anyone were to boast, it ought to be to boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31).

“…it is not proud.” Envy is to wish somebody else’s downfall, boasting is to puff yourself up, and pride is to look down on others. All of these come from a place of insecurity. But when we boast in the Lord and practice thankfulness and praise to him, we exercise these other three out of our bad habits.

“It does not dishonour… not self-seeking… not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs.” Can you picture how these areas may have fixed problems in the Corinthian church? Can you imagine what your life would look like if these four areas were godly? I must say, when our society falls in love with the slogan: love is love and yet displays all the signs of an unloving bunch, we’ve been raised very uneducated by the Word of God.

“Love does not delight in evil…” Remember when Paul pointed out the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife and all were boasting about that?! We may say, again as we look at our culture, that we have delighted recently in some evils. But then we are left with the question, what is evil and what is not. What is good for you may not be good for you. This is where the next statement helps.

“…but rejoices with the truth.” Evil and truth are connected categorically here. Right and wrong have very much to do with truth and lies. To align love with the truth is to align truth with God. Paul pushes us to go beyond ‘aligning with’ the truth and says that love rejoices with the truth. The gospel is truth. The first change that we make when we enter into our relationship of love with God is to confess that we are not lovely. To rejoice in the truth that Jesus is in a different category of humanity and that we need Him. And to rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. To run away from this and promote the soft lie that everybody is basically good is, really, to live with evil.

“It always protects…” This seems fitting that love is protecting. It does not follow that love covers up sin or evil or something like that. God is described in Psalm 121 as our protector who always watches over us. It does not follow that God always keeps us away from suffering and trials. These things are actually good for growth and faith. Love does not require “helicopter” protection. Overseers in the church, for example, don’t need to react every time something uncomfortable is going on. A Growth Group Leader, for example, does not need to correct every little thing that is said in a group nor finish every conversation that the group is having. A protector can appear to be very passive (or am I now getting on a personal soap box?). Love always protects – and a good mature protector will not act out of anxiety for others.

“…always trusts…” I find this one tricky because how can we trust everyone? But perhaps we are not told to trust everyone but to always trust – is there a difference? Perhaps it is fitting that this item is placed straight after protects. The two can work quite well together. Note that trust and faith are pretty synonymous. So love is aligned with faith – not simply faith in God but faith in the work that God is doing in the world and that His work stretches to all of our interactions with people and the events in this world. It seems that our knowledge of the Sovereignty of God helps us to be able to trust, even when things look scary.

“…always hopes, always perseveres.” Verse 7 contains attributes of love that all seem dependant on our knowledge of God. He is the God of tomorrow. He is the source of our hope and perseverance. Without our faith (trust) we have no hope. Without hope there is no motivation to persevere.

Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

“Love never fails.” That is it. When wondering what to do or how to act: choose the path of love as prescribed in Verses 4-7. Love always works because it embraces the work of God which is patient, kind, well tempered and so on. The alternatives to love do fail. Envy, boasting, pride, dishonor/lies, self-seeking, quick tempered and fault finding – these fail to get anybody anywhere good. But Paul has a different angle to give us here. It is not just that love is the better way – it is the forever way.

“…prophecies… will cease… tongues… will be stilled… knowledge… will pass away.” Our time here on planet earth – for all humanity – is a passing thing. A day will come when what we think is important now will be shown to be trivial. The work and building and projects that we invest in so much now will all pass away and be replaced with something so much greater. Paul expands on this in Verses 9-10 – those verses I will not expand on.

“When I was a child…” Paul uses the analogy of growing up to illustrate the difference between what we know now and what we will know in the future. You think of your childhood now and you conclude: I had no clue. And now that you are older, you put aside your limited view of life and embrace adult thinking (some people mourn this because they believe that childhood is an age of innocence and purity but it is more of an age of being protected and dependant).

“For now we see only a reflection…” Paul’s second illustration is to say that this life looks clear and true but there is a greater reality that goes beyond this existence. We talk about God and love Him and rejoice in the truth of the gospel but one day, we shall see God and His kingdom in the clearest vision ever! It’s more dramatic than comparing a black and white silent movie with a 3D cinema experience!

“……then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” What a little gem of a line. It is easy to miss these treasures hidden in the midst of other great truths. Paul is talking about the short life-span of prophecy, tongues and knowledge compared to the eternal and unstopping value of love. As he addresses knowledge, it is not that knowledge will cease, but what we know will be vastly superior to what we know now. So, here are my two take-aways from this. 1) knowledge is about clarity. Even now we must expect that our knowledge of things should grow. We come to faith in Christ and young Christians believe they know everything, but as you mature you realise that knowledge of God is just ever-expanding. A young Growth Group Leader should feel confidence in this because they will not be scared of heresy, but simply a knowledge that we grow in clarity as they mature. 2) We will look forward to knowing God better but God already knows us in full. His knowledge of us is not growing in clarity. He knows you. We often worry about how other people perceive us and whether they understand where we are coming from. Well, God understands where you are coming from. How wonderful is that little jewel of knowledge!

“…faith, hope and love.” When all is said and done, our trust in the Lord is paramount and it feeds our hope which in turn strengthens our perseverance. These three words all speak of our relationship with God which is forever. Faith and hope will be modified in eternity because of the clarity of vision and change of environment but love will be unaltered. Our eternal God who is love has shown us the most excellent way!

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Love never fails. Never expires. Always excellent. The attributes of love are seen in the character of God. If we would learn this, we would cover over a multitude of sins. Thank God that His love has done just that for us in Christ Jesus!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The rebuke of love. Paul’s rebuke to this church is challenged in every way by the description of love. In how many ways has this passage rebuked you? We all fail to love perfectly. That’s why we need the perfect saviour who loved perfectly. Is there one or two aspects that you can identify as urgent areas to repent of? Perhaps it is dishonouring somebody. Perhaps envy or pride. Reflect on what you can do this week to repent and repair a relationship then pray about that.

Topic B: The desire for love. This lesson to love is an ongoing transformation which will never be perfect this side of heaven. It seems wise to take a passage like this and store it permanently so that we can train our hearts to respond in love quicker and quicker over time. So, memorise 1 Corinthians 13. Simple. It’s a small chapter and can be a project that your group begins this week and works on together over time. Why not start with Verses 4-7. Get that in your head. Then add Verses 8-13. Finally, include Verses 1-3.

Topic C: Love speaks less. When we consider the attributes of love in this Chapter, we may begin to see how our tongues are trained. The first thing that acts in many situations is the tongue. Patience? Hold your tongue. Kind? Watch your tongue. Envious, boastful or proud? Convert your tongue to praise and thankfulness. Engaging the brain through prayer and understanding before we speak will save us from much damage. When we continue onto Chapter 14, we discover that we are not told to stop speaking altogether, but to join love and truth together.