Category Archives: Worship

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 14:1-25

Building the church

Discussion Question

Share a time when you experienced being a foreigner! (It could be when everyone around you was speaking another language, sharing an in-joke, or participating in an activity you had no idea how to do) How did it make you feel?

(This is a little sharper and more pointed… Share a time when you were almost completely selfish and did something for yourself at the expense of the needs of others. How did that play out?)

Background (Context)

1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion Paul began at 1 Corinthians 12:1 about spiritual gifts (or spiritual things). We know that the church of God in Corinth was divided, competitive and boastful. They would do almost anything to one-up each other and regularly acted in ways that were not loving. Having sought to open their eyes to the radical gifting of everyone in the church 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. They were urged not just to “love each other” but to pursue the “way” of love (12:31, 14:1). With this new understanding of the “body” and of love in front of them, Paul turns in chapter 14 to (what looks like) a specific problem in Corinth – they have determined what the “greater gifts” (12:31) are, and they have determined incorrectly!  In a tongues vs prophecy showdown, they have backed the wrong team and are causing more problems!

Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The greater gift is prophecy (1-5)
  • The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)
  • Why this matters for believers (13-19)
  • Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

The “greater gift” is prophecy (1-5)

“v.1…especially prophecy” Paul helpfully draws the threads of ch.12-13 together and makes his point – prophecy is the greater gift. 

It will be important for your group to use careful interpretive (exegetical) skills from this point forward in this study. “Prophecy” and “tongues” both carry meanings throughout this passage that are carefully defined by the passage. If your group brings its own definitions to the text (ie. prophecy is predicting the future) they will get very confused. There is a great opportunity to help your group learn again how to be great Bible readers – encourage them to allow context to determine meaning. Tongues will be defined in v.2. Prophecy will be defined in v.3.    

“v.2 speaks in a tongue”  You will notice in your footnote that the text may also read “in another language”. There is a debate as to whether this use of the word “tongues” refers to other languages (like the experience of the apostles in Acts 2) or a spiritual language understood to have come from God. Again, let the context of verse 2 define the meaning not a footnote or a different passage referencing tongues or languages. What does this verse say? …to God…mysteries… 

One of the questions often asked is whether the gift of tongues still exists. As you read this part of the Bible, you will see that there is no reason given in the text as to why it couldn’t. Some say that now we have the Bible we no longer need mysterious or miraculous gifts for we have the voice of God in the text. That is true, but it does not negate the gift nor God’s capacity to give it! This chapter regulates how tongues ought to be used in the church and when they ought not be. In the experience of many, where tongues are spoken today the teaching of this chapter is largely ignored. The goal of Paul is to ensure that gifts are used to build up the church and not confuse or divide. 

“v.3…strengthening, encouraging, comfort”  Prophecy is understandable and immediately applicable to the church. Tongues are mysterious and by themselves help no one.

v.4 …themselves…the church” the crux of the matter. When a gift is being exercised in church (the body) it ought to be for the benefit of the body (12:7, 26-27). Prophecy does that. Tongues does not.

v.5 …greater” the conclusion to the question of 12:31. But there is a caveat here – interpretation. The key to Paul’s thinking is …edified. Therein lies his goal for activity in the church. It ought to build up and grow the church, not just individuals (12:7). Anything that happens in the church that is not for the common good ought not happen. Note here that it looks like tongues+interpretation is of equal value to prophecy. Paul will have something to say about that in v.18-25.

The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)

“v.6…revelation…” There are many gifts of “greater” value than prophecy. Not all the gifts mentioned are easily defined but what is clear that whatever the 4 speaking gifts are here they are intelligible and “good” for the edification of the church (in comparison with unintelligible tongues).

“v.7-8…pipe… harp… trumpet…” Intelligibility and clarity of  sound or noise is important for interpreting the tune or message. 

“v.9 So it is with you” This is a verse that shows Paul is speaking into a Corinthian issue. They are gathering in church and some people are just “speaking into the air” and not intelligibly edifying (building up) each other. 

“v.12…build up the church…” Selfishness and self-indulgence are excluded in the church. If only the Corinthians had heard this (and believed this) many years before. You may want to take a moment for the group to evaluate their own hearts and motives for serving in church. Do we serve to build up the church or build up ourselves. 

Why this matters for believers (13-19)

“v.14…mind is unfruitful” I don’t think this indicates that the speaker is in a trance and their mind is blank or vacant, but that there is no learning or building up or encouragement or growth from words that do not make sense. Again, let the context guide your reading!

“v.15-16…understanding… Amen…” Note the variety of ways Paul is using words that are synonymous to make his point that body work ought to be for the common good. It may be worth going back and getting the group to see them all again and see that what we do in church is for each other and not just an individualistic journey of spiritual adventure and delight. We gather to edify each other!

“v.19…ten thousand words…” Tongues are not useless but neither are they super useful in the body. Intelligible words are better than everything else.

Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

It seems likely that Paul is seeking for another way to show the Corinthians that the high estimation they make of tongues is misplaced so turns his mind to unbelievers. These verses appear to be the most confusing in the passage as v.22 says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers but in v.23-25 unbelievers respond negatively to tongues. It would be a good exercise for the group to lean into this confusion and to see how they respond. We want to encourage our groups to grapple with difficulty and not just throw their hands up in the air despondent that the Bible is too confusing. 

Don Carson articulates 7 separate ways of viewing this contradiction, all of which have difficulties. The most likely takes account of the Isaiah quote in v.21 (surprise, surprise, the context of the passage helps!). In the days of the prophet God spoke to his people in languages they could not understand and they still did not listen and were condemned.  The other languages were a negative sign for the people that did not draw them to God but continued to push them away because of their hard heartedness. Spiritual tongues do the same. The unintelligible word makes them think that believers are out of their mind and that the Chirstian message is foolishness. 

But when intelligible words are spoken (v.24) they are convicted of sin and can in the end come to know God (v.25). 

It appears that the key to understanding v.22 is to recognise that: (a) the “sign” of tongues is not positive but negative. (b) the purpose of prophecy in v.22 (see the word “for” and the way it indicates purpose) is that there is benefit from prophecy for unbelievers, but it’s core purpose (v.3) is for believers.  No unbeliever can come and worship God if what they are hearing is not intelligible and no believer can be built unless the word they hear is intelligible.  

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The purpose of our time in church is to build each other up. We ought to show ongoing concern that all the activities that take place are for this purpose. Tongues were being exalted as a spiritual language that (perhaps) the Corinthians were claiming indicated a more spiritual person. Paul says no! Tongues are not helpful and ought only be used with an interceptor so that they can be helpful but the prophetic word is best! You may see resonances with the use of tongues today. Some people will argue that tongues are a sign of genuine faith or genuine conversion. What do you think Paul would say to that?

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What is the sign of true conversion? Some churches have argued that true conversion to Christianity and following Jesus takes place when one experiences a baptism of the spirit that leads to speaking in tongues. What are the true signs of conversion according to this passage? What are the true signs of conversion according to other passages? How might you respond to a challenge to your conversion as to its authenticity?   

Topic B: Building up the Church. What takes place in church that builds up (edifies)? What takes place in church that might not build up the body? What ought we do in church to further build up the body? How do you think an unbeliever would respond if you brought them to your church service last weekend? Where are our moments of unintelligiblity?

Topic C: How are you using your personal gifts? It is always worth pausing as we did at v.12. Are we using the gifts God has given us for the building up of the church or the puffing up of self or are we just sitting in the body waiting for others to serve us? Are we working for the common good or the personal good? How might you start a conversation with someone who looks to be making church all about themselves? How do you need to change to make sure the way you are doing church is actually about others?  

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.