Category Archives: Faith

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.

With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
  • Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
  • How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
    • About Timothy (10-11)
    • About Apollos (12)
      • Faith, (hope) and love (13)
    • About Stephanas (14-18)
  • Final greetings (19-24)

Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.

“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.

“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?

“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.

Paul’s travel plans (5-9)

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉

“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.

“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.

“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.

“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!

How to treat fellow workers (10-18)

About Timothy (10-11)

“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).

About Apollos (12)

“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.

“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…

Faith, (hope) and love (13)

“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:

  1. Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
  2. Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
  3. Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
  4. Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.

About Stephanas (14-18)

“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.

“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.

“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.

Final greetings (19-24)

“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.

“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).

“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.

“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.

Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.

Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
  4. Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
  5. Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.

Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?

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.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

The gifts of the Spirit

Discussion Question

What thoughts or questions do you have about gifts from the Spirit?

Background (Context)

Paul has written a letter to the church in Corinth who need to be pointed away from thinking just like the rest of the world thinks and to consider Christ – the only LORD to worship and the only Saviour of the world. Knowing this changes everything we do.

We cease boasting in people and boast in the Lord. We stop thinking of freedom as an invitation to have everything but turn our hearts to serving Christ, even with our bodies. From Chapter 8, we are warned to flee idolatry but rather glorify God in everything. Chapter 11 turns to a positive view of worship as the theme of worship and relationships is examined. The Lord’s Supper shows us that we are no longer a people who worship in order to get something, but we worship because we have already received in full. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians celebrates how amazing it is to know God and adopt the same character as him. We are no longer tossed individuals in the world responding to things in anger and division but we are a saved people who worship together in love and truth.

What were the people in Corinth doing that Paul didn’t like? We are about to read the passage and hear Paul talk about things gifted by the Spirit of God to the church. About healing and prophecy and miracles and tongues. Were these things happening in Corinth? Was it wrong? Should we get these? We’ll deal with those questions as the study goes on. Whether we know what the church was doing or not has little benefit to what Paul says to us about them. Much wisdom from the scriptures is overlooked when we go looking for background info to shine a light on any passage. The bible has been put together to listen to from any nation in any time.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord
  • One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)
  • Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord

“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Ironically, I also don’t want you to be uninformed (or ignorant) about this first verse! Although all major translations say spiritual gifts or gifts of the Spirit, the word gifts is not a given in the Greek text. The Greek word used means ‘pertaining to the spirit’, or ‘spiritual’ and the translations have looked forward to Verses 4-11 to look at what the spiritual things is pointing to. We could read, Now about the things pertaining to the Spirit, or Now about spiritual things. See how the major translations are correct and yet, if we are uninformed, we presume that there is a special thing or things called spiritual gifts. The way the rest of the passage plays out will not be affected by this nuance very much BUT the existence of the phrase: spiritual gifts gives license for the uninformed to discuss grand powers as a right in their spiritual experience. The only place in Scripture where the phrase spiritual gifts is ever actually used rather than implied is in Romans 1:11 where the usage in context is clearly about strengthening one another by the truth of the gospel. Note also 1 Cor 1:7 mentions gifts but does not carry with it spirit. The full words of this section plus Chapter 14 explore gifts given through the Spirit. We desire to listen intently without jumping to a world where Christians automatically get super powers.

“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.” Paul uses the word pagans (gentile, nations, people) as the pre-Christian diagnosis for all. Before coming to Christ, we were all pagan. When we enter this world, we are of the world. We are fleshly and ignorant of the true God. In many and various ways, we are lead to worship false gods. We love to adore things or people. But adoring the One True God is just not in our nature. By default, says Paul, we will be idolaters. Ephesians 2:1-9 (esp V2) expresses it well. There are many and various superstitions around that go unchecked. There are many gods that we can trust and hope in for future security. Even worship in the Christian realm can be misused as merely a superstition – until it is transformed by the knowledge of the True and Living God through the word of God. The doctrine of total depravity describes that we are unable to muster knowledge or belief in God on our own.

“Therefore…” Paul’s assertion in Verse 2 gives him confidence to say what follows. The effect of knowing that we will all be mislead away from God gives the following conclusion.

“…no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” If our human nature cannot take our hearts and minds to worship the True and Living God in truth (but turn to mute idols) then anyone who professes Jesus to be Lord can only do this by the Holy Spirit. Of course, anyone can mouth these words, or read them off a book, but coming to God is only ever a work of the Holy Spirit. The first thing to know about spiritual things and spirituality is that we need the Holy Spirit to bring us to eternal life. The primary gift of the Holy Spirit is to give us the knowledge of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the work of an entirely different spirit to curse Jesus, to reject Jesus.

One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)

“There are different kinds of gifts…service…working…” Gifts and service are both outward in nature from something to something else. God gives gifts, and service is something done for the benefit of others. Working is about activity and effort. Perhaps it is a triune thought about the source and direction of use. That is, God gives gifts for the benefit of others, not simply the one who receives so that their work can be an expression of God’s good work in the world. Whether these three words are meant to be three sides of one thing or whether they are three different areas of thought will become clearer as the passage goes on.

“…the same Spirit distributes…the same Lord…the same God at work…” The emphasis in these three Verses is the unity of the source. The church is one because our God is one. God is at work in calling and saving the church. The Lord is the revealed Lord Jesus whom we serve. And the Spirit is at work in all of the works of God to distribute and call and teach and save. Notice the matching of gifts distributed by the Spirit. The Lord is matched against service. And our work is matched with the work of God. While 1 Corinthians began with the trouble of division in the church, Paul is celebrating the source of unity! Our Triune God is the foundation of the church and the supplier of all its needs. The church is to reflect the unity of God. Though many, we are one. No division in the church even though there is division in the distribution of gifts. Note that different and division are related words. We embrace unity as we celebrate our differences because we recall that our source and service are founded in One God who is at work in all of us. Just as God is one and yet demonstrates His diversity within the Trinity, the church recognises it’s many gifts and services and works and thanks God for being the resource for all of us.

Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Note that any benefit that we receive from knowing God and receiving from Him is for the benefit of the church (and the world). If we recognise a blessing from God, it is not to be put in your back pocket and sat on. Use it. Express God who has manifested the Spirit in you through gifts that you are able to use for the benefit of others. Gifts for service put to work.

“…through…by…the Spirit…” Recall that when we were simply people in this world, we were led astray to mute idols (V2). When we do or say anything under the expression of Jesus as Lord, this is a manifestation of the Spirit within us. This is the logic of Paul here. If it is for Christ, it is through or by the Spirit. If it is against Christ, then it is something else.

“…a message of wisdom…” This would imply wisdom from God rather than wisdom of the world which Paul condemned in the early part of this book (2:6). Wisdom is presenting the truth of God into this world in a practical way. We see how we are best to live and act and react in the world under the grace of God. In Chapter 2, Paul speaks much on wisdom and declares that the wisdom from God is not something that anybody in this world could possibly have mustered up. We declare something that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived. Wisdom from God is God given. It is through the Spirit. It is to have the mind of Christ. And it seeks to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:2). If someone claims to have spiritual wisdom and does not proclaim Christ – it is not the same spirit we wish to be fed from.

“…a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…” Chapter 8 focused on the word knowledge. It shows an understanding of matters. It emphasises understanding and intellect rather than virtues like kindness, patience and love. It is neither a good nor an evil. It is a building block for what we choose to do with our knowledge. The greatest truth about knowledge is not about what we know but about being known by God. The Spirit will guide us to true knowledge but knowledge without love is nothing. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

“…to another faith…” It must not be presumed that some will have the gift of faith and others may not. This letter implies a number of times that all in Christ must have faith (2:5; 7:22; 13:13; 15:14, 17; 16:13) But perhaps there are those who manifest a faith from God that feeds the faith of those around them. That is, faith in the church is caught as we stand beside those whom God has especially gifted with faith. I do not mean by this what some might think I mean: that we have faith tanks that can be filled little or much and that the more faith, the greater our relationship with God. Like the faith that can move mountains! I simply mean that while some may manifest their worries and timidness, others can give courage as they manifest their trust in God. This too is not a measure of a person’s worth before God since it is a gift of the Spirit – they didn’t do this of themselves.

“…to another gifts of healing…miraculous powers…” The list of examples gets more and more ‘interesting’! We know that Jesus had the power to heal and perform miracles. We know that the apostles received similar gifts. We certainly believe this to be the work of God when the result of these gifts and powers are to profess and proclaim Jesus as Lord (keeping the context in mind). We also acknowledge and appreciate that healing happens and in many and various ways, God manifests miracles in people’s lives that sometimes can be difficult to explain. The question remains: ought we expect to receive gifts like these in the church or not? If we had these gifts demonstrated all the time and across the ages everywhere that Jesus was preached then we might calmly say that yes, of course healing and mighty powers goes hand in had with Christian churches. When we notice that this is not happening then we ask: are we doing something wrong or are we looking for the right things. Let the bible answer. The spiritual things that Paul is discussing are all shown to be from the One Spirit when Jesus is proclaimed Lord. This is the purpose of the gifts. Healing and miracles are not a fringe benefit of being Christian – one of the perks like the prosperity gospel implies. Healing and miracles are FOR the gospel. Paul will continue to work through this issue over the next few chapters. If the point ain’t Christ then there is no point.

“…to another prophecy…” Paul will again emphasise this gift in 14:1. Prophecy is done to strengthen, encourage and comfort the people of God. Is prophecy about predicting the future? Is prophecy about speaking the word of God? To cut to the chase and keep things short: both are given to us in the Word of God. The closed canaan of Scripture reveals who the Messiah is, how the wrath of God is real and is paid for at the cross, how the world has a non-disclosed use-by date, how God’s love is demonstrated and given at the cross. All that must be known about God has been made known. While Paul wrote this letter, the full measure of Scripture had not been written yet. The church would hear from God as the Spirit saw fit. If we have prophecy today it is by those who bring the word of God (the bible) to the hearts and minds of the church to strengthen, encourage and comfort people.

“…to another distinguishing between spirits…” 1 John 4:1 helps us to understand this and link it to the previous gift of prophecy.

“…speaking in different kinds of tongues, and … interpretations of tongues.” Paul will later show that you need the latter for the former to be useful. These tongues are best understand as different languages. Note that in Acts 2, when people spoke in tongues, it was clearly for the benefit of those who understood those languages. Paul mentions tongues of angels elsewhere but never endorses it or even confirms that such a thing is anything more than hyperbole. Again, this gift of the Spirit is for the sole purpose of communicating the word of God to people. None of the gifts have steered off course of this agenda.

“All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” We must concluded from this section that nobody is to boast about what they are able to contribute to the church of God since it is all flowing from the one Fountain. And not even a Fountain to be approached and taken from – the Spirit distributes and the Spirit determines who, where and when gifts are given. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

So three lessons flow from this: all church work is fed from one Spirit; all gifts given are for the purpose of proclaiming Christ as Lord; and no gift is given in order to be kept to oneself. Division in gifts but no division in the Giver or receivers. Variety in practice but no variation in purpose.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What classifies as a spiritual gift? The passage talked about gifts, service and works. The list of gifts were particularly aimed at what we do with our mouths because this is the clearest way of proclaiming the gospel. When we proclaim the gospel we must use our words. But let us not overlook our service and work toward one another. The qualifying mark of a gift of the Spirit is that it points people toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The first and most important and essential gift of the Spirit that we all must embrace and use is the gift of the gospel, first for ourselves and then to those around us. The premiere need of every church is the news of salvation through Christ and that He is the Lord of all. If that is the only gift that you ever receive, you are eternally better off than many souls who do not know it.

Topic B: When will I know I’m using a spiritual gift? Let’s not equate spiritual gifts with super powers. The work of God is subtle and almost always goes on without much attention. As you meet together this week, with a chocolate biscuit in one hand and your bible open in the other, and you open your mouth and encourage the people of your Growth Group that Jesus Christ is Lord – risen from the dead and He is Lord. That the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is a message from God to encourage us that we all worship and serve the One True God. And show love and care for somebody that you have learned to do because you know the love of God – you are using your gifts given to you, not from your own brilliance but by the grace of God. Can you share other moments when you or others can be exercising their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others?

Topic C: Our church is equipped and built up by the power of the Spirit of God. Do you ponder whether you belong to a spiritual church? Do you lament sometimes that our church could be more spiritual? Let’s remember that it is God who equips, he distributes, he determines how his church will be fed and grow. It is God who is at work. It is Jesus Christ whom we serve because He first served us. It is the Spirit of God who gives life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that the power of God is the gospel itself (Romans 1:16-17). The Spirit of God works through the word of God to teach and to correct and to rebuke and to grow. The fruit of the Spirit is unity manifest in love, kindness, gentleness. If we proclaim Jesus as Lord, then we can only do that by the power of the Spirit of God. No man can lead us back to God without the power of the Spirit.