Lesson 34: "Concerning Spiritual Gifts. . ." (I Corinthians 12:1) continued
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson #34. Welcome again! Back to I Cor. ch.12! In v. 1-11, Paul discussed spiritual gifts I would assume as things existed in the Corinthian congregation. Then in v.12 through the end of the chapter, Paul illustrated (using the human body) the practical relationship of spiritual gifts as they were intended. Paul showed what the ideal should be, such that, the brethren at Corinth could compare the situation there with the way it should be and, thus, make needed corrections. Early in the New Testament the local congregation of the Lord's church is referred to as a body, that is basically the meaning of the word "church." This illustration does not apply to the church in the universal sense; it was not intended to imply an arm at Philippi, a foot at Thessalonica, an eye at Berea, an ear at Corinth, and a hand at Ephesus. The illustration applies to a local congregation. The local congregation is thus likened to the human body. Each organ of the body; i.e., each eye, ear, nose, arm, leg, etc., is compared to individual members hi the local congregation. The head of the congregation is Christ Jesus. But, each individual organ is controlled by the head and sustains a neurological relationship to the head of the body. Each organ (or member) obeys the head and performs for the benefit of ah" members in the body. Now, it's easy at this point to start thinking in terms of individual talents, i.e., all members have different talents, some can sew, some can bake bread, some can sing better than others, some have public speaking abilities that others don't have in a natural sort of way, etc. One might extend Paul's illustration to apply to individual talents without doing great violence, possibly. But, please don't lose sight of the fact that Paul — in this illustration ~ was discussing spiritual gifts. As we have already said, spiritual gifts passed out of existence when the New Testament came into being; so this phenomenon is strange to us, really. Paul himself used the human body to illustrate offices, talents, ministries, etc., over hi Romans ch. 12, beginning down about v.5. Near the end of Ephesians ch. 1, Paul used the idea of the church being fitly framed together as a building, like a temple. In this book, back in I Cor. 3:10ff, Paul used the idea of a building and its component parts as applying to preachers. He also illustrated with a grape orchard hi die same place: one preacher planted, another watered, etc. Jesus used the true grape vine to illustrate his relationship to the apostles back in John ch. 15. You can think of other such illustrations, I'm sure. But, please don't lose sight of the fact that Paul's human body illustration (hi I Cor. ch. 12) applies to spiritual gifts as relating to the congregational problems at Corinth. You see, if you keep this illustration hi the context that Paul used the illustration; you are not so likely to draw erroneous conclusions from it. Furthermore, as we build into ch. 13 and ch. 14, which are also part of Paul's same discussion, we will better understand the thoughts there also.
Now, if you will apply what I have said with reasonable precaution; I don't see how you could miss Paul's thought and meaning of this parable. So, hi the main, I'm going to leave Paul's parable with you on your own. Please give it ample individual study. But, let's touch a few high places. V.12 defines the idea and sets the stage. The local congregation or body of Christ is made up of many members, and all members of that body perform for the edification of all. The hand doesn't slap at the foot or one foot kick at the other. The finger does not try to tear out an eyeball. Rather, the hand rubs the eye or the foot when they are hurting. All members work harmoniously together. They all have a job to do. One organ is not considered more important than another. Each have their honor and their burden to bear. Thus, the Holy Spirit distributed spiritual gifts at Corinth such that some received "the word of wisdom" (v.8) and another received "the gift of healing" (v.9) and yet another "prophecy" (v.10). However, there was no rank established between members. Spiritual gifts were given for "every man to profit withal" (v.7 and v. 11). Now, Christ is the head of the body, the church, as defined hi Eph. 1:22-23 and again hi Col. 1:18. Then, while you've got your eyes on v. 18, let me ask you a question: how does an individual member get into Christ's body? V.13 says we are all baptized into one body, i.e., into one church. Baptism is a spiritual birth, remember? As I talk with some today, they say: "Oh, I'm in this body and you are in that body (or that church) and we are all going to the same place." My friend, take the time to see that such thinking is foreign to the concept that Paul illustrated here. Christ is organically part of the church, he's the head; thus when you become a member of Christ's body; you are thus organically connected to Christ, our head. This is consistent with every other statement in the New Testament as relates to becoming a Christian. Peter told the people on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized hi the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). In Gal. 3:27, Paul said, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." How do you put on Christ? One is baptized into. What does "into" mean? A four letter word, think about it! "I-N-T-O," what does it mean. When you get ready to go to worship on Sunday morning, you are going unto the place of worship all the way there. When you get in your car, you are heading "unto" the church building, when you park hi the parking lot, you walk "unto" (U-N-T-O) the church building. When you pass through the door and step over the threshold you are no longer UNTO, you are then "into" (I-N-T-O) the church building. Paul said, "For as many of you as have been baptized into (I-N-T-O) Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Do you get it? Some try to tell me they believed into Christ. They say when you believe in Christ you are instantly inducted and become a child of God by faith only. My friend that doctrine is not taught hi the N.T. I'm not trying to be nasty, I'm just telling you what the Bible says. I challenge you to fine one place hi the N.T. where any one ever believed "into" (I-N-T-O) Christ. In Rom. 6:3, Paul said, (past tense) "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into (I-N-T-O) Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" It is always, believe "on," believe "in" or believe unto; it is never beh'eve "into." Baptism is always, baptized "into." V.13 here hi I Corinthians ch. 12 is consistent with every other N.T. statement. What is the body of Christ? The church! What is the church? Look at v.27, "ye are the body of Christ, and members hi particular." Who is "ye?" The Corinthians. The Corinthian church members that had been baptized "INTO" Christ. Put your eyes on v.25 a minute. "There should be no schism hi the body..." What does that mean? Some translate the word "schism" as "clash," some as "division" and yet others as "discord." So, can you see that some with spiritual gifts were thinking more highly than they ought to think of themselves; while others were feeling inferior about their spiritual gifts? Some were embarrassing others. Notice Paul's words! In v.22 he said some, "seem to be more feeble." V.23, some "we think to be less honorable." V.24, some were "given more abundant honor." Can you see that Paul is describing the power struggle at Corinth for "approval" among the divided membership? Then come down to v.28-29-30 where Paul draws the conclusion. Who made some apostles and some prophets, etc.? God set it up like that. Should we argue over and bicker over the part that was dealt to us or complain about what was not dealt to us? However, hi v.31, there's nothing wrong with desiring to be the best you can be. Paul said, "covet earnestly the best gift," i.e., spiritual gifts. Now, be sure to keep spiritual gifts hi this all the way down. Then hi the last sentence of v.31 Paul does a switcherue. He says, in essence, let's turn it around and look at it from a different point of view. Please notice (now), Paul is still talking about the same thing. We're just going at it from a different perspective for you draftsmen out there. Instead of all the divisive and competitive spirit at Corinth hi trying to embarrass each other; look at it from a much superior point of view. Put "love" back into these things. The word "charity" hi the KJV is translated "love" hi the ASV and comes from the Greek word "agape" (we have talked about agape before) meaning commanded love or benevolence. Let's read ch. 13, which is sometimes called the love chapter of the Bible. Are you ready, beginning hi v.l of ch. 13.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity evieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not hi iniquity, but rejoiceth hi the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know hi part, and we prophesy hi part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is hi part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
O.K., we'll stop at the end of ch. 13; but remember, the thought continues through ch. 14. Now, back to v.l. Visualize the situation at Corinth. Law suits, fornication, preacheritis and now we discover competition between the inspired teachers and other inspired workers of the congregation. What was the real problem? The real problem stemmed from individual and congregational attitudes. What they needed at Corinth was a good dose of the beatitudes that Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount. They were not empty of ego, they did not understand how terrible sin really is. Were they meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness? Were they merciful, pure in heart and trying to be the peacemakers? Can you see the problem? Paul lumps all of this into one word, "agape" translated "love" or "charity." Here, Paul went back through the whole catalog of spiritual gifts, one by one. He started with speaking in tongues (v.l). The cosmopolitan hustle and bustle in the city of Corinth evidently brought foreign visitors to every service. I get the impression that the inspired teachers and prophets who conversed with such visitors in a miraculous way were looked upon as having superior spiritual gifts. The word "tongue" here means very simply a foreign language. Paul says in v.l, it wouldn't make any difference if they could speak the language of angels. It wouldn't accomplish anything without love, the very ingredient they were leaving out. Without love it would be as empty as a lifeless noise. That's the thought behind sounding brass or a lifeless musical instrument called the cymbal. Then hi v.l, Paul examined more spiritual gifts from that list back hi 12:8-9-10. First, "the gift of prophecy," then the gift of "knowledge" as well as miraculous "faith." All three are mentioned in the list found in v.8-9 of chapter 12. In addition, Paul adds "understanding all mysteries" (here) that did not come from that list. For one to possess spiritual gifts and not have love, it means nothing. That's what Paul said. It accomplishes nothing. Judas Iscariot that betrayed Jesus undoubtedly did miracles along with the other apostles during the limited commission and thereafter. But, Judas was lost! Why? Judas lacked this same element the apostle Paul was trying to instill in the Corinthians, called "charity" or "love" with other spiritual gifts: prophecy, speaking hi tongues, and inspired knowledge. "Charity never faileth...", i.e., love will never cease. Even in heaven there will be love. Love is eternal. But, the contrast is that these spiritual gifts (prophecy, tongues & knowledge) will fail, cease and vanish away (v.8). Then, try to milk the thought out of the two short sentences that make up v.9-10. The spiritual gift of knowledge and the gift of inspired teaching were only in part, i.e., no one person had all the spiritual gifts. In those days the H.S. partialed out spiritual gifts as needed to guide the church. But (v.10), i.e., in contrast to the spiritual gifts, part here and part there; there would come a time when things would be different. When the N.T. Scripture, described as "perfect" in II Tim. 3:17, came into being at a future time, then the spiritual gifts (they were haggling over), that were in part, i.e., fragmentary: "shall be" WHAT? "Shall be done away." That's another way of saying: "fail," "cease," and "vanish away" as was used up hi v.8 Thus, as Scriptural guidance of the church came into being, book by book the miraculous guidance (here called spiritual gifts) would cease. Now, when did that happen? O.K., get Paul's illustration in v.ll. Paul says: a man speaks different, understands different and thinks different than a child. Paul was saying that just as radical a change as; the maturity of child to an adult, would ultimately take place in the church. It didn't all happen in one day, you see. Then in v.l2, Paul was saying hi essence, what they had and what they knew in the spiritual gift system (that they were fussing over); was like looking into a poor quality mirror, i.e., a darkened glass, as compared to the word, as it would eventually be revealed through the scriptures. The scriptures would be a more perfect system, like looking face to face, i.e., a perfect mirror reflection. And then, even beyond that (v.l3) even greater changes shall transpire eventually. Now we understand the ways of salvation through "faith," i.e., through evidence not seen as Heb. 11:1 puts it. Hope is the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:19). However, when it's all said and done; when the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout (I Thess. 4:16); when we reach that other shore (called heaven): even faith and hope will vanish because then the evidence will be seen, you see. It will be by sight, i.e., stronger than faith, and our hopes will be fulfilled and reinforced by absolute knowledge. And, even though faith and hope will eventually be done away also; "love," i.e., "charity," or "agape" will still exist even in heaven. So, you see, the bottom line is that love is greater than, i.e., superior to faith and hope. So, have a good day.