Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12-16

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 Samuel , 2 Samuel, 2 Corinthians and Galatians. This post is continued from Corinthians 1-11.

12:1-31, 14:1-40

Chapters 12, 13 and 14 form a unit on spiritual gifts and how to exercise them. I’ll deal with chapter 13 separately.

Paul reiterates the unity we have in the body of Christ in 12:4-6 and 12:12-13. The faction-ridden Corinthians couldn’t miss his emphasis.

In 12:12-31, he pulls up those with an inferiority complex (“I don’t belong”) while simultaneously pulling down those with a superiority complex (“You don’t belong”). Not everyone can perform the others’ tasks, and that is exactly how God arranged it.

Paul’s main point in chapter 14 is that we should seek those gifts that will most build up believers and at the same time reach unbelievers. Christians should prioritise love over spiritual gifts, a point Paul explains very well in chapter 13.

13:1-13

I previously blogged on how this chapter points to Christ. While that is true, I wasn’t taking into consideration the context of the chapter, first of all within the block of chapters 12-14, and within the larger context of the entire letter of 1 Corinthians.

From verses 1-3 (and the rest of 1 Corinthians), we can deduce that the Corinthian church was better known for its extraordinary gifts than for love. They had supernatural revelation and power, insight into the gifts of God, and great zeal and fervour. But they lacked love.

They had their priorities wrong. It isn’t the possession of gifts, but their use that is important. Only love counts.

In verses 4-6, Paul holds up a mirror to the Corinthian church. They were neither patient nor kind—during the Lord’s Supper, some would get drunk while others remained hungry (11:21). They were envious, boastful and proud. The Greek word for ‘rude’ (verse 5) is the same one translated ‘acting improperly’ in 7:36 in the NIV. The Corinthians were self-seeking and kept records of wrongs. In short, they were known more for their contentious spirit than for love.

In verses 8-13, Paul draws attention to their ignorance. They prided themselves in their knowledge without realising just how little they knew.The gifts of prophecy and of speaking in other tongues weren’t a mark of spiritual perfection, of having made it (4:8-12). These gifts will pass away and give way to true perfection. And what will endure? Faith, hope and love (13:13).

If the Corinthians correctly understood what Paul was saying, it is highly unlikely that they thought, What sweet words! and used this passage at weddings. Their reaction was more likely deep shame. 😐

15:1-58

What one believes about the future makes a difference in what one does now (15:1-2). Jesus Christ’s resurrection is of first importance, and it actually happened.

Verses 12-34 deal with the effects of Christ’s resurrection, first in the negative (15:12-19) and then in the positive (15:20-34). If there’s no resurrection, our present life is futile: no faith, no forgiveness, no future, no resurrection. But Christ has been raised, and therefore God’s enemies are defeated. If there were no resurrection, there wouldn’t be a point in fighting sin, for example. Our lives should be changed (15:29-34).

Verses 35-49 are concerned with the nature of future resurrection. The first illustration Paul uses is of a seed. There’s a difference between the seed and the resulting plant, and yet there is continuity between the two (a bean seed grows into a bean plant, not a mango tree, for example). Paul then gives an illustration from creation: there’s infinite variety (fur, feathers, skin, scales) but the same Creator. Could He not create some other body capable of inhabiting a different environment?

The implications of the resurrection are that death has been defeated; that we should stand firm (15:58), keeping eternity in view; and that we should give ourselves fully to Christian service, in the certainty that  it is never futile (15:58).

16:1-24

The apostle closes his letter by calling the division-plagued church to work together in caring for other congregations (16:1-4). He reiterates the command to do everything in love, curses anyone who doesn’t love the Lord, and sends his own love.

Sources: CICCU Media, D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, Liam Goligher, David Jackman, Dick Lucas, Justin Mote,Vaughan Roberts, Rico Tice.

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