1 Corinthians 12-16
Purpose: Paul’s intent in writing to the Corinthian church was to expose evil that persistently threatened to destroy true Christianity.
Author: Paul the Apostle
Date Written: About A.D. 55
Setting: Corinth was a large seaport city in southern Greece, and a major trade center. Its people were immoral and steeped in idolatry, but during Paul’s eighteen-month stay there (see Acts 18:11) he had won a number of converts. The Christian church in that city was primarily made up of Gentiles, who were led by Apollos after the departure of Paul. However, in the approximately three years since Paul had left, the spiritual condition of the church in Corinth had deteriorated. When some of the members wrote to Paul expressing their concern and asking a number of questions, the Apostle responded by writing the epistle of 1 Corinthians.
Key People: Paul, Timothy, members of Chloe’s household
Chapter 12 begins the third major division of Paul’s epistle to the believers at Corinth. In this portion of his letter, the Apostle addressed concerns regarding spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14), and the doctrine of the resurrection (chapter 15). In the concluding chapter, he offered some final counsel regarding practical matters, all of which centered on the vital attributes of Christian fellowship and unity.
The supernatural demonstrations of the Holy Spirit that God had permitted to be manifested in the Corinthian church had become symbols of spiritual superiority in the minds of some. This distorted view had become grounds for strife and contentions that were threatening the unity of the body of believers.
In an attempt to clear up a seeming misunderstanding regarding whether all utterances came from the Spirit of God, Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that before their conversions they had served idols. While the practice of ecstatic utterances was a part of the worship of various Greek gods, such expressions were vastly different from utterances which originated from the Spirit of God. Paul established that how a person spoke was determined by the nature of the spirit within.
Next, Paul pointed out that God reveals Himself in many ways, substantiating this by listing the various gifts through which the Spirit accomplishes His purpose. The word translated diversities conveys a sense of apportioned distribution from one source. Because the Holy Spirit would not oppose Himself, any gifts given by Him would work in harmony with one another.
The Apostle used the illustration of the human body to show how God intended the Body of Christ to work. Just as each part of the physical body has a different function, each individual has a unique role to play in the function and well-being of the Church. The gifts of the Spirit were designed to edify, nourish, and support the Church as a whole, and as such, one gift should never be honored above another. Paul ended his dissertation on this topic by exhorting the believers to act as one body with one purpose, which is derived from one Source.
While spiritual gifts had a place and role in the Church body, Paul declared that love was to be preeminent. In chapter 13, he focused on this greatest of God’s gifts, which he identified by the word charity. In morally corrupt Corinth, the word love had little meaning. Four Greek words are translated into the English word love: 1) Agape–selfless, sacrificial love that acts in conformity to the character and nature of God; 2) Phileo–endearing love that cherishes, such as the husband/wife relationship, the love of a brother/sister, or dearest friend; 3) Eros–passionate or physical love; and 4) Storge–affectionate love, such as the loyalty of an employee to his employer. Translators had no proper word to convey the true meaning of Christian love, so in this chapter they chose the word “charity,” which is related to “cherish.”
Paul’s exposition in chapter 13 centered on three aspects of love: the contrast between love and other spiritual gifts and elements essential in the church; the Christ-like nature of love, and the comprehensive and inclusive nature of love.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that while spiritual gifts were valuable, they needed to be kept in the proper perspective. The misuse of the gift of tongues by some individuals in the church was a concern because it had caused disorder in worship. Paul instructed that while speaking in tongues was a gift from the Holy Spirit, it was not an indicator of spiritual superiority. Like the gift of prophecy—a gift also related to speaking—it was to contribute to unity and the edification of the Body of Christ. (It is important to note that the word “prophecy” in this passage is not used in the limited sense of foretelling the future, but rather a pouring forth of Heaven-given speech.)
In this chapter, Paul gave two guiding principles for orderly worship. First, worship was to be conducted in a manner that the assembled congregation would understand. Second, instruction was a necessary part of worship. Worship services were designed to edify, so the components were to be carried out in an orderly manner. Paul used the word “decently” to show that the dignity and gravity of the services should not be interrupted; and the words “in order” to point out that each part of the service was to occur by design and arrangement, rather than by random impulse.
In verses 34-35, Paul addressed the participation of women in worship practices. It is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:5 and chapters 12 through 14 that women had spiritual gifts and were encouraged to exercise them in the Body of Christ. However, in the Corinthian culture, women were not allowed to confront men in public. In addition, women of that day did not receive formal religious education, as the men did. Seemingly, however, some of the women in the church thought their newfound Christian freedom gave them the right to question the men during a worship service, and this was creating disorder. Paul was instructing the women not to flaunt their Christian freedom during the worship services. This was done as a means of promoting unity; he was not teaching about a woman’s role in the church.
Corinth was a Greek city, and in general, the Greeks believed in immortality of the soul but not physical resurrection of the body. When Paul preached at Athens and declared the Resurrection of Christ, many laughed and mocked him (Acts 17). Most Greek philosophers considered the human body a prison for the soul, and welcomed death as deliverance from bondage, thinking the soul alone would enter an eternal state. Christianity, in contrast, taught that the body and soul would be united after resurrection. Because the church at Corinth was in the heart of Greek culture, Paul addressed this point of confusion and disbelief among members of the church at Corinth.
Paul emphasized to the Corinthian church the importance of their belief in the Resurrection, giving detailed examples of what Christians’ resurrected bodies will be like. He explained that those who are resurrected will be recognizable, each having their distinct personality and individuality. However, unlike physical bodies on earth, resurrected bodies will be perfected through Christ’s work. He likened the difference to seeds planted in a garden, bringing out that beautiful plants look very different than the small seeds from which they grow—God gives them new “bodies.”
The concluding chapter of 1 Corinthians opens with Paul’s advice concerning contributions for the support of the Jerusalem church, which was suffering from poverty and famine. The believers at Corinth were aware that the Apostle was collecting funds, and apparently had inquired regarding how they could participate in this collection. His response outlined several points: their giving was to be systematic and planned, the amount of each gift was to be proportionate to the giver’s income, and the collection was to be taken before he arrived.
After brief comments about his travel plans and those of his fellow laborers, Timothy and Apollos, Paul made his closing remarks. He directed the Corinthian believers to be alert to spiritual dangers, to remain true to the Lord, to behave maturely, to be strong, and to do all things with kindness and love.
As the spiritual father of the church at Corinth, he extended his love to all in the assembly, including believers and unbelievers. He also gave a serious warning to those who failed to love and accept Christ, saying, “Anathema Maranatha,” which means, “Let them be cursed; the Lord cometh.” He knew those who chose not to believe on Jesus Christ would be cursed upon the return of the Lord.
Focus Verse: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” - 1 Corinthians 12:27
Did you know that approximately every seven years, your body replaces the equivalent of an entire skeleton? Were you aware that the average person will breathe about seventy-five million gallons of air during his lifetime? The fun part of learning anatomy in school was discovering these intriguing facts. The hard part was memorizing all the correct terms! The study of the human body is complex and interesting. Though there are many structures within the body, each has a particular function and interacts with the other structures in a precise manner. When there is normal interaction, the body functions properly and is strong. When the normal interaction is interrupted, performance slows down and the body lacks the energy it needs.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, used the human body as an example of how the Body of Christ should work. We are one church body, made up of many individuals with different personalities and talents. God has a specific purpose for each of us, yet we must interact with each other in our work. As we desire to do His will each day, God will use us to attend to needs within and outside of the Body of Christ. Perhaps today He wants you to be the “hand” that helps a brother or a sister who is ill. God may use your act of kindness to lift up his or her spirits. Tomorrow, He may want you to be a “foot” and travel for Him. Regardless of whether we travel across the street to invite a neighbor to church, or travel overseas to spread the Good News of salvation, God will use our service to work out His purpose. Often, His purpose is two-fold in nature. While He uses our efforts to reach out to others, He also continues to reach out to us. He lovingly molds us and encourages us to look to Him as the Source of our strength. The more surrendered we become to His will, the more His love will flow through us to others.
So, whether you will live long enough to breathe approximately seventy-five million gallons of air or not, remember that God has a purpose for you for each day of your life!