Our Lord, Come!

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – 1Corinthians 16:15-24 ESV

Paul wraps up his letter with a somewhat random and meandering closing. First, he recognizes three individuals, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. They were among the first converts in Achaia, the province in which Corinth was located. Earlier in this letter, Paul indicated that Stephanas and his family were the only ones he had baptized in Corinth. “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else” (1 Corinthians 1:16 ESV). It seems that Stephanas and the other two had made a recent trip to visit Paul and had been a source of encouragement to him. He was appreciative of their friendship and ministry, and wanted the congregation in Corinth to treat them with respect. He uses these three men as examples of the kind of leadership to whom the Corinthians should submit themselves. They were worthy of recognition. What stood out to Paul was their hearts for service and their attitude of humility as they ministered to him and their fellow believers in Corinth. 

Secondly, Paul sends greetings from the house church Asia, which was meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul had struck up a friendship with this couple after having met them in Corinth on one of his missionary journeys. “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:1-3 ESV). They had fled Rome due to persecution and had ended up in Corinth. When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla traveled with him and later settled in Ephesus, starting a church in their home (Acts 18:18-20). Again, these two individuals were examples of the kind of disciples Paul was looking to make everywhere he went. They were selfless and each had the heart of a servant. They were willing to open up their home, share their resources and give of their time in order to see that the gospel spread throughout the known world. And they used their trade as tentmakers to pay their own way. 

Paul puts the finishing touches to his letter with his own hand. He had probably dictated the rest of the letter, but wanted to sign off in his own writing in order to validate that the letter was really from him. And the final lines he penned are interesting in terms of there seeming randomness.

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. – vs 22

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. – vs 23

My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – vs 24

He calls for a curse, prays for God’s grace, and extends his love – an interesting combination of thoughts. And sandwiched in-between them is an appeal for the Lord’s return: “Our Lord, come!” This was an Aramaic expression and would become a standard greeting among believers in the early days of the church. Those in the church lived with a sense of the Lord’s eminent return. Belief that His coming could happen any day was a motivating factor in their lives. They lived with a sense of anticipation and eager expectation. And for Paul, the world become a place that consisted of either believers or non-believers, the saved or the lost. And if anyone refused to love the Lord, Paul’s response was to let them be accursed. As violent and harsh as this sounds, Paul is simply expressing the sad reality of their condition due to their rejection of the Savior. They were already under a curse, which carried the penalty of death and eternal separation from God. Paul was suggesting that their rejection of Christ was going to result in their rejection by God. His return was going to bring bad news and an even worse ending to their lives. But for Paul and the other believers in Corinth, the return of Christ was something for which they could and should look forward.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should have no fear of death and that we should eagerly hope for and in the return of Christ.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

In the meantime, while they awaited the Lord’s return, Paul prayed that the grace of Christ would protect them. And he would continue to love them – sometimes in spite of them. He would write them, confronting and encouraging them in their faith, longing to see them face to face, so that he might strengthen them. As he said in his letter to the Romans, “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord” (Romans 1:11 NLT). 

A brotherly love (phileo) for Christ. The undeserved, sustaining grace of Christ. The selfless, Christ-like love (agape) of Paul for them. And the eager expectation of Christ’s return. These were all on the heart of Paul as he wrapped up his letter to the Corinthians. And they should be the passion and priority of every believer in the church today.

A Few Final Words.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV

Verses 13-14 are an apt summary of all that Paul has said in this somewhat lengthy letter. As he wraps up his discourse with the Corinthians, he gives them five significant charges. He tells them to be watchful or vigilant. They are living in difficult days and there is a constant threat of attack on the church, both from without and within. They need to keep their eyes open and their heads on a swivel, living with a wariness and an awareness that their faith will face an unceasing onslaught of spiritual warfare. The church itself will be in the cross hairs of the enemy, as he seeks to disrupt its unity and destroy its testimony.

Secondly, Paul reminds them to stand firm. Despite the pressure they may feel or the persecution they may face, they are to persevere, standing their ground and refusing to give up or give in to the enemy. I am reminded of the words of Moses, spoken to the people of Israel as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again. God will fight the battle for you” (Exodus 14:13-14 NLT). They could have run, but they would have been slaughtered. They could have attempted to fight, but they would have lost that battle. Or they could stand their ground and watch God work. And because that is what they decided to do, they were able to experienced an incredible miracle of God’s salvation.

 And Paul is quite specific when he tells them to stand firm in the faith. He is referring to their faith in Christ and the salvation that His death has made possible. Jesus died so that we might have life, abundant life now and eternal life to come. Our faith is to be a future-focused faith, resting in the promises of God, many of which are as yet unfulfilled and unseen. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). The Israelites had no idea what God was going to do to save them from the advancing armies of Egypt, but they had to place their faith in the promise of God – that He was going to take them to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He as not going to let them down or allow their exodus to end on the shores of the Red Sea. Our faith must stand on the promises of God. The apostle Peter reminds that, “by God’s power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV). God is not done yet. His salvation of His people (the church) is not yet complete. So we must stand firm, even in the face of difficulties and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Next, Paul encourages the Corinthians to act like men. It is a call to bravery in the midst of battle. He wants them to boldly stand their ground, because they have God on their side. The God of heavens armies is their commander in chief. They have a power at their disposal that is limitless and guarantees them victory each and every time. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about this very same power that should provide us with the impetus to act like men:

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

Next, Paul tells them to be strong. This is a call for them to grow in their strength and stamina. They were not to remain as they were, immature and insufficiently equipped to face the challenges ahead. They were to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They were to increase in their dependence upon God and their trust in His ability to provide and protect. It is when, by faith, we stand firm and watch God work, that we grow strong. It is our faith in God that gives us the strength to stand firm. Our bravery is based on His strength, not our own. It is as we trust Him, that our spiritual stamina and strength increases. We discover, as Paul did, that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).

Finally, Paul adds an important but oftentimes missing element to his calls to action. He says, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV). Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to leave this one out? Paul spent an entire chapter of this letter unpacking the power of love in the life of the believer. Love is not an option, it is an indispensable, non-negotiable requirement for each and every one of us. We are to love as He has loved us. As Paul stated in chapter 13, even the gifts, if done without love, are useless and without value. Love is to be the motivating factor behind all that we do. Bravery without love is nothing more than false bravado. Alertness and watchfulness, done apart from love, will result in a self-centered, circle-the-wagons mentality that focuses on self, not others. Even faith-based perseverance and persistence, sans love, can leave us with a me-centered, pride-filled attitude of spiritual arrogance. Love has to be at the core of all that we do. Love for God. Love for Christ. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even love for our enemies.  


A Wide Open Door.

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers. Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.– 1 Corinthians 16:5-12 ESV

Paul was a man on the move, because he was a man on a mission for God. He wrote this letter from Ephesus where he would spend three years ministering, one of his longest stops in any particular place. He was constantly looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to help believers grow in their knowledge of God and their faith in Christ. Paul had a deep love for the churches he helped establish and saw the members of the congregations as his children in the faith. He felt a special bond with them and had a strong sense of responsibility for their spiritual well-being. In the case of Ephesus, there were “many adversaries” who were opposing his work and making life difficult for the believers there. Like a mother hen protecting her chicks, Paul was not about to leave the Ephesian believers alone and defenseless. Plus, he saw a “wide door for effective work” opened to him. And as long as there were unbelievers with whom to share the gospel and new believers who needed to grow, Paul would see himself as a man with work to do. His job was never done. And even in spite of pain and suffering, rejection and times of apparent failure, Paul was prone to soldier on, giving everything he had to accomplish the mission given to him by Christ. 

When Paul wrote his letter to the believer in Philippi, he did so while in prison in Rome. For a man like Paul, the real pain of imprisonment was not the conditions, but the fact that he was kept from visiting the churches he loved so much. And while he knew that he might very well die for his faith, he was not quite ready to give up his mission.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

You get a glimpse into Paul’s heart in this passage. He longed to be bold and unashamed, even while under Roman guard. He desired for his life to honor Christ – either in life or death. And he was torn between those two options, because in a way, he knew it would be better if he could die and go to be with Christ. But he also knew that there was work yet to be done. Notice that he puts the needs of the Philippians ahead of his own. “But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

Paul longed to see the Corinthians again, but he did not want it to be “in passing.” In other words, he wanted to have an extended stay with them, probably because he saw the spiritual needs there as great. His entire letter has reflected the many concerns he had for their spiritual well-being. But while Paul had to delay his visit because of the open doors in Ephesus, he had made plans to send Timothy, his young protegé and disciple in the faith, to Corinth. And because Paul knew that the Corinthians were prone to judge by appearances and were already struggling with divisions over leadership (1 Corinthians 3:4), he had to remind them to “see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him” (1 Corinthians 16:10-11 ESV). Timothy was young and easily intimidated. Which is why Paul had told him, “Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT).

In verse 12, we have Paul’s sixth and final use of the phrase, “now concerning…” In each and every case that he has used it, he was referring to a question or concern raised by the Corinthians. In this instance, we are not sure what the issue was concerning Apollos, but we know that there was a group in the church in Corinth who considered him their leader. They may have been wondering when Apollos was going to return to them. In fact, they may have preferred his presence over that of Paul. But rather than be offended, Paul simply stated that he had urged Apollos to visit them, but for some reason he had chosen not to do so. Paul didn’t throw Apollos under the bus or malign him in any way. For Paul, it was not a competition. It was about sharing the gospel and building up the body of Christ. As he stated earlier in this letter, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NLT). Paul assured them that Apollos would come when he had the opportunity. 

In the meantime, Paul longed to return himself. He saw much work that needed to be done in Corinth. The church was divided. The people were immature and misusing their their spiritual gifts. Selfishness and pride were evident in the church. The influence of paganism and Hellenistic dualism was having a negative impact on the fellowship there. And all of this would result in Paul’s eventual return. As long as there were immature believers needing to grow and lost individuals needing to hear about the gospel, Paul had work to do. The door was wide open, and he was more than willing to walk through it. No rest for the weary. No retirement plans. No extended vacation. Open doors are meant to be walked through. Opportunities need to be taken advantage of. Pressing needs require immediate attention. And Paul was always reading, willing and able.



Genuine Generosity.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. - 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV

Paul opens up this series of verses with the same words he has used throughout this section of the letter:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote... - 1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Now concerning the betrothed... - 1 Corinthians 7:25 ESV

Now concerning food offered to idols... - 1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV

Now concerning spiritual gifts... - 1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV

Now concerning our brother Apollos... - 1 Corinthians 16:12 ESV

In each case, it seems that he is answering a question from the Corinthians or addressing a concern he has regarding the affairs of the church. In this case, he is dealing with their role in assisting the “saints”. This is most likely a reference to the saints in Jerusalem and Judea. Luke describes the situation in the book of Acts.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. - Acts 11:27-30 ESV

Paul had a strong desire to assist the believers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas who were struggling through the time of famine. These believers, who were primarily Jews, were not only going without food, but were also having to deal with persecution from their Jewish peers because of their conversion to Christianity. Paul had written to the believers in Rome, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26 ESV). He went on to say that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to do it and even saw it as a debt they owed, “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:27 ESV). 

In the early days of the church, there was a need for community and mutual care throughout the body of Christ. The new, fledgling churches were commonly made up of individuals from the less affluent segments of society. Many, after having come to faith in Christ, had lost their jobs. They had been ostracized from their families. Some of the churches to which Paul ministered on his missionary journeys were better off than others and he strongly encouraged them to use their resources to help those in need, both within their own fellowships, but in other churches located in other cities as well. Paul would write a second letter to the Corinthians encouraging them to get involved in the support of the needs of others, something they seemed to have a hard time doing.

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NLT

Paul was not above using a bit of shaming by comparing the seeming stinginess of the Corinthians with the generosity of the churches in Macedonia. These churches, while enduring their own “deep poverty” were joyfully and eagerly giving to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, even begging for the opportunity to do so. Two times Paul refers to this as a “gracious work” and tells the Corinthians that generous giving is to be pursued with the same intensity and given the same priority as faith, speech, knowledge or even love. In fact, meeting the physical needs of others is one of the greatest expressions of our love for others.

So Paul tells the Corinthians, “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once” (1 Corinthians 1:3 NLT). He provides them with instructions as to how to take up their collection, fully expecting them to participate in the support of the needs of the believers in Judea. He is not commanding them to do so, but he is fully expecting their willing participation. Why? Because it is the will of God and the evidence of the Spirit’s working within them. God has a heart for the helpless, hopeless, the needy and the destitute. In the book of Micah, the prophet records what God expects of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The greatest expression of generosity and sacrifice Paul could think of was that of Jesus Christ and His willing sacrifice of His life. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). He gave His life so that we might live. He became poor, leaving the confines of heaven and taking on human flesh, so that we might become rich, becoming heirs of God Himself. 

The body of Christ is meant to care for itself. There is no room for selfishness and self-centeredness. God blesses some so that they might be a blessing to others. But even those who have little are able to assist those who have even less. This is not just about a redistribution of wealth and the creation of a socialistic society. It is about love. It is about generosity and a desire to express the love of God to those in need.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7-9 NLT

The goal for Paul was generosity – genuine, heart-felt, Spirit-inspired, love-based generosity that expressed the unity and community for which Christ died. Paul longed to see the churches to which he ministered experience and display the kind of love that was found in the early days of the church immediately after the coming of the Spirit.

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had…There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – Acts 4:32,34-35 NLT

Genuine generosity. Godly love. Brotherly affection. Selfless sacrifice. Compassionate care. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Death to Death.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 ESV

Paul lived with a sense of eminence, an eager expectation and anticipation of the Lord’s return. He fully expected to be alive when Jesus returned for His bride, the church. This attitude of expectation, coupled with his strong belief in the resurrection of the body, is what drove him to live his life to please God and make the most of the time he had on this earth. He wanted to be doing the will of God when His Son returned. And he told the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

All that he talks about in these closing verses of chapter 15 concerns, as he calls it, “a mystery.” It has been hidden from view, remaining unrevealed and unknown as to the day of its occurrence. No one knows the day of the Lord’s return. But just because we are ignorant of the timing of His return does not mean we should doubt its validity. And the events surrounding that day, including the resurrection of our bodies, while mysterious and unknown as to exactly how they will occur, are to be believed and eagerly anticipated. Paul says that not every believer is going to die. Some will be alive and well when the Lord returns. And both the living and the dead will experience the resurrection of their earthly bodies. Paul does not explain how this will happen, because he does not know. He simply reveals that it will happen unquestionably and instantaneously – “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV). He says, “the dead will be raised imperishable” and those who are alive on that day, “shall be changed.” Both groups will receive their new spiritual bodies, made in “the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49b ESV). The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). Instantaneously, we will all undergo a miraculous transformation, receiving our new resurrected bodies, made for our new home and designed by God to exist for eternity. “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT). And when that happens, Paul says, it will be a slap in the face to death. Death is the wage or payment for a life of sin (Romans 6:23). When sin entered the world at the fall, it brought with it death.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Because of Jesus, death has lost its sting, its power over us. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus no longer need to fear death. That does not mean that we are immune from death. Even believers die. But the real “sting” of death, its power to separate men from their God, is no longer valid. All men die, but not all men will experience eternal separation from God. Those who have placed their faith in His Son, at death, find themselves immediately transferred into the presence of God the Father. Paul alludes to this reality in his second letter to the Corinthians:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

Well-versed in the Old Testament, Paul paraphrases Hosea 13:14, and uses it to taunt death. Because of Jesus, it no longer has any power over us. It is like a toothless, declawed lion – intimidating and with a scary roar, but devoid of any real power to do us harm.

But the real message Paul seems to be trying to convey is that the future assurance the Lord’s return and the certainty of the resurrection of our bodies should embolden us to live godly lives here and now. We are to remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Rather than wasting our time arguing about spiritual gifts and debating over who follows who, we need to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost and the love of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather than worry about death, we need to concentrate on living for God, making the most of every moment He gives us on this earth. We exist for His glory. We are His servants, called by Him to do His will and to spread the message of salvation made possible through His Son’s death on the cross.

But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:22-23 NLT


All Things New.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 ESV

The idea of the resurrection of the human body from death has always been difficult to comprehend. And it was no different for the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing. What made it even more unfathomable for the Corinthians was the influence of Hellenistic dualism, the philosophy that taught the separation of the body from the soul. For the dualist, the body was essentially evil and of no value in man’s pursuit of spiritual fulfillment.

“The Corinthians are convinced that by the gift of the Spirit, and especially the manifestation of tongues, they have already entered into the spiritual, ‘heavenly’ existence that is to be. Only the body, to be sloughed off at death, lies between them and their ultimate spirituality. Thus they have denied the body in the present, and have no use for it in the future.” – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

The thought was, if the body is evil, what good would it be to have it resurrected? And even if you could resurrect the body, what kind of body would it be? That is the very question with which Paul begins this section of his letter. “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” (1 Corinthians 15:35 NLT). If you think about it, the first part of this question seems logical and worthy of asking. After all, who hasn’t wondered how God is going to restore a fully decomposed body and restore it to its original pre-death condition. And what is God going to do about a body that was buried at sea and eaten by fish. While we know that nothing is impossible with God, we can’t help but wonder at the seeming impossibility of it all.

But rather than acknowledge the validity of these questions, Paul refers to anyone who would ask them as a “foolish person.” They don’t get it. They are focused on the wrong thing. When the hear of the resurrection of the body, they are thinking the human body as they know it, the only body with which they are currently familiar. But Paul uses a series of analogies to help them understand the true nature of the resurrected body. First he uses seeds. “When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting.” (1 Corinthians 15:36-37 NLT). He goes on to point out that God gives the seed a “new body.” It comes out of the ground different than how it went in. And it has to “die” first. The shell encasing the seed must decompose and release the “life” that exists within. The body after death looks dramatically different than it did before. And it is all up to God. “God gives it the new body he wants it to have” (1 Corinthians 15:38 NLT).

Then Paul points out that there are different kinds of bodies in nature. Humans have one kind of body, while birds, fish and animals each have their own kind. We have no problem seeing that validity and necessity of these different kinds of bodies. The human body was not made for living in water. The body of a fish was not intended to sustain life on dry land. So why would we think that the human body, as we know it, could survive life in heaven. It will be a different existence requiring a different an altogether different kind of body. And speaking of heaven, take a look at the planets and stars. Each has its own kind of “glory”, Paul says. They each have their own purpose.

So, Paul concludes, “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:42 NLT). Using the seed analogy, Paul states that our bodies, after death, will be buried in the ground, only to come out in new life and in a different configuration. “Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT).

Paul makes an interesting pronouncement that goes against the whole premise behind dualism. After the resurrection, we will have spiritual bodies. They will be no separation. There will be no dual aspect to our nature in eternity. We will spiritual beings with bodies, albeit, a different kind of body. In our current bodies, we resemble our ancestor, Adam. In our resurrection bodies, we will resemble our Savior, Jesus Christ. “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:49 NLT). The bottom line is that, after death, we will have to have new bodies in order to live with God in eternity. “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever” (1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT). As impossible as the resurrection of the body may sound, it is a necessity. Without it, men could not exist in the rarefied atmosphere of heaven, any more than a fish could exist out of the water. Our new home will require that we have new bodies. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul puts it this way:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

New home. New bodies. New life. New nature. New heaven. New earth. It’s all coming some day. And it is the past resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future resurrection of our bodies that make it all possible. “And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:5 NLT).


The Reality of the Resurrection.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. – 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 ESV

In verse 29, Paul takes what appears to be a rather interesting and confusing diversion from his primary topic. Actually, he is simply trying to drive home his point regarding the reality of the resurrection. To do so, he brings in another practice that was evidently common in Corinth, perhaps not in the church, but in the pagan community. It involved proxy baptism or baptism for the dead. Now it has been estimated that this one verse has been given as many as 40 different interpretations over the years in an effort to explain what Paul is talking about.

They included that Christians in Corinth were being “baptized into the ranks of the dead” by martyrdom (thinking of "baptism" in the light of Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50), that this was ordinary Christian baptism that took place “over” the grave of the dead, or that new Christians were baptized to “replace” Christians who had died. Though interesting, these proposals lack credibility. The most plausible interpretation is that some in Corinth were getting baptized vicariously for the dead. Several factors, however, put this into perspective. Although Paul does not explicitly condemn the practice, neither does he endorse it. – Christianity Today, August 10 1998, Vol. 42, No. 9

The most likely explanation is that Paul is referring to a practice that was common among the mystery religions found in and around Corinth. These pagan religions encouraged their followers to be baptized on behalf of and in place of their deceased relatives in order to assure their “salvation.” It is the same belief held today by the Church of Latter-Day Saints or the Mormons. But Paul is not endorsing this practice. Notice that he says, “what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” He is pointing out what others, outside the church, were doing. This was a practice the Corinthians believers would have been familiar with, and Paul is simply using it as an example of how even the pagan mystery religions believed in a resurrection of the dead. Otherwise, their practice of proxy baptism would have been pointless.

Paul’s whole point is that there is a resurrection of the dead. To reject it or refuse to believe in it would be to reject the gospel. And Paul had been putting his life on the line to preach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He had suffered greatly as a result of his belief in the resurrection. It was the resurrection of Jesus that caused much of the persecution against the disciples in the early days of the church. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Why are we in danger every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:30 ESV). It was because of the message of the resurrection. In Acts chapter 4, Luke records that Peter and John, after sharing the gospel in Solomon’s Portico in Jerusalem, were arrested.

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. – Acts 4:1-4 ESV

They were arrested for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was this message that riled the Jewish religious leaders. The next day, standing in front of the high priest and his religious cohorts, Peter and John were asked to explain by what power or authority they had healed a crippled man the day before. And Peter responded, “ let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10 ESV).

It is the resurrection of Jesus that gave the gospel its power and made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. To reject the resurrection simply because you can’t explain it is absurd. And Paul asks the Corinthians, “And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus was not raised from the dead and we have no hope of future resurrection. This life is all there is. So if that’s the case, let’s enjoy our life while we can and stop worrying about eternity.

But Paul rejects that logic. In fact, he tells the Corinthians, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34 ESV). It was as if their senses were numbed by too much alcohol, affecting their ability to think clearly. Paul demanded that they “sober up” and start listening to God rather than their pagan friends and neighbors. The resurrection of Jesus was just as much a part of the plan of God as His death. When the women had come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus they were met by two angels, who said to them:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. – Luke 24:5-9 ESV

We need to wake up to the reality of the resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope. It is what assures us of our own future resurrection. It is because He rose again that we can believe that He will one day come again. And in the meantime, as we wait for that day, Paul would have us remember, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT).



Because He Lives.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV

Essential to the gospel message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul spent the entire opening paragraph of this chapter making that point clear. And he claims that the Corinthians had believed the message of the gospel, including the part regarding Christ’s resurrection. And yet, there were those in the church in Corinth who rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead. This may have been due to their dualistic background. In their minds the body was deemed as evil and non-spiritual. So any idea of the body someday being resurrected or redeemed made no sense to them. Yet Paul regularly taught the resurrection of the body. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, he wrote:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-15 NLT

He assured the believers in Rome:

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. – Romans 8:23-24 ESV

As far as Paul was concerned, the resurrection will involve both our body and soul. We will be glorified. Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so will we. And yet, there were some of the Corinthians who had rejected this idea. They had a hard time believing that God would redeem and glorify their bodies. So Paul has to logically address their concerns and misconceptions. Paul states, quite matter-of-factly:

For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

In other words, if you want to reject the idea of the resurrection of the body from the dead, then you have to reject that Jesus Himself was resurrected. Because, as Paul stated earlier, Jesus walked from the tomb with a resurrected body and was seen and recognized by more than 500 eye-witnesses. Paul himself had seen Jesus in His resurrected body on the road to Damascus. Remember what Paul said was of “first importance”. Jesus died, was buried, was raised on the third day, then He appeared to Peter, the disciples, more than 500 believers at one time, to James, and to all the apostles. And He did all this in His resurrected body, which was recognizable to all who saw Him. Even the wounds from the nails and spear were still visible (John 20:27). To reject the resurrection of the body was to reject the resurrection of Jesus. And without the resurrection there is no gospel. There is no good news. Paul exposes the serious consequences of their logic: “if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:16 ESV). But it gets even worse than that.

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:17 NLT

In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! – 1 Corinthians 15:18 NLT

The resurrection of Jesus was proof that His death had satisfied the just demands of God. He had paid the penalty for the sins of man and God had accepted His sacrifice. Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). The resurrection of Jesus was part of His glorification. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). 

It is because Jesus was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father that we have hope. There is more to come. We have not been saved for this life, but for a life to come. Our glorification will not take place in this life, but in the one to come. “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while [in this life], he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). But if we reject the reality of the resurrection, we have no hope. Paul puts it in blunt terms: “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT). We are to be pitied because we still face death and the condemnation that comes as a result of our sins. Without the resurrection, our sins remain unpaid for and our death sentence still hangs over our heads. We may not be able to explain the resurrection. We may have a hard time understanding just exactly how God will accomplish the resurrection. But its reality is and our hope in it is essential. That is why the author of Hebrews described faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). It is the resurrection of Jesus that allows us to have faith in what we hope for - our own future resurrection. It allows us to believe in what we can’t see – the future redemption of our bodies. Because He lives, we can trust that we will one day live with Him.

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

–  Bill Gaither, Because He Lives


Of First Importance.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV

After having spent three entire chapters dealing with the issues surrounding the use of spiritual gifts, Paul now shifts his attention to what he refers to as “of first importance.” the Corinthians had lost sight of the overwhelming significance of their salvation made possible by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In other words, they had allowed the gospel and its life-changing message take a back seat to what they believed to be the spiritual significance of the gifts. So Paul reminds them of the gospel he preached to them. It is the gospel message they had received and, by doing so, allows them to stand as justified before God as His adopted. And it is that same gospel,that is making possible their daily salvation – their transformation into Christ-likeness. The spiritual gifts do not accomplish any of this for them. It is the gospel and the gospel alone that redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and that guarantees our future glorification – our salvation made complete. And just to make sure they understand what he means by the gospel, Paul provides them with a summary statement that contains all the key elements that give the gospel its significance.

Jesus died – the death of Jesus is central to the gospel message. It was necessary that Jesus die in order that the penalty for our sins be paid and God be satisfied. Otherwise, we would still be guilty and under condemnation for our sins against God. But Jesus did die – in our place. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the death we deserved.

according to the Scripture – Jesus’ death was not happenstance or just a run of bad luck. It wasn’t the result of the Jewish leadership and their behind-the-scenes plotting against Jesus. It wasn’t even the result of Pilate’s orders or the Roman government’s power. It was preordained by God. The Old Testament prophets spoke of His death hundreds of years before it took place. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV

Jesus was sent by God to die. The penalty for mankind’s sins against God was death. And God, because He is just, required that the penalty be paid – in full. But out of His mercy, He provided a substitute, His own Son, to satisfy the just and holy requirement for a sinless sacrifice, because as the author Hebrews writes, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

he was buried – Jesus’ death was real. He did not swoon or pass out. He was not put in the grave barely alive only to later revive and escape. He was buried because He was dead and the Romans were convinced of His death. It was His burial that paved the way for His resurrection. The rolling of the stone across the opening to His tomb and then sealed by the Roman guards convinced the disciples that their Messiah was dead and their hopes for a new kingdom were gone. They went into mourning and hiding. And the words of the two disciples whom Jesus encountered along the road after His resurrection reveal just how dejected they were.

Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.– Luke 24:19-21 ESV

he was raised on the third day – Jesus was not a martyr. He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who died, but who was raised back to life through the power of the Spirit of God. He was restored to new life and walked from the tomb in His resurrected body, living proof that He had accomplished what He had come to do and had satisfied the just demands of His Father in heaven. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV). And he follows that up with the good news that “n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV). It is His resurrection that assures us of our future hope of eternal life and glorification of these earthly bodies. The apostle John assures us, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV).

in accordance with the Scriptures – Once again, the Scriptures predicted Christ’s death, but also His resurrection. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
    Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:10-11 ESV

He was crushed, but He was also resurrected and restored. His days were prolonged. And as a result of His death and resurrection, many have been accounted as righteous.

and that he appeared – Jesus was seen by more than 500 people during the days after His resurrection. His appearances to His disciples renewed them hopes and revived their commitment to follow Him. He gave them their marching orders, commissioning them to carry on His work and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, calling him from a life marked by persecution of the church to a new mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s work and words were given to Him by the resurrected Christ. And he had been faithful to do what Christ had called him to do.

Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and appeared. That is the heart of the gospel message. And when anyone accepts the reality of those facts, placing his or her faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, they experience salvation. They are born again. They are given new life in Christ. Their sins are forgiven. They receive a new nature. They become a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. They stand before God as righteous, not because of anything they have done or accomplished, but because of the blood of Christ.


A Method To God’s Madness.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order. – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40

This passage is a land mine of potential controversy. Over the centuries there have been a variety of attempts made to soften its content and diminish its potential impact on the modern church. It has resulted in Paul being labeled a sexist by many and has been used by some to prove their assertion that Christianity is archaic and out of touch with the modern world. There are those who claim that these words are simply the personal opinion of Paul and are not to be taken as a command from God. They use Paul’s similar statement written to his young protege, Timothy, as proof. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 ESV).

So what are we to do with this verses? Are we to simply ignore them, write them off as irrelevant, or take them as the word of God and apply them to our local fellowships? To make things even more difficult, it would appear that Paul is contradicting himself. Earlier in this same letter, he states, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 ESV). It would seem that the context he is referring to regarding prayer and prophesying is that of corporate worship. There would be no need to prophesy in private. Like all the other spiritual gifts, these two were intended for the edification of the body of Christ. So Paul seems to be saying that it is perfectly acceptable for women to pray and prophesy in a worship context. So why does he seem to change his mind and say, “women should keep silent in the churches”?

As always, when interpreting the meaning of a particular verse or verses, we must consider the context. That includes the context of the passage in which the verses are contained. But it also includes the cultural context with which the particular book of the Bible is dealing. We must always consider the original audience to whom the author was writing and the specific issues he was addressing. Here is this letter, Paul is writing to believers in the Greek city of Corinth, most of whom had come out of pagan backgrounds and who were relatively young in their faith. They are a gifted congregation, but because of their spiritual immaturity and the influence of their pagan past, they were experiencing a great deal of disorder and disunity. They were misusing the spiritual gifts and were failing to exhibit Christ-like love for one another. There was an overemphasis on their freedoms in Christ which was resulting in quarrels and contentions over everything from eating food sacrificed to idols to who had the most important spiritual gift.

One of the issues Paul addresses repeatedly is disorder. When it comes to corporate worship, there was to be an atmosphere of order and decorum. Yet, some within the church were using their gifts inappropriately, resulting in confusion and a spirit of competition. It is important to note that just before Paul states that women are to be silent in the church, he states, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a ESV). For Paul, the issue of order was directly tied to that of headship and submission. God not only had a manner in which the body of Christ should operate when gathered together, He had established a hierarchy of leadership. Back in chapter 11, Paul discussed God’s ordained headship of the husband over his wife. “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). This has nothing to do with value or worth. Christ and God the Father are co-equals and both members of the trinity. But Christ submits to the authority of God the Father. He does the will of His Father. In the garden, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). The issue has to do with authority and order.

When Paul refers to God being a God of peace, the Greek word he uses refers to harmony and concord between individuals. There was a lack of harmony within the Corinthian church and their worship services were marked by disorder. So Paul is once again addressing an apparent abuse of God’s call for order and harmony.

It is clear from this that the apostle was not concerned about women who properly exercised their gifts in prophesying or in praying, but was greatly concerned about women who disrupted the meetings with questions and comments, and perhaps even challenged the teaching of apostolic doctrine with contrary views. – Ray Stedman, Should A Woman Teach in the Church, RayStedman.org

It would seem from the context that there were women who were stepping out from under their husband’s God-ordained headship and asserting what they believed to be their right to participate in the worship experience. But their actions were viewed as disruptive to the service and disrespectful of their husband’s headship. Paul states that is is shameful for women to speak in the church. It is important to note that the word he uses for “speak” means “to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts.” It has nothing to do with using their spiritual gifts. A woman using her spiritual gift would be under the authority of the Spirit of God. But for a woman to verbally “declare her mind” and state her opinion, seemingly in conflict with a spoken word of prophesy or revelation, would be out of place. Paul states that “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Corinthians 14:35 ESV). Once again, the issue has to do with order and authority. The wife would honor her husband by bringing her questions and concerns to him first. Even though he might not have the answer to her questions, she would be encouraging him to step up and fulfill his role as God’s appointed spiritual head of the home. Undermining his authority or that of the leaders of the church would accomplish nothing in terms of the edification of the body of Christ. Disunity and disorder are always destructive.

This passage, while difficult to understand, appears to be a simple to submit to God’s will regarding His preordained order for the church and the home. It is a call to unity and a warning to avoid disorder of any kind. Paul ends this chapter with the words, “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV). If we are not careful, we will lose sight of his main point and get hung up on what we believe to be inconsistencies or inequities in his teaching. But for Paul, the central concern was the well-being of the body of Christ, the family of God. There was no place for individual rights or self-seeking attitudes. Love was to be the primary motivating factor behind all that was done. The example of Christ was to be the focus of their attention, resulting in willing submission to God’s authority and a selfless desire for the good of others.

God of Peace.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV

The very fact that Paul is going into this great amount of detail regarding the gifts reveals that this was a real problem for the church in Corinth. This was not a case of the gifts being in short supply. They seemed to have them in abundance. But they were confused as to their purpose and were neglecting to practice them in a spirit of love. So now, Paul gives more specific comments regarding their use in corporate worship. “When you come together,” Paul says, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” The gifts were designed primarily for use within the community and Paul makes clear their intended purpose: “Let all things be done for building up.” They were not designed to get attention or to make the one with the gift look good. And they most certainly were not to be used in a competitive or chaotic way. It seems that the Corinthians were in the habit of practicing their gifts almost like it was a competition. There was no order to their services. Everyone was prophesying, singing, teaching, and speaking in tongues at the same time. Which is what let Paul to say, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”

The gift of tongues was not to dominate the corporate gathering. As Paul made clear earlier, tongues were intended for the lost, not believers. But if someone was going to practice the gift of tongues within the worship service, there must be someone there to interpret what was said. Otherwise, they were to remain silent. And Paul restricted the use of tongues to no more than three individuals per worship service. He did the same thing with the gift of prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV). The worship service was not to be a circus or free-for-all, with everyone speaking at the same time or saying whatever they felt led to say. Even those with a prophetic word were to be evaluated by others with the same gift. There had to be a confirmation of what was being said. Just because someone prophesied did not mean that what they said was true. There was a need for the congregation and others with the gift of prophecy to ascertain whether what was being said was of God. This is an important distinction. Not all tongues is of God. Not all prophecy is of God. Not all revelation is of God. The gifts can be easily replicated and done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many who claim to prophesy in the name of God, but their words are not from God. There are those who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they do not practice them according to Scripture. There is no interpretation. There is no message. And no one, except the one speaking in tongues, is built up. To Paul, this was all unacceptable. It was more evident of the former pagan background of the Corinthians than than it was of God’s intended form of worship for the church.  

The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly. – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Order. Edification. Peace. Godliness. Love. All of these things were to characterize the corporate worship of the body of Christ. God had given the gifts to assist in the building up of the saints. When the Spirit of God was at work within the congregation, it would be evident. There would be a spirit of love present. Orderliness, not confusion, would characterize the assembly. The gifts would be complimentary, not competitive. The use of the gifts would be dictated by the Spirit of God, not the selfish desires of men. And the result would be the edification of all, not the elevation of one.


Immaturity and Spirituality.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. – 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 ESV

The Corinthians had revealed their spiritual immaturity to Paul by elevating the gift of tongues to a primary position. They saw speaking in tongues as a sign of spirituality and were pursuing and practicing that gift to the detriment of the body of Christ. So Paul calls them out and encourages them to “grow up” in their thinking. It is one thing to be innocent when it comes to evil, but they were acting like children when it came to the gifts God had given to the church. They were enamored by the more showy, flamboyant gifts and were allowing jealousy, pride and envy to characterize their use of the gifts, rather than the mutual edification of one another.

One of the most important distinctions Paul makes about the gift of tongues is regarding its purpose or objective. He quotes a passage from Isaiah 28 to show that tongues “are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). The context of the Isaiah passage is that God had sent Isaiah to warn the people of Israel of the coming invasion of the Assyrians. He has been calling them to repent and return to Him as their God, but they have stubbornly refused the calls of the prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah had been speaking to them in their own language, but they had refused to listen. So Isaiah warns them that God was going to send the Assyrians, and “by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11 ESV). Their unbelief and stubbornness was going to force God to punish them by sending them into captivity, but even then they would not repent.

Paul is trying to get them to think logically and maturely about their view of tongues. He even uses a real-life scenario to make his point. “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14:23 ESV). In other words, if tongues is the superior gift they seem to think it is and everyone in the church practiced it at the same time, what would unbelievers think when they walked in the door and experienced the chaos and confusion firsthand? They would most likely conclude that Christians were crazy. Rather than see Christians living and worshiping together in unity, they would experience a spirit of competition. Instead of hearing a clearly articulated and understandable delivery of the gospel, they would walk away confused and convinced that Christianity was no different than the pagan religions with which they were already familiar. It is important to note that Paul is describing a time of corporate worship. This is supposed to be a time when the body of Christ gathers for worship and mutual edification.

If we look back at Acts 2 and see the first evidence of the gift of tongues being used, we see that it was not during a time of corporate worship. They had been waiting together in a room, just as Jesus had instructed them to do. And then something happened.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

And there was a purpose behind this one-of-a-kind event. Luke goes on to record:

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? – Acts 2:5-8 ESV

In this case, they all spoke in tongues at the same time. A scenario much like Paul described in his example. But the reason was simple. There were thousands of people present who were from other countries and who spoke other languages. And each was able to hear what was being said in their own language. And the result of this amazing event was that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ. The gift of tongues had a purpose. It was God-ordained and Holy Spirit-directed. But this was not intended to be the norm. It was not a prescribed method or form of worship for the early church. And yet the Corinthians had childishly elevated tongues to a superior position, misunderstanding its purpose and missing the point behind what God was trying to do in their midst.

Ultimately, Paul was interested in heart change. He compares tongues with the gift ofprophecy, describing another scenario in which a lost person visits the corporate worship service. This time, rather than confusion and chaos, they hear the truth being proclaimed through the gift of prophecy. Paul says, “they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you’” (1 Corinthians 14:24;25 NLT). Understandable truth results in undeniable heart change. Revelation brings about redemption. Edification and evangelism were the primary purpose behind the gifts when the church gathered. There would be a proper place and time for the gift of tongues, but it had to be Spirit-determined and directed. Choosing to use gifts because of their seeming spirituality revealed an immature perspective. It was childish and short-sighted. A more mature outlook would view the gifts as given by God and up to Him to use as He sees fit, with the ultimate purpose being the building up the body of Christ.


Edification, Not Emotion.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. – 1 Corinthians 14:13-19 ESV

Once again, Paul emphasizes the importance of the spiritual gifts as tools given by God for the mutual edification of the body of Christ. He indicates that a person who prays during worship using an unknown language may be giving thanks to God, but the rest of the congregation will not be built up. They will not understand what is being said, so they will be unable to join in thanksgiving. In fact, Paul says that someone praying in a tongue has no idea what they are saying as well. “For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying” (1 Corinthians 14:14 NLT). That’s why Paul encourages those who say they have the gift of tongues to pray that they might also be given the ability to interpret what they are saying. The spiritual part of a believer’s life was not to be viewed as separate or distinct from their intellectual or cognitive capacities. God puts a high priority on knowledge. He wants us to know Him. He desires for us to know truth. He wants us to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Even Paul said, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT).

Earlier in this same letter, Paul spoke of the Spirit’s role in helping believers understand and comprehend the mind of God.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 NLT

The Spirit of God exists to make God known. He helps us understand those things given to us by God. Without the Spirit living within us, we would still be natural and not spiritual. And the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV).

So the Spirit within us is there to help us understand. And when the Spirit speaks through us by means of our gift, others should be able to understand as well. They should be drawn closer to God. But Paul indicates that the gift of tongues, without interpretation, is of no use to anyone. It may make the one speaking feel spiritual, but there is no benefit to their understanding. Underlying all of this is Paul’s emphasis on the content of the message. What is being said is far more important than the means or the method of delivery. That’s why he makes the very bold statement: “But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (1 Corinthians 14:19 NLT). He is discounting the validity of tongues as a gift, but he is elevating the priority of communication and edification. 

One of the more difficult portions of this passage to understand is Paul’s claim, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18 ESV). Many in the charismatic movement who view tongues as ecstatic utterances and not actual languages, use this verse as proof that Paul used the gift of tongues in secret. But in every case where tongues is mentioned in the New Testament, it is in a corporate context. And it always involves unbelievers, such as on the day of Pentecost. Paul will even go on to clarify that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). So what does Paul mean when he says that he speaks in tongues more than any of them. I think Paul is using sarcasm. He is actually saying that what they are claiming to be the gift of tongues is not tongues at all. Paul had evidently spoken in tongues before. And more than likely he did so in keeping with the New Testament criteria that it be done for the benefit of non-believers. More than likely Paul was given the use of tongues when he spoke in the synagogues in the towns he visited. There would have been non-Jews present who had become followers of Yahweh. They would have spoken other languages and it is likely that it was on those occasions that Paul spoke in tongues, using languages that would be understood by those present. 

But the bottom line for Paul was using the gifts properly and in keeping with God’s design for them. If they did not benefit others, either the lost or other believers, they were being misused, even abused. Paul will go on to use an absurd example intended to show the danger of the Corinthian’s improper view of gifts. If one Sunday the entire congregation broke out in the gift of tongues and an unbeliever walked in the door, they would probably conclude that everyone had lost their minds. The disciples of Jesus got a similar response when they spoke in tongues at Pentecost. Some were amazed, others were perplexed, and then there were those who just accused them of being drunk. But Peter used the opportunity to share the gospel. The gift of tongues had a divine purpose. Any gift that does not edify is being misused. Any view of the gifts that emphasizes the emotions over spiritual edification is misguided and dangerous. There must be a benefit to the entire congregation. Which is why Paul said, “if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6 ESV). When we are operating in the power of the Spirit, it is for the benefit of all. It is for the building up of the body of Christ, not the individual.

Build Up.

If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:7-12 ESV

Paul is not attempting to prioritize one gift over another. He is simply trying to point out the community mindset that should always be dictate the use of the gifts. They are meant for the body of Christ, not the individual. The gift of tongues, if used in a corporate context, but without interpretation, would be useless to those who heard it. It would be unintelligible and, therefore, of little or no value to them spiritually. As Paul mentioned earlier, the unknown language was not the point, but the message it conveyed. God gave the gifts for a purpose: to build up the body of Christ. There was a time and place for each of them to be utilized. To speak in a language no one in the audience understands would be inappropriate and unnecessary. It would have no purpose. In fact, it could end up being confusing. Paul compares it to a military bugler calling the army to battle, but playing a tune no one understands or recognizes. The result would be potentially devastating.

How is anyone going to enjoy a tune being played if the notes themselves are unrecognizable? You will hear sounds, but they will be unknown to you and the tune attempting to be played will go unrecognized. Paul seems to be indicating that there is to be a purpose behind the use of tongues. God is conveying a message through the gift, but if it comes across as unintelligible to the hearers, its value is lost. Once again, Paul is trying to point out the value of the content or message. Look closely at what he says:

Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. – 1 Corinthians 14:7 NLT

All of this reminds me of a contemporary worship service where the music team is playing a song that no one knows and the leader is encouraging the congregation to sing along. But the tune and the lyrics are unfamiliar to them. While the worship band plays and sings with skill and confidence, the congregation is lost and unable to join in with enthusiasm. They become spectators, watching and listening, but failing to participate in the worship experience as intended. Now, imagine being in that same situation, but the band is singing in a foreign language. They are gifted, skilled, energetic and well-intentioned. The song they are playing has wonderful lyrics with a powerful message. But the audience does not understand a word that is being said. How will they benefit from the experience? How will the content of the song being played have an impact if they cannot understand the words being sung?

Paul says, “It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space” (1 Corinthians 14:9 NLT). The objective should always be communication and comprehension for the purpose of edification. When it comes to the gifts, Paul says “seek those that will strengthen the whole church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). But the New Living Translation actually conveys an unintended message in their translation of this verse. It seems as if Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to seek out or to pursue particular gifts, as if it is somehow up to their discretion, but earlier in this same letter, he made it quite clear that the gifts are given by the Spirit. Back in chapter 12, Paul wrote, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NLT). We don’t get to chose our gift, it is given to us by the Spirit of God.

In the original Greek, Paul is essentially saying, “In your eagerness to have a spiritual gift, make sure you don’t forget that their purpose is to build up the church.” The Corinthians were looking at the gifts from a selfish perspective, desiring particular gifts because of the perceived status they carried with them. They desired the more flamboyant gifts. But Paul is reminding them that God’s purpose behind the gifts is the spiritual edification of others, not the prideful elevation of the one with the gift. Three times in the first 12 verses, Paul emphasizes the building up of the body of Christ – the church.

A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. – 1 Corinthians 14:4 NLT

For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened. – 1 Corinthians 14:5 NLT

Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT

Paul emphasized the same thing in his letter to the church in Ephesus. “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT). Earlier in this letter, Paul wrote a very similar thing:

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,

second are prophets,

third are teachers,

then those who do miracles,

those who have the gift of healing,

those who can help others,

those who have the gift of leadership,

those who speak in unknown languages. – 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 NLT

God the Father has appointed the gifts to be given to the church. But it required the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, be sacrificed before the gifts could be given. And once Jesus was resurrected the Holy Spirit was free to distribute the gifts as He deems necessary, for the good of the body of Christ. As a believer in Jesus Christ, your giftedness is guaranteed. And the objective behind your giftedness is clear: The building up of the body of Christ. When God saved you, He placed you within the body of Christ. He made you part of His family, the community of believers. Your presence within that corporate body is God-ordained, and your mission is clear. You are to use the gift given to you by the Spirit to help build up, edify, encourage and strengthen those around you.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:4-5 NLT



Pursue Love.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? – 1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1-6 ESV

Now Paul begins to differentiate between the gifts. He is not necessarily making one more important or more spiritual than another, but he is prioritizing them in terms of their particular benefit to the Body of Christ. Remember, he has just spent an entire chapter emphasizing the importance of love. Love is selfless and sacrificial. Those who practice godly love put the needs of others ahead of themselves. And the same should be true when they use their spiritual gift. Now, it seems that the Corinthians had so elevated the gift of tongues that it had become a problem within the church. And their practice of the gift was not in keeping with Paul’s admonition that love be the motivating factor behind all the gifts. For the Corinthians, the gift of tongues had become more desirable than all the other gifts. Evidently, they viewed that particular gift as more spiritual and therefore, more preferable. It was flashy and flamboyant. To be able to speak in an unknown tongue was sure to be an attention-getter. But that was a big part of the problem associated with their pursuit of the gift of tongues. Those who practiced it seemed to do so with the focus on self, rather than on the building up of the Body of Christ.

So while Paul encourages them to earnestly seek the spiritual gifts, he promotes prophecy over tongues. His explanation is simple and direct:

For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. – 1 Corinthians 14:2 NLT

If no one is there who understands what you are saying, no one gets any benefit from your use of the gift. It will all be a mystery, known only to God. And while you may be speaking in the power of the Spirit of God, it will do nothing to build up those around you.

But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. – 1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT

To prophesy meant to reveal truth from God that had not yet been revealed. It was a word from God intended for the benefit of the entire congregation. This gift was evident and necessary in the early days of the church before the canon of Scripture was complete. Those who had been given the gift of prophecy were to speak through the power of the Spirit of God for the benefit of the people of God. But tongues, at least as practiced by the Corinthians, was a more self-centered gift.

A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. – 1 Corinthians 14:4 NLT

The one who speaks in an unknown tongue may receive a blessing from knowing that they are being used as an instrument of God, but if no one can understand what they are saying, the Body of Christ receives no benefit from it. But when someone prophesies, everyone gains from the experience. Remember what Paul said in the previous chapter? “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 NLT). None of the gifts were of benefit if they were practiced without love. But tongues, because it involved speaking in an unknown language, was particularly troublesome. If you recall, the first time the gift of tongues was manifested in the church was at Pentecost.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” – Acts 2:1-8 ESV

The purpose behind this manifestation of the Spirit of God was the communication and comprehension of the gospel. The disciples spoke in languages they did not know, but for the benefit of the thousands of people who were there from other countries. There was no need for interpretation, because the hearers fully understood what was being said. In Corinth, the use of tongues had become self-centered and self-edifying. There were missing the point. At Pentecost, the people who heard the disciples speak in tongues, or foreign languages, were amazed. They said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7-8 NLT). But look closely and you will see that it was the substance of their message that got their attention, not the style. The very same people reacted, “‘we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed” (Acts 2:11-12 NLT).

It was the content that was important, not the means by which it was delivered. For Paul, the bottom line was the spiritual edification of the church. The question to ask is, “how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching” (1 Corinthians 14:6 ESV). Speaking in a foreign tongue was of no benefit to anyone unless the message it contained was understandable and from God. We tend to think of the gifts of the Spirit as personal in nature. We seem to believe that our gift was given to us alone. But the gifts are given to individuals for the benefit of the community. My gift is for you. Your gift is for me. The one who received the gift is simply a conduit through whom God pours His blessings on others. As Paul told the Romans, when we practice our gifts in love, all will benefit.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. – Romans 12:6-10 NLT

So Now…

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 ESV

We live in an interim stage. The “perfect”, as Paul refers to it, has not yet come. The Greek word he uses is teleios and it refers to “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It can also mean “full grown, adult, of full age, mature.” He uses childhood and adulthood to compare our present situation with what is to come as a child. At the present time, under our current conditions, we don’t know everything. We have limitations because of our flesh. So God has given temporary helps in the form of spiritual gifts to compensate for our lack of knowledge and understanding. Tongues, knowledge and prophecy are present-age necessities designed to help man grasp the reality of God’s truth. But the day is coming when they will no longer be necessary. The apostle John described our present limitations, but assured us of our future completeness when Christ returns.  “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). 

Paul explains that the gifts, while given by God, are like childhood qualities that will done day be outgrown. We will give up “childish ways” because we will be fully mature in Christ. In the meantime, we are hampered by a limited perspective, an earth-bound, flesh-restricted outlook that prevents us from seeing all the truth of who God is and what we will be. We have partial knowledge. We suffer from incomplete understanding. So God provided the gifts to help us speak truth and edify one another. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes our current predicament, describing our earthly bodies as tents. They are like temporary dwellings in which we are forced to live, much like the Israelites lived in tents during the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. –2 Corinthians 5:1-7 NLT

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that their true hope lies in the future, not the present. But in the meantime, we are to live according to faith, hope and love. Our faith is to be focused on what is to come, the final fulfillment of our salvation, when we will be glorified and united with Christ in sinless perfection. We are to place our hope on that future reality. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). We hope in what we cannot see – our future glorification. As Paul says, “we live by believing.” And our faith and hope are to be accompanied by love. In fact, he says that of the three, love is the greatest. When Christ returns and our glorification takes place, faith and hope will no longer be necessary. The unseen will have become visible. We will see Him as He is and we will be like Him. But love never ends. It will continue on throughout eternity, because it is the very nature and essence of God Himself. We will love and be loved. We will live in an environment of perfect love, unhindered by sin and no longer impacted by hate.

The Corinthians were obsessed with the gifts, but for the wrong reasons. They didn’t understand their purpose. They saw them as spiritual badges of honor that gave them precedence and importance over one another. They failed to recognize their God-given purpose of enlightening and edifying one another. And their use of them was not accompanied by love. But Paul reminds them that love trumps all – even now. We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience the unhindered love of God. When we use the gifts He has given to us, we are expressing His love to one another. We are sharing and caring for one another. The gifts were intended not only to reveal the truth of God, but His love. Paul will close out this letter with some powerful words of encouragement: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). We live in the now. And it is going to take faith, hope, strength, endurance, and patience. But none of these will be successful if we fail to love. Love brings heaven to earth. Love makes the future present, the unseen visible, and our hope tangible.

Love Lived Out.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV

It is virtually impossible to read these verses without considering Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit found in his letter to the Galatian churches:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

It is important to keep in mind that Paul’s discussion of love found in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians follows his discussion regarding the spiritual gifts. Those gifts, given by the Spirit of God, would most certainly reflect the fruit that He produces, and love would be included. To operate under the influence of the Spirit, utilizing a gift given by the Spirit, but without love, would be impossible. God is love and the same can be said of the Spirit of God. When we live by or under the influence of the Spirit, our lives will exhibit His loving nature. And Paul lets us know exactly what that love looks like.

It is patient – it puts up with a lot, including the offenses of others. It doesn’t seek to get even or enact revenge.

It is kind – it acts benevolently. In other words, it reveals itself in tangible expressions of kindness and goodness to others. Even to those who hurt us.

It isn’t envious – the actual Greek word means to “be heated or to boil with envy.” God’s kind of love rejoices with others, rather than getting jealous of what they have.

It doesn’t boast – It is impossible to love like God and grand stand at the same time. When godly love is in operation, it is other-focused, not self-promoting.

It isn’t arrogant – God’s love requires humility, not pride. It doesn’t have an inflated sense of its own self-worth.

It isn’t rude – you can’t say you love someone and treat them in a disrespectful or unseemly way.

It doesn’t insist on getting it’s on way – we can know we are loving like God does when we aren’t out for our own good. Love is selfless and sacrificial.

It isn’t irritable – when the Spirit’s love is operating in us and through us, we won’t be easily provoked. We will have a resilience and resistance to the words and actions of others.

It isn’t resentful – God’s kind of love doesn’t keep score, making a list of all the wrongs done to it. And it most certainly doesn’t seek to get even.

It doesn’t rejoice at wrong doing – when we love like God does, we won’t find pleasure in the sins of others. And we won’t love sinning ourselves.

It rejoices with the truth – godly love finds pleasure when others do what is right. It allows us to rejoice alongside them, rather than being jealous of them.

It bears all things – Spirit-empowered love is able to put up with all kinds of people and circumstances.

It believes all things – When are loving like God does, it allows us to maintain our faith in the midst of all kinds of situations and when surrounded by all kinds of people.

It hopes all things –godly love doesn’t become hopeless or defeated by what happens to us or what people do to us.

It endures all things –no matter what those we are loving might do or say. It patiently, persistently maintains its faith in the face of difficulties and difficult people.

It never ends – the kind of love Paul is describing is everlasting, not short-lived. There will never some a time when godly love becomes exhausted or non-essential.

But when it comes to the spiritual gifts, they have a shelf-life. They will not always be needed. When Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth, there will be no more need for prophecies, tongues, or the gift of knowledge. All will be fulfilled. God’s plan will be complete. But love will prevail and persist, because God is love. So godly love should have preeminence in our lives. And if we are truly operating under the control of the Spirit of God, we will exhibit the characteristics of love. Our spirituality will be marked by love, not envy, deceit, or provocation. Godly love unites and never divides. It is always flowing out and never turning in on itself. When all is said and done, the kind of love Paul is describing is the love of God flowing through us to others.

The apostle John gives us a much-needed reminder of just how vital love is and the wonder of God’s love for us that should motivate our love for others.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:7-12 ESV

The Bond of Love.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.– 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3 ESV

Paul says that we are individuals who, together, make up the one Body of Christ, the church. We are individuals and we are each, in a sense, indispensable. We have each been given a gift by the Holy Spirit that is intended for the corporate good of body of Christ. God has designed it so that none of us are independent agents operating in isolation. As Paul points out to the Corinthians, the body of Christ was made up of some who were gifted to be apostles. Others were assigned the gift of prophecy or teaching. Some worked miracles or performed healings, while others used their gift of administration or helping. And then there were those who had been given the gift of tongues. Each was necessary. Yes, some of the gifts might appear to have greater significance or importance, but all were essential to the overall well-being of the church. As typical human beings, the Corinthians were prone to elevate one gift over another and experience jealousy or pride depending upon the particular gift they had been given. So Paul determined to show them a “more excellent way.”

Essentially, Paul is going to address the one things holds the Body of Christ together. Interestingly enough, it isn’t going to be our shared faith in Christ. That is what places us in the Body of Christ, but it is not the glue that holds us together. Even our giftedness is not enough to keep us unified and operating in mutual compatibility. So what is the glue that holds this unique collection of individuals together? What prevents our diversity, even in our areas of giftedness, from creating division, disorder and dysfunctionality?

For Paul, it was simple: It was love.

Within the Corinthian church, there was evidently a tendency to make much of the gift of tongues. Obviously, it was a more flamboyant, outwardly obvious gift that garnered attention and created an aura of spirituality for the one who practiced it. But Paul is going to take a handful of the gifts, including tongues, and show that they are each worthless without love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV

The gift of tongues, practiced without love, is nothing more than a loud, irritating noise. It may be unavoidably noticeable, but it will also be undeniably unprofitable. Tongues, like all the gifts, was intended to build up and edify the body. To practice tongues without love would be to focus on self and to neglect the overall health of the Body of Christ. The goal would end up being garnering attention for oneself, rather than allowing the Spirit to use the gift for the good of others.

Paul is not done yet.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV

You could have legitimate prophetic power to foretell the future and reveal undisclosed truth from God, but if you did it without love, you would be nothing. In essence, Paul is saying that, while your gift might make you a somebody in the eyes of others, in God’s eyes you would be a nobody – unimportant and non-essential. Your lack of love would negate any value your gift might have had. To claim to understand the mysteries of God and to grasp the knowledge of God is nothing if it is not accompanied by love for others. And even if you had enough faith to move a mountain, but did so without loving others,  you would still be a nobody in the eyes of God, because your accomplishment would lack any redeeming value.

But Paul brings up a seemingly contradictory example.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV

Isn’t sacrifice always motivated by love? Wouldn’t love be the only thing that would cause someone to give their life? After all, Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). But Paul’s point is that even the gift of giving, to the extreme point of martyrdom, can be done without love. You can die for a cause, but fail to do so out of love for others. You can give away all your possessions to gain the praise of men, but not out of love for them. It was Jesus who also said, “when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2 ESV). You may get the accolades of men, but you will gain nothing from God.

Love is essential, because God is love. To practice any of the gifts without love would be ungodly. It would be out of character. It is possible for us to emulate or imitate the spiritual gifts. We can easily confuse talents with gifts. Just because we are a capable leader in the marketplace, does not mean we have the gift of leadership or administration in the body of Christ. We may be a gifted teacher, in an earthly sense, but that does not mean we have the spiritual gift of teaching. When the Spirit of God gives a gift, it is always accompanied by love. It is intended to build up others in the body. It is inherently selfless in its expression. It doesn’t ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” A truly spiritual gift simply gives, expecting nothing in return. Because that is the essence of love.

As Paul will make clear in the following verses, love is the only thing that will last. There is a day coming when all of the spiritual gifts will be unnecessary. They will have served their purpose. There will be no need for tongues, prophecy, healing, or miracles. We will no longer need faith or hope, because all things will have been fulfilled and made complete. But love will never end. It is the glue that holds heaven together. It is the bond of unity between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Love is the more excellent way.


Individuality and Community.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ESV

God’s goal for us is oneness. It was one of the primary requests in Jesus’ prayer in the garden on that infamous night just moments before He was betrayed.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me– John 17:20-23 ESV

Jesus knew that the oneness or unity of His followers would be the greatest expression of the heart transformation that comes only as result of salvation. It is the Spirit-produced oneness of believers that proves to the world that Jesus was who He said He was and actually accomplished all that He claimed He would do. Paul picked up on the theme of Jesus’ prayer and echoed those same sentiments to the believers in Corinth. Their brand of spirituality was not working. Rather than leading to unity and reflecting the oneness of Christ and the Father, it was leading to arrogance, pride and division within the church. Even their view of the gifts of the Spirit were dividing rather than unifying the body. So Paul gives them a lengthy primer on the spiritual life, with special emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit.

Paul emphasizes that they are all one, but they are not all the same. There is still diversity in unity. That is what makes the body of Christ so unique and a reflection of God’s power. He takes people of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, backgrounds and tradition, and molds them into a single entity called the Body of Christ – His church. The unifying factor of the church is not our shared ethnicity or ancestry, our common cultural background or country of birth. It is our mutually shared calling by God and our redemption as a result of faith in the death of His Son. We are one because God has made us so. He has placed us in the Body of Christ. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul described Jesus as, “the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it” (Colossians 2:19 ESV). It is our common faith in Christ that holds us together, and He does so through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. That is Paul’s point to the believers in Corinth, and to make it clear, he uses the analogy of the human body. Each of us has just one body, but it is made up of many parts. There are muscles, ligaments, organs, limbs – each with a different assigned purpose and designated function. Some operate behind the scenes, unseen and unrecognized for the role in the functioning of the body. Others are more obvious and seemingly important. We even place greater importance on them because we can’t imagine life without them. Paul emphasizes the ears and the eyes, the hands and feet.

If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
1 Corinthians 12:15-17 NLT

It is the diversity and unity of the human body that makes it so incredibly amazing. Each part, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is necessary to the functionality of the whole. In fact, Paul states, “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22 NLT). There is a God-ordained design to the human body that causes it to operate most effectively when it is unified and each part is accomplishing its assigned role. And the same thing is to be true of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). No one is more important than anyone else. No spiritual gift is more essential than another. And the spiritual gift you have was not given to elevate your importance but to build up the Body of Christ.

Paul lists all kinds of spiritual gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, even tongues. His point behind the list is the variety, not the order or importance of the gifts. We tend to focus on which gift appears to be the most significant and spectacular. But Paul would have us remember that it is the Spirit who gives out the gifts – as He sees fit. We need to spend our time using the gift we have been given, rather than obsessing over a gift we think is more valuable. The goal is unity. And it is our God-ordained uniqueness that makes it possible. Our individual gifts, assigned to us by the Spirit of God, are intended for the mutual edification of the entire church. Our spirituality is not to be a badge of honor or a source of pride. Our giftedness is not intended to stroke our ego or prioritize our importance within the church. We have been gifted by God for the good of the Body of Christ. God’s goal behind our calling and our giftedness is “harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NLT). Individuality and community. Uniqueness and unity. Giftedness and shared good. That is what makes the Body of Christ function and proves that the faith we claim is real and our Savior is alive.


The Spirit of Unity.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12P1-11 ESV

Paul now takes on yet another issue causing conflict within the Corinthian church. Like authority in worship and the celebration of the Lord’s table, this one has led to conflict and confusion. It is being misunderstood and therefore, misused by many within the church. And Paul will dedicate far more time and attention to this topic than any of the previous ones, indicating its importance within the body of Christ. The topic is the Spirit of God and the role of the gifts of the Spirit within the church. There is an obvious difference of opinion between Paul and some in the church regarding the Holy Spirit’s role and the use of the gifts He gives. The Corinthians, having come out of a pagan background, brought their own definition of the Spirit to the table. They tended to tie the Spirit to the spiritual life as they understood it from their pagan background. We have already seen that they viewed life through their dualistic perspective. They separated the spiritual from the material. The spiritual portion of their life is what led to wisdom and knowledge. It was good. But the physical or material aspects of life and the world were evil. Even tongues, as practiced in the pagan religions of the time, was a means of having a spiritual, heavenly-like experience while living in the physical/material realm. We will see that they tended to view tongues from a self-centered perspective, seeing it as a highly personal experience, giving little thought about its influence of impact on the body of Christ as a whole.

Paul tells them, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” That word can also be translated as “ignorant.” He is inferring that they actually were ignorant regarding the role of the Spirit and the proper use of the spiritual gifts, but he didn’t want them to remain that way. Flowing throughout this section of the letter, and culminating in chapter 14, Paul will stress the role of love and the importance of community when it comes to the Spirit and the spiritual gifts. He will tell them, “Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). And sandwiched in-between chapters 12 and 14 he places his famous “Love” chapter – dedicating a section on the significance of love when it comes to the use of the gifts of the Spirit.

Early on in this chapter, Paul provides a simple test for true Spirit-filled expression. He wants to clear up any misconception that any seemingly spiritual-sounding utterance was necessarily from the Spirit of God. People could claim to be filled with the Spirit, but be anything but filled. So he tells them, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT). In other words, a Spirit-filled person would never deny Christ. And a non-Spirit-filled person will never proclaim the deity of Christ. The presence of the Spirit is the key. And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ – always promoting and making much of Christ.

Paul confirms that there are all kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come through the Holy Spirit and are ultimately given by God to the church. In fact, Paul states, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Every spiritual gift is intended for the building up of the body of Christ, not the personal pleasure of the individual. Paul gives them a partial list of the gifts, indicating that each and every one of them comes from the Spirit. He is the one who determines how the gifts are distributed. And in the opening of his letter, Paul seemed to indicate that the church in Corinth had been given all of the gifts of the Spirit. He proudly proclaimed, “you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). The problem was not the presence of the gifts, but the proper use and understanding of them. The Corinthians were guilty of prioritizing the gifts, making some more important or significant than others. They tended to elevate and aspire after the more flamboyant gifts, such as tongues or prophecy. They were turning the gifts into badges of honor, wearing them with arrogance and pride, and promoting themselves as somehow more spiritual than others because of their particular gift.

But the gifts of the Spirit, like the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, were not to be self-promoting or self-focused. They were intended for the good of others. The Holy Spirit apportions or hands out the gifts based on community need, not individual merit. Your gift was given to you for the good of others. The gift of tongues was intended to minister to those who spoke another language. The gift of wisdom was not meant to make one person wiser than everyone else, but was given to share the wisdom of God with all. Healing, miracles, faith, prophecy, tongues – they are all other-oriented – designed to build up, edify, minister to and strengthen the body of Christ. The Spirit of God brings a spirit of unity and love, not division and competition. We know the Spirit of God is active within us when our lives have a positive influence on those around us. The Spirit does not produce jealousy, pride, anger, or division. When we think we are more spiritual than someone else, we can’t blame that conclusion on the Spirit. He produces a spirit of humility and a heart of service. He creates within us a totally unnatural compassion and care for others. When He is at work within us, He helps us focus on everyone else but us.

The words of Paul to the believers in Galatia are as applicable today as they were when he first penned them. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 NLT). Our new life in Christ was made possible by the Spirit. And He is the one who makes possible our daily walk with Christ, living in selfless, sacrificial, loving community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.