1 Corinthians 12-16


“Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org”

Monday, June 23, Chapter 12

In the first three verses Paul is saying that the rules of the pagan gods do not apply with the One True God.  No one speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit will ever speak against God, Jesus, the Messiah, or the Spirit.  What was happening in Corinth was a rise in emotionalism.  We know people today who flit from one religious group to another seeking the religious high.  Paul was saying that emotion can overtake a person to the point of distorting the Good News.  We must balance the emotion, the necessary emotion, with what we have learned, what we know.

Within the Christian Community there are many skills and powers.  Do not demean your own skills, all are for God’s work.  Paul equates this whole chapter to the Trinity.  Jesus gives each of us our own task to do for the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability, the power, the skill to do the task.  God gives us the energy to accomplish the task.  This is not necessarily the same as the natural abilities we have at birth.  Because I can run faster than anyone else is a part of my body, but it may not be the gift Jesus wants me to use for the Kingdom.

The remainder of the chapter is a thorough description of the body of Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 actually begins with 12:31.  Paul is saying you Corinthians are trying to reach the higher plane, but you are going about it in the wrong way.  Here is the way.

Kenneth Bailey gives this important outline:

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:1-3)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love


Love defined (13:4-7)

Opens with an indirect reference to knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love


Love and the spiritual gifts (13:8-13)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Ends with faith, hope and love.


In verse 1 Paul used his personal experience to connect with the Corinthians.  He spent 18 months working in the central market making tents with Aquila and Priscilla.  Corinthian brass was the best in the Roman world and all of the craftsmen worked at the central market.  The downside of that is there are several hundred workers hammering brass from sunrise to sunset.  The noise could be heard all over the city.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 13, 1934 in London:  In the first place it is very simple, what is being said here—that a human life is only meaningful and worthwhile to the extent that it has love in it, and that a life is nothing, is meaningless and worthless, when it is without love.  A life is worth as much as the love in it.  Everything else is nothing at all, a matter of indifference, unimportant.  All the good and bad, big and little things are unimportant.  Only one thing is asked of us—whether or not we have love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 21, 1934 in London:  Last Sunday we learned that despite all our ideals, our seriousness, our knowledge, and our faith, even our good deeds and sacrifice, our lives are worth nothing if we do not have that one thing that Paul calls love…. Every person has love within him or her and knows its power and passion…. However, this love, with its power and passion and meaning, which everyone knows, is self-love—our love for our own selves…. But this self—love is love that has gone wrong, that has fallen away from its origin.  It is self-satisfied and is therefore condemned never to bear fruit—a love that is really hatred of God and my brother and sister, because they could only disturb me within the tight little circle I have drawn around myself….

So it pretends, veils itself, and dresses itself up in a thousand different forms, trying to look like real love—and it succeeds so well that human eyes can hardly tell the difference between the real thing and the fake.  Self-love disguises itself as love of our neighbor or our country, as public charity, as love of humankind, trying not to be recognized for what it really is.  Yet Paul cuts through all of self-love’s attempts to cloud the issue and to deceive and compels it to face its proper responsibility by drawing for it, for us, his picture of what God considers real love.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 28, 1934 in London:  In troubled times, if we stop to ask ourselves what will really come of all our agitation, when our thoughts go back and forth from one idea to another: what will come of all our worries and fears, all our wishes and hopes, in the end—and if we are willing to have answer from the Bible—what we will hear is:  There will be just one thing in the end, and that is the love that was in our thoughts, worries, wishes, and hopes.  Everything else ends and passes away—everything we did not think, and long for, out of love.  All thoughts, all knowledge, all talk that has not love comes to an end—only love never ends….

Why must everything else come to an end, and why does only love never end?  Because only in love does a person let go of himself or herself and give up his or her will, for the other person’s benefit.  Because love alone comes not from my own self but from another self, from God’s self.  Because it is through love alone that God acts through us—whereas in everything else it is we ourselves who are at work; it is our thoughts, our speaking, our knowledge—but it is God’s love.  And what is ours comes to an end, all of it—but what is of God remains.  Because love is God’s very self and God’s will; that is why it never ends, it never doubts, it stays its course.  It pursues its way with sure steps, like a sleepwalker, straight through the midst of all the dark places and perplexities of this world.  It goes down into the depths of human misery and up to the heights of human splendor.  It goes out to enemies as well as to friends, and it never abandons anyone, even when it is abandoned by everyone.

Paul Tillich adds these thoughts on the same verses:  But there is another consideration in our text which seems to contradict the words about love.  Paul singles out knowledge, and points to the difference between our fragmentary, indirect and darkened knowledge, and the full, direct and total knowledge to come…. He speaks of something which, besides love, is perfect and eternal—namely, the seeing of the truth, face to face; the knowledge which is as full as God’s knowledge of us….

But there is only one way to know a personality—to become united with that personality through love.  Full knowledge presupposes full love.  God knows me, because He love me; and I shall know Him face to face through a similar uniting, which is love and knowledge at the same time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 4, 1934 in London:  Faith and hope abide.  Let no one think it possible to have love without faith and without hope!  Love without faith would be a stream without a source.  That would mean that one could have love without Christ.  Through faith alone we are justified before God, through hope we are prepared for our end, and through love we are made perfect.

Through faith alone we are justified—our Protestant church is built on this sentence.  To the human question, how can I stand before God?  Luther found the one answer in the Bible:  if you believe in God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.  To the question of how human beings can be justified before God, the answer is through grace alone, through faith along.  We would be entirely right if, here at the end, we turned the first sentence of the chapter around and said, and if I have all love, so as to accomplish all good works, but have not faith, I am nothing.  Faith alone justifies—but love makes perfect.

Wednesday, June 25, Chapter 14

Verse 1 from the Amplified Bible:  Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).

Or more simply from CJB:  Pursue love!

However, keep on eagerly seeking the things of the Spirit; and especially seek to be able to prophesy.

We do not know the history of speaking in tongues, nor do we know what it means to speak in tongues.  This letter to Corinth is the only mention outside of Acts.  Paul uses the same two Greek words, laleo (to speak) and glossa (tongues) that Luke uses in Acts.  About the only point of agreement is that the term, to speak in tongues, means either speaking an existing language without having learned the language, or speaking in a language used in heaven not understood by humans.

The problem in Corinth was not laleoglossa, rather the abuse of it.  Services were being interrupted by people shouting or speaking what no one else could understand.  Many were saying that it was proof of the person’s higher spirituality.

Paul basically said do not do it unless there is a translation that will improve the congregation.  The key to understanding Paul’s position is found in verses 14-15.

In this discussion we should read Deuteronomy 28:49-50:  The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.

Also Isaiah 28:11-12:  Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,

 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen

Verse 22 points out that believers do not need tongues.  Starting in verse 26 Paul gives an outline to be followed in a proper worship service.  He does not say that we have to follow that outline.  It is intended for Corinth.  It is a generalization only for the rest of us.

Verse 34 gets us back to the touchy subject of women in worship.  Paul has already said that women may teach, preach, and prophecy, so he is not now trying to silence them.  He is addressing the same problem caused by those speaking in tongues, they were causing disruptions in the service.  Women, with their new sense of freedom, were disrupting the services with questions and idle chit-chat.

Consider that the congregation at Corinth had rich and poor, slave and free speaking twenty or more languages.  Greek was the only common language, but most knew only enough to buy bread at the market, especially the women who were at home most of the day.  For some of those women, church was the only time they left the house.  It was social time for them, so they spend the time talking with women they know.

The service is going on in a language most of the people struggle with at best.  It is natural to ask, “What did he say?”  In no time at all there is a buzz drowning out the speakers.  Corinth is not alone in this problem.  I have been able to attend church a number of times on trips to Haiti.  Even with a small group there is a constant murmur of talk.

Kenneth Bailey wrote:  I have preached in village churches in Egypt where the women were seated on one side of the church and the men on the other.  There was a wooden partition about six feet high separating the two sections.  I preached in simple colloquial Arabic, but the women were often illiterate and the preacher was expected to preach for at least an hour—and we had problems.  The women quickly passed the limit of their attention span.  [Another result of illiteracy and staying at home.]  The children were seated with them and chatting inevitably broke out among the women.  The chatting would at times become so loud that no one could hear the preacher…. One of the senior elders would stand up and in a desperate voice shout, “Let the women be silent in the church!” and we would proceed.  John Chrysostom wrote of the same problem in his cathedral at Antioch around 400 AD.

In verses 26-36, Paul cautions prophets (male and female), speakers in tongues (male and female), and married women with their husbands, all to be silent in church.  Do not interrupt the service.

Kenneth Bailey again:  But there is a further reality at play.  Middle Eastern society is predominantly an oral cultural.  I experienced this for seventeen years in Egypt, seventeen years in Syria and Lebanon, and for ten years in Israel and Palestine.  People process information by talking more than by sitting quietly and reflecting.  This can be observed at many levels of society.  A university professor will have the attention of the class and turn to write something on the blackboard.  The moment he or she pauses to write, the entire class breaks out talking.  They are not inattentive or rude, they are simply turning to a fellow student and chatting about the subject.  This social style is particularly prominent at meetings of women.  Taking advantage of any pause, women will often begin talking out loud—sometimes to themselves.  They are simply verbalizing the information they have heard in order to better absorb and retain it….

Paul picks up on these legitimate questions and in effect says,

I know your Greek is limited.  But your husbands have learned a bit more Greek than you have managed to absorb.  They have to in order to function on the job.  You have not had this chance and it is not your fault.  But things have gotten out of hand on a numberof levels.  Please be helpful and put your questions to your husbands after you return home.  I have just told the speakers when to be quiet.  This is a situation in which you also need to listen quietly even if you can’t follow what is said.

The word shame has a different meaning in the Middle East than here.  It is extremely important, but it covers all possible actions and words.  If I say to a friend that my wife does not look good in red, I bring shame on myself in the East.  Paul says to women, do not bring shame on your husbands by chattering in church; and by the way, husbands do not bring shame on your wives by chattering back.

Thursday, June 26, Chapter 15

Recall that much of the first four chapters were devoted to the cross.  Now Paul revisits the theme to deal primarily with the resurrection.

Verses 1 and 11 are connected.

1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

11Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

He stresses that we must receive the Gospel preached by Jesus and believe it.

Verses 2 and 10 also stand together:

2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul warns the Corinthians that they must stick firmly to what they have learned from Paul, Apollos, and Peter.  Do not bend the Word to suit yourselves.

The remaining verses, 3-9, hold together with Paul appearing in 3 and in 9.  Verses 4-8 are almost certainly quoted by Paul from an early church creed.  He is reminding the Corinthians, this is what we all believe; do not lose sight of it.

Verse 3 uses the word for, as in:  Christ died for our sins.  Today, we generally speak of Jesus being our substitute on the cross; that Jesus had to take on that role to settle accounts with God for our sins.  While that is part of the picture, it fails to consider that Jesus is God, so God paid the price to settle accounts with God.  That does not make much sense.

Jesus makes it plain.  The shepherd risks all to save the lost sheep.  The woman searches until she finds the lost coin.  The father runs to greet his lost son.  One after another, we see pictures of God in action in our lives in every day in every way.  God saves.

How should I live my life if I love God and love mankind?  I do what Jesus did.  He was God in human form.

Yes, he died for our sins, but he also died because of our sins, because we could do nothing about them, because they could only be erased by Grace.

Verses 12-20 make up one argument.  The two verses, 12 and 20, state that Christ rose from the grave.  The verses in between are a “What If?”

Verses 21-28 give us the world view of history, from Adam to now.  Death came to us from man, Adam, now life comes from Man, Christ.  Notice in 26 that that death is the last enemy.  Jesus’ resurrection defeated that enemy.  We will rise from our graves with Jesus.

In verses 29-34 Paul discusses the importance of the resurrection.  He begins with an important question:  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?  The last phrase has created a long list of possible explanations.  On behalf of whom?  Likely Paul is saying that a number of people have become Christians after the deaths of their loved ones who themselves were Christians.  They began to consider the idea of resurrection and decided it was likely and they wanted a part of the great victory.

As to the beasts in Ephesus, Kenneth Bailey writes:  Paul knows full well the risks he is taking in Ephesus.  Any foreigner who would dare enter a city like Ephesus and preach a message undermining the financial security of the “establishment” would be in grave danger.  This was particularly true when the patron goddess of the city was involved.  Because of Paul’s preaching, the goddess of the city was under attack and income from “tourism” was threatened.  Who would complain if the corpse of the foreigner who was causing this disruption was dumped into the harbor some moonless night?

In verses 35-50 Paul returns to Adam and Christ.  He begins with the question we Christians often ask ourselves out of curiosity:  What kind of body will we have in Heaven?  For Paul, the question is ridiculous.  We will have the bodies given to us by God, our old bodies will no longer exist.

Our bodies will be perfect and will never wear out.  They will be different, they will not even be like the bodies of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but will be unique heavenly bodies more like the body of Jesus before his ascension.

For the last verses, let us read from the sermon delivered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on November 26, 1939.  Imagine a small group of seminary students huddled in an old farm house without electricity or running water, trying to hide from the Nazis as the war approached the end of its second month.  They are celebrating the Last Supper and Bonhoeffer has chosen verse 55 for the text:  Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

You are invited to a victory celebration—to the celebration of the greatest victory won in the world, the victory of Jesus Christ over death.  Bread and wine, body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the signs of victory, for Jesus lives and is present in these signs today, the same Jesus who, almost two thousand years ago, was nailed to the cross and laid in the grave.  Jesus arose from the dead, burst asunder the rock before the tomb, and remained the victor.  Today, you are to receive the signs of his victory.  And later, whenever you receive the blessed bread and blessed chalice, you should know:  just as certainly as I eat this bread and drink this wine, just as certainly has Jesus Christ remained the victor over death, and just as certainly is he the living Lord who meets me.

Friday, June 27, Chapter 16

Paul, a missionary sent by the Church in Jerusalem, took upon himself the extra mission of supporting the struggling congregation in the Holy City.  We may wonder about that, but consider that they served as the headquarters for all the church activities throughout the Roman world.  All missionaries, and they may have numbered in the hundreds by the time of this letter, were sent by and supported by the one church.

Paul’s plans depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As of this writing, he expects to remain in Ephesus before working his way north along the coast and around through Macedonia again before reaching Corinth.

Paul had already sent Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22) into Macedonia with instructions to go on to Corinth from there.  Paul told the church that they should pay for Timothy’s travel back to Paul.

Again from Kenneth Bailey:  In his book Jesus in Beijing, David Aikman describes the house church movement in China.  He tells of the outreach of the Tanghi Fellowship in the Henan province.  In 1994 the Fellowship selected, trained and commissioned seventy young evangelists.  They were given about $200 each and sent to twenty-two of China’s thirty provinces.  They were also given one-way tickets to their destinations and told to return after six months using the funds they would receive from the new house fellowships they were to establish.  Exactly six months later, on October 10, 1994, all of the managed to meet the deadline and return to headquarters.  No one had died and there were only two short-term arrests.  New communities of Christians were started in many places.  Simultaneously, at five different locations, the young evangelists reported on their six months of ministry.  Mr. Zing, one of the leaders of the fellowship, reported to Mr. Aikman,

When we heard their testimonies, everybody was crying.  They wore out their shoes, they were rejected by people.  They lived in ditches and in forests.  Some of them lived with pigs.  In the meetings, God showed his love to us.  We were joyful because they all came back alive.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *