Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:19–24 “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus”

1 Corinthians 16:19–24

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

When Paul mentions “the churches in the province of Asia” (1 Cor. 16:19), he is again sending actual greeting but also making the Corinthians see that they are part of the larger body of Christ. Let them look above not only their factional divisions but also outward to see the bond of love between Christians everywhere. The Roman province of Asia was located in what is now western Turkey.

The role of Aquila and Prisca (a shortened form of Pricilla) is notable. Acts 18:1–3 informs us that Aquila was a Jew who, along with his wife Pricilla, was expelled from Rome (probably as a Christian) in A.D. 49, when Emperor Claudius “closed down a Roman synagogue because of continuous disturbances centering on the figure of Christ.”[1] They emigrated to Roman Corinth where they met Paul, another tentmaker, and both hosted him and worked with him in the trade. They also joined Paul in Ephesus, where a church met in their home.

Anthony Thiselton approvingly describes the research of another scholar concerning Paul’s stay in Corinth: “Murphy-O’Connor convincingly paints a picture of Aquila and Prisca having their home in the loft of one of the shops around the market square (approximately 13 ft. x 13 ft. x 8 ft. without running water) ‘while Paul slept below amid the tool-strewn workbenches and the rolls of leather and canvas.’”[2] Are you feeling the hardship?

Though Paul dictated his letter to a professional scribe or secretary, he could not resist writing a greeting in his own hand (1 Cor. 16:21). This was all typical. One of Paul’s scribes actually identifies himself in Rom. 16:23.

Verses 22–24 serve as a sharp conclusion to the entire letter. The purpose of such a rhetorical conclusion was to reinforce the argument of the letter with emotional force. Here the vocabulary emphasizes Jesus Christ, love, and either the grace or the judgment that all will receive when Christ returns.

It seems most probable that in verse 22 the verb “love” refers to covenant loyalty. Covenant loyalty essentially amounts to obedience, just as Jesus emphasized with his disciples: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). In the Old Testament, the result of maintaining covenant loyalty to God was blessing, while breaking the covenant resulted in curses. The curse is expressed by the famous Greek noun anathema, which has been adopted into English most frequently in reference to a person who has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Thiselton summarizes: “Paul has reproached the [message] of the cross and the content of the gospel through the array of pastoral, ethical, and theological issues that bubble away at Corinth: Come on, he concludes; are you ‘in’ or are you ‘out’?”[3] The return of Christ will resolve this question once and for all.

“Come, Lord!” represents the Aramaic term “Maranatha.” Generations of Christians have echoed this appeal.

Paul closes by mentioning the grace represented uniquely by Jesus Christ and Paul’s own special love for all who are joined to Christ (verses 23–24). Amen!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1343.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1343.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1351.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:10–18 Helping each other

1 Corinthians 16:10–18

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

As he has just said, Paul will remain for a time in Ephesus because of the unusual opportunity there to spread the gospel. He had previously told the believers in Roman Corinth that he had dispatched Timothy to Corinth to teach and model Paul’s ways, just as those ways are taught in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17). Next he calls on the Corinthians to pay close attention to how Timothy is treated “for he is carrying on the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 16:10). It is not Timothy who should fear, but anyone who obstructs him should fear the Lord!

Knowing that some in Corinth struggle with pride, Paul makes clear that Timothy is not to be disrespected or undervalued. He must also be enabled to return to Paul with other brothers (1 Cor. 16:11). As the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul speaks with authority and without apology. But Paul was not a king. Apollos made up his own mind to delay his departure for Corinth, perhaps because he saw the same opportunity that kept Paul in Ephesus. Since it is also possible that Paul was imitating Christ in self-sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:1) by sending his associates to Corinth, Apollos may have decided enough was enough. Paul needed his help.

Many have observed how Paul generally follows the letter style of the early Imperial Roman period, and this becomes most apparent in his openings and closings. What made Paul’s letters more distinctive was (1) he spoke as Christ’s apostle, and (2) he inserted Christian content into the standard letter style. Ancient writers often included exhortations in closing a letter, and Paul puts five on them in verses 13–14.

However, several things make this letter distinctive among all of Paul’s letters. Nowhere else does Paul stress the importance of love so many times (verses 14, 22, 24). No other letter concludes with a potential curse (Greek anathema) against covenant breakers. The postscript expressing Paul’s love for the Corinthians is also unique (1 Cor. 16:24).

It is notable that the four commands in verse 13 are all present tense in Greek, meaning here that the need to do these activities is ongoing. He caps all four with the global “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).

In verses 15–18, Paul recognizes the commitment of certain men and women (“household”) to serving the Lord’s people. Accordingly, Paul makes a personal request (verse 15b) based on his personal relationship to the believers in Roman Corinth: “submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (1 Cor. 16:16). Recognizing leaders who model love and service in the church is a critical task in churches today, but submitting ourselves to work under their leadership clashes directly with values we learn from an American culture of personal independence. We also need to expand our concept of family to include our Christian brothers and sisters.

Though verse 17 may sound like a rebuke toward the Corinthians, Paul is actually saying that what is lacking is the presence of all the Corinthians so that he might enjoy them as well. In Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus, Paul was experiencing a bit of Corinth and wanting more!

Thiselton notes that improvement is needed in 1 Cor. 16:18b: “Fee rightly comments that NIV’s ‘such men deserve recognition’ captures the broad sense but fails to communicate Paul’s use of the imperative [command].”[1] Thiselton applies this to the church today by saying: “It is a live issue in the church today to what extent, if at all, Christian congregations wish to ‘honor’ leaders in the Christian sphere. . . . This may apply at any level of service to the church, where often loyal hard work is simply taken for granted rather than publicly and consciously recognized.”[2] Food for thought! It is not too much to ask that a personal “Thank you!” be words that those who lovingly serve us — both staff and volunteers — hear regularly!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1342.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1342.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36–40 The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36–40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: “To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Paul’s arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:“[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.”[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be “spiritual”; those who have the Spirit will agree that Paul’s commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: “They will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, “It means that the Lord will say to such persons, ‘I do not know you’ (Matt. 7:22–23).”[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” The phrase translated “orderly way” has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, “I don’t see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday.” A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Paul’s instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2–16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor — whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical “head” of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing women’s role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, “Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.”[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that “all” may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: “If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not ‘speech’ as much as ‘abuse of speech,’ a probable scenario begins to emerge.”[2] We will now develop what “abuse of speech” is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30–33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29–36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21–41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect God’s own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eper?ta? in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask.” Here the verb means “interrogate” or “cross-examine.”[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, “[The women] must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that “The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.”[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1–15, where Miriam challenges Moses’ right to speak as God’s prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriam’s self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1159–60.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:26–33 Order through controlled speech

1 Corinthians 14:26–33

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace — as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26–40, Paul concludes his long attempt (1 Corinthians 12–14) to correct the chaotic gatherings of the church in Roman Corinth. As he did in the matter of eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23–11:1) and issues about marriage (1 Cor. 7), he will conclude with exact instructions. The structure of Paul’s argument will prove to be important in making our interpretation of a controversial section concerning women and speaking out.

David Garland presents an insight into Paul’s thinking: “Openness to the Spirit and to individual expression of spiritual gifts is not to become a pretext for chaos. Paul does not see tongues or prophecy as a solo performance.”[1] Paul has demonstrated the priority of prophecy over tongues due to its value in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:1–25). With those thoughts in mind, here is Garland’s outline[2] (slightly adapted):

Overarching principle (14:26): “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

1. Restraints concerning speaking in tongues (14:27–28)

2. Restraints concerning prophecy and discernment (14:29–36)

a. Restraints on the number of prophets speaking and others discerning (14:29)

b. Restraints on a prophet speaking (14:30–33a)

c. Restraints on wives in discerning (14:33b–36)

3. Injunction (14:37–38) [Read it and heed it!]

4. Encouragement of prophecy and tongues (14:39)

5. Concluding statement of general principles for worship gatherings: all things must be done in decency and order.

The way to interpret the general principle in verse 26 is to understand that whenever the church comes together the various words and actions (“everything”) must build up the church, no matter what combination of spiritual powers are expressed. Though we are not totally sure what was going wrong with the expression of grace-gifts, Gordon Fee says, “[Paul’s] antidote is to offer guidelines for regulation that, taken together, suggest orderliness, self-control, and concern for others.”[3] In other words, love for others has been joined by communal order. Order is a major theme in the final chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Before we go further, it is probably time to say that the second half of chapter 14 is sometimes interpreted as an effort on Paul’s part to put women in their place, which place, those interpreters believe, was to be in subjection to their husbands or to men. Another group interprets this section as Paul’s attempt to take away the freedom to express manifestations of the Spirit, especially tongues. We do not believe either of these interpretations represents Paul’s teaching, though each has a grain of truth. Some correction was needed in the behavior of women in the Corinthian church and to the expression of tongues there, but Paul’s solution lay in bringing about controlled speech that was ordered to build up the community.[4] As we will see — partly in tomorrow’s lesson — Paul was not trying to end either speech by women or tongues in the gathered church.

In verses 27–28, Paul introduces restrictions on the expression of tongues in the assembled church. The limits are self-explanatory. Once again, it is likely that the “someone” who must put the tongues into intelligible words is the one who spoke them in the first place. Otherwise, how would they know to remain silent (“keep quiet” v. 28) because no interpreter was present? This type of self-control was part of the order that Paul insisted on.

Verse 28 is the first appearance of the Greek verb siga?, which means “a. say nothing, keep still, keep silent . . . . b. stop speaking, become silent.[5] Garland says, “The NIV obscures the fact that the verb [Greek siga?] occurs three times in a row by translating it ‘keep quiet’ in 14:28, ‘should stop’ in 14:30, and ‘remain silent’ in 14:34.”[6] This hidden repetition adds to the case for Paul’s imposition of controlled speech to bring order within the assembled church; he calls in turn on tongues-speakers (14:28), prophecy-speakers (14:30), and women (14:34). The exact role of these women will be described in the next post.

It is apparent that Paul opens the valve more fully for prophecy (verse 29) than he did for tongues (verse 28); no upper limit is placed on the number of prophecy-speakers. However, “the others should weigh carefully what is said” (verse 29). The Greek verb is significant to this passage; the Greek verb diakrin? means “to differentiate or to distinguish between.”[7] As they hear prophetic speech, the others are to distinguish between speech that is God-given and consistent with the gospel of Christ and speech that is self-generated, self-interested or erroneous. Anthony Thiselton explains: “The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections. Nowhere does Paul hint that preaching or ‘prophecy’ achieves a privileged status which places them above critical reflection.”[8] No one in church can switch off their mind!

Verse 30 gives us the first instance where someone speaking must become silent; one prophet must give way to another “if a revelation comes to someone.” When this discipline occurs, “everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (verse 31).

There is an unexpected and important connection between 1 Cor. 14:32 (concerning the prophets) and 1 Cor. 14:34 (concerning women). The connection lies in the important Greek verb hupotass?, which here means “to subordinate oneself, to be subjected, to place oneself under control.”[9] The prophets are expected to keep their speech in control, and, as we will see, so are the women.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 655.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 655–56.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 688.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1132.

[5] BDAG-3, siga?, say nothing, q.v.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671, footnote 30.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1144.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 If you don’t have love; [+ The nature of “tongues”]

1 Corinthians 13:1–3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If you don’t have love — Part 1

We have said that chapter 12 introduces the grace-gifts (manifestations) the Holy Spirit has given to every Christian according to the Spirit’s own choice of their distribution. In chapter 13, Paul takes on the daunting challenge of putting the grace-gifts into perspective for a church that is exaggerating their use in worship. Then, in chapter 14, Paul explains how the grace-gifts may be used in worship in such a way that the church is built up rather than falling into the trap of self-exaltation and division.

Even the least informed observer will conclude that chapter 13 is about love, but this obvious fact leads only to more questions: What is love? and What is Paul saying about love? The Greek noun agap? occurs ten times in the chapter. This word is rare in Greek literature and finds its dominant use in the New Testament. For that reason, we look to the New Testament to determine its meaning in this context.

Anthony Thiselton explains: “Love (agap?) denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly Christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[1] (emphasis original). David Garland adds that this love for others is the check on the exercise of the gifts for personal gratification.[2]

When we explained chapter 12, we deferred a discussion of “different kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:10) until this point. Note carefully that “kinds of tongues” — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

In discussing the grace-gift of tongues, we should begin by saying that this use of the word “tongue” is metaphorical. Obviously, everyone has a physical tongue, so the word refers to some type of spiritual activity involving the tongue. But, what? Thiselton cautions that, in answering this question, “It is almost universally agreed that reference to modern Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena cannot be used” as a means of interpreting Paul and Corinth.[3] In other words, we cannot interpret the past by studying the present. That is backwards!

A few proposals about the nature of “tongues”

Some have thought tongues to be angelic speech, but not only does Paul distinguish “tongues of men and of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1), but he also says tongues will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8), which seems an unlikely thing to say for the tongues of angels. If tongues were heavenly speech, there would be no reason for them to pass away.

Others have suggested tongues to be the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages. Presumably that would be useful in evangelizing other peoples. But Thiselton points out, “If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said ‘the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God’ (14:2), let alone, ‘the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself/herself’ [1 Cor. 14:4].”[4] Further, Paul never says anything about such an evangelistic use and, instead, deals with the presence of tongues in the context of Christian worship. Paul makes a point of saying that “tongues are an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:2, 4, 7–9, 16–17, 23).”[5]

Still others propose ecstatic speech as the nature of tongues. However, this idea has drawn heavy criticism, not least because the term ecstasy has not been defined in terms that can be verified in the New Testament. Parallels in the wider Greco-Roman world are unconvincing.

So, where does that leave us? Thiselton suggests a connection with Romans 8:26, which says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” He explains that what Paul refers to as “tongues” in First Corinthians 12–14 is “the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer.”[6] These unintelligible “yearnings” can be understood by God but not by others.

Thiselton adds that these yearnings can express “a longing for the [final] completion of redemption to take place, prompted by the Spirit through Christ to God, like all authentic Christian prayer.”[7] Expressing another description, Thiselton explains, “Tongues may then be viewed as ‘the language of the unconscious’ because it is unintelligible (unless it is ‘interpreted’) not only to others but also to the speaker.”[8] Garland suggests this might indeed be one kind of tongue and observes: “Tongues, from this perspective, are a sign of weakness, not spiritual superiority. . . . As a token of our weakness, it explains why tongues will end (1 Cor. 13:8).[9]

If you don’t have love – part 2

Look back at verses 1–3 and the way Paul has structured his argument. These verses have several elements that need clarification. First, Paul uses the language of probability, suggesting actions that may or may not occur. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says that verses 1–3 all follow the same pattern; Paul argues from an actual case to a hypothetical case.[10] In verse 1, we know that Paul spoke in tongues, but he did not speak in the tongues of angels. In verse 2, the actual-to-hypothetical pattern is more obvious. Paul did have the gift of prophecy, but, Wallace argues, to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge would have made Paul omniscient, like God. Obviously, that result is out of the question!

Another crucial element of Paul’s argument is that even if he could do both the actual actions and the hypothetical ones as well, unless they were done with love for others, they would count for nothing before God!

The phrase “resounding gong” (1 Cor. 13:1) is likely a reference to “resonating acoustic bronze jars used to project the voices of actors.”[11] These were placed around the edges of stone theaters and amphitheaters to catch the sound of the actors’ voices and echo the sounds again. But hearing these echoes was not the same as hearing the original voices. Paul says that even the tongues of angels would just be an echo without love.

Garland provides a fine summary of these three verses when he says, “Spiritual gifts minus love equal zero.”[12]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1035.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 606.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians,  979.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 976–77.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 978, quoting L.T. Johnson.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 988.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 586.

[10] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 471.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1036.

[12] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 614.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21–26

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: “’Eye’ and ‘head’ are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ represent the laboring class or slaves. ‘Eyes’ and ‘heads’ in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.”[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really don’t need the other, lesser people.

With the words “on the contrary” (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be “less endowed with power and status than others” (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are “less honorable” and “unpresentable” by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are “presentable” and “need no special treatment” (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by “giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) “that there should be no division in the body” and (2) “that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” God’s stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of “the strong.”

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: “The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.”[4]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.