Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 At childhood’s end — Love

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul has just said, when completeness comes, what is in part disappears (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.

The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.

However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:

1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christs death and ending with the return of Christ in power.

2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view[1] based partly on Gordon Fee’s refutation: “It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider mature our rather totally cerebral and domesticated but bland brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts!”[2]

3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, “It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the rights of the individual believer to express their particular spiritual gift.”[3] To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Paul’s purpose.

In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, “Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.”[4] Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.

Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Paul’s letters (Rom. 5:1-5;Gal. 5:5-6). Garland explains: “Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.”[5]

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) 623.

[2] 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) 645, footnote 23.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 625.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, An example to follow

1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

These concluding verses may be considered from different viewpoints. If we think about freedom or rights, Paul says positively that we should exercise that freedom to bring honor to God (1 Cor. 10:31) and negatively that we must not present any cause of stumbling, not cause any damage to the salvation of anyone (1 Cor. 10:32). These considerations limit the expression of freedom.

If we think in terms of loving others instead of seeking our own interests, verse 31 tells us that our loving actions glorify God. Any selfish action that causes others to stumble goes against Christ’s command for us and so must be totally avoided (verse 32). Gordon Fee denies that this has anything to do with hurt feelings. Instead we must not “behave in such a way as to prevent someone else from hearing the gospel, or to alienate someone who is already a brother or sister.”[1]

Since 1 Cor. 10:32 separately lists the “Jews” and “the church of God,” Anthony Thiselton observes, “The phrase ‘the church of God’ in this context calls attention … to a discontinuity, as if to imply that ‘the people of God’ are partly redefined.”[2] The church’s identity lies in union with Christ, not in Old Testament Israel. That is why we learn from the example of Israel (1 Cor. 10:6), but we do not keep the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:21), the old covenant.

Most English versions invite difficulty in verse 33 by using the verb “please.” NIV has Paul saying, “I try to please everyone” (1 Cor. 10:33), describing behavior that was not in Paul’s style (Gal. 1:10) and using a phrase that today is too easily misunderstood. Paul was not a people-pleaser. The standard Greek lexicon discusses this verb (Greek ἀρέσκω) by explaining that the Mediterranean world was very conscious of mutual obligations and valued people who tried to accommodate all interests.[3] For this reason, Thiselton translates 1 Cor. 10:33 this way: “In just the same way, I on my part strive to take account of all the interests of everyone, not seeking advantage of my own, but the good of the many, with a view to their salvation.”[4]

Paul’s conclusion needs no explanation: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

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



[1] 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) 489.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 795.

[3] BDAG-3, ἀρέσκω, accommodate, q.v.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

 

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 The road to idolatry ends with judgment

1 Corinthians 10:1-6

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

The commentators we have relied on most in this study all agree that the block of 1 Corinthians that deals with food sacrificed to idols extends from 8:1 to 11:1.[1] In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul gave his own personal example of surrendering his rights for the sake of others. His purpose was to encourage the strong in Corinth to give up their participation in banquets eaten at idol temples, or even food sacrificed there, for the sake of the weak, the believers with a fragile conscience.

We do not quite get the importance of this issue because our society is much more secular than god-saturated Roman Corinth. Think how hard it was for you to find a wide variety of organic foods five years ago; that is about how hard it was in Corinth to find meat for sale that had not been associated with idol worship in some way. Christians in Corinth were struggling to understand things as basic as how to eat in the idolatrous city without offending God.

In chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul explains the seriousness with which God views the disloyalty of those who were casual about idolatry. He does so by looking back at Israels history depicted in the Old Testament. Garland rightly says, He does not rehearse the past events to understand the past but to understand the [Corinthian] present.[2]

Thiselton offers a handy biblical reference for some of the terms used in verses 1-5: Symbols associated with the Exodus wilderness narratives include the cloud (Exod. 13:21), the sea (Exod. 14:21-22), the manna (Exod. 16:4, 14-18), the spring (Exod. 17:6), and apostasy (Exod. 32:6).[3] In particular, it is important to understand that the cloud refers to a towering cloud — shrouding the presence of God — that led the Israelites when they were moving and stood between them and the pursuing Egyptian chariot force while they were stopped. The sea refers to the Red Sea, which was miraculously parted to allow the Israelites to escape. The manna was supernatural food provided over all the years of wandering, and the rock was a source of water during all those same years. The apostasy was the dabbling by many Israelites with various forms of idolatry even while God was continually providing for them; disaster was the result!

When Paul speaks of our ancestors (1 Cor. 10:1), Thiselton says the phrase often means spiritual ancestor in a sense which denotes not necessarily blood ties but reproduction of character.[4] That is exactly what troubles Paul; he sees the Corinthians playing with the same idolatrous fire that consumed their spiritual ancestors!

Garland says, Israels deliverance through the sea marked the beginning of their separation from Egypt and their new identity as Gods covenant community, and the term baptism fittingly represents that experience.[5] The word all is very prominent in verses 1-4, occurring five times in the Greek text. Thiselton explains: Such is the generosity of Gods grace that all . . . participate in the privileges and blessings of the redeemed covenant people of God. . . . Nevertheless in the face of such divine generosity, less than the all will appropriate Gods gifts and exercise the self-discipline which will bring them safely through the tests of the wilderness journey.[6]

In this experience the Israelites were identified with Moses and the covenant God made with them using Moses as a mediator (Heb. 3:1-5). Just as Moses had the role of deliverer for Israel, so Jesus has that role all the more with those who belong to him.

When Paul speaks of spiritual food (verse 3) and spiritual drink (verse 4), Garland says he meant that they were formed not according to the law of nature but by the power of God.[7] Paul goes beyond the teaching of the Old Testament to speak of the spiritual rock that accompanied them (1 Cor. 10:4) and to identify that rock as Christ. What does that mean?

A short detour from the main argument

The Old Testament contains two accounts describing how God provided water from a rock to quench the thirst of the complaining Israelites. The first account occurs in Exod. 17:1-7, not long after the passage through the Red Sea. Forty years later, the Israelites came to Kadesh and again bitterly complained about the need for water (Num. 20:2-13). Once again Moses summoned water from the rock — at an entirely new location than before.

Water was obviously needed by the people all during the long years between the two recorded occasions. Paul now reveals that the spiritual rock accompanied the Israelites during the whole time; further, that rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). What the people saw was a rock gushing water, but Paul speaks of the spiritual reality behind these events. He was probably thinking of Exod. 17:6, where God says, Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it. Paul suggests that when God stood on the rock at Horeb, it was no other than Christ.[8]

Return to Pauls primary concern

Paul has reminded the Corinthian believers of the Exodus generation for a reason. God miraculously provided for them with food and water even while judging their rebellion during the forty-year trek in the wilderness. All the while, many craved the meat of Egypt (Exod. 16:3 and Num. 11:4) rather than the manna God faithfully provided every day. As we will see in our next post, the moment Moses was absent, this rebellion and craving led swiftly to idol worship (Exodus 32). Paul sees clear signs of the same progression in Corinth!

Paul plainly tells the Corinthians where this dangerous road will lead: Gods displeasure will lead to their death (1 Cor. 10:5). In verse 6, Paul explains that there is still time to learn from the example of their spiritual ancestors and to turn back from craving meat offered to idols and other evil things, which NIV translates as setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

Take special note that 1 Cor. 10:6 sets the stage for what comes next (1 Cor. 10:7-13). Paul signals his intention by using the idea of craving or desire twice in the Greek text, once as a noun and once as a verb. The NIV obscures this repetition by using the phrase setting our hearts on. We prefer the clarity of Garlands translation for 1 Cor. 10:6: These things happened as examples for us so that we might not become cravers of evil just as they also craved [evil].[9] (emphasis added).

Fee summarizes forcefully: But [Pauls] point in all this must not be missed: just as God did not tolerate Israels idolatry, so he will not tolerate the Corinthians. We deceive ourselves if we think he will tolerate ours.[10]

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) 22; Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 607-612; 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) 23.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 446.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 722.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 724.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 451.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 725.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 454, quoting Ambrosiaster, a church father.

[8] See NET Bible Notes for Exod. 17:6 for further information.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 447; also shown by Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 719, 733.

[10] Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 450.