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 9:24-27 The importance of self-control

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

In the final section of chapter 9, Paul uses a series of metaphors whose unifying connection is the Isthmian Games held every two years near Corinth. Only the Olympic Games were considered more important. The first metaphor is the race (verse 24a) which we should understand is a reference to life in a competitive world, whether in ancient Corinth or our own locale.

The second metaphor is the prize a (verse 24b) which probably relates to the glory or honor earned by the victor since the ancient prize was a wreath of plant material worn on the head. Paul commands the Corinthians to run to win the prize (verse 24b). Since the culture encouraged and rewarded competition, this was likely welcomed by the Corinthian believers.

In 1 Cor. 9:25, Paul begins to turn up the heat. It turns out that the metaphors of the race and the prize have a significant twist. The non-Christians in Corinth (they) are running for a prize that perishes, but the Christians (we) are running for an imperishable prize. But Anthony Thiselton identifies the most critical issue of this section:

Can the Corinthians, then, not exercise due egkrateia, self-control or abstinence, when what is at stake is not a garland made from vegetation, or even the acclaim of the crowd, but the brother or sister for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11)? This verse does not imply a theology of Christian struggle, other than the struggle for self-mastery to forego indulgence of rights.[1]

Unless we as Christians understand our identity as one of union with Christ crucified, freedom can lead to self-indulgence through overemphasis on rights; what is required instead is self-control guided by love for our fellow believers.

Once again Paul uses himself as an example in closing his argument (1 Cor. 9:26-27). For the most part Paul speaks negatively about what he does not do; we can probably assume that he does this because what Paul does not do is exactly what the self-identified strong believers in Corinth, with their alleged wisdom and maturity, are actually doing. They are like a runner who is running out of his lane or a boxer who hits only air (verse 26).

Paul speaks positively about his own approach (verse 27a), but the interpretation demands close attention. Paul is speaking in metaphors in verse 27. That being the case, we have to figure out what the verb translated strike a blow (NIV) means as well as what body means.

The disputed verb is the Greek hypopiazo, which literally means to give a black eye and figuratively means to put under strict discipline or treat roughly. English translations divide between these two meanings with NIV and CEB preferring the literal meaning and ESV, NET, NLT, HCSB and NRSV choosing the figurative meaning. We join Thiselton[2], Gordon Fee[3] and David Garland[4] in preferring the figurative meaning. Paul is using the boxing metaphor to speak about the strict self-control he imposes on himself in preaching the gospel.

The Greek word for body (NIV) is soma. Fee explains what Paul means by soma in this context: He hardly intends his physical body as such to be the opponent he must subdue in order to gain the prize. He uses body because of the metaphor; what he almost certainly intends by it is myself . . . but only as [his body] is the vehicle of his present earthly life.[5]

Thiselton also sees the body as the vehicle through which our earthly life is lived, so he translates 1 Cor. 9:27 by saying, My day-to-day life as a whole I treat roughly, and make it strictly serve my purposes, lest, after preaching to others, I find myself not proven to stand the test.[6]

In the final analysis, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes self-control possible as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23), but he does not force it on us. Grace works through love, not compulsion.

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) 711.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 715.

[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) 439.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 442.

[5] Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 439.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 708.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:32-40, Complicated living for God

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world how he can please his wife 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Christians often want someone to tell them what to do to please God. But life is very complicated and each Christian has an important responsibility to decide how to please God in spite of the complications.

The section including 1 Cor. 7:32-40 is best understood in light of Pauls contextual statement this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31b). When you combine that fact with the need to please the Lord while living in a world that God has judged by the death of Christ, you have a very challenging path ahead. That was true in Corinth as well as for us today.

In verses 32-35, Paul discusses how this challenge might be simplified at the cost of forsaking marriage. That this is a choice not everyone can make is the subject Paul takes up in verses 36-38. If Paul thinks others should make celibacy their choice, as he has done (1 Cor. 7:38b), we might also consider that they need his support in making that sacrifice. It is important to note that Paul does not dictate what choice is to be made but leaves it to the people involved. They must figure out how to live for God most effectively.

In terms of making an application of verses 3940 to remarriage today, the most vital clause would be he must belong to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39b). When Christian women allow themselves to fall in love with a non-Christian man, a spiritual disaster is coming! Of course, we could say the same thing of a Christian man marrying an unbelieving woman. We should not be confused about advising someone in this situation. Such relationships literally amount to sleeping with the enemy of God.

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