Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-10, Love is a verb

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

The main issue with 1 Cor. 13:4-7 is that we tend to put it on a pedestal as exalted poetry or use it in a wedding ceremony rather than let its actual meaning pierce our hearts every day.

David Garland explains something important about Paul’s words: “Many observe that [Paul] does not use adjectives to describe love but verbs, fifteen of them in three verses. Love is dynamic and active, not something static.”[1] How does this make a difference in interpretation and application? Using adjectives in English versions tends to make us think that Paul is listing desired character traits for an individual believer: “Love is patient. love is kind. . . . [Love] is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4, NIV). But that idea does not fit Paul’s argument to the Corinthians.

Using verbs, as Paul does, brings out more of the relational aspect of what he is saying: “Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag — is not inflated with its own importance” (Anthony Thiselton[2]). There is a wide gulf between thinking a person can be kind in their heart (is kind) and understanding that kindness — such as that shown by Christ on the cross —involves actions toward others (shows kindness).

At one critical point, NIV has the excellent “[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 1:5) rather than the abstract idea “[love] is not . . . resentful” (ESV, NET and NRSV) or the impossible “[love] thinketh no evil” (KJV). Not many of us could figure out how to stop being resentful, and none of us could manage thinking no evil. But we all know what it means to keep a list of grievances against someone else. (HCSB and NLT join NIV in making this improvement.)

Many of us go numb at the mere mention of philosophy, and that makes us easy prey to the attacks on Christianity by postmodern philosophers. When Paul says that love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), these philosophers claim that our Christian truth is designed to bring us power over others either for our selfish advantage or that of our peer group. They further claim that when Paul says, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV), his teaching promotes conformist docility. They charge Paul, and by extension Christian faith, with teaching people to silently accept whatever the overlords dish out.

But, Jesus Christ could not be said to be a conformist; his death on the cross on behalf of others occurred precisely because he did not conform to the expectations of this world. Further, he did not die to gain power over others but to offer them an opportunity to escape judgment for their sins. Far from promoting unthinking acceptance of the status quo, the love Paul advocates cares deeply about pleasing God and caring for others. In service of that idea, Paul says that such love “never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up” (1 Cor. 13:7, Thiselton[3]). Bible translation must always be mindful of how Christian thought is being undermined and frontally attacked.

Verse 8 begins the final section, which extends through verse 13. Garland says, “In the concluding paragraph, Paul attests to the permanence of love in comparison with spiritual gifts so prominent in Corinth — prophecy, knowledge, and tongues.”[4]

NIV says, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8), but Thiselton prefers “Love never falls apart.” He does so because he disdains using an abstraction (fails) when Paul “has consciously used images and metaphors of burning or boiling, inflating, bad manners, having a sharp point stuck into one, and reckoning up accounts.”[5] The verb means “to fall down, to fall to the ground, to collapse, or to fall apart.” Love will endure beyond the day when God judges this world!

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)616.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)1026.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1026 and 1057.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 620.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1060.

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

1 Corinthians 12:21-26

21The 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 dont 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. Gods 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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:27-30 Will the strong risk shame?

1 Corinthians 10:27-30

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

In keeping with Paul’s long-running theme in chapters 8-10, the controlling verse for what follows is verse 24: No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Though the section from verse 25 through verse 31 is complex due to if statements and rhetorical questions, Kenneth Bailey shows that it has a simple underlying structure:

Eat (verses 25-26) — shopping in the meat market; all belongs to God

Eat (verse 27) — dining with unbelievers and believers

Do Not Eat (verses 28-29a) — food is declared dedicated to an idol

Eat (verse 29b-30) — eating freely, without regard for others, defames you

Eat (verse 31) — eating in a way that honors God[1]

We have already addressed 1 Cor. 10:25-26 in the previous lesson. Paul switches to another common situation, being invited to a meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27). There again the Corinthian believers may eat whatever is offered without raising questions; issues of conscience are not involved. Garland explains, In this instance, Paul makes a concession to the reality that social connections were absolutely necessary to survive in the ancient world. In his day, intrepid mavericks could not strike off on their own and expect to manage. One needed relationships with others for services and protection.[2]

In 1 Cor. 10:28, there are various possible scenarios about the possible identity of someone who says, This has been offered in sacrifice [to an idol], but choosing among them does not really matter. As soon as the statement is made, the invited Christian cannot eat, both as a matter of covenant loyalty to Christ and as a consistent witness to others. His choice is determined for the good of the others, or, you might say, for the good of the gospel. The focus on others is made explicit in verse 29a: I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.

The interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:29b-30 is disputed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman world was far more focused on public honor and shame than we are today. We next present Thiseltons views[3] in simplified form. Paul has dealt with some common situations in the previous verses. but now he imagines the strong to be dissatisfied with having their freedom limited by the opinions of others. After all, the strong know that idols are nothing and feel they should be able to eat meat in a neutral setting, such as a home, even though someone says, This has been offered in sacrifice. With this background in mind, the strong are saying inwardly, Why is my freedom being judged by anothers conscience? (1 Cor. 10:29b). Paul intends this rhetorical question to force the strong to rethink their position in light of what comes next.

Thiseltons translation of 1 Cor. 10:30 reveals the thorns hidden in the green grass of the strongs freedom-from-concern-for-others: Well, if I take part in a meal with thanksgiving, why should I suffer defamation of character over that for which I, at least, give thanks?[4] When the strong plunge ahead and eat the meat sacrificed in the idol temple, both unbelievers and other Christians will shame them with their inconsistent behavior; they claim faith in Christ but then behave with disloyalty in eating food sacrificed to an idol. As a result, the strong will experience defamation of character when others revile them.

For these reasons, Thiselton sums up in the following way:

Pauls meaning on this basis would be: what would be the advantage of my exercising my freedom if I thereby suffer defamation of character? If it genuinely does not matter whether I eat or not, why choose the path that raises unnecessary difficulties? What is the point of freedom if I cannot choose not to cause problems?[5]

In my next post, Paul will provide a fitting conclusion to the argument he has developed in chapters 8-10. You can be certain it will involve the Man for Others, Jesus Christ.

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

 


[1] Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 283284.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 493.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 790-92.

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

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 790.