The attentive reader will notice, that in this essay we are beginning a new series of articles in the rubric “From Holy Writ.” In the past we have written a series of essays on the first four Chapters of I Corinthians. We have also written five articles on Matthew 11:25-30. These latter articles, evidently, met with some favor with the readers, judging by the response I might receive on them.
We now turn our attention to the Chapters 12 through 14 of the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
For some time the undersigned has contemplated writing this series of Articles in the Standard Bearer.
Fundamentally, because these Chapters too belong to the inspired Scriptures, which are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be thoroughly prepared unto every good. work. And the immediate occasion for writing this series is the fact that there is concrete evidence in our churches, one and all, that there is a need for underscoring the very truth, which Paul here sets forth in these Chapters. We are repeatedly reminded, that we have only a small beginning of the new obedience yet, it should not be overlooked that a Christian not only begins to love according to some of God’s commandments, but according to all of these commandments.
Besides, does not all of Scripture emphasize, that the fulfillment of the law of God is summed up in this one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself? We shall have numerous and timely occasions to notice the wonderful teaching of Paul concerning the love of God in Christ Jesus. In the church of God at Corinth there evidently was no lack of confessing that they believed in the “Communion of Saints.” However, the practical implications of this confession did not clearly stand before their minds eye. They were not as spiritually sensitive of the proper exercise of this Communion of Saints as they should be.
Paul does not belong to those, who would tempt God in the church, by separating what He has in His infinite wisdom most intimately joined together. (Canons of Dordt, III, IV, Heads of Doctrine, Art. 17.) He gives us here a model of preaching, through which the Holy Spirit confers the grace of obedience. For the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the preaching of the Gospel. Also the obedience of faith and love is wrought in our hearts through teaching, reproof, correction in righteousness. Each of these elements are most wonderfully interwoven and blended in these Chapters which we shall here consider.
It is especially the great theme of the “love of God” in Christ, which is here expounded in its most excellent nature; it is that earmark of grace than which there is none greater and more exalted.
Such is the motive that impels us to take up our pen to write on this exalted subject.
As to our method in discussing these Chapters permit us to state that we shall try as much as possible in each essay to follow a step in the development of the argument of the Apostle. Always we shall try to attend to the place that each step in the argument sustains to the rest of the argument. To quote a rather well-known saying: We must not loose sight of the woods because of the trees!
Just a word should also be stated as the main argument and the chief subject, which is here developed by Paul.
It should be borne in mind, that Paul is writing concerning a very real problem as it existed at that time in the church of Corinth. He is not simply writing in the abstract, but very much in the concrete. He is here dealing with men and women, who are fundamentally spiritual men. They understand the Mysteries of the Kingdom, the Mysteries of God in Christ, since God has revealed it unto them by His Holy Spirit. They have the mind of Christ. However, they are not fully matured in all matters, understanding the relative importance of the gifts of God in the church. In some ways they are like children. Rather than being child-like they act childish. And that should not be. And now Paul labors that they may be children in sin, yet be men in understanding what the will of the Lord is.
Paul will write very carefully and with wise pedagogy.
He, therefore, first calls attention in Chapter 12 to the nature, scope and purpose of the Spiritual Gifts (charismata) in the church.
The first point he establishes is that the Corinthians were by nature outside of the Church and outside of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They had come a long way. Principally all had been changed for and in them. That is, indeed, sobering.
Hence, they are to listen to his instruction. In no way are they to listen to the instruction of those who curse the name of Jesus. Such do not speak through the Holy Spirit. For only through the Holy Spirit does anyone confess: LORD, JESUS! Verse 1-3.
For all comes from one and the selfsame Spirit; the Spirit of the same Lord and all is energized by the same God. Many and diverse are the gifts of the Spirit. But that is their glory so that they may serve for the profit of the entire body. Nothing is in the church for the individual, for his own personal and selfish interests. It is all for Christ, and in all the several members. No one lives himself or dies himself in the church. Verses 4-11.
For thus hath God ordained all, setting each in the church as He has willed. No member in the church, or no congregation in the midst of the church in the whole world can separate herself, claim she is not part of the whole, nor can she usurp the place of the other congregation or member. The body of Christ is indeed tempered together, the weak and the strong members, the honorable and the dishonorable. There can and may be no schism in the body. He or they who attempt this nonetheless will find that they cannot- mock with God. Verses 12-27.
Wherefore let each seek the best gifts for the sake of the edification of the entire church. Not everyone, however, can be everything. All are not apostles, teachers, evangelists, helpers and rulers. Each, must aspire after the best gifts. However, there is one grace which all must, can aspire after. And that is the more excellent way! This more excellent way is not in conflict with, does in no way clash with the gifts in the church. It simply is that which makes all the gifts come their own. It is the way of love. Herein shall all men know that ye are my disciples, namely, that ye have love one for the other!
On this theme of “love” Paul sings a hymn of praise, while he shows us the- manifestation and earmarks of the same. Chapter 13.
First of all in a triad of climactic instances he shows that except there be “love,” the love of God in us and, therefore, through us, all religion, prophecy and speaking with tongues is so much vanity and loss. We should notice the accent from the less important in religion to the more important: Tongues of men and angels—prophecy and all wisdom and knowledge—all our goods to feed the poor and body to be burned! What an imposing list. And notice also the corresponding value of them when “love” is not their inner motivation: Sounding symbol—nothing—profits nothing! Verse 1-3.
Then we should not overlook the “keynote” of love as it must needs reveal itself in the imperfect saints in the body of Christ. That is, love sufferslong! Well may this sink deep into our hearts. Wherefore, negatively, it must follow that love will never, never, never be envious, vaunting of self, puffed up, behaving unseemly in the midst of the saints, as a member amongst the members, seeking merely her own, he provoked at the slightest occasion, and then rejoice in all this iniquity. Verses 4-6.
And, positively, love will surely in its being “longsuffering” rejoice together with the whole church in the truth. Wherefore, love believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things! Where love is you have no troubles in the churchof Jesus Christ. And it doesn’t take much love either to have all the gifts in the church come to their own!
It never fails. When there is a failure there was but one reason. There was no love! That can be stated without fear of contradiction. All the rest fails. Prophecy, speaking with tongues, knowledge—it all is to pass away. And, therefore, it is but “in part,” that is, it is not yet a complete knowledge. No one knows the whole truth yet, not even the entire church together. Presently we shall no longer see the image of things. We shall see them. Should we then now not see the “limitations” of the gifts, while at the same time remembering the “limitlessness” of love!? Here all can share limitlessness. And it shall never pass away. No even in the heaven, in the ages to come. No, love must not be contrasted with “gifts,” but it must he the motive in all the gifts exercised and enjoyed of the church. Both are from one author, the Holy Spirit. Verses 6b-13.
This point of the relative value of the gifts, Spiritual Gifts in the church needs a bit more elucidation. That we have in Chapter 14.
The fundamental axiom and premise underlying the reasoning of Paul in this 14th Chapter is that all the gifts are in the church for the profit, edification, comfort, and strengthening of all the members. That which does not edify is useless and besides the purpose of the Gifts of the Spirit. This is sobering.
Speaking with tongues certainly has its place in the church. But it has its very, very severe limitations! In it one may speak to God, edify self. However, this all means nothing for the church, where there is not an interpreter. Thus it is with one who, for example, prays in the Spirit. No one can pray with him and say “Amen.” This should be remembered by the Corinthians.
Hence, to aspire after the “best gifts” implies that they rather “prophesy,” speak the Word in understandable language. Here five words mean more than ten thousand words in speaking with tongues.
Not to see this would be acting the part of children. It would be simply child’s play, working much evil. And they must he children in sin but not in righteousness. Verses 15-25. Hence, a final word of warning. All things must be done in decency and in good order, that is, according to the order, place, and station which God has appointed to each in the congregation. Not any man-made order, but divinely appointed order! It must be as spoken of in the Law.
In a formal sense this implied that in the gatherings not all speak, but that each take a turn. It must not look like a “nut-house!” Then the secrets of the hearts cannot be revealed under the preaching. And women are to be silent in the church. They better ask their husbands at home. A good principle, indeed. Paul didn’t suck this out of his thumb. It is as written in the law. The principle here laid down may well stand a little underscoring! Verses 26-40.
Thus none will be puffed up. We will then covet to speak unto edification. And all things will be done in decency and in order.
Much that was here present of “speaking with tongues” we no longer encounter. Yet the principles here enunciated stand. This word is still profitable to us, that we may so live that what we do is for the profit of all in the church, that there be no schism!