We have learned from chapter 12 that the apostle has given us an indication that he intends to put down the overemphasis on tongue-speaking as it was practiced in the church of Corinth. This is seen in the fact that he mentioned it last in the list of Spirit-filled gifts (I Cor. 12:8-10). He pointed out that not all the members of the church should expect to receive it (I Cor. 12:29, 30). Finally, he directed them to a more excellent way for the communion of the saints than tongue-speaking, namely, to love one another (I Cor. 12:31).
Now in chapter 13 he explains how love is a more excellent way. Two reasons are given in chapter 13. Love is basic to all Christian action; without it, even becoming a martyr is vain, (vs. 1-3). Such love makes all Christian action beautiful, (vs. 4-8). The second reason is that love will endure while all other gifts of the Spirit mentioned are temporary and will cease, (vs. 8-13). These gifts of the spirit are temporary because the writing of the Bible is not complete, and until then, speaking in tongues, etc., will certify that God is working through the ministry of a certain man. As soon as the Bible was completely written and given to the church these temporary gifts ceased. Love, however, continues to bind together in true brotherhood, unto eternity.
Edification is the important thing. Paul now proceeds to show that if one weighs the advantages of prophecy over-against speaking in tongues, the balance falls in favor of prophecy. The reason for this is edification. Prophecy edifies God’s people; speaking in tongues is very limited in edification. Before we analyze his reasons for this, we should consider what the difference was between speaking in tongues and prophecy. In the light of these chapters (I Cor. 12-14), we conclude with Hodge that speaking in tongues involved the following: “1. The word tongues in this connection, as already proved, means languages. 2. That the speaker with tongues was in a state of calm self control, he could speak or be silent, (I Cor. 14:28). That what he said was intelligible to himself, and could be interpreted to others. 4. That the unintelligibleness of what was said, arose not from the sounds uttered being inarticulate, but from the ignorance of the hearer. The interpretation of particular passages must, therefore, be controlled by these facts,” page 157 commentary. Prophecy, however, was different. It involved speaking forth, in the common language spoken by all the people present, the truth that God had immediately revealed to that person. This too is different from preaching as we have it today. Prophecy was also a temporary gift (I Cor. 13:8). It, however, involved divine revelation and intelligible communication. Preaching as we have it today is authoritative only in that it is in agreement with God’s revelation, the Bible. God no longer gives immediate revelation to preachers or anyone else. His revelation is the Bible and every faithful preacher will search the Scripture and preach its message and then, being sent by Christ through His church, has the right to say, “Thus saith Jehovah!”
Keeping this in mind, we can appreciate the emphasis the inspired apostle places upon prophesying: it is more desirable as a gift because one can speak unto spiritual edification. One who speaks in tongues speaks to God, not to men (vs. 2, 3), and therefore edifies himself not the church, (vs.. 4, 5). Paul relates this to his own ministry. It would not profit the church of Corinth anything if he came speaking in foreign languages to them, (vs. 6). Similarly, if people did not understand the sound of a trumpet in Old Testament times, that it was a call to battle, blowing a trumpet would accomplish nothing, (vs. 7-9). We cannot have meaningful friendship if we speak foreign languages, (vs. 10, 11). The conclusion is this: if the Corinthians desire to have spiritual gifts, they should seek those gifts which will edify the most, and if they speak in foreign languages they should pray for interpretation, for that is the only way they can enjoy true communion of the saints, (vs. 12-16). Correctly, Paul states that he would rather pray five words in a known tongue than 10,000 in foreign languages that no one can understand anyway, (vs. 18, 19). Interestingly, he adds that when God sent a prophet to Israel and he spoke to them intelligibly, it was a blessing; and when a prophet came, speaking in an unknown tongue, it was a curse, a sign of unbelief, (vs. 20-22). They should rejoice then that God sends someone to them who will bring them the gospel in a known language. This holds true for those who will come to worship with them. If they are all babbling in an unknown language, he will leave them and say they are all mad; but if they speak in a known language, he will be convicted of sin and believe in Christ unto salvation, (vs. 23-25).
Paul did not say it was wrong for them to speak in tongues. He recognized that the Spirit did give that gift to the church, (vs. 26). Rather, he spells out the proper use of it. This included not more than two or three speaking at a service, and that too only when one also had the gift of interpretation. If no one could interpret, the tongue speaker should keep silence, (vs. 27, 28). The same held true for prophecy. Only two or three at a service, and then, too, what was prophesied should not contradict the Old Testament Scripture or the other inspired books already written, but should be tested by the objective testimony of the Written Word, (vs. 29-33). Since women are more emotional than men, they were assuming leadership in the speaking in tongues. So Paul had to admonish them that it was not their duty to be leaders in the church; they should keep silence and learn from their husbands at home, (vs. 34, 35). Since these instructions were given by Paul through inspiration, the whole church should recognize that they come from God, and all should yield themselves in obedience to them, (vs. 37, 38).
9. The problem of doctrinal error regarding the resurrection of Christ from the dead, (I Cor. 15). Some in the church denied Christ’s bodily resurrection: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is tie resurrection of the dead?” (vs. 12). This opposition to the resurrection came either from the heathen “converts,” who still mocked the resurrection as the Athenians did, (Acts 17:32), or from the Jewish element who came under the influence of the Sadducees who denied the existence of angels and life after death, (Acts 24:6-9 and Acts 26:6-9). Over against them, Paul asserts the fact of the resurrection. First he refers to the historical proof. He preached the resurrection because Christ appeared after the resurrection to Peter, to the twelve disciples, to 500 brethren, to James, to all the apostles, and even to Paul himself, (vs. 1-11). This is important historical evidence because it verifies the theology of God’s Word, namely, that without the resurrection, there could be no salvation, preaching would be vain, we would still be in sin, (vs. 12-19). However, He is risen and is the source of life even as Adam was the source of death. Christ is the first-fruits, and through the general resurrection He will be able to present the completed kingdom to God, (vs. 20-28). He refers to some custom of their day as, “baptized for the dead.” Someone did this—we do not know how or why, but Paul simply refers to this as further proof that it would be futile to do this unless a person believed in the resurrection. He finally points out that if there is no life after death, we might live carelessly and that would be deception, (vs. 30-34).
The human difficulty of accepting the resurrection, lies in the mystery of the resurrection body. The rest of the chapter deals with the change that takes place in our bodies when we pass from death unto life. He compares it to the seed planted in the earth: it sprouts into a beautiful flower or stalk of grain; it is the same seed; it dies in the earth; then it is changed into a beautiful flower, (vs. 35-37). There are different kinds of bodies: animals have their own body; even the stars are called heavenly bodies. Each has its own beauty, (vs. 35-41). Thus the resurrection of the body is like the sowing of a seed. After death it is put into the earth in corruption, dishonor, weakness, and natural, but in the resurrection it rises in incorruption, glory, power, and spiritual, (vs. 42-44). There is a definite order, first the natural then the spiritual (vs. 45-50). In Christ, all will be changed, the living will be immediately translated and the dead raised from the graves, for the corruptible must become incorruptible and death swallowed up in victory, (vs. 51-58).
10. Instruction to take collections for the saints in Jerusalem, (I Cor. 16). Poverty afflicted this congregation in Jerusalem. So, as in other churches, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to collect money on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, that everyone, give as God has blessed him, and that the money be ready when he comes, (vs. 1-4). He plans to stay at Ephesus till Pentecost and then perhaps he will come and winter with them (vs. 5-9). Timothy will come first and Paul asks them to treat him kindly, that he may be without fear, and later Apollos will also come, (vs. 10-12). He urges them to be submissive one to another and follow good leadership, as for example the house of Stephanas, (vs. 13, 14). He expresses appreciation for their sending to him the delegation and sends his greetings to them in return, (vs. 15, 16).
Questions for consideration.
1. Discuss how your family and church is affected by the community in which you live. Pay special attention to the sinful influences it may have on both?
2. In light of this epistle, what is the proper method we should follow in dealing with sins which are evident in other members of the congregation?
3. A local congregation may be spiritually weak as the church of Corinth was, what hope have we for the future well being of such a congregation?
4. What legitimate things should we forego today for the sake of weaker brothers or sisters in our church?
5. Should our young people consider foregoing marriage because of the fear of persecution under the coming anti-Christ?
6. Does the solution to the problem of women not wearing a veil to church in Corinth, I Cor. 11, say anything to us about women wearing slacks to church, or about the length of man’s hair?
7. Discuss how we can show Christian hospitality to strangers in both our homes and churches.
8. Analyze the modem tongues movement and show how Paul’s teaching in this epistle contradicts it.
9. How is the doctrine off the resurrection, central to the comfort of the gospel?