The Context of True Love

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with th...

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with the beginning of the 1. Epistle to the Corrinthians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This text, like all Scripture, should be read in context. If you tug on 1 Corinthians 13, you quickly find that it is tethered to the rest of the epistle and resists being torn from it. This isn’t rocket-surgery, but 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14. There is a reason Paul includes this here. Paul has begun a discussion about spiritual gifts in chapter 12. He has written that the body of Christ is composed of many members with different functions, and that every member’s role (no matter how big or small it seems) is indispensable. The hand can’t get rid of the foot and expect to be productive, and the eye can’t make its exit from the body and hope to have any use except for disturbing Halloween pranks. The Spirit has distributed these tasks throughout the church and has equipped every believer with abilities to serve the people of Christ. And then, in chapter 14, Paul wants to put forward a principle that will determine how the church operates in spiritual gifts, particularly with prophecy and tongues. That principle is that everything must be done in the gathered church in order to build up others. This is the idea he repeatedly presents in chapter 14.

It is his constant concern: “… the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3)

“The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (v. 4)

“The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (v. 5)

“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12)

“For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up” (v. 17)

Paul encapsulates this in verse 26, “Let all things be done for building up.” That is the governing rule. But there is an assumed premise in this over-arching principle; it is that, as believers, we want to build up others and not simply serve our own interests. In other words, the basic premise is that we would love them.

May, Evan (2012-07-17). Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13 (pp. 6-7). Golden Mouth Press. Kindle Edition.

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