The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13
(Part 1)

The purpose of 1 Corinthians

It is the estimation of this writer that one of the most significant and relevant topics surrounding the Christian world is unity. Much has been said and written on this topic, with the desire and hope that all those who identify as being Christians will put away those things which divide them from others of the same mindset, and cling to those things which would facilitate or expedite this noble goal.

Often the first thoughts regarding those things which divide the Christian world are doctrines (teachings) which contradict those of others. How peculiar it is that, of the many denominations and different groups, who assert that their beliefs are based in the same scriptures which others also supposedly use to guide them, yet their conclusions are so radically different as to cause irreconcilable differences. How can this be? The result is that the Christian world is so fragmented that non-believers find it confusing, and even revolting: they even question if the Bible is really from God, or that all who claim to be Christians really are Christians.

The division we see today, even among brethren of the church of Christ, is not some new thing that just recently raised its ugly head. Rather, it has been experienced before, even in the first century church. Even though the Apostles of Christ were with them, and teaching them, there we still divisions which arose because 1) they did not properly understand the doctrine of the Apostles, which came from the Holy Spirit, which came from Christ, himself; and, 2) the personal aspirations and ambitions of those within the church. The Apostle, Paul, deals with these very issues which arose in the church in Corinth.

1 Cor. 1:10 reveals that they had already developed a party spirit. Some might even call these cliques, separating various groups among them because of their snobbish sense of superiority. As Paul had related that those of the house of Chloe had indicated there were divisions among them at Corinth based upon their favorite teachers. Paul asked them a series of rhetorical questions which would cause anyone to see the foolishness of such divisions. “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13). The point of this was to show what we are all about: believers of Christ, and in Christ. We are all one; we are all in this together. We should not seek to divide the body of Christ. Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians this theme is recalled, always emphasizing the nature of the body of Christ: unified in unity.

There are those today who call for unity in diversity, as though a diversity of teaching and beliefs are a good thing. Certainly, the background and personalities of Christians is as diverse as the world around us, coming from various nations and ethnic groups; yet all are united in Christ, having been added by the Lord to his body after that act of obedient faith of baptism.

Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. . . . 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul makes it perfectly clear that in order to have unity, there must be a common body of beliefs and teaching.

1 Cor. 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The Bible declares to all who would find salvation in Christ, that unity is found only in the doctrine of Christ, and nowhere else. When variants and innovations are added which cannot be substantiated nor defended by the Bible, then men are adding their own inventions, and not adhering to “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints,” (Jude 3 ASV)

This division which was occurring in Corinth was manifested in other ways as well as their following after their favorite teacher. Seemingly, they had come to regard certain miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit to be more important than others; particularly that of speaking in tongues. Always the encourager, Paul makes a remark in the opening verses so that they might not have a sense of inferiority among brethren of other congregations in other cities:

1 Cor. 1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

The Christians in Corinth were every bit as much a Christian as their brethren in other cities, even having received the capability to perform miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

This will be important as Paul begins to discuss their perception and use of the miraculous gifts that they had received through the laying on of his hands (2 Cor. 12:11-12, Acts 8:14-17). Chapters 12, 13, and 14 all deal with the use and understanding of miraculous gifts, and should be studied with this in mind.

The purpose of 1 Cor. 13.

Chapter 12 discusses some fundamental concepts surrounding the purpose and source of the miraculous gifts, relating them to our own physical bodies, as its different and differing members: though different in function and design, yet they all work together for the benefit of the whole; and, although different in purpose, all come from one source: the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit is in unity with the Godhead, and unified with the other members, so, too, should the body of Christ, his church, be united and unified. These miraculous gifts were intended to that end.

Chapter 14 instructs the church in Corinth on the use and discipline to be observed when they all would come together to be edified by those having the gifts. There was not to be chaos and confusion when they assembled, rather each would take his turn using that gift with which they had been blessed to edify the church. Paul summarizes this with:

1 Cor. 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

This is the principle in which we abide today as the saints assemble together each first day of the week to worship our God and our Savior. That is why most congregations will post the names of the men who are scheduled to serve during the worship: there is order to it, and done in a fashion which exhibits decency, not of a nature which is out of control.

Chapter 13, the chapter which will be mainly considered in this series of articles, expresses the proper attitude toward the miraculous gifts, and the longevity with which they would endure.

Over the next few weeks we will discuss in detail the doctrine which Paul teaches (through inspiration of the Holy Spirit) for the edification and for the understanding of the Christians in Corinth of the first century A.D.; and, if we are wise, to our own edification and understanding.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX

Curtis A. Little
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