Unity & Corinth Part 2: A More Excellent Way

This lesson continues our study of the church at Corinth and the topics of unity, love, and spiritual gifts. The previous lesson provided a cultural backdrop the this church and how society shaped the attitudes and values of the Christians in Corinth, and Paul appeals to the knowledge these individuals think they have ten times in chapters twelve through fourteen of this epistle while encouraging them to become more spiritually minded and more united in their conduct.

Disunity & Worship

The attitudes of superiority and class consciousness affected their worship. Paul addresses their “coming together” five times in chapter eleven. He is addressing their problems during services, most notably the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, worshipping together is brought up several times in chapter fourteen. Their carnal minds were affecting their service to God.

Again, it seems that the Corinthians placed a great emphasis on the spiritual gift of tongues – that is, speaking a foreign language with no prior knowledge of that language. He reminds us in verses 4 and 5 that each gift is equally important and that they all come from the same source. The functions are different, but each gift is equal in power and importance. We cannot deny the usefulness of other Christians dependent on a sense of self-importance.

The More Excellent Way

Verse 25 reaffirms the fact that unity within the congregation is important, and he promises to reveal a more excellent way. What is the way? Is it a way to get spiritual gifts? Rather, it is a more excellent way to unity and spirituality: Love. Before looking at chapter 13, here are three immediate reasons love is a more excellent path to spirituality.

  • Everyone can posses love. This is in direct contrast to spiritual gifts and various abilities.
  • Love will never go away. Again, this contrasts spiritual gifts, and this contrasts basically everything else we can hold to in this world, for love will be what continues into Heaven. Even faith and hope will no longer be needed in Heaven.
  • Love distinguishes true believers from pretenders. In John 13:34-35: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

The first three verses of chapter 13, emphasize the importance of love: praise, generosity, spiritual gifts – all of these are worthless without love. He then goes on to enumerate the qualities of love, and all of these descriptors of love are verbs in the Greek. Love is active, not conceptual, and we will look into these qualities in a subsequent lesson. Paul also speaks of partial gifts – like speaking in tongues – passing away like childhood when the perfect, or the complete/mature, is made known.

Realigning Priorities

In chapter 14, Paul returns his attention to misconceptions the Christians in Corinth had in regards to spiritual gifts. He tells them to pursue love. He goes on to contrast tongues and prophecy.

Paul reminds them that speaking in another language does not benefit the congregation as a whole if an interpreter was not present. (Remember, the person speaking the language did not necessarily understand the language they were speaking.) On the other hand, prophesying would, yet tongues were more highly valued by those in the church at Corinth.

Paul also points out that tongues are a sign to unbelievers (verse 22) while prophecy is most beneficial to believers. Take Acts 2 for example. By the crowd’s assessment, the apostles were ignorant individuals, meaning their knowledge of foreign languages would clearly be a miraculous event. Likewise, such a miracle would be useful in a city that had so many transients from other lands. Furthermore, in verses 23-25, Paul asks them what it would look like to a visitor to the congregation if everyone was speaking in diverse languages. In contrast, a prophecy may personally touch this individual. What is more valuable? Is it more important to look impressive, or is it more important to save souls?

Paul concludes this chapter by explaining the outcome to properly aligned worship: edification. Paul brings up edification multiple times in chapter 14, and he reminds us that God is the author of peace rather than confusion. This is in direct context of the love and unity spoken about in these verses, and the word translated as confusion comes from the Greek for discord or instability. God does not want his church to be split up and unstable. He wants it unified in love. He wants our worship to be orderly and decent (verse 40) in our attitudes toward one another, our behavior in the assembly, and our views of what it means to be spiritual.

Conclusion

A godly church works for love, edification, and unity. However, in order to work toward edification and unity in love, we need to understand what Christian love is, and we will be looking at the love of I Corinthians 13 in our next lesson.

lesson by Tim Smelser

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