1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13


We shall follow the paragraphing found in the Greek text edited by Nestle. Verse 27 is set off by itself as a sort of subparagraph. It looks back and also ahead. Likewise with the latter part of verse 31.

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Kretzmann: Toward Christ you have the relation of a body, toward one another you have the relation of members.

No distinctions are made in the unity of the body of Christ. There are differences in the diversity, but the diversity ought not disturb the harmony.

1 Corinthians 12:28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

Bruner: Paul now lists several types not readily recognizable in the earlier grouping, notably apostles, helpers, and administrators. Unique to this list also is the stressed numerical order: 'first . . . second . . . third,' followed simply by 'then . . then.' Similar, however, in both lists in 1 Corinthians are the entries at the very bottom -- speaking (and interpreting) 'various kinds of tongues.'

For verse 28 compare Ephesians 2:20 and 4:11ff.  Eight items are mentioned in Verse 28.  The first three are obviously ranked.  The twelve apostles and Paul are ranked above  "prophets."  And  "prophets"  are ranked above  "teachers,"  a general term for those who gave instruction.  But, in all cases  God  appointed.

Kretzmann: These three represented the teaching orders.
Lenski: The apostles constitute the foundation of the Church for all time, through the Word which they conveyed to the Church.  The apostles themselves were the most notable New Testament prophets.  All the other New Testament prophets were of a lower rank.

The words  "helpers"  and  "administrators"  occur nowhere else in the New Testament.  We know nothing about the role these people played.  The basic meaning of the first is an undertaking on behalf of another.  The second indicates an ability to hold a leading position in the church.

In verses 29 and 30 we have seven questions which expect the answer  "no."   "Helps"  and  "administrators"  are omitted but interpreters of languages are added.  The point of these two verses is that God, and God alone, appoints and assigns gifts and, also, that these gifts are varied.  Note that these are rhetorical questions.

Though the Corinthians had misused the gifts, God did not withdraw them.  And Paul did not advise that they should cease to use the gifts.  But rather than misuse, says Paul, set your heart on the higher, the more important, the greater gifts. He does not say which these are.  He credits his hearers with enough intelligence to know which they are.  He is evidently implying that those in verse 30 are  not meant.

Kretzmann: Strive after those gifts of the Spirit which are of the greatest benefit to the work of the Lord in the Church.

Verse 31a really makes a person think.  They are to figure it out themselves.

Lenski: Paul himself gives us an illustration when in chapter fourteen he ranks the general ability to edify the Church through prophecy far above the ability to speak with tongues.

And now the final sentence in chapter 12.  Note that Nestle sets it off as a separate subparagraph.  We quote several translations:  "And now I'll show you best way of all."  "And now I will show you the most excellent way."

Bengel: Not a way more excellent than gifts, with which he is not contrasting it; but the seeking for the best gifts must have love for its motive and guide; and without love the gifts are worthless.
Lenski: Love is to be the all-dominating motive both in seeking and in using spiritual gifts.
Morris: There is something higher than the greatest of these gifts, and something that is within the reach of the humblest and most ordinary believer.

Look at Galatians 5:22-23 where Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit.  The first is  agape (love). Love is the highest and universal duty in the Church. Evidently  agape was lacking at Corinth, or Paul would not have spoken as he did.

First some quotes on Chapter 13.

Morris: Paul is concerned to insist that the central thing is not the exercise of any of the 'gifts.'  It is the practice of Christian love, 'agape' was not in common use before the New Testament, but the Christians took it up and made it their characteristic word for love.  it is a new word for a new idea.  It is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love which proceeds from a God who is love.  It is a love lavished upon others without a thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not.  It proceeds rather from the nature of the lover, than from any merit in the beloved.  The Christian who has experienced God's love to him while he was yet a sinner has been transformed by the experience.  Now he sees men in a measure as God sees them.  He sees them as the objects of God's love, as those for whom Christ died.
Lenski: Here we may read what Paul said about Paul.  Only a man in whose heart the Spirit of God has kindled a faith like Paul's could evidence a love like Paul's.  We cannot understand this man save as we understand his faith and its fruit of Christian love.

In verses 1-3 and 11-12 Paul speaks in the first person singular, in the name of all Christians.  Look at Galatians 2:20.

In verses 1-3 we are told what happens where there is not love.  In 4-7 we are told what loves does and does not do.  And in verses 8-13 we are told that only faith, hope and love remain eternally.  All else will pass away.  And the greatest of these three is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Read Matthew 7:22 and 17:20 in conjunction with these verses. Paul is not speaking about an unbeliever.

"Tongues of angels"  is not ecstatic speech.  We have no record of angels speaking ecstatic languages.  But we do have plenty of evidence of angels speaking in human languages.  Look at Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2.  And think of the angels speaking at the time of Jesus' resurrection.  Paul is speaking about men and angels serving God by speaking but doing so lovelessly.  Without love the gifts are valid but the speaker is a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, that is, nothing but noise and meaningless rhythm.

Morris: Paul's words are general enough to cover speech of any kind.  The best speech of earth or heaven, without love, is but a noise.
Kretzmann: His work might indeed have salutary effects, but he himself would be cast out as unworthy.
Lenski: When angels speak to men they use human language.  Paul speaks here about all cases when believers speak prompted by the pride of the flesh, or by some other sinful motive.
Bengel: Paul does not except even himself in the condition.  Note that angels use their tongues to address men, see Luke 1 and 2.

In verse 2  "prophecy"  is likely used with its widest meaning, including foretelling the future.  "Mysteries"  are those truths which come only by revelation.  "Faith"  is here the miraculous faith which causes man to do the impossible.

Morris: Mysteries are truths that men could never penetrate for themselves, but know only because it has pleased God to reveal them.
Kretzmann: One might have heroic faith, the confidence that works miracles, see Matthew 17:20 and 21:21, and yet be personally worthless.

In verse 3 Paul speaks of sacrifice of possessions and of one's very life.  Not just  "some"  but  "all"  possessions.

In summary, the lack of  agape  Christian love, renders the gifted person a meaningless noise, a nothing, one who makes no progress.

Lenski: With love present in the heart all gifts and all works become for their possessor the treasures which God intends them to be.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In these verses we are told what love does and does not do. In verses 1-3 the word  agape  occurred three times with the same refrain each time:  "But if I do not have love."  Likewise here  agape  occurs three times.

In these verses we have the negative eight times.  A description of love as to what it does not do is very effective because it describes our sinful nature so very aptly.  By the way, Paul is not speaking about  "agape"  in an ideal setting but in the everyday sinful, broken world.  The first thing that is said of  "agape"  here is that it  "is patient."  And the last thing said of it is  "it perseveres."  There is a kinship between the two ideas which will be pointed out.

In verse 4 we look at  "patience."

Rienecker-Rogers: It is a long holding out of the mind before it gives room to action or passion -- generally to passion.
Morris: The word points to patience with people, rather than patience with circumstances.
Kretzmann: Love is patient, is not hasty and quick to wrath, revenge, impatience, and to insist upon its own rights.
Lenski: To suffer long is a God-like feature.
Bengel: Paul does not say, love speaks with the tongues, prophesies, gives to the poor; but it is long suffering.

"Kind"  shows its possessor to be useful, helpful, friendly, some call this trait the predominant characteristic in Christ's ministry.

"Love is not boastful."  How often don't Americans say with the wrong attitude:  "I'm number one!."  The boast wrongfully is to puff one's self out like a pair of bellows.

Bruner: It is interesting to observe that the spiritual pride of inflated sense of one's own spiritual experience (puffed up) which Paul saw as the peculiar affliction of the Corinthian higher-life Christians (see 4:6, 18, 19; 8:1) appears in its negative in this passage: 'love is not boastful'.

"Not rude."  To behave indecently or in a shameful manner.

Kretzmann: Love does not act in an indecorous manner; it has the proper instinct for that which is seemly toward one's neighbor.

"Not self-seeking."  Does not seek the things of itself.

Lenski: Selfishness lies at the root of a thousand evils and sins in the world and in the church: as between rich and poor, capital and labor, nation and nation, man and man, church member and church member.

"Not easily angered."  To be irritated, to be touchy. Sinners lose their cool so easily.

"Not keep records". This is connected with the keeping of accounts, noting things down and reckoning it to someone.  Lenski shows that the verb is used to describe the pardoning act of God who does not impute to us our guilt, Psalm 32:3; Romans 4:8; 2 Corinthians 5:19. God does not reckon up my evil.  Love does not reckon up evil to the neighbor.

Verse 6  "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth."  has to do with rejoicing.  Sinful people easily rejoice over evil. Agape does not.

Here  "truth"  likely means the truth of the Gospel and the godly living which the Gospel causes.  Love rejoices along with this Truth.

In verse 7 the first and fourth  "always"  denote that which is adverse while the second and third point to which is beneficial.  "Love endures all things."  This is the virtue which stands up under adverse circumstances.  It is used only of mankind.  On the second and third items in verse 7 Morris remarks:  "Believeth all things points to that quality which is always ready to allow for circumstances, and to see the best in others.  Love retains its faith.  Love is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt.  Hopeth all things is the forward look. It is rather refusal to take failure as final."

Kretzmann: The apostle now reaches the climax in his characterization of love in four positive statements.  It simply refuses to yield to the suspicions of doubt and of consequent discouragement.  Though its simplicity and trustfulness be abused again and again, it still believes that things will come out as they should.  That does not mean that love is blind to the faults of the beloved, or that it would not rebuke the sins of one's brother. Always love looks to the future.

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Here we are told that only faith, hope and love remain eternally.  All else will pass away. And the greatest of these three is love.

The paragraph begin with  "love never fails" and it ends with  "and now there remains, etc."

Kretzmann: The first sentence is the topic of the last section of this chapter.
Morris about prophecy: When we stand before God there will be no place for the prophet.  Prophecies will then have no place, they will be completely without force.
Kretzmann: As the content of all prophecy will be revealed in fulfillment, as all that was hidden will be clearly revealed, there will then no longer be need for prophecy.
Lenski: By 'prophecies' are meant either the charismatic gifts themselves, or the exercise of these gifts, actual acts of prophesying; but not the facts or the truths prophesied, for they too endure.

"Tongues"  will also cease, they will make themselves cease or automatically cease.

Morris: Tongues, which mattered so greatly to some of the Corinthians, will likewise cease.
Kretzmann: They had only a temporary significance; they lapsed and terminated when their object was attained.
Lenski: They have indeed stopped long ago.
Bengel: They did not continue in the primitive church so long as the other miraculous gifts. Nor have they anything analogous in a perfect state, as prophecy and knowledge have.

"Knowledge"  is the painfully acquired knowledge of earthly things.

Lenski: The intellectual gift of formulating, coordinating, and setting forth with clearness the divine truth, so that men's minds may grasp its contents, 12:8.

Verses 9-12 explain how knowledge can now be partial, but in eternal life, complete.  In verse 9 Paul says  "Our knowing and teaching (now) are partial."

Morris: All earthly knowledge is partial.  God does not reveal everything.  The prophet gives but a partial glimpse of truth.
Kretzmann: Our knowing in this world is imperfect, inadequate for a complete understanding of God, of His essence, of His will.  There are only small parts of the eternal, heavenly truth which we understand even with our enlightened Christian reason.

Verse 11 contains two complex sentences, the second one contains two verbs, both of which denote lasting results.

Bengel: The progress from grace to glory, which awaits individual believers and the whole Church, is compared to the stages of life.
Morris: He would not be ruled by childish attitudes.

Verse 12 introduces a second metaphor which also elucidates verses 9-10.  The first half of verse 12 is an illustration, the second half is application.  Paul is saying that what happens to him personally happens to all Christians.  Ancient mirrors were made of polished metal.  Therefore the image in the metal was not always clear.  That is the point of comparison as noted by most commentators.  The point of comparison is not limited to the reflection in the mirror.  Nowadays the image in a mirror is as distinct as seeing face to face.  But not at that time.  Here are some of the English translations:  "Now we see by a mirror and are puzzled."  "What we see now is like the dim image in a mirror."

Now to the second part of verse 12.  As the seeing, so the knowing.  The counterpart to the partial knowledge is the future full knowledge.  One English translation reads:  "Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood."  Look at 1 Corinthians 8:2-3; Galatians 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:19; John 10:14; Romans 8:29.  To be known by God means to be one of God's elect in Christ Jesus.  Turn peoples' attention that and they will forget the passing matter of spiritual gifts.

Morris: The knowledge that God has of Paul is not something growing and becoming more and more perfect.
Rienecker-Rogers: The words bring out the inadequacy of man's present knowledge of God in contrast with God's knowledge of man now and the knowledge of God that man will have in the future.
Kretzmann: Not because the Word is dark, but because our understanding is not sufficient to grasp the wonders of His substance and qualities.

And now the final verse. In the Greek Nestle text this verse is a subparagraph. It is a grand summary. Paul begins with a summary word:  "In short."  or  "in a word."  The three terms are in the order in which God gives them to us.  Paul is not saying that faith and hope are not important.  The presence of love proves that there is faith and hope.

"These three"  means that there will no others.

Bengel: One may be a Christian without prophecy, etc., but not without faith, hope, love.  God is not called faith or hope, but he is called love.

Beautifully said.  He is obviously referring to 1 John 4:8.

Morris: We should not press Paul's comparison too closely, and waste our time inquiring into the precise manner in which love surpasses faith or hope.  It is not Paul's intention to rank these three in order.
Kretzmann: The fact that love is here called the greatest virtue does not in any way disagree with the fact that faith is the only means of obtaining salvation.
Lenski: What John says regarding our love while we are in this earthly state may surely be used to cast a light upon our state above, where it will be love that brings us into the fullest union and communion with God.

In conclusion, we struggle when we study 1 Corinthians 12-14.  Why?  Read verses 10-12 once more.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 38-43. Used with permission.

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