New Testament Week 34: “Charity Never Faileth.” – 1 Corinthians 7-13

This week we begin to read Paul’s answers to Chloe’s questions. One disadvantage we have is that we do not have Chloe’s letter so we are only hearing one side of the conversation. Paul does give us some clues when he moves to the next question when he says, “Now concerning…” I hope to hit all the major questions (Marriage, Avoiding Sinful Environments, Apostolic Authority, The Practice of the Lord’s Supper, Gifts of the Spirit, The Body of Christ, Charity, and Church Organization) in this post, but there are two themes in which I plan to spend the most time.

It is inspiring how applicable the themes of fitting into The Body of Christ and Charity are to us in the modern church. These are essential discussion points in our families, with our friends, and in the church. I feel if nothing else that we should read and discuss together Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 this week as they are so very important to discipleship in the context of belonging to the church.

Next week we will discuss the doctrines of the resurrection and how those relate to the restored church.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 34 – 1 Corinthians 7-13

– A healthy marriage is important to us and important to God.

– We all belong to the Body of Christ and should bring who we are to it instead of trying to be like everyone else.

– Love has to be the fuel to our discipleship.

Context and Timeline:
– It is unclear whether Paul was married in his life, but when studying the translation more closely, when he refers to his current situation, he likens it to widows. This makes it possible the Paul was married and widower. In either case, there are many people who make the claim that Paul was an advocate for celibacy, but a close study of the translations indicate that Paul did not believe that. He was a strong advocate for marriage and healthy sexual relations within marriage.

– When reading Chapter 7 it feels like Paul is diminishing the value of marriage, but it is essential to understand this is answering a question from two sets of people. The first were people married to unbelievers wondering if they have sinned or should stay married, the second were those who were single or widows wondering if they were second class citizens in the church. Paul mentions in a few different ways that he isn’t sure the best answer and so he is giving them the best advice he can.

– Apparently, Jews were seeking reversals of circumcision to assimilate into Roman and Greek society.

– Virgin is better translated as Fiancee in the Greek manuscripts.

– There were many influential members of the church in Corinth rejected the decisions of church councils because they “had knowledge.”

– It was common for community celebrations in Greece and Rome to have food for everyone to eat. The food typically came from the sacrificial rites offered to Pagan gods. There became a point of contention about whether church members should partake of the meat that was offered to Pagan gods.

– Paul is accused, by some in the church, of taking advantage of the church for needing financial assistance to do his traveling missionary work. Especially as they perceived Paul as being wealthy or having skills to produce wealth with his own work.

– Paul not being an original member of the 12 made some question whether he was truly an apostle, which leads Paul to give a greater explanation of the importance and role of apostles.

– Chapter 10 does not seem to relate to specific questions from Chloe, but is Paul giving general counsel he felt inspired to include as he responded to the letter.

– It is very important to note that we know very little about the specifics of early Christian worship services. In Chapter 11 Paul takes on the topic of whether women should veil their faces when preaching or not. It is unknown why this would matter. From best we can tell veiling faces and the actions of women were guarded closely by families. The primary reason was because the appearance, actions, and reputation of a family’s daughter was paramount in their families reputation. In order to avoid shame they basically controlled every facet of a women’s life. It seem that people were upset at the more lax attitude Christians had toward women participating in worship services.

– It is unknown at the time of Paul how often or what process administered the Lord’s Supper. It changed heavily in the century between when it was instituted and when it was formalized in rituals. It is clear in Paul’s writings that people were mixing the Holy Sacrament with normal meals and it was diminishing the meaning of the ordinance.

– The poorer members of the church were being humiliated by those with resources and knowledge during church services. Less than 20 years since Christ’s ministry and 10 years since these member’s conversion, the poor were being treated as second class members of the Body of Christ.

– Communion with Christ through Lord’s Supper required the desire and the intention to represent Christ, not perfection, but maturity. However, Paul was clear that if someone was making things bad for other members they should be cut off.

– Speaking in multiple languages, many unfamiliar with the poorer members, gave some a sense of spiritual superiority and was further dividing the church into perceived spiritual classes. Leading to the Spiritual Gifts, Body of Christ, and Charity teachings in Chapters 12-13.

– Foreign tongues is translated more accurately as foreign languages and not some unknown tongue.

– Apostles are pre-eminent to prophets, teachers, or other offices of the church.

– Agape is the translation of the charity type love in Chapter 13. Agape was not sexual love, but a deep affectionate love and care for the welfare someone or something. It was more abstract and deeper than other loves, but it also was more and different than just brotherly love.

– Paul uses a writing style known as chiasmus through Chapters 12-13 in an apparent effort to emphasize the importance of the teachings. Chiasmus is a rhetorical writing style in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form; e.g. ‘Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.’. It is typically found in ancient writings of high importance and would have had particular influence when read to the members of the church.

– When Paul talks about seeing through the glass dimly, it is better translated as looking into the mirror dimly. At the time of Paul there were mirrors, but they were very blurry and cloudy so it was difficult to see details in the reflection.

History around Epistle:
Paul visited Corinth during his second mission. He spent over 18 months building the church there and had very close relationships with the people and the leaders. This epistle would have been written between 53-54 AD. It appears from the epistle that Paul had previously written to the church in Corinth about avoiding company with people who would influence them to become unholy. His previous communication was not effective and so Chloe, an influential female convert, had written to Paul explaining the situation in Corinth and that prompted what we call 1 Corinthians.

The other sender of this epistle was Sosthenes and it was likely sent from Jerusalem before Paul returned to Macedonia. It is also important to note that many of the questions posed by Chloe did not have official church doctrine or policy for answers. Paul sought to find answers and use the scriptures to help answer the questions. Paul was likely received revelation while responding.

This epistle is of particular note to Latter-day Saints because it focuses on two ideas unique to their beliefs. Vicarious baptism for the dead, and different glories of resurrected bodies in the heavens. The epistle is also famous for describing the importance of charity, spiritual gifts, and the way the church, or Body of Christ, should work together in Christ.

Section 1: Chapters 1-6 – Discussion of the need for Unification and items of correction for the church members in Corinth.

Section 2: Chapters 7-16 – Answers to questions that were relayed to Paul.

Doctrinal Teachings:

  • Importance of Marriage (Chapter 7)
    • Marriage requires mutual respect and understanding.
      • Sexuality is essential, and neither spouse should withhold sexuality from the other.
    • There is nothing wrong with being single, but if you choose to be single then choosing to be celibate is essential to God.
      • If you cannot stay celibate then it is a good idea to get married.
    • It is important to stay married if you can, even if your spouse does not believe. You can influence your children for the Lord’s sake.
    • It is not appropriate to become a slave to other people, Jesus Christ purchased our freedom and we should not give it away to other men or women.
    • It is not a sin to marry someone who is not a believer and especially do not divorce someone who is not a believer.
    • Marrying in the Lord is preferable.
  • Appearances and Stumbling-blocks (Chapter 8)
    • Paul teaches that as long as it doesn’t create a stumbling block to potential converts, then it is fine for members to partake of the unclean food sacrificed to Pagan idols.
      • However, if it gives the appearance that the member is condoning or believing in the other gods then they should not participate.
    • I think this is applicable in our time. If we are present in a place that is questionable then the basis for our participation should be the impression it gives to those who we are associating with.
  • Apostolic Authority and Warning (Chapter 9-10)
    • The first thing Paul does in Chapter 9 is to answer the accusations of him taking advantage of members support and that he was not a “true apostle” because he was not one of the original 12.
      • He points out that his spiritual fruits are testimony of his faithfulness and his status among the apostles.
      • He also points out he is an apostle just like the others.
    • Apostles are necessary to proclaim the gospel and it is their solemn obligation and authority is to preach Jesus Christ’s resurrection and gospel to the world.
    • Apostles must relate with all different kinds of people so they can bring the gospel message to them.
    • Apostles need the support of the people so they can focus on that goal.
    • It is imperative that we do not cultivate close relationships with those who would corrupt us.
      • The Lord asked Israel to be a separate people so they could grow and be an example to outsiders.
      • The time has come to bring in outsiders and so we must be even more vigilant in keeping our covenants and following the gospel plan.
      • When we associate with outsiders it must be with integrity to our covenants and that we do not become a stumbling block to those who we are close with.
  • The Lord’s Supper (Chapter 11)
    • The question to Paul was regarding whether Women’s prophecies should be binding upon the church.
      • It is very difficult to understand these statements without understanding the way the church functioned during that time, but it is clearly regarding church authority and the covering or not covering of men and women’s heads.
      • After addressing the strange custom regarding men and women, Paul then is emphatic that men are not superior to women before the Lord.
      • Even if we cannot agree on things, being contentious in the church is inappropriate.
    • Equality in our need for Jesus Christ is the essence of the Sacrament.
      • Large dinners where some have and some have not are inappropriate in relation to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
      • Find sacred places to administer the Lord’s Supper where all are equal before the Lord in partaking.
      • When we partake, we are communing with God and proclaiming our partnership with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
      • It is important that we do not take the Lord’s Supper if we have not considered on what Jesus has done and that we need it. So to Paul worthily is another word for admitting we need the Lord’s help and desiring his help.
        • There are other principles of purity that would have been necessary for them to partake of the Sacrament at this time, similar to today.
  • Spiritual Gifts and The Body of Christ (Chapter 12)
    • Purpose and Role of Spiritual Gifts
      • Spiritual Gifts are for furthering the Lord’s purposes and works.
      • There are many different gifts, but they are from the same God and for the good of the members.
        • Wisdom, knowledge, faith, believing other’s faith, healing, performing miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in other languages, understanding other languages, many others not listed.
    • The Body of Christ
      • Each person who is baptized becomes a member of the Body of Christ.
      • Each of us has something important to bring to each other, and our differences are not meant to define usefulness, but the variety of what is necessary for us all to be close to Christ.
      • If we are going to have a diverse body, with so many different parts, then we must value each part or the whole will be less.
      • We are made to be individuals, and because of that there will always be exceptions and variety. If we make others feel like they have to be the same or we feel that we cannot be ourselves then we deny the purposes of God, which is that we all come to the Body and help in our own way.
        • This is critical because we all will need different people to help us and connect with us. If only have one kind of person then we will only ever have that kind of person.
      • If one of us succeeds, or suffers we feel it together or benefit together. We have to see each other as one body, not separate individuals.
    • The Organization of the Church
      • Out of necessity the Lord needs some organization in the church. The organization of the church is to provide safety, consistency, and growth.
      • Apostles are first and more important for the growing and tending to the flock.
        • Prophets, Teachers, and so forth are called to assist.
      • It doesn’t matter if we all are apostles, prophets, or even teachers, but it does matter that we seek the greater gifts.
      • The greater gift and more excellent way is Charity.
  • Charity (Chapter 13)
    • Things that are empty without Charity as the motivation
      • Speaking, Debating, and Preaching
      • Prophecy
      • Knowledge and Wisdom
      • Faith enough to move mountains
      • Giving of resources or any other kind of sacrifice
    • Fruits of Charity
      • Patience, Kindness
      • Being happy for others, Not being jealous
      • Don’t feel the need to speak of yourself, or your success
      • Avoids offending others, or selfish wants, and is calm when being provoked
      • Wishes people would avoid sin, and rejoices when they find the gospel
    • It is clear that the mindset that accompanies charity puts us in a position to endure almost any type of trial, makes it easier to believe in the Lord and the hope of the future.
    • Love of God, ourselves, and our neighbors will last for eternity. That foundation will not fail, even if the ideas and philosophies of our time fail.
    • Having this kind of love is the source of greater spiritual knowledge, maturity, and revelations because God can trust us more.

Key Moment or Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I have already broke down this chapter earlier, but I would like to focus this section on verse 11. I have heard this scripture used in many different ways, but almost never in the context of Love being our primary motivation. It is usually used as a motivator to have someone act more mature, to get them to see the authority of the more mature person, or as a commentary on the natural progression of a persons maturity.

I think for the first time I see this verse as Paul stating that the way we become mature, and to see things more clearly requires love to be at the core of our actions and vision. We must be putting aside our selfish interests, our prideful point of view, or distrustful emotions and let the pure love of Christ help us become the type of person we are capable of becoming. The type of person who cares about other’s needs, who is open to seeing things differently, and is willing to have compassion and trust in sharing our feelings and emotions.

It is easy to see why Moroni challenged us to pray with all our hearts to receive this kind of love into our hearts. It is difficult to become this kind of disciple. However, the culmination of the gospel, the core of discipleship, and the real benefit of following Jesus is to have this charity. It brings the joy in our relationships, it brings the peace and hope in our trials, and it brings the purpose and motivation in our efforts to repent and to improve. It also brings unity to all those who seek to follow the gospel path.

We must make this a top priority on our path to discipleship.

Final Thoughts:
Next we will primarily focus on the doctrine of the resurrection that was taught in Paul’s time and how that relates to our beliefs regarding resurrection and salvation.