Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Whole New Meaning to a Familiar Bible Chapter

Well, lo and behold. You learn something new every day.

I cut my teeth on the crib in the church nursery. I have been to more Bible Studies, retreats, Sunday School classes, Sunday night classes (which have run the gamut of being called Training Union, Church Training, Discipleship Training, and a few other "trainings"), etc. You get the picture. And while I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the Bible, there are some chapters and passages that I have known inside out and backwards & forwards for years.

Or so I thought. Until our Ladies Retreat this weekend.

I Corinthians 13. The Love Chapter, right? How many of you had the middle portion of it read at your wedding? Or use it as a sort of litmus test for evaluating your marriage?

While the principles found therein can certainly apply to these situations, the context of this chapter is not even remotely related to marriage.

It is spiritual gifts.

In the previous chapter, Paul begins addressing this subject with the Corinthian church. Apparently there was some conflict and dissatisfaction among the believers regarding their gifts. He lists nine spiritual gifts, explaining that the Holy Spirit distributed a particular gift to each person just as He saw fit. He then uses the human body as an example of how all the parts are to work together and if the whole body were one part, it would suffer for the lack of the missing part.

In chapter 14, Paul focuses on two of the gifts, prophecy and tongues, because their misuse was causing chaotic and disorderly worship. He explains their purpose: prophecy is for instructing believers and tongues are for evangelizing non-believers.

And smack-dab between these two chapters is I Corinthians 13. And highlighting four of the gifts as an example, he tells these believers -- who are fussing and squabbling jealously over the "popular" gifts -- that it's all for naught if they don't love each other:

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.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy ("I want your gift"), it does not boast ("Hundreds were saved because I spoke in tongues"), it is not proud ("My gift is best"). 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking ("I'll behind the scenes supporting you"), it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs ("What you did to me last month doesn't matter; I've already forgotten"). 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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. (Grow up!) 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. (You don't have the full picture now, but one day you will.)

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(Bolded emphasis and additions in parentheses are mine!)

And one more thing. . . When is it easiest to practice your spiritual gift? For example, when do you most readily sign up to serve someone by taking them a meal or doing some other task? When do you have a burden to share the gospel with an unbeliever? When are you more likely to show mercy to someone who has sinned?

We tend to be much more willing to do these things if it is for someone that we love. My best friend has surgery? I'm over there doing her laundry. A family member isn't a Christian? I'm going to pray and share much more diligently. A niece is 16 and pregnant? I'll reach out to her in love and forgiveness. But replace any of the folks in those scenarios with someone who grates on my nerves, who I have no personal attachment to, who I criticize and judge for their behavior, and suddenly I'm not nearly as quick to reach out.

Or is it just me?

After this portion of the retreat, we washed each other's feet. It was a sweet time.

And I'll never read I Corinthians 13 the same way again!


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Beverlydru said...

The Shape of Mercy was delivered to me Saturday. How wonderful. Thank you! Great post... I also love to read this chapter from "The Message".

Liz said...

I have applied 1 Corinthians 13 to all relationships, but this further insight into the background of what was happening in the church gives it an extra flavor that gives me greater understanding as to why Paul wrote what he wrote. Thanks for the insight.

Anonymous said...

I have never seen this interpretation of 1 Cor 13 before. Like you, I've always thought it was about marriage and love relationships in general. But this makes SO MUCH SENSE. Thank you for sharing! :)

A Stone Gatherer said...

Nope it's not just you! I love that portion of scripture especially Chapter 14 where it says "God is a God of order". That's because I need order!!!! We need to look at the whole context of scripture to help in interpretation!