November 2013

Why 1 Corinthians 13?

In discussing the issue concerning tongues, revelatory gifts, and miracles in the last post, I received no comments at all, although a number of people looked at the post. For those to whom I had sent a link to read the post, I also received little to no response as well. That always concerns me. However, in this case, I think the reason there has been little response is because it may appear too simple.

That is to say, the apparently clear consideration of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13:8ff. concerning the gifts, to some, seems too simple and basic. I say this because I struggled with it in my own mind working through the passage.

I think, however, there is a greater problem. I think that Christians have become so accustomed to philosophic rhetoric and argumentation that we have a hard time settling for simple reading of the text. In fact, in scholarly circles, the man with the tightest argumentation usually carries the weight. However, the man with the clearest exegesis and simple explanation of the text appears too simplistic and even laughable. If this is true, we have a real problem. Here is why:

 

Matthew 11:25–27

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.

26  “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.

27  “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

 

The Lord taught that the Father is pleased to only reveal truth to children. That is, as defined by the text, those who are antithetical to the “wise and intelligent.” The wise and intelligent of the day, just like today, are those who have made a god of cognition (“thought”). That is, they can reason through any problem and have self-sufficiency as their favorite past-time. The wise and intelligent don’t have need for anyone to explain anything to them. They, of their own admission, get it. However, the revelation of the kingdom is reserved only for the “infants,” those undeveloped in their rhetoric and polemic abilities. That does not mean they are stupid, ignorant, or unintelligent. It is only that they at least are aware of their reasoning limitations. In short, they are humble. They are those who know that they don’t know. All they can go by is what is “revealed” to them in Scripture. They cannot discover truth by their reasoning abiltiites. It is only revealed to them.

I would wish that there would be more children, in this sense, in the churches today. That is not to say they are children in their immaturity, their instability, and irresponsibility. But, they are children in the sense that they are dependent upon the Father for their understanding.

So, if it seems too simplistic that Paul meant that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge would cease in the fashion he taught in 1 Corinthians 13:8ff., then check to see if you are waiting for wise and intelligent rhetoric, or simply waiting for the will of the Father to be revealed by clear exegetical practices which exposes the meaning of the Scripture and does not hide it.

“Have Tongues Ceased?” And Other Curious Questions Easily Answered

 

Yesterday, I was reading a string of comments on a post in Facebook concerning whether tongues and miracles etc.. have ceased from the days of the apostles. The statements that I saw one gentleman making were summed up in this thought, “There is not a single verse in the New Testament that shows that tongues (and thus by implication and extension other revelatory and sign gifts) have been taken away.” The argument goes that since there is no single passage that demonstrates this, then it is clear that they have not stopped. 

As I read that post and the comments, I wanted to immediately write back (even though I was not part of the discussion) and correct that statement. However, I had my own responsibilities to tend to. But this morning I am making time to explain that there is a singular passage that definitively teaches the “cessation” of tongues. Further, it teaches why and when. Further still, it teaches the cessation of other revelatory gifts and giftedness and it does so in a capable manner.

My goal in this post is to stifle that kind of statement above from being heard any longer and cause these kinds of statements to become subject to the teaching of the Word of God on the matter (2 Corinthians 10:5).

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,

5  does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,

6  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

7  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part;

10  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

12  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

13  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians occurs between chapters twelve and fourteen. This obvious statement is critical to its interpretation, although many commentators disagree as to its function. However, if you simply follow the text, it will tell you. First Corinthians 12:1 indicates that one of the many questions that the folks in Corinth had was concerning the use of “spiritual gifts.” Literally, Paul writes “τῶν πνευματικῶν,” “in reference to the spirituals.” The idea of giftedness primarily comes from the endowment that occurs when a person becomes a believer. Ephesians 4:11-16, a companion passage to 1 Corinthians 12-14, teaches that when Jesus Christ ascended He then sent the Holy Spirit, as promised, and the Holy Spirit then endowed men with “gifts.” These endowments are listed in that passage as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastors and Teachers. Not only are these the categories of giftedness, but they are sequential, or chronological in scope. We know this because earlier in the same letter, Paul taught that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church, they are at the ground-level of the building (Ephesians 2:19-22). The apostles, chosen by Christ Himself, are the first in the order of things in the church. They were closest in proximity to Jesus Christ and His teaching. Next in line are the prophets. These were folks who were given direct revelation from the Spirit on the spot. This endowment was in order to teach something that would guide the church in some fashion locally. Agabus is one such example. In Acts 11:27-30, He and a number of other prophets from Judea came into the church at Antioch to warn them of the coming drought. Luke records that they said this by the Spirit and it happened in the reign of Claudius (cf. Acts 18:2). So, that information was necessary for the churches, in Judea and Antioch, to prepare for the drought for all the saints. That is prophecy in the New Testament (NT) sense. It is commensurate with the Old Testament (OT) use as well.

In line, then, with the groundwork of apostles are the prophets. By the way, this very work included the men who wrote the NT also. All the writers of the NT were prophets in that they were given direct revelation, “prophecy,” by God to be recorded into Scripture. This is important.

After the prophets come the evangelists and teaching pastors. I will leave those here since the offices of apostle and prophet most concern us in 1 Corinthians 13. The positions overlapped in time, but were sequential in order of being given. In other words, you don’t see NT prophets before you see the apostles.

Paul is writing to the confused and crazed church in Corinth. This dear group of saints were the joy and distress of Paul at that same time. The problem came in when false apostles began to infiltrate the church and introduce error and accusation against Paul. These were false apostles, agents of Satan, who preached a counterfeit gospel, one which the Corinthians were bearing with beautifully (see 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 12-15). With their false claim to apostleship came a new gospel. And, as Satan does, they introduced a false spiritual giftedness as well. We can see this in the entire argument. There is clearly the true giftedness and the false. That is the backdrop of this section of Paul’s letter.

The Context:

Paul starts chapter 12 with a reminder that they used to be ignorant pagans following every wind of doctrine (v.1). This appears as a condemnation for the way in which they are putting up with the false apostles in their midst. These men apparently were publicly saying, or teaching, that Jesus is actually accursed instead of teaching that Jesus is Lord (v.3). And with this demonic doctrine came a demonic use of gifts, which undoubtedly included a false giftedness originating from Satan just as their gospel also originated from Satan. Therefore, Paul’s teaching in this section (chapter 12-14) is really a correction against the false teachers who had infiltrated the church and brought in speculations that were contrary to sound doctrine and they were imprisoning the saints with their rhetoric, display of so-called spiritual giftedness, and self-proclaimed apostleship. And true to the use of signs and wonders, Paul himself showed by them that he was a true apostle and not a fake like them (2 Corinthians 12:12-13). Paul’s sarcasm and facetious speaking in these letters are evident and necessary as he is attempting to reason with this confused bunch.

With that as backdrop, we can move forward in the letter. Paul now is forced to write concerning spiritual gifts (χαρισμάτων-“gifts/endowments”) which the church possessed. These evidences of grace of God are meant to further sanctification. They are not meant to be used for personal reasons, nor for self-aggrandizement. They are not, as the imposters were teaching, meant to contradict sound doctrine, the doctrine of the apostles and true prophets. Thus, Paul, after explaining the multifaceted work of the Holy Spirit in the church in this manner, explains that the church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) and as such must function as a body functions-in unity and usefulness. The fact is, God Himself appointed in the church these gifted men and giftedness as He desired (v. 28). God, as in salvation, is responsible for the giving of the gifts (and their removal). Not everyone in the church, whether during the time of the Corinthians or on a larger scale as time went on in the church, has the gifts and giftedness that others had early on. Not everyone will speak in unlearned languages, heal, perform miracles, or have divine revelation. Only those to whom God Himself has given them.

But notice the priority that Paul introduces in 1 Corinthians 12:28. He gives order to the positions of apostle, prophet, and teacher. That is, he introduces them with the ordinals “first, second, third.” That is, these positions of responsibility are prioritized over the following giftedness of miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and tongues. Thus, the first three are in a class all their own in importance. They are the greater gifts. That is what Paul is calling them to. Paul instructs them to give their interests to those who are apostles, prophets, and teachers more than they give to the other manifestations of the Spirit of God. Paul is pointing them back to those through whom come the Word of God. Each of those three positions are predominantly teaching positions, and by that leadership positions (Hebrews 13:7). He is lowering the position of miracles etc.. to a lesser status in the face of the teaching and leadership of the apostles, prophets, and teachers. This is why he urges these people to desire most that some might prophesy. Apostleship cannot be desired because there cannot be apostles added to the original twelve, excluding Judas, and Paul (Acts 1:21-22). But prophets are to be listened to, as God gives them to the churches. Also, teachers are to be listened to as God gives them to the church as well.

The Point

And here is the main point: the function of all of these gifts is to edify. The church is to be built up, sanctified, made holy and useful to God (John 17:17). Thus, the work of these men is to edify the church such that, as Ephesians 4:11-12 states, they might continue to edify one another. In the face of the abuses of the gifts of God, or the proper use of the gifts of Satan, edification will always be lacking. Mutual edification is Paul’s point in these chapters (see 1 Corinthians 14:4-5, 17, 26).

The gifts of the Spirit are given for mutual edification. In order for the church to collectively be made holy and useful, which is what edification is, it must exercise its gifts toward one another. That is the “way” of 1 Corinthians 12. But, Paul says, there is a more excellent “way” to edify one another-love. First Corinthians 12:31 indicates that the Corinthians should prioritize their interests toward the hearing of the Word of God from the Apostles, Prophets, and teachers, instead of fascination with miracles and tongues (so-called). That is because, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the teaching of the Word of God equips the saints for ministry in the church which is edification. However, all of that must be done in the context of love:

Ephesians 4:16

16  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

The way to edify the church is for the church to hear the Word of God (John 17:17). However, if you have the Word of God in a context of avarice, greed, and selfishness (as they were doing), you “do not know as you ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3!). Love edifies. Love is the more excellent way to edify the body of Christ, in the context of the teaching of the Word of God. When Paul says, then, that I show you a more excellent way, he is speaking of the more excellent way of edification of the church. It is more excellent than mindless use of potentially Satan-inspired giftedness.

With this in mind, Paul inserts this marvelous chapter on love. Since love is the more excellent way, or context, in which to minister, he will “show” or “demonstrate” to them what that looks like.

By means of overview, I will work through this chapter.

1 Corinthians 13:1–3

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

If I had all the gifts that God has given to the church, including apostleship, and yet did not minister to the church motivated by love for the church, and Christ, I am not really ministering. I am serving myself. In fact, the sounds out of the mouth of a loveless person is obtrusive and noisy. There is no profit for myself, or others, if I do not love. So, what does this “love” look like?

1 Corinthians 13:4–7

4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,

5  does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,

6  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

7  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Patience, kindness, humility, wholesomeness, truth, and joy, these are the effects of love in the body. If the body at Corinth would have ministered in this fashion, they would not have rejoiced at the incest nor abused the Lord’s Table. Love edifies the church and keeps is so. Love takes the Word of God and holds it high and rejoices in it, and its effects in us all. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things in the lives of the other saints for their edification (Ephesians 4:17-32). This is the point of the chapter.

Therefore, in light of this, we approach verses 8-13. This is the passage that unequivocally states that revelatory gifts would cease, future to Paul, and past to us.

1 Corinthians 13:8–13

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part;

10  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

12  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

13  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

Love never fails to maintain its lofty position of edifying the body. The word “fails” is the word that means to fall, or be brought down. Love will never fall from its priority or usefulness. It is, as you remember, the hook that the entire Law of Moses hangs on (Matthew 22:40). However, gifts of prophecy, especially tongues, and knowledge will fall in time. Their usefulness will diminish.

Gifts of prophecy “will be done away.” This verb used here is a future passive verb meaning “to be removed, done away with, or render ineffective.” I like how one lexicon defines it: “…from the basic sense cause to be idle or useless, the term always denotes a nonphysical destruction by means of a superior force coming in to replace the force previously in effect, as, e.g. light destroys darkness…” (Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000, 221.) This verb means that something greater than itself will come and remove the gift of prophecy. So, it will, at some point future to Paul, be rendered inoperative and useless. It will fall from use. Incidentally, it is the same verb as that related to “the gift of knowledge” later in the verse. Both the gifts of prophecy and knowledge will be rendered inoperative some time in the future, from Paul’s perspective.

The gift of tongues, as they are called, will also fall. But Paul’s teaching here is a bit more intentional. He wrote, “if there are tongues, they will cease…” Tongues will cease. This is a different verb. The verb here means to “cease, to cause to stop (oneself).” And the way that it is written is conspicuously significant. It is written in the Middle Voice, which in NT Greek means that the subject is doing the action of the verb upon itself. Thus, tongues will cease itself. It will make itself useless, done, stopped, and they will fall. So, the gifts of tongues/languages will cease to exist and be useful to the church. This leads us to ask, or at least it should, “What were tongues for?” Paul explains this in the very next chapter.

 

The Purpose of Tongues

 

1 Corinthians 14:20–22

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

21  In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord.

22  So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.

Mature thinking, a throwback from his argument in chapter 13:8-11, does not prioritize spiritual giftedness, especially the miraculous gifts, but prioritizes the revelation of God. They should be inexperienced in evil, but not in their thinking. Paul then quotes Isaiah 28:11. This passage is at the end of a prophecy that God would send to Israel those who will speak to them. That in itself, is a facetious thought because He had just finished describing the way that the prophets of Israel have been “speaking for God.” They were drunken and staggering when they would give judgments for God (vv. 7-8). They were supposed to teach knowledge, but they stammered with their tongues. He will not give His message to children (vv. 9-10), which is a reference to the infantile behavior of drunken Israel (which is also a comparison of the Corinthian church as well as he compares them to infantile Israel, as they even were drunk at the Lord’s Table in the same manner as Israel was at the altar-1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Therefore, since they speak gibberish while drunk, He will speak in incoherence to them, by means of other languages. These other languages will seem as gibberish to them and they will not have an interpretation (see Isaiah 28:9). Thus, this passage indicates to us the very thing that it goes on to say-tongues are for a sign. And, by extension, so is the gift of interpretation. A sign will be to one edification, and to another damnation. Tongues are languages of the world (Acts 2:5-11). They were known, grammatical, verifiable languages which certain people would speak depending upon their geographic location. God says in Isaiah 28:11 that He was going to give Israel a sign. That sign would be the proclamation of His message in other languages of the world. And He did that at Pentecost.

Paul, then, is explaining the use of languages as a sign against Israel, unbelieving Israel. That is why he says that this gift is for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22). That teaching needs to define and describe every consideration of the gift of tongues. That gift is not meant to edify the church. It is a sign against unbelieving Israel. Remember, Paul habitually entered synagogues and taught Christ. Remember also that predominantly the early church was Jewish. Further remember that since Israel refused to repent in the presence of Christ, Christ turned away from them, temporarily blinding them from His kingdom (Matthew 13:10-17; 21:42-44; cf. Romans 11:25) and turned to the Gentiles. As the church grew in its Gentile makeup, the giftedness of tongues died out. It was no longer useful as the Jews were blinded, partially and temporarily, and the Gentiles/Nations are being discipled. That is why the very gift itself will cause itself to die out-the purpose for its existence will no longer be needed.

 

The Coming of the Perfect

 

Paul continues in verse 9 by saying “for we know in part and we prophesy in part.” He is saying that prophecy and knowledge are only “in part.” In other words, what they would prophesy and speak from knowledge was only from a portion of complete prophecy and knowledge. It was only in part. However, there is coming a time when complete knowledge and prophecy will arrive and at that time partial prophesying and speaking knowledge will be “done away” (same verb as in v. 8). What will be done away? Literally, “that which (is) from a part.” That is, since the prophecy and knowledge of Paul’s day, i.e. the time of the apostles and prophets, was only “partial,” its usefulness for edification is limited. There is just so much more to learn!

However, Paul says, when the “perfect” comes, the partial will be done away with. The perfect and the partial must be the same thing, one of greater degree than the other. The word “perfect” is better translated, “mature,” or “the complete.” In light of Paul’s illustration of a child becoming a man and putting childish (“partial”) things away when he became a man (“mature”), so also is this teaching. The perfect is the mature prophecy and knowledge. It is not a reference to heaven because that is obtuse to this context of revelation of that which edifies. Further, heaven certainly will have its perfections, but the subject of the perfect is the content of prophecy, not a state of being. The perfect is the prophetic word (see 2 Peter 1:19-21). Once the prophetic word comes, by virtue of its coming, it will nullify the need for, and the effect of, that which is “partial.” We understand that the Bible we hold now is the Word of God, God’s prophetic Word.

Notice, in closing, vv. 12-13

12  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

13  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Notice the adverb “now.” That is, in Paul’s own time (“now”), they see in a mirror dimly. But, when the mature prophecy comes (“then”), “face to face.” Isn’t this magnificent! The complete revelation of God’s eternal gospel revealed for us all to see as if we were unhindered in our gaze (look at Ephesians 3:9-11; the church is the steward of this gospel, which is the content of the completed prophetic Word). We see face to face with God’s true, full, complete, prophecy in our day! In our day, we can know fully, even as fully as we are known by those who see us face to face. But, for Paul’s time, until the mature, complete, full, revelation of God comes (which we know to be the Word of God-2 Timothy 3:16-17), they will remain in the edifying power of truth exhibited through “faith, hope, and love…but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the more excellent way to minister the words of Christ to one another, not so-called gifts of the miraculous.

Conclusion

So, Paul has taught us that clearly the usefulness of the revelatory gifts will be removed. They will be rendered useless. For those who are seeking for them, they will not find them. They are chasing the wind. Their use in the church is no more. Their function in the church, which served for a time for a sign for unbelievers (especially unbelieving Jews), and edification for believers (1 Corinthians 14:4-5), has been replaced with the completed, canonized, enscripturated breath of God-the Bible.

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