(70) And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

Paul’s relationship with the churches he founded was like a father with a child. He loved them deeply but was not afraid to address their failings as he wanted them to grow to maturity. We see this most clearly in his relationship to the church in Corinth as we have two letters that he wrote to them. 1 Corinthians covers a range of questions and issues while 2 Corinthians is a much more personal letter in which Paul defends his work as an apostle.

From 1 Corinthians we learn that the church had different factions, it had problems with immorality, members had lawsuits against each other, there were issues with idolatry, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was chaotic, they didn’t know how to use spiritual gifts and they were unclear about the resurrection. This is quite a list but reflects the growing pains of a church established in a pagan seaport which, like all churches, is influenced by the community it is part of.

Given Paul’s strict upbringing as a Pharisee it is all the more remarkable to see his love and patience for a church with such problems. He starts by thanking God for them, praying that they will be enriched and strengthened by God.

With regard to the issues that they had written to him about, he appeals to them to put aside their divisions, to stop giving their teachers marks out of ten and to see them as servants who contribute to their growth in God. He is adamant that there is no place for immorality in the church and urges them to flee from it saying that “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you” and “You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are to honour God with our bodies.

In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about a collection for the church in Jerusalem which had been hit by a famine. He encourages regular giving so that those who have plenty share with those who are in need, telling them that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul is clear that giving is a voluntary act given in response to what God has given us, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to individuals to build up the church. These include gifts of speaking words of encouragement and wisdom, gifts of teaching and healing, gifting in leadership or administration. Paul says that all are given “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7), but human nature being as it is, we quickly become proud of what we see as our gifting and ability, rather than on where the gifting came from and its purpose.

Paul uses the picture of the human body to illustrate how we are to think of ourselves with our gifts in the church. The body is made up of many members – the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye – each with its own place and function in our body. Paul imagines the foot saying it doesn’t belong to the body because it isn’t a hand or the whole body being just an eye – which can’t hear! These ridiculous scenarios illustrate that just as God arranged the various members to form one body so in the church, members are arranged “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Underpinning all of Paul’s instructions is the paramount importance of love in the church and in the middle of this passage he gives one of the most sublime descriptions of love ever written. 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings but its message is about love for all, not just within a marriage. If we were to regularly meditate on these words, written to a divided church, then all our relationships would be greatly enhanced.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: