The issues facing the church in Corinth are fairly unique to their situation. Many of the problems Paul addresses in Corinth do not show up in other church contexts we find in the New Testament. While we may never have a debate over food sacrificed to idols, whether women can pray in the assembly with their head uncovered, or how to properly approach the usage of tongue speaking in the assembly, Paul provides some key principles all Christians need to adhere to when making decisions for their particular churches.
A few weeks ago, Cody pointed to the guiding principle that becomes the measure you should use against yourself in every situation of debate: “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up” (8:1). Paul will continue with this principle in chapters 11-14. There are a lot of Christians out in the world, including the one who writes this, who need to be reminded to always lead with love and look to how they can build others up. Based on the dialogue I typically see/hear between Christians, we haven’t ready Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church with much seriousness.
Paul works from this foundation of love, celebrated in the Lord’s Supper, and works from two guiding principles in navigating the issues in Corinth: First, do what builds up the church. Second, if it keeps people from receiving the Gospel, don’t do it. These two guiding principles, founded in love, play out in a variety of ways in different cultural contexts.
Side Note: One of the principles in our faith tradition called the “Restoration Movement” is that every church is autonomous under its own leadership. This is an important part of our movement because what is best practices for a church in the cultural Midwest might be different from a church trying to seek and save the lost in the cultural Northeast. We shouldn’t expect a church in South Korea to look exactly like a church in Honduras. One of the important slogans which came out of our church heritage is, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, love.” Part of the issue we have run into is that we struggle to define what the “essentials” are and in these debates, love went out the window a long time ago.
There is a lot to talk about in 1 Corinthians 11-14 where Paul addresses issues that are taking place in their assembly. For your own reflection and study, I tried providing a few questions and comments to work through. In no way are these questions exhaustive. Please shoot me an email if you have any questions you’d like to add or clarification on things I’ve written.
11:2-16– Should women wear the head covering when they prayor prophesy in worship? Principle from this section: do not do anything that will hinder the expansion of the Gospel. How does this metric help us make decisions in different culture for how to move the Gospel forward?
11:17-34– Divisive actions in the Lord’s Supper
12:1-31– Unity is assumed. Paul is addressing the need for diversity. Gifts are given for the common good of the community. If a gift is used for the edification of the individual, it is an abused gift. Should every gift be used for the edification of the community of believers?
13:1-13– What is the longevity of spiritual gifts (v8)? What lasts forever?
Ch 12-13– When it comes to the faith community coming together for worship, chapter 12 tells us that every gift should be used for the edification of the entire church and not for the individual. Chapter 13 tells us that if you do not have love in your heart for others, you are following some other way than the most excellent way.
14:1-25– What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? Which ones should you try to excel in?
14:26-40 – Back to some basics, when everyone in the class starts talking the Kindergarten teacher says, “One at a time!” Again, the metric for what you should do is, “what is best for everyone else in the church?” One interesting observation from this section that those who receive a message in a tongue or prophesy have the ability to not speak.
14:34-35– Questions always come up here. I want to point to a few things to consider when reading these verses: Paul gives specific instructions for how women should pray/prophesy in the assembly in chapter 11. The language Paul uses in the Greek is very strong and carries the implication that these women are causing such problems that they shouldn’t even make a sound. How do the principles Paul has laid out in chapters 11-14 shape how discussions around this passage should take place? Finally, is Paul addressing a specific situation in a particular congregation or is this a binding command for all people everywhere (even the women of chapter 11)?