Some contextual listening required (Part 1): If you don't have the Love, you're no different than a pagan gathering (1 Corinthians 12-13)
Sometimes chapter divisions can detour from hearing what the author of a biblical text has said. This is so true of 1 Corinthians 13. Most, at least from all the sermons I have heard and the weddings I have attended attest. Nonetheless, chapter 12 and chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians are in need of being heard together as if there is no chapter division between them. In fact, there is a bookend link between 12:13 and 13:13:
ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ χαρίσματα τὰ μείζονα (12:31a)
μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη (13:13b)
Even those who don’t know New Testament Greek can see it––you can see the word “greater” (μείζονα, 12:31a / μείζων, 13:13b) at the close of chapter 12 and the close of chapter 13. Different endings (like Spanish), of course, but the same word: μέγας (great/greater) in 12:31a and 13:13b. The NASB, as do other translations, offers what I think is a much better read than the ESV: “But earnestly desire the greater gifts” (12:31a, NASB)
Don’t know why the ESV translates the word μέγας as “higher.” I suppose it could, but this doesn’t help the English reader. The mistranslation masks the bookends here, which, in turn, masks the dynamic relationship between 1 Corinthians 12 and 13–these two chapters need to be read as one.
So you can see (and hear) what Paul has crafted (with my more word for word translation):
So what does this do for us as we read chapters 12 and 13 together? First, we take and read the two as one thread and not separate chapter 13 as if it is a stand-alone-text about the vague notion of “love.” Witnessed by the mistaken use of the “Love Chapter” during weddings. Chapter 12 is most certainly about church, so for Paul, chapter 13 is about church as well.
Second, we just had a chapter (12) on the one body of Christ—and please understand Paul is specifically referring to local churches, meeting in someone’s home, thus, “To the church of God that is in Corinth,” 1:2a): one body, many members (cf. 12:12, 27).
Paul begins with the spiritual gifts (12:1), to which he will return in chapter 14, but makes a turn toward people-related gifting at the end of our chapter 12: apostles, prophets, teachers, those that do miraculous gifts of healing, helping, administering, and of course tongues.
Yep. Everyone wants these powerful, status-granting, attention-centered spiritual gifts (let’s be honest). Thus, the need for chapter 13. So, Paul asks,
Yet, he says there is a better way, a more excellent way. Paul then concludes our chapter 12:
Then, Paul instructs his readers/listeners on this more excellent way:
Let’s read 12:27–13:3 as one thread, of course with my interpretative spin (but I think it’s there in Paul’s meaning, a fair reading):
Well, this is a radical thing we have going on here. A new community built on the Love, not status, education, bloodlines, abilities, usefulness, or even spiritual office or gifting. And, then the reader/listener has Paul’s final charge: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:13).
Part 2, forthcoming.
Some dangerous and wasted thoughts on Jesus' challenge to the story of power (Matthew 14): Church as alternative to the story of power
I’m doing some study on Matthew 14 this afternoon and ran across a rather powerful quote from Stanley Hauerwas’s commentary on Matthew. I have been thinking these thoughts for a while now (and I will be sharing some of them this coming (5/12/19) Sunday), namely, that those in power and the powerful must use power to stay in power; sadly, most use of power by the powers and the powerful is threat, violence, or the subtle making of promises to those without power (to grant or take away) something needed.
It is this last use of power that is most deceptive and, well, rather powerful. You see, it matters not whether the powers or the powerful actually deliver on said promises, for it is the making of the promises that counts because those with no power have no choice but to acknowledge (bow before, vote for, smile in adoration, applaud or laud, promote, et al.) that it is only in the powers and powerful that they will ever see the good for themselves or their neighborhoods (even though they don’t ever see the promises delivered).
In Matthew 14, Jesus (that is, Matthew in the narrative) is hinting at an alternative to power, first in Jesus as that alternative and then at the development (forthcoming, i.e., the forming of the) community that follows Jesus. We, the church (read a local church), are that alternative to the story of power.
Here’s the quote:
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.
“God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly.
“It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it's pulled down.
“It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough . . . Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 10–11)
We’ve become mighty comfortable with the emperor giving us the power to be the church. Now, we do church and think and behave in ways that depend on the emperor’s power for forcing the rest of society to act like the church. In some ways, Flavius Valerius Constantinus is still on the throne of the church; and, we trust him to grant us our protection; we lobby him to force the rest of society to act as Christians (or face legal and, sometimes, brutal consequences); and we are thankful that he lets us constitute and gather as a special rights group of citizens of the empire.
The church has given up the only power for leverage and change it has at its disposal, that is the cross, and has exchanged it for a share in the power of the emperor to bring about the moral, political, and social vision we deem Christian or politically correct (aka a left or right leaning political vision) . . . by law and, if need be, by force. We are willfully earthly, doing what many seek, exchanging one power (theirs) simply for another power (ours)–and the State to enforce our power. [Yea, like the Empire will be our friends. Not.] The church has given up on the only means of displaying the power of the cross, that is, through the gathering of the saints in fellowships, which has to work hard at unity (because it is an alien unity, wholly different than anything else known in the realms of humankind), whose congregants are neither female or male, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.
The church (again, the local church) has ceased to be a wholly other kind of social body with a wholly other power and a wholly other way of leverage that changes and transforms society (and our neighborhoods); and, a reliance on something wholly other to see God’s kingdom impact social relationships and structures. We prefer Constantine’s power rather than our call to be people crucified with Christ, humbly meeting together, sharing a common meal, and welcoming all who would come and seek Messiah Jesus. We are no longer wholly other.
We must find a better, more wholly different way. We, the church, need to be wholly different.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.