1 Corinthians 12-14

Something about the way that the New Living Translation phrases these familiar lines makes it easier to understand.     The most common mistake is the think that 1 Corinthians 13 “stands alone” when it really was meant to be read with chapters 12 and 14.   I’m glad they are together here.
Paul identifies his topic here as spiritual gifts.    This topic is too huge to try and address each chapter, or even each paragraph individually in one blog entry, so let me just hit the highlights here.
At issue is what abilities each person in Corinth has, and how they work together.   Think back to yesterday when Paul mentioned they weren’t sharing the Lord’s Supper correctly, and even earlier when they were professing to follow Apollos and not Paul, or Paul and not Apollos.   These folks were Christians, but they had some issues getting along with one another.   More specifically, I don’t think they understood the larger concept of the Church. 
Paul offers to them some insight that has helped every person and every congregation since it was written.   “we are one body with many parts”.    It’s simple, but it’s profound.    God has given many different gifts, and He is working in different ways through different people.     Some are called to heal, and that’s wonderful…but not all are called or gifted.    It’s easy to say “I am able to speak in front of a crowd, therefore all of us should be able to do it” but that’s not how God has designed the Church.   Some heal, some teach, some speak, some do this or that…..but all serve in some way.     God is larger than any one gift or part of the ministry, and only when we are working together to do we see the more complete picture of who God really is.
Enter Chapter 13.   If God gives these wonderful gifts to people who are selfish, arrogant and competitive…then what is going to happen?   I’ll tell you what…the train is going to come off the tracks!   Those who prophesy will become bullies and those who teach or serve will become cynical.   One group will begin having issues with another….and pretty soon the whole place will be in an uproar.     How do we avoid it?
One word:    You thought the word was going to be love….and I guess it is, but I offer this word:  “Maturity”.     A Christian who has grown up enough to work well with others, and use the spiritual gift that God has given is the one who has discovered and operates within God’s love.   Love isn’t a platitude that covers our spiritual gifts like a cheap coat of paint….it’s the materials from which they were forged.   No one wants to use a rubber hammer to drive in a nail…it won’t work….the materials are wrong.    You need the right material, and gifts that are founded in and operate in love are the kind that bear spiritual fruit.  Apart from love the gifts are useless.  Worse than that, they become destructive.    Okay, so the gift itself is always good, but when the person doesn’t have love, the gift is always mishandled….leading to destruction and harm for the body.      There is no room for arrogance, selfishness, personal pride or competition within the body of Christ.   Together with Christ, we are a team.  We are a body.    If the feet win a race, the hands and head celebrate as well.     It’s so simple, again….yet profound.
Within the church there are people doing all sorts of things at God’s suggestion, and every single one of them is necessary….yet not all of them are valued equally by society, and not all of them are equally visible even within the church.    You and I may never know what others are doing that has created the wonderful climate of cooperation and community that we live within.    That is, until we get to heaven and realize that we weren’t the big “key players” that we thought we were….or on the other hand, we’ll discover that we were far more important than we believed possible.     Either way….I can’t wait to find out.
In the 14th Chapter, Paul encourages the church to seek out gifts that will edify everyone.  He isn’t opposed to speaking in tongues, and we shouldn’t be either…but we shouldn’t focus on that one gift either.   Paul himself identifies other gifts as more important to witnessing to and educating the community.   Let’s not create divides within the church that shouldn’t be there based on what gifts each person has.    That’s might be what the church in Corinth was doing, right?    Instead, let’s celebrate how God is working in many places in so many different ways, and be grateful for the way that He has chosen to make Himself known in our area, and through our ministry.    When we see another ministry doing well, and people being drawn to it….let’s celebrate with that part of the body as well.  
I think that’s a good example of what love looks like.