Unity in Love and Edification

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

– Romans 12:9-18

The church at Corinth was one with problems. It was a congregation of differences and disputes, each group, no doubt, thinking they knew best. Each member of every faction within the group thinking they were the ones in the right. Time and again in this letter, Paul comes back to the idea of thinking we know. These problems build up to chapters 12-14 and their focus on self in their spiritual gifts.

Some members at Corinth feel superior to others because of the gifts they possess. By I Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells the group to let love be their guide after he carefully explains what love entails in chapter 13. Romans 14:19 expresses this idea as pursuing or seeking love. In this, Paul places an emphasis in exhortation. He defines what it means to be spiritual, and he makes a connection between love and unity.

Edification & Exhortation

Do we make edification a goal of our spirituality? Notice I Corinthians 14. Numerous times in this chapter, Paul writes of edification. In context, this congregation has individuals who wish to interrupt worship to demonstrate their own spiritual gifts, but Paul warns against setting our brothers and sisters at naught in amplifying self. Applying this to ourselves, do we place our preferences, our desires, our opinions ahead of the needs of our brothers and sisters?

We all have favorite topics of study; we have favorite songs to lift up before God; we have speakers with whom we connect better than others. We will never have unanimous, synonymous, and equal edification in every service. We have to be able to yield to our brethren, recognizing some things edify my brothers and sisters more than myself.

Returning to Romans 14:19, let us earnestly pursue peace and edification in our spiritual lives. Romans 15:2 and Ephesians 4:29 also remind us on the priority we should be giving to one another. So long as we are making the edification, the exhortation, and the consolation of one another our goal, then we will be likewise edified.

Defining Spirituality

In I Corinthians 14:37, Paul writes that we should pay attention to what he is writing if we think ourselves spiritual. Again, this in the context of elevating self and imposing self on worshipping God. Do we know what it means to be spiritual? Is it simply having been baptized? Is it observing the Lord’s Supper? Is it the ability to lead in worship? Do we look at our own contributions to our congregations to define our level of spirituality.

I Corinthians 10:1-5 uses our spiritual forerunners as examples, having been baptized in the cloud and sea, having drunk from a spiritual rock. God, however, was not pleased with them despite these evidences of spirituality. Hebrews 6 speaks of those who consider themselves spiritual but have fallen away from enlightenment.

It is not the outward that brings us closer to God. Rather, it is what comes from inside; it is the meaning behind our worship. True spirituality is seen in our devotion to God and our devotion to one another. John 4:24 calls for spiritual worship rooted in truth. In I Peter 2:5 calls us to offer spiritual sacrifices, and Hebrews 13:15-16 calls helping one another pleasing sacrifice to God. Finally, Hebrews 6:9-10 calls on us to work love toward one another, working toward salvation in that.

Love & Unity

We sometimes treat I Corinthians 13 as if it stands alone from the rest of the book, but it comes in the middle of this discussion on unity and edification in the face of a splintering congregation. Ephesians 4:1-4, Colossians 3:13-14, Philippians 2:1-5, John 13:34-35 – these and more tell us to work for unity in love, being patient with one another. Paul illustrates this in I Corinthians 12, comparing the numerous members of the physical body with the diversity found in the body of Christ.

Just as a human body is united in its efforts to care for every part, so too should we care for each other. We may not perceive ourselves as important as other members, but Paul makes it clear we are all essential. We are all needed, and we should all be unified in our work for the Lord. We may not have unanimity, but we can have unity. Remember Psalm 133, describing the beauty of brotherly love and unity, comparing it to that first consecration of God’s priesthood and to the water that starts as dew on a mountain that will flow into rivers and lakes below.

Conclusion

We are perhaps more similar to the church at Corinth than we are willing to admit. We can grow closer in unity, though, if we can focus on unity in love, developing a true sense of spirituality, and prioritizing our brothers and sisters over ourselves. We can be a whole body by placing self aside, de-emphasizing our own desires and opinions, and by lifting each other up to the Lord as we work together toward Heaven.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Titus & Corinth

Titus is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, and he’s mentioned the most in the book of II Corinthians. He is in the salutation of chapter 1:1. He is someone Paul obviously holds in high esteem. In Titus 1:4, Paul calls Titus a son in his faith. Paul feels an affinity and kinship in their faith. In II Corinthians 8:23, Paul calls Titus his partner and fellow worker. In Galatians 2:1, Paul refers to Titus as a traveling companions, and this is possibly referring to the events of Acts 11-12 when Paul and Barnabas take issue with teachers who were trying to impose Jewish customs upon new Christians. Finally, Galatians 2:3 refers to Titus as someone who comes directly out of pagan traditions, and Paul uses him as an illustration of the gospel’s power to save. Paul and Titus have gone through much together, and Paul sees Titus as someone upon whom he can rely.

Titus’ Work With Corinth

II Corinthians 1 opens with Paul and Timothy greeting the saints of Corinth, and Titus is associated with doing work with the Corinthian Christians. In chapter 8:23, Paul calls Titus a worker for their benefit, and, back in verse 6, we Titus gathering funds for needy saints in Jerusalem. This may have preceded the events of I Corinthians (see I Corinthians 16:1), and Paul encourages him to finish this work. II Corinthians 7:6 seems to record another trip by Titus, and this is to Paul from the Corinthians. He calls Titus a comfort, and he’s grateful for the news brought by Titus of Corinth’s repentance. He relies on Titus to assess the effects of his first letter to these brethren. Verses 13-14 record Paul even boasting to Titus about Corinth’s potential.

In II Corinthians 2:13, Paul speaks of anxiety over not recently seeing Titus regarding news from Corinth. Chapter 7:6 describes Titus’ arrival as comfort from God, and Paul and his companions rejoice at his arrival. Paul had stuck his neck out for the congregation in Corinth – a congregation that had previously dealt with class discrimination, tolerance of sin, secular conflict, and sectarian leanings. This is the setting into which Paul sends Titus, telling his companion of the potential Corinth displays despite their shortcomings.

Titus’ Attitude Toward Corinth

Is the congregation at Corinth on with whom we would gladly worship? Paul would. Barnabas would. Titus would, but we will not. Many times, we give up on each other too quickly. Again, II Corinthians 7:13 speaks of the joy these brethren give to Titus. They refresh his soul. Verse 15 tells of Titus’ encouragement in their obedience, and chapter 8:22 calls Titus confident in Corinth. He demonstrates attitudes and qualities that we would do well to emulate in our work with fellow Christians.

  • Titus builds on the good. We use bulldozers to clear land, but we have to build skyscrapers. We have to build on the good we find in others. We cannot dwell on tearing down. II Corinthians 8:21 records Paul saying that their focus is on the honorable. There was much negative about Corinth, but Titus builds instead of destroys.
  • Titus works toward completion. The journeys involved in Titus’ work were not easy. He overcomes hardships to continue and finish the work set upon him. He could have given up, citing the difficulty of his tasks, but he doesn’t. He endures to complete his work.
  • Titus is earnest as Paul. The Corinth congregations, as far as we can tell, starts in Acts 18. Paul sets up the congregation, and Titus could have seen the issues in that congregation as somebody else’s problem. He has no investment in Corinth. It’s Paul’s baby, but Titus takes up the mantle to help with these brothers and sisters as earnestly as if he had helped build the congregation.
  • Titus takes initiative. Titus volunteers to help according to II Corinthians 8:17. How many needs do we fill grudgingly or resentfully? Titus shows no resentment in the things Paul asks of him.
  • Titus deepens his love for the unlovable. Christian love is not reciprocal. Ours is a love that is given freely regardless of the response. We could call Corinth an unlovable group, but Titus demonstrates love toward them in the work he does with them and in the joy he takes in their efforts.

Conclusion

Can we call ourselves Titus? We can learn to look for and build upon the good in others. We can stick with our work in Christ toward its completion. We can help others deal with their problems, for they are our problems too. We can take the initiative to help others and fill responsibilities where needed. We can show the love of Christ even when others may not love us back. Titus shines as an example to us, and we should strive to be like him in how we interact with those outside the flock, other Christians, and other congregations.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity & Corinth Part 5: Application

We are going to be concluding our study on Corinth in the context of love and unity with this lesson. We have examined a congregation that has demonstrated selfishness and arrogance in the attitudes of many of its members; we have examined the topic of love and how Christian love affect our behavior to others; and we have looked at the topic of spiritual gifts and their conclusion with the completion of New Testament revelation.

I Corinthians 14:37 – We are going to make application of these chapters in our efforts to be stronger in our spirituality. This lesson is how all of this directs each one of us.

Questions We Should Ask Ourselves in Our Congregation

Do We Possess Arrogance? Right away, we would want to say “no” to such a question, but what do our actions say. Are we like James 2:1-4 in showing favoritism or partiality toward certain members while disregarding others? Do we practice that attitude with those we are willing to study with, making judgments based on solely external evidence? Remember I Corinthians 4:8-10: Paul points out the arrogance in the attitudes of some at Corinth – they have it figured out. What else would they need.

If our attitude demonstrates these qualities, God is just as displeased with us as with those Christians we have been studying.

Is Edification Our Primary Goal? You will find “edify,” its variations, and synonyms mentioned several times in I Corinthians 12-14. Preachers and Bible class teachers need to lead the flock in understanding the scriptures, and they need to present material in such a way that they can be understood. Romans 14:19 – We are to follow after those things that produce peace and edification. (See also Romans 15:2, Ephesians 4:29.)

To exhort or to edify means to encourage or to build up. Urging each other forward should be a primary goal of our gathering together. In I Corinthians 14, Paul encourages those Christians to direct their worship in such a way that everyone is edified – not just those who are leading the worship. We tend to define edification based on what “I” like, but it is the group that is the focus. We are to be an encouragement to each other at all times.

Have We Missed the Point on What Constitutes Spirituality? We become comfortable with defining spirituality with safe terms we are used to. I am baptized; therefore I am spiritual. I attend church; therefore I am spiritual. I take the Lord’s Supper; therefore I am spiritual. Yes, these are all things we should be doing, but these actions do nat make us spiritual. Rather, doing those things that are right is a result of having a spiritual mind (Hebrews 13:16).

I Corinthians 10:1-5 – God was displeased with those who followed Him as a result of their conduct. Furthermore, Hebrews 6:1-6 speaks of individuals who enter into a relationship with God but fall away. They did the right things initially, but they fell into disobedience, and God disowned them. External appearances do not make a spiritual person.

How Can We Be Spiritual? Devotion to God and to one another is a mark of spirituality. See John 4:24 in the context of what the woman at the well was asking. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:32-33 – whether in the Old Testament or in the New, carnality should be eliminated, and we should think spiritually. (Remember Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 3 about carnal minds?) I Peter 2:5 again emphasizes spirituality in our worship, and if I am part of God’s holy priesthood, I am devoted to God on a daily basis. (See also Hebrews 13:15-16 and Hebrews 6:9-10.) Turning back to I Corinthians 13:1-3, without the proper attitude of love, our good works do not amount to anything.

Do We Appreciate the Connection Between Love & Unity? Paul describes love as a more excellent way to gain spirituality, and it is described as the key to church harmony and unity. We use Ephesians 4:1-4 to talk about doctrinal unity, and this is a good point out of these verses. However, look at the role patience and love plays in this unity. Colossians 3:12-14 reminds us that love is the perfect bond of unity. (See also Philippians 2:3-4.)

If we do not work on this relationship of love between our brothers and sisters, we will not have unity. Psalm 133 talks about the beauty of spiritual unity, and David illustrates this beauty in two ways, both depicting blessings from God, and we hope for blessings from God when we dwell in unity with one another.

Conclusion

If we are to be a loving, spiritual, unified congregation, we have to start with ourselves. We each need to become more humble; we need to work on edifying one another; we each need to examine our spirituality; and we need to appreciate and apply the relationship between love and unity. If there was hope for the Christians at Corinth to grow into a spiritual and unified congregation, we all have hope.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity & Corinth Part 4: Understanding “Tongues”

In these chapters, we sometimes tend to pass over some of these passages and note that some of these verses do not apply to us anymore. We’ve gone over I Corinthians 12-14, looking at what we can learn from these chapters, and, in this lesson, we are going to look at the nature of spiritual gifts, look at their purpose, and examine what the “partial” and the “perfect” are from this passage.

The Nature of Gifts

In I Corinthians 12:8, many of the spiritual gifts are specifically named (in context of 12:1). These are grace gifts, bestowed by the Spirit.

  • Romans 12:6-8 – Paul emphasizes the role grace plays in the bestowment of these gifts.
  • I Peter 4:7-10 – Again, Peter brings God’s grace into the gifts.

The argument is made that, since the enumerated grace gifts from Romans and I Peter, are still done today, those of I Corinthians must be also. However, in context, the gifts of Romans and I Peter are not miraculous gifts while the gifts of I Corinthians are. These are not parallel passages, and comparing these gifts is comparing apples to oranges. Specifically, in I Corinthians 13, Paul names miraculous knowledge, prophecy, and tongues, as those passing away.

Clarifying “Tongues”

What are “tongues?” In the charismatic moment today, many would say speaking in tongues is speaking in a language that is purely spiritual and foreign to any mortal. What we see in the Bible, though, is that the tongues of the New Testament are in fact human languages that the speaker had no prior knowledge of.

Acts 2:4-8 – The apostles are gifted hear with the ability to speak in the languages of their listeners, and this amazes the hearers. John 18:20, Matthew 12:46, Matthew 10:19-20 – all of these occasions use the same “speak” as in Acts 2:7 when the apostles “speak” in tongues. It is just the use of language to communicate. Acts 2:4-6, 11 – Luke uses the Greek for language and dialect interchangeably through this chapter. Much of the vocabulary describing the tongues of Acts 2 is also used in I Corinthians 13.

Acts 10:46-48 – If these “tongues” are ecstatic, how would have Peter’s companions known those in Cornelius’ household were magnifying God.  Also, in I Corinthians 14:21, Paul quotes Isaiah 28, saying that “strange tongues” will be used to communicate, and “strange” is used like the “strange woman” of Proverbs – one that is foreign or unknown.

Interpreting means to translate from one language to another. It is taking a meaning one understands and providing meaning to another. Interpreting is not giving meaning to that which is meaningless. For example John 1:42, Hebrews 7:2 – In both of these examples names are being interpreted based on the language their names were in.

What is the Perfect?

The partial are those miraculous spiritual gifts whose time is limited. In I Corinthians 13:10, Paul references the coming of the perfect as that which would cause these to pass away. Many interpret this as being Jesus.

  • II Timothy 3:16-17, I Corinthians 13:9-10 – perfect = complete, entire, or whole.
  • Some think it is the maturation of the church, the Second Coming, or the completion of God’s revelation.

Through I Corinthians 13, Paul has two main points: love never fails, but miraculous gifts will. Why? Gifts only provide a partial picture, and a point of completion is coming. He uses a maturation process as an illustration of this concept. His second illustration is the use of a dim mirror to try to see something clearly.

What was becoming clearer and helping the first-century Christians mature? It is reasonable to conclude that he is speaking of the revelation of God’s word. In Romans 16:25-26, I Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 3:3, and many others passages speak of a mystery that is being revealed. Now take II Peter 3:15-16. Peter references a collection of Paul’s epistles as well as other scriptures. The revelation was already in the process of being compiled and completed.

Returning to I Corinthians 13, Paul uses “in part” at least three times. The gospel was being revealed in pieces. Once the message was fully revealed, the fragmented manner of instruction would no longer be needed. Everything Christians would need would be recorded in whole, no longer a dark mystery but a clear image of that which makes us complete.

Conclusion

II Peter 1:3-4 – All things that we need for spiritual growth is given. We have no need for these spiritual gifts to confirm or add to our faith. The blessing of being Christians today is the fact that we have a complete word to study from and that our knowledge can be complete should we put forth the diligence to learn and apply that word.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity & Corinth Part 3: Christian Love

In the previous lesson, we spoke of love as a more excellent way to spirituality and unity within the church of Christ. Remember, all can posses and share love; love will never pass away, even in Heaven; and love demonstrates true Christianity. In this lesson, we are going to pay close attention to I Corinthians 13:4-7 and how we can apply these qualities to the love we are to have for each other as Christians.

Complete Christian Love

How important is love? In, Matthew 22:35, Jesus is asked about the greatest of the laws, and Jesus points to loving God and loving our neighbors as the focus of the Old Testament. Romans 13:8: “He that loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Again, love is categorized as the focal point of godliness. I Peter 4:8 says that love enables us to help each other take care of sin. Finally, I John 4:7-8: “God is love.”

Now we are going to look at the traits of love in I Corinthians 13, and it is important to note that all of these traits are verbs in the Greek. Love is not conceptual; rather it is an action.  This is love that is devoid of self-benefit; it is selfless. It is a love like Christ’s – “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”

  • Love is long-suffering. When it comes to our involvement with each other, there are going to be traits and habits that possibly annoy one another. Beyond this, long-suffering involves restraining one’s self when wronged. It is a love that does not quickly or easily retaliate to offense.
  • Love is kind. Not only can love take anything; it can also give anything. In the Greek, we are useful to one another for good.
  • Love does not envy. Jealousy wishes it has something; envy wants to take it away. Instead we are to rejoice for one another’s blessings, and we need to be thankful for what we do have. Remember, we all have blessings from God no one can deserve, so we should not begrudge the blessings of others.
  • Love is not boastful. We should not have an inflated estimation of ourselves. In Romans 12:3, Paul reinforces this concept, and he reminds us of God’s role in our lives.
  • Love is not rude. We try to teach manners to our children, but we often uncaring toward others as adults because of our self-concern.
  • Love is not self-seeking. It is not “my way or the highway.” Love is considerate toward others and patient, and we may have to get out of our own way to achieve this.
  • Love is not easily provoked. A loving Christian is not waiting to pick a fight. In James 1:19-20: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Conflict is not part of Christian love, but we may have to make a real conscious effort to stay silent.
  • Love is not resentful. Love forgives and forgets. It does not keep an inventory of wrongs committed.
  • Love does not rejoice in iniquity. We sometimes enjoy passing on bad information about others, nor does it take satisfaction in someone getting “what they deserve.” Rather, a loving Christian rejoices in truth.
  • Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. It is always hopeful and protective. We believe the best of our Christian family, and we should always be looking out for each others – dirty laundry, warts, and all. Even in the face of disappointment, love is optimistic for others, and it helps us endure against insurmountable odds.

Conclusion

Think about all the problems the church in Corinth had. If there was hope for their love and unity, there is hope for the church today. “Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Love completes our spirituality, and it is something we should be continually working on improving and understanding more.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity & Corinth Part 2: A More Excellent Way

This lesson continues our study of the church at Corinth and the topics of unity, love, and spiritual gifts. The previous lesson provided a cultural backdrop the this church and how society shaped the attitudes and values of the Christians in Corinth, and Paul appeals to the knowledge these individuals think they have ten times in chapters twelve through fourteen of this epistle while encouraging them to become more spiritually minded and more united in their conduct.

Disunity & Worship

The attitudes of superiority and class consciousness affected their worship. Paul addresses their “coming together” five times in chapter eleven. He is addressing their problems during services, most notably the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, worshipping together is brought up several times in chapter fourteen. Their carnal minds were affecting their service to God.

Again, it seems that the Corinthians placed a great emphasis on the spiritual gift of tongues – that is, speaking a foreign language with no prior knowledge of that language. He reminds us in verses 4 and 5 that each gift is equally important and that they all come from the same source. The functions are different, but each gift is equal in power and importance. We cannot deny the usefulness of other Christians dependent on a sense of self-importance.

The More Excellent Way

Verse 25 reaffirms the fact that unity within the congregation is important, and he promises to reveal a more excellent way. What is the way? Is it a way to get spiritual gifts? Rather, it is a more excellent way to unity and spirituality: Love. Before looking at chapter 13, here are three immediate reasons love is a more excellent path to spirituality.

  • Everyone can posses love. This is in direct contrast to spiritual gifts and various abilities.
  • Love will never go away. Again, this contrasts spiritual gifts, and this contrasts basically everything else we can hold to in this world, for love will be what continues into Heaven. Even faith and hope will no longer be needed in Heaven.
  • Love distinguishes true believers from pretenders. In John 13:34-35: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

The first three verses of chapter 13, emphasize the importance of love: praise, generosity, spiritual gifts – all of these are worthless without love. He then goes on to enumerate the qualities of love, and all of these descriptors of love are verbs in the Greek. Love is active, not conceptual, and we will look into these qualities in a subsequent lesson. Paul also speaks of partial gifts – like speaking in tongues – passing away like childhood when the perfect, or the complete/mature, is made known.

Realigning Priorities

In chapter 14, Paul returns his attention to misconceptions the Christians in Corinth had in regards to spiritual gifts. He tells them to pursue love. He goes on to contrast tongues and prophecy.

Paul reminds them that speaking in another language does not benefit the congregation as a whole if an interpreter was not present. (Remember, the person speaking the language did not necessarily understand the language they were speaking.) On the other hand, prophesying would, yet tongues were more highly valued by those in the church at Corinth.

Paul also points out that tongues are a sign to unbelievers (verse 22) while prophecy is most beneficial to believers. Take Acts 2 for example. By the crowd’s assessment, the apostles were ignorant individuals, meaning their knowledge of foreign languages would clearly be a miraculous event. Likewise, such a miracle would be useful in a city that had so many transients from other lands. Furthermore, in verses 23-25, Paul asks them what it would look like to a visitor to the congregation if everyone was speaking in diverse languages. In contrast, a prophecy may personally touch this individual. What is more valuable? Is it more important to look impressive, or is it more important to save souls?

Paul concludes this chapter by explaining the outcome to properly aligned worship: edification. Paul brings up edification multiple times in chapter 14, and he reminds us that God is the author of peace rather than confusion. This is in direct context of the love and unity spoken about in these verses, and the word translated as confusion comes from the Greek for discord or instability. God does not want his church to be split up and unstable. He wants it unified in love. He wants our worship to be orderly and decent (verse 40) in our attitudes toward one another, our behavior in the assembly, and our views of what it means to be spiritual.

Conclusion

A godly church works for love, edification, and unity. However, in order to work toward edification and unity in love, we need to understand what Christian love is, and we will be looking at the love of I Corinthians 13 in our next lesson.

lesson by Tim Smelser