Lesson Eight – The Most Excellent Way

The Most Excellent Way

Lesson Text:  I Cor. 13:1 – 14:40.


Please review the Introduction of the previous lesson.  The text for this lesson is the continuation of the topic, “Now about spiritual gifts.”  I Cor. 12:1.  Paul’s literary style for working with the spiritual weakness of some members’ misuse of their one or more of the nine gifts is similar to the way he sought to correct other weaknesses in Corinthian church.  For instance, in the case of sexual immorality, he used the actual case of a member having his father’s wife (I Cor. 5:1).  He followed with a detailed explanation of what is wrong with having sexual intercourse outside marriage (I Cor. 6:12 – 7:31).

His literary style for dealing with Christians living side by side, physically, with people in the world who worship “so called gods” was similar (I Cor. 5:10; 8:5).  He used an illustration of a member of the church with a weak conscience (I Cor. 8:1-13).  He followed with a case of eating food as it was being offered to idols (I Cor. 10:28).  While on the subject “about food sacrificed to idols;” Paul explained the communion of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 10:14-22).  The actual case of the church gathering together where division was practiced was detailed later in I Cor. 11:17-34.  Paul said, “It is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.”  I Cor. 11:20.  Division and communion form a dichotomy tantamount to dark and light.  They are mutually exclusive.  Please review Part IV, Lesson Five.

In our previous lesson, we understood the church of God functions as the body of Christ.  The body is held together by sharing (Eph. 4:14-16; I Pet. 4:7-11).  This is also the nature of the fellowship in the Lord’s church.  By its very nature, division is excluded in Christ’s body.  Fellowship and communion has been translated from the same Greek word, koinonia.  In harmony with his previous style, Paul has presented the lesson, “Now about spiritual gifts.”  The practice and theology was set forth in chapter twelve and the ethic has been established in chapter thirteen – the love chapter.  Paul used an actual case of the church members’ unethical use of their spiritual gifts in chapter fourteen.

One way these weaknesses in the church were manifested was in their “boasting.”  This had resulted in division in the church (I Cor. 1:10).  The division of the church of God is what the Corinthian letters are dedicated to solving.  Please review Part II, Lesson Two.  Since love does not “boast,” Paul introduced the topic of love as a solution for division (I Cor. 13:4).

We have a working definition of love in the church of God.  The following text was the conclusion of the description of the church functioning as the body of Christ.

So that there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  I Cor. 12:25-27    

Love in the heart and mind is another way one can know he or she is in the church of God “In Christ.”.  In fact, there are no wrong churches.  Like the Lord’s Supper, if we are not in communion with Jesus’ death and in fellowship with the assembled church, it is not the Lord’s Supper.  If people are not functioning in the body of Christ and in love, they are not God’s church.  According to the wisdom of God, there is only one church of God.  In this lesson we will understand how love makes it possible for a church to function as the body of Christ.

Wise people and scholars have offered many and diverse definitions of love.  Paul, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, did not offer a definition in one sentence – not even a complex sentence.  He defined love by listing traits of personality and character evident in those who have decided to love.  Perhaps, because of the low spiritual level of the Corinthian church members and some of their offending habits, he defined love several times by what it is not.

Word definitions; Greek and English from W. E. Vines Greek Dictionary:


Although, nine spiritual gifts had been provided for some members of the Corinthian church of God, Paul singled out “speaking in tongues” as the one they were playing with like children.  Please read I Cor. 14:1-33.  To speak in tongues simply meant some members of the church had been enabled by the Holy Spirit to verbalize their oral communication in a language they did not know.  Paul’s rhetorical question was:  “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”  I Cor. 14:6.

Since Corinth was a great trade center strategically located between Asia and Europe, there would have been a great opportunity for our Lord’s evangelism program.  His church was commissioned to do this work (Mark 16:15; I Cor. 15:58; II Cor. 10:15, 16).  As we see in Acts 2:1-12, Jesus did not enroll the apostles in a language school in order to teach the Jews who had come from several different nations.  They did not all speak the same language as the Apostle Peter, but they heard him in their own language.  Jesus Christ was in the “church building” business for God in the first century and the Holy Spirit was the salient person of Deity to fill the gap where formal education for the preachers, teachers and leaders was abbreviated.  “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.”  I Cor. 14:22.  Paul chose a similar case of unintelligent communication from Isaiah 28:7-13 to support his charge against some members:

Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.  In the Law it is written:  ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord.  I Cor. 14:20, 21         

The unbelievers may not listen but the Head of the body of which Christians are members thinks like His Father, “who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”   I Tim. 2:4.  Jesus’ evangelism mission is not contingent on whether the world realm people listen.  Evangelism is the mission of God’s church.  Unbelievers becoming believers is the proverbial “golden egg” produced by a healthy goose.  In this metaphor, the goose is the church.  However, Paul’s main interest in writing this letter was to edify and build up the church (I Cor. 14:3, 5, 12, 17, 26, 33).  He was trying to keep “the goose” healthy so Jesus’ evangelism program would be productive.  He believed the intelligent communication of the message of prophesies provided to some members by the Holy Spirit would work for “strengthening and encouraging” the church (I Cor. 14:3).

However, this same message could be an evangelism tool, if it had been communicated properly:

But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.  So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’  I Cor. 14:24, 25  

The context for what we read in chapter fourteen is the church assembled (14:26).  Because singing and praying were mentioned, some of us may begin to visualize the Sunday morning hour of worship.  To some religious people, this is church.  With this in mind some will start to form a list of what and how things can or cannot be done scripturally.  These are people have somehow come to the conclusion Jesus came to earth to organize a better worship service for God.  Their goal is to get this Sunday worship correct and then they can proclaim they are the Lord’s church.  This is an example of a hypothesis “about what is a church” that is being passed on from one generation to another.  Paul was trying to solve this type of problem in his letters.  People who rally around preachers and teachers often accept their hypotheses as the gospel.  Forming a hypothesis is a part of learning but it must be up-graded every time we study the scriptures from which we developed the hypothesis.

His answer to their boasting problem was love.  His answer for those who were envious of those who were boasting was love.  Their jealousy and quarrelling would stop only after they started loving one another (I Cor. 3:3).  This is the manner in which Paul taught his great lesson on “the more excellent way.”  I Cor. 12:31.  Chapter 13, the love chapter, is properly understood between chapters 12 and 14.  Christians do not need to be concerned about the spiritual gifts coming from one Spirit because “when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”  I Cor. 13:10.  Either the perfection has come or it is coming.  The gifts provided by the Holy Spirit did not set up the perfect; otherwise, the Lord would be using them.  We will not need to be concerned about the gifts some members of the church received via the Holy Spirit because this program has been terminated.

“When or did the spiritual gifts listed in chapter twelve end?” This is the kind of questions with which some people love to spend time.  As interesting as they may be, the conclusion of the discussion will not help us develop love.  Love is the only growth process that will solve the division of fellowship problems in the church.  Knowledge, in some cases, “puffs up, but love builds up.”  I Cor. 8:1.  Since Christians are the church, this love must be in each of us to be effective and productive.  The Apostle Peter worked this out for us in II Pet. 1:4-11.  The divine nature of God is love (I John 4:11-17).  Mankind’s spirits have come from God.  We are designed to love Deity and other people.  We do not hate well.

We simply cannot be confident about our Judgment Day without having love (agape) as our identity.  Christians develop love.  Our goal is to become like God’s character because our spirits came from God (Matt. 5:48; Jas. 3:9).  We should not be foolish enough to look for grace at our judgment – the discussion will be “deeds produced by love.”   I Cor. 13:1-3; II Cor. 5:10.  Now Christians “live by faith and not by sight.”  II Cor. 5:7.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  I Cor. 13:12.  Paul may have had other issues in mind when he made this statement, but it fits the Judgment Day scene in many ways.  We desire to develop our spirit that came from God, which is now our “self,” into such a person Jesus will know when we meet Him as our judge (Matt. 7:23; Heb. 9:27, 28).  “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent.”  John 17:3.

Developing love in our “self” by loving others, with unselfish motives, is greater in value than our faith and hope.  When we receive what we presently hope for, which is the focal point of our faith, faith and hope will no longer be a part of “who we are.”  After our spirits, that is our “selves,” leave our bodies love will remain; therefore, “the greatest of these is love.”  I Cor. 13:13.  This is the treasure we are now laying up in heaven (Matt. 6:20).

Unselfish motives make the difference as to whether what we do for others is love, or “practicing our righteousness” to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1).  Please read I Cor. 13:1-3.  If these members who were endowed with the gifts of tongues and prophecy did not combine their usage of the gifts with love, it would not benefit them, personally.  They would not gain love in their “selves.”  Christians do benefit by helping others.  We develop the “indescribable gift” of love in our person (II Cor. 9:15).

Even though the exercises of building up the church by the use of our abilities in the manner we have chosen to function in the body of Christ may appear to fail at times, love does not fail.  While serving others with pure motives for doing for them what is strengthening, comforting and encouraging, we gain by becoming the quality of love we practice.  We love people; therefore, we love our selves because we are people.  If we love our “selves,” we want to fix what we see wrong when we examine ourselves (II Cor. 13:5).  We will always need to strengthen our emotional attitudes that have their roots in love (Matt. 5:4, 7, 9, 10; I Thess. 4:9, 10).  In some cases a pat on the back for our service will satisfy our innate need for glory; however, if this “pat on the back” was the motivation for our behavior we have a problem.  This changes the “playing field.”  This behavior is not an act of love, as it is described in chapter thirteen.  There is no gain for our character.  People who do not love themselves are not capable of loving others, unless they hope for some personal benefit.  This is not the definition of the Greek word “agape” translated love in chapter thirteen.

Because some members were thinking like children, Paul used many rhetorical questions in chapter fourteen to help the men in the church make better use of the gifts, or endowments, they had received from the Holy Spirit.  Since young children learn on the concrete level, he brought his teaching down to the “queue up” instructional level (I Cor. 14:27-31).  This all came under the heading of “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”  I Cor. 14:40.  “So that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”  14:31.  “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  14:33.  The human body and all of nature conforms to the orderliness of God.  The church of God “in Christ” must strive to function according to the law of life of the new covenant.  We are the body of Christ held together by the “Deity” quality of love in each member.

Paul followed the statement, “God is not a God of disorder” with “women should remain silent in the churches.”  14:34.  A century ago, even the people in the “world realm” would not have reacted much more than “raising an eyebrow” to this statement.  Today, women all over the world are celebrating victory over the Apostle Paul’s so-called antifeminist attitude.  Neither women’s liberation nor male chauvinism was the issue in this portion of this letter; therefore, we will leave these subjects for the language scholars and philosophers to debate.

Paul’s concern was maintaining peace in the assembly of the saints.  The questions we want to ask are: Was Jesus concerned only about the chaotic meetings of the Corinthian church where the male members were playing with their ability to speak in tongues or was He concerned about maintaining peace in all the meetings of the Lord’s church?  Was this statement Paul’s wisdom or did he receive this message via the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:12, 13)?  Where and when did female members of the church prophesy (I Cor. 11:4)?  How was a woman to inquire about an issue concerning her function in the church if she did not have a husband who attended the assemblies?   Please review Part IV, Lesson Six.

He did inform us “that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.”  14:37.  One thing is clear; it would have been a violation of the Lord’s declaration for the women members of the church to do anything other than remain silent during some portions of the assembly of the Corinthian church if the leaders were having difficulty maintaining order.  This raises other questions:  Were the women allowed to sing out loud, or even sing at all?  Or were they actually singing and praying in the assembly Paul had in mind when he said, “women should remain silent.”  14:15-17.  So we see one questions begs another and this has often given Satan an opportunity to “outwit us.”  II Cor. 2:11.

As was suggested in Lesson Six, we need to maintain the presence of the broader laws of life when the scripture we are studying tends to demand a legalist rule.  Please consider the following principles:

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  I Cor. 14:33.

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”  I Cor. 11:3.

“’Everything is permissible’” – but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  I Cor. 10:23, 24.

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.”  Gal. 5:4.

Some may still ask, “Well what is the rule?”  This is the point of chapters 12-14, the church functions as the body of Christ.  The metaphor in chapter twelve for understanding this concept is our own body.  So, if we ask our doctor for a rule to stop pain, he or she will select the rule to correct our ailment that is in accordance with God’s law of nature for our bodies.  All people function in the church of God according to God’s law of life for our spirits – our “selves.”  The rule in chapter thirteen is love.  We may need to be reminded that from Adam to Moses the “law of life” did not convict sinners.  Death still reigned but the Law of Moses did not solve the problem of sin and death in mankind (Rom. 5:13, 14; 7:7).   Making a rule belonging to the category of the State or Moses’ Law will not stop a man from boasting about his right to be the head of the family.  Love will move him to serve in his role as husband and father (Eph.  5:22-6:4).  Law will not stop a woman who wants to usurp authority over her husband.  Love for God’s natural laws and her role as her husband’s help-meet are the cure for women who want to usurp authority over men (I Tim. 2:11-15).

In closing, Paul proposed two rhetorical questions for those who were trying to undermine his apostleship and for any of us who dare challenge the Lord’s commands; “Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?”  I Cor. 14:36.

Questions for Discussion

  1. In what way did Paul apply his previous literary style to I Corinthians chapters 12-14?
  2. In what sense can it be said, “by the church’s very nature, division is excluded?”
  3. Please mark this statement true or false.  “If people are not functioning in the body of Christ, they are not in God’s church.”
  4. What method did Paul employ to define love?
  5. Name the spiritual gift some members of the church were abusing that Paul chose to dedicate most of chapter fourteen.
  6. For what purpose was the Holy Spirit empowering some members to use the gift in your foregoing answer?
  7. Do the members of a congregation of the Lord’s church have the privilege of deciding if they want to organize and do an evangelism program?  Can they choose not do it if people are not hearing?
  8. The word church refers to people who have been called out of Satan’s kingdom and transferred to Christ kingdom.  These people are the church whether they are assembled for some specific purpose or not assembled together.  The comments Paul made in chapter fourteen should be understood in which context, assembled or not assembled?
  9. How should the “first day of the week” worship to God be ordered to conform to other assembles of the church, according Paul’s instructions in chapter fourteen?
  10. List some of the weaknesses of members of the Corinthian church that their individual practice of love would strengthen.
  11. Why do present day Christians not need to dedicate much time for determining when gifts endowed by the Holy Spirit ceased?
  12. What is the logical answer for why gifts from the Holy Spirit ceased?
  13. Describe how the attribute of love in a Christian will be an important issue for us on Judgment Day.
  14. Explain how love becomes a part of who we are.
  15. Sometimes the programs based on love we plan and do as members of the body of Christ seem to fail.  How could Paul say love never fails?
  16. What makes the difference as to whether the deeds we do for others is the love described in chapter thirteen?
  17. What was the practical problem Paul was writing to solve in chapter fourteen?
  18. What would be wrong with posting a sign where the church assembles that reads; “All women must remain silent?”

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply