Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Looking After the Finances

 1 Cor 16:2

What Paul says about the particular situation he was discussing - the collection for the saints in Jerusalem - contains some very wise and practical directions which provide a sound general guide from the apostle for financial practice in stewardship in the church for our day as well as his.

The principles he sets out are:

(a) “On the first day”: This reference (with the others which we find in the New Testament) indicates that the Christians made a practice of meeting together on the first day of every week (i.e., on the Sunday). Their giving is thus to be systematic, not sporadic, and it is tied in with the regular Christian worship, which would provide an ongoing reminder and motivation and stimulus for such systematic giving.

(b) “Of every week”: Their giving is not only to be systematic but regular, and not occasional, or a matter of whim or impulse. The carrying out of this instruction will require planning and preparation, and will mean the incorporation of this Christian stewardship within the framework of a household’s regular outgoings.

(c) “Each of you is to put something aside”: Everyone is to be committed to this program of giving. It is not just for those who feel like it, or who are richer than the rest, or who believe themselves called to be liberal, as if there are others who may consider themselves excused from participation. Whether the sum of money set aside is small or large, each of them is to be involved in this project. The responsibility of giving aid to the saints was an obligation which every one of the brothers in the churches is to acknowledge and accept. So also today the same principle applies: all the people of God have a responsibility of Christian stewardship and as stewards should set an amount aside on a systematic and regular basis.

(d) “As he may prosper”: Their giving is to be proportional to their means. The principle of proportional giving goes back into the Old Testament, where people gave a tenth of their increase (the tithe) to God. This principle of tithing is confirmed in the New Testament. That Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek is mentioned in Hebrews (7:2) in a context that indicates that this is viewed favorably. Their tithing is the only thing for which Jesus ever commended the Pharisees: “These you ought to have done”, Jesus tells them, “without neglecting the other, weightier, matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23, cf. ESV and others). The Jews in the church would recognize the tithe as their minimum obligation in giving to God’s service under the Old Cov­enant, after which one could make an offering (Malachi 3:8), and they would not think that under the New Covenant they could please God by doing less as stewards of what he had given them. The New Testament exhortations to generosity only make sense if seen as exhorting Christians to do more than they would have done as the people of God under the Old Covenant. Proportional giving exemplifies in the material sphere the general principle that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

(e) “So that there will be no collecting when I come”: Paul’s instructions will ensure that the matter is handled in the best possible way, so that the congregation’s contributions will all be built up and put aside pending Paul’s coming, rather than there being need for a quick unplanned and unprepared-for collection when he arrives. Translated into the circumstances of stewardship for today, this would indicate a putting aside on a regular basis of a suitable proportion of our income so that we have our tithe, our “Christian stewardship reserve”, available to expend in whatever way in Christ’s service the Spirit brings to our notice. Some part will indeed go on a weekly basis for the support of ministry in our usual congregation, and some in regular support of evangelism, outreach, and relief of need and missionary work around the world, and some will remain “set aside” against the “arrival” of some Christian need to which we can then apply what we have saved up for this purpose.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from


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The Practical Problem of Peer Pressure

1 Corinthians 15:32,33

For many people, the only significant factor that acts as a brake upon their totally giving way to their lower nature is their concern about what others may think of them. If then they find their peers accepting low standards of behavior and engaging in activities of a very dubious nature, the pressure upon a person’s morals and character is almost irresistible. And then the attitude a person will adopt - and the rationale they may well give subsequently for their behavior - is likely to be, “But everybody is doing it.” As Paul puts it so succinctly here, “Bad company ruins good morals.”

We see this insidious pressure, both subtle and open, all around us today. Peer pressure to conform to the world in our language, our goals, our behavior. If there is no life but this present one, why shouldn’t we?

But we will act differently if we believe that this earthly life is but a preparation for the life that is to come, and moreover that the choices we make in this life are decisive for the outcome in the next, seeing that (as Hebrews 9:27 puts it), “it is ap­poin­ted for man to die once, and after that comes judgement”, for “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Ro­m­ans 14:12). Thus when we live as those who will have to give an account to God, and say a firm “no” to ubiquitous peer pre­s­­s­ure, we are demonstrating in our lives our confidence in the Lord, and his gospel, and the reality of life beyond this one.

Indeed, as Paul says, if the dead are not raised, why not simply indulge ourselves before we die? But if we believe in the resurrection then we will turn away from a life of indul­gence and sin (v.34), we will not let peer pressure influence us, and instead we will live our lives as “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (v.58).


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What Was Going On At Corinth?

When this chapter is examined, it will be found that there are two places (verses 2, and 14-16) which could be under­stood to refer to the speaker in tongues using a non-human language, but neither of these places demands such an interpretation to explain them (both places could refer to the speaker speaking in a human language that he himself did not happen to understand, and indeed in both places Paul could be referring to the speaker using a human language which he himself did in fact understand - see my comments on these verses).

Some exegetes consider that verses 4 and 28 also indicate the use of non-human language (or at least a language not under­stood by the speaker), but this idea is being read into the text, not taken from it - there is absolutely nothing in the wording of those verses to suggest that a human language is not meant.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence in the passage for taking “tongues” to mean, as in Acts, human languages.

Verses 10-11 speak of the “all sorts of languages in the world”, and add that “none of them is without meaning” - which in context means “meaning to human beings”; and “if I do not know what that meaning is, then I and the speaker are foreigners to each other” (the Greek word “foreigner” here, βαρβαρος barbaros, specifically means a person speaking a foreign language). Paul’s next words, “So with yourselves” indicate that his comment is describing what is happening at Corinth, and thus is a comment about the nature of tongues.

V.21 quotes from “the Law” (Deuteronomy 28:47-51 and, in particular, Isaiah 28:11-12) which refers to “men of strange tongues”, and this prophecy from the Old Testament is immediately used (v.22) to explain the purpose of tongues in the church of Paul’s day. As the strange tongues then were a sign to the unbelieving Israelites of God’s judgement, so also now (i.e., in Paul’s day) tongues are a sign for unbelievers. But “tongues” in v.21 refers to the foreign language spoken by the Assyrian invaders! There is no basis upon which “tongues” in Paul’s consequence clause, “Tongues, then” (v.22), can be given a different meaning: it similarly is referring to human languages - foreign, but human.

Now that we have looked at all that Paul is saying about speaking in tongues (he doesn’t mention it again in any of his other Epistles), what are we to make of it? In particular, exactly what was going on at Corinth?

The core of the situation at Corinth is that there are some there who have the gift of being able to speak a foreign language that they never learnt. This is a perpetual miracle - and it can be called forth on de­­mand. Probably these people were some of the initial one hun­­dred and twenty (Acts 1:15) who were given this gift on the day of Pen­­tecost (Acts 2:1) - and like other grace-gifts, when once given they still have it.

Perhaps others also have subsequently been given this same gift: I do not see any evidence about this one way or the other.

We can imagine that these people are being encouraged by others in the church to use this gift - not for any useful purpose, but just to demonstrate that they have it. It brings them pres­­tige. It is a miracle on tap, they are happy to oblige. This is an example of what we might call the “wow!” factor at work.
But I believe the evidence indicates that there is another group at Corinth also: people who can speak a foreign language anyway (either because they learnt it in the ordinary way or because it is their mother tongue). They are also using this “ability” - as far as others are concerned, it all sounds the same! And they are thus able to gain the same prestige and recognition in the Corin­thian church as the first group.

Griffiths 57ff. says about this:
"How are we to understand this word γλωσσα [glōssa]? Does it mean that when we speak in ‘tongues’, we speak to God in prayer? That is certainly a possible understanding of it. Or could it mean [rather] that if you speak in your “mother-tongue”, which may be incomprehensible to the rest of the congregation, that you are certainly understood by God, who understands all languages, but you only edify yourself because nobody else understands what you are saying? ... After all, if on the day of Pentecost Jerusalem was full of people speaking many languages, then it is not too far-fetched to expect that in a large cosmopolitan seaport like Corinth, you would not infrequently have overseas visitors: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt, districts of Libya around Cyrene, Cretans and Arabians and visitors from Rome. In such a multi-lingual port, there must have been many occasions when someone wanted to speak in their own language, which would be incomprehensible to the predominantly Greek-speaking congregation. ... Should people be allowed to contribute in unfamiliar languages? Everything Paul says is explicable in terms of regulating this problem."
So, it is highly probable that there were these first two groups in the congregation. But Paul seems surprised by the number of tongues-speakers at Corinth, and I think he suspects there is a third group: those who are just faking it, to receive the same elite status held by these others. At any rate, there are parts of Paul’s teaching that seem to me to be deliberately wide enough to cover all three such groups, as if Paul himself is not totally sure what is going on at Corinth, and he is making certain he covers all possibilities.

If my suspicions are correct, there is a basic core at Corinth of what we could call “genuine” tongues-speakers, with a miraculous gift of speaking an unlearned foreign language, plus some others who have managed to join this elite group. But whatever the situation at Corinth, Paul can clearly see its bad effects, and his teaching is directed at bringing it under control without overtly denying the existence and genuineness of miraculous tongues-speaking as a grace gift from God.

Does this gift of tongues exist today?

The miraculous element - the ability to speak, unlearned, a foreign language? No: that is said by Paul (14:22) to be a sign gift, and it did not continue beyond the apostolic era.

But enhanced language ability? Most definitely “yes”.

This was Calvin’s understanding. In his Commentary on 1 Cor­in­thians [286] he describes “the gift of tongues” as “somebody speaking in a foreign language”, for “tongue” “means a foreign language”. Similarly he says [263],
"Interpreters translated the foreign languages into the native speech. They did not at that time acquire these gifts by hard work or studying; but they were theirs by a wonderful revelation of the Spirit."
Calvin holds that the miraculous ability of speaking and interpreting a foreign language is not ours today, but God gives to the Church those people who will study languages using natural ability: “knowledge of languages” continues in the Church to “serve the needs of this life” [280], but is now acquired through study. Then he adds [287],
God has bestowed no gift on His Church without there being some purpose for it; and tongues were of some use at that time. ... In our own day when there is a crying need for the knowledge of tongues, and when, at our stage in history, God in His wonderful kindness has rescued them from darkness and brought them to light, there are great theologians who, faced with that situation, are loud and violent in their protests against them. Since there can be no doubt that the Holy Spirit has bestowed undying honour on tongues in this verse [14:5], it is easy to deduce what sort of spirit moves those critics who make strong attacks against the study of languages with as much insulting language as they can muster.
To sum up then: I find that a consideration of the text leads to these conclusions:

(a) That “speaking in tongues” always has in the New Testament the meaning that it has in Acts 2, that is, speaking in a human language;

(b) that the “speaking in tongues” at Pentecost was the miraculous granting of ability to speak in a human language which one had not learnt;

(c) that this miraculous ability was used in the preaching of the gospel in those first years of the early church, and that this was a sign to unbelievers;

(d) that foreign-language-speaking at Corinth had become a distortion of the Pentecost gift, both in purpose and execution. The speaker may have been given the ability to speak the foreign language by miraculous divine gift, or by heightened natural ability - or in fact he may have been speaking a language he had learned in the ordinary way: or he may have been pretending to have this miraculous language-speaking ability. Quite possibly all three of these things were happening in the “speaking in tongues” at Corinth; and three similar equivalents apply in relation to “interpretation”.

(e) that this miraculous granting of the gift ceased in the early church by the time the writing of the New Testament was complete;

(f) that such miraculous ability to speak in a language which one has not learnt is not being granted to Christians today, but that the gift of tongues (without the miraculous element) is to have a facility in learning to communicate the gospel in a foreign language, and the gift of interpretation/trans­lation is the ability to translate the message of the gospel from one language into another. Both of these are skills in which by God’s choice some people are better equipped than others; and both of them God gives to his church today.

We may well say that so-and-so has a gift for languages, and we speak more truly than we realize. For we refer to a ­natural flair for learning another language, and this is a God-given ability, just as another person will have a flair for music, or mathematics, or teaching, or administration.

Such a gift is of immense value to a person called to be a foreign missionary. Michael Griffiths 58f., a world missionary leader, explains:
"Nowadays, before accepting somebody as a missionary, we give them a Modern Language Aptitude Test to get a rough idea of whether they have any natural aptitude for languages. ... No missionary discussion today can overlook the fact that an essential component in a missionary’s usefulness is going to be his ability to speak one or more languages. For the first term of missionary service, the time involved in learning a language and the restrictions of inadequate language will be a major factor. In several countries people really need to learn two new languages! Any missionary society constantly wrestles with this problem of communication. ... People who do not speak a language are always impressed by another’s apparent fluency, and readily call it a ‘gift for language’. Anybody who regularly has to preach in a recently-acquired language recognises how much he needs the grace gift from the Holy Spirit to speak effectively. It is an essential gift for taking the gospel to all nations!"
Indeed, if one has such a gift, one may recognize it as equip­ping you for missionary service. Oh that such people should test out and recognize their calling and equipping of God to take up the challenge of missionary service, whether fulltime or, like Paul for much of his ministry, as “tentmakers”! The need for workers in the fields white for harvest is immense, and a facility for languages is a great asset in preparing for this ministry, and responding to this call.
Similarly, the gift of interpretation for today means the ability to turn what is said in one language into its meaningful and accurate equivalent in another. This is more than just being able to speak both languages - it involves being able to recognize the equivalent of the one in the other. Michael Griffiths’s comment (65) about this is:
"Let us remember again that the understanding of the word as “trans­­­­lation” still involves a spiritual gift. Those of us who listen fre­­­quently to translated messages, or who have to be interpreted our­­­selves, are very clear that a gifted interpreter manifests the unction of the Spirit just as much or even more than the speaker whom he interprets. There can be no doubt that the plain meaning “in­ter­­­­preter” (of one known language into another) requires the grace of God to do it effectively to the blessing of the congregation."
Thus in today’s world the gifts of “tongues” and “interpretation” can be seen as natural abilities which God gives to one person or another. Michael Griffiths 68 describes them as “natural aptitudes which would subsequently become enriched by spiritual gifts”.
Griffiths goes on:
"While we must agree that we cannot succeed in spiritual work merely by relying upon natural aptitudes, the sovereign God may well give to his servants from their mother’s womb natural abilities which, when surrendered, sanctified and transfigured by spiritual blessings, can be effectively used to God’s glory."
This assessment of “tongues” and “interpretation” covers all the issues which arise in the understanding of 1 Corinthians 12 to 14, but it leaves unresolved one remaining major issue: what then is one to make of modern-day “speaking in tongues”?
I discuss this below, in Excursus Four, “Tongues Speaking Today: A Comment”.

For those of you who would like to look into this further, I recommend the very warm and helpful approach to answering this significant question found in J I Packer’s book Keep in Step With the Spirit.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from


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Worship Then and Now

Johnson takes 1 Cor 14:26-33 as a total picture of worship in the congregation at Corinth. He says,
"These verses (vv.26-33) give a rare picture of a Christian church service in these early years (c.54-55). We find no leaders, no reading of the Law, no set order, and no single sermon (different from Jewish synagogue worship). Instead we find a democratically functioning group, with one offering a Christian song (psalmos, “psalm,” “hymn,” “Christian song”), then another giving a word of instruction, another bringing a revelation (cf. v.6), still another speaking in a tongue and then giving an interpretation (or another giving an interpretation, v.26)."
The presumption behind this understanding of these verses 26-33 is that whatever isn’t expressly mentioned didn’t happen. That is one way of interpreting the evidence, I suppose. There is another. This is to view this passage as addressing issues in need of correction or attention or clarification, and not mentioning those things that were “standard” or “normal” or “correct”. For example, there is no mention at this point of celebrating the Lord’s Supper - there is lengthy discussion of this a few chapters earlier, of course (11:17-34E). And there is no specific mention in 14:26-33 of prayer or Scripture reading being included in the worship. Yet we would expect its inclusion - and justifiably so. A picture of a time of worship in Corinth (and other churches) needs to be built up on the basis of all the evidence available to us.

Firstly, Christian worship was initially patterned on the Jewish synagogue worship. And why not? Christians held the same faith in the same God - but with the conviction that the promised Messiah had come. James the president or bishop of the early church in Jerusalem even refers to the church assembly by the term “synagogue” (James 2:2) - a reference that reveals the concept of the same worship pattern. We may legitimately take it, then, that there would indeed be prayer and the reading of the Scriptures in Christian as in Jewish worship (2 Corinthians 3:15), doubtless plus other features that were an accepted part of the Jewish scene.

For example, that the men and the women sat separately. One reason why such a feature as this is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament is that, if it were, this could well then have been taken as a Holy Spirit-given example for us to follow and so could have become normative for Christian worship, though such a thing was not at all the divine intention.

The conduct of Jewish worship was in the hands of “rulers of the synagogue”, elders. There is no suggestion in the New Testament that Christian worship would be different or that Paul would choose to diverge from the synagogue in such matters. To the contrary: Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches they founded (Acts 14:23), and Paul addressed the elders of the churches in his ministry (Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1), and wrote of the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5). He spoke of the elders who ruled and who taught in the congregation (1 Timothy 5:17). Peter similarly addresses elders (e.g. 1 Peter 5:1). Paul’s concern very much included that there be orderliness and decorum in the congregation, so that the people of God could be edified in their gathering without hindrance or distraction: let all things be done decently and in order (14:33a, 40).

It is against this background then that we are to interpret 14:26-33. The singing and the speaking (plus everything else not specifically mentioned here) must all be conducive to edification.

Johnson 268 assumes that opportunity will be given at each Lord’s Day gathering for all the prophets to speak (v.31):
"A series of two or three prophets spoke, then there was discussion, followed by another series of two or three prophets and then discussion, until all the prophets had spoken."
The “discussion” he envisages as being when “the congregation as a whole sifts the content of the speech” (268).

There is absolutely no reason from the text for taking “you can all prophesy one by one” to mean, “at the one gathering of the congregation, on the one occasion”. Much better to take it sequentially over whatever may be an appropriate period of time, so that the prophets could all share whatever had been revealed to them by the Lord (v.30).

I doubt that a prophet was a prophet for all occasions. On all topics. It is more likely that the Spirit specially leads one person to understand in depth one particular issue or area of truth, and others similarly in different areas. Then from the variety and multiplicity of their respective contributions the whole counsel of God will emerge. Just as now each different book of Scripture makes its contribution to our total understanding. I take it that when Paul says “you can all prophesy” he is not meaning “so that everybody is able to have their say, lest somebody gets offended by being left out”; but in order that all prophets who have received something from the Lord can share it.

The lesson and example of this for our worship services today is that we should also give time and opportunity for prayer and praise, for singing and Scripture-reading, and for proclamation of the message of the teaching of the Lord from the Word of God. Seeing that God’s channel of communication prior to the availability of the New Testament canon in the churches was by revelation to (apostles and) prophets, there is a sense in which the prophets at that time sharing a message revealed by the Lord was equivalent to our reading from the New Testament epistles today.
Perhaps, though, the idea of several speakers (tongues speakers - plus interpreters - plus two or three prophets) all contributing on the one occasion to the teaching and edification of the congregation is something which may give us pause for reflection and thought in the light of our usual present-day practice of having one speaker bringing one sermon during a worship service. Alternatively, we may feel that this aspect of a Corin­thian gathering for worship was primarily intended for the particular circumstances of those times, and is not intended to be a pattern for today.

One thing is absolutely clear, though, and should also be our goal and purpose in our worship today: that there was an important place in the gathering of the congregation given to the teaching and instruction of the people in the truths of God (i.e. what to believe and how to behave). And in this the practice in the church at Corinth (and as Paul would say, in all the churches - 7:17; 11:16; 14:33) was consistent with what was done in the early church from its beginning (Acts 2:42) when they were all so excited to see that God has broken through into history in a new and special way.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from


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Tourist or Team Player?

How are we to view all that Paul has been saying in 1 Cor 12?

The church is not a tour bus, with one driver plus a tour guide, who comments on the scenery and the sights as the tour members travel along.

Rather, the church is a symphony orchestra, with a conductor and a manager and possibly a soloist singer or performer - but every member has an instrument to play and a job to do. You don’t have members of the orchestra who sit and do nothing, and just watch and listen while the others play their instruments. Some instruments in an orchestra are numerous, with many players - like the wind section and the strings; for others there are only one or two - like the percussion or the harp. Some instruments are playing continuously or almost all the time; while other instruments are only involved occasionally in playing. But every orchestra member has a task - there is some skill or another which they have - and when the music requires it, they are there to ­perform.

That’s the analogy that appeals to me. But those of you who are into football might relate more to the picture of a team of football players in a match, where every player on the field is there because he has a role to fulfill and a skill to use.

Certainly we can all relate to Paul’s picture of the members of the church, the body of Christ, being like parts of the human body: each part has an indispensable role to play in the optimum functioning of the entire body. And not only an indispensable role but a unique role - one part does not attempt to take over the proper role of another part. And all the parts are needed.

In some areas of the church today we have certainly got this mixed up. In numerous places some “parts of the body” - with certain God-given endowments, functions, and roles - are seeking to (or at least wanting to) take over other roles, which need different skills and gifts.

Or, alternatively, like tourists on the tour bus, they are ­content to be just going along for the ride, enjoying the sights.

Johnson 220, comparing the pattern of the involvement of all Christians in the life and worship of the church as Paul sets it out here with what is often found today, says, "greater emphasis on the multiplicity and diversity of the Spirit’s ministry is needed in many churches, where the congregation’s role has been severely reduced to being spectators to the 'dance of the clergy'."
What are to be our responses to all these truths? We are to have a threefold response:

Firstly, we need to identify, and train and develop, and use, our own gifts for the benefit of all, as God intended.

Secondly, we have a responsibility, as a church, to help others do the same. So we need to mentor people to find their gifts, and then ensure that, as a church, we provide them with training and practice, and opportunities to use their gifts.

And then, thirdly, we need to recognize the “more excellent way”. The Corinthians were vainly chasing after what they considered to be “higher” or “better” or “greater” gifts. “No,” says Paul. “I will show you something far better and far more important than that!” And he writes for them - and us! - about a way of living, a way of life: chapter 13, “The Way of Love”. It is as if he is saying here, “Pause and ponder: Fruit is more important than gifts - any gift. And fruit is something for all Christians to cultivate.”

Paul now interrupts his discussion of “gifts and the Cor­inthians” to explain the Way of Love. But really it is not an interruption of his theme: it is a clarification of it. For Paul is not disparaging gifts in these chapters - to the contrary, he has been emphasizing how vital, how indispensable they are. And he is not setting up here some kind of conflict between gifts and love and saying, “Choose love.”
He is saying that love is for every Christian to have and show, whereas gifts are each only for particular individuals. But far more than this: he is showing that love is the sphere within which a gift - any gift, every gift - is to be exercised.

Whichever view we adopt concerning 12:31a - whether we accept it as an imperative, “But seek for the greater gifts” or take it as an indicative, “But you are seeking for the greater gifts” - it is concerned with the seeking of gifts. And so Paul’s response now to this situation is, “And I will show you a still better way - a way more surpassing, more outstanding, more superior than any gift in itself can ever be, a way which far surpasses all others.” He then speaks to them of the way of love, and in the first stanza (13:1-3) of what some have called a poem to love he emphasizes that any gift and every gift without love is pointless and useless and valueless. This is ­followed, in his second stanza (13:4-7), by the setting forth of the intrinsic excellence of love, and then by a final stanza demon­strating the eternal value of love (13:8-13E).

The chapter personifies love, giving it a life and dimension of its own. In fact we can see how what Paul writes is fulfilled in Christ, so that it can be said of him: “Christ is patient and kind; Christ is not jealous or boastful”, and so on throughout. Or perhaps, even better, we can see how it is really Christ’s love which fulfils all that Paul says here.

But more than this: chapter 13 is an unconscious self-portrait. When in his introduction in 12:31 Paul says that he is going to show the Corinthians the most excellent way, his choice of verb is interesting. Significant. He uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). Present tense, “I show”; or alternatively, “I exhibit or demonstrate”. This is usually taken to mean that he “will tell” them of the “more excellent way”, and then he does so in the chapter which now follows.

And I do not doubt that this is so. But he does not use here the future “will tell” - he uses δεικνυμι (deiknumi). He is saying, “I am showing you the way.” And I would say that whether he had this point ­consciously in mind or not, he did indeed show them, and present to them, and exhibit, this love in his own life and dealings with the Corinthians: for he exemplified this love.

That is, I take it that in describing how love behaves he is speaking out of his own understanding and experience. Because in this, as he says in 11:1, “I follow Christ.”

So that when we are (as Paul says in 14:1 that we are) to pursue after love, it is to love like Christ himself that we are to seek. This love, God’s own love, is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us (Romans 5:5).

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from


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The Truth About Temptation To Sin

I want to draw attention to the great assurances which Paul brings us in 1 Cor 10:13.

The first section states, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” At times when we find ourselves severely tempted, we are likely to feel that this is a quite unique or particularly strong temptation - and we may be in danger therefore of thinking that in these circumstances we cannot resist it, or even that we are justified in giving in to it. Hence the relevance of this first encouragement: the temptations that we face are the same kind that everyone else has to face. Our temptation is not unique and we are not alone in ­having to face it.

Next, Paul says, “God is faithful”, πιστος (pistos), that is, “reliable”, “dependable”, “trustworthy”. We are not facing this temptation on our own; God is with us - we can rely upon that absolutely.

Then, “he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”. There are some temptations which would be so strong that they would totally overwhelm us; but God does not permit temptations like that to come to us. He allows us to be tempted; but he filters the temptations that could come to us, and only permits those that we can bear.

At times when some particularly strong temptation is attacking us and we feel almost overcome by it, we may ­marvel at the level of confidence that this indicates God has in us! But we have this word of absolute assurance that whatever that temptation is, we can endure it. This is the clearest ­possible statement of a great biblical truth: that it is never necessary for us to sin; succumbing to temptation is never inevitable, because “God can be trusted not to allow you to suffer any temptation beyond your powers of endurance” (Phillips translation).

Finally, we are told how this can be so. It is not because of the inner strength and determination of the individual person. This strength and determination is required - the Hebrew Christians were rebuked because (Hebrews 12:4, NASB), “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood, in your striving against sin.” We need to strive against sin. The encouragement of Paul’s word to the Corinthians is that we can know that we can strive successfully. Thus we will not give up the struggle. We are assured that with the temptation God will also provide the way of escape, so that we are able to endure it.

What is the way of escape?

Paul does not give the answer here as fully as we might have wished - but the way of escape will vary according to the nature of the particular temptation. It will involve prayerfully appropriating the grace of God and the power of the indwelling Spirit, putting on the armor of God, and taking hold of the teaching of Scripture; it will also involve something appropriate to each type of temptation to sin. To the rich man who was beset by covetousness Jesus said “Sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21); to the person being tempted to immorality Paul says, “Flee” (6:18). He has a similar word of instruction now in relation to idolatry.

Notice the careful balance in these two verses. In verse 12 we are reminded: sin is never impossible. And in verse 13 we are assured: sin is never inevitable. We find a similar balance between these two truths in 1 John 1:8 and 2:1: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us ... My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)


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Review of Progressive Publication of Matthew.

Paul D Larson has written a very detailed review of my book Progressive Publication of Matthew.

The review can be found at

[Click for "First Corinthians Commentary" contents, overview or order info.] [Click for "Ministry of Women" contents, overview or order info.] [Click for "Divorce and Remarriage" contents, overview or order info.] [Click for "Marriage and Divorce" contents, overview or order info.] [Click for "Learn to Read the GNT" contents, overview or order info.][Click for "The Sin we Treat as a Virtue" contents, overview or order info.][Click for "The Progressive Publication of Matthew" contents, overview or order info.] [Click to go to the Ward Powers Home Page.]