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May 4, 2012

1 Corinthians 13 in its Context – Part 1

Back to the Roots…
A "Growing Deeper" Bible Study
by Vera Six

1 Corinthians 13 in its Context – Part 1

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal…" (1 Cor:13:1)

1 Corinthians 13 is definitely one of the most beautiful passages of the Bible, and it is known for that not only to Christian believers. I wondered why the Apostle Paul had used these beautiful words in a letter to a church, and I found out that the context in 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 also deals greatly with the question of tongues to which chapter 13 refers. 

Paul addresses this whole letter to the Corinthian church of the first century, a church that had a lot of problems and divisions. Paul had to fight against the immorality of the congregation, for sexual purity, he had to resolve personal disputes, he taught them about marriage and Christian liberty as well as about how to worship at church and of the most important jobs and gifts for Christians at a church. 

Many Christians, however, have made something else out of this, and taken the Scriptures out of context to start their own Gospel that claims salvation by speaking in tongues. It is true, Paul mentions tongues in this letter, especially in Chapter 12, 13 and 14, which should be read and considered in FULL context, in its ENTIRETY. Whoever cares about God's Word will do so, and it is not so difficult to understand. Some Christians love to leave chapter 13 out, however, and just concentrate on the tongues question, because chapter 13 proves them wrong. I would love to shed a little Scriptural light on that, since I have seldom seen a topic that has brought more strife and division to the Body of Christ than this (apart from the homosexuals probably, and the New Age hocus pocus aka Emerging Church Movement).

Paul was actually not driving the Corinthians into praying in tongues but warning them not to overdo it, and he did certainly not claim it for salvation or an important gift, and the following verses might make this clearer when he wrote in chapter 12, after showing that there are many different gifts, but one Spirit, different administrations, but the same Lord and different operations, but the same God which worketh all in all. (v. 4-6) 

He mentions a number of gifts (v. 7-11), of which speaking in tongues and interpretation of this are the last gifts mentioned (v. 7-10). In verse 11 he emphasises: "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." There is no word of the necessity of any of the mentioned gifts for salvation. It is all up to God whom He provides with certain gifts, probably because different people need different gifts in different situations. Paul continues to point out that there is a diversity of people, gifts and jobs, but one Spirit, and that the Christians are all One Body that needs all of its parts equally. (v. 12-27)

Paul continues to give a list of callings in the following order: 

"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV)
"Diversities of tongues…" can you see on which place tongues are mentioned? 

Now, if Apostles are mentioned fist: Do I have to be an Apostle to be saved? Surely not. Neither do I have to pray in tongues for that which is mentioned last of all, not first of all. And this gets even clearer when Paul asks:

"Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?" (v. 12:29-30 KJV)

Paul ends chapter 12 with the following words:

"But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (verse 31)
Oh, what might this be, a "more excellent way"?

Did Paul probably make a mistake to put the Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 13, that deals with LOVE right after that last sentence? Definitely not! He points out what is really important, and it is NOT praying in tongues:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." (ch. 13:1-3) [...] 

This whole chapter ends (please read it completely in your Bible):

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV) 

The next chapter goes even more into detail and starts with the following words:

"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:1-5 KJV)

I will stop here and deal with 1 Corinthians 14 in a part 2 of this essay another time soon. But I highly recommend to all of you to read this chapter in context already. 

One more thing, please do not get me wrong… I love all my Charismatic brothers and sisters. I appreciate them very much and hope that their teachers stop telling them lies about the needs of praying in tongues for salvation. I do not mind if they do and I did not write this article to offend any of my friends, so please forgive me if I did anyway. I wrote it after a lot of prayer and to find out the truth in God's Holy Word. Truth is what any Christian should be looking for, right?
God Bless you all!

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