1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Part I

To the believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul delivered some of the most definitive and eloquent illustrations and instructions regarding relationships with one another. Beginning in chapter 12 of his first letter and continuing on through chapter 13, he clearly describes what must be for there to be unity and harmony among believers in the church.

These chapters are so important that we have been counseled to memorize them.

“The twelfth and thirteenth chapters of 1 Corinthians should be committed to memory, written in the mind and heart. Through His servant Paul, the Lord has placed before us these subjects for our consideration, and those who have the privilege of being brought together in church capacity will be united, understandingly and intelligently. The figure of the members which compose the body represents the church of God and the relation its members should sustain to one another.” Sermons and Talks, Book 2, 119, 120.

Different Gifts and Functions

In 1 Corinthians 12, the diversities of spiritual gifts given to the church are to help it become ready for the kingdom. They are to unite the church. After addressing spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses how these gifts work together in the body. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 15.

The Church is compared to the physical body. One lesson we can learn from this representation is that all parts of the body do not do the same thing, but all parts of the body work together for the benefit and blessing of the entire body. Paul illustrates this by asking a rhetorical question, “If the whole body [were] an eye, where [would be] the hearing? If the whole [were] hearing, where [would be] the smelling?” 1 Corinthians 12:17. As each part of the body has different functions, so each member of the church has different gifts or functions. Thus the whole is blessed by a diversity providing a unity that is far more powerful.

“The vine has many branches, but though all the branches are different, they do not quarrel. In diversity there is unity. All the branches obtain their nourishment from one source. This is an illustration of the unity that is to exist among Christ’s followers. In their different lines of work they all have but one Head. The same Spirit, in different ways, works through them. There is harmonious action, though the gifts differ. Study this chapter. You will see from it that the man who is truly united with Christ will never act as though he were a complete whole in himself. . . .

“The perfection of the church depends not on each member being fashioned exactly alike. God calls for each one to take his proper place, to stand in his lot to do his appointed work according to the ability which has been given him (Letter 19, 1901).” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1090.

Another lesson to be learned from the body representing the church is that just as the hand without the rest of the body is not much good, so one member working without the rest of the church is not much good. For the church to work as God would have it, each must fulfill a part. You may think that you cannot do very much, but every part has a necessary function. “By a comparison of the church with the human body, the apostle aptly illustrated the close and harmonious relationship that should exist among all members of the church of Christ.” The Acts of the Apostles, 317.

Notice something very significant about these gifts. They are given so that the body may work as a whole, not as individual parts. “God’s servants are to work together, blending in kindly, courteous order, ‘in honor preferring one another.’ Romans 12:10. There is to be no unkind criticism, no pulling to pieces of another’s work; and there are to be no separate parties. Every man to whom the Lord has entrusted a message has his specific work. Each one has an individuality of his own, which he is not to sink in that of any other man. Yet each is to work in harmony with his brethren. In their service God’s workers are to be essentially one. No one is to set himself up as a criterion, speaking disrespectfully of his fellow workers or treating them as inferior. Under God each is to do his appointed work, respected, loved, and encouraged by the other laborers. Together they are to carry the work forward to completion.” Ibid., 275, 276.

Care for One Another

Continuing on in 1 Corinthians 12:25, 26: “That there should be no schism in the body, but [that] the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with [it]; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with [it].” From these verses, we notice that the body feels for (cares for) other members of the body. I should not be biting and devouring any part of the body of Christ, but I should be working together with the body to keep it alive by caring for it. In this life, no one in his right mind cuts off part of his body or bites it. Just so, I should treat the spiritual body with love and concern.

In Romans 12:10–16, several specific graces of the spirit are identified. We are to be of one mind, kindly affectionate, esteem others better than ourselves, and give preference to them. “In the Lord’s plan human beings have been made necessary to one another. To every one God has entrusted talents, to be used in helping others to walk in the path of right. It is by unselfish service for others that we improve and increase our talents.

“Like the different parts of a machine, all are closely related to one another, and all dependent upon one great Center. There is to be unity in diversity. No member of the Lord’s firm can work successfully in independence. Each is to work under the supervision of God; all are to use their entrusted capabilities in His service, that each may minister to the perfection of the whole. . . .

“He who claims to be a Christian should examine himself and see if he is as kind and considerate of his fellow beings as he desires his fellow beings to be of him. . . . Christ taught that rank or wealth should make no difference in our treatment of one another and that in the light of heaven all are brethren. Earthly possessions or worldly honor do not count in God’s valuation of man. He created all men equal; He is no respecter of persons. He values a man according to the virtue of his character.” In Heavenly Places, 287.

Christian Love

Concluding 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul pleads, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” What is the “more excellent way”? It is Christian love, which we all must have. Love is one of the key ingredients for the body to stay together.

“The Lord desires me to call the attention of His people to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Read this chapter every day, and from it obtain comfort and strength. Learn from it the value that God places on sanctified, heaven-born love, and let the lesson that it teaches come home to your hearts. Learn that Christlike love is of heavenly birth, and that without it all other qualifications are worthless.” Review and Herald, July 21, 1904.

The invitation contained in this short paragraph is to read, meditate, and learn of heavenly love. If we do not understand the value God places on heavenly love, all other qualifications, however wonderful they may be, are worthless. It is vital for all to become interested in 1 Corinthians 13 and to study what true love really is, for this is the kind of love that God wants His followers to possess. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35. The world must see that the followers of Christ have His love in their lives.

“In the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians the apostle Paul defines true, Christlike love. It would be well to print this chapter in small type in every paper issued from our presses. Put it in the Gospel Herald that it may preach its living sermon wherever the paper may go. This chapter is an expression of the obedience of all who love God and keep His commandments. It is brought into action in the life of every true believer.” The Gospel Herald, January 1, 1901.

Study of Heavenly Love

We can begin a study of heavenly love in the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become [as] sounding brass or a clanging 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, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

These verses tell us that we can do a variety of “good” things, but if we fail to do them for the right reason, which is love, they are worthless. What matters is the motive as to why I am doing the things that I do. Is it because I love God and my neighbor as myself? Having eloquent speech, understanding mysteries, obtaining knowledge, or giving to the poor are all commendable, but without love from a pure heart, what good are they? “The attribute that Christ appreciates most in man is charity (love) out of a pure heart. This is the fruit borne upon the Christian tree (MS 16, 1892).” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1091.

Practical Description

The apostle Paul continues his instruction in a practical description of heavenly love in verses 4–8: “Love suffers long [and] is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up [arrogant]; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether [there are] prophecies, they will fail; whether [there are] tongues, they will cease; whether [there is] knowledge, it will vanish away.”

From these verses we see that love is a very complex attribute that has nothing to do with selfishness. Love is always thinking of the other person. This kind of love is tough; it does not fail when put through the stress and strain of life. If each one possessed this kind of love, it would be wonderful to be around him or her. All too often we experience the opposite, as individuals become irritated, impatient, or proud. “Love is a plant of heavenly origin, and if we would have it flourish in our hearts, we must cultivate it daily. Mildness, gentleness, long suffering, not being easily provoked, bearing all things, enduring all things,—these are the fruits upon the precious tree of love.” Review and Herald, June 5, 1888.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these [is] love.” These verses, in 1 Corinthians 13:9–13, conclude the picture of heavenly love that Paul paints in simple, yet eloquent language.

Cultivate This Love

We must cultivate this love, and it must be shown to those around us—especially to those in our families and within the “household of faith.” Galatians 6:10. It is a serious concern that we, as God’s professed people, are sadly lacking in this heavenly love. We do not demonstrate the care that we should have for one another. Instead, we are splitting up and biting and devouring one another. But heavenly love does not cover sin. Instead, it hates the sin and loves the sinner. If I really love God, I will demonstrate this heavenly love to all with whom I associate, in the home, at the work place, or in the household of faith.

“Let us bring into the daily experience the instruction contained in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Believers must bring into their lives a stronger love for one another, a growing interest in one another.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, 143.

“O that there might be seen among our people a deep and thorough work of repentance and reformation! O that they would fall on the Rock, and be broken! Let us crucify self, that in our hearts may grow up a strong love for Christ and for one another. Let us bring into the daily experience the instruction contained in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Self must be surrendered to God before there can take possession of the life that strong, steady belief in the truth that is broad and comprehensive; that casts out from the heart all enmity, all petty differences, and transforms coldness into Christlike affection.

“Why should not believers love one another? It is impossible to love Christ, and at the same time act discourteously toward one another. It is impossible to have the Christ-love in the heart, and at the same time draw apart from one another, showing no love or sympathy. The deeper our love for Christ, the deeper will be our love for one another.” Review and Herald, February 24, 1903.

Heaven Begins on Earth

“To possess true godliness means to love one another, to help one another, to make apparent the religion of Jesus in our lives. We are to be consecrated channels through which the love of Christ flows to those who need help. . . . He who approaches nearest to obedience to the divine law will be of the most service to God. He who follows Christ, reaching out after His goodness, His compassion, His love for the human family, will be accepted by God as a worker together with Him. . . .

“When the Lord’s people are filled with meekness and tenderness for one another, they will realize that His banner over them is love and His fruit will be sweet to their taste. Heaven will begin on earth. They will make a heaven below in which to prepare for heaven above.” In Heavenly Places, 287.

Did you get that? Heaven will begin on earth when the Lord’s people are filled with meekness and tenderness for one another. God has made it necessary for us to work with one another.

Union is Strength

“Union is strength, and the Lord desires that this truth should be ever revealed in all the members of the body of Christ. All are to be united in love, in meekness, in lowliness of mind. Organized into a society of believers for the purpose of combining and diffusing their influence, they are to work as Christ worked. They are ever to show courtesy and respect for one another. Every talent has its place and is to be kept under the control of the Holy Spirit.

“The church is a Christian society formed for the members composing it, that each member may enjoy the assistance of all the graces and talents of the other members, and the working of God upon them, according to their several gifts and abilities. The church is united in the holy bonds of fellowship in order that each member may be benefited by the influence of the other. All are to bind themselves to the covenant of love and harmony. The Christian principles and graces of the whole society of believers are to gather strength and force in harmonious action. Each believer is to be benefited and improved by the refining and transforming influence of the varied capabilities of the other members, that the things lacking in one may be more abundantly displayed in another. All the members are to draw together, that the church may become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. . . .

“Those who wear Christ’s yoke will draw together. They will cultivate sympathy and forbearance, and in holy emulation will strive to show to others the tender sympathy and love of which they feel such great need themselves. He who is weak and inexperienced, although he is weak, may be strengthened by the more hopeful and by those of mature experience. Although the least of all, he is a stone that must shine in the building. He is a vital member of the organized body, united to Christ, the living head, and through Christ identified with all the excellencies of Christ’s character so that the Saviour is not ashamed to call him brother. . . .

“A church, separate and distinct from the world, is in the estimation of heaven the greatest object in all the earth. . . . The church is to be as God designed it should be, a representative of God’s family in another world.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 15–17.

What Weakens

“Nothing so manifestly weakens a church as disunion and strife. Nothing so wars against Christ and the truth as this spirit. . . .

“He in whose heart Christ abides recognizes Christ abiding in the heart of his brother. Christ never wars against Christ. Christ never exerts an influence against Christ. Christians are to do their work, whatever it may be, in the unity of the Spirit, for the perfecting of the whole body.” My Life Today, 276.

Manifest Christ’s Qualities

“The life of Christ was a life charged with a divine message of the love of God, and he longed intensely to impart this love to others in rich measure. Compassion beamed from his countenance, and his conduct was characterized by grace, humility, truth, and love. Every member of his church militant must manifest the same qualities, if he would join the church triumphant. The love of Christ is so broad, so full of glory, that in comparison to it, everything that men esteem as great, dwindles into insignificance. When we obtain a view of it, we exclaim, O the depth of the riches of the love that God bestowed upon men in the gift of his only begotten Son!” Christian Education, 76, 77.

“We are to be one with him as he is one with the Father, and then we are beloved by the infinite God as members of the body of Christ, as branches of the living Vine. We are to be attached to the parent stock, and to receive nourishment from the Vine. Christ is our glorified Head, and the divine love flowing from the heart of God, rests in Christ, and is communicated to those who have been united to him. This divine love entering the soul inspires it with gratitude, frees it from its spiritual feebleness, from pride, vanity, and selfishness, and from all that would deform the Christian character.” Ibid., 76.

“How tender we should be in our dealings with those who are striving for the crown of life. He who in love and tenderness has helped a soul in need may at another time be himself in need of compassionate words of hope and courage.—Manuscript 63, May 18, 1898, ‘Home Missionary Work.’ ” This Day With God, 147.

To be continued . . .

Jana Grosboll, an Electrical Engineering graduate student, serves Steps to Life as its Network Administrator. She may be contacted by e-mail at: janagrosboll@stepstolife.org.