Lord, may my love, especially for my family and church, be characterized by patience, kindness, selflessness, joy, hope, and forgiveness—not envy, arrogance, pride, or rudeness. Help me not insist on my own way, rejoice at others’ failures, or quit loving when loving gets tough. May Your love continually flow through me to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read 1 Corinthians 11-14
In 1 Corinthians 11–14, Paul affirmed the Corinthians’ efforts to obey him and then addressed three areas where they needed to grow in obedience, particularly in relation to corporate worship and body life.
1 Corinthians 11:3–16 / Issue 1: Gender distinctions
THE BIG PICTURE—GENDER AND THE BIBLE
In our culture of gender confusion, it’s essential for us as believers to grasp the big picture of what God’s Word says on the subject. Then we should interpret specific chapters like 1 Corinthians 11 with that big picture in mind. So, here’s that big picture.
Men and women are equal; male and female believers are co-heirs with Christ. At the same time, the Bible teaches us men and women have distinct gender roles in the home and the church while not dictating all the specifics of those roles. Both men and women are called and gifted to minister in the local church, but the office of elder (pastor) is reserved for biblically-qualified men.
These convictions are commonly called “Complementarianism.” For more on this subject, read the following two articles.
Big picture: According to Paul, God doesn’t value people differently based on their gender, economic status, or cultural background (see Galatians 3:25–29). Male or female, slave or free, anyone who trusts in Christ has equal worth and access to God. In 1 Corinthians 11, however, Paul implied some of the Corinthians were confusing the concept of gender equality with gender sameness. He strongly warned the church against obliterating these distinctions. Why? Because they’re a purposeful part of God’s good creation. Paul then backed up his claim with biblical evidence and an appeal to common sense, reminding them that men naturally feel ashamed about appearing feminine and vice versa.
A belief in these distinctions should affect a believer’s attitude and guide the outward expressions of their gender. In this particular context, Paul instructed believing women to wear head coverings when they pray or prophesy publicly as a symbol of their submission to God-given authority. He then reminded the Corinthians of the mutual interdependence of men and women, and the fact that both genders are indispensable to the church body. He asserted a biblical understanding of gender involves role rather than rank, leaving no room for comparison, arrogance, or jealousy.
1 Corinthians 11:17–34 / Issue 2: Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
The Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper resembled a wild party, complete with drunkenness, over-eating, fighting, and utter selfishness. Paul rebuked the church and reminded them of the meaning behind the bread and wine. In partaking, each believer proclaims Christ’s work on the cross until He comes again. Paul said when believers participate in the Lord’s Supper flippantly, without first examining their hearts and lives, they’re asking for God’s judgment.
1 Corinthians 12–14 / Issue 3: Spiritual Gifts
Finally, Paul helped the Corinthians better understand spiritual gifts—the various spiritual abilities given to individual believers for the church’s benefit. He taught that:
1. All genuine spiritual gifts come from one source: God.
Therefore, their use in the church should reflect this oneness:
- Unity of doctrine: The legitimate exercise of spiritual gifts will neither deny who Christ is nor contradict God’s written Word. No matter how convincing a person’s teaching or how successful their ministry, their message (word and deed) must line up with the Bible.
- Unity of purpose: Since God gives diverse gifts to individual believers for the good of the church, each member should use their gifts in ways that best serve the whole church.
- Unity in practice: The variety of spiritual gifts and their diverse uses should result in harmony, not disunity. Individual believers are like parts of a healthy human body. Each individual part fulfills its unique and necessary role, in harmony with the other parts, for the good of the whole.
2. The Holy Spirit, knowing the needs of the church, chooses which spiritual gift(s) to give each believer.
Watch these two videos on the Holy Spirit: Who is the Holy Spirit? (1 minute)
By Mark Dever. Copyright © 2016 The Gospel Coalition, Inc. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org. Used by permission.
and How Does the Holy Spirit Help us? (2:33)
By Leo Schuster. Copyright © 2016 The Gospel Coalition, Inc. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org. Used by permission.
Paul warned the Corinthians not to judge spiritual gifts by worldly standards, ranking their relative worth based on flashiness or popularity. Specifically, he warned them not to judge their own worth in God’s kingdom—or the worth of others—according to worldly estimations. What about you? Do you struggle with contentment? Do you envy the gifts of others? Paul encouraged trusting the God as the gift-giver, and to use what He has given us for His glory and the good of the church.
3. Without love, the exercise of our spiritual gifts is empty and powerless.
Paul described love not as an emotion but as something purposeful and sustained, characterized by kindness, patience, humility, and forgiveness. Grounded in this love, a believer’s relationships and their acts of service wouldn’t be characterized by selfishness, arrogance, or irritability; he or she wouldn’t insist on their own way. When we compare both the limited nature of our human understanding and the temporary nature of our spiritual gifts to love, which lasts forever, things quickly fall into perspective. This is why Paul urged the Corinthians not to earnestly desire particular spiritual gifts, but to actively pursue love.
4. When the church gathers together for worship, they should give priority to the spiritual gifts that best build up the whole church, and they should set boundaries for the exercise of those gifts.
These boundaries should help maintain order, reflect a respect for authority, and safeguard against human error. Paul specifically addressed the gifts of prophecy—receiving and passing on a specific word of truth from God—and speaking in tongues—spiritual communication between the believer and the Holy Spirit that is unintelligible to others. He urged the Corinthians to prioritize prophecy during worship because of its potential for building up the church and for helping unbelievers come to faith.
In comparison, the gift of tongues more naturally benefits the individual, and should therefore play a limited part in public worship. Ultimately, the church must create boundaries for the exercise of all spiritual gifts. Regarding prophecy, when a believer claims to have a message from God, he or she may share it with the congregation, so long as the church then publicly “weighs” the message against God’s written Word. Paul only tasked men with this public “questioning” of each prophetic message, in keeping with the biblical teaching about gender roles and authority in the church.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know diversity in gender roles and spiritual gifts is purposeful. God planned it that way. He has orchestrated each individual part of the church body to function together in harmony, and believers must be willing to trust His plan and obey it.
1 Corinthians 12:24b-27
24 But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
- Women commonly wore head coverings in Paul’s day, so the need for this instruction may have implied some Christian women were pushing the cultural boundaries of appropriate clothing. Perhaps they were so focused on their Christian “freedoms” that they failed to consider what their actions communicated. Have you ever been careless in your exercise of Christian freedom? What do your everyday actions communicate about your convictions, your commitment to holiness, and your respect for authority?
- Attend your church’s prayer meeting or a meeting of another ministry of your church (International Students, local outreach, etc). Find a way to serve this week. [Local Church, Spiritual Disciplines]