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The First Epistle to the Corinthians
8- On Spiritual Gifts (Ch. 12-14, contd.)
First: The Spiritual Gifts (Ch. 12, in SNOB # 33)
Second: Love the greatest gift (Ch. 13)
+ In spite of the importance of the gifts as a sign of the richness of the Spirit, and its importance to the growth of the Church, and its unity, the gift of love appears as the best way to attain the highest level of spirituality. It makes sure that the gifts do not become a source of self-pride and Church division. In this respect, St. Paul sings the sweetest song that is repeated throughout the ages (compare with what was written in Song of Songs 8: 6,7: “For love is strong as death… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be scorned”).
+ Without love, the gift of tongues becomes “resounding brass, or a clanging cymbal” (13:1), prophecy, preaching, and knowledge, even faith that moves mountains, become as nothing. Giving to the poor, and even surrendering the body to flames, without love, profits nothing” (13:3).
+ The following are the qualities of love:
1. Is patient (bearing, long suffering)
2. Is kind (Merciful, and does not revenge)
3. Is not envious (not self-pitying nor wishes the decline of others’ prosperity)
4. Does not boast (hiding from view and concealing itself)
5. Is not proud (humbles itself and puts others above itself)
6. Is not rude (is gentle; it supports, encourages, and does not hurt others)
7. Is not self seeking (no more captive to self, but looks for others and for the general benefit)
8. Is not easily angered (controlling itself and feelings, not blinded by anger)
9. Thinks no evil (innocent, pure of heart, with good intentions, does not judge, and forgets others’ wrongdoing)
10. Does not rejoice in iniquity (is saddened when others deviate, does not feel being better than others)
11. Rejoices in the truth (rejoices when the truth prevails, and submits to it)
12. Bears all things (is obedient, submissive to God’s plan even when darkness prevails, bears insults and sufferings like her Master, forgives without bitterness)
13. Believes all things (trusts in God’s word and His promises; does not doubt, for no reason, in dealings with others)
14. Hopes all things (does not loose hope, but encourages the weak and the frail
15. Endures all things (does not loose faith or hope, but perseveres with its eyes fixed on God (13: 4–7).
+ The greatness of Love is in being eternal: it will never fail; although the prophecies, the tongues, and the knowledge will cease or fail, because we know only a little now, but when the Lord comes we will know everything. It is like the knowledge of a baby versus the knowledge of a man, or like looking in a mirror versus meeting face to face (13: 8–12).
+ Truly, there are three prominent gifts of the Spirit in Church life, Faith, Hope, and Love but the greatest of them is Love (13: 13)
Third: The Gift of Tongues and its Translation (Ch. 14)
Here, St Paul writes in detail about this gift that he has mentioned earlier (12:10,28,30; 13:1).
+ Because of the glow that surrounds the gift of speaking in tongues (though it is not a reality in Church life at present), St. Paul made an effort to shed light on gifts that are better and more useful, and also to uncover the negative aspects of the practice of this gift in the Church.
+ He starts saying what he concluded previously, i.e. following the way of love, but also “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (14:1).
+ Comparing it with the gift of speaking in tongues, he says, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, but everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. He who speaks in tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the Church… He who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the Church may be edified” (14:2–5).
+ There is no benefit in speaking in tongues without revelation or knowledge, or prophecy, or teaching. He compares it to musical instruments that make indistinctive notes; no one will understand its meaning. If the tongue does not speak meaningful words, it is like speaking to the wind … and if I hear a language that I do not understand, I will be a stranger to the speaker and the speaker will be a foreigner to me (14:6–11).
+ The spiritual gifts should be for the building of the Church. Therefore, tongues should be interpreted. In this manner, the spirit (in tongues) should share with the mind (by interpretation). We should pray and sing with the spirit and the mind, so that the common man will understand what the tongue says and will be built also (14:12–17). St. Paul also assures that he is not against speaking in tongues, as he himself has this gift, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (14:18).
+ “But in the Church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19). And we should not belittle the role of the mind and understanding, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (14:20).
+ St. Paul mentions the prophecy of Isaiah (Is. 28: 9-12), where God uses the gift of tongues to bring close the unbelievers, while prophecy is for the believers. Speaking in tongues (without translation) will not benefit the one who does not understand and will consider it madness, while prophecy (true teaching and preaching salvation) will uncover the sins of unbelievers and will make them declare that the truth is in you (14:21-25).
+ St. Paul, then, establishes order in praying with psalms, teaching, and speaking with tongues, so that everything will be for the strengthening of the Church. Concerning speaking with tongues: let two or three speak consequently and let one translate. If there is no translator, let him (who wants to speak in tongues) be quiet and pray in secret (between himself and God) (14:26-28).
+ For those who are gifted with prophecy (which he sees to be a greater gift than speaking with tongues, 5:14): “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (14:29). “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (14:30–31), “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (14:33).
+ As followed in the Jewish synagogues, “women should remain silent in the Churches” (14:34, 1 Tim. 2:11). This order relates to the previous goal that the Church will be quiet; and there will be no arguments, no disarray, and no incitement of offenses. And this is what the Church in Corinth has suffered because of the pagan background and the absence of discipline in the Church. And “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home” (14:35).
+ We may consider that what St. Paul said concerning the women, does not make it a general rule for the Church in all places and at all times. The spirit of the commandment, not its literal understanding, is the most important issue. Phoebe, who was a servant of the Church in Cenchrea (Rom 16:1), was assistant to St. Paul and brought his letter to the believers in Rome. Priscilla assisted in teaching Apollos the way of the Lord more adequately (Acts 18:26) and her house became a Church in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:20). St. Paul resided with her and her husband Aquila during his ministry (Acts 18:3).
+ At the end, the goal is not forbidding speaking with tongues, or preventing members of the Church, but preventing chaos, and stopping those who desire to show off, so that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40). Naturally, in every Church, there will be a variety of responsibilities concerning worship and organization which will necessitate that every Church should have its dedicated minister who will shepherd it and perform its sacraments, and lead its teaching, organize it, and preach the commandments of the Holy Bible. This was not available in the early days of the Church. Later, St. Paul directed Titus, whom he left in Crete, “to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1: 5).
(To be continued)
On The Day Of Pentecost
Acts 2:17: “Says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Eph. 4:8: “He ascended up on high, … and gave gifts unto men.”
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