Introduction to 1 Corinthians 13-14

Sun, 12/02/2006 - 10:45 -- James Oakley

You may remember that in the Autumn we spent three Sunday mornings together looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Well this morning we pick things up again, beginning a series of 5 sermons on chapters 13 and 14. We’ll then look at chapter 15 in the run up to Easter.

This morning we’re going to do something a little unusual. Normally at St James the sermon comes all in one piece. Today we’re going to split the sermon in two. I want to say some things now by way of introduction for this whole series. Then a little later in the service, we’ll look at the start of chapter 13 together.

It will help if you could have 1 Corinthians 13 open in front of you. You may also find it helpful to refer to the outline of this morning’s sermon that was included with the notice sheet. That outline will also appear on the screen at the front.

Submission to Scripture

So then, first introductory comment, and that is a reminder on the importance of submitting to Scripture.

As we approach these chapters in 1 Corinthians, we need to recognise that the topics we are discussing are hot topics for some people. These are subjects about which strong opinions are held. Feelings run deep. These discussions have the potential to take place at a high temperature.

Which means that as we talk with each other about what we think, we need to be sensitive to the fact that other people may take a different view, and may do so passionately.

But it means more than that, doesn’t it? As we were thinking in chapter 12, being a Christian is about submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. It’s about recognising that he has the right to tell us what to think and how to live. And the way the risen Christ rules his church is through the Scriptures.

Which means that Christians submit their wills, their views, their feelings, their ideas to what they find in Scripture. Which doesn’t mean that we only submit at those points where we like what we find. If we only submitted to Scripture when we agreed with it we wouldn’t be submitting would we? No, we need to decide in principle that we will submit to what we find in the Bible, even before we discover what is there.

So, will you join me in deciding at this stage that we will be a church ruled by Scripture? Yes, please, let’s be sensitive to one another. We need to feel free to say that we think differently. We need to feel free to say “I don’t like that idea.” But, when push comes to shove, we need to resolve that we will not allow our sensitivities, or the sensitivities of other people, or what we do or don’t like, to determine what we think and how we live. Instead, Jesus Christ needs to be our Lord as he rules us through his word.

That’s the first introductory comment.

Corporate Application

The second introductory comment is to say that the primary application of much of these chapters is not to the individual Christian. These chapters primarily address the way that we conduct ourselves when we come together. They address us as a church, as a group. The application of these chapters is primarily corporate.

Now why did I think that was worth saying? Well, I wondered if some of you might feel that there hadn’t been enough application in these sermons. You see, we stress, here at St James, that all our preaching has to be applied. It’s no good just thinking lots of wonderful ideas as we look at the Bible together if it doesn’t impact on day-to-day life. And that is a right and proper emphasis. If one of us preaches a sermon that doesn’t contain relevant application, you need to let us know.

But application does not need to be personal. It doesn’t need to affect what I will do tomorrow morning to be application. The Bible affects how we think as well as how we live. And the Bible affects what we do when we come together.

Which means that these chapters are extremely relevant for everyday life. Certainly, if you’re on the PCC, or the preaching team, or the service-leading team, or the prayer rota, or the welcoming rota, or the coffee rota, or the children and young peoples rotas then these chapters directly affect you. Because if you serve in one of those ways you are involved in contributing to our meetings together.

But actually, we are all involved. As we will see, Paul envisages church meetings where everyone has a part to play. And what’s more, we all come along on a Sunday morning and either like or don’t like the way things are done.

So, absolutely! We must apply what God has to say to us in these chapters. Which means there will be things about what we do when we come together that will need to change. And there will be other things that God says to us we must not change. Which may mean changing things you would prefer were left alone. Or it may mean being obliged to leave alone things you think should change.

So I hope you see why it is important that we study these chapters together. It matters that we’ve all thought about what is here and seen what God is saying to us so that we can put it into practice together.

That’s the second thing I wanted to say by way of introduction.

This being a Series

Third, this series of 5 sermons is just that – a series of 5 sermons. Which means there will be a flow of thought from week to week.

For different reasons, we can’t all be here every week. Some of us need to go and help with the children and young people on certain weeks. Some of us are away for other reasons.

If, for some reason, you can’t be here one week, from next week we’ll be repeating these sermons at 6.30. Or failing that, get the tape from Ian or you’ll find the text on my website.

Recap on chapter 12

Which brings me to the final introductory comment. This is a series with a flow of thought. But the series doesn’t really begin today. It began in the Autumn with chapter 12, and as that was a few months ago I thought it might help if I gave a short recap of what we found there.

In chapter 12, verse 1, Paul starts a new section of 1 Corinthians. “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers.” You’ll remember, if you were here when we looked at this, that there is no word for “gifts” in the Greek. He simply says, “now about spiritual things, brothers”, or equally possibly, “now about spiritual people, brothers”.

It makes most sense to say that Paul is being deliberately ambiguous. He talks about spiritual people in 1 Corinthians, and he also talks about spiritual things. He could mean either. He’s picking up something they wrote to him, so probably they wrote something like this: Isn’t it right, Paul, that you can tell who the spiritual people are by spiritual gifts? Spiritual gifts are what make a person spiritual.

So Paul responds. And in verse 3 he puts them right. It’s not what you can or can’t do that makes you spiritual. It’s whether you confess and live that Jesus is Lord. That’s what makes a person spiritual – living with Jesus in charge.

Then he goes on in verses 4 to 11 to show how this relates to gifts. There’s only one God – one Lord, one Jesus, one Spirit. But that one God gives different people different things to do to serve him, and he gives them the different abilities they need to serve him in their different ways. Which means that no one gift is the mark of being spiritual.

And then he develops the metaphor of the human body. Just as the human body is one body with different parts, and all the parts have their own function, so with the church, God’s people. We are one church, but we all have different gifts and different roles to play.

He develops this metaphor to make two points. He warns against feeling left out, and he warns against feeling superior. First, nobody is left out. If you’re a foot, you shouldn’t feel left out because you’re not a hand. In the same way, you don’t need to feel left out just because you lack a particular gift. Second, nobody is to feel superior. Just because you ‘re an eye that doesn’t mean you can do without the ear. In the same way, whatever gift you’ve got, it doesn’t mean you don’t need everybody else. So: Nobody left out. Nobody superior. Just lots of people, all gifted differently, all serving the one Lord Jesus Christ in their own way.


That was chapter 12, and if you were here I hope some of that is familiar. Which brings us to today’s passage, in chapter 13. Which we’ll start to look at in a moment, but we’re going to sing again first.

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