I’ve been trying to immerse myself in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see if I can get a sense of his frame of mind when writes the 13 verses of his 13th chapter.
What I’m finding will not surprise you. Paul writes with a courage and clarity that lifts him above the superstitions, pet peeves, and denominational differences of his own day—and ours (1Cor 1:10-13). He writes as someone who, with almost every other breath, names the One who once stunned him when he asked on the Damascus Road, “Who are you Lord?” (Acts 9:5).
The answer Paul heard on that road eventually gave him his case for a specific source of unity. It is the foundational and root thought that must have prompted him to write, “So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 (NLT)
So why are the attitudes and ethic that follow so important to him? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that he believes it is possible for all who confess Jesus as Lord to walk together on higher ground than our personal, denominational, and doctrinal differences.
Paul has the courage to say it simply. Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up. (1Cor 8:1).
What is he going with this? As I read and reread his first 12 chapters I find myself asking that question almost every time he turns a phrase. When I check the commentaries in an effort to find out what Paul is thinking (in those first 12 chapters), I find more possible answers and lingering questions than my questions.
Only when I get to the 13 of 13 does the fog seem to lift. Only with the 13 of 13 do I think I get where he was going when he said, “Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.” Finally he seems to make it clear that, while he isn’t disparaging our desire to grow in our knowledge of Christ, such knowledge won’t be the kind that “puffs us up”. After all, while honoring Christ above all others, he emphasizes the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and declaration that are some of the gifts given by the Spirit to the Body of Christ (1Cor 12:7-12).
At this point, my hunch is that, if Paul could walk into our homes or churches today, his main agenda wouldn’t be to talk us out of our denominations, controversy-of-the-day, or personal preferences. Am thinking he would say something like, “Now that we know who is Lord (the true and better Person among us), let’s find in him the true and better way by which to live with our differences. Let’s walk together, by his Spirit, in a 1Cor 13 kind of love—as the true and better ethic (1Cor 12:31).