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Reading the “love chapter” in its original context

The Love Chapter1 Corinthians 13 is probably the best known chapter in the Bible and is often read at weddings and such. However, in its original context, this chapter was written to balance the Corinthian Christians’ knowledge of gifts (read abuse) with a reminder of the love’s importance!

I have written an article some years ago called Kingdom Math: 12+13=14that looks into this sequence given to us in Chs 12-14: gifts + love = functioning. This is what God wants us to balance in our expression of “church” as we come assemble together.

You can really not underestimate reading verses and chapters in their context. It is so important!

If you cut and paste 1 Cor. 13 and put it on your refrigerator you can miss the deeper/fuller meaning of a body “out of balance” during a gathering of the believers.

I would like to jar your thinking with a classic example of a taking a verse “out of its context”!! It is the following very famous verse from the book of Revelation:

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.’ (Rev 3:20)

Behold I Stand At the Door and Knock

Try as we might, the real context and therefore its real meaning of this scene is so difficult to comprehend because of decades of faulty interpretations. Honestly, can you think of this verse and not hear Billy Graham or countless others using this in an evangelistic setting??

Here are just three points I can see quickly where we can come up with a faulty meaning:

1.This verse was written to the church in Laodicea and not to the unsaved! It was a “lukewarm church” but nevertheless a church, full of believers.

2. Jesus is shown here “knocking at the door” of the church! He had just told them that ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.’ He was knocking at the door for anyone in the church who would respond to his loving discipline and repent of lukewarmness and with zeal open the door and let him in!

It only took ONE person to usher Him back inside!

3. When it comes to our salvation, it is we who do the knocking! Jesus is the door! It is OUR knocking that invites Him into our hearts. He is not shyly standing at the knocking and knocking for us to open to Him for salvation… Well if you believe He is, then use another verse and NOT THIS ONE for your text!

Whew!! Do you now see how misguided interpretations we can come up with just as easily as breathing…

I wanted to share this excellent quote regarding our subject that I found in the April 09 edition of The Atlantic magazine. I thought the author does a wonderful job of putting these verses from 1 Cor. in their proper context:

Consider that famous ode to love in 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter in response to a crisis… Many in the church believed themselves to have direct access to divine knowledge and to be near spiritual perfection. Some thought they needn’t accept the church’s guidance in moral matters. Some showed off their spiritual gifts by spontaneously speaking in tongues during worship services—something that might annoy the humbler worshippers and that, in large enough doses, could derail a service.

In other words: they lacked brotherly love. Hence Paul’s harping on that theme in 1 Corinthians, and especially in chapter 13. It is in reference to members’ disrupting worship by speaking in tongues that Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” And when he says, “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant,” he is chastising Corinthians who deploy their spiritual gifts—whether speaking in tongues, or prophesying, or even being generous—in a competitive, showy way… In the case of 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, the result was some of Western civilization’s most beautiful literature—if, perhaps, more beautiful out of context than in. (Robert Wright, “The Evolution of God”)

My continual prayer is for a generation of men and women with discernment and insight, who will be “ready and able” to give understanding to many:

“Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many… Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven.” (Daniel 11:33;12:3)

Yours for the least in the Kingdom,

Jeff Gilbertson

Categories: Uncategorized
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