20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:
“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”
22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
As we come closer to the stretch run for Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church I find myself trying to get a big picture view of the whole letter once again. For most of my bible reading life this never occurred to me—that I needed to grasp the big picture before I could really understand the small one.
The last five words in today’s text gives us a profound sense of the big picture in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
Paul’s overarching intent of this whole letter, if not all of his letters, is that the people of God would evoke this kind of response from the not-yet-believing world. “God is really among you!” All of Paul’s counsel and correction aim to bring people into the only outfit on the face of the planet created and sustained by the Holy Spirit: the Church. The purpose of the church is to manifest the palpable reality of the embodied presence of God on Earth and this for the sake of blessing all of creation. The power by which this happens is the love of God which we know because of Jesus Christ. When the love of God is unleashed in the relationships among the followers of Jesus, people will find themselves exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
We always think about 1 Corinthians 13 as some kind of abstract poem when in reality it was very particularly addressed to the problems in the Corinthians church. Try this inverse, antithetical interpretation of the text to get at what Paul was addressing.
Sin is impatient, sin is unkind. Sin envies, boasts, and is filled with pride. Sin dishonors others, is self-seeking, is easily angered and keeps records of wrongs. Sin delights in evil and rejoices in lies. 7 Sin never protects, never trusts, never hopes, never perseveres. Sin always fails.
The opposite of love is not hate. It is sin. And the definition of sin is, “missing the mark of love.” It is the pervasiveness of sin in our relationships that effectively says to others, “God is not really among us!”
Paul’s effort is not to bridle sin. It is to unleash love. Go back through the letter and see if this is not the case. All this stuff about not eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality and marriage and singleness and gifts and the body and so on—it’s all about shepherding a group of people to live together in the power of the Holy Spirit to the end that the world will exclaim, “God is really among you!”
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Let it be said of our lives, our families, our churches and even our cities, ““God is really among you!” We know for it will not be said until it experienced as real. So make the love of God in Jesus Christ to be the palpable reality of our existence. Come Holy Spirit and train me to repent in all the ways I must, to turn from sin and be infused with your love. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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