“Let all things be done decently and in order.”
1 Corinthians 14:40
This lesson begins where a prior lesson left off, the disorder and disunity disrupting the Corinthian church, which Paul sought to repair through his epistles. So as we study the final six chapters of Paul’s 1st epistle to the Corinthians, the most important thing for us to understand is Paul’s overriding purpose in writing the letter in the first place. Sometimes we become so excited by the doctrines and principles shared throughout the many passages that we miss the context and reason for their inclusion. In short, Paul’s original purpose in writing this epistle was to deal with division and general disorder among the early Christian saints living in the city of Corinth. Now, unless we be too hasty to point the finger at these erring saints, perhaps we can put ourselves in their circumstances and realize that misunderstanding, disunity, disorder and carelessness are the common lot of human experience. In other words, Paul’s admonitions for unity and decency are as relevant in our day as they were in his day, though with some cultural nuances.
Now that we remember that the entire epistle is couched in the circumstances of disorder, indecency and disunity growing in the Corinthian branch of the early Church, we can turn our attention to study specific doctrines and principles taught by Paul to overcome these problems. So in today’s lesson we will give an overview of each chapter to show how it fits into the larger picture of Paul’s address on disorder and then look at some key doctrines from those chapters.
1 Corinthian 11—Hairstyles and Potluck Dinners
Yes, you better believe it. Even ancient people had controversy over hairstyles and potluck dinners as we do today. Paul addresses the problems of hairstyles first in this chapter (see verses 1-16).1 Apparently some of the women were wearing their hair in such a way at church that it was causing a general disturbance. Paul uses several arguments to overcome this problem (vv. 3-15), some of which are certainly culturally based. Perhaps today we would not use the same cultural measuring stick to judge if someone had a disruptive hairstyle. Nevertheless, in that culture the differences that were being manifested at church were sufficient to cause disturbance, so that the work of the Lord was impeded.
Just in case anyone of us is wondering which types of hairstyles were so erroneous, let me explain. Apparently, it was not just the way the hair was styled that was the problem. Rather, it was the associations particular hair styles had with prostitution and licentiousness. In the days of Paul there was a Greek religion near Corinth that encouraged sexual liberty. The women who joined that religious movement and practiced the licentious behavior of that movement wore their hair in a distinct fashion. Apparently, some of the women of the CorinthianChurch had similar hairstyles, which caused confusion and questioning among other members as to whether these Christian women were united to the licentious practices of a nearby Greek religion. So Paul addressed the issue by encouraging the members to not wear their hairstyles associated with perverse religions and beliefs.2
Paul then moved on in his epistle to address the confusion which reigned at the “ward dinner parties” at Corinth (see verses 17-34). Apparently, many members would come to church early before meetings to eat dinner (the church meetings were likely held in the evening). Some would begin eating before others arrived for the meal. And others yet would come just for the church meetings and be hungry. As a result, hurt feelings, jealousies, anger and division developed. Paul, using the symbol of the sacrament, taught the saints that they should all be alike in their common meals at church, just as all who are worthy can participate in the sacrament. He then urged the members to wait to eat together if they were going to have a “ward dinner party”, or to have everyone eat at home before church meetings in order to avoid having some members satiated while others went hungry.
1 Corinthians 12—Diversity of Gifts
After addressing the mundane issues of hairstyles and ward dinners Paul moved to a more serious topic—spiritual gifts. We know from scripture that each individual is blessed with a gift of the Spirit. But knowing what we do about the Corinthian saints (and perhaps better said, just plain human nature), we should not be surprised to learn that there was contention and competition over whose gifts were more beautiful, useful, necessary, etc. Paul taught the doctrine that “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4, emphasis added). He acknowledged that everyone had a gift, but then he brought about a unity by stressing that each gift comes from God through the Spirit. Paul then lists many of the spiritual gifts and then explains how each gift is like a part of the body, each a portion of a larger whole which itself cannot fully function without each particular gift. And as all members are part of one body, they should rejoice and suffer together, not contend with each other over the value of their gifts. Alma the Elder taught this same principle to the saints who gathered at the Waters of Mormon:
Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life— Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed [in unity]: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:8-11)
Thus as one body we are to rejoice and suffer together, for it is our covenant, and together we are to share and reap the blessings of the multitude of spiritual gifts. In closing his chapter Paul encourages the saints to seek after these best gifts, and then he promises to show them a more excellent way. What is it that he is referring to? 1 Corinthians 13 had our answer.
1 Corinthians 13—Charity, A More Excellent Way
After the discussion of various gifts of the spirit and their administration and uses, Paul lifts the sights of Christians with a beautiful reminder that all the gifts of the Spirit are nothing in comparison to the gift of charity.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13)
What is charity then? Let us enhance our understanding by searching the Old Testament. The underlying Hebrew word for charity is hesed. It is a word rich in beautiful meaning for it refers to loving kindness, loyalty, steadfastness, everlasting love, mercy and the bonds of covenant fidelity. Just as God will be forever loyal and faithful to the covenants he has made with us, we too should be loyal and faithful to him. Indeed, it is in the bonds of covenant relationships that true and pure hesed can be lived and experienced.
Turning now to the New Testament we find that charity is translated from the Greek word xaris (charis). Before we look at the definition of this Greek word it is significant to note that the English words “charity” and “grace” both derive from the Greek word xaris. It means to have favor, good will, love, mercy and compassion upon another. Interestingly, this word is often used to describe the loving mercy and compassion given to those who do not deserve such acts. In this respect, the ultimate example of xaris-charity-grace is God, for none of us on our own efforts could ever be deserving of his boundless loving kindness. It is only through his xaris or grace that we are healed from the effects of a broken law. And so God indeed is the fullness of xaris-charity. Xaris is also used to describe the presence of God and his glory. With this understanding Moroni 7:48 takes on new meaning, for when we are filled with charity we are most like God, and most ready to “see him as he is.”
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)
1 Corinthians 14—Administering Spiritual Gifts
After taking some moments to explain the power of the gift of charity, Paul returned to setting the church in Corinth to order and peace, particularly on the subject of gifts of the
Spirit. He had already singled out charity as the greatest of any gift, but now he wished to describe the use and function of other gifts. His focus here was on the gifts of prophesy and the gift of speaking in and interpreting tongues.3 Again, if we study this chapter in the context of Paul’s desire to put order and decency back into the church where there had been misunderstanding and much disorder, this whole chapter makes much more sense.
First, Paul teaches the difference between the gift of prophesy and the gift of tongues. The gift of prophecy is for edifying the whole congregation, while on the other hand the gift of tongues is just for edifying oneself. Paul then explains that if there is an individual in the congregation who has the gift of interpreting tongues and can interpret what was said by the person who has the gift of tongues, then the whole congregation can be edified by the gift of speaking in tongues. Yet, Paul issues cautions. These gifts are to be used in turn, that is to say that everyone is not to speak at once. Additionally the gift of speaking in tongues should only be used in public if there is in the audience an individual who has the gift to interpret tongues. And finally, if many people have the gift of prophesy they should not all speak and prophesy at once, for then what was intended to edify the entire group will be lost in the clamor and turmoil of competing voices. In summary Paul exhorts the Corinthian saints to: (1) Let all things be done unto edifying, (2) prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted and encouraged, and (3) let all things be done decently and in order (see 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31, 40).
1 Corinthians 15—Preaching the Doctrine of Resurrection
Having dealt with much of the disunity affecting the Corinthians saints, Paul availed himself the opportunity to expound upon the doctrine of resurrection. Some of these saints, being young in the Gospel, needed additional light and knowledge on this important Gospel principle for they had questioned whether the resurrection was real or not (see 1 Corinthians 15:12). With the most powerful evidence he could muster Paul testified of the reality of resurrection through his witness that Christ the Lord was resurrected. Paul appealed to the numerous witnesses (over 500 in number) who had seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes. Then with a clarity and force of thought Paul reasoned with the saints:
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:13-22)
This theological reasoning is similar to Lehi’s powerful theology on the existence of God, the reality of the Plan of Happiness, and the nature of agency, righteousness and happiness found in 2 Nephi 2.
Paul then offered additional proof of the reality of resurrection by an additional logical argument. Appealing to a well-known practice in the Christian church at that time, Paul queried the saints, “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). In other words, if there is no such thing as the resurrection, why in the world are we spending our time with the work of redeeming the dead?
Paul continued to answer those who doubted in the resurrection. If we are not to be resurrected then it would simply be a life of eating and drinking and making merry for tomorrow we die (see also 2 Nephi 28:7-8). Then there were other saints who apparently worried about how they would be resurrected. In response Paul taught the principle that whatever one sows that is what they will reap. Alma the Younger taught similar principles to his wayward and questioning son Corianton on this same subject (see especially Alma 40-41):
It is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh. And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. (Alma 41:3-6)
One of the most important principles that Paul taught concerning the resurrection and echoed by Alma as we see above, is the idea that just as there are many states of righteousness here on earth, so too there will be various manifestations of resurrected beings in the next life, according to their righteousness. Some will be resurrected into celestial glory, others into terrestrial glory and some into telestial glory. After testifying so boldly of the reality of resurrection and the necessity of righteousness in this life to receive a brilliant resurrection into the next, Paul left a final admonition for his beloved saints in Corinth concerning this topic:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
1 Corinthians 16—Epistolary Farewell
We will not spend much time in this particular chapter except to briefly explain letter writing and letter formats of the ancient New Testament world. What we have been studying today comes from an epistle or letter. Just as today the 1st Presidency may send out a letter to all Bishops to be read over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, so too Paul wrote a letter that was to be read to the saints in Corinth. And just as there is a customary introduction and closing in the 1st Presidency letters such as “Dear Brothers and Sisters” and “Your Brethren in the Lord”, so too in Paul’s day there were customary ways to begin and end a letter. Of course, what we have here is deemed scripture. Yet, the formal closing of a 1st Presidency letter, though from the 1st Presidency, does not often have the same weighty substance as the main body of the letter. So too with Paul’s epistles. So what we have here in 1 Corinthians 16 is Paul’s formal close to the letter. It is full of blessings and reminders to greet friends and associates. These are all interesting highlights about the culture and activities of the people in that day and every now and then there is a gospel principle or exhortation placed in the closing statements. When we recognize these closing statements (such as chapter 16) as the formal close to a letter, much like we have in our own society, we can begin to appreciate the purpose and meaning behind these types of verses and chapters found in our scriptures.
What an immense blessing and miracle it is that the words of the apostle Paul have been preserved and transmitted down to us over the many centuries since his day. Just think of the effort, the time and the care required to painstakingly and meticulously copy these words over and over again that they might be available to craving readers. And what a blessing it is that we have principles and doctrines which can speak to our day and time. Just as the saints of Corinth needed direction and encouragement, and even sometimes practical advice, to ply the seemingly unchartered waters of life, we can take strength from the experiences and doctrines which guided their community. Thus we can apply these things to ourselves. Are we the cause of any disunity in our families or church units? Are we promoting life styles that are contrary to the principles of order and happiness? Do we hear with eager humility the voice of God through the scriptures and living witnesses? Whatever our personal weaknesses and challenges the persistent invitation is before us:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-29)
We have covenanted to build Zion. And thus we should strive to overcome disunity, misunderstanding and division. By so doing we can indeed play a positive role in building up Zion upon the earth, the city beautiful where all hearts are knit into one: “And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” (Moses 8:18)
- Verse 6 is comparable to what Orthodox Jewish women do today. Once married, many shave their head and then wear a wig, so as to not show their hair to anyone but their husband. ↩
- An analogy to this are the rules put in place at BYU in the 1970’s to counteract the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s where many social dissidents wore long hair and beards to show defiance to mainstream culture. BYU did not participate much in such protests and essentially took a stand against such counter-culturalism by encouraging that those who came to BYU not to dress or look like those who professed counter-culturalism. Nevertheless, we must always be careful, for misjudgments are easy to make and the outward appearance, whether in clothes, hair or whatever is not always a reliable judge. ↩
- The fancy academic term used to talk about speaking in tongues is “glossolalia.” The Greek word gloss means “tongue.” ↩